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Posts Tagged ‘quiet living’

the fraught world
retreats
    powerless
    in the face of
        recycling boxes
        tidying the garage
        fixing a broken chair

global tensions
dissipate
    impotent
    against the power of
        weeding the garden
        harvesting tomatoes
        clipping summer’s last rose

folded laundry
   smooths global supply chains
clean countertops
    muffle rattled sabers

they’re not solutions
   but they ease my pain
        for an hour
        or a minute
            and sometimes
            that’s all I need
                to continue

k

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First, many thanks to those who showed interest in my new book, From the Edge (now available via Amazon). If you liked it, please  consider writing a review, as that helps drive its visibility.

Autumn figures strongly in From the Edge, as it is without doubt my favorite season (how’s that for a smooth segue?), so it should be no surprise that I’ve scheduled some time off for mid-October. We’re not going anywhere special—trips during the pandemic still carry too much anxiety—so we’re planning local activities and, as is our habit, we’re over-planning.

The kitchen white board now lists a few museums to visit and a couple of the bookstores we like to hit on stay-cations, but one category has grown out of all proportion to its fellows: Day Trips for Fall Color.

Seattle and the Puget Sound region are blessed in that we actually have four seasons. Much as we joke about us having only three—Summer (three weeks), Smoke (three weeks), and Rain (all the rest)—we really do have a distinct Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. And though we’re known as the Evergreen State, we have many areas of deciduous flora that make for stunning fall color vistas.

In combination, the region and the season have another advantage: variable elevation. Fall colors peak at different times at different elevations, so if (as has happened) our fall vacation arrives and the colors aren’t ready down hear near the Sound, we can drive up into the Cascades or the Olympics, where the colors get a two-week head start. Of course, if it is peak color time here at sea level, we have a great collection of parks and gardens from which to view them.

So, the Day Trips for Fall Color list on the white board includes the near (Kubota Garden, Washington Park Arboretum, Japanese Garden), the close and basically sea-level (the Mountain Loop Scenic Byway, the Whidbey Scenic Isle Way, the Chuckanut Drive Scenic Byway), and the not-so-close and higher elevation (Stevens Pass Greenway, Leavenworth, and if we’re feeling adventurous, the Chinook Pass). It’s an embarrassment of fall-color riches.

More than just driving around to view the colors, though, we like to stop and enter the autumnal world, for there are scents and sounds that only come at this time of year, in leafy places when the colors rage.

There’s the crispness, a bit of sass, that thrives in the morning and evening air. There’s the urgency of chipmunks, seeking oil-laden seeds on which to grow fat for the coming winter. Birds, their feathers adapted for camouflage amid deep summer shadows or against dark wintry limbs, dart about in deep contrast to the bright riot of translucent hues. And the scents! The smell of moisture has returned after summer’s sere mien has passed. The earth-wood aroma of fallen leaves and rising mushrooms are the umami of forest glades. Rivulets and streams chuckle, happy in rebirth, and all around are the tiny paper-rustles of birds searching beneath leaves, the pit-pat of squirrels covering their caches, and the tentative steps of blacktail deer mincing along narrow, leaf-strewn tracks.

Autumn, to me, is a reward. It’s a reward for surviving the busyness of spring and the chores of summer. It’s the year’s twilight before winter’s somnolence. Autumn is the cognac by the fire before I turn in for the day.

And I intend to enjoy it.

k

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Me and My Shadow

There is a man who lives not far from me. He is a quiet man.

Though we’ve met dozens of times, we’ve exchanged perhaps a hundred words, with a “Hey,” a nod, a “Howzit?”, or a wave encompassing our friendly, albeit distant, relationship. He drives a truck, likes to keep it clean, and rain or shine, he would take Rocco—his muscular doggo of high spirits and indeterminate heritage—out on their daily walk around the neighborhood.

For the past decade, Rocco was his constant companion, his shadow, so the day I saw him without Rocco, I knew something was wrong. A mutual friend informed me that, yes, Rocco had passed on a few days prior.

The next months were difficult for this man. His usual reserve was magnified. Meeting him at a gathering at our mutual friend’s place, his standoffish nature was pronounced, as if the company of others was almost painful. His grief was visible, and my heart ached for him.

Last week, I saw him again. He seemed more lively, younger even. He stood taller, and there was a spring in his step.

I waved. He waved back.

“Got a new pup!” he said.

“Wonderful! That’s very good news.”

There are pets, and then there are pets. Some are just a furry member of the family. Others, though, are true companions, and we are bonded, invested, tied to one another.

My wife and I have had a few pets—dog and cat—that never really bonded with either of us, animals that always strove for dominance or remained frustratingly aloof. We loved them, sure, but every day with them was a reassessment of the hierarchy, a test to see whose will was strongest, or simply a fulfillment of duty and need. Others, though, were different; we knew, without doubt, exactly whose pet it was.

Portia is definitely my cat. She follows me room to room, looks to me for treats, comes to me for snuggles and scritches. To her, my wife is merely a backup source of food, warmth, or even (in extremis) cuddles. I know I will outlive this cat (well, I certainly hope I will) and, like Rocco’s owner, I’ll feel the loss terribly when she’s gone, but having her in our lives is so much better than not having her here.

She is my shadow, even in the dark of night.

k

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Occasionally, the tyranny of social and news media becomes too much for me to handle.

About ten days ago, I reached my limit, full up to here with the naïveté of the left, the mendacity of the right, the fear-mongering of the media, and the narcissistic selfishness of humanity in general.

I needed a break. From damned near everything. (more…)

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Decades as an orchestral musician taught me the value of practice. Years of woodworking taught me the wisdom of the planning and the pre-cut double-check. A stint running a newspaper press taught me the dangers of over-confidence. Twenty summers working in my gardens taught me the peace that can come from taking the long view.

With that as preamble, it’s probably not a surprise that I am approaching my retirement with forethought, prudence, and not a few contingency plans. (more…)

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It is that time of year when I take my slouch hat off its peg, step into my old green Wellies, head out into the garden, and contemplate shallow graves.

Last week, heavy winds cracked a twenty-foot long limb on the windward side of my blue spruce. As the limb fell the fifty or so feet to the ground, it took three lower limbs with it, all landing with a surprisingly hushed whump amongst the periwinkle. Sadly, one of the falling dead took half of a Japanese maple with it, but thankfully the maple, like the spruce, will survive.

This week, while the wind and snow and rain took a well-deserved breather, I donned my gear—the aforementioned slouch hat and Wellies, plus a billhook, machete, and saw—and made my first foray of the year out into the gardens to address the damage.

My garden in winter is not a lush thing. Though greenery still abides—the mostly moss-green lawn, the leathery green of the swordleaf ferns, the deep green of the periwinkles, and the blue-green of spruce and noble fir—on the whole the garden is spare and somewhat barren. The maples, the fruit trees, the ash and sweetgum, the lilac and willow, they all stand naked and unadorned. Remnants of last year’s blooms—gooseneck, crocosmia, spirea, and rose—huddle with their kind, shriveled and brown, ready for my pruner’s knife. And this year, of course, there was also the pile of timber that the southwesterly gales had so unkindly sent down from the canopy.

As I worked, wielding my blades, hacking branches from limbs, twigs from branches, my thoughts wandered and it struck me that though I usually think of my winter garden as a place of stasis, of rest and preparation, in truth it is more a place of death. My winter garden, amid the snows and rains and gusts of wind, is a locus of liminality where the world waits, caught between one life and the next, existing in both and in neither. All that was of the Year Gone By now lies in a shallow, leaf-strewn grave, ready to rot and return to the earth, while the Year To Come lies ready to burst forth from that very same earth, grave and cradle both.

My New Year’s Eve is not the chimes at midnight, the fireworks’ boom, the pop of champagne. This is my New Year’s Eve, this long turning-over, this slow walk from yesterday into tomorrow, when I can bury the mistakes of my past in the hopes of reaping the future wisdom that grows from their bones.

Life is a cycle, of birth and of death, but life is also cycles within that cycle, patterns within patterns, an intricate and delicate complexity that forms our years, our days, our breaths, the beating of our heart.

It’s not just a garden.

It never was just a garden.

k

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Winter.

A lot of complaining gets done in winter.

lot of complaining.

People around here are summer junkies. They spend months of the year pining for the sunlight, the warmth, the outdoors-y camaraderie of our twelve weeks of summer. They look back on July and August with a nostalgia bordering on delusion, as if it was a different era, a time out of legend when life was simpler and everyone smiled. Lost from their memory are the sleepless nights spent buffeted by the manufactured wind of oscillating fans, and of dodging from air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned offices in order to avoid the “unbearable” temperatures of 90+ degrees. They remember only the hikes, the cookouts, and those pleasant short-sleeved days when birds sang the sun from its bed, when the breeze brought a hint of salt from the Sound, and when wine-infused evenings lasted until tomorrow. (more…)

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