It is our habit to watch the sunset with a glass of wine, replay the day and plan the next as the shadow of the ridge behind us crawls up the slope across the canyon until dark. Our conversation is almost always interrupted by someone, a coyote crossing in the pasture, crow mates preening one another, hawks and eagles, or our finger-pointing quiet pause last night as a covey of quail moved through the yard on their way to the lemon tree to roost. Nearly hidden in the darkness, it was serious business, an alert rear guard spaced behind the rest, then double-time to catch up—it’s organized, almost military. Then I’m off on a rant, “Don’t tell me that they can’t think.”
A few tree frogs have been utilizing the dogs’ water dish by day, protected by the metal hood over the plastic float that regulates the flow of water that Robbin has had to remove because the weight of three or four frogs opens the valve and overflows the dish on to the deck. We’re trying to talk, our conversation rudely interrupted by poorly punctuated, air-cracking croaks from the dish. Robbin gets up to inspect the source to see the frog’s vocal throat sac inflated. Then slips off on a humorously detailed rant about maleness.
Catching the inflated vocal sac in a photograph is tricky in low light, finding an f-stop to allow auto-focus between croaks when you can barely see the tree frog and hold the camera still takes lots of shots. Furthermore, the photographer must keep his distance or the subject goes quiet with stage fright.
And what else could we expect this close to the vernal equinox, the night before the full worm moon, buckeyes dressing leaves, redbuds about to bloom, finches assessing last year’s nests—it’s damn-near spring!
photo: Jaro Spichal
Wherever the mind dwells apart is itself
a distant place.
– T’ao Ch’ien (“Drinking Wine”)
We have been there, idling across pastures
like cattle to ridgetops with focused eye
turned blurry with the mind’s appeal to wander—
an easy trek in open space, we gravitate
to isolated places where granite rocks
take the shape of animals, where oak trees
dance with sweeping boughs and speak
a language without words we comprehend.
When we come home to flesh, to the clatter
and complicated clutter of more mortal busyness,
our senses shocked and fogged with dismay,
we become the aliens for a moment on this planet
returning with translations, with fresh offerings
of peace and poetry—we nod to all the animals,
leaving little gifts of good-will along the way.
Like quail before a rain, like deer
we gather in the granite brush
that yet survives the times and us—
around a fire. Lift a water glass
to the first ones here, a jam jar to
the pioneers that spawned this bond
of swirling smoke we nose at dawn
within our clothes and grin, trying:
to remember when
we loved life, or one another more.
And note this, dear dead doctor:
When we sleep, our legs twitch,
And not from the hunt
But from trying to run away.
– Gary Soto (“Dr. Freud, Please”)
A Red Tail pair in Blue Oak tops, buff breasts bared
glow at first light, watch over their dark shoulders
as I feed hay, speak to horses, winter mornings
to wonder about the everyday routines that tie us
to animals, to a place and time by the sun. The deer
would lay down where the barn stands now
over a shrinking stack of bales, a short walk
to metal mangers as I look back through the eyes
of the house to see you moving to the woodstove,
curls of Manzanita smoke disappear into the gray.
We have camped in the trail between canyons of wild
pad and hoof, claimed the space they walk around
and would take back should we be gone for long
without our habits holding what we’ve done together,
together—for this moment we hold our ground.
with a slow rain,
a short reach
over the ridge
into the gray.
We begin to think
like old oaks
on north slopes
to leaf and fruit
We’ve seen the creek
swell and disappear
the road flow
with carts, wagons,
pickups and goosenecks,
stream with Christians
and bright busloads bound
for glory and awe
in the distance. Unseen,
we are rooted just
where we want to be.
dogs keep the wild
raccoons, feral hogs—
an occasional bear
or mountain lion.
They are busy.
We sleep easy
to fit our dreams:
an ebb and flow
approach to home
Alive, up-canyon ridges grip like fingers
into the creek bed, pulling from either side,
tearing flesh in a flowing furrow slowing
near the river, spreading fines in the flats
mixed and gathered from granite peaks
where natives search for signs of rain—
for hope, for the ultimate escape
to sit and talk with all gone on before,
to watch the earth unfold—to perhaps
even walk with gods. No allure
of alabaster shine or golden thrones
beyond the clouds compels the wild
heart or the keen eye, satisfied
with working for a woodstove
or making shade to shed a rain.
Sometimes most clearly
through the eyes
of the bewildered
we see ourselves
spawned upon this earth
not as peacemakers
nor avenging angels,
but fallible and human
driven to plod on.
How do we find our grace
How do we know the way
it makes us,
One more reason to postpone town—
my list of necessities buried in a yellow tablet
of half-poems, songs you want to learn to play
on your father’s Martin—we are almost
self-sufficient with the garden, fresh limes
for our evening Tanqueray watching cows
come into water before grazing up hillsides.
Some waddle now, heavy with calf. Summer
seems to want to leave early on gusts,
shadows longer on the cusp of change
we mustn’t miss—another day of details
to keep us closer to the home we’ve made.
Dry hills soft, come dusk
before a promised chance
of rain, blond fuzz
of empty-headed grasses
teased by gusts
beg to embrace me,
to become lost
in the folds of canyons
and draws, absorbed
as someday I will be.
Dark breezes stir the senses
transform baked clay
to breathing slopes
of warm flesh
and I am comforted—
home at last,
a chance for peace.