Sticks to Kids

What Passes For Autumn rolled in very early Sunday with an atypically hard and much-needed rain, followed by the aforementioned sunbreaks.  I mustered myself for a final bout of summer-related yard work between the rain and the sun, claiming the need to work while Oscar napped, but really I just wanted to get out in the fresh, damp air.  I wanted to cross the lawn while the grass was still fraught with the heavy drops that soak your high-tops just retrieving the paper, and I wanted to smell the recently-drenched leaves while they still retained that oily, almost amphibian odor.

Sunday morning was the lastest skirmish with the blackberry colony behind our back fence, probably the last for the year.  As tasty as some folks find blackberries, for me the fruit can never excuse the virulence with which the thorny vines invade and dominate our otherwise benign local flora.  I heard somewhere that this species of blackberry was imported from Europe to North America to assist in holding back the Mississippi.  How they got to Western Washington is a mystery; the North Fork doesn’t wander much, so perhaps the vines simply burrowed underneath the Rockies, in the manner of the monster fungus of Oregon.

In the case of our particular outbreak, the vines straddle a small creek which runs behind our back fence.  The residence behind us is some sort of halfway house, and while they do have a large garden, proper attrition or outright elimination of the blackberry vines seems beyond them (while one resident does an uncanny vocal impersonation of a goat, he sadly lacks a complementary talent for mastication).  I’m of varying sensitivity to environmental concerns regarding the use of weed-killers and other herbicides, but the proximity of the creek shames all consideration of poisoning the vines, like human shields around a Baghdad bunker.  Nevertheless, I have long believed that so long as blackberry vines infest the planet, napalm will have its place.

For now, I rely on a pair of sharp shears to defeat the vines as they thicken into spears, stalks, and trunks.  I do not hesitate to reach over the fence to sever vines on the neighboring property; in loco pestis, doncha know (although Athena help me if I drop the shears into the thicket).  Snick-snicking isn’t the most grueling aspect of the work; that would be the gathering of the fallen shards into the yard waste can.  It’s exacting work, if only because severed bits of vine, like other forms of Pure Evil, can wreak havoc in even the smallest amounts. Fortunately, the underside of blackberry leaves are helpfully ash-pale. The next time I don dungarees and galoshes, it will be a truly Autumnal campaign: the gutters.

Another sign of Autumn: this morning I exhausted our supply of creamed honey when spreading my toast.  Come the First of October, I will break into the first jar of this year’s plum-cinnamon jam!

(Re: Kafka in the 50s: I can imagine him, actually.)


Nobody Does Anything About It

I occasionally give currency to the aphorism that the only things worth talking about are Sex, Politics, and Religion, usually appending my corollary that the three things never worth talking about are Work, Sports, and Weather.  Such sentiments are premised on the belief that disagreements are interesting and agreements are boring.  I will therefore subvert this premise by disagreeing about the weather.

Autumn is my favorite season, possibly because I, having lived primarily in Tucson and Seattle, have never really experienced it.  I have a mythical notion of autumn, which is only amplified by such odes to oaks as yours.  Nevertheless, I must defend September in Puget Sound; it is the most reliably pleasant time of our year. Our lovely morning fogs send a bracing tang beetling through the veins as one trudges to school, work, or the top of Mt. Si, and lift at 10h30 on the dot, revealing a defiantly warm blue.  Despite recent pigmentation, Seattle is always at greater risk for sunburn in September than in June.  Let recent arrivals have the sodden campsites from Memorial Day to the Fourth; my camping season begins the day after Labor Day, and would—if I had the means—persist for four consecutive weeks (followed by a week in New Hampshire).

If being persistently misunderstood is one hallmark of a literary prophet, little Franz K. gets my vote for one of the enduring voices of the 20th Century (the other being Orwell, although otherwise they couldn’t be more distinct).  Behind every terror I thought I’d left behind lurks his father, the unforgiving Hapsburg authority, a shadow of which ambushed me in my first week in Graz and hounded me into dreams of such vivid remove that I woke up each morning truly unaware of where I was.  That Kafka succumbed to the poet’s disease before having children prevented him from following The Castle with the final horror: becoming his father. (Can you imagine a Kafka surviving until the 50s, homesteading outside Tel Aviv? Neither can I.)


A New World

As Eric awoke this morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into Björk. [Sorry; I always wanted to start a piece that way.] Actually, I awoke with a song in my head, which is, for good or ill, not typical of my mornings. The song was Björk’s "New World" from her album SelmaSongs, the soundtrack to Lars von Trier’s 2000 film Dancer in the Dark, in which Björk also starred.

On its "face," the song is joyous, almost ecstatic. Being aware of the narrative context of the film, however, I find my heart breaking every time I hear it. This will not be a discussion of von Trier’s film (that will wait until Aaron & I rent it and screen it together), but I do want to seize the occasion of the autumnal equinox to consider the distinction between wistful acknowledgement of the passing of summer and petulant despair at the advance of darkness. The former is born of faith in the return of the sun; a pagan faith, but faith nonetheless. In this age of eco-collapse, it is increasingly twee to rely on the turn of the seasons for meaning, but I prefer such reliance to the other-worldly refusal to let go of a Golden Age, an endless summer.

If the solstices are times of reflection, the equinoxes are times of action. Like many Americans, I am generations removed from the duties imposed by agriculture, yet their rhythms long ago shaped the cadence of our culture. Where we once roused ourselves to harvest our crops and store up food and fuel for winter, we now begin school, hold elections, and launch wars. All these enterprises depend upon a recognition of the necessity of the seasons, an acceptance of the dark as well as the light, of decay as well as growth. For reasons which do not flatter him, von Trier conceived Björk’s character Selma as being arrested in late summer, raging childishly (but oh so beautifully) against the dying of the light. When she sings of a new world, she does not long for a temporal spring born of an equally temporal winter but a permanent youth, a break from the cycle of seasons altogether. I’m not without sympathy for such longing (it would not have touched me otherwise), but that does not diminish its faithlessness in a very old world.

One reward for faith in eternal recurrence: after ten years, Peter Gabriel has a new album out.