Mountain Living

The River Between the Living and the Dead

Ai Wei Wei’s Zodiac:  The Ebbing of the Year of the Ram
The year begins singing its death song as fall blooms on the prairie and the days hover in the pendulum swing between abundance and dearth, life and death. Outside, the yard is full of leaves–every day I can see a bit more of the sky from the bedroom window as my summer curtain of green turns pale gold and crashes back to the ground. In the garden, the pepper plants fall exhausted to the ground while the tomato forest hangs on, full of fat green fruit. Into these days, when the sun is angled to produce the most exquisite light over the landscape, creeps a bittersweet feeling, a bit of romantic gloom. For the first time in months, I am sleeping a deep, dreaming sleep, and enjoying the luxury of wraps and neck scarves and leggings. But dark covers light all too soon as the curtain closes on the day at 6 o’clock sharp.  In no time, I’ll be howling about wind and cold and wanting sun on my face and legs. Too soon the landscape will be marked by absence instead of presence, and like everyone else, I will try to keep it at bay by filling my days with cooking and food.
Orange Sunrise and Green Lemonade

But this year, before I start fatting myself on the excesses of the season, I’ve started a fall cleanse, limiting my diet to juiced fruit and vegetables for a few days. Normally, I’m all about cozying up to a hunk of stewed meat as the weather turns cold, but this year I’m entering the dying light of the days already feeling bloated with the weight of too many things—writing, work, memory.  They say that a cleanse gives the body time to rest, a break from the work of digestion, but this year, I want a rest from overly-analytic machinery in my brain as well. My days have been filled with the sieving of remembrances—of my dog, my cabin on Overland mountain, my unholy and boulder-strewn childhood—as I’ve worked to piece together what seems like chips of bone and pieces of my own sinew into the fabric of a manuscript. Along the way, there’s been a bit of blood-letting and not a little grief, weight I’ve been hauling like a sack of dead fish.

The Fox Who Came to Dinner


Mom as a girl
Later today I will decorate my Day of the Dead altar with marigolds from the garden, along with the ashes of my mother and Elvis, but I’ll add a pine cone from the cabin, a photo of me as a girl and a picture of the fox.  Then I’ll lay out cigarettes for mom, a bone for Elvis and cornmeal and bread for the rest.  While I sip “green lemonade” and something called “orange sunrise,” I will symbolically feed not only the departed, but all things that have gotten me this far. 
And me
Believe me when I say the “bright side” is not my default position.  I am decidedly a glass half-empty kind of gal.
But for three days, I am going to be half full.  I’m going to make space to celebrate not only those that have passed, but the ghosts that haunt me still, along with everything that has tried to kill me:  Every single stick, every single stone, every fucking fire. 
I am thinking of the next three days as a crossing.  The river between the living and the dead, between fall and winter, memory and memoir, between a worn out perspective and whatever is to come.


I know it’s a lot to ask, but there it is.  


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