Practical Magic

“What is over, I can never finish.
The angel of work is sweat.”

–Rodney Jones

smoke_roses

I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my head this morning when I took my coffee outside. It was cool on the west side, with the sun breaking on the trees across the creek valley, yet not clearing the eastern hill across the road. Taste the first bite of turning, with the temperature dipped into the 40’s. Feel the urge to buy a three-ring binder and a wooden ruler, dust off my field hockey stick for afternoon practice.

The rufous hummingbirds will migrate south. They are slight and coppery, deviling the year-round Anna’s hummingbird when they appear in the spring. I wonder at such a fragile creature flying thousands of miles, like Monarch butterflies traveling to Mexico. I wonder how they navigate the Siskiyou range to cross into California. They will disappear soon, suddenly, with the cooler weather, take flight and no longer duel the Anna’s for sugar water and flower nectar.

The basil bloomed and, finally, I couldn’t pinch fast enough to forestall it. I made pesto. Grinding the herb with garlic and pecans, cups of olive oil, I forego adding parmesan and stack the containers like firewood in the freezer. The cheese does not freeze well. It will be added later, in winter when I cook, when I’ve forgotten the scent of summer.

trellis_melon

The cantaloupe is trellised. Mercy nibbles at the leaves while I water and eyes the melons. Soon.

The chimney is swept. No mummified squirrels were discovered, unlike in other years.

My contributor copies of Cutbank #88, University of Montana’s literary journal, arrived in the mail. I looked at the cover illustration of corn and lobster and thought it odd. Maybe it’s a crawdad, which makes more sense for a landlocked state, except the title of the image is “Beach Snack.”

The work of the summer season is ebbing, so the crowd at the Labor Day sale at the hardware store gathers up nails and paint, deck stain and waterproof tarps. We’re racing the rains now.

For August

roses2

For August, a checklist:

Buy roses, an odd number as the French do, rather than an American dozen–white roses, with a blush, to suit the bleached sky in the afternoon and the crumbs on the tablecloth. Cut the stems very short. Wipe the dark cobalt vase to place on the dining table. Fill the bowl with water each morning and sigh.

Water the monster red geranium, the one that managed to over-winter, the one that spilled out and overwhelmed its large ceramic pot to litter rubied petals on the deck that look like jam stains.

Check the Orthodox calendar to confirm the feast day of the Dormition of the Theotokos. I am not Orthodox, but the stores close in Athens and it would be difficult to find a taxi if I was there.

Count the cantaloupes swelling on the vine. I tickled the yellow-starred blossoms with a twig because I didn’t trust the bees. They seemed distracted.

Move the hanging fuchsia to the backyard; a doe crept up on the front porch early one morning and ate two-thirds of it. The dog warned me, but I stayed in bed.

Bundle up the wool Flokati rugs and lug them down to the local laundromat. (Laundromats are damp and dismal places, even with all the hopeful scents of detergent and fabric softener.)  Load a bag of quarters in three industrial-size machines, cold water only, and work the crossword puzzle in the free weekly newspaper while the machines spin. Lug the wet wool home again and flatten the rugs to dry in the sun for several days, turning as needed.

Let the young repair men inside to replace the tattered canvas of the awning. Though I tugged the monster geranium and its fellow potted flowers out of the way, the trailing petunia managed to be crushed underfoot.

Walk Ben to the park and loop down Walnut Lane to see the enormous house under construction. Let the workers pet Ben, but avoid the nice woman with the yellow Lab, because Ben is sketchy sometimes. Throw sticks for Mercy on the hill and let her greet the neighbor’s landscapers who arrive every Wednesday. She’s still wary of loading in the car.

Thread together eight thousand words of assorted prose to submit to USC’s Goldline Press chapbook competition. (Not quite at the last minute, though the deadline was extended two weeks; I submitted one day prior to the deadline. That’s August.)

Rip open the cardboard packaging to reveal my contributor copy of The Tishman Review arrived and see my piece nestled next to an illustration on page 92.

Strain the red currents that soaked in apple cider vinegar for a week and blend the juice with a thyme-infused simple syrup. Bottle the fruit shrub and tuck it away, satisfied with sampling the overfill.

Think of calling the chimney sweep, but sit on edge of the front porch and roll the white blossoms of summer savory between my fingers instead.

Dog Days

ben

Always dogs. His name is Ben. He’s a Brittany Spaniel, one-year old. My father adopted him, but he was a hurricane.

He’s not my dog. Sometimes I take him down to the park. The city waters the grass early in the morning enough to seep down past the roots. It’s still dewy and soft along the field when we walk through and circle for another pass. I coach him to follow, to sit when I stop, to come when I call. It’s so hot, August hot, that he stretches out in the clover to cool off when we pass under the shade of the walnut tree.

He’s not my dog. Sometimes I take him out to let him see ducks floating along the canal. He wades in and practices his dog paddle. Two canoes come upon us, in the shade of the lower canal, and he swims out to investigate. The women offer him tennis balls that were floating by, but he’s only interested in the canoes and the paddles. I thank them and slip the wet balls into the game pocket of my vest for later. There is pheasant scent and squirrel, vole and snake, much to be studied on for a young dog. Fall is coming.

 

Lammas

August is an adjective, as well as a noun.

The sun turns and slants south, a rising late summer light heavy with dust, a sultry white sky rimmed with smoke. Ferocious maws of flame chew through dry tinder mountains near Redding, California: fire gnawing forest, suburban lawns, homes and bones. Ash rises in mushroom clouds.

Birch leaves turn gold and drop, skittering and rattling across the road; the first leaves to green in the spring, the first to let go. The trees clatter. The blackberries are early this year. In the evenings, a doe leads her twin spotted fawns to the berm across the road to feed on the ripe berries.

blackberries

In the full height and completion of summer, we arrive at the cross-quarter, here between the promise of the summer solstice and the inevitable falling away at the equinox. It’s in my bones, this season, the time of ripeness and venom. My mother broke a tooth chewing ice the night I was born.

When I walk out on the hill with the dog, hat brim low over my eyes against the morning sun, the ground is cracked and sparse with weeds. The grass withered and died. Wasps skim over the sereness. I watch my feet. Yellow jackets hover at the hose nozzle. They are early this year, angry.

I set up the trap on the top deck where they menace and hunt. It’s a simple jar filled with water and a drop of soap. The jar is intersected by a funnel fixed with bit of chicken for bait. The wasps are drawn in by the scent, but cannot find their way out again. They drown, their own nature betraying them, like most clever traps.

 

Hours

analog_clockClocks don’t tick any more. Once upon a time, clocks were wound. The ticking of clock springs divided time. Darkness had cadence.

Bombs must not tick anymore. In James Bond movies, green and red wires attach to a wind-up clock. Tick-tick-tick: the immobile hour hand and the long minute hand lurching forward by anticipated seconds. It’s nearly midnight before 007 snips the red wire with his platinum nail clippers. These days, bombs detonate digitally, at a distance, with a cell phone. I suppose that’s progress.

It brings to mind that dark time of night, the very middle of the night, when the clock strikes three. It’s when we awake, or lie awake, soaked in apprehension verging on terror tossing and tangled in sweaty sheets. The prowling beast is at the door. In daylight we are distracted with shiny things; in the hour of the wolf, we startle awake to stare into night’s shadow.

Every journey begins in the dark. As you settle back into your chair while the house lights dim, but before the curtain rises, you begin. Lie awake in the night to listen for the alarm to catch your early flight out. Float in the dark waters of your mother’s womb, the light of the world inconceivable. We can hear our own heartbeat, there in the dark, alone with the dream and the terror.

Upper Truckee, Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada

It’s a thousand-mile round trip. Launching over the Cascades through Willamette Pass, running south with the pines that border the high desert, skirting Klamath Lake down to the California border, down south further, weaving through the Modoc, we buy gas and ice cream sandwiches in Susanville. I ask the clerk where we can run the dogs, and he directs me to a city park where community softball teams are gathering for a game. My dog won’t jump back into the car when we load to drive.

Mercy balks, unsure of her footing, distrustful of the plastic bumper on the Outback, though she can clear five feet over a fallen log. We back the left rear tire into a pothole on the gravel road to lower the gate and wrangle her back inside with an improvised choke chain. Emmy, the German Shorthair and smartest dog I’ve ever known, rides in the back seat like a boss with Dad.

upper_truckee
Sunrise, Upper Truckee River

We wait for the flagger to flip the sign, paving the road smooth and black on the highway into Reno, licking ice cream from our fingers, a billboard on 395 advertising a Counting Crows concert at the casino. We blow through Carson City up the pass on 50 to Lake Tahoe, weaving out of Nevada, back into California, south from the lake up further into the granite mountains at dark.

emmy_truckee
Emmy

There are black bears and mountain lions here, aspens, sequoia, pine,and juniper. I think on these natives before settling to sleep on the back porch, in the open air with the dog, trespassers that we are in this place. Each day I spot a sabled coyote up the steep ridgeline, dancing over golden boulders and windfallen logs, watching.