The Crow woke me up. He is perched at the top of the old redwood, his raucous cries circling and drifting, jerking me from my dreams. Half of me wants to shake him for waking me; the other half wants to scatter extra birdseed around his redwood for letting me be a part of this dance of dawn.
From the sleeping platform, I can see the pale gray sky, marred only by the occasional red-winged blackbird’s flight. Cedars and pines and redwoods fringe the sky. Trees grow taller, here in this magical place called the Cedars. Birds fly slower as if savoring the texture of the wind. The sun is hotter and higher here and I relish it. The Cedars is a haven for the weary birds, for the straggled plants, for the harassed, tired people, so rushed and choked from the city.
Beside me, Oma and Opa wake up.
“What a beautiful day!” Opa smiles.
“The most wonderful day for our hike,” Oma says.
“Shall we play the tree game?” she asks, smiling.
“Yes.” I squeeze her hand.
“What is that tree over there?”
“A Jeffrey pine, I think.”
“Good! Later, we’ll get some cones,” Oma praised.
“If I had to smell one smell all my life, I would smell the vanilla scent of a Jeffrey pine,” I say.
“Time for the countdown!” Opa warns.
We all stare fixedly at the golden watch on Oma’s wrist, watching the silver hand wheedle seconds away. Soon, the eight o’clock Oh Joe bell will ring. I picture a roustabout, maybe Trevor, maybe Alex, or Justin, or even Kate, walk across the dirt at the low welcoming building we call the Grill. The Grill pulls you in, and holds you before letting you out, I think drowsily. The roustabout will tightly grip the metal rod, recoil at its chill and hold it poised over the huge metal triangle, muscles taut, tense, waiting.
Exactly eight o’clock.
The rhythm starts, ringing across the valleys and meadows of the Cedars. It echoes off trees, slams into boulders, shivers down streams, and slips into the earth until cabins shake.
Bang der-de bang iti bang iti bang, BANG BANG, BANG!
I tap the rhythm on my comforter. Nodding, Opa, Oma and I take a deep breath along with the thirty other Cedarites. We yell, “Ohhhhh Joeeeee!”
I shiver with the rhythm, the beat, the shout.
“Wow. We did it really well that time. I think the old cedar tree shook,” I laugh.
“What’ll Jim think of that!” Opa grins. “Let’s go get dressed.”
“Uh-huh. We’ve got to hurry” I shiver.
“Of course we do! We want to leave by nine o’clock,” Oma says firmly.
I leap out of bed. The cold slices through my brisk resolution like a knife. I want to dive back in the covers.
“Brrr! It’s chilly! Come on, let’s go down to the outhouse.”
Oma smiles. I smile back, and the smile warms me up, soft and buttery. I help Oma down the stairs, then grab my jeans, a torn T-shirt, and a dirty sweater. I pinch together my frayed shoelaces and gather my scattered hair into a high ponytail. I’m dressed. At the Cedars, how you look just fades away. All that remains is your personality.
Oma, Opa and I hold hands and jog down the creaking boards and the chilled dirt to the main cabin. A cheery fire crackles in the old, dusty Benjamin Franldin stove, warding out demons of cold. The stove sits like a hunched tiger behind the stained wooden table and chairs. Beside it are the logs that Opa cut and Meggy, Luke, Char, Noah and I stacked behind the lattice, so the bears wouldn’t gnaw on them. The plastic bucket, sloshing, filled to the brim with water, sits lifeguard next to the stove. Today, the table has been pushed aside, and Meggy, Luke, Noah and Char have pulled up chairs, dangling their bug-bitten toes. I join them and play peek-a-boo with Sydney, tickling her frayed bit of blanket.
Uncle Nick is talking to Ed. Helene is rocking Ana, with her pale cheeks dimpling. Aunt Ann is standing at the oven, scrambling eggs that sizzle and slide into a creamy paste in the pan. Opa is checking the first-aid kit.
“Hot cocoa?” Oma asks. “It’s free for the taking.”
“Me! Yes! Yeah! Please?” we clamor. Oma smiles as she stacks cups, and measures powdered milk.
Aunt Ann is dishing out the scrambled eggs, and I toss pieces of toast at people. Oma places steaming mugs of cocoa in front of us. We eat our fill. Hot cocoa simmers. A log falls in the stove, crumbled to ashes. I feel full and satisfied.
At eight-thirty the cold is swept away as suddenly as it came. The sun peeks from behind a cedar tree. The clear blue sky spreads, untroubled as our minds. I throw open the Dutch doors, and change quickly into my khaki shorts. Soon, all of us are sitting on the porch table, rubbing on sunscreen. Bug spray passes over us, its tart and toxic aroma tickling our noses. The smoke from the chimney piece falters, in the clear blue sky.
“So I guess we’ll go up Parkinson’s,” Opa is saying.
“Darn, darn, darn it,” I mutter.
“What’s so bad about Parkinson’s?” Ed asks.
“Parkinson’s,” I explain, “is vertical. Straight up. At least it’s shady. Like the devil, it only has one virtue.”
“The devil has a virtue?” Ed questions.
“Yeah. He lets us put the blame on him.” I slip a bottle of sunscreen into my backpack. “Oh look, guys! Here comes Carly! Hey girl!”
The neighbor’s dog wriggles ecstatically under my hand, then deposits her gift at my feet, a spit-saturated tennis ball!
I bend down, get a good grip on the ball, and throw it in a high arc. My neighbor, Mrs. Camerlynck, smiles, calling Carly to her. I grin back. Then I tug on my backpack, and yank on my baseball cap, and wait on the steps for the others to get ready.
The sun chooses to shine on the most bedraggled trees today. It is comforting the harassed plants back to life. The sun reaches through the bare branches of a cedar, kissing the moss, warming the buds, cajoling the grooved bark back to life, back to happiness, coaxing them to rejoice.
And everything is shining.
It is the beginning of a perfect morning at the Cedars.