Watching the sky grow slowly dark this evening, clouds low over the hills, the sun swung around a little further toward the west. It’s nearly the end of August. The long Labor Day weekend. Typically, I would be in Pennsylvania preparing to return to the community college classroom to teach research writing to undergraduates. Instead I’m in north central Washington preparing for the start of the elementary school year.
Instead of working on course outlines and boning up on race-based incarceration rates, I spent the day talking about an interdisciplinary curriculum that ties together our recent fires and the nature of our community. I revised a teacher contract, then after updating our Facebook page, I tore down some old wall board in the school’s kitchen while waiting for the electricians to finish their upgrades to our lighting and outlets so I could vacuum and clean the carpets.
It was nice to be alone finally. Vacuuming is gratifying work, and wet cleaning is even more so. It felt good to do something so physical. To be able to see some signs of progress in the lines of darker gray in our well worn carpet, trod over the years by many small feet.
Small feats. One day at a time. Moment by moment. Life is unfolding. Slowly the trees are changing their garb. The hills are growing a bit more golden in contrast, and the sunlight is softer. It was only seventy-seven degrees today. I had to put on a sweatshirt before dinner. I’m tired. My arms ache. It feels great.
So long August, named for a great emperor. Eighth month. We’re on the cusp of a new season. I’m grateful to have been carried here by each day’s small moments. What will the ninth month bear?
Wine of the Elast
I am awake. The Marin Hills
doze beneath their August fug
cool in the shadow of bay.
The bocce court is silent,
the jury out on the banked
steps that rise from C Street.
The Cabernet rubs its plummy nose
into my corners, sparks this
pulse of light, of gratitude,
abloom like the tea roses of
Raphael, archangel of the trumpet,
healer, painter, vintner. Ages
and names and uses. Sobering.
Everything is ablaze in me.
Love. Loss. Gain. Going
forward into the unfolding
Mystery of Being. Its spark
an excruciating beauty
in the dark.
There’s a light rain tonight. This after winds that gusted over twenty miles an hour. A short power surge that took out the lights and computer and then came back almost as quickly. Overnight, it was so smoky again from the wild fires that are still burning, one just up the road a half dozen miles from here, that I slept with my windows closed, and even with the fan, it was stuffy and sweaty. When I woke this morning it was not much better. But throughout the day, the smoke cleared. The wind shifted, and I came home to clear skies and clean air. I took the opportunity to do all my laundry in preparation for a trip to California at the end of the week. It’s one of the advantages of life in the high desert: laundry dries in the time it takes the next load to wash.
It was a busy day in a busy week. At ten o’clock, I met with the Superintendent of Public Schools, at eleven thirty with a parent of one of the new students coming to the school where I work. He’s does “nature based human development,” and we had an inspirational and exciting conversation about how he might interact with the students to help them heal from the trauma of these ongoing and seemingly endless fires, smoke, unstable power. After that a working lunch with my iPhone catching up on emails. I’m trying to get an electrician to come and upgrade our wiring. There’s painting and cleaning to do. A parents’ meeting to prepare for. Walk to the post office, get the mail. Walk back to the office. Ratchet between two computers: one that has the whole institutional knowledge base on it and one that is able to connect to the wireless signal from the town library–even though it drops the connection for long moments at a time. Then to get finger printed for my background check. Then back to the office to draft a new teacher contract. Update the shifting enrollment numbers. Answer some more emails. Then shut the place down and go home.
So driving up the River Road toward home under dry, clear, smoke free skies put me in the mood to do laundry. I’ve just hung and stored it all in my room, the smell of clean cotton, that unmistakable smell of freshness, wafting from between the hangers and the stacks.
It was a long day and hard in its way. There is the constant reminder that I am not in control. I am watching the river move, and it will go where it wants. The wind will gust. The smoke will rest and then surge. Lightning may strike. The fire will consume what fuel it finds. I will sleep. I will wake. Tomorrow I’ll go out and do it all over again.
But in the mean time, I have been home. I have been loved. I have been fed and rested and heard. And there has been rain, and cool night air free from the smell of destruction. The night is full of song carried on the breeze through open windows.
Under morning smoke,
a field of baled alfalfa.