It’s pre-dawn. The night was cold but now the sky grows pale. The forecast: “Mostly sunny, with a high near 54. Breezy, with a west wind 14 to 23 mph, with gusts as high as 33 mph.”
The cat flap knocks and more cats come in than went out. All winter the bed was covered with a king-sized faux-down white comforter rated to forty below and the outside temp went that low and lower. The bed looked like the snow outside, even the snow flying in the air instead of lying on the ground, properly as snow should.
Now the bed is dark, a purple comforter with a still-new smell from being on sale. The sheets are red, Ralph Lauren, in fact — bought when I had money, two decades ago. The cats, now renewed with cat food, pile up on my feet. Dark bed, dark cats, still dark skies, but even gray cats purr in the dark.
When I get up again, I sit at my familiar keyboard, waiting to remember how to operate this apparatus. Now the cats are under the lamp with their feet tucked, watching, dozing a little.
Out in the street under the defiant street lights, the grizzly bears go plodding by. “Isn’t this where we used to find buffalo carcasses in spring?”
There is news from Washington, D.C. The president says there is a small group of people who try to run everything, they think they know everything, they try to boss us around and control our lives but we know better. I agree, but the people he resents are scientists and conservationists and scholars. I resent international corporations and pipeliners and people who want to sell the National Parks.
Out in the street under the defiant street lights, the grizzly bears go plodding by. “Isn’t this where we used to find antelope calves in spite of how innocent they were of smell?”
There is news from the split Korea that they can now make rocket attacks on Japan and China and each other. Their hats look too big and they march funny like some kind of dance corps but the girls in their cheongsams are beautiful as cherry blossoms. This little dictator will pass. All dictators pass.
Out in the street under the defiant street lights, the grizzly bears go plodding by. “Isn’t this where we used to dig camas with our long ivory claws, raking food out of the earth before the meat animals began their summer drift across the grass?”
The satellites, too high to see, can look down at the snow/ice cover of Antarctica and see that huge chunks have cracked and will drift away, disconcerting the penguins. They observe and measure the snow/ice cover of the Arctic melting back to being a sea where the unicorn-toothed narwhals swim in pods, looking for fish to rap with their rapiers, but the polar bears are thin and moan. Icebergs the size of sky-scrapers pass along the coasts of towns so the people rush out to gape.
Out in the street under the defiant street lights, the grizzly bears go plodding by. “Isn’t this where there was a terrible thunder and lightning storm that made the air flash blue with electricity and clouds sting us all with hail?”
In the oceans of the world the fish schools surge, always smaller, and the whales’ songs are mournful. “Where are you? I can’t find you? I miss you. I love you.” The octopuses crowd themselves into plastic peanut butter jars that seem impossibly small and overhead the sea birds glide on the great wind gyres of the planet. They see that the coral reefs are bleaching and the sea waves are coming ashore, farther and farther, claiming their beaches back.
Out in the street under the defiant street lights, the grizzly bears go plodding by. “Didn’t this used to be a grassy meadow, marshy enough to grow the plants we used to graze in the spring? Cool enough to roll in after the snow was gone?”
It wasn’t long ago that the Old North Trail, which isn’t far away, was traced with travois drag marks from when the Nitsitahpi used to travel, the men on horses ahead and out to the sides and the women in a group with yelling children and quiet swaddled babies. The dogs went back and forth between the men and the women, spooking up rabbits and making the ground squirrels squeak.
Out in the street under the defiant street lights, the grizzly bears go plodding by. “Isn’t this where we used to dig up ground squirrels, tossing them in the air to stun them and then swallowing them whole? The badgers watched us, waiting for us to leave so they could try their own luck at digging for food.”
Past the town with its yellow street lights, there is a forest of wind turbines with red lights on the tops to keep airplanes from flying too close, but the hawks don’t know and get chopped up, falling to the concrete platforms under the huge rolling blades that move though there’s only a light breeze. They shine dark warning lights, the color of blood, the color of my sheets.
Out in the street under the defiant street lights, the grizzly bears so plodding by. “Isn’t this where my ancient grandmothers used to walk with their cubs, pointing out the landmarks? Isn’t this where that big male leapt up from a coulee and killed a cub for food?”
When the Canal company came it made the land into a machine, catching the snow, guiding it into channels across the dark earth, holding it until it was a reservoir behind an earth dam, then more channels to where grain sprouted and big square cattle gave birth on piles of hay, grown by irrigation, unrolled from summer.
Out in the street under the defiant street lights, the grizzly bears go plodding by. They don’t recognize the buildings. The dogs get one whiff and slink off to hide. Bears don’t read house numbers because their eyesight is so bad. But they smell everything. They smell me typing.
I’ll go back to my dark bed where the cats purr on my feet and I’ll dream of how it used to be, as though I were a grizzly bear walking the dark land and the street lights are finally gone. The sky will pale until the east outside my kitchen window blazes with sun.