Casting

I was honored that a creative nonfiction piece was short-listed for the Barry Lopez Creative Nonfiction Award by Cutthroat Journal of the Arts in December.

Although I didn’t win, the recognition helped keep the creative fires burning during the dark days around solstice. Writing, by essence and definition, is a solitary and harrowing pursuit. Some days, I feel I’m casting long out over the water for rainbow trout; other days, I’m just spitting up hairballs. Thousands of thousands words written by writers about writing. Do sculptors and painters and composers complain as loudly and as often about their work?

I’ve been reading little stories by Neil Gaiman. From them I learned that to finish a story, to finish the piece, is the magic. In the drafting, the imps will come to lure you away to the kitchen sink to peel carrots for dinner. You must resist.

I read recipes for cooking chickpeas and learned to add baking soda to the water to dissolve the skins.

I read Smithsonian magazine’s features on the year 1968, John Steinbeck’s collected essays, and Reddit/r/politics. Yesterday I learned from CNN that frozen iguanas are falling out of the trees in Florida because it’s so cold. Yet, I circle the blank page. So many words in a narrowing funnel of intention. There’s nothing for it, but to go back again. Leave the carrots in the sink.

Today, there’s not much on offer, save a short excerpt from the short-listed piece:

I may have been six, my brother not yet five, when we loaded into the old Ford and headed out to the reservoir. It was late November, a bitter winter day. Rain slashed sideways and rocked us inside the old Ford parked beside bent stands of cattail. We were hunting ducks. There were mud flats left exposed when the water was drained before the winter rains, mud littered with pull-tabs and bottle caps. We climbed out of the Ford and trudged out over those flats toward the water. I pulled the drawstring of my hood down tight. Barney charged the gulls loitering along the water’s edge. I remember huddling together under my father’s rain poncho, shivering and waiting for a flight of ducks that never came.

k.

Short and Long of It

Short Stuff

The fall issue of Watershed Review dropped today and it’s packed with fresh fiction, poetry, art, and creative nonfiction. I’m delighted to have a short lyric prose piece titled “Sorting Skins” included in the nonfiction section of this issue. And it IS short. Sarah Pape, managing editor of the review, was a pleasure to work with, from acceptance through proof stage.

Long Stuff

As of today, I’m 233 pages into my novel, and approximately 3/4 finished. I’m slogging through word-by-word to finish the draft by the first of the year. One. Word. At a Time. After playing with short pieces, like the Watershed work, this project is tapping into a sustained-other-world to hold and spin out the narrative, no varnish. One of these days, I’ll post an excerpt. In the meantime, here’s a short synopsis:

Nocturne: Three Dog Night

When a sheep rancher and her dog are brutally massacred, suspicion falls on the neighbor’s rescue dogs. To protect her dogs from being blamed and destroyed, seventeen year-old Sammi flees with them across the state toward the high mountains. As Sammi desperately tries to elude the state police and forensic biologist pursuing her, she crosses paths with the otherworldly beast spreading carnage, and his master. Sammi must fight for her own life, as well as the lives of her dogs, against dark immortal forces.

K.

Via Combusta

sunflower_seeds
Dried Sunflower Head

It is the season of the fiery way, the via combusta, which falls in late October and early November, marking the end of the growing year, the withdrawal from expression to introspection.

In the northern climes, the harvest is in, the fields rest, and days grow short. The cross-quarter day arriving, All Hallows and Samhain, marking the descent from the autumn equinox to the winter solstice. The season of darkness, mist and ice. Abandoned cobwebs are highlighted with dew. The veil between the many worlds thins and stretches.

The outdoor Farmers’ Market is preparing to close up shop for the season. The last corn and peppers, onions and shallots, potatoes and beets are heaped on tented tables.  The whole rounded head of a sunflower is set out for sale, studded with seeds.

 

Short Work

Watershed Review accepted a short piece I wrote for their fall issue and I’m delighted.  It’s under 200 words, a lyric essay that bends toward being a poem, but not quite? What do we call these short hybrid works?

Most of my creative nonfiction pieces average 2500 words, or a fraction of this one. This one fit on a single page. In many ways, the very short work is harder to capture and contain than the rambling prose built into sentences that then block into paragraphs. In longer works, there’s an expansive luxury of holding forth and spinning exposition into broad tapestries. The short works are cunning little samplers with unfinished raw edges. The play is the thing, yes?

 

Harvest Moon

The moon is waxing to full next week, the harvest moon, rising gold to mark the fruit of a year’s labors, a tired garden. The harvest moon follows the autumnal equinox, at least in the northern hemisphere, when the length of darkness outstrips the light, when the crops are stored in cellar and silo, and the gourds and pumpkins are the last shine in the field.

Last night was a celebration and reunion, so I walked the yard gathering a platter to share: Grape leaves and grapes, new winter kale, fingerlings, sweet savory, nasturtium. These framed the Spanish meats, a French cheese, and fresh mozzarella from our local dairy. Nasturtiums are sassy. They taste of pepper.

garden_antipasta

A new season is upon the threshold, still around the corner,  but casting a long shadow, breathing a dew soon to harden to frost.

k

The Butte

writing_desk_horiz

Six months ago, I resigned from a job working in a shabby cubicle with a stunning view to the east. I rarely turned around from my dual monitors to look out the window, not unless there was a rainbow or a police take-down at the transit station.  Even then, I only turned because other staff rushed into my cube to lean against the credenza, chattering and pointing and leaving fingerprints on the glass. I spent too many years in different cubes, in hindsight all remarkably the same. I write at home now. I spend long moments lost, gazing out windows.

My writing desk is upstairs in the southwest corner of the house.  Spencer Butte is framed outside the windows, looming sometimes, like an iceberg daunting the bow of a ship. This corner enclave is where I write longhand, with black ink in a book of unlined paper, on most mornings. I notice my handwriting has improved these past six months, where it was nearly illegible when I started the book. I thumb through the pages, and volumes, and see this practice has also given me a steadier line across the page.

–Read the rest at Thoughtfuldogmag.com

k

Memento Mori

Last week a tattered summer lingered as the temperature rose into the ‘90’s. The valley sucked back up the smoke from dozens of wildfires, sickly yellow white and smothering, as another stagnant high pressure front sat over us. A few days of relief with the winds from the Pacific like a deep exhalation, and then the creeping return of the smoke down from the mountains. Numb and anesthetized, stunned by weeks breathing micro-particles of ash, the streets were quiet, the schoolyard empty at the noon hour.

Only the moon brings rain, sure as she shifts the tides.

Spinning down from the Gulf of Alaska, bright and cold, the dark of the moon brought cloud. Then rain. Aching sweet petrichor, the perfume of grateful stones washed, the turning leaves sighing in the showers, the new moon brought sheets of rain. This week the temperatures are 30 degrees cooler. Snow is falling in the mountains. Though this moon-borne storm may not be enough to extinguish all the fires raging in the west, it is enough.  I shook the dust off my raincoat and Mercy and I walked the damp paths in the oak savanna up the hill. I thought on the path of the solar eclipse, marking the past new moon, of the fires in Oregon, and the floods in the southeast. Shadows fall.

Tomorrow is the Equinox, when we ride down the dark turning wheel of the year, when Persephone retreats, exhausted, with the seed into the earth. It is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, bringing reflection of the past year and contemplation of the one to come. The feast day of Archangel Michael approaches in a few days. On Michaelmas, folk wisdom records, the last blackberries turn bitter, for the Devil has pissed on them.

Memento Mori

For all that I have done, better undone,

For all I have said, better unsaid,

For all I might have done, might have said,

Modest balm to the wound,

Left undone, left unsaid,

I mourn.

Shofar, the Ram’s horn, Shalom

archangel_michelis
Archangel Michael, Modern Greek Orthodox Icon, in my personal collection

K

 

 

How Slowly We Heal

hightree2_sm
Big Leaf Maple Stump

Five months ago, on the 7th of April, an early morning windstorm brought down an 80-foot big leaf maple. It was an old tree, its trunk over five feet in diameter, so old that there is no city record of its planting. It survived a vicious ice storm in December, a snow storm in January, and untold storms in the years of its growing and leafy shade across High Street. The core was rotted, but no one knew it until it toppled diagonally and strafed the office building across the alley. Windows were smashed, gutters and roof mangled, the awning and wrought-iron railing on the steps destroyed. The damage from the fallen tree has taken five months to repair, in slow painstaking steps, multiple subcontractors working their respective disciplines coordinated in precise order, windows boarded up with plywood blocking the light inside.

high_street_scaffold
Repair Scaffolding

For weeks the building was fronted by a scaffolding to allow workmen to move across its face. Various vagrants or travelers, sidewalk people or refugees, tried to take up residence under the cover of the scaffold walkway to sleep, drink malt liquor, or smoke a blunt. To replace the dormer window at the crown of the 1909 building required a small lean workman to crawl into the attic space, chase off the lingering sparrow, and hoist the window up from the ground. It has taken hours and days of frustration and patience to rebuild from a wanton capricious damage. Today the last piece, the newly forged wrought-iron railing, goes into place.

I have wrangled these repairs, nearly wept in vexation at the complications and delays. Yet, as I learn about the incalculable damage in Houston and Louisiana, the on-going rampage of Hurricane Irma passing from Florida north toward Georgia, I find myself ashamed. No one was hurt by the falling tree, no one lost a life, a limb or a loved one. In truth, I’ve learned how suddenly disaster happens, and how slowly we heal. In deepest sympathy for all those struggling, and all that was lost in these last few weeks,

Κ

A Walled Garden

Paradise is a walled garden. A lumber yard is burning to the north. It will burn for several more days. The pillar of smoke was visible for 20 miles on Sunday, when it started. Forest fires continue to burn to the east, ignited by lightening or coals from careless campfires, a smoldering cigarette.

Last week temperatures rose into the 100s. The valley sucked in the smoke, a great white inhalation, a stifling breath thick as burning fog, and we simmered without the maritime flow from the Pacific. Sunset burned crimson and orange. We watered the garden, the flagging pots of geranium and fuchsia in the morning, the cantaloupe with its new swelling melon, the grapes and herbs in the evening. Outside the gate the grass shriveled and dried, burned by sun and smoke. Wasps circled the mouth of the hose. There was no dew.

After five days, the wind shifted and the high pressure system broke. Something turned. There was a tilt, a shift, a soft mist from the west, and the leaves from the birch began to release and skitter across the lawn. I think of firewood and oiling my boots. I picked the blackberries and wild plums from the hill, simmered them down and bottled the juice. Yesterday, I picked bunches of peppermint to hang from the herb rack and dry for tea. Black flies circle under the eaves, willy-nilly, into the webs of great brown spiders. Paradise is a walled garden:

Xenophon, a Greek mercenary soldier who spent some time in the Persian army and later wrote histories, recorded the pairidaēza- surrounding the orchard as paradeisos, using it not to refer to the wall itself but to the huge parks that Persian nobles loved to build and hunt in. This Greek word was used in the Septuagint translation of Genesis to refer to the Garden of Eden, whence Old English eventually borrowed it around 1200.

Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic