Friday, May 15, 2009

Something for the summers yet to come

In my memories of that time it is always summer, or spring about to break into summer. The light is soft, the air is scented with flowers. The river has turned tourmaline blue/green and sparkles as it runs over the rocks. There are otters when I walk out at sunset. There are deer when I wander in the morning.

And it was summer, for a time. I was pretty young, my friend's daughter was younger still, and the landscape of the hills and rivers and creeks was new to us. What else to do but hike through it, summer day after summer day, on our strong young legs, looking around at flowers we didn't know the names of and trees we were seeing for the first time.

In the evenings the herons and egrets would settle down behind the island, furling their great wings.

We would come back tired, and her mother would be playing scratchy old Beethoveen records on the record player. All the string quartets. And now and again some old radical folksongs. We'd talk of poetry as the moon came up.

There were sandstone crevices and hillsides of manzanita. There were walls of green ferns, dripping with falling water, even late in that summer. Thrown horseshoes, bleached bones.

She was younger, and always far stronger, and I struggled to keep up with her. After all, I was supposedly a responsible adult. It was in that guise that I led a climb up a seacliff covered with poison oak as the tide rushed in. It was in that guise that, as I wandered with her and some other young folk into a midnight torch lit scene, I talked fast. We'd gotten lost--and in fact that was the truth. We were just looking for a way back to the road.

The carcases gleamed red by firelight; poached deer being stripped of its meat. Only in retrospect did it seem scary though--the guns, the long knives, the rough men. They pointed the way, we trudged on, over the swinging bridge that fell down years ago, the one with 4 feet gaps between the rotting planks, a hundred feet above the shallow waters.

We made it home. We walked someplace else the next day.

Perhaps we were claiming the territory of our youth, I don't know. I was walking off a lot of grief, though it would be two summers later that her brother would die and the world would shift for all of us.

Yes, I remember it all very well, those days of summer. My young hiking companion settled down by the river after some years of wandering. Her son is a poet, now older than I was when his mother and I clambered hills and watched the herons settle.

On mother's day, after a champagne brunch--my eldest son does things well--I visited a couple graves. My daughter's boyfriend believed me for a moment when I said "but of course we're going to the graveyard now; it's an old family tradition!"

I planted rosemary on the grave of my friend who loved Beethoven. I planted a little on the grave of the poet lying beside her as well; he was a dear friend for so many years.
And some bright iris.

Something for the summers yet to come.

(photo is by eldest son of some of our beautiful coastline)

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Loving the wild skies

I've been thinking of the Vietnam vet--well, I think he was a vet--who for a year stayed in a seacave overlooking the Pacific ocean, down in southern California. I remember very little of his story. What I remember is the sunsets. He was taking photos of each sunset, he said, for year. And each was different.

I think he's on my mind because of the skies here, which are so changeable and so magical that every day when we are not soaked in rain or covered in fog I simply stop and stare. The sky takes my breath away here. Great swirls of clouds, great billows, and wisps.

Yesterday I asked my son Gabe to wait with me outside as the sun set. We have to see it, I said, I think it will be one of those flamingo days, or violet. He smiled and stood, and waited. It was a softer sunset than I'd predicted, but for a moment the new leafed maples across the river were backlit and glowing. So beautiful.

We have to look at beautiful things, I tell my son, so that we can keep them with us, so that we keep strong. Because Gabe so seldom speaks now I carry on a strange conversation with him, and I notice I keep telling him these sorts of things. Why it is good to smile at people. Why we need to take time to look at the birds. Why we feed our goldfish carefully.

Gabriel listens, and sometimes he laughs at me.

"Look at the sky!" I say to my daughter, as we walk from the coffee shop to the bookstore. "Oh, just look, look at those clouds". She glances up "well, they're all right, I guess". It's my turn to laugh. "You don't know, Laurel, you were born here. These skies are one of the things I love most about living here. Some places the sky is flat, all one color, all the time." She gives me the "sure, mom" look.

Robin understands the skies. I met her years ago, and no longer recall what we first talked of. With Robin it could have been anything, depending on her state of mind at the time--or mine. There are days when the world is full of danger and conspiracy and signs, and she talks of them. Those are harder conversations for me; usually I simply listen, struggling to find the thread.
But there are the days we talk of beauty, or when she comes and says "the fawn lilies are up already!" or lets me know the state of the river.

And she talks to Champ, my rescued pitbull, a great deal. I think Champ talks back. I know Champ loves her.

Robin sleeps where she can, outdoors, under bridges, by the river. She's had a few carefully hidden homes. She's lost a few, as the police find her and threaten her with arrest. During the snows of the winter I looked for her and begged her to come in to shelter. She told me she couldn't; she'd lose her edge and not be able to survive. She accepted an extra sleeping bag and blanket.

Sometimes, rarely, she asks to borrow a book. The latest was on John F. Kennedy. "I love to learn things" says Robin. And she brings me food--a chocolate bar; a snack for Champ.

I think I love her because ours is a mutual and respectful friendship, and I am easy in it. One of the days when she was being threatened by police I went out to stand beside her. The officer--I'm old enough now that I knew this officer's kind, gardener mother--said "Why are you here? This isn't your concern". I told him of course it was my concern, and he asked why. The words leaping straight to my tongue were simple, and stopped him.

I said "Robin is my good friend. I'm staying with her now".

And I put my arm around her shoulders, more to anchor myself than to reassure her. The officer left.

There was the year of the foxes, when Robin came and asked me for bandages for her bitten hands. And we had days, weeks--nearly three--of conversations on the theme of "you must go to the clinic, you must be treated". It was early in our friendship. I recall pouring peroxide over her wounds and saying "you can't die, please don't do that, go to our clinic".

Our beautiful foxes so often carry rabies. She did, at the last possible moment, seek treatment. And maybe she was right, she might have been fine without it. She told me how delicate the foxes were, prowling round her campsite, the mother and the two kits. Robin watches many animals through the seasons; she knows them, she knows the river.

And she knows the sky. When she runs into me on the streets she grins as she catches me staring up at the clouds; "It'll be a great sunset tonight!" she calls. Robin has no camera, but over the years her heart has recorded thousands of skies and sunsets and dawns. She has walked the mountains. She has migrated with the wild geese some years, and some years stayed. She's been robbed, and hurt. She's been cold and she's been hungry and I've come on her drunk and sobbing and raging at the skies we both love so. She survives.

We run into friends, teachers, sisters, brothers in strange ways in our life. I've been very fortunate throughout my life in having them walk right up to me, or turn up in the oddest of places, like Robin on the streets of a small town, admiring the sunsets with me.

(the rainbow photo was taken by my daughter once upon a time. She loves rainbows the way I love clouds).

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