Last Orders

bumble_artichoke

I remember rain.

Wildfire smoke is pushed by a high-pressure bellows to the east, dispersed again when the wind changes to pull marine flow from the Pacific. The grass crunches underfoot; the hill is a tangled warren of burrs and foxtail, all things sere and seeding. Weary of drought and heat, wonder at the prodigious flooding in the east, scanning the sky for rain before the west is ash and withered bone. The cracks in the earth grow wider.

Birch and locus leaves float on the surface of the scrying bowls clouded with wasps. A fresh pail of water set out on the hillside every day during these three months of drought for birds and wild night creatures is drained or toppled by morning. At first, while a trickle of water remained in the creek, they eschewed the metal bucket. Now they depend upon it.

The garden presses to her longed-for languishment and release. The grapes are ripe. The tomatoes sigh and sag under a harvest of Romas, Brandywines, and Sungolds.

tomatoes

The zucchini, the courgette, the green summer squash the Greeks call kolokithia, now dominates the terraced beds and relentlessly births thick heavy fruit. Somehow, through camouflage or inattention, great squash clubs grow overnight. With their large seeds muffled in pulp, these giants are useful only as filling for nut bread, fritters, muffins, or pita. Shred the flesh against the box grater and squeeze out the water between two cotton kitchen cloths while resolving to pick the smaller squash before they transform.

shredded_zucchini

At least the flesh is mild, versatile, and forgiving–

A zucchini cake filled with crushed pineapple and coconut, finished with a buttermilk glaze; oatmeal muffins studded with blueberries, kolokithia scraped and broiled stuffed with tomatoes, feta, and breadcrumbs; slices layered with potato, onion, and tomatoes, bathed in olive oil and baked into Briam; stewed with fresh bay leaves, eggplant, tomatoes, and olives to eat on crusty bread; sautéed in a frittata sprinkled with goat cheese and topped with yet more tomato.

Hungry for a change of season, I remember rain.

frittata_zuc

Threshold

low_water

Like Shrek with his gourd green head, this thirteen-pound watermelon watered by the Columbia River, ripened outside Hermiston, was trucked west to the valley to be sliced open with a wide sharp blade; it’s bigger than a man’s head, this, the size of an ogre’s, rich in sticky red juice flooding the sluice etched into the cutting board.

Hum-sing the theme chorus “Accidentally in Love” from the second Shrek film, cube the flesh, and suck the nectar from the board. Come on, come on/Turn a little faster-

The first dangerous slice along the scalp steadies the rocking. Then carving rind shells away along the broad curve until the melon is flayed raw and crimson. Come on, come on/The world will follow after-

This is nature’s Gatorade, this sweet pink water. Chop the rind to set out on the hill for the doe still nursing spotted twin fawns. The rind is nearly gone by morning, gone by evening. Come on, come on/’Cause everybody’s after love.

Drought and wildfire, smoke and thunder, cracked earth and dying trees: Only the moon can bring rain, and who can rule her?

There are thresholds before and after, an Old English word with Norse roots. A threshold defines the barrier or bar used to contain the threshed matter lining dirt floored cottages, a boundary to keep the reeds dry within. Some thresholds are as visible as the plank or stone that lies under the door. Others are unnoticed, until they are crossed.

Prologue

rosemary_outside_greenhouse

I remembered most of the Prologue from The Canterbury Tales. (Because it is April after all, and the Sun is nearly halfway run in Aries, and somehow, suddenly, we are living in a prologue to something else– pilgrimage perhaps.)

I recited the lines to Mercy while puttering in the greenhouse. She stuck her head through the trap door to listen. Many years ago my cohort memorized the twenty or so lines; each of us in turn reciting them in Middle English to Professor Greenfield. This was to prove our understanding of English pronunciation  prior to the Great Vowel Shift before continuing on to read the Tales themselves.

Mercy was not impressed. She turned around to chase a deer mouse and very nearly caught it.

mercy_head_greenhouse

*Here bygynneth the Book of the tales of Caunterbury

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
 
 
*Text courtesy of Poetry Foundation

Ladybird

scarlet_quince

For the second year, dozens of ladybugs hatched inside the house. Somehow a nursery took root in the sunny southwestern room and ladybirds awoke and marched across the windows toward the light. We tipped them one-by-one onto an index card and carried them outside, ever so gently so they wouldn’t take flight, and offered them room in the geranium pots.

I keep a stack of index cards in the sideboard drawer. They are useful in many ways besides saving ladybugs: grocery lists, chore lists, recording vaccine registration codes to hand over at intake, or a bench scrappers if salt spills from the cellar.

When I make a sweet I take a portion over to share with neighbor Vic. I write out an index card to hand over as well because he rarely wears his hearing aids. Perhaps he has no reason to, living alone since Shirley died, perhaps they hurt his ears. When I call to tell him I’m coming over, he knows there’s a sweet coming, but can’t hear what it is nor any other news I have. Last week’s card:

Blank side:

Carrot Cake with Buttermilk Glaze, has Coconut and Pineapple
(written in big bold capital letters)

Lined side:

We will take out your garbage and recycling bins on
Sundays with ours, so look for them in the street if needed.

We take Vic’s empty bins up the steep drive on Monday’s, but after he nearly rode the recycling bin down to the street, it’s better we all agree on the take-out as well. Since his last seizure, he walks with a cane to the mailbox and gathers his mail into a bag hung from his wrist. The heavy blue wheeled bin is a beast.

At the farm and housewares store today there were crowds thronging between the nursery aisles and shelves of seed, pet food, and kitchen gadgets. I wondered if it was because it is a sunny March afternoon and spring break from university, if more travelers venture here, or because more people are vaccinated. Everyone wore a mask, but I could hear my own breath and paid and left.

I’m not eligible for vaccination until May. I’m envious.

Allium

Return

rosemary_lights

To Juan at the Winter Solstice

The Turning Point

Hexagram 24 –  I Ching

Judgment

Return. Success. Going out and coming in without error. Friends come without blame. To and fro goes the way. On the seventh day comes return. There is advantage in choosing one’s path

The Image

Thunder within the earth: The Turning Point. Thus the kings of antiquity closed the passes at the time of solstice. Merchants and strangers did not go about, and the ruler did not travel through the provinces.

solstice_rainbow

Conjunction of Jupiter & Saturn on Solstice

The Turning

equinox_seeds

All Hallows

Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
sleep in their blue yoke,
the fields having been
picked clean, the sheaves
bound evenly and piled at the roadside
among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:

This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
And the wife leaning out the window
with her hand extended, as in payment,
and the seeds
distinct, gold, calling
Come here
Come here, little one

And the soul creeps out of the tree.

–Louise Glück

American Poet Louise Glück won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature

Dust and Phantoms

october_gourds

The clock turned itself back one hour, one week too soon. US daylight savings time ends late All Hallows Eve, before dawn of All Saints. The dog jammers from bed about breakfast in her whale-singing-song steadily gaining pitch. I look down at her and then look at the clock, digital time out of sync with the gray light dawning through the windows. Trust the dog. Always trust a dog to know when it’s breakfast.

Shuffling upstairs in wool socks and sad sheepskin slippers, kicking puffs of dust and leaf strung on strands of hair as scaffolding along the baseboard, it’s time to sweep the floors again. Again, and again, chasing all the detritus blown in or tracked in or slipped through cracked afternoon doors and only seen in the slanted cast of this waning light.

Hard frost: 22F/-5C the eaves are white with crystal. The citrus trees replanted this spring in thick keg-shaped ceramic pots are still outside, covered in yellowing sheets against winter. As the wind stirs the worn fabric, I startle at the unexpected apparition outside the kitchen window, cloaked phantom treat-or-treaters dressed like cartoon ghosts. I hang the hummingbird feeder back up outside while the birds hover at my ears impatient to suck the sugar water.

There is much, so much, to let go of.

Big white cannellini beans I scraped from the bottom of a bin in March, when the world scrabbled for toilet paper, go in the pot with a smoked ham hock acquired at the same time, shoved in the freezer against fear. Two bay leaves from the laurel tree, two stalks of celery, five peppercorns, and all day to simmer, all the time in the world.

[It’s Decorative Gourd Season…]

On the Water

october_river

This is a color photograph I took standing out on a rock below a riffle yesterday.

Mercy and I went down to the river yesterday morning between storms. The dog hates the wind and hides under the bed, but doesn’t mind rain. I scan as we walk beneath the firs for a hefty stick she can retrieve as we walk down to the water, scouting along the trail for a branch as big as my forearm, still a bit green, but not waterlogged or decaying. If the stick sinks, she’ll dive after it, and I don’t want that now, not now with fall coming and the river rising. The current is coming swift.

Tiny honey locust leaves rain down, a flock of sparrows shot on the wing and stick to the soles of my boots, lodge in the bandanna around my neck. Leaves and stems shore up in drifts against the back door when we come home again and go inside to towel off. A tempo change.

Games of chance.

It’s what I think of, as we walk: rolling the bones, picking a card, spinning the wheel. My right palm itches. I wonder if it’s the first twinge barely perceptible of shifting fortune, some red flickering light suggesting an exit door from this gray cadaverous casino, or whether I’m weary, as we are all weary, and deceiving myself. Either jump in volcano or keep trudging through the ash. Leave the table or double down? There is something in the wind.

Empty Cauldron

Everything smolders.

The fires still burn, but the solid curtain of toxic smoke begins to fold pleat-by-pleat. Lightning and thunder cracked the shell, and rain-O-sweet-blessed-rain fell a bucket full. The smoke ebbs and flows, from yellow to orange, but not the deep purple of last week. The water bucket is still out on the hill for the wild things, but they have gone their own way, braver than me.

Each month of this astounding year taught a new acronym-filled vocabulary of disaster:

AQI= Air Quality Index

Viral Load= Distance x Duration + Density

BLM= Black Lives Matter AND Bureau of Land Management

Sing goddamn.

Equinox arrives tomorrow morning when the sun moves into the constellation of Libra, the sign of the scales symbolizing  justice and balance, when days and nights equalize for a trace moment of exhalation. Then we fall. How hard is the question. There will be neither justice nor balance this season. It’s still the Year of the Rat and though we gnawed off the paw, we are still caught in the trap. There’s a hitch in my left hip from curling downward, especially at night, hugging my knees and straining for rain to fall from the eaves.

Mercy and I went out to the river so she could finally swim after two weeks, picked the ripe feral figs along the way. We fell into polite, socially-distanced step with a young woman and Otter, her red heeler . He hasn’t been the same since the fires, she said. And I nodded. Sing goddamn.

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver
Damn you, sing: Goddamm.

― Ezra Pound

Fire

Half the water is gone from the bucket when I check it this morning, but there’s less ash than the day before.

They come at night, creep up from the dry shaggy woods in the dark to drink. I dump the water and carry the bucket back to the house and rinse it out. I refill it with as much water as I can carry without slopping out most of it walking back to the hill where the deer trail opens from the withered bramble. With the fire so close, the wild creatures are fleeing the forest and moving down toward town. 150,000 acres of wildfire burn a few miles to the east-northeast, ash flurries sift down. I wear my best mask, pull my hat down low.

The West is on fire.

The red flag warning for strong dry easterly winds was issued over the weekend. Labor Day skies dawned clear and blue with the coppery mellow light of early autumn, a crackle of birch leaves skittering across the drive. By evening smoke enveloped the valley in a sickly thick fog. Hard winds swirled up born of the high pressure and heat in the heart of the state and dropped trees and power lines. Power lines sparked fires in the parched forests.

Evacuation alerts for the eastern county into the Cascades woke us in the night. The fire jumped the river and consumed homes and towns along the watershed, fire burned down river insatiable. Rainbow trout, summer steelhead, and Chinook salmon hatchlings were released downstream from Leaburg moments before the fire overtook the hatchery. It’s too soon to know what is lost, but it is incalculable. The fires are still burning.

My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things — trout as well as eternal salvation — come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”

–Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

“Probably most catastrophes end this way without an ending, the dead not even knowing how they died…,those who loved them forever questioning “this unnecessary death,” and the rest of us tiring of this inconsolable catastrophe and turning to the next one.”

–Norman Maclean, Young Men and Fire