The Pacific Northwest is burning. Wildfires fringe the forest and Cascades to the south and east. The valley filled with smoke, particulates rising off the chart to hazardous levels. More than 100 day hikers in the Columbia Gorge were evacuated after sheltering in place overnight.
The red sun framed inside a votive. Only the moon can bring rain.
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
The garments worn in flying dreams
were fashioned there—
overcoats that swooped like kites,
scarves streaming like vapor trails,
gowns ballooning into spinnakers.
–Stuart Dybeck, from “Windy City”
Dawn comes early and I can’t hide. Each May morning waking, dream-washed and clean, to a day of exuberant green dressed with dew. There is just one more moon between now and the solstice, a round high summer moon coming to mark our longest day in the northern latitudes. Then the days grow shorter again.
I have often thought the seasons were mismarked on the calendar. If, unmoored from the tyrannical grid of weeks and months, we found more names for the light of days and nights, would we not be less surprised and dismayed while the seasons passed?
My new seasons might commence on the cross-quarter days, those landmarks between solstices and equinox. There would be waxing and waning phases to portions of the year. This scheme might look something like this (in the northern hemisphere, of course):
February 1 First Spring
March 21 Full Spring
May 1 Summer
June 21 High Summer
August 1 First Fall
September 21 Full Fall
October 31 Winter
December 21 Low Winter
Friday night we went to visit colleagues in the tasting room of their distillery. It’s not far off the highway, tucked into a commercial-industrial complex, and the parking lot was dark with rain and largely empty when we arrived.
The tasting room tables are adapted from oak barrels with blocky wooden stools for seating. The bar is intimate and flawless, behind which racks of small tasting glasses were stacked. Bottles of their flagship vodka, navy gin and aromatic gin lined the bar.
We brought along a case of our quinine tonic, an assortment of each of four craft brews building on a cinchona bark base, to pair alongside the various liquors. The bitter taste of authentic tonic balanced against the lavender and angelica distilled in craft gin is a complex combination of sensations and flavor. There’s a renaissance of distilling going on here, following close after the explosion of craft breweries.
The warehouse in the back is two-stories with a loft office. A great copper and steel still dominates the space. The piece was designed and built to the distiller’s specifications. He named her Ginger. One day, he warned me, the copper will cloud. She’ll gain a patina, just as we all go gray. I thought of deep-sea divers as I looked down her porthole, and the vapors of alcohol rising through the pipes like drops of enchanted seawater. A giant genie’s bottle, a still is, weaving intoxicating and deceptive promises. Be very careful what you wish for.
“On the River Verge” is a play in contrast between similar words (coral and corral, for example) as well as the tension between the wild and the domestic.
For your enjoyment, and meditations on the theme, here is the piece.
The latest issue of Thoughtfuldog, a literary and lifestyle magazine, is out. My article about writing spaces is included in the April issue. Check it out at:
The shelter of any island, for the maverick and mutineer, tempts Huck Finnian day dreams. There’s nothing prosaic about the Island, as I name it now, a proper noun, as it is referred to by family and familiars in conversation. Sometimes, it is called The Big Island, to distinguish it from The Little Island nearby, when duck hunters plan to float the river and stalk birds. At one time, the level center portion was cleared and plowed to be planted with grain or alfalfa. It has been years since a hoe or harrow worked the earth there. On the upstream side, the land slopes down to a bed of river rock lapped by the river; downstream a high bank comes to a point like the prow of a ship. River banks are thick with willow trees and brush. It is rough, unruly and overgrown, home to magpies and foxes. Over the years, visitors learn about the Island and are eager to go there and explore a curiosity. I don’t know what they imagine before they step out of the boat onto the bank, as though the Island would somehow be quixotic rather than starkly feral.
I am honored to have my piece “The Island” selected as the winner of Silver Creek Writers Residency/Storyfort The Wild West Literary Contest.
Storyfort is one of the forts free and open to the public during 2017 Treefort Music Fest in Boise, Idaho. I joined my fellow poetry and fiction winners in the contest for a reading on Sunday, March 26th, at 1:30 PM at The Owyhee Treefort Gallery. The event was an amazing experience.
The McKenzie River claims the watershed west down from Mount Washington, through Clear Lake, into the Willamette Valley. In December, the river is full and furious, trimmed with rime. The torrent grinds out agates from the mountain rock and sweeps them downstream. Ice edges the banks daring the water crashing over the black rocks. In my memory, it was December. I remember thinking how dark the water would be, how snow would line the banks, how cold the descent.