Hanging around in the cloud…

Towards the Sunset

The pines waved their long needled arms while they bowed towards the northeast, as if showing the wind where to go.  But they stood ready for the big gusts, with deep and widespread woody roots stubbornly clinging to the rocky soil.

Long ago a glacier had bulldozed away all but the granite knolls, leaving prairie between, where the pines found a foothold, and decided to stay.  This prairie undulated between the granite formations with their pothole lakes left behind by the walls of ice, and though rocky, the soil was rich and fertile.  Wild orchard grass attracted grazing animals, and drivers had to watch for deer on the curvy road, especially near the spring.

The Spokans named the place Four Mound, although it was debatable if the four mounds were granite knolls or the gentle mounded undulations between.  Or perhaps there were four hidden burial mounds somewhere that were best left anonymous.  Four Mound Prairie sat atop the land that filled the big bend in the Spokane River north of the Nine Mile dam and southeast of the Little Falls dam, with Lake Spokane dam close to the northernmost point of the river’s arc, except the Spokans called that dam “No More Salmon dam”.  The lake filling the boulder rimmed canyon behind that dam had several names as well.

The naming of the places matched the land–a little lumpy, filled with opposing forces jockeying for top positions.   The locals called it Long Lake, while the map labeled it Lake Spokane.  The Indians, the Spokan, Sampoil, Kalispel, and Skitswish called it No More Salmon Lake, because that is what the dam brought them.

But by the time the No More Salmon dam created No More Salmon lake, the die had been cast against the Tribes.  Snake eyes came up with every roll, and their riches were taken by the whites that came like the river in April, roaring and full of itself, knocking everything over and pushing anything tethered or rooted out of its path.  The Spokan got pushed to the dry granite mountains north of the river, where the soil was thin, and no glaciers left their legacy of water.  Fire ruled this land.

Four Mound Prairie lay between the big falls in Spokane, and the big dam that used to be big falls where the river swung southward again.  From Four Mound Prairie looking north, mountains reared up on the other side of the river, and more mountains rose higher and higher to the northwest all the way to Canada.

Not too many people knew it was there, since it was on the way to nowhere.  The cars and trucks on Four Mound Road were either driven by Indians or people that lived there.  Because of that remoteness so close to the city, the twisty and scenic county roads got discovered by drivers and cyclists.  One of those drivers didn’t want to go back to town anymore, and bought the place for sale where Pine Bluff Road meets Four Mound Road, on the highest knoll of the prairie looking north towards the big arc of the river canyon where the mountains heaved up behind.

The driver of the sports car put his house on the highest part of the acreage so that the windows looked to the north, and the wind pummeled it from the south and west in the springtime.  He planted his garden and orchard where he could see them out of those windows in front of the sweeping view each morning as he sipped his coffee.  And He saw that this was good, and grew content watching the snow cover the mountains in mid October,  and planted his tomatoes when the last of it vanished in May.

He saw that this was very, very good.

They called the people that stayed in the city Zombies, because of how they looked, all thin and sickly from drinking bad water and eating rotten food.

One very hot day Sue knelt in the lower garden, filling a basket with pea pods.   They had pressed the seed peas into frosty ground back in March, or maybe early April.  She wasn’t sure about dates and times anymore.  All the clocks had long since stopped and they couldn’t get more batteries for them.  Brian had a wind up watch, so they had to find him to get the precise time.  Sue thought about before when time ruled her life.  Now the motion of the Earth, Sun, and Moon governed them, telling them when to plant, defining months, days, and years.

The intense dry heat signaled the garden to demand everything be weeded and harvested and planted for fall all at once.  Pole and bush beans needed picking before they got woody and fat.  Corn needed someone to oil the silk to flush out earwigs.  Ripe plums needed picking before the wasps got at them.  Three apple trees and a pear tree needed to be thinned.  All of it needed careful watering constantly.  Someone needed to push a wheelbarrow through the lower pasture and scoop up the cow pies, then shovel all the goat shit up in their pen, and finally use the dung to start another compost pile.

Sue felt a wave of fatigue pull at her from both the heat and from sitting watch for Zombies the night before.  But she pressed herself to finish picking all the pods with perfect sized peas, leaving the too-small ones, and sighing when she found a few that bulged with too-big ones that got away.  They’d have to keep those and dry them for seed.

The Sun, high overhead slid over the meridian.  Satisfied that she’d found all of the pickings for the day, she stood up to stretch her petite frame.  A deep ache spread through her lower back as she arched back raising her arms, posing like DiVinci’s drawing of a man in a circle.   She stretched further, wishing the pain away.  They used to have pain relievers like Tylenol and Aleve, but had used them up.  Marshall had traded for a Willow Bark start at the last Barter Gathering at the old Fire Station, and the pain in her back prompted her to give the potted plant by the gate an extra drink, and pinch a leaf or two to chew.

Brian and Marshall hollered at her from the lower pasture for water when they saw her shutting the gate.  She waved, hoisted the bucket to let them know she’d heard them, and filled the bucket from the hydrant with sparkling forty eight degree water.  They practically worshiped that water system, its solar powered pump letting them enjoy running water most of the year.

Sue practiced carrying loads on her head, gradually strengthening her neck and developing balance simultaneously.  First she took a big PLO scarf and twisted it, then coiled it around her head to create both a cushion and a platform for the bucket.  Then she hoisted the bucket up and balanced it.  Just in the past month or so she felt confident enough to let go and walk without holding it.  She made it to the lower gate, but had to hang on to it while she fiddled with the latch, opened it, stepped through, and shut it behind her.

The fellows knelt next to a section of fence, almost finished with splicing a broken section of barbed wire and field fencing to fix a gap.  Both wearing ragged cargo shorts and no shirts, Sue marveled at how both men in their mid 50s had grown to look so young and fit since everything changed.  Brian had been portly before, yet now stood slim and freckled with his broad brimmed hat shading his bearded face.  Marshall, stubble chinned, deeply tanned and muscular, especially his legs, stood up, all vestiges of his former beer belly long gone under a bit of a six pack.  Both men had long pony tails, and Brian’s beard, streaked with white, tickled his chest.

They drank their fill, then splashed the rest of the water over themselves, delighting in the sudden cooling.

“Any idea what Jeanne is fixing for supper?” Brain asked, as water dribbled deliciously down his arms, chest, then seeping into the waistband of his shorts.

“She found a can of coconut milk way back in a cupboard, and said something about Thai food tonight.”  Sue answered, swinging the empty bucket around her thighs.

“Oh boy, I can’t wait”.  Marshall grinned like a little kid.  Brian wished he could cook with the coconut milk, and began to plot his escape from the field.  He could have to use the bathroom in a big way, or need something from the house.  He decided he would use the bathroom idea later, about the time Jeanne would start cooking.  Jeanne was the de facto housekeeper and cook, because she had very bad knees and couldn’t squat or lift.  But Brian and Sue, both excellent cooks like Jeanne, somehow found their way into the kitchen to participate in the culinary pursuits, and Jeanne always had plenty of tasks waiting for them.

Jeanne, Marshall’s wife of three decades, had indeed found a can of coconut milk.  It sat on the fake wood grain countertop in the kitchen, like the centerpiece of an altar, surrounded by offerings of spices, dried peppers, garlic bulbs, fresh basil, cilantro, and onions.  She grabbed her digital camera and flicked it on.  The rechargeable batteries still had life, and still took a charge in the charger, so they allowed the camera to live on.  She snapped a couple of shots of the array on the counter, satisfied herself that the pictures looked like an edible still life, and shut the device off again.

Then she sat down at the computer, plugged the power strip into the inverter, and fired up the computer.   Slipping the SD card into a reader, she transferred the pictures to the hard drive, and then opened them up in Photoshop.  Endorphins flooded her brain with the pleasure of it as she adjusted the brightness, contrast, and tweaked the color.  She was especially delighted as she cropped out the intruding handle of the grain mill, removing it’s Pinocchio wooden nose from the left side of the frame.   After looking at it lovingly for a bit, she closed the window, shut down the computer, and disconnected it once more from the battery and inverter, remembering to unhook the red pole to save the battery.

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