The North Wind

The winds from the north bring me troubling news. There are wars raging in deserts whose names I cannot pronounce. And while these nations are distracted, stoned on blood and fire, the desert itself is on the move. The sentries have abandoned their posts and hot sands on hot winds are creeping in. The scorching air rips bark from trees, skin from bone. Borne along, the sand corrodes, erodes, eats. The wind is howling now, howling for blood, for bone, screaming for earth and flesh. And all the while the desert advances. The existence of forests is only evidenced by bone white twisted skeletons. The statues that once stood proudly and shapely, now shapeless hulks that loom cryptically against the horizon. The vast cities that once circled oases now crumble, bombed out, burned out shells, issuing forth shell shocked, burnt up refugees who don’t know what the next step is.

The gods of natural forces are rebelling. Bone has harden to steel. Blood has thickened to the viscosity of oil. Veins are now laced with iron ore. “Bleed yourselves” say the gods, “to fuel your malcontent empire! We give you eyes of diamond! Rip them from your head to pay for your war machines! Disembowel yourselves in search of precious metals! Only then will you know the price of luxury and apathy!”

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I remember wandering the green world in my spring time, black dog at my heels. I watched for the changing phases of the moon, dancing in the variant lights… I remember sitting on hill tops in the cold, my breath steaming before me. A blanket beneath me and another wrapped around my shoulders, I watched for shooting stars, meteors lancing quickly, thin streams of light that existed instantaneously. I waded in rivers under the summer moon, full and fat in the scattered, wind tattered clouds. I rode horses under that moon, disappearing in the fog drenched valleys.

I remember lying on the slopes, cheek to the ground, trying to feel the earth turn and hearing the far off rumble of hoof beats. The grasses grew tall on those slopes and burned gold in the summer. If you lay in them and looked up, the world vanished, reduced to a small patch of blue sky and the ends of the grass, as tall as trees, waving against the blue. They turned russet in the fall, like the hide of one of the horses, like apple cider, like my hair when the evening sun lights it up.

I sat in the roots of ancient beeches in the slanting rays of the setting sun. I talked to it and it whispered to me. I watched the leaves turn from green to beaten gold in the winter, the only color in the gray forest.

I remember running wild over hillsides and watching the passing shadows of hawks against the sun. I remember calling to owls at dusk, and hearing their sonorous replies in the gloom. The tree in the backyard would come alive with birds on spring mornings and sing. There were hummingbirds at the feeder out the window over the sink. Their backs glimmered with green scales, their throats burned red.

I remember storms in spring. The green of new leaves would burn against the blue gray of clouds. I remember that color, and how it shook my heart. The thunder shook me, startled me. I wanted to dance in the rain, but was scared of the lightning. The lightning lanced across the sky, unfolding like cracks in a broken mirror. In summer, heat lightning would turn the clouds pink on the horizon at night, silent but present. If you put your ear to the ground, you could hear the far off rumble, but maybe that was the horses on the other pasture.

I remember snakes. Their backs were black and starred with scars, their bellies checkerboards. Their musk was foul, putrid. I remember holding one, feeling its muscles curl across my arms, watching the tongue dart in and out, fast and delicate. I remember seeing them dart through the undergrowth, startled by my approach. I was never scared of them.

I remember the afternoon light shining gold through green leaves, blinding me. The clouds were gold and crimson, pink and vibrant. I read them, read stories in their shapes as they went from gold to blue in the fading light. As dusk crept in, mist pooled in the lower pastures and bats darted in the gloom. Sometimes I saw shapes in the mist.

And the creek, the creek was the epicenter around which all life turned. It was a great nerve cutting through the pastures and woods, and all existence was controlled by its caprice. The creek cut our property in half, snaking its way between our pastures, marked by the trees and bushes that grew up on either side. At times it would rain, and fill our lower pastures with brown roiling water. I remember waking to rain on the roof in the night and knowing a flood was coming. Each flood changed the creek. It flattened bushes and made new sand banks. Over the years the creek cut deeper into the bank, toppling trees into the water.

I remember walking across these fallen logs in fall and winter, when the water was too cold to wade. One foot in front of the other on the slippery bark. Walking slowly, looking down at the water.

We would spend our summers in the creek, when we were young enough that the water came to our chests. We swam and waded, explored the banks, made castles from mud. We rode our pony into the swimming hole and jumped off his back. We made boats from leaves and sent them off upon the waves, following their journey eagerly. We (did I mention I had a sister?) made our kingdoms along its banks.

I remember walking in the water at night under a full moon, my flowing skirt buoyed up around me. I would walk slowly so I wouldn’t make a sound.

There were lots of stars then. The Milky Way was a burning brand in the sky. I remember picking out Orion by his belt, and Scorpio by his tail. The tail came over the ridge in the summer, chasing Orion, but never the full behemoth scorpion. I would sometimes go weeks without looking up, and when I finally did, I would be overwhelmed, my mind ringing like a bell, a single glittering crescendo.

I remember spring rains, watching the storm clouds come, listening the thunder rumble closer. And then, when it was close, roaring loud enough to make the glass in the cupboards shiver. The lights would flicker and sometimes go out. We would light lamps and play yutnori by the dim light, until the storm died enough for us to sleep.

I would listen to the rain on the roof, pattering or drumming, and I knew that it was swelling the creek, churning it with brown mud. It was rising, this docile creature that snaked through our land. It was bursting free of its banks and growing fat and greedy as it filled our lower pastures. Earlier that day we had rushed through the rain and the thunder to chase the sheep to higher ground. They were now huddled steaming in Quonset huts and I was curled in my bed, but I would remember the urgency of it, clapping hands and yelling, running in the wet, shouting flustered directions to each other over the patter of rain on our stiff hoods and the rolling of thunder growing closer. Despite all, I enjoyed those moments. I would lie in bed and listen to the rain and pray it wouldn’t stop. I wanted it to fill the pastures and swamp the bridges til we couldn’t go to school or our parents to work.

And sometimes I would wake late and be flustered until my mother informed me that the weather radio had sung of my school’s cancellation. I would run to the deck and stare out at the water. Every time I saw that roiling brown lake licking the edges of the hill we lived on, a part of me believed it was the apocalypse. A part of me wanted it to be.

Tunnel

Every time I make this journey, it seems shorter. The first time I took the interstate from my home in Tennessee, it seemed worlds away. I felt that I had been in the car so long I had become a part of the sweat stained seats, that I too now smelled like cigarette smoke and the remains of the many cleaning chemicals that had attempted to eradicate it. Each time I make this journey, however, I loose a sense of distinction. My two lives seem too close now. Even the mountains between me and home are no longer an opposing barrier, but rather a scenic drive, a slight inconvenience. This time as I drive back to school, it’s raining. It’s not the clean refreshing rain of spring that swells the creek and stains the tips of trees green. This rain is malignant as it hovers over us, following us on our road east, choked with smog and acid. This rain sticks to the back of my neck as I run into the gas station to buy a pack of gum to keep me alert down the winding road of the gorge. I listen to the radio out of Knoxville as I drive, listen until there is nothing but static. After that I change stations frequently, looking for the rock and roll that I like to drive to. I find myself hyperaware of sounds as I drive. There are so many rhythms. The windshield wipers are working double time, the squeaky one sounds like someone mock crying as it slides across the glass. The fan in my car is on, roaring away the mist that attempts to cloud the windshield. The radio sings a fuzzy Kansas song. I can hear my breathing, exaggerated sighs that unwillingly rise from deep in my gut. A mountain looms up ahead. I turn on my headlights as the tunnel draws near. Suddenly the mountain is on top of me, the rain is gone, the windshield wipers sweep away nothing. The song continues for a moment then fades into static. The song seems intimidated by the weight of the mountain on top of it. It’s suddenly dark and silent. I think I’m holding my breath. I can feel the weight of it, all rock and trees. In that silent hum, I feel a sense of expectancy, like the moment the light goes dim in a theater and the crowd hushes as one, focusing on the one column of light on a darkened stage. But there’s something more to it than that. There’s a tightening in my chest, a weight in my gut. There’s an eldritch timbre in the air. I feel like the world grew silent in order that something else might speak, some awful voice rumbling from the depths, whispering things that I must not hear. I am penetrated by my own smallness relative to the mountain above, the ancient earth around me. And then I see dull sunlight tainted by rain before me. The radio starts up and now Credence Clearwater Revival is singing about a bad moon against a rolling southern rock beat. I let out a long breath and turn it up.

Down by the Pond

It’s one of those clear days, crisp and cold. It’s a vivacious wind that stings cheeks and sweeps right through denim. Muscles tense and backs hunch against the breeze. The coldness of the wind is remedied by the apricity of the sun. During each pause between gusts, the warmth of the light reaches my face for one caressing moment. The wind sounds like it swallowed an ocean, and dropped, till churning, behind the next stand of trees. The brittle brown leave of the maple above me rattle, their vibrating brown figures in congress with the breeze. Nearby, there are students at work. I can hear music churning up from the bowels of the auto shop. I’m down at the pond and it is covered in a sheet of ice. A leaf rattles, dances and skitters away from me across its surface. Winds above my head have caught the pine needles on the tree across the pond, and they sway back and forth like paint strokes against the clear sky. The sun headed west, falls at an angle across the land, so shadows grow out long on one side, and I find myself in the company of my dark silhouette, ghost pen in hand, skittering over pages of auburn pine needles. There are shadows on the ice, cast by trees, long tendrils intertwined and dancing with each gust. A crow flies, trying to hitch a ride on the right breeze. The sun catches in his feathers and they gleam like the sun’s twin in the water. He’s carrying silver on his back. There is a broken oyster shell before me, and the slanting sun has filled it with color and light. I find myself trembling like the leaves on the beech, the shadows on the ice. The wind is talking with the trees. Speechless, I sit and listen.

Night Spell

The wind stirred up great currents of snow into the air, forming transient patterns like the mumarations of flocks of starlings. These vagabond apparitions appear and disappear in the yellow light of street lamps. The night is full of ghosts. There is the howling of the wind in my ears, like far off coyotes. The beech leaves are rattling in congress with the wind and the still falling snow. Trees rubbing against one another sing and cackle in the depths of the forest. I am out of the lamp light, struggling up a slick road that runs parallel to the trees. The ice sheeted asphalt proves too slick, and I abandon it for the powdery snow on the side, sinking in above my boots. I enter the forest path with some trepidation. Even after all this time I still have to whisper to myself there’s nothing in the woods, there’s nothing in the dark. My mother taught me that. I was a kid with an overactive imagination who could find eldritch shapes in every shadow. My mother told me that when she was young, she was scared to swim in the lake where she couldn’t see the bottom, only dark water going down forever beneath her kicking toes. She would say to herself there’s nothing in the lake, there’s nothing in the dark. But of course there is something in the dark. There is something in the lake and there is something in the woods. It is that “something” that conjures me to go outside tonight. There are a thousand voices singing and a thousand eyes watching. Tonight I can feel that the earth is one creature with thousands of eyes, thousands of voices. These voices seep together in a hum, and that hum coalesces in one low long heart beat. Right now these voices are rich and wild. I will admit they scare me with their utter ferocity. I tried to remember all those days I danced in the wind, called myself its child. But now I felt more the child, with a unknowable parent, a parent with no time to explain things, with grander plans that I could not begin to understand, and which therefore I feared. There was a glorious and vicious jubilation to the cold and the snow and the wind as I stepped out of the woods to the top of the hill. The stinging wind makes my eyes water, which is frustrating because I just want to see. On a clear day, you can see blue mountains stretching out all the way to the horizon. It’s dark tonight and overcast, colorful clouds gallivant across the sky, light blues of a mysterious color that I can’t describe and strange garish pinks from an unknown light source. Phantasms appear in the wind tossed snow dancing madly across the slope. The surrounding mountains are nearly hidden in the madcap mumarations of the snow. But I can feel them looming in the dark. I can feel the cathedralesque openness of the valley below, the land of pine trees stretching out to the mountains. I stood on the hill top and communed with my gods.

This is the Way the World Ends (In South Carolina)

“This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper”

I was driving through South Carolina when I learned that the universe was dying. The sun was shining across open expanses of water, turning the spartina into gold. There was an astrophysicist on the radio. They had been watching the stars, watching them die. The fuel that holds stars together, kept them burning, was running out. Energy, energy from the big bang was overcoming gravity. Cold death that is the future. Heraclitus talked of the universe as a fire, with measures of it kindling and measures of it going out. Now, it seems, the kindling has stopped.

The marsh rippled under the setting sun, ribbons of pearl and silk. The profusion of Spanish moss in the oak trees made the whole world run together like a wet painting.

A terrible thought has entered my head. What if the multiverse theory incorrect and we are the only universe? I can’t imagine the horrible nothingness if there is only one universe and it’s dying. As energy overcomes gravity, “there will be no big crunch” to restart the universe. It will keep expanding, growing colder, a fire turning to embers then dead cold ash.

There are shrimp boats in the harbor. The spindles of their masts are dark against the setting sun. The spartina looks like the brindled fur of some strange beast upon whose back we walk. What is it about the upright solidity of pine trees that makes my heart tremble?

The universe will not die in my lifetime. Most like the human race shall not even be a memory when the last stars go out. And yet, I shudder at the idea of so much cold. And yet, I am overcome by this terrifying impermanence. I need to believe that something is definite, something is immortal, but I am nothing if not rational. Some may urge me to turn towards religion, but I cannot overcome my mind.

The tide comes in, the time goes out.

When the universe dies it will be without a fight. In with a bang, out with a whimper. “Don’t go softly into that good night” etc. We will go, peaceful, begging, or bitter, we will have no choice.

“Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice”

I now beg for a fiery demise, though all evidence points to ice. For there is always the story of the bird that dies in fire, only to rise a phoenix. But no, we will not die roaring or burning, but silent and cold. I once believed motion was the key to immortality. Mountains crumble but the sea remains. But now I see that the ever-changing universe too must die.

I have never been this close to a heron before. He must be used to people. His feathers are the gray blue of faded storm clouds, rust creeping up his neck. Every aspect is angular, poised. He is so still, like a painting. I half wonder if he is real. He seems to have grown from the marsh like the spartina. Every aspect of him carries potential for motion; the fluidity of the muscles in his long neck, his stilt-like leg held still in the air. He seems so still, that, despite his poise, I feel as if he must not be able to move. I inhale, and with a fluid movement he sets his foot upon the ground. I exhale, and he flies, his wings unfolding and bursting with silent energy in the light of the setting sun.

The Storm

20150630_142618Like a stretch that opens the chest for a deeper breath, the Earth and sky opened. The sky was cathedralesque in proportion and haunted in color. Some mystic Michaelangelo had painted up there, tracing shapes and shadows for the crazed mind to interpret. Behind me, the sun breaks through to scatter golds in grays. Before me is a storm cloud,  so opaque, so dark and thick that I feel there must be something hidden in there, something coiling and roiling in its gut, breathing smoke from flared nostrils and sparking light from its claws, or the impact of its hooves against the steely heavens. In fact, I can hear its growling or perhaps its hoofbeats. An alarm blares on my radio, but I turned it off, listening only to the storm. I can’t help but notice that all the other traffic moves in the opposite direction, so that I alone drive into the teeth of the storm for surely that’s a maw opening before me. I turn a corner, and the road is mine. I face the storm head on, borne on wings of water.