It’s been pre-rain all day, and my body is doing that achy thing it does when it’s waiting for lightning to happen. We stayed in and worked at our computers instead of going on a hike; M made collages for book covers. I made a list and crossed a few things off. Sitting on the porch as still as possible so the birds will land on the feeder, drinking gin and gingerale and reading WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE and waiting for the rain - I had just gotten to the part when Merricat is trying to scare off “Cousin Charles” at dinner by reciting the poisonous properties of Amanitas phalloides and their effects when the neighbor cat caught a bird. The neighbor cat is light orange and long-haired; s/he rubs at our legs and comes running every time I fill the bird feeders. Several weeks ago the lady across the street, who owns the cat, saw us gardening and told Mike that the neighborhood association was giving away a lot of plants - turns out they lost their lease and so were digging up their garden and giving away their plants to the neighborhood. They dug up some things and gave them to M with descriptions but no names; some sort of ornamental grass and a short green leafy thing and something they bragged about being “real hardy” but the neighborhood cat rolled all over it immediately, rubbed his/her face and ass into it until it dried out and turned brown. So the neighborhood cat caught a bird and ran across the street with it, toward the clutch of kids who were reading each others palms across the street. They shrieked IT’S GOT A BIRD BAD CAT EWWWW DON’T LEAVE THAT BIRD IN MY YARD! and raced after it, the youngest, yellow-haired boy’s big wheel pebbling on the sidewalk. The girl with the beaded braids whose yard the cat disappeared into went into the back yard and came back with a yardstick, which she chased it with while the rest of the kids followed, shrieking and cooing, while the dropped the bird and then picked it up again, DROP THAT BIRD, LOVE! And then much later JUST LET IT EAT IT. and then WE HAVE TO HAVE A FUNERAL. And then THAT BIRD’S DEAD, Y’ALL. And then YOU KNOW HIS SOUL’S GOING TO [INAUDIBLE]. And then IS THAT ANOTHER BIRD? And then all their spiritual backgrounds mixing: O BIRD IN HEAVEN ONCE MILO STOPS EATING IT. HALLELUJAH. WOAH WOAH WOAH. LOOK AT THAT DEAD STANKY BIRD.
Our first camping trip of the season is always wobbly: finding everything, remembering what to pack, exercising the dune muscles. This was one of the wobbliest, it feels like right now, though every wobbly thing feels like the wobbliest in its moment. We left later than we intended, stupid traffic, so car-camping outside our usual place for night #1 before heading out to the big lake. The campsite, in an old pine farm grove, was clearly a weekend drinking spot and a cloud of mosquitoes. The next campsite down was a boy in a camper with a chainsaw and a generator; he kept riding up and down the road on his bicycle to gather wood, blasting country pop songs from a personal stereo. He’d come back from whatever campfire stash he’d found, dragging one big branch along beside his bike, “she thinks my tractor’s sexy…” There were whippoorwills, which I’ve never heard this far north before; they always make me think of my granny. There were also coyotes yipping like cartoons, and in between the coyotes and whippoorwills some underage drunks angry that we were camping on their drinking spot, and in the morning wind-up crows, making human sounds. The kids didn’t wake up to any of this but the crows and agreed to try another night on the lake.
It’s about a two-mile hike in to the top of the first big barrier dune, and then further along the dunes to find a camping spot, all open camping there. We drove up and down the gravel road to the trailhead several times over the weekend and kept seeing a deer in exactly the same place, hovering near the side of the road, starting to cross, running back as we got closer, like s/he was waiting for a ride that wasn’t us. On the hike in, we saw a full deer carcass with fur tufts trailing and exposed ribcage, a massive morel mushroom the size of my hand. Our usual two camping spots were both taken, so we found a place on the ridge with a great view of the lake. The mosquitoes were only a little quieter, the lake was too cold to swim in or wash off in or use as a mosquito escape; I read an entire novel on the beach, mostly hiding in the marram grasses, and got red stripes of sunburn just above both knees. The kids made mazes in the wet sand where the lake used to be; the beach was unusually wide. M is such a good fire-starter that I usually just leave him to it, but I want to work on my fire-building skills, to be able to do more than improvise a sloppy morning fire that will at least boil some coffee water. When I gather fire wood, I always sing Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta,” but I am usually singing the Steve Earle version, which is not exactly happier, but is the survivor version, I think. I was thinking about what happens when Steve Earle covers Townes this time, when I was gathering wood. “Here we go.”
I like to wash our dishes in the lake, partly because of the timing: mid-morning or just around sunset, both times the lake tends to get calm and glassy: metallic in the evening and soft blue in the morning. This time, when I was rinsing a fork off in the water, I felt something slip off my finger like a ring. I was not wearing any rings, but I knew that sensation so clearly, and the first thing I thought to myself was, “now I don’t have to keep waiting for that to happen – what a relief.” This all felt very real and important, but I haven’t placed it yet. The obvious connection is a wedding ring; M and I are choosing not to exchange them. Instead, we’re getting married on the beach (not far from where we were camping this weekend), and we’re going to ask our guests to help us fill a container full of sand that we’ll put with some of our other altar pieces: bird nests, turtle shells, feathers and stones. We talked about how we cannot get superstitious about breaking it, because it will get broken. We move too much. A few nights ago, we sat in bed together trying to make some notes about what the lake means to us, and as we were having some challenges on this camping trip, I kept thinking the lake was messing with us, teasing us for trying to make it part of a formal ceremony. But the ghost ring didn’t feel connected to any of that, or to any relationship I have, or am ceasing to have, with any person; it was not a wedding-ring ring or its opposite. I feel pretty sure it was just about me, and I am remembering my seemingly contradictory horoscopes this week about celebrating success and finding meaning in loss. I don’t know what the ring was yet, but I’m letting it have its space.
In the evening the sky clouded up, and by dinner there was some pretty big wind, especially at our ridge campsite, with no big dunes between us and the lake. The kids joined us in our teepee sometime after midnight, and not long after that the wind unleashed us from almost half of our tent stakes; I held onto the center pole of the teepee while M re-secured everything. M has had the teepee since before the kids were born, and the door-flap’s zipper may be done for. The morning was cold and windy; we packed everything up without a fire or food. In the night I started my period unpredictably, but it was too cold and dirty to do much about that this morning, so I hiked the 2.5 miles or so back to our car and cleaned up at the vault toilet in the parking lot, while M and the kids waited in the car. The day before, walking in, I spotted a bird nest in a small tree right beside the trail with three blue robin’s eggs in it. On the way back, we startled the bird away from it; I did not peek in again, but just past there I found half a robin’s egg on the trail and gave it to Celia. We had some overpriced breakfast at a chain buffet place in town and I loved my coffee and I loved my salty biscuits.
Pigeon is right up
at you—the river has flooded some
things but not every
thing; this is called fuchsia.
This is a fuchsia blouse I am feeling
bones nothing is broken.
People just usually don’t walk
on this side of the complex.
People just usually agree
on the kind of music they like.
The blouse of the pigeon is only acceptable
where this is a walking
culture free antibiotics
I feel for you. Having that
deep down kind of urgency.
Dorky birth has a razor scooter young
enough to be your cargo; this is beer
you share with neighbors while this is less forgivable
criminal activity. Briefly we are used
to pumping water and later
in the evening looking for whoever’s daughter
slipped a track outside of the money.
God bless you for shingling
the money with something waterproof
the girl with studded pleather
the activity with a constellation
of older women with houses they need
to rebuild themselves. A larger kid who is riding
his sister’s silver tasseled bicycle thanks
gravity, thanks everybody who kept an eye
on the grass while it mended.
We have an interesting conversation, that blanket lays on top
of another. In the significantly deeper slips and valleys
a light stays on beneath two feet
of snow. Some animals will wait up for you
because everything that has a mind is really a pattern
of burrows. Because when they make us answer questions
I will have saved a whole garbage bag the children couldn’t see
until we figured out their prescriptions. Until we figured out the whole
damn thing. I was talking to a different kind of Christian
like a space heater you rest your feet and they draw
a slightly larger, yellow bloom. Sharpie initials on cornflower-
patterned sheets. No such tantrum exists
in nature. You pulled off the reproductive
side of the road and squatted with a good set
of antlers. We had several different long calendars
of stairs when the knuckles counted, when they shot up.
You are crouching in pink camo, this is not what I wanted
to be split down the middle. I was thinking artificial
voice was a bonding mechanism. Whose baby are we thinking
we left out there, to remain outside, a learned skill
getting slightly darker on its belly. Migration is thinking
of any gendered child saying their good mornings.
You need some repetition and a little ground cover.
You need to do more than measure the hinges.
Sometimes this pole barn gets so full of detriment that I think
all my crafting days are over. I teach the animal not
to look like anyone else in this family. I watch for planes that might
have enough room for us. The smell of laundry when someone loses
their voice long enough; this is all I am saying. I watch that feather
settle down, the one beneath it still angling.
I’ve forgotten how much quicker the three-mile walk to my Thursday evening class is when the sidewalks aren’t piled five feet high with snow. I headed out way too early this week, which meant I had time to stand on the bridge and watch the ice that had broken-up upstream. The ice tells you how fast the water is really moving; it’s dizzying.
Cat Power’s cover of “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” had just come on in my little headphones as I crossed the bridge. Newly broken river ice is good at singing “O mama” right back at you. It knows exactly what’s happening.
Saturday we took the kids to Huff Park to walk through the little wetlands area and listen for red-wing blackbirds. I thought it was going to be more of a search, but we could already hear them from the parking lot, trilling at each other. We walked for about fifteen minutes without seeing any; the snow-melt has flooded the cattails and the boardwalks, making it impossible to complete the loop we usually walk.
We hadn’t noticed the boy was wearing his converse instead of boots, so when he stepped into some deep water we had to head back home. Just as we were turning around, a male flew in, flashing his wings at us and landing on top of a cattail in the impossible floating way they do, and then we looked around and saw another several, swaying on other cattail tops nearby. The sky was dark and spitting snow; the boy balanced himself by holding onto M’s shoulder, took his wet sock off, and replaced it with one of M’s dry socks, which M was able to remove from his boot and his foot without holding on to anyone.
Midday, Saturday, we walked around Seidman Park for around an hour. We usually park at the entrance farthest away from the creek (I think it’s called Honey Creek? The road nearby is called Honey Creek Road) and then walk all the trail loops over to the creek and back, but sometimes we get stuck on a loop and cannot get across the park. I cannot explain it; the trail map is a little vague, but there’s nothing especially confusing about the place, and things are marked. Sometimes we just walk in circles. Saturday was one of those days.
The snow is all liminal space right now - one minute you can walk solidly across it and the next you fall in, hip-deep. Occasionally, beneath an evergreen, it’s melted and frozen hard again, transparent and slick. These holes in the snow lead down into a stream; if you put your ear against them, like listening to a seashell, you can hear the running water that you can’t see.
There wasn’t much going on as far as animal or plant life, not that I knew how to see anyway, so I spent a lot of our walk reminding myself of other times we’d been there: this is where we always see the turtles, and this is where we met a sick baby raccoon in the middle of the day; this is where the deer leaped out in front of my while I was kneeling in the trail, trying to write something down. In the middle of a meadow, when I thought we were going in the complete opposite direction, a big hawk floated over us. “He thinks you’re a rabbit,” M said. “I’m not a rabbit!” I yelled at the hawk. We listened to his wings for a little while; even at that distance, we could hear the sound of them flap, like a fairly heavy book being flipped open. He dove down into the woods.
Daylight Savings Time and teaching through off all of my everything, and I missed many walks this week. A few days I didn’t walk at all; the rest of the time I did quick walks to the bus or to run an errand that probably technically added up to 30 minutes outside, but I wasn’t present, and they didn’t do the thing that walks are supposed to do. A pipe burst and I had a small fender bender and all of my students submitted essays this week and it’s just so dark in the morning. So ridiculously dark. Yesterday was the first day this week I woke up and did not feel angry about doing so.
Yesterday M picked me up from work and we took a walk at Aman Park. I was dressed like a teacher - totally warm enough and appropriate enough for a walk, with waterproof shoes that have good traction in the snow - but it still felt weird, to go straight from the classroom to being in the woods, like when you run into someone you know in a strange city. I kept waiting for a student to run down the trail after us with “one quick question.”
You can’t tell it from this picture, but the snow is really disappearing. The parking lot at the trailhead was a tiny lake, and the snow has that wet, shape-able texture now, which means you can sink in and get a good foothold going up and down hills. We were surprised to see that the creek (I just looked it up and learned that it is actually named Sand Creek) was completely open water now, with ice only along the bank. Last spring we visited on a warmer day with less snow and got to hear the ice cracking, a sound I’d never heard before. It reminded me of hearing elk bugling echo off the mountains in Colorado - not because it sounds at all like that, but because the sound seems to have no relationship to or connection with what’s actually making it. It’s not what anyone would imagine or predict breaking ice would sound like. I hope we get to hear it when Lake Michigan starts breaking up. Right now the little lakes in the parks nearby still seem pretty solidly frozen.
I startled one black & white duck on the creek, and we heard a lot of bird calls that have been gone all winter. The only person we met on the trail was a stern looking man walking his Doberman off-leash; in the parking lot at the end of our walk, three different cars sped by, headed to and from the camp next door I think, and nearly covered us in a wave of water.
Nest too near the gas mouth
makes white stretch
gloves into turkey
wattles. It’s a gloomy mutated
morning. Brothers nap sisters eat everything
that will not blow over. The little window is particle board, thought of
trees while absent saying you just need to get tangled
up with somebody, knock at each
one until Bethany
answers. Tree’s idea of privacy is a cattle grid,
a full-time job, passageways that aren’t
coming right at you. The only thing in the house is two
ruffles and a junk drawer. He has met someone
who doesn’t have an accent yet.
A gender gap is washed with chemicals
to make light spaces for cursive and more
general signs following. LOOKA THAT
inheritance, winter coats hung from water
pipes, the whole doily pieced while we weren’t
speaking. Soft serve is the earliest
migrator back: you smell cigarettes
when no one’s around. You keep drawing the same
condolence card, inked up middle
finger making all the other
birds itch and sting.