Sunset

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“I leave a white and turbid wake; pale waters, paler cheeks, where’er I sail. The envious billows sidelong swell to whelm my track; let them; but first I pass.”

–Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Rain rips the red leaves from the dogwood and whips waves of gold down from the birch. A frost last week, though not hard and certain, was enough warning to corral the potted citrus and thorny bougainvillea inside for the season. Crushing acorns underfoot as we walk the trails, a year in the making. The crows pick the meat from the shells and the dog charges the squirrels when we return. Shed.

Houses in the old neighborhood are decorated for Halloween. It seems it’s always been this way, this casting and passing, this litter of leaves.  Dad’s ginger dog Ben and I walk down to the park. We pass lawns decked out with styrofoam tombstones, trees dangling plastic pumpkins lit by violet eyes. These are wards, I know, talismans strung on each threshold to forestall unfriendly spirits, effective even if purchased at a box store. After the cross-quarter, such magic, no longer needed, will be assigned to the trash. But the warding is sincere. Darkness gathering in the north, we walk on.

 

 

Bridges

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The dog won’t cross bridges. She prefers to swim. A bridge is a different sort of crossroad. There might be trolls.

Once we hiked down the Ridgeline Trail, descending the grade to the footbridge over Amazon Creek marking the end of the spur, and Mercy refused to cross. She braced her feet like a donkey unmoved by sticks or carrots. The draw was steep and filled with brambles. I finally unleashed her and walked across. She watched me from the other side, stutter-stepping and complaining while I waited. With much rocking back-and-forth to test her mark, she eventually sprinted across the short span and took my arm in her jaws all reproachful at my betrayal.

We don’t go up to the Ridgeline much any more, not only because of bridge logistics, but because of my persistent prickling certainty we are being watched. Mercy might be willing to tangle with a cougar, but I am not. Or perhaps more truthfully, there is no doubt the dog can outrun me.

There is one wooden bridge she crosses readily, perfectly content to parade back and forth across, tucked along the trails among oak savanna at Morse Ranch. Today she happily leapt off the bridge down into the stream and returned after plowing through the water several turns. We met a little man there once, sitting and dangling his feet over the water, with a long ginger beard and a red hood. He tickled Mercy and let her kiss his mustache. If he whispered in her ear, I did not hear. A dog knows things.

It’s autumn, that time of year when the squirrels go squirrely, darting across a road before abruptly deciding to double back, only to freeze in place. It’s a pre-winter thinning of the squirrel population, I suppose, when the most fickle finally end up smashed in the road for crow food. A cyclist was killed when a squirrel leapt into the spokes of his front tire and he was thrown over the handlebars.

Beware of squirrels and trolls who boast of  “great and unmatched wisdom.

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Outlaws

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The roads I take to cross the river are easier to travel during summer, after the late spring exodus of university students. They pack U-Haul trailers and stuff back seats, abandoning kneecapped IKEA couches akimbo on the sidewalk, and wander off with purpose to other adventures, internships, home to work in the family business. Traffic chokes over the bridges; there’s no way over but through. Fall term starts next week and 20,000 students are unpacking and playing beer pong on the lawn.

Mercy and I got off with a warning.

Down at the old boat landing, heaving branches in the river for the dog to wrestle onto the sandy beach, I am chagrined to admit, we were ambushed. Caught unaware like freshmen. Let down the guard. Dazzled by the diamonds skimming over the riffles upstream. Who knew the police had a graphite black ATV to wheel down the rutted rocky trail leading to the water line? Mercy looked at the mini-mobile-park-SWAT vehicle and looked at me. I clipped on her leash and we walked up to meet the officers.

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It won’t happen again.

I had a friendly conversation with Officers Eric and Eric (both Erics, indeed), received the required  verbal warning dogs must be leashed in the  park, and inquired about the capabilities of their impressive vehicle. I studied the tire tread while we talked, assessing its footprint and clearance, asked about traction. Mercy nosed at the long grass. We disappeared up the rise and into the trees like the outlaws we are.

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A trough of cold air is slouching down from Canada; there are snow warnings for the Cascades this weekend. Alternating periods of rain and sun launched foraging season, with poison toadstools and penny loaf springing up, yet blooming with fluttery chanterelles and smokey morels as well.

I brush the dirt away from the gills and hood, give the mushrooms a quick rinse and pat dry. Half a yellow sweet onion, a sprig of thyme, carmelized low and slow in butter, before adding rough-chopped chanterelle, a dose of Marsala, a stir of cream, dished over pappardelle, all fog and woodsmoke, fleece and fall, jewels in the moss.

Rainmaker

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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 afternoon sky and the crumbs on the tablecloth. Cut the stems severely short. Wipe the small cobalt vase to place on the center of the dining table. Fill the blue bowl with water each morning and sigh.

Water the monster red geranium, the one that survived another winter, the one that spilled out and overwhelmed its large ceramic pot littering blood-red petals that smear underfoot into jammy stains.

Take Mercy to the river to swim and muck about in the weeds and willows. Bring home a flat smooth river rock that fits when I close my fist around it.

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Check the Orthodox calendar to confirm the feast day of the Dormition of the Theotokos is August 15th. I am not Orthodox, but the stores close in Athens and it would be difficult to find a taxi if I was in Greece.

Count the cantaloupes swelling on the vine. There is only one. I tickled the yellow-starred blossoms with a twig because I didn’t trust the bees. They seemed distracted. It’s too late.

Move the hanging fuchsia to the backyard; deer crept up on the front porch early one morning and ate two-thirds of it. The dog warned me, but I stayed in bed. Check whether the gladiolas were devoured as well.

Resist reading any news, avoid all media sites, including Reddit. Pace the length of the upstairs deck, turn, pace again as though the house plunged in open water and call “Avast,” to the pots lining the forecastle, exhorting the geraniums and bay laurel to hold fast.

Bundle up the wool Flokati rugs and lug them down to the local laundromat next door to the cannabis dispensary. (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.

Avoid the headlines. Return to the root.

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

Pick zucchini. Pick sun-gold cherry tomatoes. Pick pea pods. Pick cucumbers. Squeeze a grape, not yet. Wash my hair and comb through the spiral curls with my fingers before they completely dread.

Grate zucchini, salt it and and wait for the shreaded squash to sweat in the colander. Squeeze the water out and stir into muffin batter with the last of the blueberries. Freeze a few.

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

Write another poem.

Think of washing the front windows, but sit on the edge of the front porch dangling my feet and roll tiny white blooms of summer savory between my fingers instead.

Most things hang by a thread.

Augustine

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Nasturtium

Last fall I gathered all the wrinkled peas dropping from the blown nasturtiums and dried them on newspaper shoved to the back of the trestle table. I hoarded the dried seeds in a sandwich bag propped behind the dusty tequila and cassis bottles on the sideboard until spring. I planted them everywhere there was soil and hope of water and shade. Nasturtium flowers are edible, peppery, cheerful fellows. Each year the colors of the blossoms shift, mutate, shades and streaks similar, yet not the same.

I took Mercy to the river to swim this morning. We walked the path down to the old boat landing through foxtail grass and swaying bishop’s lace, the sky turning white as the sun rose higher, cool by the water but rising hot mid-morning through the fields. The dog dives like a land seal. I stood at the bank flinging sticks in the water and saluted a passing drift boat.

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Shaking it Off

Wrestling a rewrite on a long stubborn essay, shying from the squintingness of it all, I received an email from Cagibi accepting a 300-word postcard piece for publication in late August. (Thank you, Sylvie and Christopher. Just when one is ready to surrender, something shifts. ) Read “How to Set the Dining Room Table,” a creative nonfiction work in the latest issue by Elizabeth Jannuzzi. It’s a brilliant narrative device flawlessly executed.

Father’s Day

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Our old green 1954 Ford Tudor sedan sat squat in the driveway. My parents bought it new from a west coast bootleg dealer before I was born. Most Saturdays when I was young, my mother and older sister dressed up to drive downtown in the Triumph and browse department store racks. They ate lunch in the restaurant on the third floor of the Bon Marche, and returned with shopping bags flaunting tissue paper. Dad loaded my younger brother and me into the old green Ford, a shotgun or a rifle, and we drove out of town. Dad joked: Henry VIII was a Tudor; Joan of Arc was a wonder. Barney always came along, our fox-red Labrador, even if, sometimes, he rode in the trunk.

Saturdays I learned to scramble along reeds and brambles bordering the river, pry out  gray stones impressed in the bank to plunk into the current, how to keep moving when the viscous mud fronting the lake sucked to the ankles of my black rubber boots. I studied how to ease through these places, to watch and be still, when to wait, like any wild thing. I learned to trust what the dog told me.

–Excerpt from “Birds the Color of Water”

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Happy Father’s Day Dad.