Within the Embrace of Entropy and The Arrow of Time

There is a row of spruce trees at the back of the yard. The tallest was struck by lightning. I was two rooms deep into the house and the light that came in was the most incredible thing to see. There was a wash of the coldest white and blue. And though there were no shadows everything was eerily defined. The noise that followed was felt as much as it was heard. The tree still stands but almost four years on it hasn’t healed. The strike left a scar that runs down the length of the trunk to the ground. With every season the crack gets deeper.

I had a lovely thought last week. I was driving in the car and just out of the blue it came to me. It was a wonderful memory – well two sort of but they were connected. The memory was of my youngest nephew, Matthew, when he was small.  We had rented a hockey rink for a birthday party and Matthew was so excited to come and get on the ice. He must have been around 4 maybe…I’m not sure… but I do remember how happy he was. The second part also had to do with an arena. My sister brought her boys to see my stepson play and as he came out of the dressing room he said hello to Matthew. Matthew’s whole face lit up because he’d been acknowledged by this older boy heading out to the ice to play. I honestly don’t think he could have been happier that day. He would have loved to play hockey. I’m sure of it. He never got the chance. He was born with an adorable sideways smile and a progressive neuromuscular disease.

Picture time as a hallway broken up by consecutive doors. Each door represents a unit of time. The doors are sheer enough to look back through but there are layers and layers of them. Each one takes you further away from where you have been and try though you may you can never bridge that space between now and then. No matter how much you may long for the “before”, just thin doors of time away, there is only what comes after. We say things like “I would give anything if I could have just one more day…one more hour” but the truth is one more hour or one more day wouldn’t be enough.

The night that Matthew died always comes back to me in sound bites and still pictures – the phone call – the car ride – standing on the porch as they return from the hospital – my sister opening the car door – her face as she tells me and it’s like that flash of lightning filling everything up with something alien and terrifying as I move in slow motion to take her into my arms. The rest of the night, the weeks, the months, the years, are marked by moments of awful clarity distinct as pale figures caught naked in the stark flickering of a strobe light.

Matthew lived 16 years. The brevity of his life along with much of what he endured and what has come to pass since he left us is beyond difficult to fully grasp. I am grateful for the things that offer a counter balance to the downright unfairness of it all. I need those things; like those days in the arena, or any moment I’m called to mind the good things that were a part of his life and what good things he brought to all of ours.

I like to watch the birds in the garden. I can see them as I gaze out the kitchen window. The blue jays scream and argue. The woodpeckers and nuthatches are a circus of acrobats as they negotiate the expanse of tree trunks. There are different kinds of sparrows, cardinal couples, and flocks of dark-eyed juncos. In the summer there’ll be hummingbirds and orioles. Several times a day the birds will suddenly scatter. I don’t know why. Perhaps there’s a noise, a movement, or a falling shadow that sets them off. Often it’s nothing and they quickly return. Sometimes though, that shadow will be a hunting hawk. Maybe a red tail but more likely a Cooper’s hawk. There will be a flash of darkness and then silence as a few stray feathers float to the ground.

The garden will be silent then, sometimes for hours.  I watch to see if the birds return. And they do but I can never tell if they’re the same ones that were here before.  At dawn and dusk there’s always the call of the mourning doves. A storm might blow in and I’ll watch as a curtain of rain sweeps across the fields before it engulfs the house.

I wonder how long it will be until the spruce tree finally falls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music for this post –Noah Gundersen & The Forest Rangers- Day is Gone 

 

 

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November’s Embrace

*A brief note of explanation to avoid confusion – This passage was written in mid December. Life being what it is (busy/unpredictable) I wasn’t able to post it until now. 

It’s night and the house shudders in the wind. Today’s snow has turned to sleet. Freezing rain is a burst of pellet spray against the windows. Something heavy thuds down outside. There’s a hum before the furnace kicks in with a comforting rumble but cold air still finds a way to creep in through the lath and plaster walls. For the first time this year I hear a plow pass by out on the highway. I miss November.

Normally by this time I’ve seen enough snow to last me the season. This year there’s barely been a dusting (until today). December’s brought a lot of rain mostly. It was a brief reprieve before the inevitability of a Canadian winter. The gravel drag of the plow blade as it meets pavement can’t be denied. I am nostalgic for November.

I don’t remember such a November. Maybe it seems singular in that every warm beautiful day stood in startling contrast to the rain and sleet and snow of Novembers past.  Along the lakeshore the wind that ushers in the end of autumn is stinging, bitter with the winter to come. The wind that came this November was silken and warm. It was still strong but smelled of clean earth and sunshine instead of the damp and rot of a dying season. What should have been skies of pale tones of cornflower or dead slate gray were draped in summer shades of magnesium blue. The light was such that the early sunsets of short autumn days came as a surprise. Rather than frost-bitten brown, the fields and lawns wore green velvet expanses of fallow, moss, grass, and winter wheat.

The night sky was the most remarkable thing. On clear nights, a low ceiling of stars blazed over head so bright I swear you’d think twice before reaching out your hand for fear it could burn in that cold fire.  The moon, in part, and in whole, was like no other moon. Early in the evening it rose as a titan figure gigantic on the horizon. Often crowned in a halo, at its zenith the light of even a sliver was bright enough to give pause. One night in particular, at its rising, the moon was a Cheshire grin of golden caramel scooped out of black velvet skin. By midnight the crescent above was hard white, so brilliant that the moon was outlined in a diamond silhouette. That night I dreamt I lay sleeping within a curved arm of golden skin sheened in silver light. I sheltered in that languid embrace until the break of day. When I awoke I swore a scent lingered in the linen, the crisp smell of fallen leaves and something else indefinable.

 

The wind is howling now.

It’s so cold and dark.

I miss November.

Chariot

It’s 4 am and I’m standing in the middle of my back yard. The wind is sweeping across the empty fields. I can hear it rushing along beyond the blue spruce trees that mark the divide between the fields and the yard. I can’t see the trees clearly but I can feel them towering above. Overhead the moon fades in and out of sight, just visible and then bright, behind and in the breaks of the ragged swathes of misty clouds that race across the sky. The moon is framed by a rainbow-hued corona. The flow of the clouds creates the illusion that the moon is moving quickly across the sky. An arm’s reach downwind there’s a bright shimmer, a planet I think. It’s ever so bright (perhaps it’s Jupiter, Jupiter is supposed to be visible this time of year) and so close to the moon that they appear to be moving together. It’s as if the smaller body is pulling the moon across the sky. The illusion is so perfect, their light so clear and close, that I half expect them to sail right over my head, brushing the tops of the trees before they disappear into the blackness of the fields. I’d like to wait and see (just in case) but the dogs don’t like the wind at night. They hear things in the wind, and because they can’t see, it makes them nervous. Maybe I hear things too but only just a little. And the wind is cold; it’s December. And I’m almost positive the moon and Jupiter aren’t sailing away wildly on the wind. So in the house we go.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio…

I’m not sure how old my house is but when it was built it was erected with no plumbing or vented heating. The walls are lath and plaster. The plaster is the kind that has horse or cow hair in it. I know about the plaster because several years ago a section of my living room ceiling collapsed. A road crew was using the bucket of an excavator to break through the road asphalt in front of my house. With each bang of the bucket on the road I watched part of the ceiling droop. It didn’t fall right away but several days later I heard a big crash and walked into the room to find bare lath and a whole pile of plaster on the ground.  Old houses are like that. Stuff just happens.

I have a lot of questions about my house that will probably never be answered. Like what’s the deal with that room in the basement. I’ll call it a room but it’s sort of not as it isn’t completely excavated.  To clarify my basement has two rooms with concrete floors. The first room has a lath and plaster ceiling but the walls are just poured concrete. The second room is less finished. There is a door in that second room. When opened that door reveals a space which is a sort of room but it’s filled with dirt. There is dirt that is lower by the door opening but piled up higher towards the back wall within a foot of the ceiling. Water pools in the partially dug out area when it’s really damp out. Looking at it I really can’t tell if they were in the process of filling it in or digging it out. The only time I ever open the door is if I find water in the “proper” part of the basement.

I have always had a very active imagination. Since I was a child I’ve seen things. Catching glimpses of objects out of the corner of my eye or from far away I sometimes perceive them to be other than what they really are. I see the huddled figure of a solitary walker that turns out to be a shrub along the rail line. The monkey (I live in Canada) sitting on the deadfall out in the field is just a part of the deadfall. I know that it’s a big log with a broken branch but it still looks like a monkey to me; a real monkey. In the shadows of the alley way for just a second one day I honestly believed I’d seen a crocodile, or something crocodile-like, nestled beside the wall. Intellectually I know these things can not be but part of me still believes that the shapes in the shadows under the trees are cats or people or elephants or trolls. I’m not saying that trolls aren’t people. If there are trolls I’m sure they think of themselves as people. In my house occasionally the shadows form shapes. Like cats, cat-like shapes or, I don’t know, maybe like a baby crawling at my feet; something small though and just a blush of colour or form.  When I dream, I dream in colour. As I fall asleep gold flecks of light coalesce to form the pictures I see behind my closed eyes. It always, all of it, makes for an interesting inner dialogue.

The other night I was using my bandsaw to cut a fairy door for a project I’m working on. My bandsaw sits on top of a workbench which is located in the part of the basement where the mystery door is. It was a particularly windy night which is not unusual where I live. Normally on a very windy (or cold) night I like to snuggle down right in the middle of my bed and take comfort in the space that divides me from the wild elements. But that night I had work to do. A bandsaw is fairly noisy but not so noisy as to block the sound that seemed to come from behind that door. There was a noise from the other side of that door that sounded big, howling big, wild and mad. Granted it was windy outside but I was in the basement so why would the sound of the wind come from behind that door? It’s underground. I suppose I should have opened the door to check it out. It’s just a half dug out or half filled in space. But you know what? I didn’t. In my mind’s eye I already knew there was an enormous twilight zone whirling vortex to hell behind that door so I didn’t really need to open it. My imagination provided more than enough of a story line to send me hurrying back up to my work space. I’m not one to poke the possum. I think it’s better if we all just act like it really is dead.

This project I’ve been crazy busy with the past month is some volunteer work I’m doing for a non-profit group that supports local amateur theatre. I’ve been designing and building a set for their next production. It’s really fun and a great opportunity to try new things while contributing to a community based organization. The space I’ve been doing the majority of the construction work in is an old defunct Mason’s lodge that the municipality rented to the theatre group.  There are peep holes in the doors and a sliding door with a padlock to close off the largest room. The ceiling of that room is arranged in such a way as to indicate the 4 compass points and there is a separate switch connected to a single light bulb located at the centre of those points.

It’s probably not the best place for someone like me to spend a large amount of time alone. I haven’t discovered a small town conspiracy of hidden ritual murder or been dragged into the clutches of the Cult of Cthulhu that is secretly still operating there. I haven’t been sucked into the wormhole that only opens at midnight on a certain night of the year when the stars are in perfect alignment…

…yet.

Music for this post-

The Gorillaz – Clint Eastwood and Gene Wilder with Pure Imagination from Willie Wonka.

The “Lodge”…

Peep hole Narrow stairs up to the old lodgePadlock to guard their secretsLights to the 4 corners of the earth The Alexandra Lodge at night.

 

Restless in the Grip of Winter

     On windy days, when the sky is full of restless clouds, a dark bruise crowns the line of pines and winter bare branches that mark the shore. A purple watercolour blush, it bleeds up into an endless firmament where the cold gusts and driven clouds devour it whole.

     It would be easy to believe that January and February are only made of driven snow and biting winds if winter did not throw us a bone of a sunny day here while the earth sleeps.  

     The rare sun in a cornflower blue sky festooned with puffs of giant clouds that swim through the air like white vaporous whales is brilliant. The light of sun and sky and snow dazzles so that the eye can weep tears of joy or discomfort.

     Those days never last. What dawns bright is shaded by evening. Over night Old Man Winter howls around the house shaking the foundation and scratching at the walls with tree branches, ice stiff and brittle. Often the new day finds another layer of white covering the fields and trees.

     Down on the shore the waves continue their ceaseless motion, building up layer upon layer of ice. The spray rises in the air, misting fingers of beach tossed driftwood and creating bridges that reach far out into the lake. Round floes bob up and down in the surf, concave saucers formed by the motion of the water and fickle heat of a winter sun.

     Against the skies of blue grey, black vees describe the geometry of flight. The croaks of jays and the peeps of chickadees are hushed by a flash of the hunting hawk’s red tail feathers. Only the mourning doves call soft and low in the cold winter light.

 

The Wave

     The weight of the night pushes down like a giant hand compressing the air until it bleeds moisture, soaking the grass and sinking into the flattened earth. There is no wind and the emptiness that surrounds me is so saturated that I could be moving through warm bathwater, gelid and thick. It swirls around my legs and sinks back with barely a ripple to mark my passage. The air tastes of copper and in the distance the sky blazes a violent flicker. Eerie and silent, there is no roll of thunder. The storm is still too far away. It’s coming though and I wait, watching the distant horizon split open. There are glimpses of a false burning day before rapidly winding threads of dark rush in to reknit the tears. The wheat undulates a silken whisper. An echo of thunder rolls into a roar and the sudden wind is like a wild dog let loose to savage the fields. The wheat cowers. The limbs of the trees thrash in confusion and the leaves hiss out their bruising. Like the surge of a great wave the storm crests the yard. The current pushes against the damp heat and then with a great heave washes it away. All that remains is the wind and finally the rain. In the dark it does not seem to fall from the sky but rise up from the earth seeping through the concrete of the patio in silver dollar sized drops of dark grey blood.

Earthbound

     Time rolls on, a relentless tide. The measurement of its passage is painted in the mechanical rhythm of the timepiece and the unmarked tide of nature’s cycle. The polar opposites of life and death are the compass of this plane’s existence.

     All spring long the business of life washes on the edge of awareness. The birds that come and go mark the current. Nests are built, eggs are laid and chicks are born. The naked skin sprouts eider and then feathers in mottled clumps that purport a life amongst the clouds.

     The distance between branch and sky is a greater one than most might think. We mark the first day of summer as determined by the Gregorian calendar and the position of the sun and moon. Birds mark the change from the raw green of birth to fruition in a perilous learning curve that leaves the young vulnerable and earthbound waiting until time and genetic memory induce the safeguards that perpetuate the species as a whole.

     The wheat is a golden glow spread out across the horizon. Impatient for the sky, the very young wait out their time nestled in its protective heights. Awkward and weak, they sit in false enclaves hidden from dire straights and natural selection until the gifts that buffer them from the harshness of their environment surface. It can not be called a game when the stakes are so very high. The price of failure to thrive, to survive, is glaringly displayed in the bright light of day.

     Covered in ants and advertised by the curtain of flies that buzz in a coroner’s cloud the fallen sing a mute chorus to the vulgarities of a black reality. For every feather that takes to the current, for every song that rises in the morning light, there is a voice that is stilled and wings that drain into the soil forever lost to the warm flow of the air.

     A small black mound of feathers lies broken in the rain nourished grass. Beetles dine and ants labour over and on the small dusky hill. Blank eyes stare upward to a sky that can’t be seen and therefore is no longer coveted. A delicate neck, barely covered in feathers, stretches out impossibly fragile and empty of song. The fledging that lies limp and broken on the bright green of the summer grass has bet on a long shot and come up short. It is a wager that we all make and while we might run hot for a span in the end we all pay out.

     There will be no long days of summer and crisp autumn idles followed by winter’s push to warmer shores for the earthbound. There is only this silent testimony to destiny and the law that binds us all.    

 

Storm Spell

 

The firmament divides somewhere overhead. The eastern sky is a cherub’s blue, tonsured in cumulus white. The western sky is a mutinous grey, fallen wings cast out from above. The house sits below the split. The facing windows hang out over the precipice, both in front of and then inside the quickening storm.  

 

The wind is a dog that shakes the trees, throttling the tops, jerking them back and forth. Across the fields the lightning flares, silent at first but then it kisses the ground. Burnt air flinches back and the music of the universe spills out of the light. The thunder is a work calloused hand that scrapes and rasps across the skin. A drop slaps hard on the windowsill, and then a second, and then a third. Petals fall from the apple trees chasing the storm to the ground. The rain is an airborne river and the small windows of mesh that pattern the screens fill up and hide the garden and the yard.

 

A door slams shut overhead and the sudden realization that the bedroom windows are open sends us running up the stairs. We hurry from room to room, forcing down the sashes, wiping the windowsills, laying towels down on the wet carpets, grumbling and laughing a little. Laughing not because it was funny, but because the wind was so strong, the lightning was so wild and the gunshot cracks and black rumble that sang accompaniment as it split the air had held us frozen and made us forget that we were safe inside.  The sky flickers with diamond fire. An alto chord tears free to grind along the spine and we shiver within the embrace of the windows and the roof and the walls.

 

The tulip heads are bent and heavy with the remnants of rain. The wind has died down and the sun has returned to warm the air. The green bite of the garden after the rain comes in through the newly opened windows. The back end of the storm hangs in the eastern sky, a clear line drawn across the horizon. It sends back a parting roll of thunder that fades into the drip, drip, drip of sodden trees.

 

The Grey Tide

The rain is an omen, falling in pebble sharp raps. A temperate wanderer meets a winter bare sleeper. Lips part and ruptured clay spews forth a breath held warm and secret in the throat of the dreamer. Twilight over flows its banks and bleeds into the day. Stranded in the flood the black trees are stick bare and naked, caught in the murky half light. Upright and stiff they fight the rising current, hands outspread, reaching to a sky already lost under the onslaught. Choking in the cloudy ocean, overcome at last, they sink below the waves their accusing eyes lost in the greasy tide. Awash in still waters the world expands into solitude.  

 

 

Above and Below

The scale has tipped and the night slides into the hours that close on dawn. Unforgiving, the caustic breath of glacial air is an acid bite that wounds the throat and burns the lungs. The silence of a sleeping world is pierced by the sharp break of crusted snow underfoot. The protest of fractured crystal banks from the wall of pines and races back through the thin cold air. The winter cirrus, a haze of hexagonal gauze, surrounds the moon and crowns her with a rainbow halo. That luminous pearl, no coy satellite amongst her diamond courtiers, blazes out from under the veil of her father’s shadow while reflected shades of sky wash the snowy fields in lapis waves.