But I cant stop now
Half the water is gone from the bucket when I check it this morning, but there’s less ash than the day before.
They come at night, creep up from the dry shaggy woods in the dark to drink. I dump the water and carry the bucket back to the house and rinse it out. I refill it with as much water as I can carry without slopping out most of it walking back to the hill where the deer trail opens from the withered bramble. With the fire so close, the wild creatures are fleeing the forest and moving down toward town. 150,000 acres of wildfire burn a few miles to the east-northeast, ash flurries sift down. I wear my best mask, pull my hat down low.
The West is on fire.
The red flag warning for strong dry easterly winds was issued over the weekend. Labor Day skies dawned clear and blue with the coppery mellow light of early autumn, a crackle of birch leaves skittering across the drive. By evening smoke enveloped the valley in a sickly thick fog. Hard winds swirled up born of the high pressure and heat in the heart of the state and dropped trees and power lines. Power lines sparked fires in the parched forests.
Evacuation alerts for the eastern county into the Cascades woke us in the night. The fire jumped the river and consumed homes and towns along the watershed, fire burned down river insatiable. Rainbow trout, summer steelhead, and Chinook salmon hatchlings were released downstream from Leaburg moments before the fire overtook the hatchery. It’s too soon to know what is lost, but it is incalculable. The fires are still burning.
“My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things — trout as well as eternal salvation — come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”
–Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
“Probably most catastrophes end this way without an ending, the dead not even knowing how they died…,those who loved them forever questioning “this unnecessary death,” and the rest of us tiring of this inconsolable catastrophe and turning to the next one.”
–Norman Maclean, Young Men and Fire
A shallow copper bowl rests on a white birch stump left behind after the ice storm killed the tree. It was a crow tree, where princelings came to find food and water, watched clouds gather over the butte, and bickered from the branches. From the birch outpost, the crows defended their rookery from red-tailed hawks and falcons, while providing cover to the neighborhood doves and chickadees.
During the August moon, young crows audition before their elders stationed at the top of nearby oaks to compete for their place in the tribe: scout, gleaner, nanny, or warrior. Some rare years convocation arrives, a great gathering of the entire clan called together. Perhaps they are summoned to mourn the passing of their Queen and anoint a new one, perhaps to draw new boundaries, affirm alliances, or arrange marriages. When the full August moon sets the morning after the assembly, the raucous cawing chorus across the valley falls silent. The ritual ends.
The copper bowl weathered to a green patina. It balances aslant on the thumbprint-ringed stump tipping down the hill. It is dry by morning, the bottom scattered with tiny locust leaves, wind-blown fluff. The basin catches plunked rain drops, arcs of water raised over blown snapdragons, misty rainbows shed from dark rhododendron leaves. The water-filled bowl reflects the waxing moon when she is nearly full and Venus when she sets as evening star.
The surface is still, yet to gaze beneath is to read ripples stirring under water just as old glass moves and flows in thickened panes set in ancient window frames. Under water, through the glass, there is harlequin and halfling, spokes of ever-turning wheels and swords set in stone; there is blood for certain bled from both birth and murder, Kraken storms at sea and high castrato hymns, ribbon streamers dyed with elixir distilled from violets and roses, endless seasons of windfall fruit from heirloom apple. To scry is to watch as a windowpane, seeing both forward and backward, time ever present and ever spiraling, but it is not a threshold to walk. There is no door.
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 survive three winters, the one that spilled out and overwhelmed its large ceramic pot to litter petals on the deck that look like jam-stained rubies.
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. It was yesterday.
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.
Make more refrigerator pickles, grate zucchini and salt it, squeeze out the water in a clean cotton rag. Bake muffins. Bake pastitsio. Grind handfuls of herbs from the garden with garlic, olive oil, anchovy, fresh lemon and blend in creme fraiche to drizzle on watermelon.
Listen for distant thunder.
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 supposedly 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 roses and nastursiums 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.
Wash the grime, the dust, the layers of cedar off my old pony because it’s hard to see out the windows when Mercy and I head down to the river. The car is 22 years old and I paid much more to have her rebuilt than her resale value, but she’s a trusty manual transmission and survived my son learning to drive and his powerslides into curbs, although she is missing two hubcaps and the right side mirror.
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.
[A revised repost from August 2018]
“Had a dream
You and me and the war at the end times
And I believe
California succumbed to the fault line
We heaved relief
As scores of innocents died”
Pea vines gone to paper, I pulled them this morning and sorted through the last snaps: supple green steamed for supper, coarse corky pods spread to dry for seed.
Four head of lettuce pulled before bolting, leaves stripped, washed, waiting ready for the bowl.
In March there was only wanting, only walking, planting seed and trusting because there was nothing else to believe.
What to do with this knowledge that our living is not guaranteed?
The corner of the top deck leads south-southwest, a prow of an old sailing ship leaning into harbor. I drink morning coffee under the awning, even in the winter, even with my down coat zipped and a slippery mug gripped by fingerless gloves. Unless there is typhoon, when even the crows and jays are grounded, and instead I pace at the window.
Barefoot on soft cotton July mornings, the plants that wintered the darkness flower and tiny seeds planted in April now sprout fruit. A chorus of black-eyed susans lean and nod as I tell them secrets learned during the night. Outside the kitchen door are pots of dill, parsley, tarragon, thyme, mint, and oregano. Rosemary is wild and refuses to be bound. She grows in the ground, tosses her hair against typhoon.
In March there was nothing but bones.
Perhaps we are only the reflected magic of what we cultivate, a passing breath blown on a silver mirror. Cross Quarter Day comes, a reef to bank and tack against, halfway between solstice and equinox, the feast of first fruits. In other years there would be fairs, music and contests, and young couples hand-fasting, but not this year. This year we offer up the grain on a solitary alter after Lugh of the long hand.
Days grow shorter. Light leaks away more spilling sand.
It’s nearly my birthday
A found poem:
What’s hilarious about covid, whether youre antivaxx, anti-mask, believe its a hoax, believe somehow you’re special and exempt cause 1% and all and no one you know has it…
…Thing is. Whether it’s your family members, loved ones, friends, everyone you interact with even for two seconds, or just someplace you just placed your wee little hand. Whether you’re high up in life or down in the streets. Don’t matter. There’s no hiding from this game. You don’t know how many of them right now are rolling that pair of dice. Over. And. Over. And the funny part. They won’t know if they’ve won.
Just imagine it. You walk in the house. The entire family is sitting at the kitchen table. Rolling dice
My father still lives in the house I grew up in, lives alone since my mother died twenty years ago. For twenty years, Dad kept the last Mother’s Day fuchsia I gave her alive until the old knot of roots finally failed. I repotted it twice, each time doubtful. He brought it inside each winter, placing a plastic yellow bucket underneath to catch the watering runoff. I cut stems before it faltered, grew new roots, grew two new plants. It’s not the same, I know. It’s something.
We might save our lives but not our flagrancy.
Dad finds dogs on sale with varying outcomes, lost causes in need of rescue and rehabilitation, German Shorthair or Brittany Spaniels. Emmy is the prize. He found Ben up the valley on a farm, a food- jealous, resource-guarding bright Puck unable to make eye contact.
I started him on a leash around the little block of the old neighborhood using Mercy’s hefty retractable that we run through fields after pheasant scent, though Ben is half her size. (You can never be a bigger asshole than from the beginning.) I landed him like a Chinook at the end of the line when he bolted. Then we talked.
For two years Ben and I walked the old neighborhood, under old trees with leaves and without, in rain and fog and steaming July heat.
A woman we met walking told him he carries Buddha’s thumbprint on his forehead.
Another woman gave him a plaid bandana to wear around his neck.
Ben catches my scent out back when I tend Dad’s garden and calls for me to come, it’s time to walk.
“This harmful road into the New World, quickly became a ruthless, angry search for wealth. It set a tone in the Americas. The quest for personal possessions was to be, from the outset, a series of raids, irresponsible and criminal, a spree, in which an end to it–the slaves, the timber, the pearls, the fur, the precious ores–was never visible, in which an end had no meaning.”
–Barry Lopez, The Rediscovery of North America
Barry Lopez lives upriver, below Sahalie and Koosah, close by the landing at Finn Rock. I believed it was mine, this river; these were my own moss ferned trails down to rock and rapid. I read Lopez’s River Notes.
Each spring I ranged over stone deltas along the river channels to study the flow, after winter floods remapped the current, before wading into the water and letting snow melt wash me down stream. The black dogs walked up river beside me and then floated along behind, waves of August bleaching the bend where we would land.
I was young and proud in presumptive possession, but long years teach, even if one does not learn: I belong to the river, bearing the same nativity as heron or trout, not the other way around.
A green university town, emptied of students in March, ordered under curfew two nights, a text alert announcing the second restriction was delivered eight minutes after it was already being enforced. Windows broken in Starbucks; fires set.
Traffic stopped Sunday over the Ferry Street Bridge, made way for crowds marching north to the river front park, mostly masked and carrying signs, a young woman riding her small gait horse bareback, so many people so close together after so many weeks, panting for breath.
“We would have to memorize and remember the land, walk it, eat from its soils and from the animals that ate its plants. We would have to know its winds, inhale its airs, observe the sequence of its flowers in the spring and the range of its birds…To be intimate with the land like this is to enclose it in the same universe we occupy, to include it in the meaning of the word community.”