Rain taking the nights, taking the days
~ Grey and grey and grey ~
Rain misting soft
~ billow light ~
Rain driving down
~ staccato rap rap rap sharp beat ~
Rain washing over the eaves
~ waterfall roar ~
Water settling in the low lie of the fields
~ corn stubble, sharp cut ragged, edge shallow pools ~
Ditches, creeks, rivers spilling
~ corpulent greasy flows thick with silt, tumbling bobbing bits of whatever blow in – fallen, from crumbling edges and banks ~
~ away. away. wait for the. break. between. breathe. ~
~ Awash ~ Awash ~ Awash ~
In the hollow she sleeps. She does not sleep. She is in the ditch laying half on grass and half on drainage rock. What little breeze there is disappears as I start down the incline. The air is stifling, hot and humid. I smell the pine trees that cover the slope of the ravine. She’s on the south side of the road. A driver wouldn’t notice but I’m walking so I can see right into the ditch. In that first glimpse I comprehend a figure gracefully reclined. An odd thought as what grace is there in this death? Her neck is a lyrical curve that rests her head on a swell of grass. Her forelegs are long with delicate ankles demurely crossed. Lost in the sound of my feet on the gravel, she’s taken me by surprise [her stillness].
In the hollow now the cars whiz by. A transport changes lanes to save me from a wake of wind and swirling grit. Always walk facing the traffic on the highway so you see cars and trucks that head towards you. Wave thanks to drivers that move over when they can. The traffic is louder than you would imagine. Faster than it seems when you’re in the car. Up on the far end of the hollow I can see something on the shoulder. It’s ruddy and small. It’s angular and ill-defined in the distance. Drawing close I see it’s her fawn. The birds have already been at its eyes. One of its hind legs is broken. The foot hangs loose from the rest. Were they together when it happened or did the fawn go searching for her when she didn’t return? Does it matter? I walk on and double back at the Coyne Road to head home.
In the hollow there’s a heat shimmer on the road. The sun blazes above. Travelling east now I can see the fawn on the other side of the road. The eyes are cavernous holes that follow me as I walk. I pass opposite the spot where the doe lies. I can’t see her [smooth brow and the soft sweep of long lashes that shade closed eyes] in the ditch. Two cars rush up parallel behind me as a driver defies the solid yellow line to pass on a blind slope. The passing car, close now to the shoulder where I walk, sends a blast of hot air and dust to wrap around me. In my memory she [the doe] reclines [elegant-in grace-in sorrow] as her fawn looks [dark-empty] for her return.
In the hollow a single crow calls. There are three but only one speaks.
In the hollow I can hear a sound [buzzing through the insulation of my ear buds]. Leave the volume low as you walk along the highway. If you can hear your footsteps you should be able to hear oncoming traffic. The origin of the sound is just ahead. It is [was] a raccoon [not fat but bloated] . I can’t see flies but I can hear [a legion – a multitude – a horror] them. The sound is aggressively loud. I think the swollen carcass must be acting as a hollow chamber amplifying the sound of what lies within. I don’t [can’t – won’t] look as I walk by. The fur is beautiful. If I reach out to stroke it would I find an incredible lush softness [vibrating with what lies beneath]? When I double back I look straight ahead. I know [hear] it [you] is [are] there. The air is heavy and cloying. Rain is on the way.
In the hollow there are three crows. They don’t speak.
In the hollow Queen Anne’s Lace [Daucus carota – Why do I know that?] gives off a heavenly smell. Flattened skin tanned to leather is marked with sparse patches of fur. Yellow bone [forearm, jaw bone, sharp stab of teeth] is an anchor that still defines the [broken] form. A car speeds by.
In the hollow there are no crows.
In the hollow a crow calls.
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
*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.
It’s very late. Or very early depending on how you look at it. There’s a smell – dry, copper and electric scorch. It’s so strong that I get up to fumble along in the darkness looking for a source. The smell is everywhere and nowhere so I go back to bed. I lay under the sheet with one leg out trying to find the best position for comfort in the heat. It’s going to rain late tomorrow but it’s not tomorrow yet. In the dark, with my head pointing west and my feet pointing east (well to be completely clear my one foot is pointing north-east) I close my eyes and think about the black house.
The black house rests road side near a curve on Pioneer Line. Pioneer Line runs west to east, or east to west, relative to your starting point and destination. The black house was built on the Dutton end of the curve. It’s a double curve and if you were generous you could call it an S curve but it’s so stretched out it barely qualifies as any kind of letter. Spanning the townships of Dutton/Dunwich and West Elgin, Pioneer Line travels through the villages of Dutton, and West Lorne, and touches the edge of Rodney. The section between Dutton and West Lorne runs parallel to the 401 corridor and in the distance you can see cars and transport trucks on the highway, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. They say that Pioneer Line, or a portion of it, used to be called Starvation Road. The story goes that the soil wasn’t any good (too much clay or too wet- it’s not clear) and you can’t feed a family on land that won’t yield. I don’t know if it’s a true story.
I’m not sure how old the black house is. It’s small so it can’t be very new. People don’t build that kind of small any more. It hasn’t been black for very long though. Before it was black it was clapboard white; faded, peeling, and abandoned, in a lot that was mowed just enough to keep the weeds down. Someone bought it in the spring and began to fix it up but didn’t finish. Before the work stopped the siding was removed exposing the black tar paper underneath.
New houses, old houses, derelict houses, barely there foundations that mark where farmhouses once stood, call Pioneer Line home. They are in the process of being, or becoming something, or un-becoming something-but not the black house. Stuck between being something old(er) and maybe something new, it’s in limbo. Curtain-less windows expose the studs of gutted walls. One window on the second floor is gone leaving the upstairs open to the elements. As I lay in bed I wonder if the air in the black house smells scorched like the air in my house. I wonder if bats or birds come and go through the open window. Do they fill the upstairs bedroom with fluttering wings and shrill cries or is it silent like my room? I wonder if anyone else thinks about the black house, perhaps someone who used to live there. How would it feel to see the black house and remember when you looked out of the windows to see the world passing by instead of peering in through the windows to find only emptiness where you once stood?
When dawn comes I know I’ll see the branches of the cedar tree outside my bedroom window turn warm with that break of day. The light will steal past the lace curtain and wake the cat asleep at the end of my bed. He’ll stir and stretch, sending up a small scatter of dust. The motes will float a lazy dance in the early morning glow. I know daylight will be easing into the black house too, spilling through the grime covered glass, inching across the bare floors, and expanding into the empty rooms.
I draw in a breath of warm air and think about later today when I’ll shut my blinds to keep out the afternoon swelter. There are no blinds to close in the black house. With the August sun overhead the air inside will be harsh and heavy; so hot if you aren’t careful you’ll choke on it. All around the house there’ll be the smell of corn, sweet and cloying, in the afternoon haze. In the distance the heat shimmer on Pioneer Line will look like water on the road. The background hum of the traffic on the 401 will, as ever, be constant and as it is August there’ll be the rising scream of the cicadas’ chorus.
I check the clock and see that it’s even later…or earlier. As I said it all depends on your point of view. I flip my pillow over to the cool side and drift off into sleep thinking about the trucks passing by, day in and day out, and about the black house small against the sky, baking in the sun, just before (if you’re coming) or after (if you’re going) the curve on Pioneer Line.
Music for this post is The Devlins Waiting