Unraveling

red_currant

Most things hang by a thread.

I don’t remember why I wanted red currants. I bought two plants as bare-root stock and planted them in deep black pots. When I moved, they came along, as well as the twisted hazel in its half-barrel. Here we dwell still, the shrubs and tree and me, on the dead-end verging hillside these many years. Heavy snow in early March topped the hazel. I sawed the split trunk down and rubbed bee’s wax on the exposed wood to protect it from infestation. I cleared the broken mantle, rubbed it with wax, and set it to season in the dark.

Devoured by the dragon’s head, lashed by the dragon tail. 

The red currants, tiny gems related to gooseberries, ripen in July. The fruit dangles from a thread called a peduncle (a word I just learned and probably will never use again, but sounds bawdy when I say it aloud, so maybe I’ll remember and work it into conversations.) It’s useless to try to pick individual berries as they simply tear and bleed ruby juice. I use a pair of scissors to cut the peduncle from the branch and catch the streaming beads into a chipped porcelain bowl. It’s slow work that I don’t want to end.

In eclipse, what is hidden reveals itself through shadow.

Half the currants are crushed and mixed with apple cider vinegar to make shrub. This mash melds in a sealed bowl for three days, with fruit and vinegar transmuting into a third thing. While the mash ferments, I cut sprigs of fresh thyme to seal in a jar with white sugar. I strain the mash and press the juice through a sieve. The infused sugar is dissolved in water, a simple syrup such as hummingbirds drink, and mixed while hot with the juice. The strings (penduncles) and seeds are dumped out in the brambles on the hillside and the beverage is corked and stored.

Latency is the cold stone rolled, bone-thrown runes cast by a toothless goddess. 

Shirley died two weeks ago on a gray morning before dawn. It started to rain. All the visiting family, caregivers, and hospice nurses drove away. The hillside is empty of cars again. Vic is alone in his house across the road. He puts on his hat to come out to the road and check the mailbox. Thursday evening, after I finished with the currants, he came to the front door and knocked. I drove him to the emergency room.

Shadows fall.

Half of the currant crop I worked at the kitchen table, spreading strings of fruit in a single layer on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Pan by pan, I set currants in the freezer for half an hour and wander from room to room to gaze out windows. Once the fruit is slightly frozen, the tines of a fork run down the string separates the berries to fall into a bowl. Until there are no more.

Ground. Clear. Cleanse. Ward. Offer.

raven_rock

In the Grape Arbor

grape_arbor

Grape clusters dangle and swell under leaves fanning larger than my hand. Grape tendrils test their boundaries every morning, fondling the neighboring cucumber’s trellis all-so-wistful before seizing the iron frame to claim it again.

The first cucumber is cut for slicing and the grapes nudged back into the confines of their arbor. Green and red grape vines share one rack and reach to the window on the second floor. I cut grape leaves to line the bottom of a platter yet linger awhile inside the arbor. There is shelter. Here is mystery, inside the breathing green sprung from dried roots.

A succession of caretakers and nurses arrive and leave now in a nearly-familiar rotation. They park out on the dead-end road and walk up the neighbor’s driveway to the front door and disappear inside. Shirley is no longer waving from the hospital bed propped up by the picture window when Mercy and I walk home up the hill. I search the glass, squinting under the brim of my hat, but it’s blank.

I dried a long wand of catnip cut before the herb came to bloom, bundled stalks of pungent mint to soothe the squabbling neighborhood cats quarreling among themselves and tormenting the dog when they sashay along the front deck. (It’s usually the same sashaying cat: the lunatic tabby that once charged and tried to take down a grown turkey.)

I took the wand out into the road the other night before dark and called to the cats, whipping the tip in the air and scraping the pavement to entice them. The tabby bounded along parallel with me, keeping a wary eye out for the dog, pacing down the hill. I laid the catnip wand down on the grass for a midsummer revel and went home to cook dinner.

Shoot grows to bud, flower comes to fruit, seeds weave their secrets to unfold in another season. The solstice passes when the sun ebbs south again after hanging stopped in the sky. Eclipses are coming with the next moon.

Rain came to wash away the gold dusted pollen and cottonwood fluff.  Thunder and wind heralded the change of season. Today clouds graze and chew the blue.

storm_crown_butte.png

 

Father’s Day

dad_me

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”

1982_dadandme

Happy Father’s Day Dad.

 

Gold Dust Monsoon

dragon_jail
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.

june_river

On Work

white_statice

“And what is it to work with love?

It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.

It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.

It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.

It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.”

–Kahlil Gibran, “The Prophet”

20170508 145715 resized

Thistledown

artichoke

“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.

 

 

Virtue in Herbs

may_pink_rhoddie

“Much virtue in herbs, little in men.”

–Benjamin Franklin

A train whistle walks in the middle air, longing in the distance, winding north along the river into the mountains. A solitary motorcycle travels the street below the hill before the commerce of another week begins.

I’m waiting. There is an hour when the dew lifts while the sun is still low: handfuls of Greek oregano to cut and hang for drying, wary of winter just as summer begins for all too soon comes flowering and seed. An herb’s essence remains locked in the leaf before the sun coaxes the oil to the surface, yet dew might molder a bouquet from the core. Thyme. Mint. Savory. Rosemary. It’s May.

Greek oregano is voracious and tenacious, leaping into the strawberry bed, seeding secretly into flower pots, bickering with the catnip. It responds well to rough handling like wrestling an adolescent dog.

Thyme lies low and sidles crablike, spreading rumors and telling tales.

Mint sings arias of sleek pirates and adventure, though the blueberries criticize the key.

Savory is prone and lazy, languishing over visions of love and summer romance.

Rosemary is willful and wild. She scorns containment and flourishes in bleak rocky soil exposed to heat and rain. (I do not dry her leaf, but only cut fresh stems when needed. Rosemary simmered in clean water clears ghosts and cobwebs as well–or better–than burning sage.)

A scrub jay charges a quail perched unaware on the fence rail to knock it down into the yard. I wonder where the dog is. The quail scoots beneath a rhododendron for cover.

It’s time.