This is Earthquake Weather: Haibun

“Curves Ascending” by Louis Staeble

March 11, 2011


That afternoon we headed out on our favorite hiking trail. It had been a hard winter and the snow was still shin-deep in some places; hardened to thick, cracking ice that gave way to mud in others. Nearby, Little Bear Creek roared louder than fire, its angry rapids swelling and bolting onward, maybe all the way from the Idaho panhandle to the Pacific, in a tireless stampede. Its banks washed out, leaving tree roots suspended in the air like funny beards. Its waterline stretching, reaching above a yellow willow’s toothpick top—more and more snowmelt constantly joining the run—its currents prompting us faster.

the crane
adjusting its folded feathers
I forget the paper

Beneath our feet, the trail grew worse; boulders and whole logs crossed our path. The raw entropy of mudslides—landslides—rockslides—everywhere. Climbing through, the angle of the bank gave way to nothingness; gravity and snowmelt combined to breathtakingly sublime, craggy slants. My shoes became caked brown and my socks suckled at my ankles—loud slurps with every step—but still we continued just a little further, always a little further. We edged onward, but lost the trail completely and eventually had no choice but to turn around.

lakeside blossoms
beckoning me
through the looking glass

Nearing home, the path was dotted with old tracks joining our own—here whitetail deer, here a lone dog walker. And yet, as we followed the footprints back toward home, we couldn’t help but think them a temporary thing, the walls of 180 foot Ponderosa Pine, White Pine, Grand Fir, and Western Larch closing behind us as soon as we stepped through them.

a newborn foal
steps lightly
toward the snow fence

But as we rounded the corner, our house appeared and the world grew smaller. After we set our snowy boots by the heater and piled our coats in the closet, we gathered around the kitchen table to laugh and tell stories of other days—other hikes, other climbs. Old hailstorms, old sunburns, old broken twigs that snagged at our packs. The day’s icy breeze all but forgotten, we breathed, instead, the steam from soup bowls. The windows began to thicken, darkening to solid panes hanging motionless behind the couch. And before I knew it, I was slipping into my cozy bed, eager for the kind of dreamless sleep that follows.

summer windows wide—
we sleep and wake
to the old brook’s babble

It wasn’t until the next day that we heard of the earthquake in Japan, nearly 5,000 miles away. Two fronts: here the river’s familiar rush; there the seismic thundering, like the pounding hoofs of a coming army, and the following spread of the tsunami’s tide. We spent the whole day watching the terrible, terrible videos, as if humans could capture its shape.

Earth rises up—
the road’s border

 *   *   *

November 17, 2011


I am reading about disaster. They say the Tohoku earthquake has made our days shorter. It has jolted the whole Earth, redistributed mass, and changed the planet’s axis. We wobble different. We don’t notice it, but we spin faster.

and reimagining
the seawall’s height

I close the book and take a break outside. Snow has fallen. I do not feel like trudging through it. I packed away my clunky boots last year and have not had the heart to dig them out yet. I guess I’m clinging to the hope that the last few years really were abnormal—that the usual winter weather really is milder. Even the librarian said winters haven’t been like this around here since she was a kid.

watching home movies—
mother tries to outwait
the fast-paced blizzard

Or maybe I’ll just get used to it—so the cold and snow will no longer shock me. I forgo my usual route on the unplowed, paved bike path and walk up the road instead. Not as abandoned as a fire road, but still, a road that remains impassable for a large part of the year. Today, I follow tire tracks.

the squirrel’s scamper
frozen white

It is odd—uncanny. I am a hundred feet southwest of my normal path—a path I have walked so many times that I have memorized every bend, every crest, nearly every tree branch and pine needle lining its sides. I try to figure out how far I have walked by recognizing landmarks, but my “open field” looks like a small lawn from here. My “big rock” is barely visible. The other end of my “steep deer trail” is nowhere to be seen. There are different tree stumps—different hills. The few places where I can see my path through the trees, it seems so high up, so level. I am only feet away, but everything is just different enough to unnerve me.

It is like going inside your neighbor’s house for the first time. Based on their pristine mailbox and tidy windows, you had not expected the clutter. This dark and ugly, grey brick around the fireplace. And what is that strange smell?

my shadow

I am happy to be home. I will find my boots for tomorrow.

my signature
what you know

*   *   *

March 11, 2012


a controlled burn—
clearing the garden
of old weeds

The river ebbs and flows. Floods every spring. It feels strange, after last year’s devastation, that everything’s so unchanged. I still smile. I still hike the same path.

Note—the same exposed roots that appeared last March. The same fallen trees. The island where the river braids, the planes of flooded grass, the banks of dried mud. The same water stained snag full of woodpecker holes—marking the strength of the river’s surge.

Only maybe that one tree, further up the river, has slid down the muddy slope this spring instead of last. We had not gone this far last year. It is hard to tell, but its needles are so green—and no moss drips from its underside.

And there are other changes. Men came with a dump truck and re-graveled the path. The large, fallen yellow pine that had blocked the trail is now sawed in half. And the flood-carried, old tree trunk that had been left hanging so precariously, spectacularly, wedged, bridging the riverbanks after the waters receded, is now gone.

cracked footprints
in spring rain

No. This is it, swept half a mile downstream, moored in the grassy floodplain.

shadows too

It is so much warmer than it was this same time last year, but as the sun sets, a bone-chill follows. The river, the trees, all give up their heat in a ghostly fog. A keening, a swan song in the cold night. But eventually winter will lose the battle—summer will win. It always does.

red in the morning—
this spring heat
is earthquake weather

I hurry home through the river’s valley, the fog thickening. The darkness thickening. Fog, more fog, and instead of the trees, instead of the hills and mountain, I can see only a single floating light—a beacon that I had never noticed before. It must be a porch light—a hidden house. As I walk the wending path, the light disappears, then reappears. I am tired. I am thirsty. I am done with this. I keep heading toward the light, the same direction as my own home. Toward civilization. I trudge onward—blindly through the hills I reason must be periodically blocking my view—my savior—that lone, shining spot.

I am determined to reach its glow. And I know I will. It is only a matter of time.

mating season—
an echo

But the patches of fog move here. A steady stream. Creating a twinkling like starlight. Even when visible, the beacon is fuzzy. I am so intent on keeping it sighted, that I trip on a branch. No, a stick. The dried stem of a thistle, really. Pathetic, I think, embarrassed. And the light has disappeared again—to heavenly ocean waves.

rearview mirror—
cherry blossoms
come again

The patches of fog move here, I think to myself. A little too late—delayed, finally processed, formed into words. The patches of fog move here. And, like that, I have finally noticed it—made the thought mine. It is then that I realize I can’t see the future. The future is too slow.

wet snow—
beneath the willow
the river’s bend

The patches of fog move here. The trail is unchanged. But the patches of fog move here. And the earthquake, I think. My mind wanders. The thoughts balance, then return, each time like a bad dream. The earthquake, I think—still shaking underfoot.

this metaphor

*   *   *

June 20, 2012


Emerging from the woods and summiting, for the first time this summer, I look over the rolling, wheat-velvet hills of the Palouse. They resemble sand dunes, and basically are: a layer of rich loess over ancient basalt lava flows—volcanic silt from six million years ago that is slowly being windblown eastward. Still. The hills move here, slowly but measurably, every year.

summer solstice—
the morning stays
in the treetops

The view is nice, but not as impressive as it seemed when I first moved here a decade ago. Around here you are never on level ground. The hills that used to give me frightening vertigo barely register anymore. And while I often suffered highway hypnosis on those long stretches of flat between Colorado and Missouri or across Wyoming, people around here had never heard of such a thing. Here, the roads weave in between curving slopes and the grated gravel runaway-truck lanes paralleling the highway pop-up at near-regular intervals everywhere.

I take a drink of water. Splash the scrape on my shin clean. Whose farm is that? The rectangle of bright yellow flowers from which they make canola oil? Anyway, I am far enough away he could never see me. The distance is greater than it appears. In fact, everything is bigger here in Idaho. Ponderosa pine, which I think of as those bushy stub trees dotting the Rocky Mountain foothills, here tower in grand forests. The weeds grow taller—head-high bluebunch wheatgrass, common mullein reaching a foot taller than me in a single growing season, honest-to-goodness ferns everywhere, dandelion leaves thick and waist high—untended lawns like wild, prehistoric jungles in less than a weekend.

Rounded melon gravel, formed by a giant glacial lake flooding and tumbling huge rocks, which from far overhead resemble the pebbles left by a river, are actually gigantic boulders. And then there is Hell’s Canyon, America’s deepest river gorge, cut by the water, by the Snake River. I have seen several bald eagles and am always struck by their size as they sit, vulture-like, in the stubble fields near my home. And unlike silly antelope or mule deer, here the moose stand taller than my car, larger than horses. Virtual dinosaurs.

But large animals move slower. And we forget just how large the Earth is.

the valley lovely
dark and deep—promises
another slope

I file this thought to ponder later, when I am not so alone. For now I have miles to go before I sleep. Miles.

noontime heat—
restless legs
reveal my shadow

*   *   *

March 11, 2013


On this, her death anniversary, the soul travels to the place for which it is intended.

Time goes by and change becomes permanent, then changes again. This is the Third Year Memorial: one, the death, two, the year anniversary, and now three. Something like the stages of grief. Later there will be a seven-year anniversary. Then thirteen, seventeen, twenty-three, twenty-seven, thirty-three, thirty-seven, fifty, and one hundred. We will stop what we are doing and remember. Integrate the immobile past into our chaotic lives. And while we still cry, we will find it is not as often, not as much.

the even snowmelt
skipping and jumping
to a stronger current

On this, his death anniversary, the soul travels to the place for which it is intended.

We have had a baby and the stroller cannot handle the icy divots of other people’s footprints on the frozen bike path. Years past I would have easily trampled through this little snow all winter. Nothing like the feet and feet that dumped all at once and blocked the trails the last couple of years. Crippled the branches. And the streets. Head-high drifts and literal stories of snow pushed to the center of the road before being carted away by dump trucks. Nothing like the raging snowmelt that flooded, outpouring from every crevice, and thundered like revenge. This year was mild—a gentle gift—like holding my husband’s hand while I dream.

cherry blossoms
by candlelight

On this, their death anniversary, the soul travels to the place for which it is intended.

I love my daughter more than anything. We sit at home and listen to music. I wiggle her toes. I pop and she laughs. We look at pictures and she smiles. Then we stroll the several blocks of our neighborhood and return home before her father gets home from work, before the street lights begin their sodium glow, before the temperature even starts to drop. She will learn the cold, but not tonight. Tonight we will look out over the quiet Palouse and be grateful for time and place. This is two years after. This is memorial.

vineyards grown
from volcanic soil—
tasting each life


by Jennifer Met

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