February is a long month, even with its 28 days, even without a full moon falling in the calendar. It’s snowing. Flurries shake the plum blossoms unfolding among the black branches, mingling and compromising snow with flower. Spring wrestles with ice, the flounces of her skirts stained with mud.
The month is named for the Roman festival of purification—februum. Julius Caesar purloined a day from February to extend his own month, July, to 31 days. Augustus followed suit, not wanting to be outdone, with August. February, named for an idea and not a god or goddess, was an easy target. March, with its patron being the god of war, was out of the question.
In the western calendar, we now have the ninth month, September, still named as the seventh (septem), October the eighth (octo), November the ninth (novo), and December the tenth (deca), all because the Roman emperors declared themselves gods and inserted themselves, decisively, into our idea of time.
Early February whispers a promise. Whether it is fulfilled, or not, is in the fortune of storms spinning up in the gulf of Alaska plundering down the Pacific coast.
Several years ago, February brought a vicious ice storm and froze the early false cherry blossoms. This year, the crocus are blooming, the primrose and the early daffodils. The buds on the Oak trees swell and the sky is the brilliant blue of new denim.
The passing clouds across the sun only heighten the brilliance of the solar climb up from the south. We reach the time when the light quickens and grows stronger, faster, each day until the equilibrium of the vernal equinox.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
A new season is upon the threshold, still around the corner, but casting a long shadow, breathing a dew soon to harden to frost.