After most have harvested their crops in the late summer they park their tractors and combines in the equipment sheds until spring but some plant the dry dusty pale brown soil with cover crops oats barley winter wheat the crimson clover which puts on such a showy display of deep red blossoms in the spring whole fields of the electric scarlet the elk love to graze, its the winter wheat though that puts on the real show growing patiently through the first warm rains of autumn when the skies are still pale blue bright with the last of summer stretching up toward the fading light as the skies turn to a cement gray darker around the edges where the rain accumulates the way water runs to the lowest point the cloud cover broken here and there revealing small blue patches of crystal clear sky before thick slate thunderheads roll in like heavy velvet curtains closing the window to the glimpse of sky, blocking the frail winter light and the rain falls in sheets on the wheat which stands tall its blue-green stems proud in the muddy fields and between storms it stretches further thickening at its crown where the grains ripen slowly in their sheath when the rains taper to a drizzle and I drive past the fields on the wet blacktop the stalks of wheat seem trimmed in the slightest bit of orange which casts their stems more blue than green it must be the pallid light pushing through the clouds I think I will paint them when I get home the blue-green stems but I don’t paint so I settle for pasting small pieces of paper onto other pieces of paper until the image feels something like driving past those fields, I find a piece with a sprig like a mature head of wheat the worn pale image so similar to the gold grains that will ripen after months of rain even a late snow, waving in the frigid air above a thin crust of snow melting on the dark soil in holy patches like discarded lace a field full of hope after a long winter’s night of darkness and cold.
Up at three or four thousand feet the blue and gray scrub jays that populate the valley floor and the black-crowned bright blue Stellar jays that cover the foothills are replaced by the scrappy black-headed gray bodied gray jays, camp robbers they will sit at the far end of the picnic table from its occupants where they are eating their pork and beans from aluminum camp plates dug out of the bottom of the supply box after a five hour drive up switch backs wrapping around mottled gray rocky ribs of the Central Cascades on narrowing roads to reach this camp where the rangers line the fire pits with slate gray stones and the gray jays wait patiently at the end of the table for leftovers, the scree spread out like a thin layer of rocky snow beneath the pines is a paler gray than the jays, slips easily underfoot, is mixed with brown needles fallen from above and there are gray green juniper berries here but the jays prefer to dig in the fire pit amongst the cold coals casting white ashes into the air above camp like so much pixie dust while last night’s rusty orange flames kept them perched overhead in the pitchy pines their sticky claws grasping the rough branches filling the air with the pungent rich warm gold smell of resin and the clouds briefly passed in front of the cold gray moon darkening the night sky then revealing it just as quickly so that it cast its silver light on the mountain still but for the screech owls black-flecked gray feathers ruffled as they puffed themselves calling back and forth in the morning they will sleep as the jays return to camp where an open amber colored plastic bag unwittingly left behind reveals the soft white flesh of a half eaten loaf of bread which the jays pull apart their shining black beaks glinting in the sun small white crumbs falling onto the table like so much newly fallen snow as they tip their heads back and struggle to swallow the larger dry pieces down their narrow gullets until they are forced to fly through the pines to the river where they dip their beaks into the gray water until they’ve drunk their fill.
If you go through the rail yards, cross the tracks, weave your way through the boxcars covered in sprawling colorful graffiti pass the flatcars stacked high with shipping containers picked up at the port, squeeze your way around the stalled engines pass the dried grass and Queen Anne’s Lace through the rusty opening someone cut in the chain link fence onto the beach where the workers from the pulp mill float the logs they’ll use to make paper, then further down the shore the barnacle covered rocks grinding against the bottoms of your Salt Water sandals towards the point where the signal light flashes in its tall white house guiding ships into port the beach widens grows more sandy so that you can imagine yourself wading into the cold salt brine past the sand dollars white with death, the tiny translucent crabs dashing from the cover of one rock to another, the holes where the geoducks send bubbles of air up to the surface as they dig deeper, past all that toward where the kelp forest grows, tall thick waving trunks their yellow green topknots floating on the surface spiky red anemones, purple sea stars, pink bristle worms spreading in the sand at their roots while blue rockfish swim freely through their stalks seeking cover from fishing harbor seals their gray spotted coats like dappled sunlight through the kelp leaves which the otters wrap themselves in to avoid drifting out to sea as they lie on their backs eating yellow fleshed sea urchins the gulls hovering overhead waiting for something anything a scrap maybe left behind and further out past the mouth of the bay down in the Narrows where the Sound deepens and the currents run wild and absolute in the crags between the gaping rocks you’ll find the rust red giant octopuses growing as large as any octopus anywhere below the long green span of the bridge made famous when its predecessor fell into the bay so many many years ago Galloping Gertie has been grown over with anemones, urchins, mussels, giant barnacles, sea stars, sea slugs, wolf eels bright shining reminders that life always ignores death.
Coming home from the chiropractor in a haze of peach-scented lotion I am reminded of the farmer’s market in the center of Florence the peaches there golden fuzzy dusty red around the edges, bunches of deep green spinach like bundles of cash wrapped in red and white paper strips, crisp white cauliflower so good sautéed with sage leaves crisped in brown butter found across the lane a few stalls down and the facades of the buildings alternating yellow, white gone dirty from exhaust, camel, red tile roofs wrought iron window dressings all blushing with sunset and around the corner away from the center and all the noise the mopeds bicycles the tiny cars and microbuses bumbling along the rutted cobblestones a side street narrows winds away revealing shop windows laden with books, upholstery fabrics, marbled papers, leather in every imaginable color, golden tassels and silver cords, then a cafe a bar before opening to reveal a courtyard terra cotta pavers tables and chairs around the perimeter framing a tall stone fountain motionless except for the pearly white goldfish swimming in its pool their fantails roiling the water so that it shimmers gold with sunset and a woman in a long tapestry coat bright white unicorns, deep green boxwood hedges, ancient gray ramparts, banners of many colors flying leads me down another small side street now dimmer as the sun sets the corners of the orange cobblestones turned red the yellow buildings a deep ocher, the air grown cooler in the absence of the sun so that the skin of my arms tingles with the autumnal chill and I wonder why do I follow until we come around a corner and she spreads her arms offering the view a gift the Arno spread like a liquid ribbon winding its way through the city the lights of the nearby buildings twinkling in the falling dusk yellow, white, orange, blue reflecting off the river’s sinuous curves and beside us the branches of a larch stretch out bare and black into the deepening purple sky.
I follow the detour onto South Road and as soon as I turn on to the gravel a great blue heron coasts overhead the sun glaring behind it and the road cuts its way into the trees their pale green lace fading with the coming winter my tires drop into gully-like potholes full of muddy rainwater teeth rattling, bone jarring, nerve pinching then smooth again just a gray gravel road gone dark with last night’s rain splatters of bright yellow leaves coating the margins where the road gives way to orange leafed sumac, browning fern fronds, Oregon grapes their purple berries clean of the summer’s dust out of nowhere a covey a quail burst from the undergrowth onto the road and I slam on my brakes locking my wheels which slide in the gravel unable to gain purchase and just as quickly they return from where they came their black topknots bobbing as they disappear into the brush burnished orange as the wings of the kestrels that drop off the power lines that stretch along side the pasture on the valley side of the detour hunting mice and voles after the dull gold hay has been cut and bailed the stubble field standing bare nowhere to hide from a small raptor’s gaze unless they can reach the far side of the property where a forgotten combine sits red with rust the crust of many winters, rivets ruined by rain, flakes of age, snow of wear fallen onto the dusty soil while further they are logging that property where the trees are marked with hot pink plastic tape cut here not here the road has been dug into deep furrows, thick tracks, wide ruts into which I slip in then out and in again before I pass the clear cut its trees fallen like a box of matches dumped out in search of the coupon at the bottom at the bottom of the box, their trunks scatter shot across the sloping landscape bright green branches trampled brown in the mud and finally the road smooths again another turn and another and the detour end and with it the gravel and I am on my way into the sandy sun morning.
In the early evening on a walk through the center of town the wooden panels of the cathedral doors worn and chipped in the day are smoothed to a rich patina in the silvery moonlight and the black lace mantillas draped suggestively from the silver green olive branches in the grove beside the drainage ditch where the bloated fish churn the oil slick waters and the women’s tanned flesh reflects the alders’ bronze leaves overhanging the floral carpet lawn behind the rectory where the led panels set in mahogany illustrate the Annunciation and the many folds of Mary’s veil mimic the striations of the cork bark in the trees of the grove down the road near the crumbling shrine all blue and gold candles long ago burned away, golden marigolds dried to dust thistles grown up in their place, only Fanta bottles now full of bright red strawberry flavored soda for the Virgin, dust from the road coating the thin glass bottlenecks and soon there should be someone coming a car maybe or a horse and rider to show you the way out to a better place where spotlights set in the well watered grass shine onto pristine facades of the stucco buildings of a town whose wealth is evident where the drainage ditches are full of clear water and sleek silver fishes, the cathedral covered in newly minted red brick its bell tower lit to reveal the glowing brass bell that marks the canonical hours, where there are no bronze leaves reflecting on the pale flesh, no mantillas hanging in the olive groves everyone covered in white or black depending on their station and the veil worn by Mary taken up by the women the men in hats nothing bare nothing exposed the bodies as well concealed as the town so that you start back down the asphalt toward where it returns to gravel, back toward the neglect and wayward disuse of the forgotten shrine and the worn cathedral.
A walk through the pasture is not like a walk through a meadow all green grass and small flowers dancing lightly on tall thin stems lavender and pink in the thin pale sun it is more like dry grass and burrs sticking between the straps of your sandals digging into the soft flesh of your feet, bright yellow coreopsis squatting down in the straw-like weeds the sun burrowing into the top of your head so that you think of the hat you forgot on the dining room table when you left in haste eager to make your way past the chicken house with its peeling red paint out toward the aging oak out further where the bear lived all summer the year it killed the goat and kept you indoors for fear of it to where the spring trickles through the undergrowth and the silt and the soil until it bursts forth into the muddy pool that spills past the yellow leafed alders with their clusters of tiny black cones into the pond and the deep blue corners filled with slimy brown branches, black mud, orange bellied newts which can kill you if you swallow them, and silver slivers of fish fry amongst the furry algae stemmed lilies, the shallow water red with tannins writhing with shiny black tadpoles and in the trees above the cro-o-o-o-ak of tiny brown Tutankhamun amongst the leaves hiding from the jays screeching in the sun their royal blue feathers brighter than the pale teal edge of the pond where it meets the dry grass and the purple crowns of the stalky teasels the prickly thistles the crystal blue chicory blossoms and the purple blackberries with their relentless thorns and everywhere the dust on the petals in the creases on the stems and branches like fallen snow on last years leaves fairy dust on the toadstools everywhere dust it is only under the oldest oak where the grass is still green and soft free of dust and thistles where the blackberries have never grown where you can lie back in the shade the grass cool against your warm skin and rest in the heat of another summer’s day.
Winding through the valley on the twisting blue road you might stop to notice the walls of evergreens rising all around on every side but if you got out and walked through them into the foothills you would see the olive green needles and the blue green undergrowth the veins gone purple in the cold and if you stayed long enough you might catch the faint pink lace of the sky between the trees at sunset but beforehand you would startle at the way the slate gray scree slips under your feet as you climb higher into the hills catching pine trees in your palms to stop your inevitable slip back down the mountain and then your hands sticky with pitch the fingers stuck together where they meet the palms as you reach down to brush your cold fingertips against the deep blue gentian blossoms pushing up through the dusty gravel and soon there will be white and green edelweiss and on the dark rock faces pale green lichen spread like lesions growing into each other until many become one and the mist of early evening seeps between the trees softening their rough outlines casting doubt on the amber glow of the coming sunset so that when you turn to make your way back through the trees your way is vague and hard to recognize everything muted and similar as if someone has taken an eraser to the edges of everything so that it all blurs together and this tree is as good as any to sit down and lean your back against to wait out the growing dark until you can see your way, the first owl calls quickly another responds familiar and unfamiliar at once, something steps on a fallen branch nearby and you thrust your hands in your pockets where the pitch on your fingers sticks to your car keys the sense of disorientation of not knowing is enough to make you want to slide down the hill on the slippery gravel, to tumble through the night, to roll head over heels through the underbrush until you feel the asphalt beneath you and you lie there gasping, staring up at the black night with its shimmer of stars, with its sureness, its civilization, its reality and wait to be found
In centuries past people avoided the spirit wood places dense and dank thick with trees and undergrowth greens and azures, deep pinks, burgundy petals and branches glazed, blue edged pools reflecting shimmering gray patches through the canopy and antique golden brown bark above grasses shot through with umber floss and ancient mosses, pale green lichen and oak galls tossed aside in the bluster and tumult of the evening winds and through it all bright white traces of incandescent filaments floating through the air here now and then gone then here again appearing and disappearing as if trailing something unseen a spirit? a faerie? what is it they can only guess something leaving a phosphorescent trail in its wake as it passes unseen through the lichen hanging in long locks from the gnarly oak branches bent in their golden age until the morning begins to seep into the wood patches of pale blue through the gaps in the canopy growing bluer and more bright turning the burgundy red and the pinks pale chasing the umber out of the fresh green grass but still they do not pass into the undergrowth or step foot onto the mossy grass where small white flowers like fallen stars have begun to bloom as if to tempt them into the wood, even the birds in the trees cannot entice them to enter into that otherworldly place where dark brown crumbling dryads with their bark like flesh act as tree trunks and honest people disappear
In the background nearly covered by the blocks of parsley and batik and patterns and trees is the striated landscape of the Southwest in the deep reds and purples of the sand, soils that make up the desert but in the left hand corner is a tan and taupe carpet square all striations of color blended together and over the top the uneven parallelogram of the green and aqua and olive batik piece found in the bottom of the box a surprise a leftover form years past, lets use it now, why not, the tiny picture of the orange begonia blossom perched above the bright green leaves turned on its side beside the long thin strip of geometric fabric in red and green and yellow with some aqua thrown in for good measure all of it glued sticky sweet over the blurry black branches and the foggy, minty, sea foam leaves that sat in the bottom of the box for so long passed up again and again never right for anything and in the upper right corner the large block of pale green parsley and its darker green leaves below nothing to inhibit it but its own shifts from dark to light and back again the light talking to the light mum in the lower left corner outlined in darker green against the gray background that stretches across the page separating deep green lily pads from white swans turned on their sides with white water lilies between and dark gray ripples in the water a china pattern maybe I don’t remember some sort of advertisement then the long thin strip of a stack of books their spines only partly showing because I like to read in the garden or anywhere else for that matter and they abstract the image nicely, a final touch the dark green fronds in the corner with the surface worn down, white spots showing through randomly as worn spots are prone to showing through even the best kept plots, there are always weeds and dried seed heads and things growing amiss and growth you didn’t plan on and it is the chaos that asserts itself in even the best kept plots that draw us in, that keep us coming back, that wildness that sets us free.