Cocoa Bean comes into my room and hops up on my bed. The window blinds are closed. He pads at them gently with his black velvet paw. I twist the blind angle open, and sunshine floods the room. Cocoa, who is a year and a half old but still sounds like a kitten, bobs his head trying to catch the correct angle through the window blinds. I pull the cord, raising the inner horizon. I try to lock the lines parallel, fighting with the damn thing for about a minute. I urge it on: "come on baby, I know you want to show us the day!”
I pull the blind cord the wrong way and it mysteriously locks in place. I dislike the blinds, but they're a ubiquitous part of living in a place you don't own, it seems.
My eyes are still adjusting to the bright light. Cocoa quickly settles down on great-grandmother's hand sewn quilt. This big, beautiful heirloom was boxed up when I brought it home from Georgia (the state she lived in), because I was only about seven at the time, and my mother didn't want me to ruin it. So it lay in wait for my adulthood. Now, I've discovered that the quilt of pink, yellow, and green strips, was all stitched by hand. The mind boggles. I'm certain my great-grandmother sewed twenty quilts. What a way to spend a life. I notice the stitches are wearing in spots, and I vow to mend the blanket when I can.
I never closely examined the stitches before. I'm now a bit ashamed that I bailed on hand sewing cloth masks for us, though I'm grateful I could order some from my partner Chris's industrious aunt. I'm grateful to all the industrious and generous crafters out there making masks...and to all the people wearing them.
I don't have my mask, or even my glasses on right now. It's still early and I thought I might go back to sleep a while longer. The crisp brightness of the day stops me. Even without clear focus, I can see how spring- and kelly-green the neighborhood is. We're blessed with green winters here (an actively-sought quality after twenty years of Minnesota's freeze), but this time of year, everything is positively bursting with color. And pollen!
I've had to start taking allergy meds in the past few years. The Oregonian pollen is remarkably potent. I'm just too Midwestern for the Coastal Rainforest's vivid blooms without a little pharmaceutical intervention. Nonetheless, I try to avoid taking them whenever I can. As much as I'd like to belong anywhere, I'd like to belong here. Tolerating some discomfort seems worthwhile.
I lay my head down next to Cocoa Bean, and look up past the blinds. Right away I notice the cobwebs of house spiders, who bother me none. They catch flies and keep to themselves. Why shouldn't they get a view? Beyond the webs, the sky is a mottled mix of bright sun, blue sky, and spotty, grey stratocumulus clouds. Not far away, it's likely raining, just a little. This valley often experiences mild weather patterns, but it has lots of micro-climates, so different kinds of weather are common within a day.
The neighbors live in a grey-green double wide, and up the hill is someone else's RV: a weird, hulking, rectangular shape backed by a stand of trees.
Our yard has no shade trees, a major disappointment for property in this region. We've planted a few incense cedars, of which we'll probably never enjoy the shade. But that's not really why you plant trees.
The cedars are up front, where the traffic noise overwhelms the potential to enjoy the yard. There are wild vetch flowering up there too, though, their attractive ombre purple flowers inviting pollinators. And we have one mature tree, a prickly spruce, which serves as a busy apartment complex to hundreds of small spiders, flies, and other living things.
Cocoa is fully relaxed for a few minutes, his little paw pressed against the window glass. His black fur is rapidly warming up in the sunshine, and I massage my fingers into the thick, glittering coat. Without my glasses, I only really see general shapes outside. But in here, with Cocoa, I can see how each strand of fur shimmers a slightly different hue: red, gold, blue, even a little greenish. Each tiny hair has just the faintest whiff of iridescence. I burrow my face in the warmth for a moment. Cocoa stirs, stretches, and leaves as quickly as he arrived.
Eventually I do the same, stirring and stretching. I put on my glasses, and shoes. Chris puts the cats in their harnesses, and we head outside.
Albuquerque has a familiar routine, spending a little while in the fenced yard before asking to go out and hang in the driveway. He likes the view better, and he can roll in the gravel to his heart's content. This cat loves dirt baths and hot stone self-massage!
Chris and I study the spiders in the spruce, and catch glimpses of snakeflies, with their skinny, snakelike thoraxes. They're native to the western States, and relatively new to me. Strange, beautiful creatures.
There are piles of pulled weeds around the little yard. We won't use chemical treatments in place of the work of tending to what needs tended. Convenience is pleasant sometimes, but it's not a policy by which to live.
I wander off to watch neon-yellow and black Carpenter bees in the vetch. I spot a few wild honeybees, and at least one wasp. The neighbor's Himalayan Blackberry patch--an invasive, thorny mess of a species here in Oregon--are blooming little white flowers. I see more bees and flies zipping around it, working hard to stay alive.
Cicadas are clicking up in the treetops of the neighbor's easement, where a few taller trees stand--oak, a leaning pine, maple, and scrub berry bushes of some kind. More Himalayan blackberries flourish in the undeveloped spaces between and around the neighborhood properties, flowering and taking over. They aren't at fault--people introduced them to this region in the early 1920s.
Memorial Day weekend is here. The nearby road is hosting more motorcycles and recreational vehicles than normal--though they're a pretty common sight here, year-round. The traffic is as perpetual and invasive as Himalayan Blackberry.
Chris and I will wait for another day to go back into the big woods, but we will return to them. That's our real home: among the ancient, life-giving trees; beside the babbling flow of creeks and rivers; where snakes and salamanders, eagles and stellar's jays, and so much more life than I can list, all thrive. I cannot spend time in the Pacific forests and not want to protect them fiercely.
We are not only threatening the harmony of ecosystems, we are actively destroying them.
I hear the voice of the woods and I echo it. We must protect our siblings across the spectra of life: protect the spiders, the bees, the flowers and the trees, the roots, the fungi, the lichen...all the little things that permit the big things. We became bigger than the big old beautiful woods. How?
I look at the loud, obnoxious road, where trucks are hauling load after load of logs from one direction, stacks of plywood from the other. How much more new lumber do we need? How much more clear-cutting can the earth sustain?
I look beyond the road, at the hills and mountains distant, covered in trees. From some angles, some mountains of our range appear to have received a "high and tight." Humans have gotten so big, we give mountainsides buzzcuts. How much life lives inside the tree? Can you put a dollar figure on those creatures?
I stand at the fence, as the cats gambol in the yard, chasing flies and moths, and listen to the buzz and hum of life. Under the rumbling of diesel engines, under the constant Doppler effect of cars, and the high-pitched whine of motorcycles and lawn mowers and weed whackers...there's a loudness beyond human creation. The sound of billions of other lives, flying around us, crawling beneath us, and laying beside us when we sleep and wake. I take a deep breath, grateful the air is still pure enough for me to do so. It may not always be this way. It won't always be this way.
I thank the forests and the trees and the cats and all those pollinators, and the clouds and the rivers and the air itself. Even if I sneeze once in a while.
I'll let nature have this one.
Gratuities are gratefully accepted! Namaste.
About the author: Sarjé Haynes is a painter living in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, on Cow Creek Umpqua ancestral lands. She has two amazing adventure cats she coparents with her partner.