I thought it was the shadow of a butterfly but it was just a leaf falling, they’ve started gathering on the ground. More days in the hammock with just the sound of wind chimes and jets, birds, kids: realizing I really have to get back to work now, I need somewhere to go. Dawn said she thought the fire went out under me and she’s right, but saying that started it up again. I go online but my attention fans out when it hits the surface and runs down the screen. The light is different now but the lawn’s still green, though scraggly and coarse in places like my beard. I made plans to meet my friend Brad on the Pacific Crest Trail; he’s doing about 200 miles of it, lots of the up and down portions you can lose yourself on, figuratively. He got the Audobon field guide out when we were at his cabin and read a description of the pileated woodpecker, its red crest and mustache, the fact those trees must be dead they’re on. Their tongues are like anteaters and they suck the carpenter ants out like juice. He has a bat house that never gets bats until this year — he pointed out the guano by the foundation and shone his phone at a slit near the bottom where one was sleeping, upside down. They come out like crazy at dusk with the bugs and do fly-bys between the bistro lights, move like hummingbirds in blindfolds. His dog Maggie is old and diabetic, can’t see, uses her sense of smell to navigate, chases Ginger in circles and vice versa until it turns dark and someone bites someone and then it’s all over, they split up and lick themselves, return to their corners, lie down. The crickets on Brad’s porch would freeze overnight that first September we came and in the morning I’d watch them thaw in the sunlight and come back to life section by section, stretching. Brad says the pine beetles survive by throwing their insides up so they don’t freeze over the winter, it’s just a shell left. I think we humans do the same.
Brad’s been cleaning out the redundancies in his kitchen, and found a couple ready-made salad dressing packets dated 1979 and 1981, held the two side-by-side to show how the logo, a cowboy silhouette leaning against the name “Hidden Valley Ranch,” changed from a cartoonish figure to one of more girth, all business, Carter to Reagan.
He has owls hanging inside the cabin, craft-owls with cartoon eyes like marbles perched over a lamp by the bed or relegated to the back, ganged together with eyes fixed open and haggard looking, strung out and dusty for 20, 30 years in the same spot, frozen in time. Old saws with rusty teeth, leather photo albums, clocks, kids’ art from the 80s. Ginger roots around the property, finds bones, all kinds of weird shit to eat. A brick-red shed with snowberry grown up around it, the ice house and tin roof, leaning structures that lost their windows, remnants of frayed tarp — flecks of moss and nail heads, empty lawn chairs.
The dogs yap at bugs, moths, gnats, snap like hungry hippos, the ice house now sagging into the ground on one side, needs dug out and jacked up to reset the foundation right. The bees with their tattered wings, tossed out of the hive. Brad, butchering crab on the Aleutian Islands in the 70s, lost his job for missing a shift and then missed the ferry out, only comes twice a year. Hitching a ride to an airstrip the next day for a military plane back. The death grip of a crab’s claw when it comes off after it’s been put through the saw and boiling water. None of the stories safe for kids. The trucks up and down the road by his lake going back and forth to the silica mines, no shoulders. The lake’s gentle lapping and calm breeze, no track of time, no phone or leash — writing poems about clouds, the ironic need for structure and the fight to deny it.