September 22 - 26
September 22, 2005
Autumn now. Another summer gone like a bloom. Mine one to remember. We’re back from the trip to Eugene, which was great. The city is like Bend, but bigger—clean, artsy, progressive and laid out in a grid along the Willamette River. It took me five minutes to find a WiFi café. Ten to find a dog park. Eugene has four or five of them. We visited two and both were bigger than a New York City block. One of them was a short walk from the house I stayed in. My host, Cecilia, was kind and engaging. She’s a writer and teacher and former editor of The Northwest Review. I enjoyed spending time with her and her husband, Craig, an artist and retired art professor, who does excellent landscape drawings in graphite. The reading was great. Big turn-out, attentive audience. In the library there was a huge poster advertising the reading, with bios and photos of me and the other reader, Laurie Lynn Drummond. I was tempted to snag the poster, but it was under glass. Laurie was quite good. She read a short story from her collection, What You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You, stories about women police officers in Baton Rouge. Yes, she was a cop there before becoming a creative writing professor at the University of Oregon. I read first, and did sixteen poems, a few from my book, the rest pieces written out here. Lots of people spoke with me at intermission and after the reading, and I signed a good number of books. One woman asked for my poem “Sheep’s Skull,” which she wants to send to a friend. I was surprised to find that one girl in the audience was, like me, a former Pearl Hogrefe Fellow at Iowa State. She and I chatted about the professors there. After the reading, Cecilia, Craig, Laurie and I went to a restaurant called Zenon (same name as a science teacher at my school, though pronounced differently) for drinks and dessert. In the morning Cecilia and Craig came by and brewed up some good coffee. We had breakfast goodies, chatted some more, and then walked up to the dog park. They recommended some places to check out before I left, and we said goodbye. I got my watch battery replaced at a watch repair shop, bought a cheddar brioche and some oatmeal cookies at a bakery, and then drove across the river to buy a four-track cribbage board for Bradley, a gift I’ve been searching for since I went to New Jersey. Then we left Eugene and drove to Grants Pass to get my mail, do laundry, and shop at Market of Choice. In the mail was a rejection from Barrow Street, but with a nice handwritten note saying that my poem “A Mouse in the House” came very close and that I should try there again with some other poems. Barrow Street is a prestigious, lovely journal. I will indeed send more. The long day of driving combined with lack of sleep had me wiped out by the time we made it back to the cabin late in the afternoon. Gus was glad to get out of the car and run free again. When it got dark I heard the strangest noise, kind of like raccoons fighting but louder. I shone a flashlight from the deck and saw two sets of green eyes glowing up the road a bit. The beam was too week to see clearly but the shape of one of them was a small bear. Don’t know what the other was. I was in bed before nine o’clock. Read some more pages in Bob Dylan’s terrible book and conked out.
Today I stacked more of the madrone in the upper wood shed, finishing the bigger of the two piles Bradley and I made. The stack is well over my head now. There’s something satisfying about stacking wood. Doing it, I understand in some small way what it must be like to be a mason making a brick wall. Later I worked on the oil painting some more. It’s looking better. I want to let it dry before I put on the finishing touches. I’ll take a photo of it when it’s done. It’s a forest scene, kind of impressionistic.
It’s 3:20, sunny and cool. Bees hover at the eaves. A squirrel is chirping. Gus is lying beside the La-Z-Boy. Seltzer whispers in the can.
September 23, 2005
A little rain came through last night, so Bradley and Margery should have a nice drive in, very little dust.
Last evening I discovered that the fence battery was in the red. I walked the perimeter of the garden twice and the wires weren’t touching metal or anything else. I can only imagine that some critter got a big zap the night before and drained down the battery. I turned it off to see if it would recharge, and it didn’t. I’m going to let the sun hit the small solar panel all day today and see if that charges it up. If not, I’ll have Bradley take a look when he gets here later today.
While in Eugene I chatted with Cecilia Hagen about The Christian Science Monitor and the essays I’ve written for it. Then I had an e-mail from Casey McIntyre, a former student and now in college in Atlanta, and she said she’s using one of my Monitor essays in a nonfiction class she’s taking. I considered this a sign that I needed to write a new short essay and send it in. I’d all but given up on the Monitor after never receiving replies from the last two essays I sent. But I wrote a new one, and will send it. This one’s about the lone hummingbird I saw this morning. It makes reference to the episode this past summer when I caught a hummer. The piece is short and sweet, and may be perfect for the paper. Here it is:
Birds of a Feather
Today I saw what may be the last hummingbird of the year, a female Rufous, mostly green. These tiny flying gems are always in a hurry, but this one looked almost anxious, as if she’d bided time too long, greedy for my sweetened water, when she should have already flown south.
Last night a rain came through. In my sleep I was vaguely aware of it thrashing the roof, pattering on the skylight. In her little nest this hummingbird must have been cold, much colder than I beneath my down and wool. Maybe her mate was there to share body heat, their two pea-sized hearts beating together in time, a song for warmth inaudible to all except them in their woven bowl.
Now the sun has cleared the ridge, and she and I will soon fool ourselves again. We’ll pretend summer didn’t end. I’ll slip on some shoes and go out to the garden to pick the two dwarf cucumbers, but I won’t actually do it. I’ve been hoping for a growth spurt, though every day they appear to be the same size, the same distorted shapes. They’d make good baby dills, but there’s just the two of them. A salad then, when I finally do pick them. Under the sun, with the chill burned off, it’ll be easy to forget it’s autumn. My hummingbird, drinking sweet rainwater out of the morning glory trumpets, must be just as reluctant to let summer go.
It wasn’t long ago that I stood beneath the red feeder while she and six of her friends or family zipped around me. I’d been astonished to feel the wind of their wings on my face. I’d been a little envious of their play, too. I’m forty, but there’s a boy in me who refuses to move out of the house of my mind, and it was him who thought to catch one of them. It’s easier than one might think. I stood statue-still, my index finger and thumb poised beneath the feeder. The seven hummers hovered and zoomed and peeped. Then one, a coffee-brown male, stopped just above my waiting trap and I had him by his feet, which were black and thin as pencil lead. I was gentle and didn’t hold him long, just long enough to have felt as though I’d joined their game of chase, just long enough to have gotten a close look at his iridescent orange bow tie.
Now my green friend is dipping into the purple petunias in the basket hanging above my deck. Of course, I can’t be sure that she was among the seven that day I caught the brown male, but I’m good at pretending. So I know why she’s still hanging around. She’s middle-aged and there’s a girl inside her who won’t fly away. She’s not anxious at all. No, she’s asking me to come out and play, out there in the sunshine where it’s always summer.
September 24, 2005
Remember everything I said about fly fishing? Well, I gulp my words. Bradley came hurrying down the road yesterday afternoon with his fly rod in hand. “Let’s go fishin’,” he said. I hadn’t even heard them arrive, hadn’t yet met his mother, Margery. We were at the river about five minutes before he hooked into one, a beautiful silver steelhead. A steelhead is a sea-run rainbow trout. They’re born in freshwater rivers, then go out to the ocean to feed, and then return to their home rivers. Because they feed on shrimp and ocean life, their flesh is pink rather than white like a freshwater trout. The fish he caught was a good size, so he bonked its head on a rock and bagged it. A minute later, another. He let this one go. Now I was itching to catch one. We went downriver a ways. Bradley had a tug, but no taker. Then we made our way upriver. He took his time and showed me all the back eddies and pockets. At one of them he told me to toss the fly right in this foam. And I had one! The first fish I’d ever caught on a fly, and I fumbled a bit with the slack line at my feet, but then I had the fish in hand, pulled the fly out of his downturned lips, bonked and bagged him. We fished for another two hours or so, Bradley giving me good lessons in casting. He’s a master at it, can lay a line all the way across the river, and he knows how to work the fly so it looks just like a fish in the water. I hooked into another in a back eddy, but it jumped off. Once stung, it wasn’t coming back for more. Up in a nice gravel run, Bradley landed another fish, a hatchery one, and had several other strikes. I fished very little here, because it was a hard place to cast. He knew what he was doing, so I let him work the water. On the way back down, at the same place where I lost a fish, he caught two more, one of them a nice 14- or 15-incher. I caught another fish, but it was small, only about six or seven inches. Bradley said it was a rainbow trout rather than a steelhead. With five fish in the bag, and with dark coming on, we headed back up the trail.
I met Margery, and she’s a fantastic lady! Ninety-three and quick as a bullwhip. And very sweet. She was so happy that I’d made her an apple pie and that I’d caught my first steelhead. Bradley told me he learned all his fishing skills from her. While the chicken was cooking on the barbeque, Bradley taught me how to clean the fish we’d caught. Now I’m all set to catch more, clean them, and eat them. I hope to eat a lot of fish in the next three weeks. All I needed was an attitude adjustment, a willingness to accept the many facets of fly fishing. Here are the five we caught:
And here’s Margery:
We’re heading back down to the Rogue around noontime today for more fishing. Can’t wait.
After cleaning bat guano from the windows of the upper house (much to Margery’s appreciation) and then chopping some firewood, Bradley and I made a trek to the river up above Horseshoe Bend. We left Gus at the cabin. He gets in the way and jumps in the water. As we made our way upriver I hooked but lost three fish. I think I’m still getting used to setting a fly once a fish takes it. That, and keeping tension on the line. I’ll work at it. Bradley caught one in this stretch and let it go, because it was small and wild. Pretty fish, though. Here it is:
He lost a couple of fish, too. Finally, after walking three miles and fishing a nice stretch of the river, he caught two beauties, bonked and bagged them. It was starting to get dark and we had a three-mile walk back up. In all, we walked six rugged miles. “You gotta have the love,” Bradley said.
Later, at the upper house, he prepared a gourmet meal of the steelhead we’d caught the day before. He stuffed them with onions and apples and fried them in butter. He also made a stir-fry of red peppers, zucchini and onions. I contributed a salad of tomatoes from my garden with red onion, basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. For dessert: more of my apple pie topped with Ben & Jerry’s vanilla.
As pooped as we were, we got in one game of cribbage on the new four-track board I gave Bradley as a present for schlepping me to the airport and back. He won.
September 25, 2005
This morning we played cribbage again before Bradley and Margery left, and I won, despite his screaming lead with a sixteen-point hand. So we were even this time, which means I’m still undefeated as the individual cribbage champ of DHH.
I had a great time with Bradley and Margery, and I was sad to see them go. Margery is full of stories and is fun to be around. She began a nice watercolor painting of the view from the upper house deck. I gave her a copy of my book, and she kept saying she enjoyed my poems. I plan to send her some of the new stuff, especially the ones about this place. I know she’ll appreciate those.
After they’d driven off, I had lunch and then a nap and then headed down to the river, determined to catch a fish on my own, and did! And in the same spot as yesterday. Here it is:
A little further up I hooked another, even bigger. He put up a great fight. I had him almost to the shore and he dove down under a rock. I worked him out and was lifting him in to grab and he flopped off the hook and was gone. This was in the same spot where I lost one yesterday and where Bradley caught two. It’s a tried and true pocket, and I’ll revisit it next time. I fished for another half-hour and had no more strikes, so called it a night. I had a nice fish in my bag. Dinner. Here he it on the cutting board before I cleaned it:
I prepared him the same way I watched Bradley do it last night, minus the dill, which I don’t have. Coated with flour, stuffed with apples and onions, fried in butter. With some leftover rice and leftover tomato salad, it was just great.
Not bad for my first caught, cleaned and cooked steelhead. I cooked it just long enough, too, so that the spine and all the bones came out in one perfect piece. If you cook them too long the bones stay in the flesh.
Another adventure-filled weekend at the Dutch Henry Homestead. God, I’m going to miss this place.
September 26, 2005
Winged seeds of maples, as thin as paper,
as green as katydids, scapular
in the shade of late summer and one day
splitting their seams and spiraling off
in a breeze.
We called them helicopters, made a game
of chasing them, our outstretched hands
And when we caught one we’d pry it open
exposing seed and sticky milk,
and glue them
to our noses—Cyrano, Pinocchio. Now when
I see one I’m carried back
to the lie
of childhood, its long, slow convolution toward
the touching down, the welcoming,
the cold ground.
Well, the solar-powered battery that charges up the fence around the garden has gone kaput. Bradley and I fiddled with it while he was here, and the box was full of nesting bees, but I don’t think they had anything to do with it. I think the battery just died out. It doesn’t much matter now. There’s no fruit on the fruit trees, and the only morsels that might invite bears are the concord grapes, the wine grapes, and the last of my tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers. This morning I harvested a nice load of yerba buena and put it in the dryer. I want to bring home as much as I can.
Went fishing again this afternoon and had more good action. I didn’t see a single rafter, and my only company was a bald eagle, a kingfisher, three mergansers, and Gus. On my second cast I hooked into a nice steelhead, fought him, and then was hoisting him up on my rock when he made a final thrash and bit the line just above the fly’s knot. Now there’s a steelhead out there with an orange fly in his lip. Maybe I’ll catch him some other time. He was about as big as the one I caught and ate yesterday. I tried the same pockets that have been successful, but today they weren’t. All I pulled out of them was a squawfish. Heading back toward my beach, though, I stopped at a spot I hadn’t fished and made a long cast, worked the fly over a submerged rock, and hooked a steelhead. This one I was determined not to lose. I muscled him onto the shore, unhooked, bonked and bagged him. I’ll have him for dinner tomorrow. Here he is, a thirteen-incher:
It was getting late and I’d caught a fish, so started back. I figured I’d take a few last casts at my rock just below my beach. Again, I sent the line out far for a long drift and arc. Bam! A big fish! I could see his silver flanks as he fought. This was the biggest one yet. I quickly reeled in the slack. The drag screamed out line. I held line to rod, fought, pulled him in a good twenty feet. Then he made a violent thrash, dislodged the hook, and was gone. Apparently it wasn’t yet his time. But it was some good action before the walk back up.
Tonight I carb-loaded: rigatoni with sausage, tomato, onion, green pepper, basil, and porcini mushrooms, topped with grated asiago cheese. Sun-dried tomato flatbread to go with it.
All these trips to the river are getting me in shape, but I’m pooped at night. The price one pays to fish for steelhead on a wild river, no one else in sight.