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Certain Revelations

Kaniksu Fire (Tower Fire) Complex, Priest Lake, Northern Idaho

By Mary Oliver

I have decided to find myself a home
in the mountains, somewhere high up
where one learns to live peacefully
in the cold and the silence. It’s said that
in such a place certain revelations may
be discovered. That what the spirit
reaches for may be eventually felt, if not
exactly understood. Slowly, no doubt. I’m
not talking about a vacations.

Of course at the same time I mean to
stay exactly where I am.

Are you following me?

It is an interesting twist, as my son says, to deliberately head out on vacation to a cabin situated in a Fire Evacuation Level 1 Zone. But, the cabin was waiting, the lake technically open, if socked in with fire smoke, and precious vacation time logged in the books (no mean feat for my husband who is in the medical profession – his specialty group books their vacations a year out). So yes - one eye on the sky, the other on the news - we headed north. Toward the fire zones, cautiously passing National Forest Service rangers posted at the many dirt access roads into the mountains. Headed up a highway that is both the only egress in to Priest Lake, and out.

The consequences of the alert level fire designation are many. No beach fires, cabin fires, charcoal grills, or outdoor equipment that might spark. The sandy beaches are quiet, dark, somnolent. The marinas under blankets of smoke that thicken and shift on the lake winds. The lake shore is mostly empty: fulltime residents hunkering in to keep cabins and trees watered down and prepare for the early end of the lake season. Tourists with more flexibility have canceled their plans. Residents of the two small towns that flank the upper and lower end of the long lake watch the weather and fire reports. Those in the northern meadows, already on a higher Evacuation Level 2, have loaded flatbed trailers with belongings and wait. Beyond their farms and ranches glow the lightning-sparked fires that have burned all summer, creeping down the shoulders of the mountains, heavy smoke rolling over the ridges, coating the grass and forests in dusty ash, sending the elderly and the infirm in search of better air.

A secondary impact from smoke is quiet. An extraordinary thick silence. The absence of boat traffic, the muffled sounds, forests empty of bird song and chipmunks. The hearth – a beach pit fire or cabin fireplace – is a gathering place, a melody of voices in the night. There are none. We’ve gone hiking each day, climbing to vantage points where we might survey the lengths of the lake and trace patterns of fire smoke that sink off the mountains and float across the water. Wildlife is on the move, the forests still. We’ve encountered one pair of great hunting owls in the pines nearest the shore, and a crow-sized northern red-crested woodpecker, determinedly drilling a tree. The wilderness is evacuating.

I am looking straight off the deck of the cabin at this moment and cannot see the shoreline across the bay. The pine and stone islands recede, shadows in The Gray that does not drift but thickens. There were no stars last night.

I have decided to find myself a home
in the mountains, somewhere high up
where one learns to live peacefully
in the cold and the silence.

I worry for the wilderness, the animal life, the safety of the rangers on duty and the firefighters here and at other fires near these Tower Complex fires. It would be a blessing if this time, fate was on our side. Our revelations are so simple this year – preservation.

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Late Summer

Priest Lake Moonrise

On the fence
in the sunlight,
beach towels.

No wind.

The apricots have ripened
and been picked.
The blackberries have ripened
and been picked.
- Robert Hass, from the poem "Cuttings"

I've been looking at accountability. Mine. I've been looking back at posts about writing and creativity, living and making meaningful choices. Have I done the things I said I would, made the changes I want, pursued priorities that matter? At times it feels like a win to simply slow the busyness, delete the detritus that clouds quiet moments.

How hard in this modern world to make space for clarity. Space reclaimed from work/life schedules, from cleaning out our physical surroundings - or it might be all in our heads. The important thing is this: without inner clarity we lack a life map to navigate where we are to where we want to be. Mapping begins with honest assessment, checking in, and acknowledging our choices.

Each of us has a place, a person, a time, where the world slows and life opens, and we look deeply at the mechanics of our own happiness. We understand with profound certainty the desires and needs that guide a life well-lived, a life examined. Our life.

This is part of a post from August 2013:

"The opening of the chest, the heart chakra - the deep breathing and calm rhythms of a lengthy period on break - profoundly alters the mind as well as the body. When we step out of the box, the stress-filled, demanding, unrelenting responsibilities of the 24/7, we begin the restoration of the soul. The wide empty stretches on life's blue highways are far and few between. We live in a plugged-in, high demand, ever-changing, stimulating world. Down time, wayside adventures, lags in scheduling seem to have disappeared. We are "on" and plugged-in every moment of the day: pinged by messages, alerts from work, urgent global news, the carousel of social media even when we sleep.

Peace. Where do we find it?

Thoreau championed "disconnect and rediscover" for the human soul. And indeed, I found it interesting to watch my family - traveling to a rustic cabin on the lake shore with four smart phones, two laptops, three iPads, two iPods and one Shuffle - slowly adapt to silence. From initially trekking down the trail to the nearest wifi spot for internet signal, to eventually, mournfully, accepting the one half-bar of cell service off the lake, to at last letting the devices sit in their cases, untouched. This withdrawal from the digital world was painful and amusing - catching ourselves automatically engaged in a pointless click to check email, Twitter, FB. The urge to plug in releasing ever so slowly; replaced by naps sunning on beach towels, guitar on the deck, long conversations by candlelight at the picnic table. The luxury of delving into not just one chapter, but an entire book. Board games and cards, a crackling fire and mellow whiskey.

We relearn the nurturing quality of quiet. The giving earth. Taking in the whole of life. Lulled to deep sleep by the waves lapping the lake shore, the creak of wind in the trees. Awaking with bird calls in the dawn.

We disappear to the cabin every year, coming from wherever we are in the four corners of the world, from whatever education, work, or travel schedules occupy us, ready to find our way back to ourselves. We reconnect not just within, but together. And when the last spider is slapped with a sandal and tossed out the door, when the last huckleberry has made its way to a pancake drenched in maple syrup, the final pot of camp coffee poured to the dregs, we pack up our beach chairs and return to the world.

Halfway down the road to civilization the electronics buried in our duffles ping on, buzzing and downloading in a frenzied burst and we have to laugh. The world. It doesn't wait, and it doesn't matter."

This weekend I am headed north for two weeks to the remote quiet shores of Priest Lake once again. At the lake, I will find silence. You will find me on the deck at sunset, feet propped on the rail, a mellow scotch in hand. The evening star rises over the lake, bright against the rose-colored Selkirk Mountains.
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So Hush A Masque

Starry Night Over the Rhone, Vincent van Gogh

How came ye muffled in so hush a masque?
- "Ode on Indolence," John Keats

Waiting coils inside her and licks and licks its paws.

I go through motions already made in another life [wrote the husband].
The room is cold. I must unpack. But not yet. Night is almost here.
Another one without I was going to say but that wold be weak.
Another one.
I stand firmly on the foundation of the love I fashioned, yes, our love.
You will disagree. But look inside yourself. there you see a world
traveling silently through space. On it two specks. We are
indissoluble. Three minutes of reality! all I ever asked.

She stands looking out at rain on the roof.

- from "The Beauty of the Husband," by Anne Carson

A good book plucks us from the concrete bunkers of the present. A good book lifts us from our circling preoccupations, puts wings on our thoughts and hands us navigation coordinates we've never flown before. A good book sits in our thoughts like the most erudite and giving of guests, discussing the world at length long after the book has closed. A good book is an all-night diner with an open bar and our favorite people alive and dead, known, unknown, stirring coffee across from us with a bent spoon, chin in hand, asking, "And after you decided to do that, then what?"

Life, as the saying goes, is to be be lived. A life, your life, is not to be postponed or sidetracked, minimized like a competing channel on a bigger screen. Anne Carson, in her incomparable book-length prose poem, "The Beauty of the Husband, a fictional essay in 29 tangos," explores Keats' idea that beauty is truth. And does so telling the story of a marriage. As you might imagine, truth thus becomes personal, subjective, illusory, intimate. All of its beauty released in the telling. Truth and beauty, we discover, are synonyms for what is real.

Beauty, it turns out, like truth can be cruel. Transcendent. As goes one of my favorite lines from the poet Masahide, Barn's burnt down. Now I can see the moon.

When you read this prose by Anne Carson, think of what you understand as the narrator speaks. What is truth, what is illusion, is it possible to experience differing threads of the same story? A good book lifts us above the landscape even as it plummets us into the heart of action. A good book inhabits our thoughts because of its beauty. Because of its truth.

Life, in all its formidable beauty.

The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.

This sentence, posted last night by two gentlemen on Twitter, is from the novel "Ulysses" by James Joyce. Perhaps, as one of them said, the most beautiful sentence in the English language. I gift it to you. Be overwhelmed.

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