Mid-Winter 2022

01.17.22

Bottom line: Enjoy the full-looking moon for a night or two on either side of January 17, 2022, when it brings the northerly latitudes some good cheer on this long winter night. EarthSky

We’ve just passed the mid-point of January now. I know February can be cold and snowy, but the returning light will slowly start to show itself on Candlemas, February 1st, when sheep began making milk again in the ancient Celtic world. We’ll take out the Christmas tree then, whose little lights have lit the dark, foggy days and nights. So, just two weeks to go before I dare to listen for the male red-wing black bird’s return and the tiny, tiny incremental rustlings of Spring on the wing. I know it’s a classic case of “is the glass half empty or half full”, but living in the north country requires such thinking if one is to endure. And, with the Omicron variant raging in our ranks and the world’s news, it’s hard to concentrate on more than just enduring what’s here right now, and living with such an uncertain future. And, I know I know…it’s too early to think about Spring.

Yet, after weeks of solid ice covering all but the major roads, and recent fog every single day, the past few days have given us a little break. The sun has broken through in the afternoons, paths of dry pavement have revealed themselves for walks without spikes, and the sunsets have been show stoppers. And, now, the full Wolf Moon is filling our bedroom all night long. John sent me a photo early this morning of the moon setting over the East Rosebud and I sent him a photo of it setting over the quiet lake. The moon makes me believe in Hope again this morning…there have been days this January in which hope has been dormant. As today’s writer on Earth/Sky well knows, this moon brings good cheer on a long winter’s night. And, like Wendell Berry, it will be good also to melt.

THE COLD 
by Wendell Berry

How exactly good it is
to know myself
in the solitude of winter,
my body containing its own

warmth, divided from all
by the cold; and to go
separate and sure
among the trees cleanly
divided, thinking of you
perfect too in your solitude,
your life withdrawn into
your own keeping
—to be clear, poised
in perfect self-suspension
toward you, as though frozen.

And having known fully the
goodness of that, it will be
good also to melt.

New Year’s Day 2022

01.01.22

We go up to the garage and watch our loved ones drive away after their visits. It’s always sad to see them drive up the road, make the sharp right turn, and disappear from view. This time, Val and family walked up to the highway to meet Joy and Rich, who had to park their van up on the highway, as it could not navigate our slippery road. They drove them down to Missoula and the family had an epic journey of delayed flights back to California–as so many people did for this Life in the Time of Covid Christmas holiday. We were so grateful to be together, in spite of it all.

It was the kind of Christmas the California grandkids had wished for–cold and snowing and the pond through the woods froze for ice skating. Every day, they bundled up and headed out to shovel the new snow on the ice for hockey, and they sledded down the absent neighbor’s steep road. We played board games by the fire, and ten-year old Eamon taught me how to play Gin Rummy. We laughed at our favorite Christmas movies, all squeezed into the library. Once the Billings family arrived, twelve of us fit around the dining room table for meals at night and the house was filled with light and laughter. I managed to get into bed at a reasonable hour for my health issues each night, and even when I was a layabout with my legs elevated, I didn’t feel I was missing out. In fact, one of my favorite moments was when I was resting, eyes closed, in the middle of the living room, trying to gather my wits about me to manage this neural pain. I could hear the murmurs of the three teenagers, sitting in a circle by the fire, as they made jewelry together and listened to their Spotify playlists. In the library, Fletcher, now nearly 21 years old, was sitting next to Eamon on the sofa, watching football. Eamon likely has never watched a football game, and Fletcher had an eager audience for his passion. Their Q&A was adorable. My daughters and husbands and Grandon were all making dinner together, shaking margaritas, drinking wine, laughing and talking. I thought my heart would break open in joy and gratitude to have all this in my life, after such a tough year.

Rita and Lee came by for a New Year’s Eve soup dinner early last night, and I tried to find a Spotify playlist, but they all had names such as “Dumpster Fire 2021 Playlist”. We talked about how bad it has been, the personal health news that’s profoundly changed our lives, the sad events. We discussed the horrendous fire in Boulder and how maybe 1000 homeowners lost their houses at the end of this year. The news had just come in that Betty White had died, just shy of making it to her 100th birthday, and it felt like another assault from the Universe. We had awakened yesterday morning to a power outage, freezing in the house with 5 degrees outside. It took seven hours before the heat came on, and I fought back tears most of the morning at how awful all of it has been this past year. But, by evening’s close, we had laughed much more than we had cried. And, I went to sleep, knowing how tomorrow was a new day, a new year, and, in that, there is new hope. Happy New Year’s to us all.

From Letters of Note by Shaun Usher:

30 March 1973

Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang onto your hat. Hang onto your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.

Sincerely, 

E. B. White

Solstice 2021

12.20.21

Tomorrow, we will have reached the Winter Solstice. Family from California are scheduled to arrive mid-day and we will do our customary walk out on the north end of the lake, looking for any light in the sky, on the year’s darkest day. There have been years we’ve ice skated, but the thunder which happened yesterday morning announced the warm over-riding air which has blocked the arctic front. But…who knows, like life itself, it could change in an instant. My favorite solstice poem is the one I’ve posted here several times through the years–Winter Sheep by Tom Hennen. I have three little woolen sheep figures, bought years ago from a local art cooperative. They were made with wool from sheep ranches in Idaho and I bring them out each winter to sit on a table in front of the dining room window. I’ve taken many photos of them with winter sunlight back-lighting their curly hair, and before I put them away in the drawer, they sit in the midst of a green shamrock plant in early March.

But–especially in these bleak times with so much bad news from far and near–there is something about the poem’s line, “In the darkness of the barn their woolly backs were full of light gathered on summer pastures.” Reciting it in my head at 3 am can lull me back to sleep on these long dark winter nights, reminding me to look for the light in all the darkness.

Sheep in the Winter Night, by Tom Hennen

Inside the barn the sheep were standing, pushed close to one
another. Some were dozing, some had eyes wide open listening
in the dark. Some had no doubt heard of wolves. They looked
weary with all the burdens they had to carry, like being thought

of as stupid and cowardly, disliked by cowboys for the way they
eat grass about an inch into the dirt, the silly look they have
just after shearing, of being one of the symbols of the Christian

religion. In the darkness of the barn their woolly backs were
full of light gathered on summer pastures. Above them their
white breath was suspended, while far off in the pine woods,
night was deep in silence. The owl and rabbit were wondering,
along with the trees, if the air would soon fill with snowflakes,
but the power that moves through the world and makes our
hair stand on end was keeping the answer to itself.

December again…

12.05.21

To Know the Dark, by Wendell Berry

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

I know I am not the only one who has to think about how many Decembers we’ve been through since Covid changed everything. I started out this month by saying…”was that two years or was it three years ago, when Covid hit?” Everything in life suddenly turned upside down. Now, we have the Omicron variant circulating the globe, and we are starting the last month of yet another year, wondering if and when the Terrible Times will be over, or is this just the beginning of the End. And, it’s the darkest month in the year.

So, we’ve lit up the darkness in our house with twinkling lights on the mantle, the stained glass fairy window with tiny white lights in the pantry, and the Grand Fir Christmas tree Don cut, ablaze with both little white lights and colored ones, and all the sparkly ornaments we’ve collected through many years. Actually, the tree was decorated and then undecorated the next morning, when we realized you really can have too many lights. It snowed for the first time, off and on all day yesterday, and we listened to holiday music while we decorated together. And, after dinner, we started our Christmas tradition of watching the holiday movies we love. They’ve re-mastered, or re-colored, the classic Charlie Brown Christmas movie–maybe it’s the new TV we finally bought after so many years. Who doesn’t love seeing all the characters skate on the pond with Snoopy creating mischief in his fantasy of greatness. We really love it–and the whole holiday series (who can watch a football game without thinking of that scene in the Thanksgiving one where Lucy pulls away the football from an unsuspecting Charlie Brown). We remember all the years we sat in the Honea’s living room with the little grandkids, watching each and every season together.

It’s our wedding anniversary today–we got the calculator out and think it’s number 34. For years, we’ve traveled to places we love for fine dining and a city Christmas experience, but, in these years of scary travel, we stay home. We share our cards over coffee in the dark morning, when we are up hours before there is light in the sky. They are always special and each of us tries to out-do the other with some beautiful heart graphics. This year, my card to Don had blue winter trees covered in snow, and I mentioned how I guess They really meant it with that line in the wedding vows “in sickness and in health…”. After there was some crying, I opened his which had a dazzling pop-up of a smiling moon and golden stars and the line, “I love you to the moon and back”. (He said he almost wrote “Alice”. ) We’re watching our absolute favorite movie tonight, Trains, Planes and Automobiles, in which we cannot stop laughing. Maybe the leftover chili served over baked potatoes will be dinner. We light the darkness, however we can. Next stop, is the Winter Solstice. And, then Christmas, when most of my family is coming–hopefully! So, we made it to December again, in all the darkness, and the season will turn, bringing new light in its time. In all of this uncertainty, on that we can depend.

November

November 1, 2021

It was a beautiful Halloween. We were in Sandpoint and Spokane for the week-end, where Don did a cyclocross race each day at different pumpkin farms and apple orchards in the area. There was not a cloud in the sky and it was cold and crisp and the farms were full of families carrying pumpkins, with children horsing around in the little wagons meant to cart the bounty to their cars. Lots of “Go Daddy!” cheers on the bike course between somersaults and cartwheels. On our drive there, we had the Montana Public Radio signal most of the way and listened to the Pea Green Boat as Bill Harley read scary Halloween stories. Just as the swamp monster stole the kids’ new sneakers stuck in the mud–calling out “Boogada Boogada Boogada”–we lost the transmission– but the gorgeous Pend Orielle Lake came into view and it was stunningly blue and sparkly. On the late afternoon drive home Sunday, shafts of remaining sunlight shot through the Idaho canyons and illuminated the golden tamaracks on the mountain hillsides, as we sped home to beat the first bright planets to appear in the clear violet sky. We reminisced about all the Halloweens we had spent with our family in Billings over the years when the kids were little–their elaborate costumes, the pumpkin carving, the mayhem of kids running around in the dark, maybe lost to their parents. Joy’s adult party, which mercifully came to an end when the entire neighborhood came and never left. Don’s favorite part was when the kids dumped their bags on the living room floor at the end of the night and he paid them money for all of the Almond Joys they’d collected.

We had such a lovely month of October and most of the leaves have now fallen to the ground. There was a good soaking rain towards the end and we are 150% of normal for the water year–which started October 1st. Now it it November and it is DARK DARK DARK in the mornings. If you awaken close to 5 am, like our household, it’s close to 8 am before you feel you can go outside and avoid the lions, tigers and bears. The time change comes this week end and we will be relieved to have a little more light in the morning, as the fire is already started in our living room now by 5 pm for the long dark night about to descend. It’s time to remember how we make it cozy to keep winter’s wolf from the door, and to somehow engage in that eternal human struggle of letting go of what has been, and to create a pause for the new. At the pantry window in this morning’s dark, I could see the bright waning moon over the trees in the east. In just five days, if the skies are clear, I’ll see the new fingernail moon appear over the mountains to our west. On cue for this new month, this new turn of the calendar,my sister emailed Rachel Hackenberg’s poem… I thought it was just right for the day.

The Eve before the New

Oct 31, 2021 | By Rachel Hackenberg

Do not ask us to turn back, O Mother,
or to return to what has been;
although there is beauty in the past,
we cannot remain there
nor do we wish to relive
the milestones of pain and grief that
brought us from the past to this day.

Do not ask us to go back, O Mother,
where the only hope to be found
is in the dirt of fallow fields
where discarded seeds
must be coaxed with tears
to bear a new harvest;
we cannot return to death in search of life.

Here in the thin place between past and future,
ask us only to go forward with you, O Mother:
to seek honey in the wilderness,
to startle upon love that is new,
to pull fresh milk from every day,
to be strangers upheld by mercy and mystery
and never again prisoners of rationed charity.

And if we ask you, O Mother, to let us go back,
tell us then the story of how far we have come

and how much we might yet come to know.
Tell us the story of the deep breath
that awaits us with every dawn,
and of the promise that tomorrow
will not find us alone. Then wait with us for the new.

on Ruth 1:1-18;

Time to talk about October

10.17.21

The golden leaves are almost gone and I am late to talk about this beautiful month. On October’s first day, I finally had my hip surgery, another night in the hospital, and am emerging from those tremulous dark days. The surgery went fine and I am where i should be in my rehabilitation. I can do little walkabouts in the driveway and sit on my bench by the water, and partake in the glorious late October warm and sunny weather that has settled in. Early in the month, it was cold and blustery–lots of snow on the east side of the state–and whenever I lifted my head, I was saddened by friends and neighbors who’ve left for their snowbird locales, friends off on cross-country adventures, the longtime public radio hosts who’ve suddenly retired from the airwaves, every tree that looked more bare in morning’s light. And, oh the disappearing light! Every year I bemoan how fast it leaves the sky, but hasn’t it been quicker this year? There are years when the losses are so heavy…is there anyone who’s come this far in the pandemic that doesn’t feel that way I wonder.

Well, Time moves on and Don finishes buttoning things up whilst I watch. He mowed the lawn for the final time–why is it always at its most lush this time of year. The screen doors are off and he’ll get all those French doors sparkling clean this upcoming week so the bits of winter light can shine bright in the house. Now that I can participate a little in the kitchen, soup is on the menu most nights, and we’ve had fires in the living room when the sun sets at 6:15. We’ve been watching the MLB league championship series in the evenings–well, because it’s October. For me, it’s the kind of tune in/tune out viewing that lines up with my rehabilitation, before an early bedtime. I must be getting better because yesterday I brought out the dusting microcloth for all the windowsills that need attention. There are a couple of flies and bees that have been trapped inside which are are comatose and near death, and I’ve been able to get them outdoors for their final hours. Spider threads and webs stretch across the outside wrought iron chairs and glisten in the sunshine, as the Charlottes complete their final act in life. By the end of this month, the cold will have settled in, the flannel sheets will go on the bed, and we’ll hunker down for the long winter ahead. For now, there is such exquisite beauty in this season of goodbyes.

Wondrous
by Sarah Freligh

I’m driving home from school when the radio talk
turns to E.B. White, his birthday, and I exit
the here and now of the freeway at rush hour,

travel back into the past, where my mother is reading
to my sister and me the part about Charlotte laying her eggs
and dying, and though this is the fifth time Charlotte

has died, my mother is crying again, and we’re laughing
at her because we know nothing of loss and its sad math,
how every subtraction is exponential, how each grief

multiplies the one preceding it, how the author tried
seventeen times to record the words She died alone

without crying, seventeen takes and a short walk during

which he called himself ridiculous, a grown man crying
for a spider he’d spun out of the silk thread of invention —
wondrous how those words would come back and make

him cry, and, yes, wondrous to hear my mother’s voice
ten years after the day she died — the catch, the rasp,
the gathering up before she could say to us, I’m OK.

September’s Midpoint

09.16.21

It’s hard to believe we’ve passed the middle of September already.  Today was one of those days in which I was reminded about why I’ve loved Montana all these years.  There had been a splash of rain on the stone steps early this morning, and when the sun finally rose, you could immediately tell by the light that it was going to be a quintessential brisk Fall day.  You could make out all the details on the mountains across the lake and the breeze was light, and there was just enough movement on the water to see swirls and eddies and changes in color all day long.  Snow is in the forecast tonight for some of our mountain tops, and a freeze is predicted for the valleys.  I drove to the Northshore Farm this afternoon, knowing they’d be rushing to pull the remaining cucumbers and leeks, lettuce and peppers from the ground, before the temperature plummets.  I’ve just enough cash left in my CSA to buy a big Cinderella pumpkin when they are ripe in another month.

Not that I didn’t spend some time earlier in the day, looking on Zillow for homes for sale on the sea in the Puget Sound.  It was a regular thing during July when the skies here were filled with wildfire smoke.  Thinking that the very first air to reach this country would be the clean, clear, cold air off the Pacific, I had an official account with Zillow and Redfin.  I know there is that earthquake/tsunami threat but, still–that sea air.  It could be an escape from all my troubles out there.  This morning, I got a phone alert about a shooting outside a local health club, with one man dead and two others taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds.  It was just the other day, while waiting in the parking lot for my take-out pizza, that I watched two different over-sized men climb into their ginormous pick up trucks, with guns on their belts, after leaving the bar.

And, there was a call this morning from my orthopedic surgeon’s office, informing me they have a rescheduled date, the first of October, for my elective hip joint replacement surgery. Maybe the third time is the charm.  But, when I stopped in the pharmacy to pick up the latest prescriptions to get me by, I was, as always, the only person masked, including the pharmacists.  I noticed they don’t even have those six-feet-apart dots on the carpet anymore.  Our next door neighbor, Idaho, activated the “crisis of standard of care” in their hospitals today,  giving them the authority to prioritize care with the limited resources at their disposal.  I thought about our hospital getting those two shooting victims in the ER this morning, attended to by exhausted and overwhelmed staff.  With my surgeon’s office telephoning their patients on the elective surgery list, and providing us with another opportunity, I am trusting that I was way below the people who might die from the delay. 

It was nice to go to the farm and not think about all of this. I parked across the street on the road out to the waterfowl conservation zone, and walked out along the hay bales in all their different shapes. The purple asters were in bloom and I didn’t see any osprey up on their platform nests. They have left, and I didn’t even notice. It’s like losing track of whether the moon is waxing or waning. While I fret in the wee hours of the night, the Fall migration of birds is going by in the dark sky high overhead now. It’s time to pay closer attention to all of this–now, more than ever.

Tickled Pink by Kevin Kling

At times in our pink innocence, we lie fallow, composting, waiting to grow.
And other times we rush headlong like so many of our ancestors.
But rushing or fallow, it doesn’t matter
One day you’ll round a corner, you’ll blink 
And something is missing
Your heart, a memory, a limb, a promise, a person
An innocence is gone
Your path, as though channeled through a spectrum, is refracted, and has left you in a new direction.
Some won’t approve
Some will want the other you
And some will cry that you’ve left it all
But what has happened, has happened, and cannot be undone.
We pay for our laughter. We pay to weep. Knowledge is not cheap.
To survive we must return to our senses…touch, taste, smell, sight, sound.
We must let our spirit guide us, our spirit that lives in breath.
With each breath we inhale, we exhale.
We inspire, we expire. 
Every breath holds the possibility of a laugh, a cry, a story, a song.
Every conversation is an exchange of spirit, the words flowing bitter or sweet over the tongue. 
Every scar is a monument to a battle survived.
When you’re born into loss, you grow from it.
But when you experience loss later in life, you grow toward it.
A slow move to an embrace, 
An embrace that holds tight the beauty wrapped in the grotesque, 
An embrace that becomes a dance, a new dance, a dance of pink.

Here comes September…

09.01.21

August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time. Sylvia Plath

I can’t believe how surprised I am, every single year, when it suddenly feels like September. The quality of the light changes literally overnight, and everything looks different as the sun slants lower across the grass, the trees, the water. With all the rain we’ve recently had, the trees and bushes are at their pinnacle of aliveness–at the top of the ferris wheel–poised for Autumn’s splendor, then their slow descent to the ground. The new neighbors from California, who bought the old abandoned log cabin up at the fork in our road, invited us up to their porch for drinks the other evening. They arrived in the time of heat and smoke and just couldn’t believe how quickly the daylight has shrunk, how cool are the mornings. They will soon head back to California–just wait until they experience this place when they return for Thanksgiving. We ordinarily give Californians three years before Montana no longer meets their expectations, but in these times, who knows. They seem to think this place is a refuge from the craziness in the world and that the cabin sold at a bargain price. I could sense they will flip it at some point, but who knows.

We’ve complained so much about this summer. The heat and smoke of July gave us plenty of fodder, but, I think it served us best as a metaphor for how events in the world writ large have so dampened and dashed our spirits. Talk about expectations! To think we thought this summer might be normal, post Covid–post anything– in a world with wars, fires, hurricanes, refugees, social and racial injustice–an endless list of suffering. No matter how much one might try and limit exposure to the dreadful news, as a means of psychic survival, it is still there, shrouding us like the dense smoke of summer. This summer has been exhausting.

We told our new neighbors that September and October are our favorite months in Montana. In spite of everything, I am looking forward to its melancholy solace. It’s always been as much about fresh new starts, as it has been about inevitable loss and the sweet grief that accompanies endings. I swear I can smell pencils being sharpened when I get the back-to-school fliers in the mailbox. I confess that I wonder if you can smell it through a mask at school, but I’m indulging in nostalgia here! Remembering and romancing the Septembers of childhood may be the only thing that holds a tough day together. That, and the right before your eyes sparkle of a blue fall day when the edges of the leaves are sharp in the sunlight, and a tiny droplet of water at its tip becomes a prism of all the colors in the rainbow.

Absolute Summer, by Mary Jo Salter

How hard it is to take September
straight—not as a harbinger
of something harder.

Merely like suds in the air, cool scent
scrubbed clean of meaning—or innocent
of the cold thing coldly meant
.

How hard the heart tugs at the end
of summer, and longs to haul it in
when it flies out of hand

at the prompting of the first mild breeze.
It leaves us by degrees
only, but for one who sees

summer as an absolute,
Pure State of Light and Heat, the height
to which one cannot raise a doubt,

as soon as one leaf’s off the tree
no day following can fall free
of the drift of melancholy.

Summer Winding Down

08.20.21

It rained, and rain is in the forecast through the week-end. It’s only 62 degrees this afternoon and I can see the mountains across the lake and the wispy fingers of white clouds that hang low in front of the blue hills. We’ve closed windows in the house now to keep out the chill rather that the wildfire smoke. There are warm and sunny days forecasted on the horizon, but they will be squeezed between a parade of low pressure systems out of the north, and we will remark how you can sense Autumn’s chill behind the heat now. I had to drive up to Whitefish first thing this morning for a CT scan at their hospital, and was surprised that the summer traffic was gone. I arrived so early that I filled the time by walking along their trail system through the cattails, admiring the cloud-shrouded Swan Range to the east. The notch with a view into Glacier Park was filled with clouds and all aglow, backlit by the white light of a clear sunrise. There was a fenced-in flower and vegetable garden along the trail–the Planetree Healing Garden–where sunflowers grew up and through the wooden lattice. After all the years of working in hospital administration in the past, and my experience of being a cancer patient, in which I stared out at a healing garden from my transfusion recliner, I must admit I have an unflattering cynicism of such projects. But, I opened the gate and went along the flagstone path and took photos of Fall flowers, squash and baby melons. It was a lovely morning, actually.

Was it just a few weeks ago–as we lived in a snow globe filled with smoke– that I wrote life had gone to hell in a hand basket? Since then, the California wildfires have exploded, as has the Delta variant, now getting the children. In the first days of in-person school, my yet-to-be-vaccinated ten year old grandson has had a positive Covid case reported. While I order a shipment of N95 masks, Montana has made it illegal for any business to require Covid vaccinations as a condition of employment. A “human rights issue” they say. The news of Haiti makes me think they must be truly cursed with yet another earthquake and hurricane. The images from Afghanastan have forced me to turn off the TV, remembering the Saigon images seared in my brain, and reminding me that I once was young and innocent.

These are just hard times. A neighbor of ours from long ago, Courtney Martin, writes a beautiful blog, “The Examined Family”. This is in addition to several stunning books, including her latest, Learning in Public. She entitled a recent blog post, ‘Letting there be room for all of this” and it’s felt like a mantra to me as we all slog through these uncertain days…

‘Letting there be room for all of this’

a meditation on this uncertain moment

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” ― Pema Chödrön

Some dear old friends from Colorado–who actually used to live right next door to Courtney when she was growing up–just left, after a week long visit. We made ‘room for all of this’ together with much laughter and with our tears. It was a healing time. I’m grateful for this relief in our weather, and I picked up the first fresh sweet corn this morning from the farm, on my way home from the hospital. Somehow, I guess, we just have to make room for all of this to happen, however we can.

Spent, by Mark Doty

Late August morning I go out to cut
spent and faded hydrangeas—washed
greens, russets, troubled little auras


of sky as if these were the very silks
of Versailles, mottled by rain and ruin
then half-restored, after all this time…

When I come back with my handful
I realize I’ve accidentally locked the door,
and can’t get back into the house.


The dining room window’s easiest;
crawl through beauty bush and spirea,
push aside some errant maples, take down


the wood-framed screen, hoist myself up.
But how, exactly, to clamber across the sill
and the radiator down to the tile?


I try bending one leg in, but I don’t fold
readily; I push myself up so that my waist
rests against the sill, and lean forward,


place my hands on the floor and begin to slide
down into the room, which makes me think
this was what it was like to be born:


awkward, too big for the passageway…
Negotiate, submit?
                           When I give myself
to gravity there I am, inside, no harm,


the dazzling splotchy flowerheads
scattered around me on the floor.
Will leaving the world be the same


—uncertainty as to how to proceed,
some discomfort, and suddenly you’re
—where? I am so involved with this idea

I forget to unlock the door,
so when I go to fetch the mail, I’m locked out
again. Am I at home in this house,


would I prefer to be out here,
where I could be almost anyone?
This time it’s simpler: the window-frame,


the radiator, my descent. Born twice
in one day!
                In their silvered jug,
these bruise-blessed flowers:


how hard I had to work to bring them
into this room. When I say spent,
I don’t mean they have no further coin.


If there are lives to come, I think
they might be a littler easier than this one.

August Fire and Smoke

08.04.21

Yes by William Stafford

It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.


It could you know. That’s why we wake
and look out–no guarantees

in this life.


But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.

Valerie and the boys drove back to California on Saturday–a week ahead of schedule– because the air quality looked to be getting worse rather than better. After two weeks of constant monitoring of the Air Quality Index with the measurement device she brought with her, and moving the air filter around the house to create clean rooms for asthmatic Cormac, she packed it all up in the van, and drove off to let the boys experience coastal Bay Area air until the California fires really take off in September.

The word that came to mind when I watched them drive up our dusty road Saturday morning was bitter. I felt cheated by this miserable world right now, and so disappointed that what should be idyllic childhood days of summer at the lake had turned into constant air quality surveillance and all of us cloistered inside the library, watching the Olympics, as if i cared about them. As the days have gone by, I’m just sad. But, I am also remembering how Valerie pointed out each day, how there had been little glimmers of things that felt light and fun, and made us happy. As I look back at the photos I took, we never missed a night of going out on the dock and watching the orange sun set behind the smoke, while the boys swam out to the sailboat and dove off into the unusually warm water. And, there was that night towards the end, when I was the first adult to finally put down the glass of wine and go into the water with them. They pointed out that I had a great advantage in that the left side of my body, post-stroke, does not sense temperature, so only half of me needs to get used to the still-chilly water. I swam out to the sailboat with them and they talked me into climbing aboard via ladder, and even talked me into diving off, each one holding a hand so I could steady my balance on the edge of the boat. In spite of everything, how can I not be left with love and gratitude for that moment, so wobbly on the edges these days.

Their departure turned out to be well-timed, as it went to hell in a hand basket on Saturday. A fire had started 16 miles south of us, clearly visible from the lake, in the steep mountains on the east side of the highway. For twenty years, we’ve assured ourselves that with our prevailing winds from the west and southwest, we were, likely, safe from fires in the forest east of us, and ten miles of glacial lake lay between us and the western mountains. An east wind, bringing a down slope fire, was very unlikely. But, in recent years, as the weather pattern has changed at the lake, we now get surprise east winds and they are the ones that blow down our trees, the 100-year old ones, whose root structure has grown to withstand strong gales from the west, but not the ones from the east. I have written on this blog in the past about the evil East Wind in mythology, and how I am so unsettled when it happens here.

When we opened up the kitchen windows facing east on Saturday night–smoke or not, to let in cool air–we were hit by a blast of hot wind, and while we slept, the neighbors on the lake south of us were awakened by evacuation alerts as the east wind drove the fire down slope, across the highway, into the homes around Finley Point. Everyone made it safely out but some two dozen structures were destroyed, at least ten of them homes. There are 250 homes at risk along our highway, and the road is closed is 13 miles south of us. Despite its small size, the Boulder 2700 fire is currently categorized as the number one priority fire burning in the Northern Rockies. And, we are now officially in the air quality alert zone, after being a little island of just bad for sensitive groups, for the entire time Valerie and family were here with us. It was good they left for California, sad as it was to see them go.

Now, I am left to find glimmers of lightness on my own. As if we all haven’t had enough practice, deep into year two of this pandemic which has changed our lives. As the Delta variant rages, and masks become serious again, now we can add this dreadful summer of heat and smoke to test our forbearance. I had so many inspirational quotes and affirmations taped to my vanity mirror back in the beginning of the pandemic, but as they became tattered and wrinkled up, they were thrown out in the trash. Probably, I just got worn out, looking at them.

Still, I stumbled across a poem in my journal, which I’ve been working on for months, entitled Put Down the Weight of Your Thorn, and added a line yesterday about how the goldenrod has suddenly appeared along the parched dirt on our road, signaling autumn is not so far away now. And, I had also written down a comment made a few weeks ago by Todd, owner of Two Bear Farms. He publishes a weekly newsletter in which he writes about things he thinks about whilst picking cauliflower in the early morning hours for four and a half hours. He had been despairing about the state of the world and decided he needed to pay attention to less news, and listen to more music. And, he described a plan for acceptance in the week ahead, to preserve his mental health. I’ve been thinking about his idea all week long, and find it is helpful to imagine that there could be an amazing plot twist to this story, which turns things around in a good way, that we have no idea is coming. It could happen. And, this morning, NOAA is forecasting that northwest Montana is likely to receive wetting rains this week-end. It could happen, it could happen.

So, as part of my acceptance, for this week, I am telling myself that the state of the world is just a big movie, and I should sit back and watch the plot unfold (since the powers that be are not interested in the script I wrote). I’m not saying I’m going to grab a big ole bucket of GMO popcorn with some artificial butter on it, and a 36-ounce soda, but I’m also not willing to invest my mental health so heavily in the outcome. Who knows, maybe there is an amazing plot twist at the end that I have no idea is coming?” Todd of Two Bear Farms