Falling back

Not until after the hike would I figure out how to reset the clock on your car radio. For now, on the first day of the return to standard time, we have to keep subtracting an hour -because, paradoxically, an hour has been added, smuggled in from last spring.

I wasted the windfall by sleeping in, however, and now, mid-afternoon, I feel a little torpid.

“I don’t feel as if I belong here,” you say, meaning the car and the road itself winding up & and up through the Seven Mountains. The leaves are mostly down, save for the yellow-orange of tulip poplars and reddish-brown of the oaks. As we climb higher, even the oaks stand mostly bare.

“We’re down to just three colors,” you say, and name four: brown, gray, sky-blue and evergreen. And having made that observation, we both begin to notice the spots of yellow: the odd birch sapling or green-briar vine beside the road, a few tamaracks.

“From inside the car, you could easily assume it’s 20 degrees out rather than in the low 60s,” you observe. This is the way things will look for many more months, with the possible addition of snow.

It’s windy. In some places, blown leaves obscure most of the gravel road. The sky has already attained that mid-winter blue, dotted with fast-moving clouds. I don’t have much to add.

We park, walk down to Keith Spring. This is a rock-lined, rectangular pool the size of a large grave, with a couple of steps leading down into it. Due in part to its location right on top of the mountain, it always has an air of mystery about it – diminished a little today by a skim of oak leaves.

At the Indian Wells Overlook, the view is as clear as I’ve ever seen it. Toward the east, I can count a half dozen ridgelines, the farthest maybe 50 miles away. We’re looking down into a bowl two or three miles wide, all wooded except for the wide finger of Bear Meadows bog right in the middle of it. We sit on the rocks and watch the cloud shadows. It’s very quiet.

Pondering the dozen shades and textures of lichens growing on the white quartzite and on the trunks and limbs of these gnarled old birch trees, wondering how I might possibly put any of it into words, I feel more strongly than ever my inadequacy as a poet. Maybe I can blame it on the English language itself? Somewhere, perhaps in northern Canada, I imagine there’s some native people who have a hundred words for lichens.

I don’t tend to notice clothes too often, but at some point I stop to admire the color and texture of your long-sleeved shirt, a soft, muted green. When we try to find its match among the lichens at the overlook, however, nothing seems especially close.

On the way back, we pass through stands of pitch pine where the fallen clusters of yellow needles, three to a bundle, festoon the branches of mountain laurel and blueberry like Christmas tree ornaments. The wind changes tone as we move between pitch pines, white pines and spruce. Only in the limbs of the long-needled white pines can the wind really be said to sough, I think. It makes me want to hollow out a bed for myself among the rich pine duff and sleep until spring.

Just as we prepare to drive off, I notice a new color on the ground: small, sky-blue flowers on a six-inch high stalk sprouting from the gravel. You get out, circle the car. “Lobelia inflataIndian-tobacco. See these little inflated parts? That’s how you recognize it.”

Four plants, each still producing blossoms despite the swollen seed pods lower on the stems. And here, just this morning I had been looking with some disgust at the myrtle in my garden, thinking that only plants from other climes could be so out of sync as to put forth blossoms now. What will pollinate them? Nothing. They are blooming for nobody, like Paul Celan’s Niemandsrose.

But I see I was wrong. Or rather, I had hold of only one end of the truth, like a dog playing shake-the-rag with its bemused master. This morning, before I even went to the bathroom, I jabbed at the little buttons on the digital alarm clock until I got the numbers right. It’s standard time now. Would somebody please let these flowers know?

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