Koip Peak, Sierra Nevada Mountains in Gary Snyder’s “Strategic Air Command”

PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Dunleavy. This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

“These cliffs and the stars
Belong to the same universe.
This little air in between
Belongs to the twentieth century and its wars.”1

One could spend a few good summers hiking to all the places in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that Gary Snyder mentions in his poetry.  In “Strategic Air Command,” a jet passing overhead and the questions of his camping partner—his son?—lead the speaker into a meditation on the relationship of the natural world, which dominates the poem with its longevity and vastness, and the human wars of the twentieth century.

While the note at the end of the poem specifically identifies Koip Peak, the poem itself only refers to an unspecified “snow rimmed alpine lake” that the speaker and his companion are camping near.  Koip Peak is on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains just outside Yosemite National Park in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.  The mountain reaches 12,962 feet above sea level and offers views of nearby Mono Lake to the northeast and the smaller Alger Lakes to the south.

Read more about hiking Koip Peak and see several excellent pictures on Peaks for Freaks. Find Axe Handles at a local library or on Amazon.

1Snyder, Gary. “Strategic Air Command.” Axe Handles. New York: North Point Press, 1983. 37. Print.

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