What Would You Take?

The dying sun is described so vividly in The Magician’s Nephew, one of the books in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. After Digory Kirke grabs Polly Plummer’s arm in order to ring the golden bell and wake Jadis, the world of Charn comes to an end. In the final book, Lewis describes the death of another world, and a much older Polly and Digory, who are present, recognize the end of that world by its dying sun.

FullSizeRender

A view of the sun through smoke at 6:00 p.m. on Labor Day

I am reminded of both worlds these past few days when viewing our sun through the dense filter of smoke, which surrounds us in late summer as the fog envelops us in the cold months. With the chaos of evacuations, news footage of what the fires have left behind, and maps of more and more fires burning through the West, I can fully imagine the end of the world.

Fires are close to Portland today, and have affected Los Angeles since last weekend. If it’s not fire, it’s flood as Hurricane Harvey made its way through the Gulf Coast and, as I type, Irma is heading straight for the Florida Keys. With hurricanes come tornadoes as well as winds and surging water. With evacuations and rescues, there are so many people forced to leave their homes not knowing what will happen while they’re gone.

A few years ago I was running errands one morning and saw the California hillside a few miles north engulfed in flames. Three careless campers were responsible, and they probably had no idea the lives they changed that day. Friends of ours lived in the area and were told to prepare for evacuation. One of them later described the stab of reality when you’re faced with true danger and wonder what you need to grab.

There are a select few who say, “They’re just things,” and how fortunate for them to live so simply or perhaps foolishly, but what does one take? Photos? Not everyone has scanned every photo into a digital file, but surely you’d grab the computer. I couldn’t bear to lose my life’s work, so the laptop is a must. European refugees and civilians in the Civil War were known to bury valuables, many of which were never seen again, but you can’t bury things in a flood, and the water is not a looting soldier.

So many important papers are saved electronically these days, but birth certificates, insurance policies, passports, bank information, and other ways to prove one’s identity must be taken along. You can get clothes later, but evacuation is all about priorities and, of course, where to go next, what will be there to eat, and is there going to be fresh drinking water?

FullSizeRender-3

A view of the eastern skies on a typical summer’s day.

As those around us head to shelters and spend frustrating hours awaiting official updates with only the clothes on their backs, I’m reminded of the millions all over the planet who have been forced to abandon their homes due to war, climate, and terror. Whether by nature or by governments, people are on the move at rates not seen since the end of World War II.

FullSizeRender-1

View of the same eastern skies when the air is filled with smoke.

Eventually the winds will shift, the fires will burn out, flood waters will recede and, at some point, war zones will be occupied only by a few stubborn people who wish to stay and declare victory over a pile of rubble. Depending on the circumstances, some people may return in a few hours while others will never go home again. In either case, I am moved by the joy that washes over them when a door is opened and they are welcomed.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

Eclipsed

IMG_7738

By permission, and with appreciation, this is Ben Lester’s photograph of the eclipse on August 21, 2017, as seen in Oregon’s Path of Totality.

Ten days before his death in 1940, Edward Frederic Benson, author of Dodo, The Blotting Book, Mrs. Ames, the Mapp & Lucia novels, and a host of ghost stories, delivered a final autobiography to his publishers. The cleverly named Final Edition reveals a number of secrets and memories the author felt it was time to share. He wrote about his mother, widow of one of Queen Victoria’s Archbishops of Canterbury, her companion, his siblings, and various friends. He was the last family member to survive, as he had no children, nieces, or nephews. Such a fate meant his getting to write what he pleased without censorship.

Among the anecdotes, some of which drag on for pages, I enjoyed the opening of chapter five where he described a “total or nearly total eclipse of the sun” that he experienced with his brother Hugh in August 1914.

Benson’s brother, an ordained priest, had converted to Roman Catholicism in spite of being a son of a Protestant Archbishop, and he was awaiting a response to find out if he would be serving as Chaplain to Catholics on the Western Front of World War I. Benson wrote that they checked the bible and found that “the darkening of the sun was not a phenomenon allocated to Armageddon, but to the Day of Judgment, something final and apocalyptic was clearly at hand.”

The two men found the eclipse most interesting and gazed “at the reflection of the diminishing orb on the surface of a bucket of water, where it could be regarded without bedazzlement. The heat of the summer morning was chilled, the circular spots of light filtering through the foliage of the Penzance Briar became crescent-shaped as the eclipse increased: the birds chirruped as in the growing dusk of evening and went to roost. Then through the darkness and silence there sounded the crackle of gravel under the bicycle of a boy from the post office with a telegram for Hugh. It was to tell him that Pope Pius X was dead. This added to the sense of doom and finality.”

By comparison, Jerry Lewis’s death didn’t carry the same weight when it came to portents in the 2017 eclipse this week. We also have advanced warnings of solar and lunar events with certainly more precision than I suspect they had a hundred years ago. Therefore, we were able to plan the day and drive over to a nearby hilltop where one can see four volcanoes in a single panoramic spread: Mounts Jefferson, Hood, Adams and St. Helens.

We didn’t take a bucket of water, even though the sight of a crescent on its surface would have been interesting, but a bottle of sparkling wine and our ISO approved sun-gazing glasses. Being more than 50 miles north of the Path of Totality, we didn’t experience total darkness, but certainly in the moments before totality, a breeze began blowing and the bright sunlight of a warm August morning dimmed to the point that the outdoor lights on the farmhouses below us came on.

In the cool duskiness, had it been night we’d have remarked about the brilliance of a full moon brighter than we’d ever seen, but knowing it was the sun with only a small percentage of its light shining down on us, we marveled at our star’s ability to light the earth while mostly blocked out.

In those short minutes, we gazed at the sky then at our surroundings, remarking how vital is the sun for life on this planet. Once we noticed the moon’s movement, a rooster crowed in the distance, some small birds took flight overhead, and then there was the “crackle of gravel” as cars drove off the hill. We waited for everyone to leave as the heat built and the light returned.

Benson made a few more mentions of contemporary fears in 1914, the idea that if one needed to identify the antichrist, the German Kaiser would have fit the bill, and how a sense of foreboding was connected to a total eclipse. Such attitudes seem strange to me in an age where there were already motorcars and electric lights, but in the pre-television age of World War I, the moon landing was still over a half-century in the future. In fact, the Space Age wouldn’t begin until after a second world war had ended.

What has changed in a century? The Internet, self-driving cars, personal telephones, endless news cycles, and a global economy, but more importantly, what hasn’t changed? There are still madmen terrorizing the planet, marching armies, and displaced refugees.

We have embraced technology, we have gained a greater understanding of space, and we recognize the science behind an eclipse. Why, then, do we continually fail to learn the lessons of peace and love?

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

Natural Decadence

The lingering moisture after the wettest winter since the late 1940s has kept me inside more days than out. The view from my window has been a slow-motion performance as the brittleness of winter gradually transformed into the various verdant shades of spring. My brain is always a season ahead, which means I’m thinking what needs to be done before the leaves fall and we’re left with skeletons for six months. At that point, I’ll ponder the spring, knowing now that I’ll not stop long enough to really appreciate it when it finally comes.

After the fog lifts, the misty mornings leave us with cool days right now. Forecasters insist that it will be unbearably hot in July and August, but we’ve had only a glimmer of heat in the past ten months. Establishing vegetables has been a challenge this year, but the natural foliage has been stunningly beautiful during our second full spring. There are ferns everywhere, the natives that people pay good money for in nurseries grow in abundance, and of course blackberry plagues my life, having become my greatest nemesis.

The cool wetness brings two things to the surface: slugs and mushrooms. My friend Ronald explained the most successful remedy for the slimy things is beer. These pests are not elitists or hipsters. They like cheap beer, which I place in shallow containers in the herb garden, the asparagus bed, and among the irises like portable pubs in these slug slums.

In the beginning, tiny slugs flock to the beer like fraternity members to a keg party. I come out in the mornings to find the containers filled with dead and bloated revelers. A few weeks later, I realize the beer is lasting longer and the remaining slugs are considerably larger. In a few cases, I’ve discovered sizeable creatures clinging to the outside of my traps, stretching down and audaciously enjoying sips of beer to satisfy their thirsts without ingesting enough to bloat them. Apparently slugs can learn.

According to the mushroom field guide, the most prevalent variety we have is the hallucinogenic, but I’m not willing to risk death to find out for certain. The caps and gills match up but they look very similar to something poisonous. They’re thriving in the manure used to fertilize the asparagus, and the field guide indicates these mushrooms are safe to eat. The same ones are also found along the shaded trails kept green by decomposition.

The rabbits live in those areas, and several times a day they make their way into the open just before dark and again before sunrise to feed and feed and feed. According to another field guide, these rabbits were brought to North America over a hundred years ago and made their way down from Canada. I would’ve been for a wall built to keep them out, but they crossed the border freely to do what rabbits do. We have an average of seven, but that number fluctuates in the warm months. We have hawks and owls in the forest row on the north and the west, which seem to control them unless some of these babies are growing up quickly and going off to Bunny College.

As the slugs grow in length and wisdom, the beer lasts longer. There have been mornings when I’ve tossed it out in order to put out fresh, thinking that the slugs have not only become wiser, they’ve become snobbish. This situation has clearly become a case of me working for them as I gather containers, rinse them out with the hose and replace them carefully before filling them with nice clean beer. Some of the traps are still drawing a crowd, but summer’s approach means fewer and fewer gastropods floating in the hops.

I noticed last week on the three warm days that there wasn’t a slug to be found, but the beer was completely gone in most cases. Even when the slugs taste it or die drinking it, there is always liquid remaining, but these containers were completely dry! I also noticed on the trails that the mushrooms had disappeared within a day. That many mushrooms wouldn’t disappear at once unless someone was gathering them to cook—or get high.

IMG_3362

The bunny in its altered state mellows out beneath the birdbath.

I’ve decided it’s the rabbits. No wonder the raptors are getting them. Their reflexes are slow and they’re on some wild psychedelic trip that hasn’t been experienced in 50 years. There’s a mellow bunny that nestles itself in the fern that surrounds the birdbath, which is in my line of sight as I type. Rabbits have high metabolisms, which require them to keep eating, but this creature digs in and sits there for long periods of time without moving. I wonder what he sees. He’s not been alive long enough to realize he’s in an altered state so whatever strangeness he encounters seems normal.

In spite of his pillaging, I almost don’t begrudge his presence. He deserves a few blissful days before the hawk swoops down and takes him flying. I can only imagine what he’ll think of when becoming airborne under the influence. “Man, what kind of crazy trip is this?!?” I hope he’s still anesthetized by the time they land.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

 

The Ghost Lake

At dusk, the fields are still visible as the gray fog in the background begins to rise.

At dusk, the fields are still visible as the gray fog in the background begins to rise.

At dusk, when the sun sets behind the western ridge, and the moon rises to a significant height in the southern sky, the mists rise from the fields and enshroud the creatures that dwell therein. The ghost lake has returned.

That first paragraph is a great start to a ghost story, but let’s take a closer look. After we saw the house and the dense woods surrounding it, we started researching the area. We were still in California pulling up Google Earth and Maps, trying to zoom in on local landmarks to get a perspective. We kept seeing the name of Farghuar (the original name, which I’ll use in place of the modernized spelling to preserve some privacy). There was Farghuar Lake, Farghuar Pond and Farghuar Store, and months within our arrival, a rather good restaurant bearing the name opened nearby.

Google research proved rather inaccurate because the lake was not a lake. We figured out Farghuar Pond, which looks large enough to be a lake, was not the lake. It’s a pond. One local told us that Farghuar Lake was now private and surrounded by lovely large homes. We went to one of those lovely large homes during a moving sale, and the lady of the house told us that the body of water outside her door was another “lake” altogether, and that the hundred or so acres of blueberries between her house and ours had once been the lake we were seeking.

That explained the mysterious whereabouts of the missing lake and the t-shirts and coffee mugs sold inside the Farghuar Store inscribed with “Not seen since 1928.” Local lore indicated that a lake had been drained, and mint, daffodils and other bulbs had been grown on the resulting land at different times. Although I accepted this, I wondered why anyone would plant mint in such quantities, knowing that it would overtake the earth if left unchecked.

One of our friends told us of driving down the road that cuts through the former lake when she was a teenager. After rainstorms, frogs would hop onto the roadway in such vast quantities that one would think a plague had been sent.

I’ve been fascinated with this missing lake since its former location was pointed out to us. We have to drive up and down that road several times a week, and there appears to be an optical illusion. On a summer’s day, when reaching the road from our driveway, there appears to be a body of water beyond a clump of trees. I’ve almost driven off the road trying to see if what I’m seeing is real. When you get past that certain point, reach the stop sign and look back, you can clearly see that what you thought was a lake is actually an unused field.

At dusk, when the autumnal evenings cool the air, the fog rises from that same area as if The Mists of Avalon have gathered to separate the mythical island from an encroaching world. I’ve watched “the lake” on those occasions, as I have driven through the mists when they cross the main road before sunrise. The enclosure feels protective, which is what those creatures living behind the veil must sense. I know there is wildlife, as the deer have seemingly come from nowhere, and one occasionally hears a chorus of coyotes.

Skeptical of mystery, the modern mind seeks to find a logical explanation. Why does this lake, turned into commercial farmland, refuse to behave like farmed land and revert to the moist existence of a lake? Why does this area seemingly turn back to its former reality under certain conditions when some sources indicate that there hasn’t been a lake for almost 90 years?

Research is the best place to begin when seeking comprehension. One website provided just a few basic sentences, but it offered clues worth exploring. Further reading uncovered that the lake was never really a lake, but over 100 acres of wetlands that had been converted into farmland almost a century ago. Terra cotta drain tiles were installed to prevent flooding, but a few years ago ecological projects, solid funding and wetland reclamation efforts have restored native grasses.

For those of us who don’t want any construction coming nearer to our houses, it’s nice to know that the land is too boggy for development. Swampy areas of quicksand prevent the bulldozers, but it’s perfect for wildlife preservation. The drainage tiles in that area behind the farmed land were removed a few years ago, so there is a buildup of moisture to cause the evening fog. The mists are still mysterious in spite of explanation, but what of the optical illusion of a lake’s surface on summer days? There’s a logical explanation, but I want to hold onto the mystery of the Ghost Lake for a while longer.

© 2016 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1