Hour of the Wolf

analog_clockClocks don’t tick any more. Once upon a time, clocks were wound. The ticking of clock springs divided time. Darkness had cadence.

Bombs must not tick anymore. In James Bond movies, green and red wires attach to a wind-up clock. Tick-tick-tick: the immobile hour hand and the long minute hand lurching forward by anticipated seconds. It’s nearly midnight before 007 snips the red wire with his platinum nail clippers. These days, bombs detonate digitally, at a distance, with a cell phone. I suppose that’s progress.

It brings to mind that dark time of night, the very middle of the night, when the clock strikes three. It’s when we awake, or lie awake, soaked in apprehension verging on terror tossing and tangled in sweaty sheets. The prowling beast is at the door. In daylight we are distracted with shiny things; in the hour of the wolf, we startle awake to stare into night’s shadow.

Every journey begins in the dark. As you settle back into your chair while the house lights dim, but before the curtain rises, you begin. Lie awake in the night to listen for the alarm to catch your early flight out. Float in the dark waters of your mother’s womb, the light of the world inconceivable. We can hear our own heartbeat, there in the dark, alone with the dream and the terror.

Upper Truckee, Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada

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.

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Sunrise, Upper Truckee River

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.

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Emmy

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.

Brambles and Briers

blackberry_patch

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.

Be patient.

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.

You will do this again, next year.

k.

 

Ring of Fire

Hot Springs County is in the center of Wyoming. There is a park there, miles of open land filled with steaming pools of mineral water. The county seat is a modest town named Thermopolis. From Yellowstone in the northwest, southeast to Laramie and Cheyenne, Thermopolis is a remote attraction amid open range run with pronghorn antelope.

thermopolis_hot_spring

By treaty signed in the late 19th century, the Shoshone and Arapaho nations agreed to cede the land blessed with steaming mineral springs to the federal government. A prime condition of the treaty ensured the healing springs would stay free and open to all people forever. This is still the case. Thermopolis contains a few hotels and commercial pools built with soaking baths, slides, and water features. Between these venues, the State of Wyoming runs a simple bath house. It is, indeed, free. The heavy minerals in the water are said to be healing and will tarnish silver jewelry hours later.

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Wyoming State Bath House

Due to the high temperatures, as well as the danger of thermal spikes, it is safer to soak where the temperature can be regulated. This is true of most volcanic hot springs, though odds are better with some than others. A geothermal surge is unpredictable and deadly. (There are stories of tourists boiled off the bone found floating in open pools.)

The word “lava” comes from the Latin word lavare, to wash or bathe, referencing streams of fire that cut like rivers. The Yellowstone Caldera is a 37-mile pool seething with molten rock atop a super volcano. Streams of liquid rock-fire, magma from the outer core of the earth, bubble up through 21 fissures cracked open on the Big Island of Hawaii. In earth-time, it was yesterday when Mount St. Helens exploded, though today marks the 38th anniversary of the eruption.

I saw the volcanic peaks of the Three Sisters in the distance yesterday, when the morning clouds cleared.

k.

A Sanctuary More

bute_in_snow“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.”

― Ken Kesey, Sometimes a Great Notion

k.

A Trout

Brook_TroutI signed my first writing contract a few days ago. A creative nonfiction piece, “Shiny Things I Found in the Gutter,” was accepted by The Tishman Review. It will appear in the summer issue at the end of July.  This was another milestone on my stumbling journey trying to find the words. Writing and fishing have much in common. Sometimes one is at the right shady pool below a riffle when the trout rise. Or, more often, not.

I was fortunate to work with TTR’s new creative nonfiction editor, Hannah Howard, whose memoir “Feast” was published in March, 2018. Hannah lives and works in New York City, so her emails arrived before I was out of bed. (Read an interview with Hannah here.) TTR publishes a quarterly issue of art, fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction with each issue available in a variety of formats. Go give the latest issue a read.

Read the rest at The Tishman Review.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Morning Thunder

There was a lightning strike one morning while I sat on the back porch watching the rain, tucked under the eave, cradling my coffee cup. The trident strike forked above the hills to the west directly before me. I counted the seconds until thunder, four, and then came the boom of the rolling report in a wave. The dog hustled off to squeeze herself beneath the bed. The lightning was lavender against the white-gray clouds, a rare morning bolt here, where any lightning storm is rare. Spring might bring rainbows, occasionally an unlikely double bow, but little thunder.

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Downtown Double Rainbow

I waited for another flash, but none came. The storm moved north only discharging the single bolt. I went upstairs and walked out across the street in the rain to fetch the newspaper. Sheltering it inside my jacket, I turned back to the house. For a moment, I stood bareheaded in the rain, distracted. The front garden was alight: purple wisteria hanging heavy like grapes, dogwood, rhododendron and lithodora blooming, a profusion that appears all at once in the spring to overwhelm the senses like the riotous confusion of a carnival midway after sundown.

Once I lived out on the plains, where the dirt was red and the rivers muddy with ochre. I came from this verdant valley, bordering rain forest, to prairie. There was only horizon out there on the open plain. I was at sea. I itched to get my back up to something, some hill or canyon wall, a modest butte, but there was nothing, only cloud. Until one day, the rising spring clouds, blooming thunderhead towers, became my mountains.

Every spring afternoon there was a thunderstorm on the plains. When the sky grew green and bruised in the southwest, a tornado might form from the wall cloud. In the very buckle of the Bible Belt, where warm moist air from the gulf meets the dry cold air flowing down from the Rockies, a dry line forms. That’s where a tussle between the two clashing atmospheres spawns thunderstorms, super cells, tornadoes. One spring I drove a dry line, it traced the highway, and I raced the coming storm to Dallas-Fort Worth airport. By the time I reached Dallas, the sky was black and swirling and I was deafened by thunder.

In a land with no mountains, clouds become mountains.

k.