Bear Paw

It’s so hot, you can hardly stand in the shade without breaking a sweat. I escape to the big house a little before two, when the sun is casting the shortest shadows and my skin has absorbed the heat like bread in an oven. Steve is out haying, even though the neighbors call him crazy to in this weather, but I need a rest. All the windows in the dining room are open, but the breeze can’t quite reach around the sides of the house and find its way in.

I’m looking out into the yard, across the overgrown garden and clothesline that has formed a V since one of the posts fell down. The collection of empty vases and flowerpots lining the windowsill adds to the loneliness felt upon walking through the door. Only spiders live here now. In the opposite direction, a picture window offers a view of the hay fields, far-off neighbors, and further still, the forested mountains that rise and fall along the horizon. Hummingbirds, three or four at a time, flock to a feeder hanging above the deck. They hover overhead, darting like tiny airplanes under the eaves. From the porch chairs you can see a few green acres, only a small fraction of the entire property.

It’s almost too hot to eat, but the kitchen counter is littered with fresh fruit and coffeecake and a peach is calling my name. I take big bites and let the juice cascade down my chin because it’s the kind of day when you do that just to have an excuse to splash your face with cold water afterwards.

Jan is at the top of the stairs vacuuming up dust and mice skeletons. Her mother’s possessions that are left- mostly books- are scattered and boxed and stacked in the room since no one knows what to do with them yet. Everyone’s sentimental about books. They are markers of curiosity and obsession, of yearning or frustration. “Canine Psychology”. “The Best Guide to Meditation”. A plethora of health and fitness magazines age in the corner. Joanne’s death was abrupt, unforeseen; in its wake it left confusion, heartache, and myriad books.

I’m sitting downstairs in the corner chair, snug in the angle created by two walls. Kodi the watchdog is perpetually smiling as he naps beneath my legs. My feet are propped up on an ancient suitcase. Across from me atop a stout bookshelf is a pair of grimy military binoculars and a row of desert succulents. The barn that Steve and Jan built a few years ago is visible through the window. Beyond it, five horses saunter through the pasture, seeking shade. Misty is the gray mare that I rode bareback yesterday. I could feel her sturdy muscles rippling beneath me as she walked.

Our farmland on the Idaho-Washington border is a place where time exists only as the circular pattern of the sun and the amount of rain only determines how long the crops will need to dry. Neighborly greetings last no less than ten minutes and stories are divulged over and over again in a sly, lilting voice with the same glint in the teller’s eye.

This is the place of early bedtimes and early mornings, of dust billowing behind pickups, of homemade brownies, thin and buttery. Here are the tiny frogs leaping towards protection in the windrows of hay as you rake the fields in lazy circles. If you need to take refuge from the fire ants, here’s the creek, whose muddy bed is lined with broken pottery. Inside the house, Cesaria Evora croons or The Three Pickers twang out from the stereo. Dog hair forms a silky carpet on the floor and sunbeams filter through the pervasive dust.

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