The Road North — A Spring Haibun by Featured Poet Chris La Tray

Highway 93 north, Missoula to Ronan, in the early days of spring.


traveling north
a lovely name on my lips
ch-paa-qn in clouds

A favorite story on this route is that of a Hawaiian employed by a Hudson Bay company factor tied to one of the first ever historical mentions we have of the Frenchtown valley, where I grew up. His name was Koriaka. How he came to be among these men I don’t know; possibly hired as a navigator somewhere amidst all that bustling commerce, come to land in the Pacific Northwest, and desired to see what lie on the eastern side of the tremendous coastal mountains. Instead, traversing the narrow trail connecting today’s Missoula valley with the lake country to the north he was ambushed and killed by Blackfeet. The path became “Coriacan’s Defile,” remembered today only by a road that bisects the highway I traverse just as I pass the casino, perhaps a mile shy of the only place I’ve ever struck and killed a deer while driving, many years ago in the earliest hours of an ink black morning.

cloud shadows
on the greening hills
of the bison range

A sky washed clear by rain and the landscape feels the quickening promise of a strengthening sun. First the transformation in the hue of every south-facing slope, brown-to-green, as if a page has been turned while this spectator’s gaze was turned skyward for shapes among the clouds, then the bright yellow flowers of the arrowleaf balsamroot, the blurry flash of bluebirds veering from perch to perch and soon, the miraculous song of the meadowlark.

an old story
in the voice of my father
every time I pass

Birdwatching the glassy surface of Ninepipes at 65mph, I renew my vow to spend a weekend here with time, binoculars and a notebook to revel in the company of so much avian grace, myriad duck butts, and gangs of turtles sunning themselves on old swamp flotsam.

an offering
that the missions might share
some of her burdens

I arrive early and take a side road off the highway to do little more than sit and stare at the overwhelming westward face of the Mission Mountains. To get out of my car and stand before them in the wind that curls down from the peaks and hurls itself across the valley and into me, watering my eyes, untying and re-tangling my hair. How many times have I gazed upon them? I’ve never been less than stunned, especially on a day like today, with some bruising clouds tearing free from the crags, every jaggedy contour still packed with snow and ice. They have borne witness to everything that has occurred in this valley. We do well to visit here to consider the wisdom they choose to share. Our lives are but pollen to them, scattered on the breeze, flashing briefly if caught in a sunbeam, then gone to the making of more, always more, of us.

mutual friends
urge me to tell her
I love her


Poem and photograph by Chris La Tray


Chris La Tray is a Métis writer and storyteller. His first book, One-Sentence Journal: Short Poems and Essays From the World At Large (2018, Riverfeet Press) won the 2018 Montana Book Award and a 2019 High Plains Book Award. His next book, Becoming Little Shell, will be published by Milkweed Editions in Spring 2022. Chris is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and lives near Missoula, Montana.



An Irritable Métis:


One-Sentence Journal:

Short Poems and Essays From the World At Large

by Chris La Tray