Roaring, Rolling Whispers

21 10 2011

At four-thirty in the morning where my brother sleeps in a gorgeous little rented pool-house in LA, where chilly is in the upper fifties and dawn, still a few hours off, will announce itself with sunny seventies, here in Central New York, I let myself out the back door of this creaking, wood-frame-and-cracked-plaster-on-a-raw-cut-stone-foundation northern house, past the burnt-dust smell and insistent hum of the kitchen’s ill-placed heating vent, across the tilted, grey-painted boards of the back porch, and through the pane-less screen door

Me in my bathrobe-and-uncombed-hair, no-make-up, grade-at-home-day glory, holding the computer out in both directions from the porch-door: first back towards the grey-white of the wooden walls

to settle, steaming mug of sweetened, milky, Irish breakfast tea in hand, old-blue-bathrobe wrapped, on the thickly over-painted dark green wooden stairs that lead to the narrow concrete path through the long, not-yet-dying grass of our tiny city yard.

This house is on a steep, steep hill, and as the rough winds of the change-of-season toss like ponies’ manes the strong boughs of the mature maples that border our little property, they roll aspen leaves from the houses up the hill towards me in a rush, a surge of sand-dollars rolling on a transposed sea-floor while I sit in the still curve underneath the wave and watch the tree-tops carry the swell; it crests at the edge of the yard, where the tree-cover breaks for grass and low weeds and the interruption of a street, before it meets the eddy of another hill’s stream and veers off eastward, downhill, toward the highway. The maples themselves are still green, but nothing about them would lead you to mistake the season: curled brown at the edges, growing brittle in sound as they clash together, but holding easily in the toss; the leaves that dot the yard are from somewhere up-current, the neighbor’s house, the one before it, the park at the hill’s summit.

At the foot of the property, a forest-gate is made of a few pieces of left-over metal chain-link fencing, a few lengths of wire fence (mostly subsumed beneath a dense covering of ground-ivy), and the deep shade of a low-lying white cedar, its cone-fronds hanging in russet clusters amid the hunter-green feathering of its foliage. Down the hill, along the open-gap edge of the property, another wire fence supports a tangle of woody vines and the few remaining brown-and-yellow spotted leaves of a missed crop

And then outward: left-to-right, maples-over-cypress-shade, driveway lined with assorted-weeds-and-concords, the next street's wooden houses, & almost lost against the sky, the next ridge south

of concords–the birds took every one–knotted in with and shadowed by the brighter green-and-yellows of sumacs and a host of weed-elms and other less identifiable growing things hanging over from the neighbor’s yard. The roof of the garage next door–at least twice as far below me as our basement floor is sunk beneath, because the hill is that steep–is littered with yellow birch leaves and the remnants of a honey locust, always the first to go, and they accentuate the rarity of our hillside, which has been preserved by facing southward.

Through the gap, I can see the rise of a near hill, and down the street eastward, the far-off foothills to the south and east of the northern-most fade of the foothills of the Appalachians; both are liberally splashed, even in this grey morning light, with red and orange and yellow, all at the muted remove of later-season foliage after a few good rains have come: each trunk, I know from seeing them up close as I pass them on the highway during my thrice-weekly commute, is only skirted with leaf-color, its upper branches already bared. Another wave rolls through, bending the spindly stalk of a late-blooming pair of black-eyed susans into the grass to tangle in its blades, buffeting the asters still rising up like stars in the dark field of the deep-shade ivy.

The light is one-bulb-aquarium blue-grey this morning, dimming the driveway, darkening the ground beneath the trees, welling in glaucous pools among the leaves, wherever a maple, momentarily stilled, holds shadow, and the sky is snowbank, cloud-bright at the zenith fading into a mottled steely blue and dust-pink bruise along the ridge of the mountain. As the wind whistles through the narrow passage between ours and the uphill-house (these are separated by no driveway, not even a path, and are almost close enough to touch one from the other) and steals the steam away from my mug, tracing out a runnel of ice along my hand as it dries the squeezed trail of aloe along this morning’s splash-burn from an over-energetic kettle, the tumbling asters remind me more of finely detailed early snowflakes instead.

Through the hiss and roiling of these branches, a thin line of diamond-yellow slices across the eastward ridge, winked-in-and-out by the leaves that cross before it, as for a second the autumn sun slides a beam beneath the blanket, crossing the top of the world some feet below my vantage point, and as I breathe in the tea-steam and the cold, wet wind, carrying with it scent-stories of smoke and leaf-dust and earth-mold and lake-water, I think of that dry, sparse country, wondering if he ever wakes to echoes like these, these images, before the extremes of winter, not unlike the scenes from our bedroom windows in Virginia, where we did most of our growing up: does he dream of the northeast, and the seasons left behind, or is LA enough, Pop-Up Video and an endless string of warm, hazy days that last the whole night long?

Listening to: Regina Spektor


We wear our scarves just like a noose
But not ’cause we want eternal sleep

We’re living in a den of thieves
Rummaging for answers in the pages
We’re living in a den of thieves
And it’s contagious

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