The View from Mattie’s Pillow

We’re into late summer weather here. Early fall, really. On the willows growing out of the side of the bank and along the roads and riverbanks, there are starting to be a few yellow leaves like bright commas among the dusty green.

Overhead, the sandhill cranes flock and circle, their wide-stretched wingspan, long necks, stick legs behind. Today, I walked to campus from the parking lot and a V of geese straggled overhead. They called to each other with that slightly desperate, questioning call they have, as if they are always lost: “Which way? I thought you knew? Now what?” The cranes sound like they are having more fun. They gargle out their call as if the air were delicious to them. I watched a group of them yesterday, circling on an eddy of air, revving themselves up for the long flight to Brownsville, where they overwinter in the fields and the Laguna Atascosa wildlife refuge. There were young ones among the flock and they seemed to be teasing each other, brushing wingtips and rolling away, then righting themselves and doing it all over again.

A friend once told me that when cranes fly over, it’s good luck. We’re out standing under cranes as much as we can right now, storing all the luck we can.

And we sure do seem to need it. I’m still reeling from the loss of my friend, mentor, and colleague, Roy Bird. And then there’s Teddy Kennedy, whose life in politics has been an ongoing presence in the political consciousness of a whole generation. And then there’s the rain, the cold, and, the true mark of the coming of fall in the Interior, dark nights. We mark the end of summer with the sighting of the first star. It usually coincides with first frost.

We’ve avoided frost here in the hills, but some friends have lost their gardens already. I still have red and green romaine, purple and orange carrots, cauliflower, zucchini, crookneck squash, broccoli, kale, potatoes, and, in the greenhouse coming ripe just in time, luscious Chianti Rose tomatoes.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a poem after a walk in Creamers’ Field among cranes, called, “We Tempt Our Luck”—the cranes, the first hint of winter chill, and the boy in the poem who was writing to save his luck all wove into the poem. It’s now the title poem of a chapbook of poems that is just out from Astounding Beauty Ruffian Press, in Virginia (see Writing Links for their website). Now, I’m thinking about how much hope it’s possible to have, cranes or no cranes—then thinking of Teddy, who was a committed optimist, or he wouldn’t have reached out to as many people or crossed as many party lines as he did. I’ll dedicate some of my back-to-school energy this fall to his memory and to Roy, who reminds me to speak truth to power and to do it from my most genuine self.

Yesterday, speaking of hope, I went out on the deck as the light was beginning to turn that watery gray it gets when it’s about to pour rain or when it’s serious that night will come soon. I could see an orange tinge to the sky, flat with clouds. Somewhere behind me the north-west setting sun skipped over the northern curve of the earth and shot a ray into the rusty gray sky, arcing a perfect rainbow across the sky. Because of the orange tint in the clouds, the blues and greens were tough to pick out. But the reds, yellows, oranges glowed. A strange beauty, after much gloomy rain.

Today, a scrubbed blue sky. And the cranes.

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