Friday, November 28, 2008

A brief, distracted note on Thanksgiving

Yesterday Thanksgiving, & then & now, yawning out for a week ahead, we are in a hotel room two miles from our friend’s home, where we were not welcome. Turkey dinner was replaced with a trip to Safeway for greens & some deli chicken salad. We toasted, Stef her cabernet in a Styrofoam cup, me my winter ale, & we ate our dinner in our king bed here at La Quinta. I jawed the ears off my family prior, & took the weight of the situation, & balanced its circumstances with its calendar day. In the end, gratitude stands out in stark relief against the unfortunate backdrop we’ve been given here. But we’ve this roof & this bed & each other, & we neither enduringly suffer the abuses of the other, we neither acquiesce, we neither will resign ourselves to the venom we’ve seen here, or the sheer thoughtlessness, or the disregard for the fragile carriage of a friendship. Our values, these days, are shaken to their core, & we continue to mine & furrow into depths of ourselves & one another that we’ve never been called upon to exhaust. In spite of it, though, we grow, together. The trivial slips away from us, the excess loses its grasp. When left to ourselves under the most pressing & stark of circumstance, we continue to love one another, & I know no fonder gratitude than that. What one envisions on Thanksgiving—that communion with family & friends, that auratic joy that hangs light & buoyant about the place, the light & warmth, the low hum of conversation & laughter, the sound of glass clinking & (metal) forks scraping (actual) plates—are expressions in their own ways of something fundamental that we find, with some imaginative contortion, right here in this hotel room. Perspective is its own lesson.

& Orcas, Orcas seems a home to us from this distance. We want to return. We don’t have certain of those securities in place that make such a trip burgeon with a sense of abundant comfort, but we carry with us that which we carried here, that which attended to our long journey to the island in the first place, & we are borne along by it replete & whole. & banalities they may be, but we carry, too, such rich gratitude for the ongoing love & support of our family & friends, without whom we would not be here to place in bright context these unfurling & fugitive days.

Monday, November 24, 2008

November 24

A difficult day of quiet strife, unfolding slow, almost inarticulate. Outside the sky remains inexplicably blue, the clouds few & hanging light & spare. The aureate glow of sundown hums about the farm & lends its odd illumination, the empty boughs of the deciduous trees black skeletons against the brilliant backdrop. & inside, inside the weight of our travels lands hard. In simplest possible terms, we have no jobs, the majority of our time is occupied by searching for work, the relentless cold of the barn has started to affect us & we are wondering how exactly we are going to get by. Every rock we overturn is slate-bare. There are for the time being two jobs that seem remotely possible for me here at present, though every day we extend our search. There is no room for timorous query here—if I meet someone, I have asked them within minutes if they have leads. & so it goes, with each day proving an addition to the last in some now mundane sequence of empty hope. It frays, subtly, insidiously, until we begin to snap at one another when we are neither to blame. There was a part of us, to be sure, that harbored that sweet dream in which everything would fall perfectly into place. The truth is many things have—our luck in meeting kind & generous people with open doors has been inordinate, really, & to have a roof over our heads & food in our stomachs & the like is already a revelation, at least in the way it presents itself to us here. I take to these challenges with perhaps more zeal than Stef, but in the end, they reduce our sense of want to a milder proportion. That line of Shakespeare’s, “That time of year thou may’st in me behold / When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang…” comes to mind; those extraordinarily busy & complex lives we led before, carried into this sort of austerity, & in that balance we find what it is we truly need & want, both merely to survive & subsist, & to endure & thrive. We are up against ourselves, & in spite of that difficulty, I hear lessons spoken in foreign tongues all around us. We are slow, sometimes, to the language of change though it is unremitting. I think of the last few lines, too, of one of the best of Oppen’s poems: “The self is no mystery, the mystery is / That there is something for us to stand on. // We want to be here. // The act of being, the act of being / More than oneself.” How strife conjures this pressure moving in, this sense of self-responsibility, of inward dwelling. How maybe it ought to conjure notions of plurality, of opening out, seeking past that which we too quickly call a self. We shift, we tremble, we fall apart & put our selves together again. At no time are we free from flux. Light-shift, crest & trough.

Friday, November 21, 2008

November 21

How quickly accustomed we grow to our surroundings, in spite of their essential surreality. The windowed walls of this barn & the views they open upon already a kind of ingrained familiarity. After our trip we didn’t hesitate to unpack, to scour the place, to make a home of it. With winter coming on I wonder at it. The water will need to be shut off in anticipation of enduring cold so the exposed pipes leading to and from the outdoor shower don’t freeze & burst. The wood stove, bless its heart, cannot fill this space with heat, though it blazes tigerbright under its sooted lip & though I’ve come to find comfort in its spit & crackle. Perhaps it is having moved so many times already in my life, or perhaps I am still gradually unburdening myself of the exhaustion that attends to a slow & indeliberate move across the country. In either case thinking beyond this barn is almost an impossibility, if a necessity. & snow will come, soon, & send its flakes dissolving in the cresting white waves. The looming old growth firs will be appareled in celestial hue, the fields quiet & mute. & our breath, substance & nothing at all, will usher from our pink lungs into a tender air. Suddenly these thin walls seem to suffice, paper-crisp in stucco. I don’t know a great deal about how places come to mean beyond themselves, how homes are built of houses, how certain physical locations, certain place-names alone, even, can come to sing in us like some grand untutored memory; but I feel that this place, this barn around me, has come to metaphorize something so much greater than itself. Its song is one distant & familiar at once, already sepia-toned, already imbued with a timelessness. Some things we encounter as if they were already passed, recognizing in them an efficacy that we know will endure beyond circumstance & flux, storm & stress. Such things, whatever their nature, seem to me the very fundament of how lives come to meaning (& maybe it is the ascension to meaning that life demands rather than the inverse; to ply one’s days into cohesion, into rich foment, rather than to dully await some knock upon the door). That awful sadness that I find in My Antonia, the slow & mournful dirge of the plains, the wellspring of enervated air along certain foot-paths, that call-note that sounds like a prayer sent out from solitary confrontations with oneself, an embrace, a glance recalled in which the eyes thunder still, the ineffable marvel that, as Oppen put it, we cannot speak of because we are in it, always. There is such rapture in it, even as I gripe about splinters caught in my skin from carrying wood inside or mutter about the insidious cold. We are in constant communion with the unspeakable. Here, somehow, my ear tunes in to the rhapsody, if even my mouth cannot follow in syllable.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Orcas Ch. Pt. 2

A blur of a day, a slow blur. Awakened a bit hung-over from a dinner party & our inaugural trip to the Lower, where a band played & people closer to our age danced about the small stage in various states of inebriation, some drunk, some clearly tripping, some merely enjoying themselves. & today the sun has been constant. Took Willa for a run through a private trail, the sun dappling the fine needles underfoot, the forest alive with a vibrance it hides in the rain. Stopped to help Steve with the worm compost on the way down to the barn, raking fresh scrap aside to get the soil thick like wet black cement piled aside for sifting. An awful stench, but a valuable lesson & an opportunity to help around the farm, which I welcome. A shower outside, the mist fine & articulated by the golden sunlight. & here, now, a sudden sleep upon me. We sink slowly into the island’s black soil, I think, as if it spreads its arms. Landing.


Something about being resourceful becomes a kind of benign infection; first, you tender your sustenance from the field outside your window, & next you find your quiet nights slowly filling with endeavors previously unimaginable. The last time I used pastels I must have been sixteen, though at that time I used them fervently, harboring some silent dream of an artistic fervor that was never there. To break them out tonight signifies something quite different; a shift towards self-reliance of a breed I’ve not yet met but often dreamt of. To allow one’s mind & heart & hand to act as nexus can be enough, more than enough. I would measure product with process even a year ago, even a week ago, & find the former so glaringly void of efficacy that it would preclude the possibility of even conceiving of the latter. If my drawing proves terrible, then it is terrible. I have a woodstove that needs frequent fuel. If it proves somehow an articulation of something temporarily of interest, then I’ll keep it. In either case, I have the time, the tools, the strange & novel desire to create in ways I’ve not called upon in years & years. & this the birth of something.

When I wanted Alaska so badly, I wanted this kind of simple resourcefulness the most, I think. It enriches, in a myriad of untold ways. I want to be accountable for myself, to know fewer excuses. & this natural simplicity seems an avenue into just such a goal. This spare barn teaches many lessons.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Orcas Chronology Pt. 1

Just brought fresh madrona logs in for the woodstove, the rain quieting a bit in the loaming dark, the horizon cloud-bright in the figured distance that articulates in silhouetted relief the swaying tops of the Douglas firs down by the landing. Here, here, finally, here, a home. We have traveled 5000 miles, for a month & a half, sleeping on something like fifteen different beds, in four different states. Since we exited the ferry landing a week ago, we have slept in five homes, met countless people, winnowed our way into a community as fulgent & full of promise & enacted ideals as I could hope to find. & here, here, a home. The barn is modest & beautiful & rustic & easy all at once. Great vigas cross its low roof under white plaster & windows spread across the entirety of three of its sides, opening unto panoramic views of the farm & the forest & the sound off in the distance. Thick wooden posts line the room, rising of the red-brown floor. Mason jars of fresh-pressed cider, casserole dishes full of frozen berries, homemade sauces, jams & canned veggies of every variety fill the fridge & freezer. Two boxes of tomatoes sit by the door. The woodstove sits in the back half of the room, a thing of great beauty in its own right, an argent tree blazoning over its face, its black barrel worn & true, its pipe lending this yawning space its warmth. Up the thin stairs, the loft promises an everything not yet imaginable. Flowers & herbs dry everywhere, hung upside down from nails plunged into the wood that lines or comprises the bulk of the place. In the loft there is a kind of stage over which garlic bulbs hang & upon which old furniture is covered by a tarp to prevent it from the rain dripping through holes in the roof. It is a space full of promise, full of rich acoustics & a warmth al its own that knows nothing of temperature. You see your every breath. You hear the thump thump of the main barn door against a two by four in the wind. The cedar shingles overhead break to peeping patches of grey sky. It is rich, in every way. We will sleep in the loft, once we pull all the elements of that space together & make it into the simple room we require. Outside, past the hot-tub to the left, there is an outdoor shower nestled in an open wooden fence. Past it, the woodpile. To the right of the tub is a wooden staircase that opens unto a grass path that leads a hundred yards up to the outhouse. I’ve yet to make it that far. There is a porch all along the southern side of the barn looking over the fields, fallow in November but for the squash & late heirlooms & cover crop. & up on the hill, the lights from the main house shine warm & comforting & full of life. I look about me, at my love, at our dog, at our few belongings, & at how our lives are unfurling day by day, & I cannot help but feel a rich gratitude coarse in my veins, I cannot help but think home & home & home.


A Saturday now, our second night here. Late & through the night, a storm blew on & on & the planks of the wooden barn door banged against the building like dying soldiers firing errant rounds into some distant dark. The weather vain—a pig hoisted on high over the compass—blurted high shrieks & low grumbles periodically that sounded like some odd concerto of instruments new to the ear of man. Our first night in the loft, too, with the wind whipping through the cracks in the walls & roiling past our heads, made for a tough night’s sleep. At three a.m. I crept out to secure the loose doors with a white plank I found laid against the side of the barn. & then suddenly this morning came, & the rain dissipated & slowly died down until by eleven we were running in the first hints of a sunlight that endured well into dusk. Running, we garnered a sense of the lay of the land. The main house here sits atop a hilltop that is the bifurcate eastern twin of another a stone’s throw away. Both houses look over the same undulating valley, where a scattering of red edifices dots the aureate grass by the pond. On the western edge of this little, self-contained pastoral dream sits an ancient, modest chapel of white. & all of this—our barn & outlying buildings, the two main houses, the gravel lanes, the hills—all of this is contained by rich forests of doug firs & lodgepoles & evergreens, all themselves slick with lichen & moss, dotted with wild mushrooms & a world of flora I cannot fathom. It is a bit of a dream, really.

We cleaned in the morning before the run & afterwards met a delivery at the ferry of four boxes of fresh meat from Mt. Vernon for our hosts the Diepenbrocks. A stop at the store for a few groceries & a bottle of wine & we returned home to scour the place further. Took my first shower outside, the sun setting beyond the sound, the wind cold against my skin. & Stef & I slow-cooked pasta sauce with tomatoes from the farm, snipped basil, meatballs. Tomorrow we will gather apples driven from the trees by the fierce winds of the last few days, & make apple sauce & apple butter. We are hunkering down with our late autumn foods, watching winter come. letting our lives retrieve themselves with each gathered breath. What lives we lead. What extraordinary lives.

We think of time so differently, or I do. I feel myself already irrevocably changed. I could, I think, content myself with this version of living; one imbued with & reliant upon patience & kindness & generosity & openness, one wherein present is always preface to past. This is a living in which wonder acts as the kindling of your every action. A bald eagle dove twenty feet over our heads while we ran. A blue heron glided into our small pond, scattering the geese. Black-tailed deer look at us from feet away, their eyes empty of fear. & quiet, such quiet. It is a marvel to merely be here. I feel the thrum of a present in which ontology crumbles & dissolves. Instead, I watch the slow circle of the egret lazy over the water, or the quiet lap of the water against the driftwood. I breathe & know my being secure.


We’ve been splitting wood the last few days. We took yesterday off because the sun was shining for the first sustained period of time since we got here ten days ago. Through the afternoon we opened the barn doors & beat rugs hung over the swing-set & clipped chard & picked apples for dinner & desert. Willa lazed about, now in the open mouth of the barn soaking in the warm light, now under the bench on the porch seeking reprieve from it. The clouds rolled in at dusk, after we had walked to the market at the ferry landing for fresh crab meat. & then the wind came in, roiling & rushing through the cracks in the loft wall. We slept downstairs, the crackling woodstove warm beside us.


Another idyllic morning before we confronted the real world again for the first time in days. A run through Victorian Valley, where deer start around the corners & rush into the thickets & dark firs loom overhead. Breakfasted on granola made on the island, with blackberries I plucked from the briar minutes before. Our day in town was focused entirely on generating income, & though cannot ultimately prove fruitless, at least gave us cause to embrace a renewed ethic & resolve. It will be work finding work, but it will turn. A substitute teacher, A gutter repairman. A farmer. Anything, really.

Back at the barn, started a new fire & warmed soup I made last night from spaghetti squash, apples, potatoes, onion & blackberries all harvested from within twenty yards of our doors. We also cut bitter greens & spring mix from the beds & tossed them with tomatoes from the upper field for a side. There is such richness in this kind of repast; a sense of unpeopled connectivity that lends you a presence & a calm. We sing songs about our farm dog into flashlights held like microphones, songs about our strange new lives. We used to brace ourselves before leaving our front door in Denver, as if gearing up for some horrendous storm. Home, such as it existed, ended upon our doorstep. Here I can’t help but think how fitting that each of our doors is paned with glass, as the transition from within to without is effected with such seamless grace. To awaken & step from these doors is an indescribably natural pleasure, an ancient feeling, I think. There’s an O’Hara line, “grace to be born & live as variously as possible,” which, if you apply it to your every day, accounts for how I feel each morning.