There has been next to no rain in the Texas hill country for two years. I spent three months of my summer walking the dry grass and rocky creek beds around my parent's home. My new pound mutt was with me, chasing white tail dear at filling his coat with sticker-burrs at every turn. We would walk to the river where I learned to swim and see dry shoreline never exposed to the air in my lifetime. I would nap in the thin air-conditioning of my parent's home, unable to stop sweating after four years of sub-arctic winters. Dreams of the torrential rainstorms and dancing lighting of my early childhood came and went in the night.

I arrived in May to ride with the Paramedics of Hays County and finish the requirements of my program so I could test and return to Alaska for the wildfire season. I intended to stay for six weeks, eight at the most, but when my grandmother fell and broke her hip for the third and last time everything was put on hold while she slipped from this world into the next. I can still hear her breathing of those last few comatose days, six times a minute, a gasp between pursed, cracked lips. Holding my own breath unwittingly to the scarce rhythm of hers, I held her hand and felt her pulse strong then thready, retreating towards her heart over the course of days and breaths. We turned her, we sang to her. Her children sat vigil at night, counting each ragged grasp for air. A fish with no water.

When I began riding the ambulance again after a month's hiatus, no rain had come and the heat was breaking records of longevity. The last few shifts were busy with asthma attacks and heart attacks and anxiety attacks and an odd car crash on the hazy tarmac of the interstate. Two tests passed, and I was done after a year of too little sleep and too much rushing and not enough reading or writing or play. A few days ago, I packed my two bags and the mutt and boarded an airplane home. I arrived to a perfect arctic sunset at midnight, the sky lined with blue and grey and red and orange, the air a perfect balance of breeze and warmth. Peter and I sat with the runway to our backs in the eternal dusk, watching the sky and the trees. The husky pup, knowing he was back where he belongs, flopped down in a heap at our feet and watch the sky along with us.

Now I am packed again, off to tend firefighters in the Crazy Mountain Complex where 18,000 acres are burning near a village on the Yukon river. But this time, there is a peace and a feeling of home that I did not take with me into the drought and heat of Texas. I am going just up the road for a few days or weeks to do the thing that I love to do - to bring relief to wounded & tired firefighters and to sleep in a tent under the stubby black spruce and the midnight sun. The smoke from the seventy-odd fires burning around the state is already in the air around our cabin, hazing the trees across the road and soaking into the walls and into our coats so we will breathe it like a campfire into the winter.

1 comment:

Daniel Buchanan said...

It's really nice to read your words, Mary. I love what (and the way) you write.