Is it a simple release, the culmination of another year in the garden, that makes these days so satisfying and certain? I think not. Long before I became tyrannized by a garden and its chores, I had acquired a certain indulgence in the waning season. It is a satiating and sublime melancholy to witness the downward slide of the landscape, natural or otherwise. I thought this to myself this morning, as I wove on my road bike through shards of teen-beer glass on the back lanes of North Kitsap on the western shores of Puget Sound.
I am grateful to leave our home on Sundays to ride. I rise early and drink coffee with heavy cream and peruse the pages of the New York Times. I leave highly caffeinated and assuredly annoyed by the latest buffoonery deep inside the Beltline. But it is coffee crack and headlines that become the fuel for my ride, providing gas as I angrily confront another hill.
It is somewhat difficult to leave this morning. A steep, sharply defined fog bank rises mid-Sound like a ghost ship ominously advancing and then retreating. The redoubt of our garden is illumined with a crisp tangerine light and the hollow warbles of migrating loons reverberate over the water below our bluff’s edge.
Despite an obvious yawn of bleached grasses and sun-ravaged Gunnera the garden still looks rather sprightly. Yucca aloifolia ‘Variegata’, pristine in blossom, asserts its four foot mantle of tawny-blushed-ivory flowers perfect and unblemished. Lobelia tupa sallies forth unsullied, coveted still by greedy hummingbirds. From our bedroom windows, we observe an expanse of Kniphofia caulescens in full blossom, peering through an amber, diaphanous cloak of Typha minima at its fore. I like very much this latter scene, the tension of so closely adjacent beginnings and endings.
So is the jarring dissonance of the haunting off-octave echoes of the Varied Thrush, recently returned from the North now in its wintering grounds, as they are thrown to the ground below their early morning roosts, then combining with the tires of my bike as they crackle and crunch the degraded minerals of our driveway. I pedal past a pair of Lindera triloba seedlings from my collection in Shikoku in 1997. This morning for the first time, it was revealed, by means of plump darkening orbs of fruit on the more feminine of the two that I had fortuitously adopted, in the traditional sense, a matched set. It is an elegant species, more refined than Lindera obtusiloba that grows nearby, itself representing a single seedling brought from Sichuan last summer. Unlike our native alders and maples that will lighten these woods through which I ride with ruddy autumn yellows, the Linderas will ignite to a scrumptious blaze of orange.
Leaving our gate, on a potholed and rapid decline through the now dusty shade of ferns and salal, this morning, I chuckle to myself, is as refreshing as a scream of aftershave on the diaper-rashed ass of a U.S. Senator, carrying with me the absurd visuals from a cover story in today’s Times, as I glide through the woods of Douglas Fir and Bigleaf Maple to the ride ahead.
Along untroubled Sunday roads, chickadees make themselves known in the busy, gleeful chatter that remains, from my youth in Michigan, the harbinger of quieting autumn and then silencing winter. How is it that these tiny birds have found in this season a reason to sound so exultant? We have coaxed them to our kitchen window with a peanut feeder and will marvel in their plucky attitude during the upcoming months of cold and wet.
As I leave our village, I come upon a large wily coyote pausing along the road as patiently as a guide dog, waiting for all traffic to pass before crossing. I slow my pace and he looks back eye to eye, admonishing me to mind my own business and keep moving or he would have to kill me.
On Lindvog, along Liberty Bay, the fog evanesces to randomly expose shivers of blue sky and spots of sunlight. A single jet black raven, the size of a bald eagle or so it seems, sails above, its distinctive, throaty chortle echoes downward; we see them seldom but in autumn and winter and I always admire their presence, considering it a good omen. The Northcoast Indian tribes considered the Raven the most intelligent of our native birds although current studies have elevated the Pacific Fish Crow to considerable more cleverness. I must always take into consideration what species it is that has devised the measure of intellect.
Along the roadside as I climb again into the hills above the water, the remains of a poor crop of Himalayan blackberries dry on their villainously barbed branches. So feeble a fruit set this year that not a single pie or cobbler was crafted in our kitchen. Still, even with so few, the air is sweetened to that of herbal tea, especially in the pockets of exaggerated warmth that I unexpectedly and momentarily enter and leave on this ride, like a brisk power-walk past wide open doors of febrile bakeries in Paris on a frigid February day.
On Bainbridge Island, my carrot is a stop at the Blackbird Café for a triple shot latte and a blackberry bran muffin. It is sunny as I sit along a ghost town Sunday street on a bench, visited by two crows intent upon what I am eating. One of the two is variegated with white plumage; I attempt to take its portrait to show Robert upon my return home, however it does not trust my iPhone. In truth, I don’t trust my iPhone either.
And then a nose towards home, through Rolling Bay and the rock with the big green frog painted upon it, across Agate Passage and a frothy sparkle of riptide far below. Up the road with no name where we picked chanterelle mushrooms last week, and down, down the long decline on Gunderson where I pretend to go faster than I ever would.
After the respite, I have nothing but uphill, with the last minute’s pain of 300 vertical feet through the ferny wood that was profoundly more appreciated while heading in the same direction as gravity four hours earlier. I give battle to the hills by means of headlines only, of bigotry and intolerance, wide stances and nation building, vanishing polar bears and denials of climate change. Yet, entering the gate to our garden, Katsura inflates the air with cinnamon, Cortaderia fulvida dances with silver heads weighted by song sparrows and red-winged blackbirds. The Sound beyond the bluff is like freshly chipped glass in sunlight, active in the fore is our endearing local covey of California Quail and in the reticent heads of Agapanthus ‘Stormcloud’ carrying shards of our autumn blue Sunday sky to the ground.
The dogs bark their cacaphonic welcome home while the aroma of a freshly brewed pot of coffee glides through a door wide open.