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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Pepper Trail: Forensics Lab’s Senior Ornithologist and Poet

Pepper Trail is the senior ornithologist at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon. The lab is the world’s foremost facility dedicated to solving crimes against wildlife. 

In addition to his 20-year career in wildlife law enforcement, he is an award-winning poet, with more than 100 published poems and three collections to his credit. The following poems are from his collection, Cascade-Siskiyou: Poems, a cycle of poems written in Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which was a finalist for the 2016 Oregon Book Award in poetry. 


   Reddish tree outlined by sunsetPacific madrone. Photo by NPS

No tree, standing still, moves as you move
No limbs so bare, so sleek, so suited for the dance
You crouch and stride, balance and curve 
Arms aloft, the art of gesture is yours, all yours
And the pines stand around you
Stiff with scandalized admiration

O madrone, dance now, dance
As never, dance up the mountainside
Fast and faster than ever you have done
Use the birds, all of them, the flocking
Robins and the waxwings, the starlings and the thrushes
In these hot days, burst with berries
Send them far and wide, send them
Always higher, find that place
Wherever it has gone, still cool
But below the hardest cold
Dry, but above the cracking earth

The time has come to run
You, madrone, cannot run
So, dance


Yellow pitted object growing  in ground amid leaves and grassYellow morel mushroom. Photo by Jessica Bolser/USFWS

Every spring I hunt morels
Every spring I return empty-handed
Or, perhaps, with one or two, a teasing taste

It is not me, exactly (I tell myself)
I have sharp enough eyes, and in company
Have often spied the mushroom that others missed

But on my hunt the morels elude me
Even as they lead me to look slowly and with care
At the carpet unrolled across the forest floor

To see the heliotrope unfurling in the sun
Frozen explosion of lime-green leaves
The fairy orchids’ weightless blooms
Floating above the pillowed moss
The intricate stitchery of bedstraw
Tying tight the leaf-strewn tapestry

To do what I love
To fail utterly
To return home satisfied:
That is why I hunt morels

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