Paradise is a walled garden. A lumber yard is burning to the north. It will burn for several more days. The pillar of smoke was visible for 20 miles on Sunday, when it started. Forest fires continue to burn to the east, ignited by lightening or coals from careless campfires, a smoldering cigarette.
Last week temperatures rose into the 100s. The valley sucked in the smoke, a great white inhalation, a stifling breath thick as burning fog, and we simmered without the maritime flow from the Pacific. Sunset burned crimson and orange. We watered the garden, the flagging pots of geranium and fuchsia in the morning, the cantaloupe with its new swelling melon, the grapes and herbs in the evening. Outside the gate the grass shriveled and dried, burned by sun and smoke. Wasps circled the mouth of the hose. There was no dew.
After five days, the wind shifted and the high pressure system broke. Something turned. There was a tilt, a shift, a soft mist from the west, and the leaves from the birch began to release and skitter across the lawn. I think of firewood and oiling my boots. I picked the blackberries and wild plums from the hill, simmered them down and bottled the juice. Yesterday, I picked bunches of peppermint to hang from the herb rack and dry for tea. Black flies circle under the eaves, willy-nilly, into the webs of great brown spiders. Paradise is a walled garden:
Xenophon, a Greek mercenary soldier who spent some time in the Persian army and later wrote histories, recorded the pairidaēza- surrounding the orchard as paradeisos, using it not to refer to the wall itself but to the huge parks that Persian nobles loved to build and hunt in. This Greek word was used in the Septuagint translation of Genesis to refer to the Garden of Eden, whence Old English eventually borrowed it around 1200.
Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic
Proximity Magazine 2017 Essay Prize Finalist
My essay “Gleaning” was selected as a finalist in this competition and I’m honored to be included in such an accomplished group of creative writers. The theme of this prize issue is WORK:
“For its second annual prize issue, Proximity was looking for true stories that explore the theme of WORK. Work defines our lives and our livelihoods. Work is labor. Work is art. Work is paid or unpaid, public or private or under the table. Work is at the heart of healthy relationships. Work puts food on the table. Work takes us out of our comfort zones. Work is political.”
August 4, 2017: Proximity editorial team announced the nine finalists for 2017 Essay Prize. Judges Adriana E. Ramírez (Essay) and Ted Conover (Narrative Journalism) will select winners (and a few additional finalists) who will be included in our October prize issue; all finalists will be included in a forthcoming anthology.
The first time I landed, I crossed by water. We sailed at night from the boot of Italy, running east in rain and wind, across the Ionian Sea. Our ferry tickets were deck-class only, and what scarce shelter the deck afforded was already claimed. I pitched my free-standing tent. We wrestled our backpacks inside to weight the tent against the ship. All night the nylon flustered and bucked against the wind. My sister and I cringe in the dark on the hard deck, fearing we would kite overboard in the gale. A clear dawn broke through the cypress trees on Corfu. I fell asleep, finally. I dreamt the throbbing ship engines were the heartbeat of a great beast beneath me, cradling me over the waves.
There are not enough words for purple, I think. Of those few choices English offers to name the fusing of primary colors, most are artifice. Along that inside passage, the purples of sea and land waxed dark at noon entering the Bay of Patras. Great stone breasts of islands were illuminated by the rising sun on the water to port, shapes shaded aubergine and heliotrope diminishing to violet. The diesel exhaust of the ferry smokestacks was swept away by the wind, yet the lingering back-scent was rich like earth–earth and the wine-dark sea.
On a Monday morning, not long after rush hour, August 21st, there will be a total eclipse of the sun. The eclipse shadow will traverse the United States, making landfall in Oregon and exiting in South Carolina. [See NASA detailed eclipse maps]. At 10:18 AM landfall from the Pacific Ocean is near Lincoln City, over Salem, the state capital, onto Madras and John Day in Central Oregon, through Ontario on the border with Idaho.
Eclipses typically occur twice each year, a lunar eclipse paired with a solar one, within two weeks of each other. The lunar eclipse of the full moon, paired with the eclipse of the 21st, occurs on August 7th. A solar eclipse occurs when the new moon crosses between the sun and the earth, casting the moon shadow down to earth and revealing the solar corona.
The Oregon Department of Transportation expects up to a million visitors for the eclipse event—adding one-quarter to the existing population of the entire state. And it will be an event. Camping sites and lodging in the eclipse path have been snapped up by solar tourists. Locals already are advised to prepare for crowded roads and traffic jams once the celestial show is complete, and to plan ahead for gasoline, groceries and gawkers. Crafters are working overtime cranking out commemorative tchotchkes for eclipse visitors to clip on keychains or open beer bottles. It seems the shadow fall will puncture the pre-eclipse carnival and, as the moon wanes across the sun’s face, the tourists will be back on the freeway.
The garments worn in flying dreams
were fashioned there—
overcoats that swooped like kites,
scarves streaming like vapor trails,
gowns ballooning into spinnakers.
–Stuart Dybeck, from “Windy City”
Dawn comes early and I can’t hide. Each May morning waking, dream-washed and clean, to a day of exuberant green dressed with dew. There is just one more moon between now and the solstice, a round high summer moon coming to mark our longest day in the northern latitudes. Then the days grow shorter again.
I have often thought the seasons were mismarked on the calendar. If, unmoored from the tyrannical grid of weeks and months, we found more names for the light of days and nights, would we not be less surprised and dismayed while the seasons passed?
My new seasons might commence on the cross-quarter days, those landmarks between solstices and equinox. There would be waxing and waning phases to portions of the year. This scheme might look something like this (in the northern hemisphere, of course):
February 1 First Spring
March 21 Full Spring
May 1 Summer
June 21 High Summer
August 1 First Fall
September 21 Full Fall
October 31 Winter
December 21 Low Winter
Friday night we went to visit colleagues in the tasting room of their distillery. It’s not far off the highway, tucked into a commercial-industrial complex, and the parking lot was dark with rain and largely empty when we arrived.
The tasting room tables are adapted from oak barrels with blocky wooden stools for seating. The bar is intimate and flawless, behind which racks of small tasting glasses were stacked. Bottles of their flagship vodka, navy gin and aromatic gin lined the bar.
We brought along a case of our quinine tonic, an assortment of each of four craft brews building on a cinchona bark base, to pair alongside the various liquors. The bitter taste of authentic tonic balanced against the lavender and angelica distilled in craft gin is a complex combination of sensations and flavor. There’s a renaissance of distilling going on here, following close after the explosion of craft breweries.
The warehouse in the back is two-stories with a loft office. A great copper and steel still dominates the space. The piece was designed and built to the distiller’s specifications. He named her Ginger. One day, he warned me, the copper will cloud. She’ll gain a patina, just as we all go gray. I thought of deep-sea divers as I looked down her porthole, and the vapors of alcohol rising through the pipes like drops of enchanted seawater. A giant genie’s bottle, a still is, weaving intoxicating and deceptive promises. Be very careful what you wish for.
April collapsed at my feet, folding like a soggy paper fan in the dark and rain. This morning I looked up and saw it is May. The grass is long and thick. The buds of the honey locust, often the last leaves save the oak, open fists of gold. Rosemary is blooming and the rhododendrons shine like starfish.
A black crow flies east against a white cloud, blue sky.
I spent many hours with my father these past weeks. Following his surgery at the end of March, he grew weaker rather than recovering, and needed constant care. By early April, he was admitted to the hospital for several days, tests and treatment. Recovery has been slow, yet steady. We celebrated Easter and his 85th birthday at the middle of the month.
Some hours, while I sat with him, I read from “Home” by Marilynne Robinson. The author’s spare language with lines as clean as an Amish chair is often difficult for me to grasp. I re-read a paragraph several times to take its meaning. Perhaps it’s a difference in vernacular, a syntax of rhythms that is unfamiliar to me, or the gentle piety of Midwestern pastors. I’m still working my way through the book.
The idea of grace Robinson returns to is like chaining psalms. “Assuming a posture of grace,” is a phrase I pondered during the month of April. With a posture of grace, first comes the possibility of forgiveness. And with forgiveness, then comes the possibility of understanding. I return to the idea as I stand in the garden, pulling up long blades of grass and see the grapes leaves are unfolding. The new green leaves are edged in rose.