Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Blue Collar

I don't own a tie, nor a white shirt. The only reason to own a white shirt is to prove you never get dirty. Ties are stupid, they allow an opponent to grab you around the neck, and unless you're very careful they often get in the food. Having reviewed a great many recipes, I'd decided to cut the oak galls in half and let them soak for a while, then let them mold, which was supposed to produce the darkest ink, so I was standing on the ground, working on the porch surface, cutting the galls in half with a knife Kim had sharpened and putting the pieces in a pot of water. Warm morning with a hot afternoon forecast, so I was dressed extremely casually, patched Dockers, with a rope belt, over a cut-off tee-shirt, a look that might be described as Key West beach bum. Listening to the bugs and the birds, cutting galls in half, with a sharp knife, feeling good about it all. Short of a radio host, more a lay preacher. I had the back door open and was playing some Grateful Dead quite loud so I didn't hear the car pulling up. A Deputy Sheriff and a guy in a suit. They're hesitant, because I'm flashing a knife. I get it right away, put down the knife, hold up a finger, go inside and turn off the music. We chatted for a while, the new detective checking me out. What does he see? When I finally get rid of them I can't remember what I was doing. A line of thought is actually a fairly delicate thing and it's easy to be interrupted. I was thinking about the tines of a fork, what they needed to do, how many of them there needed to be, and I'm interrupted. As if I didn't have enough to deal with. At heart I am a beach bum. The record is clear. More rain, I need to get to town. Read more...

Monday, June 12, 2017

Wind Voice

Went outside, smoke, and a cup of tea, sitting on the step, the wind murmuring in the trees. Mindlessness is helpful, merely listening. The library called, and they were holding the newest John Sanford for me. I pretty much dropped everything, made a quick list. A perfect diversion, and I know I'll read straight through, two or even one session, so I stopped at the store and got sliced roast beef and Swiss cheese. I like to roll these up in a cold tortilla, an amazingly tidy snack, and dip them in a mustard/horseradish sauce that makes me weep. Sweet pickles. A bottle of whiskey. We all have these habits, toast with butter and jam at breakfast, cucumber sandwiches at tea, port after dinner; life is a melange of habits. It's difficult to imagine a more perfect day. The crows come up from the lake, this time of year I only see them once a week, and I give them a couple of cooked mice. They're fat and raucous from eating the butt ends of hot dogs and buns, and they take French fries from my fingers, but this is not domestication, it's just a conversation. A few breaks, during the evening, to uncross my eyes, to look-up a few words, some outside air. In the gloaming, the wind had reduced to a moan, strangely like church music. Turned on the radio, to check the weather and local news, and got sucked, briefly, into the DC morass. Finished reading the Sanford, which was great fun, and the ending is nicely wrapped. Three in the morning and I'm hungry, so I minced up a potato, fried with some onion, chop the last slices of roast beef, and make a nice hash. I don't know if it's the same in the other services, but Navy people hate two things on the menu at mess: hash, and chipped beef with gravy. I always considered it a rare treat to eat on the base (wherever we were) or on a ship, because Mom never made these at home. I now make any number of hashes, and a chipped beef on instant mashed potatoes that is a perfect camping meal. The wind picks up, it sounds like a train in Kentucky. Read more...

Friday, June 9, 2017

More Oak

At the beginning of the end of the last glaciation, Ireland was connected to England, England was connected to Europe. As these land-bridges sank below the rising water, and they were heavily forested, they took their trees with them. They're mining those 1st growth oaks today, 90 feet to the first branch, as they're mining 1st growth cypress from rivers in the southern US. Trees that are thousands of years old. This leads to further research into the nature of rot. An added feature of the oak harvested from the Irish Channel is that it should be quite well fire-proofed. Salt. I'd love to see a board cut from those logs. I've seen the cypress, and it's quite beautiful. I used some of it, for a den in Colorado, at $24 a board foot, and it finished like a lush dream. A full cord of oak is around 23 million BTU's which is about the same as a hundred gallons of fuel oil. Thin splits of yew coppice, after soaking, made a good attachment for planks, and the first boats were (probably) stitched oak planks, just enough framing to hold it together. Still, it wasn't building ships that denuded the forests of Europe and England, it was the iron plow. Iron, generally, because it used so much wood, but the iron plow in particular, because trees got in the way of planting. A yearly row-crop, guaranteed income, looks pretty good when you've been making your own soap, washing with rainwater, and always run out of food in March. I've been collecting oak galls, toward making a small batch of ink. This has interested me for decades. I've made ink from soot, but it didn't actually penetrate the paper fibers, it sat on top and rubbed off. I got sidetracked into paper-making, wondering about fiber, and didn't think about ink for years, then this fascination with oak galls. You need a penetrant, a binder, and a coloring agent. This is usually iron sulfate, crushed oak galls, and sticky sap, diluted, everything held in suspension. You can substitute egg whites for the sticky sap. I don't even use ink anymore, but that doesn't mean that I don't want to know more about it. Read more...

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Clever Disguise

I only look like an idiot. It works well for me. Kim said, before he went up to bed, that I was the only person he ever spent 12 hours talking with, but we share so much history, there are so many things to consider. This person, that person, the turn of the common consensus. He was already leaving when I got up, two more days for him to get to Montreal. It was great to talk with someone that understood the concept of failure as a good thing. Pictures on his phone of his recent brickwork. So elegant it boggles the mind. I was making coffee after he left, gathering plates from dinner, thinking about eccentricity. It's only eccentrics that fully engage my attention, and I know quite a few of them, a good regional spread because I (had) moved around a considerable amount. Kim and I talked about intelligence, both native and academic, we talked about problem solving and visualization, interestingly, we never got personal or political except for a brief conversation about global warming. Leftovers, so I didn't need to cook, rain again, so I didn't need to go outside and do anything, and since I'm not a TV or movie person, that meant I could just read. Some fiction (Annie Proulx), then back to Cannibalism. It takes me a day or two to recharge after a visitor, thinking about things. I require some slow days, what did Tom Rush sing? "Done lost my driving wheel." Still, it comes back to me, what I had been thinking about, how we disguise ourselves. The best lie is very close to the truth. Read more...

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Time-Factored

I do have an old wind-up alarm clock, that I can set if I have to meet a plane, or make a deposition. It seems that I always live two hours from the nearest airport. Which means a three-hour trip, allowing for a flat tire, and two hours home, I just don't do it anymore. Visitors (two or three a year) either have four-wheel drive or park at the bottom of the hill and hike in, if they call from town, and it's possible, I'll drive down and get them. Repeat guests know my habits. Barnhart brings cheese and salami, TR brings fruit, Kim brings whiskey, because he has his one drink a year with me. If Kamiakin stops by it's usually to drop off an animal part. With B it's usually a book. Reading about third-world building techniques, rammed earth with just a small amount of cement, wattle and daub, stitched hides over lodge-pole pine, ice-blocks with a plaster of snow; and you have to marvel. A cave is good enough, you block off the entry and build a fire at the mouth. Maybe you make a corn-pone on a flat rock. I was so disappointed, reading fiction recently, about the mistakes made in how a particular building might be built. If you want to know how a structure is built, you go to the lumber yard. You bring doughnuts. Friday afternoon, when the guys are sweeping up debris, you break out cold beer. Don't make this stuff up, ask someone who knows. If a book is going to be a best-seller, spend a few hundred bucks and talk to a carpenter. Lee Child, who I enjoy reading, is terrible at this, the names are wrong, the techniques are wrong, drives me crazy. I got to town, and did my laundry, everything I own is clean, except for those things that are seldom washed (overalls, chore-coats, certain sacrificial clothes that end up ripped to tatters picking blackberries) and went to Kroger to get what I needed for the meals Kim will be here. We'll be dining well: Louisiana sausage, with roasted pepper and onions and a rice pilaf, one night; filet of beef, with sweet potatoes, and a big bowl of tomatoes and mozzarella with balsamic the other. JC had sent the new Bill Schutt book, Cannibalism, so it was difficult to attend to nominal chores, I kept taking breaks to go over and read the next chapter. I'd heated water, and then I needed to wash a sink full of dishes. Then I need to cook. Read more...

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Rice Crust

Left-over rice, or any pasta, makes a fine breakfast cake; and I'm not adverse to piling on anything else that might be around and topping it with an egg. Fielded a phone call about how loading was carried through a crooked post. An interesting conversation. I told him to make an eight foot long miter box, establish (an arbitrary) 'top' to the log, so he could make parallel cuts. Then, this is the cool part, you stand the post up, brace it off. Whenever you harvest a potential post you usually leave both ends wild, too long, so you can cut them back. You establish the base cut. I do this with an electric chain-saw and I'm good at it. Then, using a plumb-bob, you determine that the center of the top bearing falls within the footprint of the base. Make the parallel cut. It's always worked for me. Several engineer friends have dubbed this dubious data, though building inspectors always approved them. An eight inch oak trunk is pretty stout. Under compression, wood is very strong. I read recently that someone is building a seven-story wood framed building, using various innovative wood products. Concrete has gotten expensive and we're running out of sand. China has used more sand in the last decade than the US had used in the last hundred years. If Trump has his way with The Wall, they'll be bringing in sand from a thousand miles away. That'd be a sweet contract to have. My first job in Colorado was replacing a building that had burned down, a three-story structure in a Historic Zone, mandated to be built in the manner of the original, 8x8 and 10x10 Ponderosa Pine. They did allow me to use brackets and lag bolts. It went together fairly quickly because I could mass-cut all the components, I'd hired someone to help me stand everything up, then hired a guy from the local tire store to use an air-gun to drive the bolts home. I'd retire to the local pub, because I couldn't stand the sound. This was in Ridgway (no 'e') and I went on to build several places there. As I think back on it, I built maybe ten houses, between Montrose and Telluride, in the ten years in western Colorado, one project a year; the rest of that time spent getting a goat dairy certified and running a ranch. I'd call this period Raw Milk, if I were to write about it, and it was glorious. During the separation and divorce, which takes forever in Colorado, I built two more houses in Utah, then put my books in storage and took on the Jefferson project, outside Winchester, Virginia. Get shed of all that. Wipe the slate clean. I loved sleeping in Tom's bedroom, spare, a rope bed with a straw mattress. Read more...

Monday, May 29, 2017

Fluttersome

Butterflies high in the trees. I don't know where they go when it rains. It's supposed to be sunny tomorrow, before another couple of days of rain, so I might try and get to town to do the laundry. God knows everything is dirty, it's the air here, power plants along the river burning coal. The museum has a flat roof, though no flat roof is ever actually flat, they drain toward scuppers or pipes, and we had to go up there every couple of years, to scoop up particulate matter, to clear the drains. Upwind and a few miles from the river, the trees acting as filters, the ridge is somewhat better, but if I leave a bucket of rainwater sitting out for a extra day, there'll be some flecks of ash. Few things are completely clean. Quick trip to town, not enough time to do the laundry as another front is moving in. Get back home, just before the hard rain, and eat potato logs I got at the Qwik-Stop on the way out of town. These are very good with French mustard and hot sauce. Thunder and lightening, so I close down. Then take a nap, to the hammering on the roof. It's quite pleasant. Mickey Hart and those throat singers. When I wake it's so dark It's frightful, I can't see my hands, I can't see anything. I feel around for my slippers. I keep a candle at the edge of my desk, and a book of matches, and my headlamp, of course. Dead reckoning. When it's very dark, even a single candle provides quite a bit of light. In a total black-out there's no depth perception. If I'm being extravagant with light, I put another candle at the end of the island, that way I can avoid tripping over my own feet. Read more...

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Total Green

It's a wall, completely surrounding me. I can't see 50 yards in any direction. The driveway is canopied, dark, in overcast light. There's a new flush of oak galls and they're very sweet, pink and creamed-colored, and I thought briefly about distilling, realized it would cost tens of thousands of dollars an ounce. The perfect mogul's drink. The snicker of rain on the roof, the blackberries will be happy, and the corn in the bottoms along Turkey Creek. I like walking those fields, after they've harrowed but before they plant, looking for arrowheads. A lot of bird-points, lovely little things. These bottoms have been hunted for thousands of years, grouse and turkey and deer, but they yield little trace. A few pieces of rock. This time of year, though, I have to say, you can't see a fucking thing. The green is complete, right from the ground up until it becomes sky. The darkest greens, holly, wild rhododendrons, some of the conifers, spatter the landscape; most of the greens are soft. Blue ranges wildly. Pollen and catkins cover the Jeep, it looks like an artifact. I'm trying to get the rest of the split wood inside and realize I need to pay someone to do this for me. I'm old and beaten down, I used my body hard for a lot of years, and I'm quite content, now, with rereading Proust and sipping tea. The good old days, when we plowed with mules and planted a market crop, like mining coal with a pick and shovel, for the most part are past. The rain sets in hard, drumming on the roof, so I check my black-out kit, spread a buffet of cheese and olives, set out the camp stove so I can cook Ramen. The bar is low here, I'm not going to freeze to death and I have plenty of food. It's pleasant, actually, the sense of isolation that weather imposes. No phone, no electricity, reading with a headlamp seems perfectly natural; yes, I couldn't get out to socialize, but what does that matter? I spent the evening reading about forks. Read more...

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

General Corruption

The lines are blurred, but almost everyone steals. Small change, usually, a roll of toilet paper, some push-pins. Madoff. They fired the head of Ford, but he'd earned 19 million last year. Don't get me started on Trump or Congress. I'd like to just close the door, the gate, and not listen to anything, but I like hearing the local news and weather, so I know what to expect. Being prepared is the name of the game. Being prepared, for me, means having beans and rice; I know entropy is on the rise, but I should be ok, in my lead suit and aluminum foil hat. I'd picked up the new John Lescroart novel at the library, so I buried my head in a book for a few hours and felt better. A bit more money in the bank than I thought, so I'd bought a Ridge Zinfandel, which I opened, then set aside to breathe while I made the veal roll-ups. Morel Duxelles with caramelized shallots. I have a pan I'd modified to fit in the toaster oven (raining again and I can't use the grill), a pat of butter on each and a little wine in the pan, maybe five minutes in the oven. There were six of them and I figured two meals, with the sauteed parsnips and dandelion salad. Par-boil the parsnips, then slice and fry in butter. I spent like two hours making this meal, mostly sitting at the island and reading, but paying attention to whatever I was cooking, and it was very good. I was trying to track down the actual method Incans used to freeze potatoes, so I was reading yet another book about potatoes. Say what you will, but when I'm fully engrossed, caramelizing parsnip spears or wondering about freeze-dried potatoes, well and truly in the moment, I don't care about anything else. Usually the bear just goes away, sometimes I throw a firecracker. Firecrackers have become my first line of defense. Dogs hate them, snakes hate them; my advice? Carry a Bic lighter and a few loose firecrackers if you're walking in the woods. You can't be too careful. Worse case scenario, a rabid coon. How contagious is that disease? It's a Tuesday in May, the canopy is almost complete. Read more...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Fog Rising

Mist fills the hollow, spills up over the ridge. Library called and they had a book for me, so I drove into town. Got a couple of other books, stopped at Kroger, some nice little thin-sliced veal remaindered. I'll stuff these with mushrooms and shallots and cook them on the grill, not today though, clouds building up, so I stopped for a shake at the dairy bar and beat it home. I hadn't gotten the Jeep unloaded when the rain started thundering down, violent, changing over to marble-sized hail. It got quite dark, the power flickered a few times, but I have oil lamps, candles, and my headlamp; and I've cooked some damn fine meals on a camp-stove. There were beautiful bunches of Dandelion greens at the store, so I bought a couple; one for a salad, with sliced sweet onions and cucumber, and another that I'll just cook like spinach, serve with butter, salt and pepper. Left-overs make mean omelets. Settles into a slow steady rain that finally puts me to sleep, and when I wake up, from a dream about chickens, it takes a few minutes to remember where I am. This ridge, this rainstorm, frogs, chirping through the rain. Mississippi John Hurt singing about Avalon, his home town. I bought some chickens, in Avalon, some promising small roosters, from a distant cousin, twice removed, trying to develop a free-range chicken that could live on hog droppings. Another of my failures, the pigs just ate the chickens. When pigs eat chickens there's nothing left; actually, when pigs eat anything there's nothing left. They're an extremely efficient disposal system. Every family in America could raise a pig on their household waste: like llamas, they like to shit in the same place, and they smell nice, if they can wallow in clean water. How did I get to pigs? Oh, right, the chickens, chickens from the dream. The dream was just a pastoral reminder. Chickens running about in the yard, maybe a dog, sleeping under the porch, a cat in the window; usually there are some herbs growing in pots on the window sill. Emily flits about, baking bread. She did most of the baking and made outlandish pastries out of left-over dough, almost pornographic. I love the image of wild sex, while Emily watches at the door. Read more...

Friday, May 19, 2017

Tuning Up

Sleeping in the theater, I had a blanket and pillow rolled up in a janitor's closet, was convenient. There was a Greek Diner around the corner, where I could get breakfast any time of the day or night, I wasn't drinking at all and we had a great source of Lebanese hash. I needed to be there, to turn on the lights and let the orchestra members in for rehearsal, then I'd go back to sleep, an audience of one, listening to the Boston Symphony tune up in my dreams. I loved this. The sound, the shape of the sound was incredible. I remember the first time, a Sunday afternoon, that Beverly Sills sang cue-to-cue (a technical rehearsal, sung at half-voice) for Traviata; Michael called back and told me the tuning was based on 440 cycles, from the first violin. An "A", but this was subject to some variation, perfect pitch being a somewhat relative term. Who knew? Michael said that oriental orchestral tuning was usually 448 cycles, still an "A" but with a edge. A violent storm moves in suddenly and I have to shut down. Mike has a drummer coming in to the college, a big deal, and he wants to bring him out for dinner, which might overlap with Kim's yearly visit on his way to the F1 race in Montreal, so I do need the new grill. Cooking for six is the same as cooking for eight. I usually cook for either two or four, eight is double four, so I end up with left-overs. Usually I can fold it into an omelet. If not I dry it, grinding it into a powder, mix with fruits and nuts. Call it dinner. Read more...

Predatory Lending

Dealing with debt. You can borrow $134,500 to get an undergraduate degree, and they've got you by the short hairs then. You're granted a cubicle and a house in the suburbs. Insider trading, because you're locked into the system. We could dance around the word slavery. You couldn't possibly be a slave if you have a summer cabin in the mountains, two jet-skies, a camper, a Bass boat with a foot controlled electric trolling motor, a Dodge Ram, all the trappings. Yet, of course. Young grape leaves don't need blanching, I made a batch of stuffed leaves, rice, chorizo, and caramelized onions, braised/steamed in white wine, that was exceptional. Use sticky rice, with a browned butter sauce. Even hardened poets weep. Later, I was rereading some vegetable recipes, and my thoughts were turned to grilling, because it's too warm to build a fire inside. I need a new grill, something I can set-up right outside the back door. In the past, I've usually fabricated grills out of found objects, sinks and refrigerator shelves, and I've built a few out of rock. I left a great grill in Colorado. I don't want to build another one, though I will if I need to, but I've seen a couple of Korean and Chinese units that could fill the bill. Plain Jane efficient wood/charcoal burners. To cook a brisket, you need 250 degrees for twenty hours, you need to be able to stoke the fire without moving the meat, you need to be able to control the air flow. And you have to stay awake, mostly. Also, I need to be able to roast vegetables off the heat, so the unit needs to be rectangular, to provide the space. Also, I have to get a drip pan below the meat because drippings are important to me. What we might call minimum design criteria. Desire paths indicate where we actually go: the outhouse, the garden, the woodshed. It only falls to reason. The Attach Of The Luna Moths, a short film I'd been working on for many years, was leaked to the press, and they seemed to think it was a metaphor. God bless their hearts. Read more...

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Nothing Further

Needing a plan I started a list. Way too much trash, recycling and Goodwill stuff for one or even two trips, so I have to break it down. What to take to town, what to bring back home. Strike up the band, it's another cycle. Make a list first, of back shelve items, toilet paper, a new grinder of black pepper, staple food stuffs though I'm well stocked with staples, I do need another box of push-pins. I have the laundry sorted out. I do a large laundry in the fall and in the spring, the rest of the year I do a single load every two weeks. I often dash underwear and socks in a butter churn. The house needs the moisture, so I never mind the drying lines in the kitchen, there's something old-country about it. B said it was spring break at the collage, so I need to go for a little dumpster diving and to get rid of some trash. In the country, trash accumulates, there aren't many ways of getting shed of old broken stuff. You burn what you can. Glossy, clay-filled paper, is awful stuff, on the other hand I started almost all of my fires last winter with cash register receipts and that seems pretty cool. I walk that narrow line between cool and stupid most of the time. The continuing snake saga. Sitting out on the back porch, last night, a slight coolness from the river and hollows. Then this morning there is a six foot, four inch skin casing of a male timber rattler, stretched across the back deck. Molting. It's quite delicate and beautiful. In an attempt at preservation I put it to soak in salted water then intend to stretch it out and 'fix' it with something, to try and preserve the color. Snakes are, amazingly, quite dry; and these molted skins generally turn to dust quickly. Ground rock and desiccated organic matter. That mote, that lodges in the corner of your eye? it's been around forever. Symmetry became the subject of the day. I looked at a great many leaves and some very small flowers. I thought about tractors, post 1954, and the phrase "apparent symmetry" came to mind, mostly a product of cowling. What covers the workings, what you actually see. Cars, planes, trains, flying insects and birds; with moving things balance comes into play. In the field, if you look closely, there is a lot of failure. Failure is the impetus for change, or success is the impetus for change, however you view that; I lean toward failure, until it becomes an excuse. Nothing succeeds like failure. Read more...

Monday, May 15, 2017

Scope

Anglo-Saxon for poet, from sceopen, to make. The house is creaking, drying, finally, in full sun. All morning I just drink coffee and watch the play of light. Birdsong. Dappled patterns, Bayou Light, sculling in close to the bank, gigging frogs as their eyes shine in reflection. Several hours had gone by and I was deep into reverie, in a state where background and foreground were diffused, when the sudden appearance of a shadow broke the plane, a red-tail hawk, circling the logging road. A lovely thing, she goes over twice, her shadow describing an arc across the ridge. Back inside, I'm reading straight through another volume of forgotten words. I mark some of them with a pencil dot. Small twigs and sticks, windfalls, gathered for kindling is called sprote-wood. Stoure is the cloud of dust stirred by the trample of feet. And I love thrum, for green and vigorous. I was using my yelf (dung-fork) just today. Black Cohosh shades out the competition, I was looking at a patch, 20 feet square, and nothing else grows there, the leaves completely cover the ground. Dave said that the price for the dried root is so low, that it doesn't pay to dig it. He still digs and dries Ginseng for which he says the market is good. I spent the day cross-referencing words and getting side-tracked, which is pretty normal for me. Surprised by nightfall. Looked up and it was dark. A hasty meal of beans on toast and tomatoes in balsamic. Read more...