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Bridal Veil Falls, Early Winter

The season's freeze has locked the waterfall,

its wavering fluid, into a cold permanence.

The last arcs of free spray, crystalised

in mid-air, are scattered among the stones.

Here is a preserved droplet, a Victorian stopper,

which will not melt for months. Water is held,

as these lines hold under the bite of words.

The wind is the one sound, hissing

into the crevice over the quiet ice.

For seventy hardening seasons I've watched

the stopping of waterfalls. Some of the time

I knew and perhaps understood how water

changed in winter, what happened to molecules,

how the structures of elements could petrify

in a night from bounding liquid to

an obdurate smoothness. Not any longer.

All that's confusing now. I am content

to watch the world turn cold with its old grace.

Some younger men will come, active, dressed

against ice, with crampons and pitons, coils

of nylon rope, looking up quite differently

from the river bed. They'll wear their red

windproofs on the pallor of the ice,

search for fingerhold and toehold, secure

their spiked boots, begin to climb.

It's grim work. At first one sees them progress

with a quick elegance, straight up, few overhangs.

But soon they must steady, take the ice axe

from its holster, with brisk hacks

of the blade cut steps out of the sliding

fall, blocks of cold spoil dropping

to the valley floor, skittering down.

They'll pull themselves up to the line

of sky above them, the canyon's edge.

What then? No axe will chop footholds

in that thin air. They won't fly, I can tell them. — Leslie Norris