for my grandparents, who did not teach me
how to farm, and yet they scattered these seeds:
How a dunk into scalding water slips
the skin from a peach, leaves it unfuzzed, slick
for canning. How the trick to shucking corn
is one clean jerk. How jars of beet brine turn
eggs to amethysts that stain my fingers,
my lips. They left me to play in cellars
stocked with preserves and jam, in rows of trees
that released chestnut burrs for my bare feet
to find. What would they think of my pea shoots
left unlatticed, free to tendril one noose
after another around other plants,
my slapdash harvest, larder left to chance?
In the Garden of Invasive Species, I Offer Gratitude
I killed a turkey with my car while thinking about empathy and the Brewer’s Spruce. I hit it with such force the bird flew across the highway landing in the ditch with the thistle and grass. I killed a turkey and didn’t turn back, but the light from the passing afternoon was like honey, and with the traffic steady at four p.m. on the two-lane road and the storm having just moved east, I considered the death of the animal a possible inconvenience to my daily commute. A temporary delay. But no—that’s not what it made me feel. In fact, I’d wished I reversed my car—I did not feel indifference for killing and thought perhaps my duty was to bury the animal, collect the feathers from the highway and gully (strewn there like a child’s game of marbles or rice, flowers across graves, split metal framework, diamonds) and string them through my yard on lines and sticks, decorate the children’s fort, or at the very least, light a candle for its soul. Perhaps strip its body of organs and skin and keep it for dinner. But I didn’t do any of those things. I kept driving, alert to the lingering startle of both bumper and bird. How does a turkey die? What part of its body stops working first? The heart? Did it break its backbone, its sympathetic trunk? Had it only been out foraging for spring buds and last year’s acorns? And what had I been thinking of empathy? —of certain identification with the mountains, of home, of wishing for political forces to cultivate a sense of care for this place I live, a kind of fellowship maybe, something meaningful, close to love. I was sad about the turkey, and the government too, until upon arriving home, I forgot entirely of the bird and death and Republicans when my daughter met me in our driveway, “Hi, Mama!,” half embracing me with a toothy smile and a bowl of crackers in her small hand.
To practice the quick slipping away of ground beneath our feet, geologists built a second mountain. This one is a tender surface, fitted with sensors, and rigged for data. On sunny, cold mornings, to practice how helpless, they measure piles to drop — peat, gravel, water-saturated masses of organic matter, combinations to mimic what might happen — and let them fall into chaos. To practice the moment of shock, they invite everyone like a performance. The scientists on their lunch break gather, promising to stand quietly for five minutes after the stopwatch starts, for the duration of the drop, to watch how it all tumbles, gaining speed, no gasping no matter what it looks like, and for ten whole minutes after. This is the most difficult part. Practicing the quiet after.
With July well underway, we’veput together a list of transportive pieces that encapsulate the spirit of summer—the dust above the country roads, the coolness of the waterfronts, the anticipation of autumn, and of course, the sticky, melting sweetness of ice cream. Take a trip through space and time with these summery selections.
When we were young, white, and poor, we were handed dull machetes. At first light, in the back of half-ton grain trucks, we rode past the peppermint fields and the pear orchards of southern Oregon. We were strangers thrown together like dice in a cup. Some of us smoked quietly or blew the steam off the tops of take-out coffee containers. Others sipped whiskey from dented flasks or spit tobacco into plastic bottles. In ratty plaid shirts, torn dungarees, and worn out boots we looked the part of migrant workers. We would work twelve hours with half-hour lunch breaks that felt like no break at all. At the end of our shift we were older, more broken, and still in debt.
My dad’s black mutt slunk up to the front porch, looking slowly back and forth and crouching down low to the ground. I knew that body language: she was unsure of how a gift she had for us would be received. Her mouth was full of something. “Spit it out, girl,” I commanded. She gently separated her jaws and rolled a small brown ball of fur off her tongue. It was a wild baby rabbit, so small that at first I thought it was a mouse. But then I saw its ears and pink nose, and, as any nine-year-old girl would, I jumped and let out a squeak. Then I composed myself by taking a deep breath and patted my dog on the head. “Good girl, Macy. I’ve got it from here.”
I was not allowed to walk or ride my bike along the highway without an adult. “Blonde hair and blue eyes,” my grandma would tell me. “Just the kind they’d want to steal.” As though at any moment, I could be taken and sold for profit like a chunk of copper wire.
“They’re not gonna steal me, Grandma,” I would tell her. “I’m too mouthy.”
We decided we’d stop for the night in Denver while eating at a Taco Johns in North Platte, Nebraska, and scanned the Expedia app on my phone. There was a 4-star hotel in the suburbs northwest of the city on sale for 86 bucks, so I reserved a room because it was the same price as the Best Western.
Amanda Coplin’s debut novel, The Orchardist, takes place in the Pacific Northwest, a land of dusty rural outposts, ancient forests, and cold deserts. We begin in 1900, in the fruit orchard of William Talmadge, on a farm his mother founded years before in Oregon Country by leading her children “north and then west, west and then north, as if drawing toward a destination already envisioned…” There are rows of apple and apricot trees on this grand, but desolate, estate. Talmadge is a bachelor and an orphan. Talmadge’s solitude is heightened by the many years of his youth spent fruitlessly searching for his dearly loved sister, who went missing shortly after their mother’s death, leaving only her bonnet and basket as clues. This early trauma foreshadows the losses to come. Talmadge has only two friends: a mute Nez Perce man named Clee and a local midwife-cum-apothecary, Caroline Middey, who has long helped him with minor ailments and the embarrassing venereal afflictions of his younger days.
The trail never begins level. It’s part of the architecture of a waterfall. A creek or a stream or a river is flowing along its course, and then there is an abrupt change—a fall—that brings the water a little closer to sea level. A little closer to home.