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Turtle
By Kay Ryan


Who would be a turtle who could help it?
A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
She can ill afford the chances she must take
In rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
Her track is graceless, like dragging
A packing-case places, and almost any slope
Defeats her modest hopes. Even being practical,
She’s often stuck up to the axle on her way
To something edible. With everything optimal,
She skirts the ditch which would convert
Her shell into a serving dish. She lives
Below luck-level, never imagining some lottery
Will change her load of pottery to wings.
Her only levity is patience,
The sport of truly chastened things.

--------

A poem by our new Poet Laureate referenced in a Washington Post article, "Verse of the Turtle", by Bob Thompson. "More than a decade and a half ago, despairing that her poems would ever find an audience, Kay Ryan found herself writing one about a turtle. It was about as personal as a Kay Ryan poem ever gets," writes Thompson. "Ryan's appointment as the nation's new poet laureate, to be announced today by Librarian of Congress James Billington, will cap one of the most unusual careers in American letters...when she wrote the concluding lines of 'Turtle,' Ryan evoked a deeply pessimistic vision of her life's work." She told Thompson in a phone interview that she would endeavor "to prevent all bad poetry from being published during my reign" and admitted that at UCLA, she was rejected from the poetry club. Her career didn't take off till she was over 30, when she biked up Hoosier Pass in the Colorado Rockies, making it appropriate for me this evening, too.

We spent most of Tuesday driving through beautiful country -- first the scenic highway out of Moab that borders Arches National Park, through beautiful Entrata and Navajo sandstone structures, then along I-70 through Colorado, which follows the river into the mountains and provides stunning views for dozens of miles. We also stopped at Colorado National Monument, where huge red canyons filled with columns of rock alternate with high plateau desert and pine forest. The Rocky Mountains are visible in much of the park, and our route took us right through the heart of winter vacation country, through the hot spring resort of Glenwood Springs and the beautiful ski town of Vail, where we saw many ski lifts through none of them were in use in the 90+ degree heat of July. There were plenty of people in the Colorado River, though -- rafting in the white water, canoeing and swimming in the calm -- and until we hit Denver, the state was as scenic as Utah. Then, once we were through the Rockies, the land went flat.


From the plateau above Colorado National Monument, a view of the eroded stone formation called Independence Monument.


Monument Canyon, filled with stone skyscrapers and columns, created by millions of years of erosion.


A collared lizard. I didn't increase the saturation in this photo at all -- that's really how colorful it is.


Deep in Ute Canyon, it is easy to see the receding path of the river by following the ribbon of green. At top left in this photo is Fallen Rock, which fell away from the canyon wall when the soft siltstone and shale beneath eroded.


Like Arches National Park, Colorado National Monument has a Balanced Rock. It's estimated the boulder weighs 600 tons.


These rock domes are called the Coke Ovens because of the shapes formed by the wind and water as they sculpted the stone.


The Colorado River continues into a canyon in the Rocky Mountains where people can be seen rafting and kayaking.


Though the ski lifts were turned off for the summer, there was still snow high on the tallest mountains.


We're spending the night in Fort Morgan, which smells like cattle, before another long driving day to Omaha, during the course of which we will lose an hour off the clock as we cross the timeline. But if we time things right, I will get to go to Next Millennium, from which I have done a great deal of mail order shopping.
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