Advent

rain_beams

The winter rains finally arrived on Thanksgiving with the full moon. Rain slanted sideways blowing in sheets, gusts bowed the trees and swung the long metal chords of the wind chimes to smash against the southern plate window. This is the hard cold rain that smells of snow, the hard gray sky indistinguishable from the black streaming streets, dark shadows of fir standing sentry. The sun’s gone south. The moon is waning.

American Thanksgiving is observed on the fourth Thursday in November. In English, Thursday derives from “Thor’s Day,” the day of thunder in German and Old English, Jupiter (or Jove’s) day in Latin, with ancient Greeks naming it hemera Dios, the day of Zeus. (The Hindi name for Thursday is Guruwar, which might be related to the god Vishnu, but I will withhold further presumption as I actually don’t have a clue.)

Thursday, the day of the sky god, a day of feasting and football. Zeus rules  Thunder, Lightning, Weather, Air, Eagle, Bull, Oak, Olive, Lion and Wolf.

The Thanksgiving morning newspaper was slight compared to the newsprint that arrived inside: flyers and inserts advertising Black Friday sales and stores that would open at 2 PM.

The Dallas Cowboys always play a football game on Thanksgiving. Their symbol is a star.  I was there on Thanksgiving once, in Cowboy stadium (now renamed AT&T) to watch the Cowboys play the Seattle Seahawks, the closest thing I have to a home pro-football team.

When I walked Dad’s dog, Ben, Saturday-after-Thanksgiving through the affluent yet middle-class streets I grew up in, women strode through their yards inflating Christmas figures arranged on the front lawns, frowning as they hung strings of lights in shrubs. Men balanced on ladders and cursed enthusiastically. Ben growled at the life-size effigies of Swiss Mountain dogs in Santa hats as we passed. I wondered if the giant Frosty the Snowman figure would be exhausted and deflated by solstice. Thanksgiving came early this year.

I finally sorted through the last remnants of food from Thanksgiving week today: whipped cream languishing next to a blackened half-avocado, wild rice forgotten in a yogurt container, bits of local Chanterelles fermenting now in clotted cream and cold pappardelle. Advent begins December 2nd.

I watched a flock of wild turkeys spar as they pecked at windfall apples in the road.

It’s dark when I get up. This morning it was too early, too dark. Mercy squeezes under the bed to sleep. She sings like a whale sometimes when she wants me to get up; perhaps this morning she was merely dreaming. She stole my flannel robe from the foot of the bed and I had to parley a bit of chicken jerky for its safe return.

The kitchen lights above the stove warm a sheltered circle. I catch slivers of my reflection in the window as I give the dog her breakfast and drink my juice. The tea kettle I’d cleaned before Sunday’s dinner party is splattered again with last night’s sauteing. It is the kettle, I think, the kettle I miss most before I leave.

 

Last Shine on the River

mercy_shine

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

—Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

Jumping Hoops

mercy_hoop

I saw Venus rising before the sun through the evergreens yesterday, before the fog floated up from the creek basin, burning white fire as the morning star.

Frost forms; fog forms so thick that visibility is limited to 50 yards until the sun gathers strength to burn away the veil. There was little rain this fall. The open ground is still packed hard, not yet softened down to mud.

When Mercy and I walk down the hill to the park, I wear canvas pants with reinforced knees and hiking boots. I scan for critters in our path while I counsel the dog, talking mostly so that cats and wild creatures know we’re coming. If they have any sense, they retreat. The crows call out when I close the gate; the quail stop to listen before withdrawing into the blackberry brier.

“She has a strong prey drive,” the veterinarian says, even though the vet hasn’t been wrenched and whiplashed  when a deer bounds across the road and up into the stands of fir, an understatement.  We go down to the hard-frost grass in the park as the sun melts the fog. I throw the tennis ball.

There’s a hoop left behind by some night dancer.  I roll it along the ground and the dog chases the bouncing rim growling, uncertain how to take down the unfamiliar creature. She seizes the hoop finally and holds her head high on return, jumping through the empty space, first two legs, then four.

Harvest Moon

aphrodite
Painted Tile in Author’s Collection

The equinox arrives Saturday evening, 6:55 Pacific time. Days and nights will balance, light and dark equal for a moment. Folklore says one might balance an egg on end during an equinox, but I’ve never done it. The moment passes while I’m distracted slicing a pear and the egg swivels and topples. Persephone descends to the underworld, the cloaked seed sleeping a seeming death. Six months ago, at the spring equinox, the light strengthened and grew. Seed pods burst and pushed into the air, leaves unfurled with Persephone rising. Now comes the time to let go. The harvest moon is nearly full.

fuschia_blossom
Fuschia

I have wandered and worked in the sun. In the dark and rain is the best season to write. Then I prop the door closed with a cast-bronze winged pig, enough to keep the heat from the oil radiator inside, yet wide enough for the dog to push her head through and, if she’s inclined, shove back the doorstop to shoulder through and lie down at my feet.

pashmina
Pashmina Collection

I have a small chandelier in the corner of my studio with battery-powered tea lights that still flicker without dripping wax. (Or threaten fire, if I forget them. An amazing feat of technology, this.) I brew a thermos of strong chai and stir in a spoonful of honey. In the dark and the rain, there’s less to see out the window other than the stony shades of sky and bare branches. The eye is released to turn inward, awaiting the shy wild shape of the work.

 

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.

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.