It’s a thousand-mile round trip. Launching over the Cascades through Willamette Pass, running south with the pines that border the high desert, skirting Klamath Lake down to the California border, down south further, weaving through the Modoc, we buy gas and ice cream sandwiches in Susanville. I ask the clerk where we can run the dogs, and he directs me to a city park where community softball teams are gathering for a game. My dog won’t jump back into the car when we load to drive.
Mercy balks, unsure of her footing, distrustful of the plastic bumper on the Outback, though she can clear five feet over a fallen log. We back the left rear tire into a pothole on the gravel road to lower the gate and wrangle her back inside with an improvised choke chain. Emmy, the German Shorthair and smartest dog I’ve ever known, rides in the back seat like a boss with Dad.
We wait for the flagger to flip the sign, paving the road smooth and black on the highway into Reno, licking ice cream from our fingers, a billboard on 395 advertising a Counting Crows concert at the casino. We blow through Carson City up the pass on 50 to Lake Tahoe, weaving out of Nevada, back into California, south from the lake up further into the granite mountains at dark.
There are black bears and mountain lions here, aspens, sequoia, pine,and juniper. I think on these natives before settling to sleep on the back porch, in the open air with the dog, trespassers that we are in this place. Each day I spot a sabled coyote up the steep ridgeline, dancing over golden boulders and windfallen logs, watching.
The first lesson in a blackberry battle: You will bleed.
Do not scoff, believing you are nimble and strong, accept that it will be so. The only question in this contest is how much.
It’s been a kind and fruitful spring, enough sun, gentle rain, birds beginning to sing before sunrise (in what seems the middle of the night), a fortnight until solstice and the long day. If you are patient, and sit quietly, you can hear the green thrum in the garden.
Blackberries sent out their runner cane, from some secret mother root of all blackberries, and overtook my father’s yard. Tangled knots of brambles, tough wooden thorns that pierce new leather gloves, thick canes climbing the low limbs of the surrounding trees: this is the dragon. We are late. The new cane blooms into berries and the bees work the flower. A slow unwinding of the serpentine knot to salvage the roses.
Begin by circling the edges, testing.
When caught by the hair or the shirt sleeve, bitten by the dragon, resist the panic to tug away. This only tightens the grip of the beast. Lean in to the talons, against your instincts, and duck away. You were impatient.
You will bleed.
Stack the cane and hammer it with the flat of a rock rake. Roll it into a bale. Hammer again. Break the cane.
“For there is always a sanctuary more, a door that can never be forced, a last inviolable stronghold that can never be taken, whatever the attack; your vote can be taken, your name, your innards, or even your life, but that last stronghold can only be surrendered. And to surrender it for any reason other than love is to surrender love.”
Water makes small choices. A trickle of liquid always moves downward, below, however imperceptible the angle of decline. When water encounters an obstacle, it seeps under and around, or crowded by a jostling flood, flows over. A single pebble might turn a deluge. There is no effort.
Study the surface of the river to learn what lies underneath it. This is the way of the spring river: to scout from the banks as the flow subsides to find what changes the winter floods brought to the channel. The water, turned by a pebble, can move boulders in the winter as it courses down from the mountains.
Bright lines shining across the current are stones covered only by shallow water marking a riffle. The water turns and dances, laughing over the lines of resistance.
April is greening, there is rain, sometimes slant and hard, sometimes hail. In April, rainbows may follow, forming perfect prisms, even the indigo and violet bands in the bow are bright as they bend to shimmer in the treetops.
In April, in the wet fields, among the damp shallows under oaks and willows, Camassia plants break into prolific bloom. It’s known as the wild hyacinth, of the same family as asparagus, and its roots were once ground for bread by the native people.
In April, put out all your bowls for the rain gods to fill…
In the fall, the fruit of the persimmon tree ripens. I’ve raced the crows and squirrels to pick some coral fruit and stow it in my messenger bag to bring home. It ripens to orange in a basket on the kitchen counter. If I’m late in a season, only husks remain, and the withered star of the stem.
The Japanese garden is circular, a groomed oasis among fields of tall grass studded with gopher mounds and stands of walnut trees, oaks and firs along the river greenway. The garden is laid out with axled paths anchored by stone benches dedicated to the memory of lost beloveds. There is a granite table set with a mosaic chess board flanked by granite benches. The dog and I cross here sometimes, coming to look for herons fishing beside the gentle water rippling through the canal.
It’s spring now. I study the garden as we pass and the beckoning blooms on the trees: the snowy cherry, a purple red bud, the tight promise of bracts on kousa dogwoods. Each tree awakens in its own time, opens to the sun, and so quickly releases blown petals beneath its branches to mulch the soil. The magnolia tree blooms are as big as my fist, a full cup, a golden chalice, then offered to the wind.