In the Fullness of Summer, We Plan for Winter

Justin Gardiner


One-hundred-and-six in the shade today, too much
even for the full green of this canopy, as I make
my slow way up from the river,

clearing the trail, which is my caretaker's lot.
"Some species of the desert," a field guide I have
on the Southwest claims, "adapt to the intense heat

by living out their entire life cycle
in a single week." Though it is hard to see how
dying quickly counts as any sort of adaptation.

Our plan here, in any event, is to see it out.
Both now, during the low-hung heat
of summer dusks, and later on, when the first

winter storm, up at the pass, closes us in.
For three to seven months, the old-timers say,
a window wide enough, perhaps, to fit

several life cycles. A length of time, no surprise,
that we'd love to pin further down. This morning,
I finished off the last of the uncut firewood.

Four cords of madrone that we felled
and bucked back in the spring. Rounds so large
you can sink three wedges, smoking

from the downward weight of the maul,
before whatever strength has held it finally
gives way and the red heartwood gleams.  

These nights, triple digits hang on until well
after dark, and Rose waits to can beets
and green beans by the light of a kerosene lamp,

to not add indecently to the heat. So what
if this home isn’t ours to keep—
who’s life, in the end, is? And whose job

is it anyway to discount as the mere turn
of seasons the happiness we claim?
Once, it was the act of leaving

that most held me. And absence,
with its lonely dignity, its austere grey repose.
But I choose now this simple life

of color—the vegetables shining dumbly
from their cupboard shelves;
the yellowed, first fallen leaves

covering this path at my feet.
Blue break of sky through the rising
tree line, signaling the meadow

which I can almost see.