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Book Excerpt: David Guterson's "Turn Around Time"


David Guterson, famous for his best-selling 1994 novel “Snow Falling on Cedars,” has always been drawn to mountains. Guterson, 63, has channeled that passion into a recently published book-length narrative poem, “Turn Around Time: A Walking Poem for the Pacific Northwest.”

The title refers to that point in an adventure when you must head for home or camp to make it back safely, whether or not you made the summit or destination. An uncle introduced Guterson to that concept on hikes in the Cascades and Olympics. To young Guterson, those turn around times often seemed too early or altogether unnecessary, but he soon found value in the idea.

In “Turn Around Time,” Guterson celebrates the landscape of the Pacific Northwest and ruminates on the concept of turn around time, both on the trail and in life.

Every step the same

Here, setting out, booted, burdened,

let’s suffer not to ask

about our end,

and do what we came to do:


I mean you! Before you’re grass.

No sitting on it undoes fact.

Let’s rise and go as trees go—

that is, with loss, and making way for light—

like trees traveling time’s throw,

Illustration from "Turn Around Time" by Justin Gibbens. Courtesy of Mountaineers Books.

like stones interred,

like stars, birds, dusk, the dark,

a piped lament, a river’s arc,

a hint, a dream, a moonlit ridge,

like snow or fog—let’s go!

Caveat emptor—rain falls here.

We’ll critique ourselves in current terms.

We’ll walk beneath a shroud, a pall.

We’ll lose ourselves in drapes of moss.

Contextually abroad then,

let’s consumer our hour’s trail,

drink our fleeting compass needle,

gorge on green,

graze in streams,

make our way to that distant aerie

where the ripples in snow

say tread is query.

Such is our path,

not asked for, not left,

not traced by desire or paced by tears,

not stormed by steps or lulled by cliffs.

Leaf, mire, meal, sepal,

the breathless shadow of a casting eagle,

the bog-borne gentian incognito,

shallow lobed or deeply pleated—

this is us by sojourn kissed,

shorn of stasis, tripped.

Excerpted with permission from Turn Around Time: A Walking Poem for the Pacific Northwest (Mountaineers Books, September 2019) by David Guterson.