A tune that carries the day away

THE water-system inlets we take care of for a central Oregon city put very little demand on my time through the winter. I take temperature, precipitation, and pond-level readings in the morning and phone the report in, down the mountain, to the city offices. We are all, my wife, Laura, our two daughters, and I, highly resistant to cabin fever. We usually get outdoors, at least for a short time, in almost all kinds of weather. If we don't get outdoors, we don't usually get bored indoors. We have no television, but we have family projects and individual projects in the process. Laura is reading ``Moby Dick'' to Juniper and Amanda as they wash dishes. There are classes in math, history, geography, and other subjects for about two hours in the mornings. Juniper has violin practice every day, and Amanda practices the piano. They both write, paint, and draw.

Laura is starting to put together some essays about our previous caretaking job, on a ranch in northeastern Oregon, where we lived without plumbing or electricity. Sometimes we all sing together. I've been writing a book, day after day, week after week. I'm nearly finished, and for the first time, doubts come swirling down on me like the snow that is blowing down the canyon in a 30-mile-an-hour wind.

What kind of fool, I wonder, would devote a year's hard work to a book that might never be published and might never bring in a dime, especially when the family hangs precariously above economic poverty?

The wind has been roaring down the canyon and swirling around the house most of the time for a week, and I've let that keep me indoors. The snow here is 2 feet deep, but stumps stick up through the snow or are buried just beneath the surface, and the hill is steep, so I haven't attempted to ski there. Down the hill and across the creek, the road is usually ideal for skiing, but the wind has blown the road almost clear of snow in many places, so I can't ski there. But by late afternoon the wind diminishes, clouds clear off, and the sun comes out.

Everybody else is happy with what they're doing. I walk down the hill and down the road. Rocks, trees, and high cliffs stand above me on my left. Bridge Creek and Tumalo Creek come together down the hill to my right and run down the canyon toward town, through, over, under ice. Above the bluffs an eagle coasts on thermals. Jet planes shake the world from above the clouds blowing east.

Jays celebrate winter from the small pine trees growing up in the old burn. A coyote on the hill watches the man on the road below him walking down disruptive thoughts, loser's moods, and low-money blues. Somewhere in all these ridges and canyons, a lynx is surviving the winter. I see his tracks crossing the road in the snow.

I turn back toward home. Even this lesser wind in the brilliant sunshine is cold, stinging my face, blowing down under my collar.

At the house, I stomp snow off my boots and go in. I'm not completely clear yet. I lift the shining Gibson out of the battered black case. My fingers are music. My hands are dancers. Blues, blues, Good Morning Blues.

``I lay last night, turning from side to side./ I was not sick, I was just dissatisfied.''

A man singing himself up out of the low-down blues. My daughter, rap-tapping on the typewriter, says, sing ``Mule-Skinner Blues,'' and I do. This is blues about walking away and leaving blues behind, don't care about troubles, a man with a high-stepping walk and a dancing mind. ``I been working on the new road for a dollar and a dime a day./ I carry the dollar home to Rosie, and I throw the dime away.''

The sun sets down into snow on the ridge above us and throws golden light high into the sky. Golden tones from the big Gibson rise to the darkening blue sky. A man sings, up into the deep blue sky. Water falls over the waterfalls, rumbles through rocks, mingles with other waters in a deep song that carries the day away with it.

And the cabin fever and the doubts lose this round. The world still needs those of us who are fools enough to work day after day, week after week, even when there is no assurance that we'll earn a dime for our work. The world still needs those of us who see that we can have riches in our lives even as we skirt the edge of economic poverty.

And I put the Gibson back in its case and snap the case shut and turn the light on and sit down at the typewriter again, and the rap-tapping of the keys seems to sing a song with the wind that is rising again and swirling around the house.

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