The View from Mattie’s Pillow

The solstice has turned—now, incrementally, we’re heading to brighter days. It has been a tough fall in the Interior. Each of us has experienced it in different ways that have accumulated gradually, but definitely, so that any two of us meeting at Fred Meyers near the mesh bags of tiny oranges, would find ourselves saying, “It’s been a rough fall,” and nodding, saying nothing for a beat, then moving the conversation along to the turning year.

I’m not sure where the run of bad luck started for me. Was it returning from two weeks in New Jersey to find an old friend and ally struck down in his dining room—the true meaning of stroke—and getting there in time to attend his cremation ceremony? Was it the day I knew the whole stack of hay had molded? Was it learning that my dancer son had been sucker punched while doing a good deed? Was it the other deaths and illnesses that seemed to accumulate as we head into the dark time of year?

Living in the Interior makes us survivors. We think nothing of going out and living our lives at twenty, thirty, forty below. We layer up and plug in our cars. We leave no skin exposed. Walking out to feed the horses in the dark of morning at twenty below, I begin to judge temperature by what freezes. Nose hairs: twenty below, eyelashes: thirty below, scarf to face, including nose and eyelashes: forty below. We know how far we can go without danger of hypothermia. We know how long our fingers can manipulate the metal hooks on the horse blanket before we have to run for the warmth of the house to warm hands and gloves, so we can go out and blanket another horse.

It makes a difference to my attitude to spend time outside. Though I rarely see Mattie and Sam in daylight as the fall semester winds down, there are those moments in the morning when I trudge out sleepy-eyed, yawning in the cold air, and watch the light spread on the southern horizon over the fold of the Alaska Range. It’s just past night at 9:30 or 10, on the days I can sleep that late, and the horizon is a deep smoky orange, the sky nearly black.

Today, the last day of grading final papers, I woke even later, still tired from finals week and the near constant reading of student writing. As I walked out, there was a blue-gray light in the sky, just enough to see without turning on the floodlights. Jeter, the still-adolescent poodle, went bounding on ahead as I got Mattie and Sam’s morning armfuls of hay. The air had warmed to nearly zero, and I could feel the returning moisture in the air. Mattie’s back was covered with frost and shavings as she waited for me to toss her hay.

After I threw the hay to each of them, I ducked under the fence, dog in the lead, and walked over to scratch Sam on the neck under his mane. His coat is out to my second knuckle now, dense and warm. I took a flake of hay and divided it into two parts to tuck in two old tires in the corral. They like to eat from the tires, then flip them in the air, looking for scraps of hay. As I walked back into Mattie’s side of the corral, I heard a sharp “Caw” and sensed motion above me. I looked up to see a half dozen ravens circling in the air.

The sky was lightening, the ravens dark against the gray sky. They circled on an eddy of air, catching up to and tumbling around each other. It seemed like one raven led the circling—a choreographer of air—as they glided and flapped and glided again, all in a slow gyre above my head.

Later, I read a poem by Yeats that used that word, “gyre,” his word for the order or was it disorder inherent in the world. These ravens didn’t seem to be playing, though they didn’t seem dreary or even to be hunting. They almost seemed to be circling me and the horses and the dog, as if we were an audience for their art, and all they wanted was to be seen by us. It was as if they were caught in the eddy at the heart of the turning year and were dramatizing it—the essence of solstice—right above my corral.

Or maybe they were waiting for us to leave so they could snack on manure. In any case, a happy solstice to you: the return of light, the slow draining out of darkness from the coming new year.

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3 Responses to “The View from Mattie’s Pillow”

  1. sammystory Says:

    What a fabulous post! I am so glad we stumbled across itg.
    May we add a link to your website.blog on http://www.sammystory.net ?

  2. mattiespillow Says:

    Yes, please do. And I’ll add yours to my dog site category. Good luck with Sammy. I’ll post a photo of Jeter the poodle on the “About” post for the new year.

  3. sammystory Says:

    Thank you. We will look forward to seeing Jeter. [What a great name for a Poodle.]

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