Ugh. Officially, summer is still a week away but already the temperatures are hovering in the upper 80s, and nights are solidly in the 50s. It seems as though we were only worrying about last frost a few days ago, but we’re in red flag territory now: desiccating midday heat, occasional wild gusts that carry nursery pots over the railings, where I’m sure someone in Loveland is collecting and reselling them, twelve miles away.
The first week of June, while I was in town modeling a new skull & crossbones face mask at the grocery store, a microburst came down on a neighbor’s shed and blew the roof into our driveway. One of the roof’s 14-foot beams landed against the back of our house, 90 or so yards downwind, almost taking out the satellite dish. An enormous section of it (how big is your shed? I wanted to ask, because before it decided to move in with us, I can’t remember ever seeing it) — an enormous section threw itself onto the ponderosa pine on the south side property line. It’s a mighty pine. More than one of our fellow hill-dwellers pointed out that the tree probably saved our house from being decapitated — at the very least, gave itself up in order than we could still have four walls. A group of Druids and light workers immediately set up camp at the ponderosa’s base and began a two-week gratitude ritual, casting runes and offering scones, which the Scots pine has taken while they weren’t looking.
I go down into the ravine in mid-spring for the windless cool. The thistle hasn’t taken over then, the grass is still unripe, the nesting blackbirds haven’t formed vigilante groups yet, although one or two hang on the rock, baleful eyes and murderous smiles. “Staying long?” they rasp. “Passing through. Passing through,” I say. And they nod, disbelieving.
But a week from summer is a different thing. The grass is up to the knees, the color of the African veldt, dense and high enough to accommodate the whole of the Denver Zoo’s reptile house. And all that verdant freshness, the intermittent stream and its runoff, the honeysuckle and the wild raspberry flowers, all that has gone. The stream dried just after Earth Day. The water that remains, collects in a series of three pools the original owner dug, so that we would never run out of mosquitoes when it mattered most. It was on my list to order up fill dirt, cover the old pump and hose, the black plastic of the water feature, and restore the natural slope. I can’t imagine we’d miss it, any more than a Victorian folly or cenotaph. But I have misplaced my list. It has fallen off my things-to-do, until I find myself for some reason by the arroyo’s dry stream and buzzing, stagnant pools. A lilac has volunteered over on the lip of the dirt bench I cleared several years ago, a narrow-leaf cottonwood has grown out from the tumble-down frame of the ancient chicken coop, a roost for twilight spectres. And I do not lie to the blackbirds. Five minutes with the mosquitoes and I’m gone. Passing through, like the bees and the ghost chickens.
You would think that would be enough. But the ravine is irresistible. I have taken up photography in earnest again, and in a surprising number of delirious moments, I wonder, wouldn’t it be great to head down to the ravine, like hobbits to the Dingley Dell, and play among the wild things? Surely, they must be gathering there. What a merry time we shall have, giggling as the tiny faery folk bathe in drops of dew, sucking hummingbird mead from the blue larkspur…and snapping a picture or two of the eight-spotted forester moth and the mourning cloak butterfly. It’s not a manly thought.
But there is something Homerian about it. The madness that prompted Bob — sorry, Peter Ravenna (not his real name) — to put bee hives and chickens in this gash in the earth, an interstate for foxes, bears, and mountain lions, smacks of the siren song Odysseus had to endure, lashed to a mast lest he drive his ship straight on the rocks. I feel it, too, though I have prided myself for years that it did not affect me. Camera in hand, I head back down. There are no faeries. It is not a merry time. I sit on the lip of the dirt bench with the heat-stroked lilac and look in the branches for birds. It is noon and they are at home, curtains drawn, enjoying siesta. A breeze moves the cottonwood as though to point out the near-total absence of photographable life. Go now, the breeze says. Save yourself. There is nothing here for you. The mosquitoes have already heard your careless sighing. They have pricked up their ears and they are sharpening their whatsits. (Wait! Is that a warbler? Oops. Missed it.) Go on. Your time is short.