Dragon’s Tail

chandelier2

It’s the dark of the moon. There is no reflected light on the lunar face, so near is the moon to the sun approaching a new cycle. New moon arrives before midnight tomorrow here on the west coast, a partial solar eclipse conjoining the headless serpent’s tail.

Is it Karma, you ask, this purging new moon?

Perhaps. It is certainly mystery, detachment, and otherworldly desire.

When I called the nurse to describe my symptoms–growing fever, headache from a sledge hammer to the back of my head, weakness and fire in my joints–it was as I feared. She confirmed I was coming down with the same pox from which my young son recently recovered. If you become deranged or out of your mind, she said, you will need to be hospitalized. You are old. It’s the fever. It will infect your brain. Encephalitis. I was 32 years old.

I called my mother to ask if I ever had chicken pox. She recalled measles, but demurred on the pox. It’s only chicken pox, which sounds light and frivolous and cowardly, contracted a few months before vaccines became widely available. I called my son’s father to come take him before I sank under the fever sea and rode the foam.

There’s a pox scar atop my third eye.

Dragon’s Head

 

Dragons are ravenous.

The duration of the full moon lunar eclipse visible in North America will be the longest in 580 years. The eclipse will last 3 hours, 28 minutes and 23 seconds. Although it’s not a total eclipse, the earth’s shadow will obscure ~98% of the lunar surface.

Shadows fall.

Eclipses come in pairs, usually twice each year and sometimes more, at new moon and full moon. An eclipse occurs when the new or full moon is within 15 degrees of the lunar nodes. The moon’s nodes are calculated points where the moon’s orbital path crosses the ecliptic. The ecliptic is the Sun’s apparent yearly path over the earth. There are two nodes: one rising to the north; one descending to the south.

The north node is the Dragon’s Head, called Rahu in Vedic astrology. The south node is the Dragon’s Tail, called Ketu. Some consider the north node to be the place to confront Destiny, while the south is an encounter with Karma.

The full moon occurs early in the morning of November 19th in the States. The earth will block most of the solar light from reflecting silver off the moon’s surface. Rather, the face of the moon will turn dusky and red illuminated only by bending solar rays that still reach its surface. A blood moon.

The Dragon needs feeding.

November & NaNoWriMo

gourdsIt’s November and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) again. Sigh.

Write 50K words in 30 days. That works out to 1667 words per day, even on weekends, holidays, elections, and when the power goes out. To all those participating in Nanowrimo, I salute you.

I signed up on October 30, 2016, for my first Nano, having learned about the nonprofit event just that day. I secretly believed it was the quick-start kick-start I needed to launch my next brilliant career as a novelist.I completed the challenge twice, finishing one novel and getting 60k words written on the second.

After much revision and many drafts several years later, I published the first novel, Pandora’s Last Gift, in July. (Thanks to all who bought or read the book!)

Now I’m back to Nano to finish the second novel. Rather than being a love story, it’s dark fantasy  this time titled Nocturne: Three Dog Night:

“When a sheep rancher is killed, suspicion falls on rescued dogs belonging to neighbor Sammi Crow Feather. To protect her innocent dogs from being blamed for the carnage and destroyed, seventeen year-old Sammi flees with them over the mountains into the desert, headed to remote territory in northeastern Oregon. As Sammi desperately tries to elude the state police and forensic biologist pursuing her, she is followed by the otherworldly beast spreading carnage and his omnipotent master. Sammi must fight for her own life, as well as the lives of her dogs against both human and dark immortal forces.”

Third time is a charm.

Hallows

hail_clouds

The sun slips into the Scorpion, sign of the Eagle and the Phoenix, and conjures whirlpools down from the Gulf of Alaska, atmospheric rivers from the Pacific. The wildfires are doused. Snow falls in the Cascades. The garden is done; the moldering squash plants pulled. There is rice to bake with wild mushrooms tonight.

We walked down the road, the dog and I, to the park–me treading thoughtfully over the slick moss and fallen leaves strewn across the steep hill, and Mercy straining at her lead to hurry while I braced her. I fell two years ago, catching myself on the right hand while never releasing the leash. My wrist is still tender from taking the brunt of the fall.

The wind whipped hair across my face and then flung it out into the air; a squall broke in cold waves across my bare cheeks. Mercy shook off the rain and rolled in the wet grass. We toured the sodden ground, maskless to the elements and churning cloud, before climbing the hill back home.

We paced two wild turkeys up the hill before us; the dog tested my grip on her leash, but I held her back. The heavy birds gawked back at us every few yards to see if we were gaining ground. They hurried to the verge at the top and took flight for the fir trees.

Swirling bright waves of maple, birch, and oak leaves spun up from the crest as we climbed and crashed down the hill in waves. I closed my eyes against their breaking over us.

Threading the Needle

sewing_machine

The hand remembers when the mind falters. There is memory in movement, a silent somatic wisdom of the body. The hand remembers, the clever thumb and forefinger working in concert to rediscover skill lost to thought, remember how to wind the thread from spool to spindle, how to wind the bobbin and how to seat it.

Clear the writing table of paper, books, and pens, the bits of candle and boxes of watercolor pencils; the kitchen’s trestle table is cluttered with the season’s last tomatoes spread to ripen, the final few summer squash, and turkey quills–there is no room for mending upstairs.

Do others still mend the straining seam or torn placket? Or do they simply fold the flawed clothing and stack it in a paper bag to donate or discard in the trash? Once it was expensive to purchase clothing, when Levi’s jeans were still sewn in San Francisco and the going wage was $2.30 per hour for scooping ice cream at the 31 flavors. There was no internet or Amazon, of course, offering instant comparison pricing and stinging reviews. There were department stores downtown, and more being built at the malls, or the Sears catalog to buy clothing. There were fabric stores as large as a warehouse with rainbow shelves of thread and offering charming selections of notions displayed on sprawling racks.

It was my grandmother’s sewing machine, a portable Singer stowed in a thick black case. Its features include the ability to sew both forward and backward. When Grandma died, my eldest cousin Kathy claimed the sewing machine, despite owning a deluxe zig-zag cabinet model Singer of her own.  But Mom said “No,” and had the machine fitted with a new motor. She gave it to me. I’ve carried it across the country and back, through many household moves, and now she rests in a black lacquered cupboard of her own.

pucker_patches

To my mother’s eternal frustration and consternation, I refused to thumb through the pattern catalogs in the fabric store and select a Butterick pattern for a sewing project. I had designs of my own. 

I found a lovely book about patternless sewing in the school library. I stole it. (Delighted to report that this same book is still apparently in print: Son of Hassle-Free Sewing: Further Adventures in Homemade Clothes by the authors of The Illustrated Hassle-Free Make Your Own Clothes Book, available on Amazon, of course.) I laid out printed cotton tapestries imported from India and fashioned long dashing coat-dresses  with high smocked sleeves and fastened with a matching cummerbund. I bought remnants fabric ends and devised patchwork tiered skirts and vests of puckered patches. 

As time went on, I returned the stolen book to the library. I sewed less often, finding it harder to thread the tiny eye of the needle when I did. My last project was a quilted cushion for the firewood box and the results were disappointing somehow. I took up knitting, which is really just tying many interconnecting knots and threading nothing.

When I finally took out my sewing machine to dispatch with mending, I wondered if the little light bulb above the presser foot would still burn, if I would still be able to thread the needle. The hand remembers; the light still burned.

I discovered the silk my grandmother brought me from Hong Kong long ago, still folded next to the machine, all whole liquid blue and silver, never cut.

silk

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

Stone Fruit

galette

The wild blackberries are ripening early, blistering under this relentless western drought, three weeks before their custom at cross-quarter.  In another day or two, the plums will be ripe enough. I’ll pick some low-hanging fruit for a jar of jam before the deer take them all, or they wither on the branch and fall. With the third cutting of rhubarb, I loped off the parasol leaves and washed the thick pink stalks under the hose.

There is no rain in the forecast. The dog is dumbfounded. Last week there was sparse early-morning dew with a phantom scent of rain, little else. We walk early and then I water the garden.

I made a galette, a rough shaggy pastry of almond meal, a stone so-called in the old French. The blueberries went in, the two nectarines I bought that ripened too fast on the counter, a shake of nutmeg and sherry. I dreamed about rain. I dreamed of abalone and mother-of-pearl.

Queen Anne’s Lace

thistle_moth

It feels like August, but it’s June. The cornflowers blow over the long grass bleached white with a sun pressing too close to the earth. It reached 111F in the south valley, 44C, at a time when dew should linger and rain still scatter into July.

Queen Anne’s lace, the flat white flowers of the wild carrot, bows down. I put a small bucket of water out on the hill for the wild things, changed the water each morning, draining the old out slowly over a squash planted outside the fence. There’s a lizard in the greenhouse between the pots of dill.

I give the deer mouse that lives under the deck a pea pod when I finish picking. I leave it the crack between the wall, the place she darts away and dives to safety when surprised during her foraging in the morning.

It’s a different sort of storm.

I stayed in my light lawn pajamas all day and read Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet beneath the heat pump register laboring to filter cool air from the wet cotton heat. The dog found it too hot to dig a hole to hide in and crept under the bed.

The book is nearly done. The manuscript is finished. The front matter, back matter, and cover design are final.

Everyone publishes a first novel.

Or not.

The Battle of Hastings

tulips

“Did the arrow go all the way through and out the back of his head?” James points at his own eye showing how that might happen at various angles.

“Maybe,” I say, “what do you think?”

“His eyeball probably popped and smooshed out all over,”

“No doubt,” I nod, “now finish your homework and I’ll finish dinner.”

James looks down at the spelling list on the table in front of him. He turns the page over and begins to draw the battle scene on the back. I feed linguine into the pot of boiling water and call over to James: “How do you spell beautiful?”

“B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L. Mom, where’s the red crayon?” He rummages in the box of art supplies.  “I need it for blood,”

My beloved bastard native tongue English: how many invasions, wars, and conquests did it take to build your astonishing agility? New words are invented every day. We select from a rich catalog of component parts: prefixes, roots, suffixes, bits of language like James’ plastic Lego blocks, to form new words and express new ideas. How to describe an orbiting satellite matching earth’s rotation, now that we have such a thing and need words to define it? Make it up. That word is “geosynchronous.” Geo=Earth. Syn=With. Chron=time.

Other languages and grammars are beautiful in their own way.  English rummages through the languages she encounters like auntie at the Saturday flea market selecting the best to take home. For example, “pajama” is an Urdu and Persian word that literally means “leg clothing.” Yet it was assimilated into English usage in the early 19th century through the conquests and adventures of the British and East Indian Trading Company. These days we’ve shortened the word even further to the cozy term “jammies.”

While some cultures seek to maintain the purity and integrity of their languages intact, English plays the field fast and loose. The French established the Académie Française to try to restrain the ranks of French speakers and the discipline of their own language. The purpose of the academy is to promote the French language and stamp out lingual interlopers and the creep of unorthodox foreign terms. Unfortunately, useful words and terms go viral in a world connected by instantaneous information technology. “Le Weekend” the French still say, despite the disapproval of the academy.

Irony is not lost here. The decisive Battle of Hastings in 1066 brought William, Duke of Normandy, to the English throne. The Anglo-Saxon infantry fought fiercely against the greater Norman cavalry and archers from morning to dusk, until at last, near sunset, King Harold took an arrow in the eye and died. The Anglo-Saxon forces broke and retreated.  The French language, with William the Conqueror on the throne, gained ascendancy in the English Court and left James the frustrating legacy of learning to spell words like “beautiful.”