The dog doesn’t wait for the sun to rise, though the birds still keep their roost until daylight. Mercy, the sly-eyed pirate, is awake and singing for breakfast in the darkness. These hours of daylight are short before the winter solstice, further shortened by the pall of bitter mist. Night brings a shroud of ice, freezing fog until, and unless, the sun breaks through at noon, weak at its low southern meridian. Tree trunks are flocked with frost. Maybe the vapor will lift, maybe not.
The winter solstice marks the moment the sun halts its southward march and hangs, hugging the horizon. The word solstice, a noun, derives from the Latin and means simply Old Sol stands, and there he hangs. Located, as we
are, halfway between the equator and North Pole at the 44th parallel, the southern decline is sharp.
If I see the moon, it is low in the west and bitten, growing shadowy like the sun ranging south. The fog encases the hollows between hills, and the hills themselves. In the northern hemisphere, darkness deepens, while creatures burrow into the earth for warmth and we shelter under down and fleece. The new moon comes before the solstice like a bell. For now, waiting in faith the wheel turns again, to ascend again, lift like cloud and mist off the hill top.
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.
You could not step twice into the same rivers; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.
No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.
—Heraclitus, Greek Philosopher,
544 BC – 483 BC
Wading among river stones, nothing underwater is as it appears lifted into the air. Trout fry school and float like dragonflies; every yellow stone is a bright gold nugget. The scale of water is not the same music.
Six months ago, I resigned from a job working in a shabby cubicle with a stunning view to the east. I rarely turned around from my dual monitors to look out the window, not unless there was a rainbow or a police take-down at the transit station. Even then, I only turned because other staff rushed into my cube to lean against the credenza, chattering and pointing and leaving fingerprints on the glass. I spent too many years in different cubes, in hindsight all remarkably the same. I write at home now. I spend long moments lost, gazing out windows.
My writing desk is upstairs in the southwest corner of the house. Spencer Butte is framed outside the windows, looming sometimes, like an iceberg daunting the bow of a ship. This corner enclave is where I write longhand, with black ink in a book of unlined paper, on most mornings. I notice my handwriting has improved these past six months, where it was nearly illegible when I started the book. I thumb through the pages, and volumes, and see this practice has also given me a steadier line across the page.
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.
I remember being a mouse. I lived in the yard at the temple of Ganesha and stole grains of rice from the temple-sweeper’s cupboard for our supper. I remember the dogs of the village as large and swift as thunderstorms, how the scent of jasmine blossom perfumed my entire nest, the musk of marigolds. I had a pretty dove-colored wife. We had 57 children. We lived beneath a crack among flagstone paving the temple courtyard. It gave onto a small hollow wedged between the courtyard and the outer wall that we stuffed with leaves and hair and bird feathers. It was very dangerous during monsoon, twice we nearly drowned when the den flooded, and we clung to the dung box to keep from being swept away. But we always returned, dug the mud out, and found new bits of cotton and chaff to stuff into the corners to continue our life.