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  • Writer's pictureAlex Subrizi

Smoke, no mirrors

Updated: Jan 25

Aside from the five meter-wide strip of asphalt of the Strada Romita, this was the view from Poggiosole's still unfinished front gate this past Saturday afternoon. I was walking deliberately, as one does in winter, a cold, sharp, folding handsaw in one hand. Our neighbor's smoldering pile of cuttings added a strong smoky note to the damp air. I can't recall if I stopped to take the picture on my way out of our property or on the way back in, but the fact that I was busy trimming dead branches from a beautiful old fig tree that straddles our perimeter fence likely had me more tuned in to my surroundings than I otherwise might have been: the crunch of our gravel drive, the smell of damp fallen leaves, the bluish, dimming light. I wanted the photo and reluctantly reached for my smartphone (an item I associate with access to all besides the here and now); it was the only camera I had with me.

Fires like our neighbor's are common in our parts from January through March, even into mid-April; there is so much moisture it's safe to burn. This ground, spongy from weeks of rain, can't be the same, I thought to myself, as the hardened, fissured, sulphur-colored earth

I walked on last June and July, eyes trained on the horizon for hints of thunderstorms. Now I'd be happy with ten days of sunshine: enough to dry the misshapen soggy mounds around our rebuilt swimming pool out enough to put a crew together and level the soil, test the irrigation system, and sprinkle grass seed for the spring. But last summer's drought was enough to have me promise to never again complain about rain, and I'm holding to that.

The wet weather pulls me outside a part of most days. Outside may be gray and cold but inside is downright dreary. Our lodgings are in a state of hibernation, and four of our bedrooms are in disarray for the planned addition of soundproofing material. The indoor chaos is hard for me to look at, and it's pointless to start cleaning up until the work is done, so outside is the only option.

It's a salutary one. Even peeing feels better. Rough surfaces prevail: antipodes to tech's mirror finish and pixel perfection. Yet there is plenty for the eye to feast on even with the shiny "take me anywhere" screen planted firmly in a pocket. The cold invites movement and clearing space in our toolsheds is a call to sustained action given the volume of material to relocate or simply throw away. The surroundings make the hauling easier. While the landscape doesn't shout its beauty like it does from May through October, its subtle hues and coarse textures reward a lingering gaze. Decay conceals regeneration: a force slowly gathering (summer being the time for it to unwind, to spend itself). For a guy who mostly earned his living with his head (and by head I don't mean intellect, too lofty a term for the respectable but mostly administrative bent my career took) the physicality is doubly invigorating. Explaining this is hard. Elevation comes to mind. Inversion, too, and the question "What has value?" When I stop to catch my breath, I feel blessed by the scene I'm in.

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