Night Chores

She hears the creek,
It’s voice burbling
In the darkness
Just as it does this time
Every year,
The heavy snows
Melting
To run down the mountain sides
Promise flowing,
Flooding
Within cold water,

And she wonders
If it will wash away
The bleakness
That has been the winter too
Or if that will persist
Even through the sprouting
Of green grasses,
The blooming of jonquils
Of tulips.

And she cradles the cold pans,
Metal clanking on metal
As her head lamp casts
Its beam
Back and forth,
Back and forth,
Searching,
While she calls,
She calls,
She calls…

And she waits,
The stars not shining,
Through heavy clouds
That she knows
No longer hold white flakes.
From the smell on the air
She can tell they hold nothing at all,
Not for her,
Not on this night,
Their purpose only
To block the celestial light
To emphasize the suspense,
To keep her guessing,

And then there’s the rumbling whicker,
The two pairs of glowing lights
That reflect her searching beam,
Pinpricks of life from out of shadows,
Jewels in velvet,

And, with the soft thudding
Of enormous feet
Dark shapes
Hulk out of the gloom,

And she touches each one
As they nose into the pans,
Their shaggy coats coming away
By the handsful,
Covering her fingers with hair
That is no longer needed
In this warming season.

And she pats,
Though she really shouldn’t,
Giving them her best whicker back,

And the creaking of the gate latch
Says to her once again
That they are well,
They are safe,

And running water
In the background of night
Declares the spring.

©2019 Annette Meserve

Yard Light

“Do you want the light?”  Anne asks as we push chairs back from her table.

Her elder hand hovers at the wall switch.  Yard utility lights are as much part of rural life as rutted dirt roads and weekly grocery trips.  The sun goes down and they blink on, forty-foot circles glowing in nearly every driveway and barnyard.  I find them really annoying.

Most are automatic, operating on timers or light sensors, Anne has a switch.

“No, I’ve got my headlight.” I reply tapping the rounded plastic lens on my forehead.

“Oh?”  With a worried look her hand drops.  The switch stays unswitched and I don’t tell her that I’m unlikely to turn my headlight on, walking the quarter mile down the road.

I don’t know if it’s because she comes from a time when the night needed to be pushed back, as if the glowing yard light could keep dangerous things at bay, or simply because she is, in her ninety-somethingth year, more cautious than she was.  For whatever reason, she forgets that, every night, we have this conversation when I look in on her after horse chores; her asking and me declining.

No, it’s not what you think, she’s still firmly in this world.  Truthfully, she forgets fewer things than I do.  She just doesn’t understand this one odd thing among many of her daughter-in-law’s quirks.

Some nights, she turns the light on anyway, not out of spite or stubbornness, but only out of a mother’s desire to keep me safe.  On those nights, the cursed thing shoots its rays after me, spoiling my quiet as if the light is made of sound, a filmy barrier of static between me and the stars, keeping my sight small.  So much is missed in its reach far beyond the bright yard pool.

On the nights Anne can be convinced though, on the nights that the half-globe at the top of the pole stays sleeping, there are the shadows of the scrub oak bending over the road; a trotting dog’s dark silhouette, his ears alert for danger; the ghostly stalks of the drying mullein shafts in the field.  Without the light, the contours of road and ditch, of rock and washout come clear.

In the unmarred darkness, I can make note of the phase of the moon, a crescent sliver just over the western horizon; of the scattered clouds, their blank ragged voids overlaid on the canopy of stars.  My eyes can stretch up and up to the misty band of the Milky Way, lying east to west in summer, north to south in winter and I become part of the cosmos here on the border between Earth and Heaven.

And on the upside bank, there’s a rustling in the leaves but I know it’s not Bear or Lion, the dog would tell me if it was.  Likely it’s a vole or rabbit or some other nocturnal creature doing its part in the business of the universe, unseen by even my night eyes but still blessing my safety on my way home.

©2019 Annette Meserve

Orcharding

An old woman I never met
gave me her trees,
the trees of her heart,
the trees of her home,
trees that were, themselves,
Elders
at the time of the giving,

a time that was long after
the old woman
had used the apples
to feed her children,
her grandchildren,

a long time after
her tired feet no longer
walked the ancient orchard,
when only her ghost
collected the wind-falls
into her apron for safe keeping.

And now,
these apples
have fed my children too,
her great, great grandchildren,
and it’s down to me
to save her trees,
oh, not from dying,
for these old tree people
are surely on their way,
following after her.

But, if I am clever,
if I am worthy,
tiny slips of the Old Ones
will survive
and grow into a new
Ancient Orchard
for me to give away

Perhaps to someone
I’ll never meet,
To a new future grandmother,
My trees given again
After I am an old woman.

©2019 Annette Meserve

Flashlight Eyes

It was so very long ago when he said it, and he was so very small.  I didn’t understand exactly what he meant but I thought it might be his super power; the ability to see in the night, to be able to anticipate the uneven spots in the dirt, to be calm about the dark forms moving around us, dark forms that inevitably turned out to be the dogs.

He was unconcerned about what might be lurking in the rocks up the hillside or what could be following along, undetected in the field.  Sometimes he would say it with a touch of annoyance as I switched on the high powered torch to show us our way to evening chores.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe him.  Secretly, I envied him in fact, to have such a super power, but I needed the bright beam of light to feel confident that I was protecting my children from the prowling wild creatures.

He isn’t so very small anymore, and he no longer accompanies me on my evening walk.  The hand-held torch is also a thing of the past; instead a light rides on my forehead like a peculiar third-eye, illuminating my way no matter where I turn.

But tonight, I can feel his super power with me and I reach up to switch the beam off.

Suddenly, I’m more aware of the crunching sound my feet make in the pitch black of the gravel road.  Then, gradually, shapes emerge, distinguishing themselves from the shadows of the horizon; bush and tree and rock and dog surprisingly detailed in the moonless night.

I look up to the stars, billions and billions of them dancing and winking, the cloud of the Milky Way a little off center, bisecting the sky, and I think how very much there is to see without the imposed perspective of civilization, when one has a super power inherited from a child.

©2019 Annette Meserve

When the Circus Comes to Town

I have this strange tendency to run away and join the circus.  I do it once a year or more.  Well, it’s not the circus exactly but still I pack up camp stove and sleeping bag, fold in skirts and corsets, tuck away jokes and stories until my truck is fairly bursting with the various pieces of my portable life.  Together my old 4Runner and I trundle off, near or far, to join my other family working the Renaissance Festivals.  I’ve been doing it for more than a decade now and, though I love my quiet little life on our valley ranch, there always comes a time when my feet itch to travel, when I long to lie in my tent and listen to the wind sighing in the tarp overhead, when I want nothing more than to dress up in costume, to put on my Scottish brogue, and to live among the gypsies for a while.  Like a character from an old story, I’m lured away from my humble cottage-home by the possibility of adventure, by a life lived backstage and front, by the call of magic.

It’s this tendency that might have been the reason that The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern captured my interest and held me spellbound from cover to cover.  While we ‘Rennies’ are simply everyday people working hard to treat our patrons to a world of pretend magic, the Cirque de Rev in this lovely story takes things to a whole new level.  With its many black-and-white striped tents, its cast of talented performers, its wonder of a clock, and its bonfire that burns with an eternal, bright-white flame, the magic is real.  Not even the circus family fully understands the nature of the mysterious traveling show in which they live, a nature that takes its own toll on the participants as a duel is played out behind the scenes between two powerful magic workers.

Nothing so dramatic happens in my Rennie life, of course.  We are all just people doing a peculiar thing for a living.  But if the author of this captivating tale has never spent time in a festival’s backrooms and shadows, her imagination has somehow captured the sense of what it is to be a part of this very strange way of life.

You don’t need to be a Rennie to enjoy The Night Circus though because, even more than the description of a favorite and familiar world for me, it was the story-building and the extraordinarily descriptive writing that captured me and wouldn’t let me go until well after the very last word.  Most authors work their whole lives to write with such craftsmanship and Morgenstern’s craft displays itself from beginning to end without missing a beat in between, weaving an intensely complex story of relationship and suspense that kept me guessing at every turn.

I can’t recommend this story highly enough.  It danced its enchantment into this Rennie’s eyes, spoke its inspiration into this writer’s fingers, and whispered its magic into this reader’s heart.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
published Anchor Books 2012 / isbn#  978-0307744432

The Tarp

The wind spirits come
Racing down the valley,
Filling the spaces between mountains
Dancing through ancient pine tops,
Tickling the thick forests
That ring the bottom pastures,

The currents,
And flows,
And eddies,
Set conifer ranks to waving,
Those trees standing at attention
On steep inclines,
A grand gathering of enthusiastic spectators,
Witness to the athletic prowess
Of empty air,
The roar in their branches
Rivaling any stadium crowd

And then the spirits,
The duendes of the wind,
Find the sheet of brown and silver
That stretches above the trailer,
Woven plastic held by ropes,
And bungees,
And liberal applications
Of fluttering duct tape.

And those airy speed demons
Slide underneath it,
Whooshing between it and the painted metal roof,
That metal that has seen years of weather,
Decades of disuse,
Of misuse,
Unable now to perform its task unaided,

The duendes blow up
Between that tired roof
And its younger care-giver
Making the tarp lift
And billow
Like the sails of a great clipper ship

And supported by them,
The sheet feels
Weightless.

It stretches against its ties
Pulling and ruffling
Within the freedom that’s promised,

And the spirits say to it,
“Come,
Leave this place
Soar with us among the clouds.”

And the tarp is tempted,
Its every shiny fiber
Longing within torn grommets
And frayed edges,
For the untethered life,

But this isn’t its first wind-race,
The call isn’t new,
And the tarp knows where that future leads,
Painfully aware
Of its luminous blue cousin,
The one who took hold of the wind,
Who was seduced by the call,
Who sailed away,
Only to be caught
By the barbs nearby,
Now trapped,
Left by the duendes to forever ripple
Against the harsh wires of the fence,
Never again to be useful in this world.

The tarp knows
That the spirits are not to blame,
It is their nature,
Their promise is well-meant
But fleeting,
Like themselves.

And, making its decision,
The tarp descends
Releasing its hold on the wind’s fickle gusts,
Once again caressing the roof,
Feeling the pleasant tension of ropes,
The the pull and give of bungees,
The gentle swaying of anchor trees,

And it says to the wind,
“No,
This is my place,
I am of service here.”

And, once again,
As always happens
When the wind-races are run,
The tarp turns from the spirits,
Laying itself across the aging roof,
Protecting the old girl,
In all the ways she can no longer
Protect herself.

And, as the duendes move on,
To dance in some other valley,
To entertain some other forest spectators,
To tempt some other leaf,
Or grocery bag,
Or strip of corrugated tin,
The tarp gazes
At the surrounding pine trees
Now as placid as the ancient wisdom they hold,

And,
Like them,
The tarp is still,
And it is happy.

©2019 Annette Meserve

At Cliff’s Edge

Here I am again at the edge of the cliff, every jagged rock ledge, every tangle of scrub oak, every ancient, aloof bristlecone pine as familiar as is the trail to get here.  How many ideas have been born at the bottom of this hill?  How many excited packings of knapsacks, fillings of water bottles, checkings of weather conditions and terrain?  I’ve lost count. 

If I think deeply, I can recall each of the ascents, the lightness of steps in brand-new hikers, laces firmly seated in rows of hooks, braided cords crisscrossing up the tops of my feet, wound precisely twice around my ankles, tied in business-like bows, and secured with second knots.  It’s not hard to relive all of those first steps taken at trailhead. 

I remember the heat of some days, walking the inclines, the down turns, skirting the ponds in the bright sunshine.  Some treks were taken in the beauty of fall’s colors and some in the freshness of burgeoning spring.  Many were head-down slogs through frigid winds and thigh-high drifts, hooking ice-cleats onto boots to enable the ongoing scrabble.  Not one of these trips up this mountain was easy, not one of them requiring less than an all-out, balls-to-the-wall, quad straining, sweat-dripping, blister rubbing effort in order to summit, to claim the privilege of standing here, in this spot.

But, unlike most of the stories of those who climb hills for fun, of those who attempt fourteeners just to see if they can, even of the brave few who have stood high atop Everest in oxygen-deprived euphoria, my journey is not measured in the reaching of this precipice. 

All of those afore mentioned hikers and climbers, once standing here, looking out on the vast landscape that stretches down and away into the haze of atmosphere, have achieved their goal, have reached the end of their efforts, have proven to themselves that they can. 

They might hold out their arms to the sky, inhale a deep lungful of thin air, might even release that breath in a long triumphant yell.  Then they will unlatch their canteen from their belt, take a mighty swig of lukewarm metallic water, unwrap the crinkly foil of an energy bar, and chew slowly while enjoying the sensation of muscles calming into numb, satisfying fatigue. 

Then they will turn from the vista and make their way down, backtracking through forests and meadows, around curves and switchbacks, finally finding their waiting cars in the gravel parking lot, sighing as they drive away from the mountain to meet up with friends who wait at the local pizza place to hear stories of the ascent and maybe share the watching of a ball-game and a celebratory round of beers. 

But not me.  When I reach this place, my journey has only begun.

When first an idea hits, there is little suspense that I will one day be standing here, the crystal-diamond potential of the current project neatly folded into my pack, its every aspect so carefully sculpted and woven and painted, meticulously shaped into the very best version of itself.  No, there is rarely doubt that I will come, over and over, every footstep a preparation to, once again face cliff’s edge, moved by a compulsion as old as I am, a compulsion that will last until my final breath, and maybe even long after that.    

So, every time, after the arduous, exhausting climb, after I also fill my tired lungs with a gulp of the too-thin air, do I run at the precipice and jump, do I hang for the splittest of seconds in mid-air, arms and legs windmilling, Coyote-like, as if I can prevent the fall through the sheer force of my own will and momentum. 

But the fall always comes because this is the part of the trip that I cannot craft, the part that depends on forces beyond myself, forces whose genesis is of outside opinion, of wide exposure, of culture’s current desires, and of yardsticks that I can only guess at. 

And still I try to have what control I can, still have, before, carried with me contingencies to catch myself in the inevitable event of an emergency.  But each of those times before, my chute has not opened, my mechanical wings have not deployed, my propulsion line with grappling hook attached has failed to grab the side of the canyon, and I have fallen to the desert below, only a tiny puff of dust seen from far above to mark my crashing. 

Then I pull myself up, Coyote-like, out of the impact-crater.  I crawl along the dirt road, dragging my empty backpack, its contents scattered on the wind above, the letters ACME only just visible through the dust that coats its tattered rain flap. 

It’s happened just that way every single time.

Yet I am back, standing, scanning the distance, refusing to look down, feeling the pleasant weight on my back of the most crystalline haul yet and wondering, with not a small amount of fear and cynicism, what the fuck I’m doing. 

It’s in my upbringing I suppose, raised by lovely people who could charitably be called ‘non-conformists,’ raised with sisters of unique but extraordinary talents.

It’s in my genes too, I am descendant of pioneers, of boot-strappers, of adventurers; I spring from a long line of idea-ists.  And so, in me, nature and nurture conspire to create this delicious, terrible mixture of genius and idiocy, the ultimate gullibility of the dreamer bestowed upon me but with which I’ve colluded my entire life. 

Now, as I look around for this particular launching’s ‘jumping off place’ I wonder if my ancestors found themselves here as often as I have; if they too leapt and fell and crashed, dragging themselves out of the smoking hole only to do it all over again when the next idea picked their ragged asses up from the side of the road. 

In the end it doesn’t really matter what they did or didn’t do.  It is only me, standing here, no contingencies this time, only the hope, and dare I say the faith, that this time, the wind will catch me and I can fly.  

                                                                                                                     ©2019 Annette Meserve