Thursday, July 19, 2018

A photo of the forest fire situation near Temagami, Ontario

Last night, I got a note from my younger son, who's been incommunicado in Ontario, where he works at a wilderness canoe camp. It turns out he's smack in the middle of a giant firefighting operation. Forest fires are rampant in that area of the province, and Temagami, the town closest to his base camp, is particularly at risk. He says the camp itself is not in danger, but of course all of their local canoe trips have been affected, given road, river, and forest closures. Plus, there's the general anxiety of being responsible for the well-being of all of those campers. He sounds exhausted.

So that's a new worry. Nobody wants their kid to be in a forest fire. But now that he's got wifi again, I guess I can tell him about our downburst damage. We can swap awful tree stories.

At the moment, however, Portland is serene. Yesterday I planted two blueberry bushes in the front yard, washed a load of sheets, and submitted some poems to journals. Nothing fell over or caught on fire.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

After last week's downburst mess, I was nervous about yesterday's severe thunderstorm forecast. But as it turned out, we ended up with the best possible scenario: hours and hours of steady rain and almost no wind. So after getting a batch of editing finished, I spent my rainy day sitting on the couch and revising yet another new poem. This makes nine. Nine! I can't believe I'm still rolling.

Today the yard and garden are green and wet. Everything looks joyous. I'm planning to hang sheets on the line, mow some grass, do some weeding, run some errands. Maybe write poem number ten. A new editing project is due to me by the end of the week, and then my writing honeymoon will be over. But no one can say I've wasted my time. [Actually, many people could say it, and most people probably would.]

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

I struggle to concentrate on my daily routine when the so-called leader of my nation is blithely burbling treason. I muck around with my little garden projects; I frost a cake; I make a pot of coffee for friends. But the man is a terrifying, fawning, narcissistic idiot. It's hard to avoid comparisons to Mussolini.

Anyway, here's the cake I made.

Monday, July 16, 2018

A faint and foggy morning. I wish it would rain, but the forecast says no. Today I get to loll around at the auto shop waiting for a state inspection and an oil change, and then I get to come home and bake a chocolate birthday cake for a dear young person. One of these things is better than the other.

My new garden bed is now complete, at least dimension-wise, for I have run out of compost-mulch. Already I've been able to transplant a few sad iris roots into fresh digs. At some point this week I will wander off to a nursery and see what other perennials I can find/afford.

I did zero writing over the weekend, which was just as well. My body needed some action. Something poem-like may happen today, in between car inspection and cake baking and floor washing. I'm still waiting for editing projects to return to me; I've got a band gig on Friday; distractions are heating up. But that doesn't mean the poems are dead.

And I need to find something to read.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Yesterday Tom and I crammed two loads of storm-damaged branches into a borrowed pickup, and he hauled them off to the dump. Then he came home and worked on the desk he's building, and I made some progress on a garden reclamation project.

On a strip of ground on one side of our driveway, some long-ago homeowner once tried to establish a perennial garden, even going so far as to make a stone stairway between our driveway and the neighbors'. But the plot has been neglected for years and is now a horrible mess of goldenrod, nightshade, burdock, maple saplings, rocks, and tree roots. For the past couple of months I have been keeping the weeds in check with a trimmer, and in the process I've uncovered some pathetic lilies and iris, a few unhappy rosebushes, and a limp peony. Now I've begun the next stage of garden recovery: spreading wheelbarrow loads of the compost-mulch I've been cooking since last fall. The mixture combines new soil from my two compost bins with last year's fallen maple leaves, which I had raked into a corner of the backyard and have been turning from time to time. My goal is to gradually spread a thick layer of the mixture on this ugly strip of ground, thus creating manageable and arable beds while suppressing the ferocious weeds. It's what a friend calls the pancake-makeup approach to gardening.

When I told Tom last fall that I was planning to keep all of the leaves that fell off our trees--and the trees are enormous, so there are many, many leaves--he was not enthusiastic, but he didn't argue. Still, I clung to what I hoped would be a good idea, though I wasn't sure the leaves would break down fast enough to be useful . . . or that I could get them out of the pile before the next batch of autumn detritus arrived. Yet here I am, less than a year later, with yards of fine free soil.

Chainsaws and giant compost piles: who knew how handy country-honed skills would be in the city?

Plus, after we finished working, we tidied up and took a long sweet walk into town for one of the best dinners out I've had in quite a while.

We're doing okay here.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The finished poem count has reached eight. I'm starting to feel like a baseball team with a win streak.

Unlike past writing sieges, this one has required physical stillness. Instead of wandering around staring out the windows or running up and down the stairs doing idle little chores, I've had to sit quietly on the couch, letting my mind perambulate and my body sag. I wonder why the creative mind requires these kinds of physical maneuvers. In a way it will be a relief to step aside from such mental bossiness and do some regular outside work this weekend. Not that I'm dying to haul storm detritus, but sitting on the couch for hours is a dangerous habit.

Between bouts of writing I've been reading John Banville's The Blue Guitar and my childhood copy of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales. Yesterday, on a forced walk, I found a hardcover copy of Barbara Tuchman's The Distant Mirror in a free box. Somewhere in this house is a paperback copy of that book, which I've already read several times. But it occurred to me that a dip into the fourteenth century might be a good backup activity, so I've added it to the stack of coffee table entertainments.

And it opens with one of my favorite epigraphs of all time--a quote from John Dryden's "On the Characters in the Canterbury Tales":
For mankind is ever the same and nothing is lost out of nature, though everything is altered.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Since returning from the Frost Place I have finished--not just drafted, but finished--seven new good poems. I haven't experienced a flurry like this for years, maybe not since the early days of Chestnut Ridge, back in 2014 or thereabouts.

Every morning I sit on the couch, pull four random words out of whatever I'm reading, and immediately fall into the making lake. By good fortune my workload has been light, so I've been able to drop everything to write. That will have to change once my editing and teaching obligations start rolling in. But for the moment, I can hang on to the illusion of being invincible.

One funny thing about this trip into the zone: The act of writing isn't feeling like inspiration or exaltation or anything fuzzy at all. Instead, it all feels very prosaic and obvious. What's notable is how fast I am working. I make quick decisions about content and about structural and language elements; my sentences move swiftly. I've always been a person who writes by ear--that is, I hear a cadence before I put words to it--but those cadences in my head are particularly vibrant right now, and the voice in each poem seems to leap out fully formed.

It's like I am crackling with electricity.