Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Shire

I grew up in a very dusty place, dry and arid in Summer, a place where the true definition of humidity is almost unknown. There is a brief period toward the end of May when the mountains turn a surprising shade of green and tall willows sprung up along the banks of the Portneuf and Snake rivers, but most years it fades quickly in June and turns a bland yellow before burning into brown in July and August. I never thought of my hometown as a beautiful place until I took a job at the front desk of a local hotel and overheard tourists remark upon the stark radiance of the wide deserts and the quiet splendor of our narrow, little valley. It took many years of being away from there before I was able to appreciate all the seasons of my hometown for their subtle grace and austere beauty.

It wasn't until I moved to Chicago that I learned what humidity was really like. In fact, I didn't know my own hair curled naturally until my first full day living on the edge of Lake Michigan in Lake Forest. I marveled at the way sheets stayed damp all day and bath towels refused to dry overnight, or how my envelopes seemed to seal themselves and the way, at night, every street lamp held a halo of orange. In August, as school was starting, the last of the lightening bugs were still rising up among the trees and every year I was there I stood outside long into the night and watched their dance, breathing in the deep, loud scent of the lake.

I was never very happy in the Midwest; life was too quiet, too normal, too peaches and cream, milk-and-cookies-before-bed. I compared it to The Shire in Tolkien's Middle Earth, where the Hobbits were content to remain outside of the rest of the world, proud of their ignorance, basking in their perceived, but naive, safety. I was a man of Gondor, where the mountains rose up tall and dangerous, where life was still wild and spontaneous. But it wasn't until Ken and I settled in Denver that I realized how fully that humidity and the scent of the lake had permeated my being, like some sort of odor burnt into your nose or a stain that can't be washed away. There are still moments just before the rain falls, when the clouds are carving their way down the foothills but before the wind arrives, when I stand outside and close my eyes and imagine I'm on the shore of Lake Michigan, the waves lapping against the beach, the smell of fish and wet the deep washing over me.

This morning was the closest I have come to actually being there in nine years. Almost immediately after waking I leashed Duncan and we stepped out into a thick and fragrant mist which obscured the trees in the park, painting them in a sort of rich and mysterious kind of weather-poetry, turning them into something different while making them even more of what they already are. It took my breath away. The fog was heavy; I could feel it moving across my face and after the cars on Bowles passed by and the morning returned to silence, I thought I could hear it prowling through the grass, bending the blades and driving the ants and gnats ahead of it. While Duncan searched out a good spot under one of the short Junipers, I held very still and took long deep breaths and felt myself pulled back to The Shire, where life is not at all bland, but rich and full of meaning and steeped in memory.

I really must go back. It would be nice to walk Duncan along the beach and play with him in the waves, to chase the lightening bugs at sunset and sit with my friends in silence and appreciate the simplicity and quiet of a thick Midwest night and the glowing halos ringing the lamp posts around us.

1 comment:

caboval said...

I love the way you write! I could almost feel the fog!