July 09, 2008

The Parting of the Waters

I was reminded of this poem today when together with my 17 year old daughter Erika, we rode a portion of the Continental Divide Trail in Montana following the Mile Creek drainage up 36 switchbacks to the continental divide and the Idaho-Montana border in the Targhee National Forest just a few minutes from our place at the north end of Island Park, Idaho. The day was picture perfect for a back-country mountain ride a horseback. The winter snowfields on the north slope of Black Mountain are still feeding Mile Creek with abundant run-off. The narrow valley is lush and green. It is springtime in the Rockies with breath-taking wildflowers at every turn. This poem is about a different spot on the Continental Divide - one deep in the heart of the Bridger-Teton Wilderness area. There are two locations in North America where a stream follows the continental divide for a while and then splits in two - one following the Pacific drainage and the other following the Atlantic - this one in Wyoming and another in Alberta, Canada, which is accessible by car. I first visited the American "Parting of the Waters" for the first time during the fall of my fourteenth year, riding our sorrel mustang gelding Prince. It impressed me then and I continue to reflect on the significance of what I saw and felt all those years ago. I have attempted to put some of those impressions down in this poem. By the way, "The Parting of the Waters" is included on my CD "Rimrock - Where Memories Rhyme." Several individuals have purchased the CD for this track alone.

The Parting of the Waters
by Paul Kern

The parting of the waters on the divide,
Recalls our freedom to decide.
The daily decisions we have to make,
Set the very course our lives will take.

For a little distance from their source,
The waters follow the self same course,
They mix and gurgle and flow together,
Giving life to forest, field and heather.

And then abruptly they separate.
Following two paths to a different fate.
One flows east and the other west,
Both are equal but which is best?

One will follow the Missouri wide,
Then the Mississippi on the Atlantic side.
While the other pours into the Snake,
Then the Columbia on the Pacific wake.

Never again shall the twain be one,
The paths they took and the course they’ve run,
Differ so much and to such a degree -
It’s not all that different for them and me.

Friends from when my eyes were young,
Don’t come ‘round where my hat is hung.
For years they’ve not come by my door,
Nor I theirs – we’re different to the core.

Some chased women and others wine,
Some chased money - now ain’t it sublime,
That in the end none of it matters,
If inside you’ve died in shreds and tatters.

Some chose the bottle and some the fix,
They chose the city - I chose the sticks.
I ride my own trail in my personal life,
With horses and cattle and a good-hearted wife.

Give me the desert, the mountains and such,
The wild and unruly with no human touch.
Give me the hard gusting wind in my face,
That I might know myself and measure my pace.

So that when my river has finally dried,
And I meet my maker up yonder divide,
I will have followed an acceptable way,
And pour myself into His ocean to stay.

This old grainy picture of me was taken during the summer of my 15th year with a Kodak Instamatic Camera. It is interesting to compare the sign and the tress with the more recent photo at the top of this post. I am wearing a full pair of leather batwing chaps and a brass belt buckle from the Philmont Ranch in New Mexico. I am holding our mustang gelding Prince (on my right, your left) and Dad's horse, Slippers. This is the only picture we have of Prince.

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