Archive for ‘trees’

August 29, 2011


The hurricane left the usual damage—barren milk shelves, tree limbs ripped roughly from trunks, flooded basements. All this I had expected; I had been warned by radio and television to expect minor cataclysms. But this I had forgotten from the storms of my childhood:

The aftermath.

The sky is so tender. Alien oranges and yellows in the evening, innocent blue the next day. Strangers emerge from their homes to survey the damage together. Backyard borders disappear. Fences already bent by giant branches fall completely when we clear them in concert.

It is the hurricane that taught me my neighbors’ names.

July 20, 2011

The Drought

I have heard there is rain elsewhere, in neighboring valleys. Travelers who come over the hills tell of green fields and full wells. This is their medicine. We get stoned on hope. But I am terrified—as are we all—to climb to the hilltop and find only wheatgold dead grass to the horizon. Oh, we could walk on and on, but see plain enough no clouds. We are safe, at least, at the heart of the valley.

My son plays on a tire swing hanging from a desiccated oak. The leaves have singed but are too light to fall, no wind to scatter them. The swing’s ropes have begun to fray—maybe a week before they snap. My boy knows, and swings gently.

In the drought we have lost ourselves. Or perhaps the selves were never ours to lose, only brought and renewed by the rain. Is there some essential me in the vapors hanging over hot asphalt after thundershowers? If so, we are blameless for forgetting how to live.

I kiss you but I do not kiss you. We are missing more than water; not our lips alone are dry. We wake, we eat; we work; we sleep; and this all meant something with clouds rising and gathering. Here under flawless blue, all bereft of water, we have begun to evaporate.

And I am too dry for this to frighten me.

October 4, 2010

The Ship, Part 2

Illustration by Tim Durning

Cynthia never wears shoes before the first frost.  On the walk from the cabin to the shore—surely one of the last barefoot this season—the dewed stones outside the door chill her awake. She gasps sharp air. Thick grass slides between her toes; the soil keeps its warmth better than the stones. She passes the first trees covering the cliff leading to the water, making sure to touch their trunks. The bark is smoother where her hands have often passed over it.

Moss lines the steep descent, coating Cynthia’s feet in slime. She holds on to chest-height limbs to keep her balance until the cliff eases to a gentle grade by the water. After she emerges from the trees, there is sand, stone, and sea—all gray beneath low morning clouds.

Stone to stone, Cynthia hops across the beach—no footprints—to the water, where the waves rush over her ankles. Her skirt clings to her shins. She focuses on the firmness pressing into her arches.

Where they go must have stone and trees, both old enough to be smooth.

With all the lumber he has accrued, and all the time he spends there, Harold has built a small shack by the jetty. November wind can be cruel, especially on the water. In the shed he keeps his tools, a small generator, a space heater, a chair, a blanket, and a map of the planet. The map is covered with pencil lines marking wishful destinations; the most exciting of them are circled again and again.

Harold’s hammer is nearly silent beside the din of crashing waves. The craft is nearly complete, but Cynthia has not seen it. Down the beach, when she wades into the water, she always looks away from the jetty. At first, Harold invited her every day, hoping she would join him at the gangplank. They could sit together in the shack and admire their vessel as it took shape.

I will see it when we sail, she said. Now he simply wakes before dawn and begins working; the sooner he finishes, the better—and winter’s on its way.

Only the final touches remain. He places another nail in the molding above the helm compass. A clip will go above the flat surface by the wheel to hold maps. Screws…he needs screws for the map clip. And the cleats for the lines. Wax—he needs wax for the lines.

Ten thousand little things, but still in all… He looks out over the twin hulls he has made by his hands alone. As the ship bobs up and down in the shallow sea, he feels trust in the deck. This can work; we can travel someplace fresh. Someplace brighter. Maybe someplace with fewer stones.

Harold looks up from the helm to see Cynthia turned toward him. His heart races, and he waves to her.

She does not wave back, only walks along the stones to the tree line. Harold shrugs, and turns to the shack to find some screws.

Tags: , ,
September 10, 2010

The Ship, Part 1

I realize I have yet to complete my essay, but this fiction popped into my head, so that’s what’s happening now. Enjoy.

Illustration by Tim Durning

Ribbons of August noon stripe Harold’s arms. They pull, heavy with their tool, and pause a moment between those light columns. Then in a blur, they arc the axe toward the trunk of an ancient pine tree. The wedged gash becomes a little deeper. Harold pants, readjusts his stance, and pulls back again.

“It’s still summer. We don’t need firewood.” His wife Cynthia has come quietly on the path from their cabin. Half of her glows in the full brunt of a sunbeam; the other half fades into penumbra.

Harold lands another blow, leaving the axe in the cut to wipe his brow. His frame is lean from a life lived by his hands. Cynthia, too—the both of them, pointedly separate from the comfortable world.

“This isn’t for firewood,” he says.

Cynthia simply waits.

“I’m starting a new project.”

Still she remains silent.

“I thought…I thought I’d build the boat.”

“The boat.”

He has talked of the boat before. She has little doubt his hands could craft it. And she has heard in detailed mattress fancies the vessel’s design. A catamaran—stable in shallow waters and in deep. She would be large enough for the open ocean, but not so great as to need more than two to sail.

They would close the cabin and launch from the stone jetty only yards from their door. Harold has a sextant he has labored long to understand, and an astrolabe that yet eludes him. By stars and compass alone, they would travel the oceans and find some other place untouched by comfortable things.

Oh, he has recited this endless times before drifting to sleep on her shoulder. Never before has he taken an axe to pine with intent to fashion a keel.

Cynthia crosses her arms. “Is this really what you want?”

Harold again takes up the axe. “It is.”

She walks up behind him. He pauses in his swings. In his ear, she whispers, “I love you, so we will do this. But I prefer the forest.”

He turns to her. “But I love you, and could not sail alone.”

“I know,” she says, taking hold of his arm. “But where we go is up to me.”

September 16, 2007

"Fishing in the City”

The square-jawed man kneels in Central Park (great love lives in New York alone).

A gold ring rolls in pastel blue knit fingers.

A gasp of the chill air.



Or that’s how the camera catches it. I’ll catch it too, if I wait long enough under this tree, because autumn cold cuts sharpest under sycamore trees planted in the sidewalk. The orange atmosphere cast by outside nightlights only refines the edge. And if I can wear a scarf or a button-down coat (felt suitably frayed), oh!—the romance of the city. Fishing for the perfect autumn scene.

Under this unfilmed sycamore I smell cigarettes and the passing trash truck. A shrill drunkard stabs the air. An ambulance howls on the next block. I wipe mucus glisten from my nose and stick ungloved hands into pockets, nary a gasp or a ring or a square jaw.

            I’m going inside.

%d bloggers like this: