W.F. Lantry

Climbing San Jacinto

Cactus to clouds, or palms to pines, you must
begin at dawn. Near occotillos, drink
as deeply as you will. The climb is dry
the first few thousand feet, and when the sun
rises above those eastern hills, the sky
almost begins to burn. You’ll start to think
the chollas capable of leaping, spines

ready to swell with blood. Laurel defines
the desert’s edge, and promises a creek
well up the slope. Not even this ravine
supplies midmorning shade. The washes run
at angles down, away. You haven’t seen
a single rattlesnake, since your technique
keeps you away from open rocks, the dens

of burrowed owls, where sunlight now contends
with pools of shade, diminishing what’s left
near noon. The chaparral, the twisted sage
gives off its pungent scent, and dodder, spun
like webs between the twigs, helps you to gauge
your elevation as you reach the crest
of yet another ridge. Now pine scent draws

your steps along the switchbacks. You can pause
a moment at each turn to rest, and gaze
back east across the heatwave desert air
knowing the crest’s in sight, knowing you’re done
almost, some bouldering is left, and there
you find the benchmark stone. Look west. That blaze
of sunset air is light refracting dust.