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Sleeping in June

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We have five more days before the longest day of the year.  There will be over 16 hours of daylight, and, “astronomical twilight,” which is when there is truly no light in the sky left after sunset, occurs at 1:06 a.m. on the Solstice.  This is an enormous adjustment in a household where eyes open at 5:00 a.m., no matter what is happening in the sky, or when it was bedtime.  I should have been a farmer or a rancher.  In fact, if I awaken in a heart-pounding cold sweat from a bad dream in the middle of the night, struggling to return to sleep, I take comfort in knowing that soon it will be 4:00 a.m., and the farmers are up at that hour, milking the cows, feeding the livestock, and all will be right in the world as a new day begins.  The trick for an early riser is to go to bed by 9pm–which is effortless, welcome, in winter, with skies that are dark and gray and so little light in the day.  But, it’s challenging, come summer, as long and gorgeous sunsets of pink and gold spread across the twilight sky, lasting forever.  Afternoon naps are de rigor in summertime.  But, sometimes, I just have to go to bed on winter’s time, even as golden light streams through the shutter slats on the windows.  I plan to read myself to sleep, but, instead, just watch the light move down the walls, fluttering as it bounces off the lake.  It really is a magnificent way to fall asleep– if you can forgive yourself for not watching the sunset from the porch.

We’ve had warm and humid days all week, with afternoon T-storm clouds forming over the lake, and sprinkles here and there.  Now that the screens are on, I open up the french doors on the porch to the lake, once the outside temperature registers higher than indoors.  I’ve moved the living room furniture to face the water instead of the fireplace, and my little wooden sailboats now line the mantle, waiting for summer winds.  We put the motor on the old aluminum boat and had a lovely little jaunt down to Wood’s Bay the other night.  I went for a hike in Herron Park where gorgeous purple lupine, yellow heart leaf arnica, and wild rose were scattered across the hills.  We’ve started preparing the house for a summer’s worth of guests–airing out bedding, fresh sheets, new window seat cushions, and fixing this and that.  It’s quintessential summer as the Solstice approaches.

Sarah said to me awhile back, “You guys are always either preparing for summer or preparing for winter.”  I’ve thought about that–wondering whether or not I’m actually here and present for winter and summer, or do I just anticipate its arrival and actually miss the main event?  I don’t think so–maybe, I once did, but the older I get, the more I think I am living my life largely in real time.  At least I’m mindful about it, even if I miss a beat here and there and lose the rhythm.   Not that winter doesn’t last too long, and I began dreaming of Hawaii before February.   And, by late September, I begin to look forward to lighting the candles each night and morning, as darkness begins to envelope the land, and it gets quiet and still, with that tender dose of melancholy.  I think it’s just a big realignment to move between seasons, here in the north country.  There is a sharp line separating them.  Winter is long and cold and dark, and it’s important to settle into that season’s quiet slow time, or you’d go crazy.   Just about the time you do think you’ll lose it, here comes all this light and warmth and green and color, and you realize you’ve been living in slow time for so long that you don’t know quite what to do with yourself when the day never ends.  Sometimes you just have to re-group, and go to bed early anyway, and watch as the light moves down your bedroom wall.

Bed in Summer, Robert Louis Stevenson

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.
I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.
And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?



June’s early heat wave broke last night with thunder and lightning and soaking rains just after midnight.  There is nothing quite so lovely as awakening in the morning to the sound of much-needed rain falling outside the window.  It felt like full-on summer this week.  The screen doors are now on the French doors to the porch, groupings of wicker chairs are strewn across the lawn, boats at water’s edge.  And, I’ve been able to hang sheets on the clothesline.  My mother would be appalled at how my sheets are unevenly pinned to the line, and, sure enough, the creases didn’t line up when I folded them after they were dry.  Nevertheless, next to summer rain, is there anything better than the smell of fresh air and sunshine when you lay yourself down to sleep at night.

In this month of June brides, we are off tomorrow for the high country of Colorado to attend a wedding.  It’s a chance to see old friends who’ve been part of our lives for nearly forty years–the same friends who years ago used to ask me, “So, when are you guys moving back?”  I’ve lived in Montana now for twenty-three years, longer than I did in Colorado.  But, that is where we all raised our children together, the halcyon days, in retrospect, when we were at the top of our game, the prime of our lives.  Now, we come together with new hips and knees, surgical scars, and some terrible losses, in celebration of marriage of one of our kids.  It feels important to be there.  As Black Elk said:

Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a person is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.

I saw the new fingernail moon last night, right before bed.  Bright Mercury was somewhere nearby but the night’s storm clouds left only the moon to shine through.  Sunny skies and normal temperatures will be here upon our return late Sunday night.  We’ll get the sailboat in the water, and the motor on the aluminum fishing boat.  An entire summer spreads out in front of us now, feeling like a miracle.

The Miracle by Michael Goldman

It is not that
the sun comes up
or the earth goes around
or that the plants sprout
and take up rain
and flower and set seed
or that our hearts pound
five thousand times an hour –
It’s that we don’t have
to go out with tethers
to make the heavenly bodies
move correctly around
or caress the ground
and tease the stems upright
and separate the petals
or tap our chests
continually with little hammers
and we can put
our attention elsewhere.


Lilac days


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Stealing Lilacs  by  Alice N. Persons

A guaranteed miracle,
it happens for two weeks each May,
this bounty of riches
where McMansion, trailer,
the humblest driveway
burst with color—pale lavender,
purple, darker plum—
and glorious scent.
This morning a battered station wagon
drew up on my street
and a very fat woman got out
and starting tearing branches
from my neighbor’s tall old lilac—
grabbing, snapping stems, heaving
armloads of purple sprays
into her beater.
A tangle of kids’ arms and legs
writhed in the car.
I almost opened the screen door
to say something,
but couldn’t begrudge her theft,
or the impulse
to steal such beauty.
Just this once,
there is enough for everyone.

I do feel guilty when I steal lilacs every year.  There is something violent about jumping out of my car, sneaking over to a big bush, then quickly tearing off branches, their woody stems turned into sharp daggers.  I recently read that when you prune a lilac bush, the plant sends out a flurry of beautiful heart-shaped leaves to mend the wound, and it can take five years before a blossom appears there again.  I look for big bushes–small trees really–and do my thievery in different spots of the tree, so it doesn’t grow lopsided.  Such an old-fashioned flower–you hardly ever see them in new subdivisions.  They easily can live past 100 years old, and I used to hunt for them on old country roads, where the homestead was abandoned long ago, with the big lilac bush left alone to the winds.  But, I felt like a graverobber, so I’ve kept to back alleys when no one was looking.  I got lucky this year.  There’s a ramshackle property next to the road down to our house which has been vacant for over a year–I guess a niece in Minnesota inherited it and is supposed to pay a visit this summer.  There are abandoned trucks, a boat, a snowplow, and the split-rail fence around the orchard fell down this winter.  I try to ignore it, I guess, but when I drove home from the grocery the other day, I spotted a tall, lusciously full lilac bush, right next to one of the outbuildings.  I stopped and grabbed an armload for the living room–just like the greedy woman in the battered station wagon.

“Lilacs are May in essence,” writes Jean Hersey.  Coming in my birthday month, they’ve always been my favorite flower.  Every year, I tell somebody about the time when I was 13 years old, moving schools in the middle of eighth grade, so utterly miserable and lonely.  To avoid the cafeteria, I would run the mile home at lunchtime to be with my Mom, who fixed my favorite foods.   That year, on my birthday, she made me her tall angel food and ice cream cake, decorated with lavender lilac blossoms of whipped cream.  And, then, there was May 18, 2001, the year Fletcher, my first grandchild was born.  I stayed in Colorado for a couple of weeks for his birth, helping Joy out by day, and then driving the 30 minutes over to my sister’s house to sleep at night, then back again the next morning.  I would pull off the road for lilacs, keeping a sprig in my car for the journey.  In my sweet memory of rocking him in the blue wicker chair, filtered sunlight coming in through the lace curtains, there were always lilac blossoms in a jar on the table.

Fletcher graduated from high school last week-end and we had a grand celebration in Billings with friends and the Colorado families.  The lilacs were bursting in alleys and at the corners of homes, in their old historic downtown neighborhood.  I thought of the little blue nursery back in Colorado, and how he always slept on his back with hands behind his head.  Where did all this time go and how did it happen so fast?  Is it any wonder we tear up when the band begins to play “Pomp and Circumstance”, and we know how much older we became, as a tiny baby blossomed into such a fine young man.

In one more day, it will be June.  It’s felt like summer since we arrived home.  The geraniums are in their pots and the window boxes have been planted.  A water-skier in a wet suit hollered out there the other day, and a lithe young girl floated along standing on her paddle board, while I read my book by the water last evening.  There may be one more bunch of lilacs I can pilfer from the neighbors, but this spring season is coming to a close.  There is another summer coming our way, just around the bend.  ‘A guaranteed miracle’!

“A faint smell of lilac filled the air. There was always lilac in this part of town. Where there were grandmothers, there was always lilac.” — Laura Miller

Rainy day

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“Tut, Tut, looks like rain”
A.A. Milne

“My mom says that when it rains you never feel like you should be anywhere but home.”
Elise Broach, Shakespeare’s Secret

We are now enveloped in a cold and rainy period for at least another week.  Cliff Mass, the meteorology professor at University of Washington, wrote on his blog that this is “liquid bounty” for the Northwest, with hopes it could stave off forest fire season by a few weeks this year.  It is not good news for Anna’s soccer championship this week-end in Great Falls, in which games were delayed until the pitches were cleared of snow, nor for Fletcher’s outdoor graduation party next week-end.  In California, where they are expecting 500% of normal precipitation through the end of May, Sarah said she was “so over it.”  Just as things felt close to summer…alas, sigh, oh well.

On this cool and rainy week-end, I’ve been sequestered at home, not doing much of anything.  Don has been gone and while I had grand plans for various house projects, I’ve just wandered around the house.  I looked out the window, picked up a book, then stepped out on the porch again, back to the book, a little nippy nap on the sofa, another cup of tea.  The pair of loons on the water have been making their wolf-like calls, so loud that I can hear them with the windows and doors all closed.  I scan the lake, making sure they’ve found one another.  I did have a beautiful walk this morning in light, misty rain, which felt like Ireland, so I looked online in search of holiday homes for sale at the sea, somewhere along the Atlantic Way, and found this cottage:

“This unique property has it all! Barry’s Cottage is located in the hamlet of Cromane, a beautiful fishing village on the famous Ring of Kerry and Wild Atlantic Way. This charming cottage was built in the 1940s with thick walls to protect it against Atlantic winds. It is a solid structure which can be renovated, modernised and extended according to the new owner’s wishes. It enjoys the most magnificent sea and mountain views.”

Then, I read some poetry, and looked out the window again, and reminded myself that we are but ‘fleeting clouds in the sky’, and all I need do is just pay attention, out my own window.

What to Do
by Joyce Sutphen

Wake up early, before the lights come on
in the houses on a street that was once
a farmer’s field at the edge of a marsh.

Wander from room to room, hoping to find
words that could be enough to keep the soul
alive, words that might be useful or kind

in a world that is more wasteful and cruel
every day. Remind us that we are
like grass that fades, fleeting clouds in the sky,

and then give us just one of those moments
when we were paying attention, when we gave
up everything to see the world in

a grain of sand or to behold
a rainbow in the sky, the heart
leaping up.



Homecoming - 105.12.19

We were home for one of the finest sunsets, ever.  Joy, Duncan and Anna stayed with us for a couple of nights–traveling across the state for Joy’s work and more soccer– so we all got to photograph it together and revel in the fabulous warm May night.  Ahhh…good to be home.  Everything is growing by leaps and bounds now.  Dandelions dot the spring green fields and Don has already mowed the lawn.  The hummingbirds dart in and out of the feeder hanging on the porch, and there are so many bird songs, including the distinctive Wilson’s Snipe, we heard at the shoreline.  We walked along the head of the lake this morning to the Flathead River, on packed sand which will soon be covered by snow melt from the mountains.  I hung sheets to dry on the clothesline today, took a bike ride, and canoed down the lake for a bit.  With Memorial Day week-end but two weeks away, it really truly feels like summer is around the bend.

So many birthday celebrations this month, and Don and I are officially another year older.  Fletcher’s high school graduation takes place over Memorial Day week-end–a reminder of just how fast the years go by.  In what feels like a miracle, the trees are bursting with new leaves for another season, yet, at my age, there is a whiff of melancholy in this time of year.  As the  poet, Phillip Larkin writes, “Their greenness is a kind of grief.”   But, still, and yet, we get to begin “afresh” once again.  Afresh, Afresh, Afresh–such hope, and grace, in beginning afresh in this new season.

The Trees, Phillip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

May Day

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The North Wind

The North Wind doth blow,
And we shall have snow,
And what will the robin do then?
Poor thing!

He will sit in a barn,
And keep himself warm
And hide his head under his wing.
Poor thing!

April finished off in lashing rains, snow, and ferocious winds.  We were in charge of the Billings grandkids this past week-end, with the parents off to sunny San Diego.   I drove over on Thursday, and Don stopped in Missoula on his way, so he could watch Fletcher’s tennis tournament Friday and Saturday.  There were fits and starts of the matches as high winds and pelting rains stopped play.  Over in Billings, Anna’s soccer tournament started out on Saturday quite cold, but sunshine blessed us.  By Sunday afternoon’s final championship game, the airport reported gale force winds of 57.6 mph, 36 degrees, and snow clouds approached from the northwest.  Joy keeps a trunkload of soccer-watching gear in her car, so we were as prepared as we could be.  The sport tent/umbrella would have blown away in the wind, but we had these hideous sleeping bags with arm holes, which were surprisingly amazing.  (Don would not let me publish the photograph of him in the camo-bag).   Just as the game got underway, Duncan texted me that the upstairs bathroom window had blown out, but the glass hadn’t broken.  I told him to just shut the door and we’d deal with it when we got back.  Out on the open fields, the wind roared through tall leafless cottonwood trees, and the loud freight trains nearby made the air feel dangerous and electrically charged.  Maybe it was just those final ten minutes, while Anna relentlessly defended the goal, fending off corner kicks and a heart-stopping penalty kick.  By the time she joyously ran across the field to our hugs, the port-o-potties had blown over and trash cans were rolling across the now-empty pitch.

It was good to get back to the warm house for my chicken soup supper, with extra noodles.  Don repaired the window in Duncan’s bathroom.  Fletcher had arrived home late Saturday night, after a seven hour bus ride in driving rain, and said he had never been so cold in his life at the tournament.  We all toasted Anna for the championship win, and regaled the boys with tales of her daring saves and repeated blows to the face in front of the net.  Oh, it was good to have these little robins of mine safely back in the barn!

Today is May Day, that cross-quarter day where we are halfway from the spring equinox to the summer solstice.  On Monday’s drive home across the state, the lakes through the Seeley-Swan Valley were finally free of ice–just ten days before, on another cross-state trip I’d made to Bozeman– they were still frozen.  It’s cold and blustery here, but definitely greener.  The lake level is rising, and the last snow bank up by the garage disappeared yesterday.   We are just touching down here at home for a few days, then fly off to the California families, for a week of birthdays, baseball, and the finale of a school play which Norah has worked on for her entire school year.  Like the whiplash of unusual and unexpected changes in the weather, this coming and going, here and there, leaves me somewhat disoriented, but I understand how important this season is in my life.  It will not be like this forever.   Especially with grandkids who’ve hatched into teen-agers, every time there is a point of contact–a spontaneous hug on the soccer field; a kitchen conversation about being away at college; or sitting next to one another and comparing favorite artists’ websites on our phones–these are moments that are as fleeting as a butterfly skimming over a petal, and very much that luminous.

The Merry Month of May has arrived.  The lilacs are but a month away, and I’m about to become another year older, feeling quite lucky, actually, for more time to chart the weather, and all my changing seasons.

To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring. George Santayana

Sixty degrees

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NOAA weather discussion for 4.18.19:  “It will be a delightful spring day in the Northern Rockies today as high temperatures rise into the 60s in western Montana and low 70s in central Idaho.  Missoula has only experienced a 60 degree day once this spring on April 2, Kalispell hasn’t seen 60 since October 24.

At 52 degrees yesterday, after the rain had stopped, it felt warm enough to drive to the other side of the lake, down to Dayton, where our sailboat has been dry-docked all winter.  It was time to see what kind of damage she may have suffered.  We park the car and then walk around trying to find it, hoping to remember what it looks like.  We are all alone there and the only sound is rigging slapping against masts in the spring winds.  If I were a composer, I would record that sound and write haunting music to accompany it.  I often say that my favorite thing about owning a sailboat is seeing how the rails catch golden light in a sunset, as she is moored to the blue and white buoy off our dock.   A second favorite thing is going to visit her, standing tall and regal among her mates in a dry-dock field, with the snow-covered Mission Mountains in the background, and that sound of rigging being lashed by the wind.

The full moon was a soft yellow as it set over the western mountains this morning, in blue-pink light.  The geese went honking by and the loon is out there somewhere.  Don’s been burning a slash pile in the woods the past few days, and wood smoke fills the air.  The stone terrace and steps are dry, and waking up to a weather forecast that begins, “It will be a delightful spring day…” is a grand way to start a morning.  I’ll believe it when I see it if it reaches 60 degrees down here by the water, but it’s moving in that direction.  We wait so very long for spring in the north country.  Friends are pulling out with their campers and headed to southern Utah, so they can soak up the heat of red rocks in sunshine.   We’ve been saying to ourselves, “why are we not leaving?”, even as we have a trip booked to Berkeley in just a few weeks.  We reaffirm to ourselves that April really is the hardest month.

And yet, with 60 degrees in the forecast, on this moon-lit morning, it doesn’t seem quite so awful.   In fact, as John Koethe writes in his poem, “Now the clouds are lighter, the branches are frosted green/And suddenly the season that had seemed so tentative before/Becomes immediate, so clear the heart breaks…
The Late Wisconsin Spring
By John Koethe
Snow melts into the earth and a gentle breeze   
Loosens the damp gum wrappers, the stale leaves   
Left over from autumn, and the dead brown grass.   
The sky shakes itself out. And the invisible birds   
Winter put away somewhere return, the air relaxes,   
People start to circulate again in twos and threes.   
The dominant feelings are the blue sky, and the year.   
—Memories of other seasons and the billowing wind;   
The light gradually altering from difficult to clear
As a page melts and a photograph develops in the backyard.   
When some men came to tear down the garage across the way   
The light was still clear, but the salt intoxication   
Was already dissipating into the atmosphere of constant day   
April brings, between the isolation and the flowers.   
Now the clouds are lighter, the branches are frosted green,   
And suddenly the season that had seemed so tentative before   
Becomes immediate, so clear the heart breaks and the vibrant   
Air is laced with crystal wires leading back from hell.   
Only the distraction, and the exaggerated sense of care   
Here at the heart of spring—all year long these feelings
Alternately wither and bloom, while a dense abstraction   
Hides them. But now the mental dance of solitude resumes,   
And life seems smaller, placed against the background   
Of this story with the empty, moral quality of an expansive   
Gesture made up out of trees and clouds and air.
The loneliness comes and goes, but the blue holds,   
Permeating the early leaves that flutter in the sunlight   
As the air dances up and down the street. Some kids yell.   
A white dog rolls over on the grass and barks once. And   
Although the incidents vary and the principal figures change,   
Once established, the essential tone and character of a season   
Stays inwardly the same day after day, like a person’s.   
The clouds are frantic. Shadows sweep across the lawn   
And up the side of the house. A dappled sky, a mild blue   
Watercolor light that floats the tense particulars away   
As the distraction starts. Spring here is at first so wary,   
And then so spare that even the birds act like strangers,   
Trying out the strange air with a hesitant chirp or two,   
And then subsiding. But the season intensifies by degrees,   
Imperceptibly, while the colors deepen out of memory,   
The flowers bloom and the thick leaves gleam in the sunlight   
Of another city, in a past which has almost faded into heaven.   
And even though memory always gives back so much more of   
What was there than the mind initially thought it could hold,   
Where will the separation and the ache between the isolated   
Moments go when summer comes and turns this all into a garden?   
Spring here is too subdued: the air is clear with anticipation,   
But its real strength lies in the quiet tension of isolation   
And living patiently, without atonement or regret,
In the eternity of the plain moments, the nest of care   
—Until suddenly, all alone, the mind is lifted upward into   
Light and air and the nothingness of the sky,   
Held there in that vacant, circumstantial blue until,
In the vehemence of a landscape where all the colors disappear,   
The quiet absolution of the spirit quickens into fact,   
And then, into death. But the wind is cool.   
The buds are starting to open on the trees.
Somewhere up in the sky an airplane drones.