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.

 

Gold Dust Monsoon

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Dragon Jail

Mercy and I walked down to the river kicking drifts of cottonwood fluff along the trail. In the long thick grass the dog seized sneezing when we crossed a field to strike the southern path to the old boat landing.  She swam after sticks in the green water fresh with snow melt to wash away the pollen. I held a stick underwater for her to dive down to retrieve and rinse the grit from her eyes and nose.  She dashed along the sandbar in loops and didn’t want to be leashed to walk back.

It happens every year, this river of grass seed pollen flowing down from mid-valley, cottonwood tufts like trout swimming south at dusk. Everyone is angry it seems, caught in a riptide gold dust monsoon and flailing out to sea. There’s nothing for it but sleep and showers swimming sideways. Everyone is angry.

I don’t need to buy groceries for the neighbors any more, Shirley said. She’s in hospice care at home. Vic just got released from the hospital after four days. There is traffic up on our hill now with traffic jams when more visitors or the mail truck arrives. Mercy and I still check Vic and Shirley’s gates every morning and I wonder if I can bear it.

Repost – June 2017

This morning my neighbor came out in her nightdress to water flowers in the brick planter fronting her steps. I try not to notice and sit very still. The sun is breaking over the hill and filtering through the birch leaves. I think I am a tabby cat, mottled and camouflaged, in the dappled light. I don’t have a nightdress to wear out into the morning.

It goes to the head, this golden haze of pollen and drifting cottonwood. It’s fairy dust. The trees and grass release their magic as the day grows, to be caught in the wind and blow south. Some afternoons, especially near the river, it seems it’s snowing. My eyes itch with it. People sneeze and scratch. They try antihistamines which only makes them thirsty and angry. It’s easier to try to think in the morning. Later in the afternoon, there’s a full lulling need to sleep, to drift into some new fairy tale, succumb to the spell cast by the gold dust.

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Thistledown

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“It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

–Ray Bradbury

“It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters that you do,”

–Me, to my teenage son

Walking out on the hill in the rain this morning  into that sweet earthly scent of rain on dry grass–petrichor, the blood of the old gods falling on stone–to shrug off the hood and let the drops burnish my hair.

Since the deluge in April, there was little rain, not the soaking female rain of spring that trickles to the root. Days have been warm and mornings spent carrying water in cans and hoses, swearing at sprinkler heads with stripped threads and leaking faucets forgotten in October, sprinkling, spraying, misting, playing the rainbow in the arc of falling water.

Zucchini seeds burst above ground yesterday, waiting until I was distracted, between morning watering and evening’s final tour. There are globes forming on the artichokes that are still small as thimbles. I let the thistledown bloom lavender blue and invite the bees to a buffet. The plums are red and hard as olives.

I gleaned wild asparagus with Grandma from the banks of irrigation ditches and pastures when I was a child, keeping a wary eye out for a bull or vexed mule. No two spears were the same shape, size, or color, as they are cultivated now. Some were thick and squat and purple; others willowy and pale green, with an occasional natural albino, a bouquet of spring phalli jutting from earth into the light.

Local asparagus is coming in season and to market, tender and firm (however disappointing in uniformity.) I buy a braces of it, while it lasts, to saute simply in a splash of stock and butter, a drop of white wine, and a drizzle of maple syrup, simmering off the liquid and shaking the pan to finish with a blister. The cure is always growing nearby.

 

 

What Rises, Never Returns

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Pushing Upward means successful progress. Have no anxiety about meeting with the great man. An advance to the south is fortunate.

Trees grow from earth; this is Ascension. Thus the Jun zi diligently cultivates his virtues little by little to become tall and large like trees growing.

–The Book of Changes, Hexagram 46

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Joyas Voladoras

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“It’s expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.”

–Brian Doyle, “Joyas Voladoras,” The American Scholar

Brian Doyle was an essayist, novelist and editor of Portland Magazine. Some dozen years ago while working as a software analyst and project manager, I submitted a piece to the Oregon Quarterly‘s annual essay contest. My essay was selected as one of ten finalists with Doyle as the final judge. Finalists were invited to an afternoon’s conversation at the University of Oregon campus followed by a public reading that evening.

I accepted the invitation. Doyle reviewed each essay during that afternoon. When he came to mine, he looked up over his glasses across the table. “What can I say. This is a mess. It’s beautiful, but it’s a mess. Maybe you’re a poet.” He moved on to the next essay in the stack. I didn’t attend the public reading.

Brian Doyle died of brain cancer in 2017. The Oregon Quarterly no longer holds an essay contest, reinventing itself as an arm of the university’s marketing department. I went back to writing project plans and business cases for ten years until I wrote them all.

“A hummingbird’s heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas voladoras, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas.”

–ibid

The moon is full tonight, again. The dog inside barking at the moon sinking in the west early this morning. Moon-keeping time signals spring Easter and Passover holidays when she waxes full after equinox, marking Ramadan and Asian New Year when she is dark and new. The first red dogwood bracts unfurl outside the window.

I rediscovered new black ballet slippers I bought on sale in October and tucked away for now, this spring moment. I forgot them in the snow. I washed the fleece sweats and folded them (I considered giving it all away as though I’d never need fleece again.) When I brought the neighbors their groceries, they showed me a tiny Calliope hummingbird at the feeder outside the kitchen, the smallest bird in North America. It weighs as much as a ping-pong ball.

Time curves upward and hangs a heartbeat before descending. There a comes a place, recognized only in retrospect, where the arc plays out to fall, when thoughts bend toward memory over hope, wistfulness over desire.

“You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you.

 

 

Pineapple Express

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Ben

Atmospheric rivers are relatively long, narrow regions in the atmosphere – like rivers in the sky – that transport most of the water vapor outside of the tropics. These columns of vapor move with the weather carrying an amount of water equivalent to the average flow at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

https://www.noaa.gov/stories/what-are-atmospheric-rivers

The Pineapple Express blew into northern California and Oregon seven inches ago, tepid and drenched, rain dropping like coconuts, a whiff of the tropical between shower curtains, precursor to that dank cannabis strain smacking of fresh apple and mango, with a taste of pineapple, pine, and cedar, namesake of the river in the sky. It’s tepid rain, night and day, relentless. Mercy doesn’t mind venturing out to roll in the puddles so much as I swelter in a zipped rain jacket while rain from the islands streams over my lips. Flood warnings are in effect for the Siuslaw, coast fork of the Willamette, and the Mohawk.

Ben, the crazy copper Brittany Dad rescued a year ago, lived to see his second birthday only by sheer red chance of mischief and puckish soul, for such are the whims of the dog daemons favoring the foolhardy.

Ben climbs ten feet into a tree following squirrel scent and bails out again when the trail plays out, straight down, diving like a sockeye. He escapes through a breath between wooden planks to parade through the old neighborhood, weaving across streets oblivious as a carnival reveler to cars, cops, and guns. For blessed are the ginger and the rufous, ragged cheerful children of Pan, to see another spring.

Knock on wood.

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Storm Selfie

 

 

 

Pear and Pine

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The snow is gone, even the last gritty floes in the grocery store parking lot, though sorting is long. It will take more time. Wood chippers chew in the hills, shredding up branches and limbs. Wild cat sawyers pull dented trucks to the curb and wrestle chunked rounds from the medians into their pickup beds to haul home and split, cure, and sell.

The night before the scots pine was hauled up the hill off the shattered back fence, I dreamed of a crocodile—the pebbled bark rough like a reptile’s hide. I realize this only when the trunk is sawed down to stove lengths and the crew of lean young men come for approval.

Pear blossoms lace through pine boughs. Mercy and I take the long way around returning from the park and I pause to look at this strange co-mingling. I make the dog stand while I breathe in mixed flower and pitch at the corner, wave my hand along the starry branches to descry a reason. Snow levered the pine’s roots from the ground and the tree fell to its knees against the neighboring pear. There are different types of pine, as there are many different sorts of pears: lodgepole, ponderosa, western white, sugar; each pine is known by its needles and fruit. Western white, I think, but Mercy is unimpressed and takes the lead in her mouth to nudge me up the hill and home.

The pine will be logged. The pear might survive. The little brown bats are out at dusk. A rufous hummingbird, bright as a new copper penny, appeared outside the window.