Two banks, one golden, one green, and in the center, the town ahead, with a spire needling up, a puncture into clouds, and vague suggestions of industry—buildings, smoke, and noise.
What I love along the bank are the skiffs drawn up, five or more at the golden side, the first boat a bright russet like a horizontal flame on water, the next two mauve, one a sailboat, one not.
The ochre-gold spills down from the cottonwoods, pouring under the hulls, entering the river with the same intensity of burning we see in life at its peak, or life with the flame threatening to go out.
In a month the trees will be masts bare as the boats, the man we know, ill with a fatal brain tumor, will be gone—the Grand River burnished with ochre and red as the Seine is, cooling air hinting at winter’s knives.
One bank green in the painting, green going away, and the river placid, calm— in the center of it— the flowing never ceasing, rhythm of moon, sun, the turning earth, pulling it outward, eternal, restless, to the maw of the sea.
Terrible to look at them closely through gauzy webbing, how they writhe and twist, a jumbled mass, squirming, faceless, mouthparts moving, chewing— are they eating the excretions from others in their nest?
Sometimes men seize on a gem, an idea of burning them out with a gas-soaked rag held aloft like a torch on a long pole— the whoosh as the rag lights, an awful purse-shaped bag of flame blackening as the insects ignite, consumed.
Kill the infestation but not to light the shed—its wood so crackling dry it wouldn’t take much, the sun’s rays concentrated on a nailhead heating up, spontaneously combusting the nearby slats, crumbling brown boards.
And the woods themselves, not to stumble, toe caught on Virginia creeper, ankle turned on a leafpile or log, not to drop the pole, or let this caterpillar nest-fire drop straight down, liquid melt setting duff, mounded oak leaves, deadfalls, last year’s Christmas tree ablaze—
and if you do—the quickness with which it catches, runs, blows up to the treetops— lighting them. How many nightmares of fiery extinction, this purge to destroy a spreading pest but rescue the cottonwood? How many visions of a thing burned clean, the mass destroyed, what’s left made beautiful by riddance, by a scouring flame.