Dog Days & Daylight
The dog days of summer are upon us and I try to walk or run along the creek at least three times a week. Last week’s sightings–with hardly any effort–included indigo bunting, cedar waxing, an oriole, an osprey, a cooper’s hawk, barn swallows, tree swallows, and of course the standard Canada goose, blue heron, robins, cardinals, titmice, and nuthatches. An adventurous five-lined skink has laid eggs beneath our potted pepper plants. A few hornets’ nests have been eliminated (a health risk the allergic cannot engage). The cats laze about in the midday sun, just the time of day I prefer to nap or seek shade. Pollen invades our lives, sifting through screened windows and dusting my hair. And yet…I try to lean into it. These long days of light at 5:30 a.m. and light at 9:30 p.m. are already leaving us. Already giving way to a season six months in the future. Already whispering through the dusk: live here, live now, while you can.
I have confessed to a few close friends that, although I love my mountain Appalachian rural home, my skin feels as though it has been holding its breath for thirteen years. There is something inhumane about humidity–though at 3,000 feet elevation in these mountains, it’s what folks call “cool” and what the tourists pay top dollar to “escape to.” It is not natural to sweat when checking one’s mail; to still be wet after toweling off from the shower; to feel heat pressing down on your lungs like a heavy, industrial object. Perhaps I exaggerate; very few people here would describe summer as such, and yet, to my experience, I do feel stifled.
It’s the mountains and these fresh waters that save me, of course, but I spend more hours indoors than out during summer, something most of my neighbors find odd. Winter is my season, but if I begin to explain why, this ode will no longer be about the dog days. Suffice it to say, whenever I visit my native Pacific Northwest, my skin and smile change. I feel as though my pores are breathing. I feel like I can relax. I feel, and this is not an exaggeration, like I’m home in body, mind, and spirit. It’s possible to say that and love a different home–the one I have now–and to let both truths be true.
I have a favoriate barn that Brad and I pass when we talk together. It’s slatted and slanted, discolored and precarious. And yet–it holds firm to its foundation, boldly upright in the flood plain. Green and orange streaks mark its skin like laugh lines on an old, tired face. How much has this face seen? How much more will pass beneath its chin, out of sight and fast downstream?
Sometimes I long to have been born a few decades earlier and to have come into my own as a writer during the era of Joan Didion and Annie Dillard. These women are still writing and shaping our literary landscape today–quite profoundly so. But to have been a contemporary, to have been new and thirty-something and gritty when Slouching Towards Bethlehem or Pilgrim at Tinker Creek hit the stands. To have been paid well for an essay that did nothing other than exalt the land, the culture, the places that make us (though compensation for women had a ways to go then, as it does in some outlets still today). To live off of writing that says, “Look at us, this mess of humankind. Look at how we walk the land. How we ruin each other. How we still pause for a peachy sunset. How we’d do it all again and again, in spite of ourselves.”
Reflecting on this now, I see how I can still write essays that say those things. I can even fathom how Flashes of War might have addressed that message, too. Which is to say that, what I’ve been grateful for these past hot weeks as I walk the creek and jog in the shade and marvel at the songbirds, is this: a mountain range to know and walk for the rest of my life. Its tributaries to drink from. It’s river to wade into, and its secret cliffs to leap from. Growing up out West, the world was bigger than I could fathom, despite my endless days along the trails. There was always one more mountain pass, one more bear’s home range, one more raging river to cross.
In the Black Mountains, we have our wilderness–alpine dwarf vegetation along the highest peaks this side of South Dakota, bear and deer and turkey and some say boar and cougar now, too. But I can fit this all into the palm of my hand. I can walk the peaks end-to-end in two days strong. I can turn around and do it again. I can look out my window and point to where I’ve just been, saying, “Look at us, this mess of humankind,” and then I can wait for a peachy sunset and know the mountain wildness will still be there in the morning when I wake up. These endless summer days are good for looking long into the light, for remembering what we love even if there’s something we yearn for that we can no longer touch.
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Side note: Mark your calendars for “Kick out the ICK, Bring on the YES: Free Stewardship & Marketing Webinar for Creative Types” on Tuesday, July 19th at 12noon Eastern (9am Pacific). This is posted as a public event on Facebook and I’ve arranged for free video streaming software that’s easy to use so that I can host as many people as want to participate in this live, hour-long, FUN webinar. Read details and RSVP on the Facebook event page, or contact me to receive a notification of the event right before it goes live.