Planting Violets in the Sky

By Frederick Livingston, November 2023

shaky and pale as the thick sky
after her first drive in 25 years
winding elevation up Mt. Hebo
Carolyn emerges from passenger
van to gasp rarified air

today ten women from Coffee Creek
Correctional Facility planted thirty-five hundred
Viola adunca plugs among other native
nectars in one wet morning fast
as Forest Service could fetch trays

squelch of saturated clay
in spent summer meadow
prying trowels jim-gems
and dibblers few words pass
over power-auger roar

once abundant from coastal
California to Washington
Hebo supports the only remaining
self-sustaining population
of Oregon Silverspot Butterflies

other state sites require
ongoing larval augmentation
reared by Oregon Zoo fed
violet leaves the Coffee Creek
crew grows in pots and beds

but butterflies need habitats
to return to and every human
needs freedom to meet clouds
as equals to savor the final salal
and huckleberries of fall

undulating from peak to sea
our view is a clear quilt
of clearcut, regrowth, habitat
fragmented, climate unspooled
from its steady thread

all knotted roots and leaf riot
each green seedling
an apology does not
wash our wounds like time
but does turn the earth

IAE’s conservation in prisons
program is one such seed
this is a highlight of
my incarcerated life, Carolyn
said, her gloves slick with mud