Monday, July 9, 2012

fiddlehead tempura

Banner year of 1972. Blurred edges become lines that shift and shift until they steady and lay sharp. Sounds and colors begin to fill the space. I was ten that year. My toes bulged against the box of my shoes wanting to stretch out and see the bigger world beyond the canvas.

On a day I sat. Sometimes I'd sit doing nothing. What are you doing? they'd say. Nothing. What do you mean nothing? They said. Huh? Lions just lay there in the dirt of Africa when it's hot. Don't you sometimes sit and do nothing? Try it sometime. I'd sit sometimes on the the edge of the barn roof watching below the hang of the roof as goats crisscross the mud and head-bobbing chickens peck at the pebbles of the runway. So I'd have to come down eventually to pitch the hay. What do stinky animals understand of order? They understand musk. You cannot deny them their musk.

“Is that all of them, Marge.” I say. “You're not a border collie. Where’s Arnie?”

Corners everywhere are gray-blue. I wipe the sweat and it gets to be a little cold where I'm dripping. A ruddy flash goes, a coonhound from the blindside of the barn into the hay mound. He tosses up the stray hay as if a salad with his black nose and floppy ears and attacks the rest of the straw that abandoned systems of order raked in for hours.

“Stop it, Arnie! That’s my mess!” He bends his head to the side. His dark eyes are shiny. Some green at their edges. Colored corners too, like darkening sky. He seems to think I’m yelling at him praise and not just yelling at him. Marge runs back from cornering the goats and leaps into the crushed pile of the golds and yellows.

It seems memories are sharpest when the weather is clear or colored. The cold somehow preserves thoughts too. Out in the world beyond the unpainted palings I am no longer a child pretending to be a lion during summer in the serengeti where the painted underbrush is hidden and where cubs are likewise concealed where parts of an old world has passed along with parts of myself.

July 24, 1980

Steep blues reach low onto the ground. The sky still exists because we think of its existence. I cannot do more than fathom. There are many dark sweeps that come together to form the forest. There are piecemeal pines and there are dripping mists that sit sentinel against this last of the cobalt in their figures.

Arnie is against my lap as I lean against the lap of a redwood, ancient scaffolds against me and along the soil and mulch of needles surrounding. He is warm and somehow the base of the tree is warm, as if alive in the way of man. It is resinous and reminds me of my oily grandmother when she leans in to kiss me. He nudges deeper into my arms and I can feel his cold, wet nose. I want to whimper with him but just sniffle.

Where are they? Taking a number two cannot wait or so I told them and I told them to wait. But as any distracted photographer too fixed behind the viewfinder and not to their environs, they forget where they are, forget why they’re there at all, forget their charge of company, forget the other frames.

Maybe it was just me. Arnie and Marge had taken my side as I did my thing. I suppose such a thing is fair, since it was I that usually cleaned up after their number two. Marge got up first. She looked up and into that obscured shade between the narrows of trunk hulks betwixt giant red and black-green ferns and a bank of mist taking whatever shape that mists and shadows can draw together, becoming solid for the eyes only, or if you dared, for the touch, if you put your arm forth and walked into it without asking what's inside. With trowel I fill in the cat hole. It is easy to get lost, but I had sat looking back towards the direction of the trail. Marge’s nose was twitching and her ears and her jowls stirred up the currents of an invisible rainbow of odors to which only her dogginess was attuned. She follows.


“Marge! Come!” She doesn't. She's on a scent. Sense over recall. The law of dogs.

Arnie does not yet give chase. He is a methodical one, like me. He waits for me to do my pants. And then we are both standing in the thick of nettles and broadleaves. Just standing there. Just standing. Just standing there.

July 25, 1980

Crepuscular dust live on the light and shadow. They push down below the branches like a many-hand god, some imagined sanctum for spiders and their spiderlings. In this universe the only evidence are cobwebs and unspeaking plants of unobserved histories and old old light from an unseen heaven.

I can yet still turn back. Now. Right now. The cardinal direction is still known. I could cross the trail if I move in that one arrowed path. All to save myself. My friends will come find me. I think this and I’m somehow reassured. My pastor would call it faith. Back then I did not know there was no god. No such thing. Maybe not even faith or the goodly things universal to man borrowed for religion. Faith was a word children understood though. And how I understood it was that somehow I would without doubt find my best friend of all, Marge.

July 26, 1980

We are standing like the very trees. I thought we all were? Rings rings rings. Grow taller each year. Grow inside each year. My stomach rumbles again and I think I’m hungry but I’m not quite sure about that either. There's a span of deadwood. Arnie does not hesitate. He does not understand pathogens. And if he did, he’d drink it all the same. I sip from the same seep flowing between a ditch carved between two redwoods. They stand as if brothers, as if Arnie and me. I once heard the same pastor tell about the story in where men are judged by how they drink from a pond, on their knees in subservience or in the way that Arnie does it, lapping with tongue and gusto. I’m glad to be judged among my best friends. There are none two nobler. I had aimed to prove it to whatever God thought dogs were filthy and wretched.

July 28, 1980

All I can think about is food. I enter another sanctuary. There is a natural coppice and here armies of sprouts shaped like violin heads furl towards the pillared light from the terraces of branches. I eat them by handfuls. I pause and look back and Arnie is laying his head on his paws with eyes wide open into the shadows behind the coppice. Can dogs think? I’m not sure. Even if they did, wouldn’t it all be in pictures? But if Arnie is awake, something is churning inside his dog head, but is that something beyond food?

I crawl around hunting for more fiddleheads. My knees and pants are soaked and sprent with fine grains of earth. If it’s to be a cold nightfall, I might not make it to morning. It seemed to get colder each night with less and less in my stomach. My hands freeze with two bright green fiddleheads. A bead of dew drips. My mouth hangs. Touching my knees are the outlines of an animal speaking a terrible silence that had once slept on a patch of young ferns that are now crushed so young and early. There is no body only an impression. Arnie brushes up against me before sniffing and encircling and finally laying down in the patch. He stares at me again with those dark thinking eyes. With outstretched hands I offer fiddleheads.

August 4, 1980

This log is not complaint of the life that I have lived. I write it simply to tell the world, my family, my friends, to all those curious at the nature of my existence, so that they needn’t be sad at my absence. Arnie and I loved you all and cherished all that this short life had to give.

P. S. Hope you have found/find Margie.

July 20, 1981

So soon I rushed back here when my parents found it right to fully entrust my life back to myself. Faith is something adults might not outgrow either. Faith engenders faith, and so, too, Arnie and I have the faith that perhaps Marge might find her way back home--to us.

We enter again that deepened glade that somehow diminished light can enter, feeding the forest of ferns their cosmic energy. By the tree skirting the coppice, the spot of that passed animal has sprouted into wild splendor and I can barely tell it is the same place save for the distinctive slaggy pine that marks it. There is nothing more. Plant growths. Old-growths and older growths. Green and forested things that carpet our footfalls. Faith does not entrust with answers. It's just there.

Twenty paces out, I turn around, for Arnie did not follow so loyally and unquestionably as he has always done. I look about.



“Oh, please, God, not this again.”

I sigh and roll my eyes. My breath is calming again. He has interred himself between the stalks of two giant red ferns. He’s “thinking” again. I kneel down and he whimpers as I pet him. Somehow I know. He won’t be leaving this place, this very spot.

Story by HVH, inspired by Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls