5021, Orion Rising
Saturday Afternoon, August 22, 2015
The other night, I scanned my journal for an hour or two, looking for an entry that would be about the right time and place. I’m almost sure I wrote about it. If I didn’t, it’s so clearly etched in my memory that I think I wrote about it…
In the final year of my Dear Brother’s residence in Maryland, I had come up to go over some stuff. I think he was working on the garage or the attic in preparation for putting his place up for sale, but I had come up to talk, and also pick up some firewood. He intended to leave a decent pile of it for whoever bought the place, but I had asked for anything over that decent amount, intending to take it to the cabin and refill the woodbox.
It was cool and we had our flannel and wool on. The woods on his acreage had been cut over in the last 15-20 years, so there was a lot of underbrush and scrub dogwood. I had one of the work pick-ups backed in as close as I could get it without scratching the paint, and he had doubled over to get his arms around a big knotty chunk of crotch wood. It was the kind that stays heavy 3 years after its cut, it burns low and hot all night so long as there’s a good bed of coals under it. I wanted it.
Little saplings bent and whipped as he got down low. There was no place for me to be, and getting too close would have been a bad choice, increasing the odds that one of us would get a twig to the eye or strain a muscle.
He got his arms around the chunk, hoisted it, got his legs straight, and exclaimed “Winter’s coming”. I’m not sure why it struck me so forcefully, but I’ve thought about it ever since.
Damn straight it is… Winter is coming for all of us. As sure as we stand here, winter is coming.
I had to pull the blankets up last night. It was cool here in Louisville. It’s supposed to be cool here this weekend. Francine is meeting a friend in Florida for a long weekend at the beach, and at this very moment, Dear Brother is somewhere around Zion, Utah, on his way from California to meet me in Lake City, CO. Our shared destination is Uncompahgre Peak.
Orion, more than any other celestial feature, has been my harbinger of oncoming winter. I’ve seen it twice lately and for whatever reason, it’s meaning seems to hold larger.
The first time I saw it recently was while clearing the creekbed on the back side of South Maroon. We were climbing up that ball-buster stretch and I was catching a blow, trying to get my shit together, and I looked up and the there it was. We’d been hiking for a couple of hours, but the dawn glow had yet to brush the sky.
The second time, Kate and I were motoring southwest across South Park. We were in the Big Open, heading for Buena and a rendezvous with Antero. The sky was perfect despite predictions of overcast and stormy weather. There it was. Kate had been dozing briefly, and when she roused and the angle was right, I pointed it out to her. She had to bend low over the console, but she saw it out my driver’s side window.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Orion. I was about ten, and I’d been studying star charts for years. I couldn’t find a single constellation, and thought I was lame. There was a southwest facing window in the single bathroom of our house in Randallstown, and I hunkered down on the toilet some late winter evening, and was staring through the trees when all of a sudden, the pattern came alive. I will never forget it. I jumped up and ran for my books. I buttoned up my Woolrich and dashed outside. Once I understood the scale, one after another constellation fell into place. It was a gestalt of the most profound kind. I threw my head back and laughed. Books were so small. I’d been looking for an Orion that would have fit over the Pleiades. When I grasped the size, everything fell into place. The heavens opened for me.
Ever after, Orion became my winter constellation. I loved winter and looked for a rising Orion that would signal the end of summer and onset of winter. Orion the hunter – hunting season.
As Orion set earlier and earlier, I lamented the coming thaw and onset of spring and summer. I missed a landscape reduced to its fundamentals: Land, Trees, Sky.
Now I’m sixty as I write this. So when I saw Orion on the back side of South Maroon and subsequently on the drive across South Park to Antero, it meant more to me than then just another harbinger of winter.
“Winter’s coming” is now about more than donated firewood for the cabin.
Hearing one of my Maryland Brothers tell the tale of a great weekend at the cabin, I ache for a good fire of cherry and maple. I miss Benny Superdog. I feel like a cold beer and a boxed donut. I want to be there, to step out the back door and take a leak with only the outhouse light wire and starlight visible through the canopy.
Finishing The Colorado 14er List makes me feel old. It makes me feel like winter’s coming. Orion doesn’t help, showing up like he has lately. I reopened a dialogue with one of my old fishing friends. My flyfishing mentor, Tom is old. He’s had multiple surgeries and needs oxygen to get around. His wife is still strong, but Orion is rising for her, too.
What’s to be done?
I feel great, I feel strong, I feel in shape. There are a lot of things left to do.
Now more than ever, I need to be cognizant of the time remaining. I think about building us a new house, getting the project started, then packing my computer, a few books, and my hiking and flyfishing equipment into the truck to spend a solitary year at the cabin, watching the seasons change, writing, reading, and doing. I’d swim, I’d hike, I’d catch fish, I’d look at the stars from the meadow across the road or the starry meadow nearby… And ultimately, I’d watch Orion rise.
One of the last things I did before coming out to Colorado was to take my late dad’s best friend up to the cabin. We had a lot of fun that weekend. He’s ancient, but still a doer, and I had chores for him. Plus, I knew the man liked his grape, and I had some nice vintages as required for sitting in front of the evening fire. As we drove away to head home, I had the very real sense that he thought he might be saying goodbye to it all for the last time. Certainly, his kids have no attachment to the area. As we pulled out the cabin driveway he was silent, then as we passed the entrance to Prospect Hill, he said “Goodbye, Jerry. Goodbye Farm. Goodbye Christmas Trees.” I choked up, but didn’t show it.
Orion is rising for him, too. Lucky for him that he knew it.
I know it, too. If all goes well, I’ve got a strong 10-15, and a coasting 2-5. I hope so much that someone takes me to the cabin, too. When I’m laid low by time, I hope someone takes me up, builds a fire, and reminds me of how I felt when I was strong and young.
And when Orion rises for them, I hope there is someone to be there to escort them to their own special place as well.
Orion rises for somebody, everyday.
Cheers to you, Hunter. And to your little dogs, too.
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