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.
She leaves unadorned,
shorn of the year,
rising into rain and air,
to unfurl her fingers,
uncoil her hair.
The sun pushes upward into an empty city.
The triple tree-of-heaven, Ailanthus,
Toppled once to the east, twice to the west,
Roots a waking bear crack the pavement as it falls.
Wrack and wreckage,
Flotsam flung from a receding wave.
What did you lose?
What did you surrender?
Because there was no choice save surrender,
As sun and moon met the Earth Shaker.
“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.”
― haruki murakami
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.
Tiny blue iris surface among the dead leaves.
Just when it seems like a corner, the horizon flattens out, far flung to the line of sight, so far the pavement shivers, and it’s always been this, this winter hex, summer just a myth we share to keep us believing–I never walked barefoot over pink daisies in the lawn and there’s never been spotted fawns sparring on the hill, and my hands will never be warm again. I wonder if it’s August in South Africa and Australia. If yes, please write.
I flinch with every chime from my phone when it’s another advertisement for thumb drives in primary colors that I don’t want, although I’m not sure what I want exactly, just nothing that can be bought. February is one long damn month for the shortest one: Valentine displays are dismantled and lonely hearts lumped in sale bins marked down for quick sale. The full snow moon passed over but she’s still digging in her nails and not letting go. Rain rages down shooting ice pellets. I’m tired of this story.
Tiny blue iris surface among the dead leaves. I had to go down on my knees to sweep them free.
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
The cold front passed over dropping a burden of snow to the north, smothering Seattle and snarling Portland. There were flurries and skiffs here. The Butte frosted down to the timberline. In gray fleece and white wool like the storm clouds, a pine-colored coat among the dark trees, I walked the dog down to the frozen field in the park. Clouds bloomed and swirled around the creek valley while we pivoted in the eye, the snow threatened and refrained, dizzy with the rising dash of it all surrounding us.
Mercy found a rubber ball under a bush. A lame man with an old dog joined us turning under the spiraling clouds. There was no one else in the park. Last summer he shot himself in the right leg and left ankle while cleaning his Glock. He carried a walking stick and leaned hard on it as we talked. Someday he would return to Baja and surf again. The bullet sheared a screw in his ankle from a previous injury. He was waiting for another surgery. We shared the names of our dogs, but not our own. His dog’s name was Beau. I threw the ball for Mercy as Beau looked on.
There’s a flood watch, bellowing gusts. Rain tattoos the glass. I have a book of days. It’s titled “New American Ephemeris for the 21st Century.” Such books were once used for celestial observation and navigation. Software probably has made them obsolete. Inside the book are tables listing each day of the century, line-by-line as day-by-day, with precise degrees and angles of the planets, the moon phases and eclipses.
The Greek word ephēmeros means that which lasts only one day–a mayfly, a snow flurry, or a newspaper. At times I take the book down from the shelf and open to some random future year, 2077 perhaps. I construct a mental orrery, a model of the solar system, with planets revolving from the data in the tables. I will not live so long, without doubt, to see 2077. It is a singular solace of mathematics and imagination to glimpse a future Harvest Moon.
It snowed. A wet warp threaded across the trees and garden to reflect through the tall windows and color the gray morning grayer, heavier. I swept the deck leading to the front door and the snow stuck where footsteps compressed it. The snow is melting from the eaves. It will freeze tonight.
It’s happening again, happens over and over again, turning again.
The fleece sweatshirt, the gray one I wear all winter, goes sour. My back itches. I fidget inside these winter clothes. The fleece crackles when I take it out of the clothes dryer. A wool sock is sucked into a sleeve and little sparks fly when it’s unpeeled. Stray strands of hair lean into the static, rise up expectant into the air. I wear the sweatshirt zipped up in the small cold room where I write. I wear it under a long burly down vest with full pockets that bash into coffee cups or door knobs when I turn. Time to shed a skin.
In the morning, before I speak human, I talk to the dog with hands and glances, a hula language of the body we both understand. I ask if she’s eaten her breakfast and whether raccoons came into the yard during the night. She bows and then glances in the direction of her emptied bowl. The rosemary is blooming under the snow, halfway between the winter solstice and the leveling equinox of spring. Tonight the moon is new, invisible, turning again, here at the end of the lunar year of the dog and the rising of the boar.
Time to shed a skin.
Kung Hei Fat Choy
Janus is a Roman two-faced god. He looks backward upon the path traversed whilst surveying the shrouded future, a guardian of gateways and thresholds for whom this month is named. It’s a long climb up from the bottom. The mountain goat’s hooves spark striking stone hoisting a coiled serpent tail from the black waters of late December. Twenty-one days have passed since the sun stood still at solstice.
The dog and I go out in the morning seeking, in fog, in rain, in frost. We search for tracks and signs, delimit fleeting clouds, eavesdrop on the crows gossiping between the fir and the oak. Walking in the rain down the steep hill to the park before Christmas Eve, I slipped on wet leaves and pine needles. I stumbled to the pavement, falling down to one knee and the heel of my right hand. We finished our tour, Mercy’s leash loose in my left hand, and came home. I bound up the wrist in an Ace bandage to support and immobilize it. Each day it improves, but there is a click inside now close to the bone that reminds me I am not young.
The new is waiting tightly as the old falls away. Last year’s leaves lie sodden against fences and curbs, spinning slowly away in the rain showers, down the hill. Today we saw willow buds beginning to crack their pods and green tips of daffodil and crocus jaunty in the mud. Exhale now. The light returns.