I think sometimes when I talk about the ranch, people are confused about what we “do” there. It’s a question I get every now and then, as if it’s mystifying what someone might do out in the woods for a weekend. I try not to begrudge them the question, it’s coming from a genuine place. It can be hard to imagine, when you’re in the hustle and bustle of city life, stepping out of it. No happy hours, no Netflix, no friends to call, no readings, no gallery openings, no shopping, no wifi. I sometimes feel that way too, the evidence is in the bag I pack: it’s full of books, notebooks, pens and paper for drawing (I don’t draw?), other art projects I might get to, my computer, magazines.
I’m taking a class on inter-species communication—and how language shapes our beliefs about the world around us—and already I’ve been challenged and delighted by it. It feels like the perfect class to “go out on” now that I’m at the end of my MFA…I can feel the ways I’ve been pushed and shaped in the last two years as a writer and thinker, and now I get to use all those new skills to imagine a world where all living beings (land, animals, insects, water, plants) have a voice. Sometimes I write in that voice. Sometimes I think in that voice. But mostly I’ve been asked to listen for it.
Today, on the first official day of spring, I went with my dad and uncle and cousin—and Harley, Dexter, Nyx and Cedar—to go hunt birds. We left the city in the dark, weaving our way up the mountain as the sun gained steam, and set out a few hours later under a bright blue sky. To say it was a clear day does it a disservice: it was crystalline. Not too hot, not too cold. The air was crisp, the sun gentle. Around us the white shoulders of peaks broke up the flat line of horizon, and it felt as though I could reach out a finger and swipe it down the moutainside’s snow like icing on a cake. The dogs worked hard, and worked well together. We had two flushers and two pointers, and it took a minute for them to find the rhythm but once they did we were dialed. We left with birds in hand, the sun on our faces, a few good stories to tell. I will eat pheasant later this spring and summer and feel so grateful for the day we had.
I’m not sure why, but lately I’ve been seeing birds—more birds than normal, waves and waves of birds. You might think this unremarkable, but it’s been a lot of birds. All kinds: robins, thrush, crows, hawks, eagles. No herons though, my graceful friends (I see them very often). For awhile I thought it was just that thing where once you start noticing something, you see it everywhere. Like after I got glasses, I distinctly remember noticing all the other people who were wearing glasses too. It was all I could see, face after face bearing frames. But this feels different. It really does seem like there are more birds around.
It’s been a strange winter in Portland. I can’t quite get a grip on it. It was mild all through January, and then it was as if a switch flipped and we plunged into the depths of a terrible kind of cold. Not the cloudy, rainy gray we’re used to, but frigid blue and icy. It seems like once a week or so it will start to snow, sputtering out from what seconds before was a clear sky. It doesn’t last, the ground is still too warm for it to really amount to anything. But it feels odd to look out the window and notice snowflakes spinning crazily to earth, like I’ve been transported to a different country.