Ephemeris

ephemeris

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.

Practical Magic II

calamondin_infusion

The little citrus ripen to orange, plump as Bing cherries, a limey-kumquaty fruit native to Asia. Philippinas prefer them small and green and prize calamonsi flavor to finish a dish and give it brightness. I’m told the fruit is difficult to find in the states–one woman squeezes the juice on her long black hair to add even more shine.

The calamondin trees overwinter in the sunroom until they sag with the weight of the winter crop. I sit at the table with a salad bowl full of green, yellow and orange fruit. I wear rubber gloves when I quarter them because prolonged exposure irritates the skin. I fill a jar to infuse vodka and then pour the remaining fruit into a covered bowl to brew into colonial-style shrub syrup.

I toasted the last of the pecans from the pantry to make chocolate chip cookies. I tried to soften butter in the microwave. There was lightning. The wrapper threatened to catch fire, yet I was tempted by the lightning. I’m waiting instead. Neighbor Vic likes the cookies.

Monday night, on new-moon-eve-year of the pig, flashing red and white lights appeared in the street and leaked through the blinds. There was an ambulance and fire truck out on the hill. Vic was rolled down his front steps and taken to the hospital. He’s home now, recovering from a fall and blow to the head. Vic is 89 and very literal, but he likes my cookies.

There are snowdrops nestled down in the gnarled cherry roots. More snow is forecast.

snowdrop

Lunar New Year

rosemaryIt 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

Dog Magic

dog+magic

When I palm the tennis ball a new dog is confounded. I whisk the ball into a crook of the elbow and challenge the dog to find it. He lolls his tongue and shifts his eyes in a show of uncertainty. An inexperienced dog is baffled by sleight of hand. (Sleight: the use of dexterity or cunning, especially so as to deceive. A useful word.)

Mercy, the one-eyed pirate, grew up sitting through my tricks applauding with a thump from the tip of her tail. She knows them all now. She studied on the sleights. She knows a ball does not simply disappear, it is concealed somewhere nearby. New feints and magic ruses are met with skepticism. She trusts her nose, not her eyes.

Writing slowly, writing by hand. I type a fierce 90 words per minute, but what use is the page? Layers of bubble wrap is all it is; there may or may not be something valuable wrapped inside.

Common writing craft advice is “just write.” There is a post today on Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog advocating exactly this approach. It compares forcing out a first draft to purging after a night of binge drinking: write a draft, vomit words onto the page, go back later, edit, revise, rewrite. I understand. Some days I agree. Often trash sentences are better than freezing, better than no words at all. However, once words take up residence on the page that space is claimed by squatters. The mind settles on the done-ness of things, whether the work reads or not. We are easily misdirected. It’s dog magic.

 

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.