matterhorn peak

Bubbs Creek Haircut

If there was a poet laureate of the backcountry, it would probably be Gary Snyder.  Snyder, now 86, still makes his home on the San Juan Ridge of the Yuba River watershed. Trail crew member, logger, fire lookout employee, environmental poet, philosopher, activist, and Pulitzer prize winner for his poetry, Snyder’s poem “Riprap” was included in the California volume of The Pacific Crest Trailside Reader.  Synder also featured prominently in an excerpt from Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, “Climbing Matterhorn Peak”, included in the same volume (which has been referenced several times in other hiker’s writings posted on this website … see Jeff Kish’s story from February 22, 2013 or Mary Kwart’s two-part post from February 16 and 19, 2013).

If you haven’t read Gary Snyder, you should.

“Bubbs Creek Haircut” by Gary Snyder (from Mountains and Rivers Without End, 1996).  Formatting limitations of Tumblr has compromised some of Synder’s spacing.

High ceilinged and the double mirrors, the calendar a splendid alpine scene – scab barber – in stained white barber gown, alone, sat down, old man

a summer fog fray San Francisco day

I walked right in. On Howard Street

                   haircut a dollar twenty-five

Just clip it close as it will go.

                  “Now why you want your hair cut back like that.”

                  – Well I’m going to the Sierras for a while

Bubbs Creek and on across to upper Kern.

                 He wriggled his clippers

“Well I been up there, I built the cabin up at Cedar Grove. In nineteen five.”

                  Old haircut smell.


Next door, Goodwill

                   where I came out.

A search for sweater and a stroll in the board & concrete room of unfixed junk downstairs –

all emblems of the past – too close – heaped up in chilly dust and bare-bulb glare of tables, wheelchairs, battered trunks & lamps & pots that boiled up coffee nineteen ten, things swimming on their own & finally freed

                   from human need. Or?

Waiting a final flicker of desire to tote them out once more. Some freakish use. The Master of the limbo drag-legged watches

                   making prices

                   to the people seldom buy.

The sag-asst rocker has to make it now. Alone.


A few days later drove with Locke down San Joaquin, us barefoot in the heat stopping for beer and melon on the way

                  the Giant Orange,

rubber shreds of cast truck retreads on the pebble shoulder, highway 99.

                 Sierras marked by cumulus in the east.

Car coughing in the groves, six thousand feet

down to Kings River Canyon; camped at Cedar Grove.

                Hard granite canyon walls that leave no scree.


Once tried a haircut at the Barber College too –

sat half an hour before they told me

                white men use the other side.

Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army up the coast

for mackinaws and boots and heavy socks

                – Seattle has the best for logger gear

once found a pair of good tricouni boots at the under-the-public market store,

                Mark Tobey’s scene, torn down I hear –

and Filson jacket with a birdblood stain.


A.G. and me got winter clothes for almost nothing at Lake Union, telling the old gal we was on our way to work the winter out up in B.C.

                 hitchhiking home the

green hat got a ride (more of that later).

Hiking up Bubbs Creek saw the trail crew tent in a scraggly grove of creekside lodgepole pine

               talked to the guy, he says.


“If you see McCool on the other trail crew over there tell him Moorehead says to go to hell.”

Late snow that summer. Crossing the scared bare shed of Forester Pass.

              the winding rock-braced switchbacks

dive in snowbanks, we climb on where pack trains have to dig or wait.

A half-iced-over lake, twelve thousand feet

               its sterile boulder bank but filled with leaping trout:

reflections wobble in the mingling circles always spreading out the crazy web of wavelets makes sense seen from high above.

A deva world of sorts – it’s high

              – a view that few men see, a point

              bare sunlight

              on the spaces

empty sky

              molding to fit the shape of what ice left

of fire-thrust, or of tilted, twisted, faulted

              cast-out from this lava belly globe.


The boulder in my mind’s eye is a chair.

             … why was the man drag-legged?

King of Hell

             or is it a paradise of sorts, thus freed from acting out the function of some creator/carpenter

thrust on a thing to think he made, himself,

            an object always “chair”?

Sinister ritual histories.

            Is the Mountain God a gimp?

The halting metrics and the ritual limp,

           Good       Will?


Daughter of mountains stooped moon breast Parvati

           mountain thunder speaks

           hair tingling static as the lightning lashes

           is neither word of love nor wisdom;

           though this be danger: hence thee fear.

           Some flowing girl whose slippery dance en trances Shiva

           – the valley spirit/ Anahita, Sarasvati,

           dark and female gate of all the world

           water that cuts back quartzflake sand

           soft is the dance that melts the mat-haired mountain sitter to leap in fire

           & make of sand a tree

                       of tree a board, of board (ideas!)

                       somebody’s rocking chair.

           A room of empty sun of peaks and ridges

           of universe of junk, all left alone.


The hat I always take on mountains:

When we can back down through Oregon (three years before) at nightfall in the Siskiyou few cars pass.


A big truck stopped a hundred yards above

             “Siskiyou Stoneware” on the side

the driver said he recognized my old green hat.

I’d had a ride with him two year before

a whole state north

              when hitching down to Portland from Warm Springs.


Allen in the rear on straw forgot salami and we went on south

all night – in many cars – to Berkeley in the dawn.

              Upper Kern River country now after nine days walk

              it finally rain.

                        We ran on that other trail crew

              setting up new camp in the drizzly pine

              cussing & slapping bugs, four days from road,

              we saw McCool, & he said tell that Moorehead

                        kiss my ass.


We squatted smoking by the fire.

               “I’ll never get a green hat now” the foreman says     fifty mosquitoes sitting on the brim

              they must like green.

& two more days of thundershowers and cold (on Whitney hair on end

hail stinging bare legs in the blast of wind but yodel off the summit echoes clean)

              all this comes after:


purity of the mountains and goodwills.

The diamond drill of racing icemelt waters

               and bumming trucks & watching

buildings raze

              the garbage acres burning at the Bay

              the girl who was the skid-row cripple’s daughter –

              out of the memory of smoking pine

the lotion and the spittoon glitter rises

chair turns and in the double mirror waver

the old man cranks me down and cracks a chuckle

              “Your Bubbs Creek haircut, boy.”

In Gyorgi Voros’ review of this poem, he notes that Snyder’s “jittery mobility” (flitting from topic to topic) more closely resembles the way we function in life. A blend of stream of consciousness, free association, memory and thought. The opening account of the barbershop and barber (”High ceilingd and double mirrors, the calendar a splendid alpine scene – scab barber – in stained white barber gown”) gives way to a meditation about shopping for clothes at Goodwill, reminisces about other haircuts and shopping trips, detours into a description of a hiking Bubbs Creek with a rowdy trail crew up to Forester Pass, breaks briefly into a song to Hindu dieties, segues to a hitchhiking jaunt with Allen Ginsburg, switchbacks to the Bubbs Creek trek, and comes to rest finally back in the barbershop.

It is worth reading several times.

“…there was something inexpressibly broken in my heart as though I’d lived before and walked this trail, under similar circumstances with a fellow Bodhisattva, but maybe on a more important journey, I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling.

…‘to me a mountain is a Buddha. Think of the patience, hundreds of thousands of years just sittin there bein perfectly perfectly silent and like praying for all living creatures in that silence and just waitin for us to stop all our frettin and foolin.’”

–Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums