Up on Mt. Hood, my son is testing equipment and shooting video for Nimbus Independent. There, at elevations exceeding 7000 ft., the thermometer climbs to 50+ degrees. The sky is clear and blue. Skiing aficionados refer to this phenomenon as Juneuary: spring conditions in mid-winter.
Down here, in the foothills, most days repeat the pattern of overcast skies and freezing fog. Temperatures in the Hood River Valley range from the low 20s to the low 30s. The world feels upside down. Last week, however, a brief respite from this Groundhog Day weather presented itself. The inversion layer lifted. My spirits rose with the aquamarine skies. So, I walked the Flats.
Our home sits in the southwest corner of the Dee Flat farming community. This trianglular shaped plateau, a tableland of volcanic sediment, rises above and between the middle and west forks of the Hood River. We bought our four-acre property in 1978. Little has changed on the Flats in the years since then. Oregon’s strict land use laws protect farmlands from speculative development.
This makes for good walking. Rectangular blocks of pear, blueberry, and cherry orchards map out the farms. Rarely do cars interrupt my reverie. I walk on the yellow line in the middle of the road. Other walkers are scarce. Tidy rows of trees, clairvoyant in the absence of activity, patiently await pruning crews. Soon, their shears will stimulate growth implicit in the barren branches. Some days, only the barking of dogs reminds me that this is not a dreamscape, devoid of life.
Physical activity is the antidote for cabin fever. While walking the frigid roads, my thinking liberates itself from the monastic confines of home. The rhythm of my repetitive stepping awakens the story teller in me and the soaring horizon of clear sky acts as a catalyst: homeopathic medicine for my chronic case of writer’s block.
As far as life’s problems go, writer’s block seems trivial. Perhaps, it is especially insignificant when considered against the backdrop of my cancer, multiple myeloma, and that of the many friends and acquaintances I’ve met since being diagnosed.
Disease biology is destiny. I am no match for the pathology of cancer. Nor should I expect to be. It is going to do what it is going to do. Will my faux remission continue or will it relapse? My doctor and I watch and wonder. We experiment with drugs and procedures but its development is as tacitly assured as those buds in the pear trees awaiting the ascendant sun of spring. What chemo attempts to do, is suppress the impetus to grow and, in effect, create a persistent state of winter in the malignant cells’ environment.
Other than dormancy inducing drugs, what I’ve got going for me is good luck and something akin to the paradox of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Basically, that means anything is possible. These comprise my personal gestalt for the cancer. Thus far, I’ve enjoyed luck in spades. I am also learning to be comfortable with the certainty of uncertainty. Yes, cancer is difficult, yet difficulty is inherent to living. There is no escaping the realities of aging, illness, or… writer’s block.
Speaking of writing, here are three favorite reads from this winter:
God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet
“Slow medicine,” Hildegard von Bingen, and a pilgrimage pepper this memoir of caring for San Francisco’s indigent population.
Dear Life by Alice Munro
Munro tells simple tales. The cadence of her prose massages our humanity. It’s not what you say, but how you say it.
The Last Policeman by Ben Winters
A classic police procedural: suicide or homicide? The kicker is the back-story: in six months the world will end. So, who cares? Detective Palace cares.