My eyes slid open to moonlight seeping through the thin bedroom window curtain. I slipped on clogs and went outside, hoping to see a three-quarter ball setting big and orange over the ragged ridgetop. But there was no moon. Instead, daylight breathed onto the browning meadow the way color returns to the face of someone newly resuscitated. Overcast draped so heavy and low that its vapor snagged on the old trees topping the north ridge. Not-quite-rain stippled my bare arms, the kind of mist that soaks the grass but only teases summer roots. From my left came the steady pishing of the rainbird sprinkler delivering the gift of spring water to chest-high corn and vining winter squash. The sprinkler is set to come on at 5 AM. Daybreak. But nothing was breaking. Instead, light was bending slowly around the curve of Earth’s hip, a dawn that spread across the meadow and ridges the way a sad person smiles.
I’m grateful for this shy version of a Coast Range summer. Maybe the trees won’t burn, the forest duff won’t bake, and the chanterelles will recover when autumn rains come. Cooler days have left dewberries hanging ripe on prickled vines, and I can pick enough for a pie for the family reunion. There was even a tiger lily still blooming, black speckled and sunset orange along the roadside.
But for reasons I can’t name, the weather has me unsettled. This is the summer that hugs with one arm, kisses only on the cheek, commits to nothing—not rain or sun or heat or cold. This is the summer of uncertainty, or perhaps the certainty that big changes await. I have awakened from dreams that left me sad and shaken. Dad has been gone for over a year, but on the drive over yesterday, a sinkhole of grief gaped in my chest, leaving pieces of me crumbling around the edges of the abyss. I nearly had to pull the truck over. Then the hole slowly closed, like this gentle seep of daylight, this easy soak of heavy mist. A wise friend told me it would be like this. Sudden. Unexpected. Like beauty. Maybe grief is beautiful.
In the meantime, there was bad coffee to be made, berries to pick, and exams to grade. I just made the coffee and went berry picking.
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Last evening I dropped a tree over the edge of the world as I know it. The Douglas-fir died in exactly the spot I directed, sent there with a chainsaw and hand-winch. I am not an expert feller of trees, although decades ago I did make my living dropping lodgepole pine around what then were million-dollar homes.
On the front porch of the Johnny Gunter place, I ride the incoming swell of nightfall. The last logging rigs rumbled out of the valley two hours ago. A single robin chirrups from the meadow growing April green before me. Wind from the west draws an iron overcast across the evening sky.
There sure is a lot of sex at the end of the world as I thought I knew it. After a socially distant run on the chip trail, I finish with a sweaty stroll through the neighborhood park, pausing on a footbridge across the small creek. The air has become a breathing thing, ribs of willow and cottonwood exhaling …