Thick fog. The steep draws of the coast range,
dense with cedar and fir, invisible now, except
for the grey silhouette of the south ridge. Five years
since I came here, walking. Three since my son was born
upstairs from where I’m sitting beside
the squat woodstove in the corner of the kitchen.
This is history, the wisps of fog curling, dissolving
in the branches of the sugar pine outside my window. Beyond
the ridgeline a streak of utter blue, first sun making
rays like God in those old paintings where it penetrates
the mist, which gathers in the hollows over the beaver ponds,
pulling back from the house and the borders of the forest,
disappearing, not upward into the sky but down, holding
on to the earth as long as it can and then gone
in the perfectly clear, late autumn air.

Five years puffing up the hill, five years patching
the leaky roof, struggling to keep the old truck putting
into town and back for groceries and classes. Five years
splitting the sweet, resinous wood, lifting it up
to smell its sticky heart, then lowering it into the fire.

And splitting the ground for seed the spade
strikes something hard, an old glass jar with the legend
“Pacific Honey Company” raised on its side, which stands
overlooking my kitchen, beside another find, a carefully
serrated arrowhead of red flint, broken off at its tip.
As when, halfway through an oak tree, the bow saw,
caught by some impenetrable idea in the wood, stops:
five years and I can’t say what I’ve learned.

Maybe there is no lesson in the land. And history
has no more message than the enormous dead
beaver we saw in the creek last week, as big
as a man, it seemed, its great flat paddle
tail still flapping in the current. Maybe
five years are like a single frame of film,
a lifetime passes in seconds, the figures
on the screen moving faster until
they are no longer people but blurs of light,
plowing, planting, pulling down the fruit, an endless
flurry of motion on the skin of the earth.
And maybe even time is a mistake of the mind,
existing only to satisfy our need to live in history.

Still I raise the boards to the wall, joining wood
to wood, taking time to make it true, as if
it could last. And teach my son to read
the messages of weather, to recognize
the raccoon’s tracks beside the creek,
where it cracked a crayfish like a lobster
and left bits of shell scattered on the bank.
And make up history– the year they logged Weiss Road,
the only dry autumn in memory, the big flood,
last summer’s plague of those damned yellowjackets…
until the fog comes back to put a cover on the day,
and narrow my world again to a small circle of trees,
insubstantial, clinging only briefly
to the earth before it is drawn down and in.

© Ken Zimmerman, 1987, 2018

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