The rhythm of mornings on the Ridge

(I am spending two and a half months living on my parents’ place in the mountains in rural Eastern Oregon with my two preschool-age children. Shaye, who is five, insists on going to kindergarten, even during our short stay. This is a vivid slice of life.)

I rise out of deep sleep with the trill of my cell phone, which has been demoted to a glorified alarm clock out in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon with no signal.

First I inhale deeply before my eyes open. There is the pungent fragrance of the pellets that feed the little stove and the undertone of snow. My eyes open to the flickering light of the little orange flame at the foot of the big bed.

I reach over and fumble to turn off the alarm, so it doesn’t wake up Marik. Then I reluctantly role myself out of the froth of white blankets that cover the bed. I wish I had this nice of a bed at home in our little house near Prague in the Czech Republic. So much for roughing it in the mountains.

I stumble the few feet to the creaky ladder that leads to the loft and blink hard to clear the sleep from my head as I climb in the warm semi-darkness, lit only by the stove. Above is the tiny loft, mostly crammed with boxes my mother is storing. There is a small space that has been cleared for two pallets on the floor and my children sleep there – four-year-old Marik and five… almost six-year-old Shaye. I squeeze into the opening between a cabinet and the railing to reach Shaye.

I gently stroke her cheek in an attempt to wake her gently but she doesn’t stir. I can’t fit entirely into their tiny space without causing a fair amount of noise, so I resort to reaching down and lifting her by both arms as she sleeps. She wakes up as she is pulled out of her blankets but she doesn’t cry. She’s used to it and she loves kindergarten.

At first, her legs don’t hold her but I put her hands on the railing and guide her quietly through the little space. I have to hold her from behind as we slide down the ladder because she isn’t awake enough to be reliable.  Back down on the floor of the tiny one-room cabin, we dress silently by firelight. Shaye is usually done first, despite the fact that I have laid out our clothes the night before. My head is still full of fluff.

She opens the door as I get my boots on and the icy air of the still-dark morning blasts against my nose. It must be more than ten below again. We step outside onto the frozen path. There isn’t much snow this morning, just a powdery dusting. I close the door quietly. Marik is still fast asleep. Shaye and I make our way toward the big house  

I put my hand on her shoulder and let her bob against my legs as we walk. The moon is waning but still fat and bright, hanging among the pines that tower above us on the western slope. An owl hoots up there in the trees. Then another answers from down in the woodlot in the hollow far below. Something else cries out in the predawn, an animal I don’t recognize.

We step quickly toward the house. A light has been left on for us but otherwise it is still dark and silent. We bustle inside, shedding boots and coats. I put water on for tea, while Shaye snuggles with the two dogs and one cat that greet us. In thirty five minutes, I get Shaye through hair brushing and a small bowl of cereal, sometimes half a cup of warm fruit tea and a few minutes of reading. Sometimes I can salvage the coals of last night’s fire in the big hearth. But sometimes I have to build it up from scratch.

When my watch says exactly 6:45, we have to start putting boots and coats on in earnest. At 6:50, Shaye stands outside while I lace up my high tops and mash my hat into place. Both dogs barrel out of the door, growling and nipping at each other playfully.

“I hear the bus,” Shaye yells and we start down the steep quarter-mile mud track that serves as our driveway. I can see the lights of the bus far below, making its way up the road beyond our property. In three minutes, we drop down to the county road that runs through the bottom of the hollow. The sky is barely starting to get light but the morning as clear as the perfect note of a penny whistle.

We’re the furthest out on this school bus route. The driver, a sweet lady named Cindy, has to drive another mile up the road to find a place to turn around. Then, she comes back down the hill and picks Shaye up on her way back. That way we have the five-minute warning to get us down the hill and we rarely have to wait long.

When we hear the bus approach again and see the warmth of its flashing lights in the distance, Shaye burrows against me, suddenly demanding of comfort and multiple hugs. I hug her and put the required kisses on her face as the bus slows and the doors open.

“‘Morning!” Cindy calls.

“‘Morning,”  I reply, as Shaye bounds up the steps and disappears into the darkened bus alone.

I stand and wave, even though I can’t see her behind the glass or at that distance. The one time I forgot to pretend to exchange waves with her, she gave me a hard time about it for days. So, I wave and smile and pretend that I can see her as the bus pulls away. One of the absurdities of being a legally blind mother.

In a moment the morning is as still and peaceful as that clear note of music. The sky has lightened a little along the horizon, though it will be a half an hour yet before the sun peeks up.  The only sound is the yipping of the dogs as they chace each other out in the neighbor’s pasture. I turn back up the road and hike to the stop, pausing a few times just to admire the morning. The brightening skyline and the pink-hued clouds are blurry to me but still beautiful, something like an impressionist painting.

I take the grassier path back up the ridge. That one ends back at the little cabin where Marik is still asleep. I slip in as silently as I can and sit in the rocking chair reading for a few minutes as the sun comes up and slowly illuminates my mother’s paintings which hang close together on the walls. This is normally her art studio, when we aren’t here. I can’t actually see the paintings unless I stand on the bed and put my face a few inches from them, but the amorphous blobs of them on the wall are comforting.

At about 7:30, Marik snuffles awake and calls out to see if I have returned from the bus yet. Then he pads over to the ladder and climbs down. He sits in my lap for awhile and I read one of the new stories I’ve ordered online. I tuck our latest addition into one of the big duffle bags I’m packing for the long trip back to the Czech Republic, a land of limited English-language children’s books, and we head back into the house.

Most mornings we are alone. My mom and my brother stay overnight in town more often than not. So, Marik and I make a more substantial breakfast, carry a load of wood down a long flight of narrow stairs to stoke the fire, wash the dishes and try to call Papa on Skype. Then it is time to find something useful to do with the four-year-old-oriented part of the day. Sometimes we just go for a walk to visit a neighbor or one of the huge trees on top of the ridge. Other days we cook or make cookies for the holidays. About once every two weeks, we can finagle a ride into town to visit the library.

Such is the rhythm of our mornings on Pumpkin Ridge. There is peace to it along with hard work.