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JAUNTS : These Hikers Take The Time to Hail Nature With a Rhyme : Poetry walks on the Oak Creek Canyon trail bring together those who love verse and the outdoors.


Under a canopy of huge oak trees, poet John Gorham leaned against a picnic table and recited the poem he'd written about Charlie Parker, a tough-as-nails cowboy who spat and cursed with the best of them--and was a woman.

Charlie used to hitch the team as fast as lightning struck ,

loading coaches quick and sure, he earned the greenhorn's trust.

Gorham, a naturalist for the Conejo Recreation and Park District, was leading another poetry hike along the Oak Creek Canyon link of the Los Robles trail system in Thousand Oaks.

The district started the monthly outings this spring, and they've drawn amateur and aspiring poets who like the idea combining a hike with a chance to read their own poetry surrounded by nature.

"A lot of people write nature-inspired poetry," said Gorham, who runs the hikes with naturalist Tom Maxwell. "Nature is my first love; poetry my second. This is a way to combine the two."

The hike that midweek day was leisurely and short, maybe a mile. It drew eight people, including a small child and a baby in a backpack. They strolled along the smooth, gradual trail, stopping often to examine plants, such as the purple sage, mustard, elderberry and the red heart-leaf penstemon.

At a clearing, they took turns reading their own poetry, then moved on to another clearing, where they crowded around a picnic table, read more and ate lunch.

Holly Emerson of Newbury Park, mother of two young children, had written some poems in high school, including one about her grandmother's death. About six months ago, she started writing again.

"It's a neat way to express yourself," Emerson said. A former basketball player at USC, she recently received a sports award, and read her acceptance speech in the form of a poem.

During the hike, she read a poem about a day at the beach with her children:

The skipped stones cascade to the ocean floor.

Seagulls, long since chased by small feet, rest.

Rusty swing chains stir only from the salt air.

Waves scrub away footprints and scribbled names.

Rose Lindgren, 12, of Thousand Oaks has been writing poetry since second grade. Haiku is her favorite. She read this one:

Tree's leaves dropping down

Weeping over the water

Tree, why do you cry?

Gorham hopes to feature a guest poet on each hike. Cowboy poet Gary Robertson, who works on a ranch in Hidden Valley, is scheduled for the next hike on July 8, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.

"A lot of cowboy poets have a deep reverence for nature," Gorham said. He read a couple of Robertson's works, including one called "Beamer" about a so-called cowboy who came to work in a BMW.

Gorham, 32, owns the Poetry Shop, a poetry hangout in Thousand Oaks. He also is director of the newly formed Conejo Valley Poetry Society. A poet 13 years, he got started after a series of tragedies in his life. A serious traffic accident left him unable to walk for a time, then a friend was killed in another accident, and finally a girlfriend died in a house fire.

Poetry was a way to grieve and "chronicle the healing," he said. "It's the closest way to describe human emotion."


* WHAT: Poetry hike and lunch.

* WHEN: July 8, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.

* WHERE: Trail head for the Oak Creek Canyon portion of Los Robles Trail, at the end of Greenmeadow Drive, Thousand Oaks. (Take the Moorpark Road exit off the Ventura Freeway, go south to Greenmeadow Drive, and turn right.)

* HOW MUCH: $5 per carload.

* FYI: The Oak Creek Canyon Trail, also known as the Whole Access Trail, was built to accommodate handicapped people. A railing borders the trail, which is smooth enough for strollers and wheelchairs.

* CALL: 494-8301.

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