Shirley Lake Trail, Lake Tahoe in Robert Hass’s “On Squaw Peak”

Aerial tram on its way to High Camp, the upper terminus of the Shirley Lake Trail. PHOTO CREDIT: Frank Schulenburg. This photo is licensed under the the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

“I don’t even know which sadness
it was came up
in me when we were walking down the road to Shirley Lake,
the sun gleaming in snowpatches,
the sky so blue it seemed the light’s dove
of some pentecost of blue,”1

The speaker in Robert Hass’s “On Squaw Peak,” begins by describing the natural environment that he encounters while hiking with a fellow professor near Lake Tahoe. The feeling “like hilarity” that accompanies seeing hardy wildflowers returning each summer, soon gives way to his internal thoughts about his inability to express to his companion the loss he felt after he and his wife suffered a miscarriage. The poem beautifully explores the rhythm of loss that gives rise to both suffering and beauty. In his typical style, Hass weaves together multiple ideas developed through his imagery and brings them all together at the end, in this case to capture the richness of life, and the overwhelming “abundance” that it sometimes gives us in our fleeting time here.

The Shirley Lake Trail begins at the Squaw Valley Ski Resort near Lake Tahoe. Hikers can follow the trail to Shirley Lake and return to the base, or they can continue to High Camp at over 8000′ and, as the speaker and his companion in the poem do, take the arial tram back down to the parking lot. The altitude of the trail results in the short flowering season that Hass describes in the poem and the requisite hardiness of the flowers that survive there.

Read more about Robert Hass on Poetry Foundation and Shirley Lake Trail on AllTrails. Find “On Squaw Peak” in Human Wishes at a local library or on Amazon.

1Hass, Robert. “The Harbor at Seattle.” Human Wishes. New York: Ecco, 1989. 81. Print.

Have an idea for a Daily Spot?  Send us an email.