Atmospheric rivers are relatively long, narrow regions in the atmosphere – like rivers in the sky – that transport most of the water vapor outside of the tropics. These columns of vapor move with the weather carrying an amount of water equivalent to the average flow at the mouth of the Mississippi River.
The Pineapple Express blew into northern California and Oregon seven inches ago, tepid and drenched, rain dropping like coconuts, a whiff of the tropical between shower curtains, precursor to that dank cannabis strain smacking of fresh apple and mango, with a taste of pineapple, pine, and cedar, namesake of the river in the sky. It’s tepid rain, night and day, relentless. Mercy doesn’t mind venturing out to roll in the puddles so much as I swelter in a zipped rain jacket while rain from the islands streams over my lips. Flood warnings are in effect for the Siuslaw, coast fork of the Willamette, and the Mohawk.
Ben, the crazy copper Brittany Dad rescued a year ago, lived to see his second birthday only by sheer red chance of mischief and puckish soul, for such are the whims of the dog daemons favoring the foolhardy.
Ben climbs ten feet into a tree following squirrel scent and bails out again when the trail plays out, straight down, diving like a sockeye. He escapes through a breath between wooden planks to parade through the old neighborhood, weaving across streets oblivious as a carnival reveler to cars, cops, and guns. For blessed are the ginger and the rufous, ragged cheerful children of Pan, to see another spring.
“We are not committed to this or that. We are committed to the nothing-in-between…whether we know it or not.”
There was thunder yesterday, hail. Rain beat down in sheets to flood the grass and gutters. I was driving along the parkway like a fool. Today the sky breaks blue and clouds scale the butte like dragons, slippery and serpentine, some white, others black, mostly grey. They lick the face of the hills climbing down or move along the ridge and it’s spring suddenly with grass thick from snow melt, daffodils and grape hyacinth, and everywhere the scent of blooming plum.
Grandma said thunder was the sound of dwarfs playing bowls inside the mountain. She said if the sky had a patch of blue big enough to make a Dutch man a pair of pants, it wouldn’t rain.
When she swore, it was by the twins, Castor and Pollux. I had two theories about this as a child: one, that she was referring to my Grandfather “Jimmy” or; two, Grandma was invoking Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio. However, in any instance, the “J” was softened to a long “Y” for reasons I didn’t comprehend and she shook her fist with more determination than damnation. It was many years before I discovered that she was swearing by Gemini, the Dioscuri, an ancient oath adopted in some sublime fashion I cannot explain, yet find delightful.
When we walked together, she pointed out different plants and told me their names. They all looked alike to me, all green, as things do to a child.
The snow is gone, even the last gritty floes in the grocery store parking lot, though sorting is long. It will take more time. Wood chippers chew in the hills, shredding up branches and limbs. Wild cat sawyers pull dented trucks to the curb and wrestle chunked rounds from the medians into their pickup beds to haul home and split, cure, and sell.
The night before the scots pine was hauled up the hill off the shattered back fence, I dreamed of a crocodile—the pebbled bark rough like a reptile’s hide. I realize this only when the trunk is sawed down to stove lengths and the crew of lean young men come for approval.
Pear blossoms lace through pine boughs. Mercy and I take the long way around returning from the park and I pause to look at this strange co-mingling. I make the dog stand while I breathe in mixed flower and pitch at the corner, wave my hand along the starry branches to descry a reason. Snow levered the pine’s roots from the ground and the tree fell to its knees against the neighboring pear. There are different types of pine, as there are many different sorts of pears: lodgepole, ponderosa, western white, sugar; each pine is known by its needles and fruit. Western white, I think, but Mercy is unimpressed and takes the lead in her mouth to nudge me up the hill and home.
The pine will be logged. The pear might survive. The little brown bats are out at dusk. A rufous hummingbird, bright as a new copper penny, appeared outside the window.
“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
Vic is shoveling snow off his driveway with a flat half-spade. There are soft trailing footprints where Mercy and I climbed the slope to deliver white bean and chicken soup and take away a bag of trash to the street. We put the bins out for collection Sunday night as snow started to fall and stick. I knocked a foot of snow off the bins with the snow shovel, twice. The snow on the hill is up to Mercy’s belly and my knees. I’m keeping an eye on Vic through the front windows as I write. Vic is 89. He doesn’t want any help.
Vic’s red plaid Pendleton is tucked into khakis hitched up to his lower ribs. When the sun came out after the latest flurries, he leaned against the garage and unzipped his coat. He slices at the top of the snow with the spade and lets it slip off to the growing pile on the side. Looking south to the Butte, he stops and rests, bowed with both gloved hands on the handle of the shovel. Twice I nearly pulled my boots back on to go out to help and then stopped. He refused my help twice already.
Monday morning there was a foot of snow. Mercy was out back barking before daylight, baying at snow drifts. My phone starting pinging with incoming text messages. The power went out at ten o’clock, yet I had enough presence of mind to brew extra coffee and fill every thermos from the top cupboard with hot water before it went. We lit a fire and set up the camp stove under a sheltered eave. I pulled on my gear and took the dog out back to dig the gate free while she capered and plowed through the powder.
Small trees, herbs and shrubs, my beloved curling hazel, all snapped and broke under the weight of the first fall. Fallen cedar limbs yawn like leviathan bones jutting from the snow. A 30-foot scotch pine toppled in the back and took out a section of fence. Fir trees cracked in the middle distance. An electrical transformer flashed and exploded farther away. Another ten inches of snow fell. Shy yearlings lurk down the hill behind tree trunks watching the dog tunnel in the snow. Deer mice crept in during the night to scoop frozen drippings from a corner of the grill pan.
The main roads are plowed now. The power is back. The sun was out briefly before it freezes tonight. Our hillside spur road needs to melt more to drive down; even in the Outback there is not enough clearance to negotiate the grade. Shirley was referred to an oncologist and has her first appointment tomorrow morning. She thought she’d try to walk down the hill to meet her son where the roads are cleared. I shook my head and suggested alternatives. Shirley is 81.
The patient advocate at the cancer clinic is sending transportation for the appointment, a chained high-profile vehicle with a chance of climbing.
Shirley doesn’t think Vic will be able to travel with her, although he desperately wants to go.