Anthem

hazelnut_grove2

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything,

That’s how the light gets in

You can add up the parts

You won’t have the sum

You can strike up the march

There is no drum

Every heart, every heart to love will come

But like a refugee

–from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen

In the Grape Arbor

grape_arbor

Grape clusters dangle and swell under leaves fanning larger than my hand. Grape tendrils test their boundaries every morning, fondling the neighboring cucumber’s trellis all-so-wistful before seizing the iron frame to claim it again.

The first cucumber is cut for slicing and the grapes nudged back into the confines of their arbor. Green and red grape vines share one rack and reach to the window on the second floor. I cut grape leaves to line the bottom of a platter yet linger awhile inside the arbor. There is shelter. Here is mystery, inside the breathing green sprung from dried roots.

A succession of caretakers and nurses arrive and leave now in a nearly-familiar rotation. They park out on the dead-end road and walk up the neighbor’s driveway to the front door and disappear inside. Shirley is no longer waving from the hospital bed propped up by the picture window when Mercy and I walk home up the hill. I search the glass, squinting under the brim of my hat, but it’s blank.

I dried a long wand of catnip cut before the herb came to bloom, bundled stalks of pungent mint to soothe the squabbling neighborhood cats quarreling among themselves and tormenting the dog when they sashay along the front deck. (It’s usually the same sashaying cat: the lunatic tabby that once charged and tried to take down a grown turkey.)

I took the wand out into the road the other night before dark and called to the cats, whipping the tip in the air and scraping the pavement to entice them. The tabby bounded along parallel with me, keeping a wary eye out for the dog, pacing down the hill. I laid the catnip wand down on the grass for a midsummer revel and went home to cook dinner.

Shoot grows to bud, flower comes to fruit, seeds weave their secrets to unfold in another season. The solstice passes when the sun ebbs south again after hanging stopped in the sky. Eclipses are coming with the next moon.

Rain came to wash away the gold dusted pollen and cottonwood fluff.  Thunder and wind heralded the change of season. Today clouds graze and chew the blue.

storm_crown_butte.png

 

Gold Dust Monsoon

dragon_jail
Dragon Jail

Mercy and I walked down to the river kicking drifts of cottonwood fluff along the trail. In the long thick grass the dog seized sneezing when we crossed a field to strike the southern path to the old boat landing.  She swam after sticks in the green water fresh with snow melt to wash away the pollen. I held a stick underwater for her to dive down to retrieve and rinse the grit from her eyes and nose.  She dashed along the sandbar in loops and didn’t want to be leashed to walk back.

It happens every year, this river of grass seed pollen flowing down from mid-valley, cottonwood tufts like trout swimming south at dusk. Everyone is angry it seems, caught in a riptide gold dust monsoon and flailing out to sea. There’s nothing for it but sleep and showers swimming sideways. Everyone is angry.

I don’t need to buy groceries for the neighbors any more, Shirley said. She’s in hospice care at home. Vic just got released from the hospital after four days. There is traffic up on our hill now with traffic jams when more visitors or the mail truck arrives. Mercy and I still check Vic and Shirley’s gates every morning and I wonder if I can bear it.

Repost – June 2017

This morning my neighbor came out in her nightdress to water flowers in the brick planter fronting her steps. I try not to notice and sit very still. The sun is breaking over the hill and filtering through the birch leaves. I think I am a tabby cat, mottled and camouflaged, in the dappled light. I don’t have a nightdress to wear out into the morning.

It goes to the head, this golden haze of pollen and drifting cottonwood. It’s fairy dust. The trees and grass release their magic as the day grows, to be caught in the wind and blow south. Some afternoons, especially near the river, it seems it’s snowing. My eyes itch with it. People sneeze and scratch. They try antihistamines which only makes them thirsty and angry. It’s easier to try to think in the morning. Later in the afternoon, there’s a full lulling need to sleep, to drift into some new fairy tale, succumb to the spell cast by the gold dust.

june_river

Chowder, Just for the Halibut

blackberry_star

Blackberries are blooming where three months ago the cane was flattened by snow. I admire their resilience while I feel so fragile and take their white blooms as totem.

Yesterday Mercy and I were caught out in a rain storm while walking down in the park and straggled home up the hill soaked, skirting the runoff cascading down the road. Today there are clouds pulling like taffy and hot weather building for the week ahead.  Last call for chowder.

Halibut Chowder

1 Shallot or sweet yellow onion, finely diced
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 red pepper, diced
1 russet potato, diced, or several small reds
¼ cup white wine
2 tablespoons white flour
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock (or vegetable, or fish stock)
Healthy Halibut filet, 1-2 pounds (cod is a good substitute, salmon too oily)
1 cup heavy cream or coconut milk
2 tablespoons tarragon leaf (or substitute mixture of parsley and dill)
Salt & pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in soup kettle or large sauce pan over medium heat.
Add first three ingredients and saute until soft and vegetables sweat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle flour over the vegetables and stir, allowing the flour to brown until roux is golden. Slowly add white wine, stirring to incorporate flour. Gradually add stock while stirring constantly. Add enough water or stock to equal about 2 quarts of liquid.

Add potatoes and tarragon to pot and cover, simmering until potatoes soften, about 15 minutes.

REDUCE HEAT TO MED-LOW

Cut halibut into bite-size chunks. Slide into pot.

REDUCE HEAT TO LOW

Swirl in cream or coconut milk, stirring gently to avoid breaking fish chunks. Heat through about 3 minutes. Serve with hot crusty bread.

6-8 servings

Note: this basic recipe is very flexible and any combination of vegetables, stock, and herbs can be used. A firm white fish is recommended. Halibut is mild and tarragon is a natural complement. It’s important to barely poach the fish by reducing heat and serving immediately. Enjoy!

mercy_faerie_flowers
Mercedes Athena Pandora Quesadilla, aka “One-Eyed Mercy” the dread pirate

Thistledown

artichoke

“It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

–Ray Bradbury

“It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters that you do,”

–Me, to my teenage son

Walking out on the hill in the rain this morning  into that sweet earthly scent of rain on dry grass–petrichor, the blood of the old gods falling on stone–to shrug off the hood and let the drops burnish my hair.

Since the deluge in April, there was little rain, not the soaking female rain of spring that trickles to the root. Days have been warm and mornings spent carrying water in cans and hoses, swearing at sprinkler heads with stripped threads and leaking faucets forgotten in October, sprinkling, spraying, misting, playing the rainbow in the arc of falling water.

Zucchini seeds burst above ground yesterday, waiting until I was distracted, between morning watering and evening’s final tour. There are globes forming on the artichokes that are still small as thimbles. I let the thistledown bloom lavender blue and invite the bees to a buffet. The plums are red and hard as olives.

I gleaned wild asparagus with Grandma from the banks of irrigation ditches and pastures when I was a child, keeping a wary eye out for a bull or vexed mule. No two spears were the same shape, size, or color, as they are cultivated now. Some were thick and squat and purple; others willowy and pale green, with an occasional natural albino, a bouquet of spring phalli jutting from earth into the light.

Local asparagus is coming in season and to market, tender and firm (however disappointing in uniformity.) I buy a braces of it, while it lasts, to saute simply in a splash of stock and butter, a drop of white wine, and a drizzle of maple syrup, simmering off the liquid and shaking the pan to finish with a blister. The cure is always growing nearby.

 

 

Virtue in Herbs

may_pink_rhoddie

“Much virtue in herbs, little in men.”

–Benjamin Franklin

A train whistle walks in the middle air, longing in the distance, winding north along the river into the mountains. A solitary motorcycle travels the street below the hill before the commerce of another week begins.

I’m waiting. There is an hour when the dew lifts while the sun is still low: handfuls of Greek oregano to cut and hang for drying, wary of winter just as summer begins for all too soon comes flowering and seed. An herb’s essence remains locked in the leaf before the sun coaxes the oil to the surface, yet dew might molder a bouquet from the core. Thyme. Mint. Savory. Rosemary. It’s May.

Greek oregano is voracious and tenacious, leaping into the strawberry bed, seeding secretly into flower pots, bickering with the catnip. It responds well to rough handling like wrestling an adolescent dog.

Thyme lies low and sidles crablike, spreading rumors and telling tales.

Mint sings arias of sleek pirates and adventure, though the blueberries criticize the key.

Savory is prone and lazy, languishing over visions of love and summer romance.

Rosemary is willful and wild. She scorns containment and flourishes in bleak rocky soil exposed to heat and rain. (I do not dry her leaf, but only cut fresh stems when needed. Rosemary simmered in clean water clears ghosts and cobwebs as well–or better–than burning sage.)

A scrub jay charges a quail perched unaware on the fence rail to knock it down into the yard. I wonder where the dog is. The quail scoots beneath a rhododendron for cover.

It’s time.

Joyas Voladoras

blueberry_bells

“It’s expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.”

–Brian Doyle, “Joyas Voladoras,” The American Scholar

Brian Doyle was an essayist, novelist and editor of Portland Magazine. Some dozen years ago while working as a software analyst and project manager, I submitted a piece to the Oregon Quarterly‘s annual essay contest. My essay was selected as one of ten finalists with Doyle as the final judge. Finalists were invited to an afternoon’s conversation at the University of Oregon campus followed by a public reading that evening.

I accepted the invitation. Doyle reviewed each essay during that afternoon. When he came to mine, he looked up over his glasses across the table. “What can I say. This is a mess. It’s beautiful, but it’s a mess. Maybe you’re a poet.” He moved on to the next essay in the stack. I didn’t attend the public reading.

Brian Doyle died of brain cancer in 2017. The Oregon Quarterly no longer holds an essay contest, reinventing itself as an arm of the university’s marketing department. I went back to writing project plans and business cases for ten years until I wrote them all.

“A hummingbird’s heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas voladoras, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas.”

–ibid

The moon is full tonight, again. The dog inside barking at the moon sinking in the west early this morning. Moon-keeping time signals spring Easter and Passover holidays when she waxes full after equinox, marking Ramadan and Asian New Year when she is dark and new. The first red dogwood bracts unfurl outside the window.

I rediscovered new black ballet slippers I bought on sale in October and tucked away for now, this spring moment. I forgot them in the snow. I washed the fleece sweats and folded them (I considered giving it all away as though I’d never need fleece again.) When I brought the neighbors their groceries, they showed me a tiny Calliope hummingbird at the feeder outside the kitchen, the smallest bird in North America. It weighs as much as a ping-pong ball.

Time curves upward and hangs a heartbeat before descending. There a comes a place, recognized only in retrospect, where the arc plays out to fall, when thoughts bend toward memory over hope, wistfulness over desire.

“You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you.