Monthly Archives: May 2021

NOTE:  As those of you who know me might have guessed, I am a little bamboozled by the recent innovations and “improvements” to the WordPress system of editing and posting these monthly missives.  (“Why can’t they leave well enough alone?” he asks anyone within earshot…)

I am trying to get up to speed, as usual.  Muttering as I go.  Bear with me if you can.  This is a repeat of the May 30th post, with the font corrected and the layout of the poem repaired.  I hope.  Here goes.

In the parlance of pilots, “zero-zero” is shorthand for a no-fly day. Zero visibility, and zero “ceiling” or height of cloud above ground. Zero-zero, say no more, there’s no need to weigh options. It’s a no-brainer. Pour another coffee or, if it’s still too early, just go back to bed.

There is another kind of zero-zero morning, though, and our first one of the year, a week or so ago, sent me straight up onto the roof. At six a.m. the sun was already bright and high and warm. Even from bed I could hear robins, warblers, sparrows, and the distant honking of northbound geese. I got up, dressed, lit the fire, and reached for my weather-record clipboard. (It is good to be a creature of habit. I am one.) For the first time in several weeks, the wind-speed indicator on the left-hand side of the weather station screen was showing a big fat zero. The pennant on its tall pole down by the lakeshore confirmed it. Temperature also reading zero (Celsius), for the first time this month. Yep, time for the rooftop.

When I designed the house that we built here after the fire of 2014, the one feature I clung to most tenaciously from the start was to have inside access out onto the roof. The old house was a two-and-a-half story square, twenty feet on a side. This house is two stories, an octagon ten feet on a facet, but with its raised foundation and two ten-foot ceilings, it is an even taller building than the original.

The low-slope roof has a trapezoidal “lantern” that juts up west of the center peak. I’ve mentioned this in other posts, and I’m sure it will appear again, since a lot of these writings first take shape up there. From the west wall of the lantern, a triple-pane window on stout hinges makes a doorway out onto the roof. This was a great help during the roofing and finishing of the place, and it continues to be in steady use for practical matters like capping, uncapping, and cleaning the stovepipe chimney from season to season. No longer is there any need to go up a forty-foot stepladder and make that jittery first maneuver off the ladder and onto the eave. A move even less pleasant in reverse, from roof to top rung. That little step back and forth needed to happen two or three times a year on the old house, and I don’t miss it one bit.

Anyway, zero-zero. Zero wind and zero degrees. Clear and sunny and spring. Up the ladder to the lantern, swing open the hatch and clamber barefoot out onto the warm black shingles. Coffee mug, binoculars, a light sweater. Take up a perch on the east triangle of the roof, facing the sun and the river mouth. In the foreground I see Kristen wending her way up a bare outcrop across the swale, between drifts of crusty snow. Her morning stroll.

White ice stretches away to the south; mottled pink-and-white rock ridges make the north, west, and east horizons. Birdsong and sunshine all around. As a friend of mine liked to say at appropriate moments around a campfire, or snug in a tent on the tundra, “I wonder what the rich people are doin’ today?”

I pull out my journal and keep working on this, and I’ll post it tonight because hey, there’s no editor in sight!

One Moose, Three Wolves

Low and slow northbound,
tracks west of the river catch my eye.
Odd swipes and arcs
on a little lake close to tree-line.
Throttle back, bank left, drop some flap.
Looks like a hunt.

Trails of paw and hoof
wobble down from a steep ridge,
to become a confusion of lines and loops on the ice.
There! Up on the crest
a splash of red,
one raven flapping, low and slow, right over it.

Big moose, sprawled full length, laid right out,
open to the sky.
White drifts blood-bright in cold sunshine.
Your long days are over, friend.
Eight or ten years of nibble, browse, nap, roam.
And wary, always and forever wary.
Surely this was not your first life-and-death tango,
but clearly it was your last.

Three wolves a hundred yards up the ridge.
They hear the plane, trot away north,
plow through powder shoulder-deep in the hollows.
Brawny fellows, they are a juggernaut, nothing less,
of muscle, savvy, and fangs.
Happy hunters,
bellies full, thick shiny coats,
muzzles stained with gore.

Old story.

— April 2021, upper Hoarfrost River