Sara Dian Reads “Hardtail Harvest”
Rain and heart go pit-a-pat
Next month we’re publishing Hardtail Harvest, a sixteen-page poem-zine by Sara Dian with a cover drawn by Nhatt Nichols (below). This collaboration can be traced to Sara reading Nhatt’s poetry out loud last summer on a Pacific Northwest mountain bike trail.
Hardtail Harvest is likewise of PNW trails and audible poetry. I asked Sara for some background on the zine-length poem, which I originally heard before seeing it typed, listening to the track above (recording by Sara, music by Erin Finch) six times under a roof under rain in the Polish Highlands.
“It was a Sunday in mid-February 2022,” Sara of Olympia told me recently, in a voice message I have transcribed and gently compressed with her permission:
“I took my mountain bike, who I call Drub, as in to take a thrashing, on a solo date over to Port Angeles. I had the intention of riding the Adventure Trail: a twenty-five-mile rail-grade single-track between the Elwha River and Lake Crescent.
It’s also the final stretch of this lingering fixation I have, which is the Olympic 420, a backpacking route, wild and steep, circumnavigating the Olympic Mountains. I’ve been caught in this fluttery doe-eyed hunger for these trails since I first scouted them on the southeast section toward Hamma Hamma.
On this day, I drove out from Olympia. The road that takes you in that direction is the one that made me fall in love with Washington: 101 North heading west. The road becomes a single lane. The Olympics are shining, ebbing and flowing in and out of view, the cloud coverage milling about. The water is this very odd blue, almost a green blue and so deep. It looks like a crazy Crayola color you’re curious about, sucking you down into a question.
It’s morning. I have a 2006 Chevy Cobalt with a sketchy bike rack on the back. It is the vehicle my mother gave me after my father passed. It was his work vehicle. I drove that car out from Ohio all the way to Washington. I have his hat in the back, looking out the window. His hat looking out at Drub, held down by a bunch of straps and whatnot, thrashing on the back of my car, giddy.
It takes about two hours to get to Port Angeles. I get on the bike and head down the trail. It’s not really warm, not really not warm. I have Converse on, wool socks, nothing special. I’m feeling pretty comfortable going up. It feels so good to be on route. I’m not thinking about anything. There’s just breath, and there’s just wildness, and wild eyes toward it all.
It starts to rain. This gorgeous rain. Trickle. It’s finding you. You’re getting wet but it never really soaks in. I can hear it bouncing off my bike, off my helmet.
About fifteen miles in I hit snow. Extravagant amounts of snow. I’m not really prepared for snow but I walk it. I pull over and I lay the bike up and sit and watch as this moment occurs that I feel I’ve snuck in on, and I need to be quiet and enjoy it and appreciate it and sit there and watch it rather than engage with it in a more active sense.
I am shivering. I am smiling.
I don’t finish the trail. I turn around and head back to my car. I feel like I’m bursting with awe and joy. I am more certain in this moment than at any other moment that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
On the downhill ride I am so cold. The wind is catching me in the face and the arms and my feet soaked in snow, then that slow pour of water that’s been trickling down. I’m muddy, earth splattered all over my face and my body. And I feel gorgeous. I feel like myself. I feel that I make sense. I know how to live in my body saturated by the Olympics. My body is kind and impactful.
The sun is getting ready to set. I get back to my car and change, putting on dry wool socks and my fleece pants and top. I have no plans but for some reason my body says: ‘Now we have to go to Port Townsend. It’s the next stop.’
So I head to Port Townsend. I’m listening to the radio. They’re talking about high-wind warnings. I can feel it; I don’t need to hear it. I have my bike strapped down but she’s rattling all across the back of the vehicle. I’m a little spooked and nervous and going slow in traffic on this one-lane road. There are trees down everywhere. Headlights reflect off the mirrors. The golden hour.
It takes a while but I reach Port Townsend. I go directly to Copper Canyon Press. I sit on the green steps. This is what I mean when I talk about ‘copper priests’ mouths,’ the mouth of this publishing house. So many authors and folks that have done the best they can to put together the works that have come out of this place. This tiny, tiny building.
The Pacific is right there. I can feel it in the air. I can feel everything coming up and rising to meet me where I am at. Out of my fanny pack I take a Rainier beer, nothing fancy. I cheers my beer out to the Pacific. I give thanks, a prayer if you will. And I have a beer with the Pacific.”