All The Little Hoofprints
Farther up the gorge the sea's voice fainted and ceased.
We heard a new noise far away ahead of us, vague and metallic,
it might have been some unpleasant bird's voice
Bedded in a matrix of long silences. At length we came to a little
cabin lost in the redwoods,
An old man sat on a bench before the doorway filing a cross-cut
saw; sometimes he slept,
Sometimes he filed. Two or three horses in the corral by the
streamside lifted their heads
To watch us pass, but the old man did not.
In the afternoon we
returned the same way,
And had the picture in our minds of magnificent regions of space
and mountain not seen before. (This was
The first time that we visited Pigeon Gap, whence you look
down behind the great shouldering pyramid-
Edges of Pico Blanco through eagle-gulfs of air to a forest basin
Where two-hundred-foot redwoods look like the pile on a Turkish
carpet.) With such extensions of the idol-
Worshipping mind we came down the streamside. The old man
was still at his post by the cabin doorway, but now
Stood up and stared, said angrily 'Where are you camping?'
I said 'We're not camping, we're going home.' He said
From his flushed heavy face, 'That's the way fires get started.
Did you come at night?' 'We passed you this morning.
You were half asleep, filing a saw.' 'I'll kill anybody that starts
a fire here . . .' his voice quavered
Into bewilderment ... 'I didn't see you. Kind of feeble I guess.
My temperature's a hundred and two every afternoon.' 'Why,
what's the matter?' He removed his hat
And rather proudly showed us a deep healed trench in the bald
skull. 'My horse fell at the ford,
I must ‘a’ cracked my head on a rock. Well, sir, I can't remember
anything till next morning.
I woke in bed the pillow was soaked with blood, the horse was
in the corral and had had his hay,'
Singing the words as if he had told the story a hundred times.
To whom? To himself, probably,
'The saddle was on the rack and the bridle on the right nail.
What do you think of that now?' He passed
His hand on his bewildered forehead and said, 'Unless an angel
or something came down and did it.
A basin of blood and water by the crick, I must 'a' washed myself.'
My wife said sharply, 'Have you been to a doctor?'
'Oh yes,' he said, 'my boy happened down.' She said 'You
oughtn't to be alone here: are you all alone here?'
'No,' he answered, 'horses. I've been all over the world: right
here is the most beautiful place in the world.
I played the piccolo in ships' orchestras.' We looked at the immense
redwoods and dark Fern-taken slip of land by the creek, where the horses were,
and the yuccaed hillsides high in the sun
Flaring like torches; I said 'Darkness comes early here.' He answered
with pride and joy, 'Two hundred and eighty-
Five days in the year the sun never gets in here.
Like living under the sea, green all summer, beautiful.' My wife
said, 'How do you know your temperature's
A hundred and two?' 'Eh? The doctor. He said the bone
Presses my brain, he's got to cut out a piece. I said 'All right,
you've got to wait till it rains,
I've got to guard my place through the fire-season.' By God,'
he said joyously,
'The quail on my roof wake me up every morning, then I look
out the window and a dozen deer
Drift up the canyon with the mist on their shoulders. Look in
the dust at your feet, all the little hoofprints,'
Robinson Jeffers's Other Poems
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