The Firth of Forth

In the morning it was darker than we remembered it—Lily called out to Alexa three times to change the alarm, and I went downstairs to start the coffee, to check my phone. My vision was bad from the bug that flew in my eye the day before, and I dreaded the idea of going to a clinic, it reminded me of an eyelash I got wedged in a tear duct canal in college that a nurse practitioner tried to help me with, by way of an ointment for the inner lid to keep it from getting infected: but it was a time of frequent marijuana use for me and ended poorly with a trip to the ER; it flared up red, the doctor with a tool like a hook prying it out, like a dental hygienist’s pick to scrape out the plaque, it gave me a profound eye sensitivity and fear of contact lenses, of eye drops.

I stayed up late waiting for the storm to come but it never did; I sat by the fire outside in the dark watching the last log hiss and crack, an almost breaking glass sound as the coals flaked off, like the scales on a dragon’s breast they glowed, amber-gold. The Mines of Moria, the awful hell of Mordor, a soft whisper, the ringwraiths ride in black.

The sound of a frog crying out in the darkness for reasons I’ll never know, its existential angst…the kids drove me up a wall over dinner for no good reason so I sat with my feet waving them over the fire—and the trees looked like Japanese paper cutouts: I wondered if they were gone, would anyone notice them on their own, as individuals (collectively, they were just “the trees”). And it wasn’t long before a gust kicked up and came through to make a deep rushing sound, a death rattle. I’d forget about the bug in my eye and rub it and then it would all go up in flames again: amazing, how something in the eye so small can feel the size of a basketball.

They drove me up a wall over dinner—Charlotte, smacking her lips and Lily, talking with her mouth full. Just the very fact it felt like years (years!) I’d been asking/telling them to behave right at dinner and still, they wouldn’t—and I couldn’t accept that maybe their behavior was my fault somehow, that paradoxically, their refusal to behave mapped back to me in some bizarro, fucked-up way where my kids’ sins manifest my own, made them so. My inability to accept them was deforming, distancing me.

The pine needles fell like snow when the wind came. The clouds in the morning reminded me of Scotland, arriving this time of year when we drove across the UK for three months. Driving north from Newcastle across the Firth of Forth, to Arbroath. The rain cold and hard with the wind at the cottage, and the owners apologizing about it but we didn’t mind, it’s what we expected. All we had was time.

Dawn took the girls to their dance lessons and I sat on the sofa writing: the bistro lights came on just now, and it’s only 6.

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The parallax view phenomenon

Light frost on the grass, wet snow on the mountain passes. Just me and the ducks at the lake, when they paddle by they make a V that fans out and disappears. The morning sky’s a watercolor like the ones at the elementary schools tacked to the wall, they all look different though they all look alike, they all look like the sky. And my thoughts return to work, I should have been in Oslo today, I imagine the others with the time difference there but I’m not sad, I’ll make a wood fire tomorrow night, cook something, be with the family.

Charlotte’s had a relapse of the parallax view phenomenon, where she tilts her head to the side and closes one eye then focuses with the other on the edge of her nose. She does it without thinking, and often. And I’ll sometimes tease her but she gets sensitive about it so I’ve stopped; I asked her in the bedroom after school why she does it and she tried to explain (to focus on how her nose looks differently out of each eye), and said some kids at school are starting to ask her too and she doesn’t have a good answer, and can’t stop it, but wants to. So I offered to help but I’m not sure how.

We drove to Jubilee Farm in Fall City for the pumpkin patch, in the floodplains where Dawn said they used to go bicycling with her family when she was young. We rode on the open-air trailer bed, sat with strangers on bails of hay, got out and picked pumpkins, still connected to the vine, then back on the trailer to the main farm, where they had a couple food trucks and picnic tables and people out on blankets with their kids, it was so warm.

After we weighed our pumpkins and paid I started walking back to the car but Dawn called up to me, said Charlotte wasn’t ready to go, could we stay a little longer? I dropped the pumpkins at the car and when I came back they were in line for ice cream, and the trebuchet was scheduled to launch another pumpkin at 2, so Charlotte and I walked over and watched the farm-guy set up the catapult, a medieval-looking contraption with pulleys and a ladder: and when it was time to launch it we all counted down from 10 from a safe distance down the hill, and watched the pumpkin hurl through the air, followed by a bunch of kids running after the remains…and Charlotte berated me for taking too big a bite of her ice cream, and I picked a green tomato off a vine but it was bitter so I threw it at her and hit her in the butt, but she didn’t know what it was.

We stopped at the store so I could buy a chicken and they went into a nearby shop, returned with a Tinkerbell Charlotte got, then made a fairy house for, out of a box from Amazon.

Charlotte has this thing where she needs to use her hands, bounce her legs, and possibly that explains the gestures she makes with her lips or the head-tilting, the need to just use her body to manage what’s going on in her head, which seems nonstop. And I’ve awakened in the middle of the night every night for two weeks now with Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore” playing, and wonder if I have similar issues: if it’s a sign of brilliance or a disorder.

I brined the chicken then rubbed it, fit it on a can of beer like a tripod, and put it in the middle of the grill, smoked it, put the last of the plum tree in the fire pit, set up a lawn chair where the patio furniture was, now in the garage for the winter. And there were little bug-things in the late afternoon light like fairies, and a frog sounding like a crankset tightening a bike, or the metal nutcrackers we had as a kid, and used for cracking walnut shells.

When the night came down the birds sang for it, they sang more for the day. The sky went up in flames but slowly, and then it fell out with pin pricks poked through the scrim. I lay there in the morning dark remembering what I could of the day, of Charlotte and Dawn asking if we could stay longer, calculated the time in Oslo, our meeting would be ending there now: and I was glad for where I was, and got up to start the coffee.

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October’s solemn smile

Thank god for the gold-red leaves for without them, I think there’d be no color. Old relatives like dead leaves fall off shriveled-brown-unnoticed and swept to the side, the cold takes them, a different kind of harvest. In the morning it’s gray with furrowed brows on the horizon, a dead end street that leads to the lake. And coming back, the pine needles on the roadside shoulders: the dead make patterns on the edges, the romance of the fall is in the end, the end we all need to remake ourselves after a long sleep, to rise and fall the same as we always have, to fall and disappear unnoticed, to rise again with the same dreams, to forget what they tried to tell us.

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Poppy field in a hollow, Whidbey Island

In the early morning before the sun hits the tops of the trees it’s so quiet on the island it’s like the quiet has its own sound that expands to surround you. Even the clouds appear fixed over the water, frozen. The silence is a stage inviting you to undo it, a union of omissions, a contrast from our normal lives, though strangely unsettling.

I walked out on the back porch, used a pair of wool socks to wipe the pine needles from a chair, caught my hand in a spider’s web…and the bird sounds grew; I watched a wren bathe itself in a bird bath, and though the western cedars were rust colored with dead fronds the yards were starting to green up, though patchy—and I sat there thinking this is the country, it’s why people come here, a lot of the reason is in the sounds, the sense that time moves differently, that you’re more in tune with nature. Though it brought me a momentary peace it was hard to stand, and rather than take it head on I went meta and blipped out of myself, had to judge the moment noteworthy, had to step out of the frame to fully see it.

The owners of the cottage we rented left family portraits of themselves on the walls off to the sides, and it’s like they were looking over us: it really felt like their souls were with us, the house felt loved, and so did we by extension.

The hummingbird by the lavender paused, it made itself known just before leaving.

The clouds came down but the moodiness they brought gave me joy for the change, made the spots of blue in the sky even brighter, through the contrast with the white and gray.

And here I was in rhapsody, a collection of Robert Frost on the entertainment console inside: Dutch paintings of poppy fields and tulips alongside Frost’s perfect rhymes: perfect splashes of garden walks, autumn hollows…and as I sat and dreamt all this I stabbed it out in ant-like steps on my phone: and with the latest iOS it had grown smarter in its ability to predict, it knew the boundaries of my language didn’t run far, the vocabulary of my yard: the iOS threw a lasso around my words and made them come out faster, and though I took what I could from the scene, blowing poems like bubbles in the air, they would only float and wobble to the side, hang for a moment, and drop.

I put on some music and lay on the couch, child’s laughter upstairs followed by a shout—and then I walked out the back door again but this time without glasses, and with my vision blurred it was true, everything looks like a French painting, “Late morning, Early fall.”

And as I lay there noticing how nice the place seemed I wondered if we’d grown spoiled, gotten used to nice places and now couldn’t fully appreciate them, like our luxuries had deadened us—and is that what it really means, to be spoiled?

We threw the wet towels in the dryer for a bit, hoped we didn’t stain the countertop with our turmeric—

And we left the bathroom window cracked when we checked out.

The kids were faint hearted about grapes they accused as rotten and I came round to rescue them all from the garbage, consumed every one.

I flossed for the first time in two years, had to take an aspirin my gums were so sore, surprised by how much food was in there still.

And days later when we got home the cat sat on my lap imbuing her special calm, a stark insistence to just sit there that made her purr and settled me too, for a time.

Painting by Juliette Wytsman (1866-1925), De Geméisgaart


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Late morning early fall, the beginning of the end all over again

I go to nature to heal, I go every day. And though it always feels the same, it never is. I rummage through the past and present, I go looking for what others leave behind.

I didn’t expect the moon to be out, or the golden cedar fronds on the ground, a tapestry of found art like us, temporary.

I scan the beaches for what’s buried or forgotten, to give me something to take back and hold up to the light, and look through — and though it may be common, useless or crude, it brings my life meaning to find these things, to give them homes.

Now the boughs and fronds hang low, wanting to fall, and it’s a necessary restoration, the earth pulling itself inwards, a culling of leaves from the stem, you take what’s necessary and leave the rest.

I’ll sit with the falling needles and remember my senses and feel alive once more with nature: here a crow calls, the wind comes…and it’s the beginning of the end all over again.


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Following false leads down the side streets to identity

Though it would hit 85 in Seattle (the last time for a year) I was sickly, pale and soft, an analogy to a piece of fruit that’s gone bad from the insides. I got off the phone with KLM to change my flight for a third time, now Oslo to Stuttgart, picked up my car at the Honda dealership, wore the brakes down to “0,” wore a groove in the wheel so the rotors failed and it wasn’t safe to drive and wasn’t cheap to replace, but I put on Steve Miller for the car ride home and with the windows down and his clean, bright guitars it felt like summer again. The trees were lit up in red, lit up in gold: and outside on the lawn chair in the dried grass I burned myself in the sun with the dog on her side like roadkill — and sat there feeling smug about my job, feeling wanted, feeling wary, for a time.

Orion’s belt in the window in the dark, in the morning, getting up.

And the ghost-like hump of Mt. Rainier like the back of a whale in the distance.

The moon does the same, it needs no words to be known.

But I needed pressure to write: the geysers we saw in Yellowstone, how they come every couple hours, every couple weeks. And all of us in a crescent around the amphitheater waiting for Old Faithful, the bubbling, spitting…wondering, is that it?

I liked the lesser geysers around the edges that spat there, mumbled…the crow that clicked from the top of a dead tree, how it seemed to call just for me…

They click and call, beckon from the shadows “come,” and we follow.

And at night I went outside but it felt funny with so much yard, like it was the first time I set foot out there: the sky went the color of an abalone shell from light blue to pink, to gold, to silver: and I went inside to write but when I came out again it was dark, vague with stars, bats…all those living without eyes who see, through their senses…mine were flattened, though they glowed in dim coals in the music of old cassettes…maybe I could stir them, start something, just by pushing Play.



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Exquisite writing and ’70s album art from writer Bruce Jenkins at Vinyl Connection.


Peter Jackson’s famous films were not the first cinematic journeys into Middle Earth. American animator Ralph Bakshi visited back in 1978 with rather mixed results.

Clearly holding the J.R.R. Tolkien books in high esteem, Bakshi adopted such a respectful approach to the epic fantasy that the result is, despite the adventurous content, quite slow-moving and stilted.

I saw The Lord of the Rings in the Union Cinema at Melbourne University. Can’t remember when, but presumably sometime in 1979. I’m pretty sure my companion for this adventure would have been long-time fantasy buddy Andre (who, three years later, queued up for four hours to purchase the first ticket to the premiere Melbourne screening of Conan the Barbarian).

What I mostly remember of the Bakshi film is my disappointment. Although long (133 minutes), the telling was somehow stiff and forced. The colours were rich and earthy yet the character portrayals disappointing…

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