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.

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 Turtle

I sat by the pond, on an old gray dock that jutted out into the dark still water. The sky was gray and white, heavy overcast ceiling. The hidden birds were talkative, their tone conversational. My only companion was a wood duck, a drake by the shiny black green of his head, drifting complacently on unseen currents. I was reading a book of essays by Annie Dillard, which should always be read outside. A chainsaw occasionally roared in the distance, another machine, perhaps a lawn mower, even further off. A rain began to fall. It did not touch me yet and only announced its presence by concentric rings in the dark water, radiating outward.

I began to close my book, intending to head in to finish the chapter. I slid the crow feather I used as a bookmark back onto the page, the same color as the letters, and raised my eyes from the page. Something, some movement in the corner of my eye drew my gaze to a patch of water at the edge of the dock. There I was confronted by a snapping turtle, brown and knobby, his strong round limbs pushing him ponderously to the surface. He saw me, his eyes, ruddy brown gold, and mine made contact.

We stared at each other as he continued his ascent. His beak nose with its two little holes broke the surface. The stare was like a spell, holding us captive. He treaded water, watching as one blind hand scrabbled in a purse, looking for a camera that was actually in a jacket pocket.

I broke eye contact to look for it, and broke the spell with it. He waited until the camera was in my hand before pushing himself calmly down, quickly disappearing in to the black water until all that remained of his presence was a break in the greasy film that covered the pond. I looked at the picture I had taken. By the edge of the dock was a brown stain on the water, unrecognizable as a turtle. I laughed as I thought about excitedly showing this picture to my friends. I felt honored, though begrudgingly, as if a magician had stolen my watch.

Lakeside Fire

The fire, piled high with driftwood torn from docks in a recent tornado, sent up tendrils to lick the sky. Sparks and bright orange curls of wood dusted the clouds which covered the sky in dull overcast sheet, stealing away all the stars, any hint of moon tucked away until the only lights are those that shine across the water, green lights at the end of docks, yellow squares of windows, and our fire, crackling  and roaring in the silence, bravely and proudly rearing against the blank vault of the sky. I sat before it, feet and hands glittering where they were smudged with mica filled sand, glimmering scales on my palm like a fish. The heat of the fire was intense, forcing us to sit back from it in a wide half circle. It was a witching type of night. We had drawn mystic patterns in the sand by light of the setting sun. In the dark we told stories, weaving our own magic in the gloom and the sparks, our faces bathed in shadows and flames.

As the fire burnt low, so did we, our stories became grim and intricate. I believe we all felt remorse when we put out the fire, sizzling and roaring in its death throes, send up billows of gray smoke. We walked back up to the house, glittering sand trailing from our feet.

The Day After the Ice Storm

Ironically, today is absolutely filled with life. Work crews are out in force, shoveling, chipping, scraping, preparing the sidewalk for the strangely erratic day. The path before me is filled wit birds, twittering in treetops, perhaps relieved that the storm is passed.

Everything is melting. I can hear it in the forest to my left, see little rivers running new life through tire tracks on the road. Though it is winter here, my mind dreams up spring out west, rivers fat and roaring with melted snow.

The tops of our own quiet mountains are frosted and dyed blue by the shadows of clouds. The day is cold but filled with apricity and I glow in it. The sun and ice turn the gravel road into a sheet of silver, the dry fields into diamonds, makes the lithe limbs of trees shine, filling the valley like a bowl with an ethereal gleam.

The river seems quieter than usual, as if falling asleep or, more accurately, just waking up. The river cane are heavy with ice and lean wearily across the path. They chime and tinkle as I brush past.

Overhead is a wondrous noise as if the treetops, twisting, are trying to break free of their shimmering casing. A lump of dried grass catches my attention. The blades are thin and gold like hair and frozen stiff after being splayed across the ground by the wind. It is filled with frozen dew drops, the sun sparking rainbows in each orb.

As I return to my room, I feel as one woken from enchantment, rising from a glass casket, opening eyes to see the world in a new way.

I Want

My brow is filled with heavy determination. There is a darkness in my thoughts but also the desire to overcome it, to be more than my failures. I feel the sun breaking through clouds, covered again, sparking the edges, grays and gold. I feel like I’m knocking on walls and suddenly hit a hollow panel. I’m resonating, vibrating, growing still, and am hit again. I am a cycle of energy and apathy. I am a writer, observing the world, catching the flotsam and jetsam on this river of life to build something extraordinary. I am an observer. Wide eyes and open ears. But sometimes I fade in on myself, for there is a world within me, galaxies within me, helixing behind closed eyes. I want to be alone. All these minds jostle me, all these galaxies. They overwhelm me, press in on me. Never could I understand, comprehend, each and every one of them. I am overwhelmed. I want to get lost. I want a shipwreck, a deserted island. I want my foundations shaken, a lighthouse toppling into the ocean. Storming seas, hurricanes, I want them. I want solitude and peace. I want a cabin in the woods. I want to chop my own wood. I want snow shoes and red cheeks. I want to shiver, my body trembling with life. Am I manic? My mood swings like a pendulum on a clock on a ship on a stormy sea. I want to run with horses, scare them into kicking up their feet. I want to move like a snake, feel the ground on my belly, in cool caverns on hot sunny days, a subterranean stream sounding the ground beneath me. I want to howl at the moon, drink in the stars, let them burn in my throat, spark in my eyes. I want to cling to a cliff face, muscles quivering and burning and look down. I am a songbird in the throat of a wolf, a black cat in the eye of a dragon. I want to scream myself hoarse. There are places I want to escape to, worlds I want to run to. I want to dance around fires naked in the moonlight. Don’t call me a witch, call me a god. I want my feet on long roads which I don’t know the end of. I want dirt and gravel in my boots. I want to sleep in the sun and walk under the stars. I want to be somewhere nobody knows where I am. I’ll go to the shimmering red desert in spring, I want to see what grows there. I want red dust stuck in the crevices of my boots. My eyes read stars like books, written by nobody. I’ll topple cairns, I don’t want to go home. I’ll be a leather tramp, my boots kicking up dust.