, , , ,

Box of Questions

How does a poem begin? Idea or environment? A waking in the night? A question? What is the role of experience in creating a poem? The role of wonder? How does meaning evolve? A narrative into an essay? Notes into a poem? Photos as memory device?

Table of Contents

Artist depiction of the Crooked River Caldera. Image from National Park Service via Deschutes Land Trust.

Artist depiction of the Crooked River Caldera during the Oligocene.
Image from National Park Service via Deschutes Land Trust.


In this post you’ll find narrative—as a hike-chronology, photos, and a poem recently published in Elohi Gadugi Journal. As you read, consider the invisible bridges between words and images, and between narrative and poetry. . . .

In Summer 2012, I climbed Smith Rock with Chuck and our friend, John Larson, from Arizona. We drove from Bend to Terrebonne (pronounced ter’-rah-bon), and from Terrebonne to Smith Rock State Park—in Central Oregon, near Highway 97.

We parked, shouldered our daypacks, and hiked down the steep trail to the Crooked River which we crossed on a bridge. We planned to climb the trail “Misery Ridge” and descend the west side of Smith Rock, then return along the river trail.

My daypack was heavy with two water bottles and a camera.

The Misery Ridge trail was steeper, narrower, rockier, and more precipitous than I expected. Crossing Misery Ridge, to the west the distant view was of vibrant green fields and farthest, at the western horizon, was the Cascade Range where the volcanoes, Mt. Bachelor and Three Sisters (South Sister, Middle Sister, and North Sister), were partly obscured by clouds.

Descending toward the Crooked River, the trail was steep but the switchbacks were farther apart than the many quick turns up the east side of Misery Ridge. I stopped to take pictures and watched climbers scaling the pillar, Monkey Face, until they clambered into the stone mouth.

I didn’t know at the time that between the cliffs and the Crooked River is the edge of the Crooked River caldera which formed when a super volcano collapsed and erupted 29.5 million years ago. I learned this later, during an Oregon Master Naturalist workshop and heard the story again, explained more fully by geologist, Carrie Gordon, at the Deschutes Land Trust’s recent Nature Night event.

Chuck and J.L. hiked more quickly than my cautious pace downhill on skittery pebbles. Eventually, I lost sight of them.

Where the trail teed, I turned left toward the parking lot. The path became less steep, trending laterally along the base of the cliffs—some with overhangs. Beneath one overhang, stacks of stones lined ledges. I hoped these cairns meant something—that they were a testament to passage or survival. But later, a friend suggested the neatly organized stones were probably the work of people, or kids, who were waiting for friends, or parents, climbing the rock walls.

Approaching the river, trees blocked my view except I could see boots and legs beneath the branches and I was sure that I would finally catch up with Chuck and J.L.

My cell phone rang and it was Chuck. He said they had turned right at the intersection of trails and so had taken a longer route.

Beside the river, I unlaced my boots, pulled off my socks, and waded into the water. Eventually, Chuck and J.L. showed up.

Hiking back to the parking lot, we followed the trail between the Crooked River and the magnificent orange-and-red cliffs of ash-flow tuff erupted during the Oligocene epoch. The evidence is written in the rocks and the rocks are so large you can see them from Highway 97, yet the geologic story was only recently uncovered.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Writing the poem, The Good Earth, I began with my experience hiking over Smith Rock, especially the views but also the mystery of human activity in the details—of stones and handprints, even the trails. I also looked out across the landscape and thought about the routes we follow. It is a sense of wonder, with responsibility, that I’m after.

The Good Earth
by Katie Eberhart

We climbed Smith Rock and there were people
in the mouth of the stone pillar—
Monkey Face. To get there you go by
Terrebonne. From the highway you think

“this is a hard-stressed landscape,
an agglomeration without name brands”

but after climbing the steep switchback trail . . . . .

Continue reading The Good Earth on my web site http://katieeberhart.com/the-good-earth/

The poem, The Good Earth, first appeared online in the Elohi Gadugi Journal (Winter 2014).





1. I plan to return to the Box of Questions in a subsequent post.

2. If you plan to attend future Deschutes Land Trust Nature Nightsbe sure to order your (free) tickets ahead of time. They “sell” out.


The Crooked River Caldera, presentation by Carrie Gordon at the Deschutes Land Trust Nature Night, January 16, 2014.

Field trip guide to the Oligocene Crooked River caldera: Central Oregon’s Supervolcano, Crook, Deschutes, and Jefferson Counties, Oregon,” Jason D. McClaughry, Mark L. Ferns, Caroline L. Gordon, and Karyn A. Patridge. Oregon Geology, Volume 69, Number 1, Fall 2009.

Smith Rock State Park website

Map of Smith Rock State Park hiking trails.

Oregon Master Naturalist website.