A Walled Garden

Paradise is a walled garden. A lumber yard is burning to the north. It will burn for several more days. The pillar of smoke was visible for 20 miles on Sunday, when it started. Forest fires continue to burn to the east, ignited by lightening or coals from careless campfires, a smoldering cigarette.

Last week temperatures rose into the 100s. The valley sucked in the smoke, a great white inhalation, a stifling breath thick as burning fog, and we simmered without the maritime flow from the Pacific. Sunset burned crimson and orange. We watered the garden, the flagging pots of geranium and fuchsia in the morning, the cantaloupe with its new swelling melon, the grapes and herbs in the evening. Outside the gate the grass shriveled and dried, burned by sun and smoke. Wasps circled the mouth of the hose. There was no dew.

After five days, the wind shifted and the high pressure system broke. Something turned. There was a tilt, a shift, a soft mist from the west, and the leaves from the birch began to release and skitter across the lawn. I think of firewood and oiling my boots. I picked the blackberries and wild plums from the hill, simmered them down and bottled the juice. Yesterday, I picked bunches of peppermint to hang from the herb rack and dry for tea. Black flies circle under the eaves, willy-nilly, into the webs of great brown spiders. Paradise is a walled garden:

Xenophon, a Greek mercenary soldier who spent some time in the Persian army and later wrote histories, recorded the pairidaēza- surrounding the orchard as paradeisos, using it not to refer to the wall itself but to the huge parks that Persian nobles loved to build and hunt in. This Greek word was used in the Septuagint translation of Genesis to refer to the Garden of Eden, whence Old English eventually borrowed it around 1200.

Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic

Finalist: Proximity Magazine Essay Prize

Proximity Magazine 2017 Essay Prize Finalist

My essay “Gleaning” was selected as a finalist in this competition and I’m honored to be included in such an accomplished group of creative writers. The theme of this prize issue is WORK:

“For its second annual prize issue, Proximity was looking for true stories that explore the theme of WORK. Work defines our lives and our livelihoods. Work is labor. Work is art. Work is paid or unpaid, public or private or under the table. Work is at the heart of healthy relationships. Work puts food on the table. Work takes us out of our comfort zones. Work is political.”

August 4, 2017: Proximity editorial team announced the nine finalists for 2017 Essay Prize. Judges Adriana E. Ramírez (Essay) and Ted Conover (Narrative Journalism) will select winners (and a few additional finalists) who will be included in our October prize issue; all finalists will be included in a forthcoming anthology.

From “Aldebaran”

The first time I landed, I crossed by water. We sailed at night from the boot of Italy, running east in rain and wind, across the Ionian Sea. Our ferry tickets were deck-class only, and what scarce shelter the deck afforded was already claimed. I pitched my free-standing tent. We wrestled our backpacks inside to weight the tent against the ship. All night the nylon flustered and bucked against the wind. My sister and I cringe in the dark on the hard deck, fearing we would kite overboard in the gale.  A clear dawn broke through the cypress trees on Corfu. I fell asleep, finally. I dreamt the throbbing ship engines were the heartbeat of a great beast beneath me, cradling me over the waves.

There are not enough words for purple, I think. Of those few choices English offers to name the fusing of primary colors, most are artifice. Along that inside passage, the purples of sea and land waxed dark at noon entering the Bay of Patras. Great stone breasts of islands were illuminated by the rising sun on the water to port, shapes shaded aubergine and heliotrope diminishing to violet. The diesel exhaust of the ferry smokestacks was swept away by the wind, yet the lingering back-scent was rich like earth–earth and the wine-dark sea.

Crows Dreaming of Ravens

The garments worn in flying dreams
were fashioned there—
overcoats that swooped like kites,
scarves streaming like vapor trails,
gowns ballooning into spinnakers.

–Stuart Dybeck, from “Windy City”

Dawn comes early and I can’t hide. Each May morning waking, dream-washed and clean, to a day of exuberant green dressed with dew. There is just one more moon between now and the solstice, a round high summer moon coming to mark our longest day in the northern latitudes. Then the days grow shorter again.

I have often thought the seasons were mismarked on the calendar. If, unmoored from the tyrannical grid of weeks and months, we found more names for the light of days and nights, would we not be less surprised and dismayed while the seasons passed?

My new seasons might commence on the cross-quarter days, those landmarks between solstices and equinox. There would be waxing and waning phases to portions of the year. This scheme might look something like this (in the northern hemisphere, of course):

February 1         First Spring

March 21            Full Spring

May 1                  Summer

June 21                High Summer

August 1              First Fall

September 21     Full Fall

October 31          Winter

December 21      Low Winter