February is sometimes called ‘the month of sorrows.’ In that month the rains never cease in this valley. Water, pouring, falling, misty, wet and flowing, stirs the poet to feel: “tears,“ but keeps the cliché private, knowing that sentiment often rides kitsch to truth . Still, walking in abundant space full of tears is the very nature of grief in joy. Hard to explain that one to anyone, so it stays on the trail, stays in the mind and enriches the heart.
“The month of sorrows.“ Ever hear that before? I suppose its because many leaving our realm wait until Spring. February isn’t the only such pool of time. There are others. We know them. I know that’s probably true, because I think that way myself, often, when walking the trail, at dawn. “Here’s a good spot,” I think. “Here—- near the sound of rushing water, in this patch of moss, on these pale blue periwinkles. I’ll fall here and look up at the raining.”
These thoughts aren’t depressed or gloomy, rather, the opposite. They are haiku, celebrating the very moment, while slipping forth from an aging mind. What a last glimpse—- hundreds of dew drops captured by spider webs on that vineyard fence. There sparkles the end we all face and don’t we all wish for the gentle fade? It strikes us as odd, speaking of beauty and dying at the same time. Yet, artifice often paves the way. Spring does both for us so well, without words. Sometimes, even poets are too enthralled to sing.
Winter in this fertile Northern California valley is lush, wet and green. Here, in the downpour and its verdant largess, one simple man feels the embrace of wild weather, live-oaks with wispy hanging moss, and their thick, dark-green, carpeted cousins climbing above marsh willows swamped in flood. Star-burst lichens in pale jade, or bright strings of orange, and yellow trailing forth—ruffled layers of fungus and wild mushrooms appear in spots of old dead leaves and piles of rotted branches.
From tangled neglect, remnants of an old farm garden appear new with coral-pink quince, grown tree-size and bushy. Their spiky thorns are a haven for rabbits and ground creatures. Here and there, daffodils, narcissi and snow-drops bloom from forgotten planting beds. Feral deer, small and brown, blend into the background of bark, eating softly, quietly, the new green grass. Birds are returning in mass migration, remembering from some ancient genetic code that these were once vast wetlands. It is a great joy when all goals are in the present moment, the next and the ones that follow. River otters swim beneath ripples on the pond surface. A single white egret stands in the flooded pasture.
It was about this time last year I met Marie. She was standing in an upper pasture, near a ranch fence where her friend Kelly was feeding her mules and mucking-out their enclosure. Kelly is always out at the first light of dawn. She is a dedicated ranch woman at one with time, space and her animals. It’s always a pleasure to see her and share a “Good Morning,” and exchange feelings about the weather, which always seems from her, a gift of knowledge and something far more special than ‘small talk.’
Kelly introduced me to Marie, who was beautiful with dark auburn hair, streaked with gray and large brown eyes covered with long black lashes. I thought, at first meeting, of Persian princesses in the ‘Tales of Aladdin.’ Even more so—of an actual Egyptian princess I once met. The latter, known as ‘Madame’ was the last of her kind—-an aristocrat left over from the days of King Farouk. She, a once-great beauty, was terribly scared by a sports-car accident, wore stiff, wide-brimmed hats to cover her face, smoked thin, cloved, black cigars, always wore gloves with a large carved, carnelian ring on the outside, dressed in English riding clothes, carried a horse crop, which constantly flicked at street urchins as she walked among the ruins of Karnak, giving our little band of tourists a history lesson on pharaonic majesty.
Like Madam, Marie was a force of nature, even if well past her prime. Kelly explained that it was hard for her to get around, because her arthritis was uncomfortable and her eyesight a bit off. As a result she became irritable and often nipped at the others: Star, Katie, and Bad- Boy. So, she usually ate her meals in the upper pasture, alone and unperturbed.
That is where I usually found her, of an early morning and there, in the summer offered her a willow twig to treat her breakfast. Or, as the weather grew inclement, a carrot or bit of apple. So every couple of weeks we had a chance to be close. She, on one side of the fence; me on the other, offering treats. In time she came to recognize me coming down the trail. Sometimes Marie just ignored me, feeling cranky or achy, but her ears would always perk up if she was in a good mood, or if pissed-off, her ears would lay back and down. What a diva! It was always a thrill when she made her way to the fence, slowly and demurely for a carrot. And, with all the wonderful experiences that can happen on the trail, her favor was always a highlight.
Then this winter, on Imbolc when the moon was at its brightest and the time of passage was halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, Marie fell in her pasture and couldn’t get up. It happened just as I was approaching the ranch with a handful of carrots. Marie had panicked and thrashed about, too weak to stand. Kelly was devastated as the Vet was called to give her a tranquilizer. The chilly, gray sky began to drop down rain; slowly at first, then steadily. By the time I returned from the other end of my hike Marie had been covered in a blue-tarp tent and a gathering of family and ranch hands were standing watch. Kelly was weeping—-or maybe it was the rain. Several days later when the sun came out and early spring was in its radiant glory, Marie was gone. February is once again, the month of sorrows.
Marie's friend 'Star'