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.
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,
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.
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):
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.