Ash Street

On Ash Street the chestnut trees by the creek all let go at once and there is a steady rain of hard fruit the size of tennis balls. People move their cars. On windy days my children and I hear the nuts falling from our house and we amble down the street and watch from a safe distance as the heavy green nuts leap from the trees. We take home handfuls and rot off the fruit and burnish the lovely brown nuts and my young sons throw them at each other and at their sister until I insist on desist and put the boys to bed but not the sister who is a teenager and so never sleeps. I work the nuts through my fingers like fat oily coins and consider the parallels between chestnuts and children. Both are wrapped in soft pebbly skins. Both have stubborn centres. Both gleam when polished. Both are subject to being crushed by cars. Both are subject to rot. Crows are fascinated by both. I watch the gangs of crows flare and hammer and bicker and chortle among the shards in the street and then go kiss my sons and nod to my daughter, who deigns, for once, to nod back.

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Ash Street bisects a hill named for a man who was born in County Clare in Ireland. He took ship to America and landed in New York and walked to Nebraska where he joined that state’s Second Cavalry Regiment and fought in the Civil War and then walked to Oregon, where he lived on our hill until the day he died. He was a stone mason. He died about noon, with a chisel in his hand.

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Holy place in my house on Ash Street: The infinitesimal indent made by ten years of left hands as woman and man and children lean against the wall while adjusting the thermostat with their right hands.

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Down Ash Street on our side lives the crazy lady, who occasionally walks through our back door and into our kitchen and stays for a long time, talking loudly. She tells the neighbours that her husband is travelling on business when actually he left ten years ago. Recently she leased her house to a young couple, telling them that she was moving to Egypt, but she has yet to leave, and is still living in the basement. They are puzzled and walk down the street to my house to talk about the crazy lady. They sit in the kitchen and talk softly.

Another young couple appears at our back door once a year or so to ask us to sign a petition to move their property line, which has an old right-of-way through it, as their yard was once near a road that led to the village smelter. The smelter and foundry and blast furnace where the first steel west of the Rockies was made are no more, but the legal means of approaching them with horse teams along Oswego Creek remains. I say to the young woman one year, but don’t you like the fact that the ghosts of horses walk through your yard? and she says, uh, no.

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One house on Ash Street is a poker and drinking cabin for a group of men and their dogs. It’s surrounded now, very nearly grown over, by vast blackberry and laurel thickets; the men park their pickup trucks on the street, in a dell carved out of the thickets for their trucks, and haul their beer and whiskey up the muddy steps into the cabin. At night you can hear the music and voices. Once a gunshot.

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Across the street is a very religious family with three small children; the oldest, age six, goes to a kindergarten where the children are punished for saying the word cruel.

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Animals seen on Ash Street: coyotes, deer, raccoons, hawks, herons, swifts, swallows, jays, flickers, once a policeman’s horse, complete with leathery policeman.

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Before Ash Street was a street it was a path with no name, running cheerfully above a creek with a name. Before it was the path it was probably a trail, and before it was a trail maybe it was a tunnel forced by burly deer through fern and fir, and before it was a tunnel maybe it was a tiny path for tiny animals, and before that, before there was any green pulse in the world, maybe it was a stripe of stone; like it is now.

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland. He is the author of five collections of essays, most recently Spirited Men, about great male writers and musicians, among them the Adelaide genius Paul Kelly.

 

 

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