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Saturday, December 16, 2006

The howling wind

A brief respite from the storms

We heard there was a storm coming -- with winds of fifty miles an hour. Lots of storms here gust to fifty, but when fifty is sustained, that can mean trees down and power lines lying on pavement, crackling, and the like.

One of the venerable pseudo-cypresses framing the front of the Library was shoved over, and had to be cut up ignominiously and hauled away in a dump truck. Houses and parked cards in various areas were serving as resting places for trees both large and small. One man died when his pickup hit a patch of black ice; three experienced climbers have disappeared on Mt. Hood, and sixty people can't find them. A catamaran has washed ashore upside down, and bodies are appearing on the beaches. So it's been kind of a rough week here.

As I was driving home from work during some of the worst of all this, I saw three explosions of blue light against the black sky, and the neighborhoods around me went dark. I drove the twelve miles to our place through rain and an unaccustomed lack of illuminated windows. Even the country mall and its usually brilliantly lit gas station were out cold. Nothing glittered except for the headlamps of other cars.

As I reached our place, I found, at last, some light -- for Beloved had got out the candles and lit the kerosene lamps.

These lamps were passed down from my grandmother's mother. They're no-nonsense nineteenth century lamps, with a fluted glass base sweeping up to a champagne-glass shaped reservoir, a brass fitting for the wick and chimney, and the tall chimney itself. Regal in bearing, these lamps can keep a room fairly well lit. Thanks to the wood stove and the lamps, we had dinner, hot cocoa, and a good book. It was almost a let-down to have the power come back on just as we were going to bed. What had been a romantic interlude ended in a clock frantically flashing "12:00 -- 12:00 -- 12:00 -- ."

Snow did not come down to the valley floor, as they say, but it has dusted all through the hills amid the upper elevations look like a winter scene from a New Hampshire calendar.

This morning I had a kitchen frenzy, making creamed sweet potatoes, whole wheat onion-garlic bread, steamed beets with honey and vinegar, mixed vegetables with Jerusalem artichokes, and veggie soup with garlic blossoms (from the freezer).

There was a hard freeze, and the roofs in the neighborhood were all white. This meant that the chard, bitter in warmer weather, would be edible, so I hopped out to the garden, you see, and one thing led to another.

After all that cooking, the weather moderated, and I felt a yen to go fishing. I pulled out the kayak and drove over to the reservoir. No one there, as is usual this winter. This place had been popular over the last decade or so, winter as well as summer, or even more so in winter, as it's known the trout will bite here in the cold, when they seem sulky elsewhere. But not as many have been stocked in the lake as in the past, and the regular season was so poor that all the men have either gone elsewhere or hung up their rods, leaving it to one old madwoman in her little cockleshell and about fifteen cormorants.

We're not complaining.

The bite was on, and the trout, as has been usual for the last few weeks, have been heavy holdovers, fish that have survived the motorboats and sonar over the last couple of years. They have lots of fight in them, too, as they no longer remember the hatchery, and the cold water holds more oxygen in it than in warmer seasons.

The surrounding hills were all white with snow, and the sky was quilted over with that thick, dirty cotton that says "snow coming." There was a biting northeast wind, against which I was well muffled, and a heavy swell running from the other end of the water. Sunward, the swells glittered wanly; elsewhere there seemed little difference between light and shadow. Cormorants dove, then popped up elsewhere, fixing me with their unblinking stares.

I had to divide my attention between the trout, who were certainly active, and the wind, which drove me toward the dam at a spanking pace. I might hook a trout and start reeling, only to find myself too close to shore, and then switch to paddles and make for open water over the grey peaks and troughs, almost shipping water, towing the fish behind me.

When I had had enough, or about an hour and a half, of this fun, I put in to the boat ramp, packed everything away, used the jiffy johnny, which was actually invitingly warm out of the wind, and went down to the boat basin for a glance around. The rich people's boats live here, lonesomely gathered together, clanking against their moorings, the wind howling through the stays, unvisited by their owners for months at a stretch. No one was home but a handful of gulls and some fifteen cormorants, sulking in a row along the breakwater.

One of them turned his head to run an appraising eye over me, then dismissed me with a bird's equivalent of a shrug. The others didn't bother to look.

It was a place where one has no name.


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