Friday, July 7, 2017

Snake Redux

Morning protocol is to make a cup of coffee and put away a few books. Then I needed to go out to the Jeep and get the ingredients for the sauce I'd left there, what with the snake. Put on some jeans, one must wear pants outdoors, and open the door, and that pesky rattlesnake is back, coiled exactly centered in my sight, three feet away. Shut the door and go roll a cigaret, a wee dram to deal with the shock. I had to be shed of it, but I had time and I watched it for a while, pulled up a stool and watched out the panes in the back door. Watching a snake is a very slow event. She moves, after a while, to the opposite end of the porch, coils up, and apparently goes to sleep. Six feet away now, the first drops of rain fall and she slides over to the edge of the porch, drops down to the ground and goes under the house. I don't like her being under the house, the fact that she likes the back porch. Following B's lead, I'll try and relocate her down in the wilderness area. If you know where a snake is, in the morning (before they achieve escape velocity) you can often just shovel them up and put them in a five-gallon bucket. They give new meaning to 'slow-starting'. Still, that dry rattle is not something you want to hear very often. I went out to the Jeep just as a fucking sheet of rain swept across the ridge and I was drenched in seconds, bad timing, but I got what I needed out of the car and made it back inside. Resurrect the sauce. B calls, to remind me it's Friday. Waiting for a call from my sister about my mother's condition, I'm in no shape to be social. Military brats are raised in a matriarchal society, 50% of the time Dad was gone, so Mom was the only given, and I think about her struggles with that. Arguably better that her Holiness Pentecostal upbringing. Never snakes, but often speaking in tongues and rolling in the aisles, which is only slightly removed from hearing Beverly Sills singing "Traviata". My parents were products of the depression, tenant farmer families scratching a bare living. The options were limited, the military or prison, or working in the produce section of the supermarket for your entire life, shining apples. I can make a strong case for digging clams and eating wild greens. Read more...

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Vanishing Point

Perspective. On the one hand, the stump had lasted a long time. The butt round from a chestnut oak I'd cut 15 years ago. I'd rolled it over to the graveyard and seated it, and, all this time I've used it as a rest stop. I keep a bottle of water there. It's only, what, 400 feet from the house? And it was, finally, today, what is the word, unsittable. I need a new stump. People have told me this for years. A soap-box or a packing-crate. I have no designs on higher office. This is it, as far as I'm concerned: meatballs on egg noodles. B calls with some questions about cooking an enormous rack of pork ribs. A couple of his writer friends will be visiting, and he wants me to come down. Which I certainly will, if I can. B has great friends, unfailingly interesting, and conversation, good conversation, is one of the finer things. As I think about it later, it might be the most important thing. I've been blessed with a long line of bright friends, and some of them have been quite batty. As most of us must, I consider myself normal, it's the only guide-book you're given; I have a few other guide-books, hidden under the visor: a field guide for amputation, birthing babies in the back of moving cars, how to plug gaping wounds with spider-webs, but mostly we're at a loss. In just a hundred years everyone has forgotten how to do anything. I volunteered to bring the sauce for the ribs, and I needed a fast run into town to get a few things. The sauce (over 10 years old now) needs to be brightened, after a winter of inactivity, so I need a sweet onion, to liquify, some red wine, papaya nectar, mixed chili powders. I keep it under a layer of rendered pork fat that makes a tight seal during the off-season. I get everything I need, stop at the pub for a beer, and when I get home, I'm in a mindless state. Unload the Jeep, rain is coming, onto the edge of the porch; up the three steps, grabbing what I can carry and I'm at the back door, key in hand, when I hear the dry rattle that can only be a snake. A beautiful timber rattler, a female, coiled tight and ready to strike. Six or seven rattles. I put down my groceries and backed away. I actually made a sound, a sweek, nothing like a real snake to shake things up a bit. Read more...

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Creature Comforts

I've slept under a great many overhangs, and I'm always paranoid the ceiling is going to fall. I can't wait to get out in the morning. Feet dangling over the edge, a strong cup of boiled coffee, gruel bubbling away, hey, this is pretty good. Sometimes I have a light blanket draped over my shoulders. Another place in Utah, a huge outcrop of chert, and there's a campsite there, that was used for hundreds of years. The flaked debris is ankle deep. A huge number of failed points. The last time I went back the roof had fallen on the campsite. Further up the canyon, where I had never been, there was a perfectly preserved single family dwelling, Cistern, grain bin, sleeping nooks, fire pits, and I spent the night there, listening to the wind. The next day, halfway across Nebraska, I could no longer sort fact from fiction. The corn was reminding me of sunflowers. It happens, as you get older, one thing reminds you of another. Fact is, I think, a fiction. I don't remember anything the same way twice. Bobby Blue singing on Beal Street, BB King playing back-up; I don't know who the drummer is, but he should be sainted. There's a trumpet solo that would almost make you believe there is a god, and then Mr. King does a break that is a pure transport. I shuffle over to the island and put together a bowl of rice, with sesame oil and soy sauce. Sit in the dark and listen to the blues. I meant to go into town, for the farmer's market, but I didn't need anything so I blew it off. I'd rather not leave the ridge; den up, lick my wounds, attend to apparent needs. That outside world, I can take it or leave it. Sometimes it amuses me. Another trip, I was driving across Kansas. Read more...

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Under Watch

Perish the thought. I'm not generally paranoid. I'd been up all night, reading about the Donner Party, looking forward to a radio review, later in the day, of a new book on the subject. I wanted a nap, but I'd just fixed coffee, when there was knock on the door. Too early for anyone I know, and they hadn't shouted, when they got out of the vehicle. Power Company guy to change the meter, but the meter was just changed last winter. My first thought was that he was an undercover cop, because his right hand kept falling to where his pistol would be, and he was a little nervous. I ask him in, for coffee, to try and find out why someone would think I was doing anything illegal. He denies everything, but does allow that I live an odd life and some people might find it curious. I explain that I'm just an old guy living on a fixed income and no threat to anyone. Further, I added, it was fine if they (oh god, they, the other) wanted to look around, or bring in dogs and have them sniff my shit. My new meter transmits more data, but the truth is, there isn't any more data, because I'm in a blind spot. I realize, somewhere in his awe that there could be so many books in one place, how unplugged I am. This guy, 'Guy'' was his name, right there on his breast pocket, which I didn't believe for a heart-beat (when I'm traveling alone I always use the name Frank). Late in this exchange, I realize I looked like a madman. Up all night, unkempt, hair sticking out, beard flecked with last night's dinner, stained tee-shirt with the sleeves and neck cut out. BUT I'm in my own house, on my own property, and I don't expect to be disturbed, I want to put a sign, down at the bottom of the hill, that says 'This Is Not A Meth Lab', but I doubt it would do any good. It's assumed, if you're not scrambling for a foot-hold, you're an idiot. And I can do the whole idiot thing, it's not that difficult to be stupid. Read more...

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Distant Cannon

The camping trailers are circling the State Forest, lots of horses on the bridal paths, small kids running between parked cars. The first Saturday of summer. There's a street fair that's closed down Second Street. I know the alleys now, and can skirt around almost anything; so I get to the library fine, do my business there, wander the stacks, smelling books all around me. Kroger is chaos, they're redoing the shelving, my internal map will have to be redrawn, but I find the things I need, despite the confusion. Small new potatoes at the farmer's market and I buy some, not knowing what I'm going to do with them. In the seafood aisle I think about the term 'wild-caught', then, later, about the terms 'organic' and 'free-range', and I'm lucky to get out of town without being questioned. The back way home, all the way up the creek to B's place, where he adds to the pile of reading matter. Life on the creek. Dictated by local weather. I got back home, watching the clouds, before the rolling thunder, stopped at the Diary Bar for a vanilla shake. It's as if I had this timed. I get back home, the bottom of the hill I shift into four-wheel drive, creep up the driveway, looking at flowers. And when I get to the top, the bottom drops out. A gully-washer. I waited for a lull, to get to the door, but was still drenched and dripped like a bird-dog. Strip, standing on a towel by the kitchen sink, dry off, then a fresh change of clothes. I'd left everything in the Jeep, except for what needed attention, put away butter and cheese, lined up four avocados, for their daily feel, to see in what order I would eat them. The thunder, in waves, is like distant cannon. Like listening to the first battle of Bull Run from a lawn chair in DC. As a check on population we let the young men kill each other, you really only need two or three males, so why not waste them, in the interest of science or something? Sleep it off. Read more...

Friday, June 23, 2017

Almost Funny

I had to laugh, listening to the news, Jared holding court. Trump and more bullshit than is to be believed, and I assume a certain amount. I've been listening to quite a few of our elected officials recently and they don't make any sense. I shouldn't be surprised. Learn to weld, at least it'll pay the bills. I roasted some Brussels sprouts and onions in the toaster oven, then separated the leaves of the sprouts and made an excellent sauce for fresh egg noodles. I'm currently using wild caught rolled anchovies with capers in olive oil and salt in almost everything. Even something as simple as beans on toast. Another day reading the Henley, I'd marked about 50 things I wanted to go back and study. Before the first world war, everything was done in house. There was an absolute fixation on getting out stains. I don't want to get into this, but I already have way too much information about getting rid of particular stains. I could do a call-in show, No Stain, No Gain, but that seems like a stretch. A serious quiet descends on the ridge, no wind, no bugs, no birds, rain moving in, for sure. The usual preparations, clean a bucket to harvest water, get out my head lamp, save everything, make a small pot of beans, cook some rice. Reading about a kind of transfer printing from 1900 and I want to try it. The Hectograph. A gelatin pad on which you make copies. The original must be writ in aniline dye, but you can actually pull 50 copies. Amazing. I'd never heard of the process before. I spend the rest of the afternoon reading about gelatine and hide glue. Read more...

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Comfort Zone

Difficult to nail down. What it takes to be comfortable. If my feet aren't freezing and I can roll a cigaret, I'm in pretty good shape. I like the dark and quiet, so I chase that state through the seasons. Little things matter to me now. Adequate insulation. Isolation and uninterrupted periods of time. Remembering the Essex, I keep an interesting larder. Always, there should be within reach, 50 books. Time is an interval, a movable feast, so I don't pay it much mind. I do love the smell of bacon. Within arm's reach I keep a candle, a headlamp, extra batteries: draped over the back of the sofa I keep my bathrobe, and an extra, in case of a guest. I'm considering a wheeled chair, to access the dictionaries. It's nice to have a pot of beans and rice on the stove. I like to burn a piece of sassafras or juniper, with the stove door slightly open. Sometimes, in winter, when I've cranked the stove to bake cornbread, I love to open a window and breathe cold air. It's a matter of immersion. When I'm reading something that engages my attention, or writing, I'm not aware of outside influences, I sometimes let the fire go out or forget to eat. Something always takes my attention, the way water beads, or the way that wasps build a nest. I've been known to squat on the driveway and watch water go downhill. It gathers, then finds a way. Read more...

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Lost Page

A whole page gone. Hasn't happened to me in months. One of those black-outs that lasted two seconds. I was writing about transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, and that tribe, the Fore, in the New Guinea highlands, and the disease Kuru, which was passed on via ritual cannibalism. While I was fixing lunch I realized I had almost everything for making flounder filets rolled around crab meat. A trip to town tomorrow for the trimmings. I'll coat the roll-ups in ground nuts, maybe glazed carrots on the side. Spaced out, forgot to put the rain-water buckets outside and I'm low on wash water. I need to do dishes and I need to wash my hair. I haven't run out of rain water for several years, and it's stupid that I haven't kept up with it. Lesson learned. Also I have to get in touch with a couple of people about some projects around this place. Plenty of time as the jobs don't have to be done until mid-fall, and the guys will fit me in. Everything seems on track, except for the water fuckup, and I can always go down to B's and fill a couple of buckets. I need to bring my ozonated drinking water supply up to capacity. Then start on the pantry. When I get out in the winter, then get back home, I tend to just shove things wherever they'll fit, so I need to organize and check dates. Then I have to address the book issues, take a load to the Goodwill Bookstore, start a new stack of winter books to be read, shelve 50 or 100. And I have to recycle another couple hundred pounds of magazines, check on the library book sale, and get my license tag sticker. Dug out my old copy of Henley's Formulas and there are several pages of ink recipes, including a small-batch gall ink (1 quart) designed for household use. The 'housewife' was expected to make this, so I assume I can make it too. The Henley's is a wonderful book, and after a couple of days of rain, I've read/scanned through the whole thing. 10.000 recipes and formulas, and it has a great index, covers everything from getting out stains and making a dandruff shampoo, to storing cheese (smear the cut surface with butter) and the care of millstones. I'm not familiar with half of the ingredients. It's great reading that expresses a different view. When you had to do things for yourself. Now, nobody knows how to do anything. Read more...

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...