Posts Tagged ‘summer’

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

August 6, 2013

I’ve taken a long break from writing here, and now we’re toward the end of summer with the Fair going full swing. I’ve given myself a break from writing in general, a strange thing to do when writing sustains and refreshes me as much as it does. But I had reached a point where the thought of sitting in front of a computer after a work day of teaching and running a department carried too much weight of obligation—and I didn’t want that to enter or underlie this blog.

That said, I’m enjoying the last few weeks of waking when I want to before returning to campus to move in to a new office and facing the plights and gripes of my colleagues. I have a school year to go before I can step back into the oblivion of just teaching—till then, my posts here may be sporadic.

We’ve had a lovely, if hot, summer here in the Interior. Spring dallied. It snowed on the day of the Preakness—mid May—and every gardener I know put their garden in late. The late cold was followed immediately by weeks of 80- and 90-degree weather, giving us no time to adjust, so the gardening that should have been done at that point was limited by our ability to tolerate sun and heat—our blood hadn’t thinned enough by then, and we fell into evenings debilitated as the sun lingered into our long white nights.

Now we have a few hours of darkness to counter our still hot days. The cycle is shifting, and with the slatey blue light that settles in around midnight comes cooler air—down to the upper 40s the other night. Instead of our typical fair-time rain, we are having smooth blue skies and 80s during the day, but the nights are giving us warning of what’s to come.

Today, I’ll load up Mattie and Sam for one more lesson before I ride Mattie in the Fair dressage classes on Friday. We are moving up a level to Training 1—after all these years, things are beginning to click. I can feel my right side when I ride, for example, a challenge for someone as left-sided as I am. And Mattie has learned to move at an even pace, not race around, pulling at the reins.

The garden is flourishing; the tomatoes are producing green ovals that may ripen before I close the greenhouse in fall—or later in the newspaper layers I store them in. Fireweed is blooming closer to the top, but isn’t all the way there yet. A few more weeks. I’m in summer brain, every moment. A few more moments, moment by moment, absorbing everything the sun brings, storing it up for the days I’m not ready to think about yet.

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Poetry Challenge 72

August 17, 2011

Chores

Still August, here, but that means we’re in the limbo time, the pause between summer’s intensity and fall’s quick drop to cool days and dark nights.  There have been sightings of patches of yellow leaves on the birch trees, and there’s definitely a dark period at night.  Tomorrow, the public school kids begin their school year and the university starts two weeks later.   It’s time to get the chores done that we’ve been putting off all summer.

So, yesterday, we dug a new hole for a railroad tie post to replace a broken four by four that made up part of a pass-through along the fence line next to the horse water tank.  Today, we dug a trench for electrical conduit out to the horse shed–no more “winter” electric cord trailing out to the water tank heater.  Tomorrow, splitting and stacking wood.  Soon, back to the hay fields for the last of the hay for winter.

Write about essential chores where you are.  What are the sounds and smells of them?  What ache do they bring on–in the muscles and in the heart?  What lies beyond?

Post your poem as a comment and I’ll add it here.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

August 8, 2011

Fair Weather

 

Suddenly last night, I noticed darkness.  When clouds cover the sky, a chill fills the space we walk in, here in the Interior.  And the fair is on.  It’s a strong hint that summer is—well, I can’t bring myself to say it.  This summer seemed to start early with a May drought, sunny and warm.  In June, we had July rains.  In July, August rains.  Now that the fair is here, we’re still off kilter, if any summer can be said to be usual in the Interior, and it’s sunny and bright.    Still we have all this week to go till Saturday’s end-of-fair fireworks and plenty of weather to cram in during that time.

 

On Thursday, I take Mattie to the fair for the second year, to ride the Intro A, B, and C dressage tests.  She and I have been working hard together to find bend and regularity, and I’m discovering just how unbalanced my body has become over the years.  I knew this from dancing.  My left-handedness is so strong that my natural tendency is to mirror left for right, and, because I always lead with the left, all the dance injuries I’ve ever gotten are on the left side.  I sometimes forget that I even have a right side.

 

This becomes crucial when riding—especially an inexperienced horse like Mattie.  My right and left legs give different strength cues, and I tend to try to ride entirely with the left rein.  This leads to a pulling match between us, no fun with a half-ton horse.  But we’re working on it and Colleen and Trisha, being inventive teachers, have given me images and corrections till I am beginning to feel when I default to the left side.  When I get it right, bumping her with the inside leg so that she is contained by the outside rein, she flexes her neck and becomes soft and steady in her gaits.  This is happening more often—and I’m realizing how much of that is literally in my hands—and I hope it happens during our dressage tests.

 

As for Sam, he became a little lame a month ago and is just returning from a layoff in time for me to be looking for a second rider to join me on some long trail rides around the hills in our neighborhood.  I’m looking forward to clopping along our dirt roads as the sun slants deeper in the sky, stretching the season out through the time of yellow leaves and the panic of closing down the greenhouse before the first real frost.

 

Till then, the garden is flourishing more than I can keep up with, especially kale, broccoli, broccoli raab, zucchini, cauliflower, and the jungle of the potato patch.  In the greenhouse, I have cucumbers and peppers, but the tomatoes seem to be coming slowly.  I’ve heard that the yellowjacket population crash has made for fewer pollinators, though there have been bumblebees and honeybees in my flowers.  And, after last summer, I can’t complain that there are no yellowjackets since it means I can walk barefoot without fear.  I think that there are several factors in the case of my greenhouse: I got a late start; I mixed manure into the potting soil prematurely or used anaerobically composted manure; and, well, this is right where I was last year at this time.  Keeping a blog has its uses, after all.

 

Today, sunshine.  I am in the last week of my fiction writing class, and the students are producing wonderful work.  We have three nights left, then the fair, then—well, more on that when it comes.  No use jumping ahead to what summer takes us away from.

 

Poetry Challenge 71

July 22, 2011

Dragonfly Summer

Last summer was the summer of yellowjackets, but this summer their population seems to have crashed and in their place we have dragonflies, zooming like tiny kites through the air.  The other day, out in the horse corral, I was surrounded by five of them, hovering around the manure pile.  I think they may be eating my fly predators, but there are plenty and very few flies.  Normally they eat mosquitoes, but we’ve also been relatively mosquito free this summer.

I’m thinking about climate change quite a bit these days–how it’s impacting regions of the country with sauna-like temperatures.  For us, it brings changes in the insect population and just enough heat that we can complain–though we know better than to complain too much about 80 degrees when 40 below is always in our future.

So write about an insect that signifies change or one that signals good things (such as no mosquitoes).  Write about the world it inhabits, what it desires, what we are to it.

Post your poem in the comments to this post and I’ll add it here.

————————————

From Karen at KD’s Bookblog:

Belated offering in the insect category:

Inchworm

Mid-day starlings clear the yard of grass seed,
larvae, wild strawberry. One frantic juvenile,
coarse voiced, berates its parents for neglect.

They explain that the gutters are ripe,
and the house gains a pulse from their pecking.
By dusk the birds are gone.

I take the children out of doors,
give them names of plants: marigold,
radish, cornflower. Words hover over us.

Salvia, lemon grass, forget-me-not, chicory,
red clover, star moss, Indian paint brush.
A bright green worm spins down on a thread,

elf from a tree, one worm accounted for.
We go inside. Green jaws chew through
the night, Citizen Worm.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

July 20, 2011

We’re deep into July now.  Though we continue to have days of rain, they’re interspersed with scrubbed-blue-sky days with temperatures in the 70s or, if we have more than one clear day in a row, in the 80s.  Now that we’re a month past solstice, the nights cool off a bit on the clear days and we’re noticing a hint of darkness in the sky after midnight—just enough to ease the insomnia that plagues us in the Interior around solstice.  Just enough to send a warning of things to come and send us urgently chasing after summer plans.  A friend is canoeing on the river for a week; the softball team is making spectacular plays (for them); the horse community is revving up training for the fair, our one big horse show of the year.

 

I’ve been going back and rereading last year’s blog entries, which assure me that my garden and greenhouse are exactly where it was last year—some tomato plants still in small pots, the zucchini just starting to bloom and put out shiny dark green squashes.  I’ve been riding more this summer—two lessons a week and lots of driving the old clunker truck and trailer around town.  The garden has suffered some neglect because of this and because of the teaching I’m doing at the moment, but it seems to be growing anyway.

 

I’ve been thinking of my grandmother these days, the one I called Weezie.  At a writer’s group meeting a week or so ago, I read a poem about her taking me to an art museum when I was a young child.  Linda, a poet, said to me, “She was your muse.”

 

I hadn’t thought of it that way, but as I stand in the greenhouse, transplanting tomatoes, mixing soil, adding willow stakes for them to grow against, I find that I think of her.  She was the daughter of a woman who made her living china painting in the late nineteenth century.  She and her sister Marguerite trained in art in Cincinnati and she always thought of herself as an artist more than anything else.  Marguerite married a ceramic sculptor named John Williams and moved to California.  I still have a few pieces or their work somewhere—or my mother does.

 

But Weezie—Louise–joined a group of women in 1918 in a horticultural class at the Ambler campus of Temple University in Philadelphia where they learned the landscape arts, plant propagation, and got to wear bloomers.  There’s a photo in an album at my mother’s house that shows them—women in their twenties with wire-rim glasses smiling and liberated by the opportunity to do “men’s” work.  When my grandmother had the opportunity to travel to Maryland and met my farmer grandfather, with his strong cheekbones and blue eyes, she thought she had found the perfect life.  She could use her scientific knowledge of agriculture on the farm and she could re-design the nearby plantation gardens in a more modernist fashion.

 

I like to think of her as she was then, long before I knew her: artistic, determined, full of plans to make the world a better place, and liberated from Victorian rules of behavior.  She didn’t count on my great-grandfather, however, who sent her to the kitchen and made her wear dresses.  And she didn’t count on the Depression.

 

When I knew her, she was landscaping the lot beside my grandparents’ house in Salisbury, Maryland, keeping it so that it looked wild, but planting things all through it that she could point out on our walks there.  She would walk me around the property, telling me the names of plants, weeding and pruning and cutting flowers for our lunch table.  She told me many things I didn’t understand at the time, but they lodged in my memory waiting for the right moment to dislodge into consciousness when I would finally grasp their importance.

 

I hope to write about her more, to dig into her history more and find out how she became the woman she was and why she chose the life she did.  But now the tomatoes need tending and, if I listen closely, she’ll guide me to tend them well.

 

 

Poetry Challenge 70

July 3, 2011

In my memory, the 4th of July epitomizes summer–a pause in the year, a moment when it seems summer could last forever.  Yesterday, we went to the annual birthday gathering of our friend Max, born on the 4th of July.  Again, this year, his extended ranch family came to his cabin outside Fairbanks to grill and tell us ranch stories.  It’s remarkable to be among them, since so many of us in the Interior have settled far from extended family.   Their voices are the same; they know each other’s stories by heart; they tease and look after each other.

Whether or not you follow politics or are drawn in by the red, white, and blue everywhere, this mid-summer holiday has sounds, tastes, smells that mark it: the acrid smell of exploded firecrackers, the taste of watermelon, the sound of birds and insects in the evening air.  Pick a small detail of your day and mull on it, create it new, without sentiment, but observed in detail.  Share it in the comments and I’ll post it here.

The Post of Don Sam Incognito

June 28, 2011

Summer seems to be rushing past.  Though it’s still June for a few more days, we’ve turned past the solstice and the weather has also turned from the hot dry days we had in May and early June to the gray rainy days we typically get in August.  In fact, all spring and summer, we’ve seemed to be at least a month ahead of our typical weather: May seemed like June, June like July, and now late June like August.  If this were truly a seasonal shift, the next step would be yellow leaves, dark nights, and impending frost.  But it is still June and we have all of July to go before August’s slow descent to fall.

 

Today it rained again, and I came home in drizzle to find Sam standing at the fence, gray from rolling and from kneeling in the dirt at the edge of the fence to get at the grass beyond.  His forelock hung in strings, plastered on his face, and his coat was thoroughly wet.  From the run-in shed, Mattie peeked her dark head out to see if I was bringing hay.  She had been hanging out in the back of the shed all day and her coat was dry.   Sam, on the other hand, seemed like a kid who likes nothing better than to splash in mud puddles.

 

Sam is showing his age a bit this year.  His back seems to have dropped slightly. His prominent withers seem even more so and the saddle that fit him well a couple of years ago, now puts pressure at the back of his withers, where they gradually slope into his back.  He’s now using Mattie’s saddle, and I am preparing to measure her for a new saddle.  He also is growing in a longer coat in the spring than he used to.  I’m reading up on Cushing’s, though he seems OK in every other respect.  He’s already on an insulin resistance diet, since Mattie is.

 

After last fall’s spectacular bucking fit, which sent poor Trish flying, I am not letting other people ride Sam.  I started out the season longeing both horses quite a bit to bring up their fitness levels, and I have taken half of the summer lessons on Sam.

 

Sunday, we went out to Colleen’s new horse facility—her dream place.  It was raining and I took Casey and Mikeala from Horsemasters with me.  Casey rode Mattie, which was good for Mattie’s training, and I rode Sam.  With Colleen in the center of the indoor arena, Sam kept one ear cocked in her direction.  She’s their vet, and they both have a high level of respect for her, as do I.

 

We worked on flexing at the poll.  Sam has a rubber neck, so he can bend two ways at once, neither of which happen to be the direction his rider wants him to take.   But he knows what to do when I ask him correctly.  At one point, we practiced moving laterally into the trot, then asking him to move out.  He bent his neck into collection and engaged the bit just right and stepped out into a full working trot.  I couldn’t see it, but I could feel how his back was working and he was stepping under himself and moving with energy.  Casey told me later that he looked great.

 

I’m hoping for him to have a good summer and that he and I trust each other as horse and rider.  After such a long and varied life, I think Sam wants to just have one person to relate to, and I am honored that he is trusting me.

 

Now, it’s feeding time.  He’s standing watch for the approach of hay, his coat soggy with rain.  He’ll whinny if I take too long, a sweet contralto whistle.  He stretches and bows as I approach and waits with his head bowed while I bring the flakes of hay.   I’ll scratch him on the withers and neck, then head over to the other side of the corral to feed Mattie.

 

A few more June days, then July.

Poetry Challenge 69

June 11, 2011

Something New

The growing season is in full swing here.  Everyday, some new wildflower that I hadn’t noticed growing bursts out into full bloom.  On the bank where I experiment every year with seeds and perennials, the irises I planted two years ago have speared up, bulged at the tips, and curled open into purple flowers.  The roses–our Alaskan wild rose–are dotted with pink blooms, and excess of pink on those bristly branches.  The bluebells are out, and the cone flowers, the invasive but beautiful purple vetch, and those yellow things that were in a packet of seed I threw out and that come back every year in a new place.

Solstice will be here soon, but, till then, the light increases daily and our activity reaches the manic–and we’re glad of it.  In the garden and in the greenhouse, I’m trying out new plants again–tomatoes friends have given me, a new variety of baby cabbage, and the ongoing biochemistry experiment of the manure compost.  Mattie and Sam are settling in to their new lesson routine–more on that when Sam writes his post again–and I have high hopes for the summer.

So write about something new–experienced or imagined.   Surprise us with what surprises you.  Tell about your grand experiment of the season.

Post it in here in comments and I’ll add it to this.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

May 25, 2011

We’re into full green-up now.  Just a week and a half ago, everything was still so brown that we all fell into a funk.  The land was stripped of snow and no green leaves or grass or flowers had yet dared to grow toward the sun.  But not now.  The last few days have been in the seventies and, being Alaskans and tough enough to walk out in forty below, we griped about the heat.  But not for long.  The lingering dusk/dawn, and the brilliant daylight have increased our energy and our vitamin D levels to an effervescence.

Still, spring has its perils.  Though grass in my lawn is growing inches a day, by last Friday there was plenty of last year’s dead grass and brush on the ground in the woods in the surrounding hills.  On one hill, Murphy Dome, a fire flared up and filled the sky with smoke.  From Ballaine Road, I could see the smoke roll up into the sky and see the darker smoke where a tree went up or where fire retardant was dropped.   I know lots of people who live in that area—in fact, I had trailered Mattie and Sam over to Colleen’s new riding arena on Murphy Dome Road the day before, and, until I realized that the fire was not near her place, felt a chill of fear for her and her horses.  As it turned out, no homes were lost, though several friends had some worrisome moments watching the water dump planes fly overhead.  Our firefighters were right on the spot and even managed to put out a fire on the other side of town at the same time.  But the heat and the long dry spell we’re in have us worried and nervous for the fire season to come.

We go on.  The light lulls us. It’s hard to be too blue in this weather—at least that’s how it feels to me.  Tonight, as I write this, I’m also thinking of a former student, Matt or Soup, who decided that he’d had enough on Sunday night and left the planet.  Perhaps he experienced his own personal apocalypse; it’s hard to tell.  It’s another in the long line of sorrows that have formed an undercurrent to the spring.  It’s an inexplicable thing, but depression has its own logic.  I wish everyone could love plants or horses as I do and be healed by them.  I wish that the sense I have in this season of the energy of growing things pulsing along could buoy up everyone I care about.

Perhaps the allure of owning animals and growing plants it that it gives us the opportunity to create a micro-universe where our best intentions can have some good effect.  Sam, I tell people, would have a much worse life if I weren’t taking care of him—he’s not lame anymore and he’s trusting me more than ever.  Mattie, too, with her sense of her own bigness and her fear of pain, would not fare well with someone else, perhaps.  They’re better off in my corral, I tell myself.

But what of the humans we care about?  Could anyone’s best intentions have saved Joe’s magnificent brain from cancer?  Could anyone have stopped Frank from shoveling snow?  And Soup—could anyone have read behind his smile, his goofy kindness to see how hurt he was and where it was driving him?

I’ll keep planting cabbages, squash, carrots, kale, peas, beans, and all those pansies I bought at the greenhouse the other day.  I’ll keep transplanting tomatoes till all my little plants are in their big square buckets where they’ll stay all summer.  I’ll keep hoping for the best.

Poetry Challenge 53

August 17, 2010

Summer is winding down here, and the weather is changeable.  Saturday, we had a Chinook wind blow in; it was 75 degrees at 11pm on the last day of the Fair–a night that brings the first stars of the season and, sometimes, first frost.  Today, we loaded up the horses in sun, blue sky, and 80 degrees.  By the time we got to our lesson, we had driven under dark clouds and rode, shivering, in pouring rain.  The weather has us all off kilter.

Write about unexpected weather and someone or something reacting to it.  Be sure to use the sense of touch (as in warm sun/chilling rain) and some quality of motion.

Post the poem as a comment here and I will add it to this post.


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