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Under the beaver flag

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Written by John Daniel   
Friday, June 29, 2012
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Author John Daniel on his back deck, among the Doug firs.

// Photos by Alexandra Shyshkina

I’m no flag waver, but we do fly the Oregon blue-and-gold over the back deck, where my wife and I look out on a woods of Douglas firs and a few mossy oaks and big-leaf maples.

The firs go as tall as 150 feet. When there’s wind enough to get the flag flapping, their tops sway with a surging song, tossing in slow motion like seaweed in a tide, dropping cones and boughs on the roof. On our acreage of one in the inland Coast Range foothills west of Eugene, that’s the music of home.

Very rarely the performance crescendos to a full gale, and we trust as best we can in the grip of roots and the flexibility of fiber. If you live among big trees, let them be many. They buffer the wind for one another, and in protecting themselves, they protect us, even as they put us at risk. That’s Nature for you.

In summer their shade keeps the house cool, but every blessing is mixed. Our one distant view, across the neighbor’s pasture to a wooded ridge a mile away, I had to open by sawing off a lot of lower limbs. Raising vegetables gets harder every year, because the trees, still growing like teenagers, rob sun from the seasonal stream bottom where we do our horticultural best. In winter the double whammy of woods and climate can be oppressive. The trees drip, the days come gray and gray and gray. We trudge about in rubber boots, our mood matching the weather. It’s good for writing, sure, but also for going loony. Eventually, we remind ourselves, the sun will goof up and blunder back to our sky.

We’re encouraged when the trillium open in April. Pretty soon the sword ferns unfurl new fronds, and the Doug fir boughs show off their fresh, light-green tips. An irritable hummingbird buzzes the windows, demanding its feeder. Dogwoods spread creamy rumors in the nearby woods, blue camas hazes the green pastures, there’s a tentative buzz from the cleft bee tree, and one day in late April we hear the Vaux’s swifts whirring their wings in the chimney, announcing their return to raise another brood.

By then we don’t need a fire. We step outside, blinking in the unaccustomed light. Goldfinches throng the feeders, the flag gives a happy snappedy-flap, the treetops stir and sing, and we decide we’ll stay another year.

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John Daniel, author most recently of Rogue River Journal and The Far Corner, is a three-time winner of the Oregon Book Award. His next book — Of Earth: New and Selected Poems — will be published in September by Lost Horse Press. In his spare time he climbs his Douglas firs.