The last of the 8 o’clock sunsets

The clouds are dragon tongues,
painted Nordic boats
and they blow me back to Scotland,
to the fall,
to shrill winds and leafless trees,
to the comfort of wool
and soup,
smoked fish,
and sleep.

Now the shrubs are shriveled, closed
umbrellas waiting to be opened —
and the grass is drawn dry,
the color of the hills
in the Highlands.

It’s the last of the 8 o’clock sunsets until next April
they said — we burned the last of the plum tree,
watered the beds —
the geese cry to leave,
as do I.

Inspired by a post yesterday at the splendid blog, Moss and Fog.

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Portrait of a spider trapped in my sink

I’m not afraid of you spider
though you are ugly, you look
different than me

I know the care you take
to build your webs
with the lace
from your body
you lay traps
to feed yourself
(as a writer, I relate)

At the end of the day
when you are still
stuck on the wall
of my sink
I will free you with my wooden spoon
and lay you on the counter
safe from my kids,
who will fear you,
want you dead:

Though it will be hard, it never
works, I will try to make them see
your precious life
so they will see themselves
in you,
and realize
we’re the same.

Photo by Jon Sullivan, “Spinnennetzpd,” 2005 — public domain.

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Song for mid-summer fires

In the morning the street lamps are still on past 6 with their long, dinosaur necks and pink/peach, lit-up heads. I set my alarm for 3 AM but got up before it went off, sailed past Tacoma and Olympia around 4, and it never was so easy on the 5. Got to the ranger station an hour before they opened, went over the route, drew maps and notes, but never wound up needing them. Was always too tired or distracted to get them out, trying to make good time. And time was like a wild horse bucking me forward or back, I never could sit still.

Bear scat on the trail climbing up the Hoh river to the source, the glacier. Some of the scat still glistening for the first flies (the iridescent, pink/blue/green kind). And all these trees so big, you can’t fit them into your frame. Standing on the bridge looking down, the river’s reduced to a green braid: it’s the scale of nature you can’t relay in photos. Those who can are thieves who dangle stolen jewels.

And the trees are quiet but aware of me, some fallen or long ago dead, but with more life growing out. Others, acting as a nurse to protect the slow-growing ones. They’ve got roots anchored like ropes around the rock and one’s giving birth, it seems.

It’s the anti-intellectuals who make our world small, they press the life out of it. I never identified with intellectuals, but I like the anti-intellects even less: they try to force things to fit into their frame. And their view is always smaller, has no room for the world’s possibilities, no humility for our size, the scale of things. They think we’re bigger than we are; they should spend more time outdoors.

The photos of the trees don’t do them justice because they have a presence that runs from the flash. The same with paintings on the internet, it’s not the same as seeing them live, they’re living things — portraits made to resemble someone who really existed, and the artists are thieves and liars working in the name of truth.

On my rest day, I pulled into the town of Forks at noon, just passing through. Lost a good hour in the grocery store wandering the aisles, looking for something to help my chapped private parts. “I’m Not in Love,” on the radio. And I thought about the town Port Angeles further up the 101, where Raymond Carver lived: you can feel the Pacific Northwest sorrow in that place, it feels gutted, and how much did the writer take on the same feelings of his place? Can you separate the two?

I retrace my route south on the 101 to the Hoh river: Hoh means whitewater in their native language, and there’s some connection with the name “Hoh” and the symbol for water on the periodic elements chart I’ll never understand. And the same with the fact the highway is called “101,” like the name Hoh.

It’s not harvest time yet, but there’s a feeling of abundance to our lives where there’s more than we can consume, the trees are heavy with late summer fruit and it’s coming down, we can’t save it, we’re running out of time, and some will just have to go unused. You can’t preserve it all, it’s not worth saving.

Now the light is different, the tops of the tall trees coming down our road get the morning gold, and the gulls passing overhead pick up the same pink from the morning sun that’s red from all our sins and what we put into it, so pretty to look upon for such a short time.

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Six days in the bush, Pacific Northwest style



I came to the bridge above the river, the one described in the guidebook. I’d taken a picture of it last time but it was only a green braid in the gray canyon rock, reduced down to that. The canyon rock had the look of Tiki gods in silhouette, stern, with eyebrows made out of moss tufts, carved cheekbones.

I got to camp by early afternoon but all the good spots were taken. The river was too cold for bathing, a slurry of glacial silt, solemn gray. There was another party pulling water out of it, but it seemed unnatural to see others in the rainforest like this.

I tied my tarp over the bivy sack and sat on my bear canister with my shirt off swatting flies, drinking beer, realizing how close I was to the two women in the camp one over: wondering what they thought of me sitting there, looking at them.

I moved camp across the meadow beneath an old tree. A family had five horses in the stock camp and were feeding them grass in the open field. They had the horses on leashes and sometimes the leashes got tangled the way they do walking a number of dogs all at once.

More parties came through, looking hungry and desperate. The camp is 11 miles up the Hoh river valley and most come for the glacier at the end, 18 miles in. But most also camp, and make a few days out of it.

I’d made remarkable time, goaded on by my ego and repressed tension, anger. A couple times I got behind someone on the trail who wouldn’t get out of my way and had to ask them to move and wasn’t pleasant about it.

In the night I thought I heard the rain start but couldn’t get my bivy sack open and became claustrophobic, had to tell myself to breathe. In the morning the tree I was under changed overnight, had grown exaggerated, with puffy arms for limbs, a Jim Henson puppet, spidery and ape-like. It was Saturday, day two of six, and I only had five miles to go to my next camp, then on to the glacier a few more.

It was supposed to rain Saturday night, the first time in 50-some days, the longest stretch in Seattle since 1951. At first just the dried pine needles came down, and sounded like snow—but then it was definitely rain, I could smell it.

I was 15 miles up the valley at Elk Lake, with only three or four camps. The ranger gave me props for my tarp system, how I jerry-rigged it with my trekking poles and some rock and wood to keep it taut, to allow the rain to pool off systematically.

The rain formed a mist that turned to fog, yet the sky was still gray-pink from the sunset, and in the morning the forest smelled alive with new scents. I walked out 15 miles to the trailhead where I started, stopping every 5 miles to rest.

At my last stop I saw the gray wolf juvenile before it saw me, in a clearing at a sad camp they call Five Mile Island, a gravel bar with just a few fire rings and log benches. The wolf gave me the chills—and I told the next few parties about it but it wasn’t plausible, they said: there were no sanctioned gray wolf reintroductions out here, only by the Cascades.

There’d been the black bear I saw just 45 minutes from the trailhead, but no one seemed interested in hearing stories about bear. Plenty of frogs and heron, a mountain goat by the glacier, some snakes. Sulfur polypore mushrooms growing out of the trees like elk antlers, bright orange.

I decided to forgo plans to camp a third night in the river valley and carry on to the coast instead, to make camp at Oil City and get a good breakfast in the morning, to try to reach Loren, who was coming up from Portland to meet me at Mosquito Creek.

It was high tide when I got to the beach and the river (the same one that comes off the glacier) made for good late afternoon swimming. I gathered cans of beer from my car and started a fire, boiled water for dinner, set my bivy sack on a ledge, photographed the sunset, made bird sounds at passing gulls and crows.

On Monday I had time to kill so I drove to the Hoh Indian res and took pictures of abandoned shacks and cars. There was no one anywhere. I drove to Forks for supplies, sat at a gas station Subway, ate a footlong sandwich.

I thought back to the times I’d come here with my friends when we were in our 20s and would just drive around, exploring. How it seemed we only had time then. And about my kids now, with all the riches of the internet and its fake gold glitter, how they’re trapped in caves and disconnected from the real world, from just roaming.

When Loren arrived we hugged, and I gave him a fake slap but it was too hard and broke his lip; he spit blood in the sand and looked upset, but we soon got beyond that. A drunk Canadian appeared near dusk: he owned a cabin you could access by rope off the trail and was going through a bad divorce, the first time he’d been there without his kids, he missed them. But he stayed too long by our fire and we worried about his safety walking back to his cabin in the dark—and then we stopped worrying, and started looking for meteors instead.

In the morning Loren and I hiked a good six miles to Toleak Point where we made camp and tried to find drinking water. I slipped on a log in my bare feet and went down hard, had to put my foot in the water to stop the swelling. In the morning the bruise resembled a planet, blue-purple and striated, and I wondered at my safety having to go another 11 miles, to end at the rock scramble. Loren rubbed my foot and gave me Tiger Balm, I ate aspirin and energy gels. At Mosquito Creek we swam and estimated we could get to Jefferson Cove a couple hours past low tide with enough time to safely cross the rock scramble, but we were wrong.

The hike from Third Beach to Oil City is 17 miles one way, with rope ladders leading from the beach to overland trails, through forest. The crux (the rock scramble) comes either at the end (if you do the north to south route) or the beginning, if you start from Oil City.

If you hit the rock scramble at high tide the ocean can pin you against the cliffs and make it untenable. The rocks are conglomerates with lichens, barnacles, and crunchy lifeforms growing there. Over time, I’ve come to fear the scramble to where it’s become something larger, more ominous (mortality itself?). When Loren and I arrived the cove was socked in and the waves looked bigger than they should have been by the tide table, and the spray was forming that seaside mist that brings a chill, that makes everything really wet really fast.

We decided we’d have to camp at the cove and try again at 3 AM at low tide, in the dark. Loren gathered wood and I nursed my heel, took some whiskey. We tied the tarp to a log and strung it against the ocean spray. Loren got out his harmonica and I sung what I could from a few Dylan songs.

In the dark of morning we had no depth of vision but could hear the tide had gone out and knew we had more beach to walk upon. I asked Loren to stay near me but he went on ahead. We had our lamps to keep track of one another and sometimes grunted and cursed. When we got back to the car and changed, there was a crescent moon still out and we were the first customers at the Kalaloch for breakfast; they were starting a wood fire in the lobby and we sat by it and told our story, got some coffee, washed up, said goodbye.

We took the 12 out of Aberdeen for Centralia along the railway tracks and were able to check in to a room above a bar a few hours early, get showers (my first in a week). I still had a limp that was more of a lope, a funny clip-clop cadence that made me think of Billy Pilgrim’s character, from Slaughterhouse-Five. Loren and I ordered cocktails at the bar, a six-pack of fresh oyster shooters: dark enough for candles at noon. I tried to nap but couldn’t.

In the morning I did a lap around Centralia’s historic downtown looking for coffee—hadn’t noticed they had some in the hallway just outside our hotel room. And I discovered a mural on the wall in the WC, someone who founded a band Sam Shepard played drums with, the Holy Modal Rounders.

And I thought back to that side porch at our cabin in Montana where I’d read Patti Smith’s memoir, dreaming about my time in the Alps to follow, though I was nervous about getting my passport renewed in time, nervous about the capability of the expediting service I hired, and on the phone with them every day checking status: and in the end they failed me, I had to cancel my trip to Germany and plan something else as a consolation, to not let it upset me or get sentimental about the times we didn’t have—there were so many more we did.



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Bikes, trailers, dogs, coolers: five days in Montana (some Wyoming)

Just like me, the moon’s gone plump from too many long nights and early mornings, hard to get into its jeans, and only noticed by fools and dreamers, the mad.

The sky ran down from blue to pink to jack o’lantern orange and then the bats came out and did their circus moves, and though they were blind they were perfect, they had other senses to use.

And then the chill came down which was not a real chill but a perceptible change in the temperature which still feels like a chill, the change —

Just the birds in the morning and the sound of a far-off car coming through the valley, coarse wheels on gravel.

Clouds on the mountains of Montana, the valley filled with wildfire smoke, haze. One last pocket of snow on the highest peak. The odometer says we drove a thousand miles in just three days, stopping in Coeur d’Alene and then on to Big Sky. The kids and their things spilled out like a loose burrito in the back of the car. We planned to leave the house at 5:15 AM to beat the Yellowstone crowds and made it out by 5:20—12 of us, five kids. Mountain ranges turned to ghosts by smoke.

The sun does its blood red thing, a soft warm glow in the morning. The moon, pink-gold over the canyons. Everyone in the parking lot with bikes, trailers, dogs, coolers. Clean mountain air at last, the atmosphere’s cleared from the fires but when we get on the road tomorrow, they’ll be burning all around us driving home. Twelve-hour drive, two or three breaks, tops.

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First light for August

The plane resembled a bird in the sky, reflecting back in the lake. There were a few on the dock fishing, spread out to give each other space. They were all having their moments with the lake, the morning light. A couple in the middle were pointing across the water with their camera out. Thin wisps of fog moved in one direction to the center away from the shore. I had to go back to the tire place to get it fixed. I’d been there already on Saturday, they said they’d fixed it, but come Sunday they hadn’t: it was leaking again. I got there before they opened and there was already a line. A burly guy with no neck and a crew cut looked agitated, paced by the door. I let him pressure the workers to open early, I didn’t have that kind of presence. They explained it was the corrosion around the wheel that was giving me problems, something I’d never heard of: the tire needs a clean surface to form a seal; the rusting causes unevenness. Somehow, everything was a metaphor to aging. Bad seals, leaks.

I sat in the lobby with my book waiting for them to fix the tire. It was getting warmer with the morning sun but felt nice. They had the TV on but it had no power over me, relaxing even. There were others with me waiting but we were all alone, bound by our tires.

Patti Smith was talking about moving into the Chelsea Hotel, befriending the music anthologist Harry Smith: having her first encounters with late ’60s celebrities, about to become one herself. In her own kind of waiting room.

Sam Shepard just died: and I’d texted Donnie about him over the weekend, asking if he could confer with his wife (a Shepard scholar) if the play Cowboy Mouth, the phrase, had come from Dylan’s song, or vice versa. Donnie acted like he didn’t know the reference. It was from Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. And Patti said in her book it was in the Chelsea Hotel that Dylan wrote that song. There was a banner with Shepard on the homepage of my work computer I glanced at, then moved on. I’d worked on a few of his plays, read many. Didn’t feel sentimental.

They were back to report progress on my tire: a nail, not corrosion. I was glad for that, they could patch it and I could fend off death for another day, get back to work. The guy who worked on it asked if Anton called me yet, offering to buy my Volvo. Anton was the one who worked on it Saturday. He had a Volvo like mine he said, loved those cars. I said I was ready to move on. Falling in love with cars is a bad idea, they take more than they give. But I wanted it to go to a good home, it was from my mom and John, an east coast car: we’d towed it across the country, paid some shady eastern European with a missing thumb two thousand dollars for the tow. There were mice nests in the glove compartment. But we’d toted our kids around West Seattle in it, a freaking tank of a car, indestructible. I was going to donate it for the tax write-off, I told Anton. But if he would buy it and love it, that would be better. Maybe I’d see him again some day and he could help me work on my next car, an old Mercedes.

And I thought about all that driving back by the lake, imagining the Volvo cleaned up and happy, running well, glad it was a Monday, I loved my job, and this week we’d be driving 12 hours to Montana: and I told myself not to be a dick in the car, to be loving and present with my kids, though I’d have to tell myself that again and again.

Photo by Loren Chasse, Waitts Lake, Washington.


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One window ajar, first light on Pine Lake

I sat outside under a tree with King Tubby playing on my Bluetooth speakers and crocosmia fronds tickling the air, the moon a half melon, the whites of my nails. Talked to my dad across the country, the sound of the boxed wine bladder emptying into his glass, easing into a deeper layer for our chat: me with my beer and foldout chair, the two of us subsuming each other. The strange echo of days: dad, remarking on a sound file he found on his iPod of him and nana, an accidental recording but a real gift to hear her voice, he said. And I told him of the recordings I have of my now-gone stepdad John I can’t listen to, can’t go back, don’t have the heart to. And when I said goodbye it seemed abrupt though it had been 48 minutes my phone said—and I went to check in on the girls, caught under the shadow of my rule with Dawn gone for the day: the consummate project manager, checking in on status, fine-tuning, redirecting. The sunshade I had to fit into the skylight above our master bathroom to keep the heat at bay. The electronic apparatuses I unearthed from their home in a shoebox hidden in the closet, resolved to reconcile the cords and memory sticks, the attachments. Splayed across my desk, but it can wait until tomorrow. Back to the story of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe my hair stylist Donnie convinced me to read; mom got me the book one Christmas but it lay unwanted in the garage dog-eared at page 11. An oil change and droll Sunday afternoon of tasks in the suburbs. Roads closed until “late 2018,” orange signs, traffic, air conditioners. Forty-two days without rain: dad says they got 10 inches this month in Pennsylvania. Maybe the climate really is fucked up now for good, he remarks. Eberhard says the same about Germany: rain and cold at times. Crows, dragon-flies, jets: when the wind blows the cottonwoods clap, the crocosmia fronds make circular patterns on my navel whispering water me, they’re invasive, they “propagate by division.” The news says eight years ago was the hottest day in Seattle, 103: the same day we left for Germany the first time, the sabbatical in 2009. Driving down to Italy, to Como for a night, stressed out as hell with two kids and no cell phone service and the European roads, arriving in Tuscany at Miriam’s villa and sucking down a Heineken in their swimming pool when Lily (4) went under and Miriam (33) saved her life. And we didn’t think much of it then, we just felt lucky.

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