The Essence of August

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No wind, no bird. The river flames like brass.
On either side, smitten as with a spell
Of silence, brood the fields. In the deep grass,
Edging the dusty roads, lie as they fell
Handfuls of shriveled leaves from tree and bush.
But ’long the orchard fence and at the gate,
Thrusting their saffron torches through the hush,
Wild lilies blaze, and bees hum soon and late.
Rust-colored the tall straggling briar, not one
Rose left. The spider sets its loom up there
Close to the roots, and spins out in the sun5
A silken web from twig to twig. The air
Is full of hot rank scents. Upon the hill
Drifts the noon’s single cloud, white, glaring, still.
~Lizette Woodworth Reese “August”

 

This poem written decades ago
by a poet now long departed
describes in detail
what I see outside my back door today.
Yet an unknowing detail of her foresight
includes a truth of this August:
her flaming river
is flowing across thousands of acres
only a few dozen miles away,
leaving behind ashes,
and little else.

An essence of August:
drying to dust – only a little
remains of the day.

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Desolaration and Precipilicity

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People who grow up in the Pacific Northwest suffer from peculiar climate-related disorders unique to only to us.   This deserves a page in the next version of the DSM — the diagnostic psychiatric manual:  we in the PNW don’t feel 100% normal unless it is raining.  Summer, especially this summer, can be a very difficult time for us.

In fact, we born and bred web-footers can feel downright depressed when it is sunny all the time.  This summer — actually since May — we’ve had only an inch or so of rain, yielding weeks of nothing but blue skies, dusty paths, dried up creeks, wilting greenery, brown pasture and wildfires.  We groan inwardly when yet another day dawns bright instead of gray, we start to look longingly at accumulating clouds,  and we get positively giddy when morning starts with a drizzly mist.

It’s difficult to say what exactly is at work in brain chemistry in cases like this.  It is the opposite effect of classically described Seasonal Affective Disorder diagnosed especially in those transplants from more southerly climates who get sadder and slowed down with darker days and longer nights.   In people like me, born a stone’s throw from Puget Sound, the more sunlight there is, the more doldrums I feel:  desolaration (desolation from too much solar exposure).   The grayer the day, the wetter the sky–> a lightening of the heart and the spirit:  precipilicity (felicity arising from precipitation).

Like most northwesterners, I have low Vitamin D levels even in the summer.  It just isn’t seemly to expose all that skin to UV light.

So I’m longing for the profound relief of a rainy summer day, thank you.   There would be no internal conflict about feeling compelled to go outside to work up a sweat and soak up the elusive sun rays.   There would only be the cozy invitation to stay inside to read and write and sleep.

I know I’m not alone in this disorder.  Many of us are closet sufferers but would never admit it in polite company.  To complain about sunny days is perceived as meteorologically incorrect.  It is time to acknowledge that many of us are in this together.

Robert Frost (definitely not a northwesterner) confessed his own case of desolaration in the first stanza of his poem November Guest:

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

And Jack Handey, the satirist, summarizes the real reason for the guilty pleasure of the northwest native in liking rain:

“If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is ‘God is crying.’
And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is ‘Probably because of something you did.”

Okay, okay, perhaps this is the explanation for our extended drought.  It appears this summer we’ve all been far too well-behaved.

It’s time to do something about it…

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Lenten Grace — Merciful Dew

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

He hath abolished the old drought
And rivers run where all was dry,
The field is sopp’d with merciful dew
He hath put a new song in my mouth.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins

When I have no voice left, He gives me a song I can still sing.
When I run dry, He replenishes.
When I wither, His merciful dew
restores and readies me for a new day.

I am stopped astonished,
sopped and mopping up,
spilling over in His grace.

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Lenten Grace — Streams in the Desert

photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Kathy Yates

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
Isaiah 35: 5-7

And so we will not remain mere dust in the ground.

The dry wilderness bubbles with streams and gushes with falls.
The barren grows fruit.
The impossible becomes possible.

We are paradox.

Once dead, we live again.

photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Kathy Yates