This is a guest post by Claudia Charlton who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. The setting is Oregon.
Inland fog hangs heavy in Elk River canyon this morning. I wake to a blanket of gray pressed over the meadow and against the windows of the bedroom – buried in an impenetrable pudding.
Time for a walk. I don’t do walks all that much, but I love the Elk River as it courses from its rain-fed sources in the mountains of the Coastal Range, down a winding path to snarling waves of the Pacific along the southern Oregon coast. This morning the river is calm – riffling and whispering through its runs over colorful gravel beds, pausing to ponder in deep pools tinged with purple shadow. The fog appears to weigh heavy on its spirits as well.
I round the first bend from my house and a single shaft of sunlight pierces the mist to target a miracle. Three perfect spider webs, woven from threads of diamond glistening in perfect patterns, each a meticulous replica of a lace doily crafted by a grandmother who specializes in crochet with tiny hooks and delicate threads. I stop and marvel as sunlight creeps across each sparkling strand. Afternoon breezes will end their ephemeral splendor.
Rills of rain water tickle and trickle and thread themselves down slopes covered in layers of fern and moss and fallen limbs. Today they’re noisy after mountain showers. Some days they’re timid, each conserving its energy into a single tiny stream impelled to reach the surging stream at its downhill end. A contributor to a greater force.
The canyon narrows upriver. The water far below my path winds along the steep of the mountain rise – some places clear and still over shallows, more like a mirror of river water than water itself, some sections green in their depth – if green and blue streaked in purple and silver can be called just green.
The mosses are definitely green. Lime green, almost to the yellow-green of an old-time crayon box. It’s variety that stuns. Ribbons of moss drape from the foreheads of boulders, like fairy ringlets. Mats of moss, thin and feathery, blanket great rock faces, beards of giants. Sleeves of moss sheath the arms of a long dead myrtle, like those old-fashioned gloves favored by glamorous movie queens – the ones that clung from fingers to upper arm.
Sapless bones of skeletal trees stretch in twisted struggle to a sky they’ll never reach – some drenched in falls of moss, some bare and crumbling in shreds of rot, some contorted in record of their perpetual struggle to find the nourishment of light. An old growth stump feeds a start of fresh life growing from its rot. Another, equally as magnificent, stands lonely, shredding fingers of itself in long strips to deteriorate in the detritus about it, nourishing with its death new life.
The backbone of an ancient Port Orford pine stretches skyward from its crevice in the river bank far below. It rises almost to where I pause on the road above, its worn fibers faded to a gray-white that resembles the color of royal ermine. I pause to admire its tenacity, its lonely splendor.
Arms of living trees twist and reach to sunlight, each the embodiment of the spirit’s struggle to endure. Brave, determined, inventive, persistent, stubborn – and magnificent. My favorites are those specimens that cling to slopes falling steep to the river. There, where their holds are precarious in rock and crevice and slipping soil, they thrust elbows in every direction, twisting back on themselves for balance and light, warted and scarred and battered and survivors in their battles to endure. I gaze in reverence. I resolve to mimic their courage and steadiness and furious determination.
The fog lifts. Sunlight strikes maple leaves, gold and rust and amber and yellow all splattered with freckles of brown. Dew drops sparkle on patches of fern. A patch of myrtle sprouts cling to one another at their roots; decades from now those sprouts will coalesce into one mighty tree stretching and bending and seeking the light – a queen in a forest of royalty.
On the hillside opposite a great myrtle spreads – seven arms of one root ball writhe and curl to sunlight. The struggle to feed their expanse has slowed growth and at their tops leaves are sparse, only a few fading yellow flags linger to rustle in the breeze. Most have long since fallen to the mossy hummocks below.
The river gleams, reflects sunlight back into the morning.
I turn and walk toward home. Renewed.
Claudia Charlton is a retired nurse, teacher and sheep farmer currently living near Port Orford, Oregon. Her work has appeared in the online edition of Oregon Quarterly, the Home Forum section of the Christian Science Monitor and the Posts of Oregon Humanities.