Norman Schaefer

Sunny Top of

Sierra Nevada Poems
& a Story

120 pages



“The poems in The Sunny Top of California are virtually all from the long, high, almost invisible from outside, California Sierra Nevada. Many of them show the influence of classical Chinese poetry and a bit of Han Shan, the “Cold Mountain” poet. Even so they all have Schaefer’s own stamp. They are physical, muscular, gritty, and full of fresh air. I know of nobody else who catches the feel of the high country rocks, trails, and winds, with the immediacy that Norman does. Some are at night, cold, and hungry, but they are always quietly joyful.”
—Gary Snyder

Norman Schaefer’s The Sunny Top of California: Sierra Nevada Poems & A Story (La Alameda Press, Albuquerque, 2010). It’s beautifully designed by master bookmaker JB Bryan, has an Obata woodblock on the cover and lively poems (and a story) that will charm lovers of mountains and verse in the same way that Chinese poets memorialized the mountains of their land.
— Art Goodtimes



Wind and melting snow,
crumbling spurs.
Boulders scattered like rubbish,
Charybdis: dark, alone.
Plants and animals biding their time,
follow the retreating ice.
Pines march up morraines
warmed by the sun.
Pearl white cumuli
boil overhead.
I climb toward cloudland
everything a/tilt.
Bouldering and mountaineering,
my body groes stronger.
Sleeping by streams,
my mind opens and clears.
Those years of higher learning
at boarding school and college:
better to have spent them here
reading the mountains like a book


Norman Schaefer has been walking and backpacking the Sierra Nevada for over four decades. He has hiked from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite National
Park, the John Muir Trail from Yosemite Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney, as well as the region north to Sequoia National Park—
plus all points between.

Written from 1994–2009, these wry, but wise, poems feel part of an ancient mountaineering tradition that connects wilderness to the landscape of the spirit. Rarely does one encounter poetry which seems so vividly distilled from this practice of wandering and inquiry.

Norman Schaefer lives in Port Townsend, Washington.