Sunday, May 15, 2016

Temporal Displacement

Woke up to rain and had no idea whether it was evening or morning. Enjoyed that feeling for a few minutes, of not actually caring. Three in the morning, as usual, and I decided to stay up, make a cup of tea and read Thoreau for a couple of hours. I marvel more and more what people do with their time. I don't mean that in any critical way, I'm just amazed. Hard rain that finally died off about noon, and I needed to get down to B's, to assist getting the meat started. Two old poets barding a beef roast and rubbing a pork loin. Like Pinter on the bus in London, I'll listen to the conversation. I have water for a sponge-bath and a hair-wash, I'm prepared to be civil. It was great fun to prepare and start the meat with B, as neither of us knew what we were doing. We agreed that failure was the only way to learn anything, but suspect this meal might be pretty good. We're both good at this, and we conspire well together. In the course of your life, you don't find that many people to conspire with, so it's good to nail down the date, May 15th, 2016. A Sunday in May. I can't even listen to the news, the Republican party, Trump, spare me, I rather elect a clown, oh, wait a minute. B's calls, and, as feared, the smoker is too hot, I tell him to unplug it, don't open it, and we'll deal with it in the morning (the actual 15th, which dawns blue and beautiful). I call him as soon as I'm awake and he says the meat is cooked, but that we'd need a sauce. I tell him I'll be down at noon and we'll build a sauce from his larder. I'd looked at his larder, when I was down there yesterday, and I think we can make a very nice enchilada, wine, onion, blackberry juice thing, that we can reduce for an hour and will be perfect. Fruit, with the smoke, a bit of sweetness, seems to make sense. It's cold, I start a fire and take a nap. The meat was good, a little over-cooked but tasty, we made a great sauce. After the potato salad and beans arrived, people just started eating, and new items kept arriving, cheese stuffed olives, deviled eggs, slaw, another salad. A grand time. Kids running everywhere. No political talk at all, but some nice conversations about morels, about how the new bridge over Turkey Creek will be that ugly modern type that actually doesn't look like a bridge at all (it looks like a road), and about what beans Ronnie had planted. One bunch of the adults went off with B to look at some plum trees, and I slipped away. I'm not used to the noise level, though I did enjoy some of the one-liners hurled across the room. Zoe has a potty-mouth and she's a lot of fun to be around. There are always at least two divorced couples at a Richards' gathering, sharing kids or grand-kids, and everyone is fine with that. Everyone watches the kids. Jenny lost track of her toddler, but we found him behind the sofa. No harm, no foul, but a few hours of social interaction will do me for a while. The whole panoply of human interaction, all at once, overlapping, for a simple hermit, is difficult to process. Read more...

Friday, May 13, 2016

Wild Mustard

This time of year, the fields that haven't been planted, are a yellow blush, and the yellow day lily always precedes the tiger lily. Down at Turkey Creek there's a stretch of tiger lilies that runs for hundreds of yards. A very light tempura batter, with a beaten egg-white, is good, with a citrus/soy dipping sauce. I made a dish of wild mustard greens with dandelion greens, that was completely inedible, but the first fried lily buds were incredible, sweet and complex, and I vow to go there many times during the coming season. Seems early to me but I saw my first rattlesnake, a female timber rattler, the yellow sub-set, a very beautiful thing, and still half-asleep, so no threat. About five feet long and quite fat, pregnant I think. Hard rain moves in and I shuffle some buckets, fill the soup kettle with enough water to wash my hair. Sunday bodes fair, so I need to clean up before I go down and socialize. Stay on top of this, what's constellated, the mandate being that I pretty much remain myself. I wander into the role of father, wonder at the parts we play. I can't remember my lines and I'm completely blocked in by two fat ladies with shopping carts. Rather than saying something inappropriate, I read the labels on the cat food. I like reading labels and trying to pronounce the names of some of the ingredients. I wanted to ask one of the women (she certainly weighed more than three hundred pounds) where she got her blue jeans. And when they get to that size, how do the people that make them know what to make? Take a class in sail-making. I was in Ted Hood's sail loft in Marblehead a couple of times, once when they were making a main-sail for a 12 meter boat. It was a very large piece of cloth. There were several of the most powerful sewing machines I've ever seen. Amazingly complex operation. Boat and sail design were on the early band-wagon for computers. With good reason, so many numbers to crunch. Even if you're rich, ordering custom built cabinets means you're getting cabinets built from a computer print out which has listed every piece of wood for that set of cabinets and its exact size. I get called out a couple of times a year to hang or re-hang paintings, and I always find time to examine the various cabinets and shelves. What we display is indicative of something, it's not actually meaningless, but it might not mean much. Something is better than nothing, so we go with that. I was bundling some old London Reviews and New York Reviews to recycle and got swept away rereading articles, then listened to Science Friday on the radio. There was a piece on morels that was fun, $30 a pound in NYC, and I realized I'm living above my station, for six weeks or so I eat them almost every day. I had a simple omelet and fried potatoes, covered in morel soup, this morning. I browned them in butter, cooked until they released their moisture, added a can of chicken broth, thickened it with some crushed beans. This is, actually, the best sauce in the history of the universe. Read more...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Turkey Angst

I left a batch of morels to grow for another day and the goddamn turkeys got them. They scratched up the entire area. Evil creatures. Lovely, though, and I never tire of watching them, they're such eager feeders. I leave the radio on, sometimes, to remember to listen to a specific show, and I ended up tonight listening to an hour of music I didn't want to hear, so I could hear an interview with Carlos Santana later. It's difficult to remember something located in time when you don't pay much attention to time. I've always loved Santana's playing. Africa channeled through south America. It's raining hard again, so much rain, flood warnings. Heaven-filling thunder, thunder that shakes the earth, my first reflex was to crawl under a table, crawl under a table and cover my ears. Take a cup of tea to settle your nerves. Passed quickly. It rained hard for about seven minutes. The interview was great, and the music, seems Carlos got the old band together and did another album. Dappled light, but more rain in the forecast, decent batch of morels, then read Thoreau for six hours. There's a new hot-house tomato around here, the grape, and then the cherry tomatoes have gotten pretty good, and now this larger (two inch) variety. I buy them to slice with mozzarella, covered in balsamic vinegar, but I hollowed a couple out, and stuffed with the morel tapenade, cooked them in the toaster oven. Quite good. Better than that, but I don't want to extend my reputation as a morel nut case. Coming home yesterday I remembered where the last occupied log cabin had stood on the creek (the cabin has been moved and thereby saved) and remembered an apple tree in the old lady's yard. Sure enough, a nice clutch of mushrooms. I entertain the idea of buying an abandoned apple orchard, finding out what nutrients morels want, and farming them. The fact that they especially like burned over areas indicates a desire for potash. I wouldn't be raising them as much as encouraging them to grow. A little rust, a little bone dust, a dash of sulfur. The butterflies are on the blooming blackberry. The leaves uncoil, after a rain, when they're still young and flexible. There's a young red maple, maybe twenty years old, that I use as my forecast for weather, she's at least as good as the Weather Channel. Lately, she shimmies as she stands rooted, rolls her leaves over and doesn't say a word. I get the message, put out a bucket and collect some water. Voluntary simplicity. Twice a year I have to have saved $400 to cover land taxes, vehicle insurance and registration, another couple of hundred for the winter pantry, but it's not been a problem because I otherwise don't spend much money in the spring and summer. Lowest electric bill, the phone (my land line connection) is a fixed price, and I don't buy much food. Whiskey and tobacco, but since I inaugurated the multiple back-up system, I haven't once had to hike out, through snow, to satisfy a habit. For long periods of time, last winter, there were two paths, one to the outhouse, and one to the woodshed. Not going to town saves quite a bit of money. Enough that I can save, even on my meager income, adequate cash to pay the bills. Beyond that, it's morel gravy. Peanut oil has gotten quite expensive, even corn oil (fucking ethanol) is getting expensive. I've gone back to mostly using lard, and the other various forms of pork fat. Bacon, fried salt-pork, drippings from a pan. I make a gravy from drippings, with a little browned flour, then add chicken broth. Throw in a half-a-pound of morels, pan-fried in butter, call it the house sauce. Read more...

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Preparation

B came by after his last day teaching (getting his grades in) and we took the smoker apart, discussed what we might do. Pretty simple, but we don't have a handbook. No real idea of the cooking times, but we're both good at taking things on the fly. I'm going down to his place tomorrow, to talk things through, since we'll be feeding 24 people on Sunday. Other people are bringing everything else (Ronnie bringing his delicious over-the-top potato salad) so we just have to cook the meat. A 12 pound pot roast and a whole pork loin. I figure we should start the cooking at 8 on Saturday night, then check it Sunday morning, giving us an additional 8 hours in case we need to finish them on a grill. B has apple wood for the actual smoking. My feeling is that we don't want to over-smoke the meat, so we'll be using the smoker as a slow cooker the rest of the time. The trick will be to keep them moist. I do think there needs to be a sauce or gravy, so there would be something to wipe up with the bread. A paper plate meal, with plastic knives and forks, people sitting wherever they can find a place, kids running around, a regular zoo; it'll be fun, for a few hours, and then I can leave. These people all know I'm a recluse, and I seldom say good-by, tend to just disappear. Oh, Tom? He left a while ago, mentioned feeding the crows. I do miss intimate intense conversation, but I'm not actually able to compromise my time, any more I just stare into the middle distance. I hear voices in the wind but in a language I don't understand. I like the sound of it, and maybe asking it to make sense is asking too much. Bacon wrapped filets of beef loin were on sale, so I had a great dinner of steak and sweet potato with morel gravy. I no longer feel guilty about this, I have morels: I work at it, not like it's a matter of luck. The first yellow lilies, so the tiger lilies of summer aren't far behind, and I love those fried in a tempura batter. I plan ahead, to use the frying oil efficiently, plan to fry vegetables for a couple of nights, then finish with frying fish and hush-puppies. After that you dump the oil and scrapings on the compost heap and all the wild animals wear a silly mustache for days. I save the dried tempura bits, like cracklings, to serve on salad. I'd been thinking about food, since I'll need to feed a couple of house guests for a couple of nights, several actually, Kim for three nights and two days and Diane for two nights and a day, so I need to plan ahead, especially because the main access will be closed. Hoe cakes and sorghum for breakfast, left-over stir fry for lunch, pounded pork tenderloin, stuffed with mushrooms and crab meat for dinner, a good bottle of wine, then port and a sharp Irish cheddar. Maybe a piece of chocolate. Fast run to town, library and Kroger for whiskey, then back around the longest route, all the way up the creek. Beautiful and lush, dogwoods blooming and the walnut are finally beginning to leaf. Stopped at B's and we tested the electric smoker, talked about rubs, maybe barding in bacon, soaking the apple wood. The pot roast measures 12 inches by 20 inches and will need to be cut in half, the heat and smoke need to circulate. I'll go back over Saturday afternoon, then again early Sunday. We'd both thought about the possibility of finishing the meat on the grill. I don't think it'll be necessary, especially if we rotate the meat at the half-way point. Not knowing where the half-way point is could be a problem. B expressed an interest in smoke/roasting vegetables, and driving home I was thinking about how good parsnips and sweet potatoes would be, cooked that way, with a butter sauce. Read more...

Monday, May 9, 2016

Spring Light

Broken light through clouds. The woods are awash in pools of intense brightness. I spent several hours just walking around, being surprised. I thought I wanted to read some fiction, but I fairly quickly retreated to an article, a long piece actually, about bear behavior. Turned on the radio, to listen to Science Friday, one of my favorite shows, ate some morels and baked beans on toast. Thought about how lucky I've been. To be where I am now, this wind-blown ridge, surrounded by books, free to walk about. It's a great release to not have to engage the social world. To just be able to stop and look around. I have to go town tomorrow, the last day before they close the road, stock up on a few things, and the library called, a book for me. I can mail my bills for the month, pick up a small steak, another avocado for the rotation, and not have to go to town for a couple of weeks. This driving around crap is a pain the ass. Months of it, at least a year. Either other way I go, the terrain is changed. I can't go fifty feet from the bottom of my driveway before most of the flora is different. A little late getting started, but I did get to town. There was a huge bicycle event, 1100 people biking down from Columbus, eating a pasta meal, then biking back, TR had called, to warn me, but it wasn't so bad, and the pub was open. By the time I'd had a beer and watched sports' highlights everyone was gone. The book at the library was the new John Sandford novel. I picked up a couple of pot pies, threaded my way through bikers, and beat it on home. Spent the rest of the day and night reading, soft rain, lovely coolness. When I'm reading my own work, in public or to myself, I read a page (30-42 lines, single spaced) in about three minutes; when I'm reading fiction, which is line spaced for readability, I read a page in about a minute (0.9). It takes me 6.66 hours to read the Sandford, actually it takes eight hours because I spend 1.3 hours eating pot pies and staring into space. I'm more careful drinking and reading, now that spewing coffee on the edge of a book cost me three dollars at the library. It's good to know these things can be quantified. Thoreau gets so much better, after Walden, when he slows down a bit on the proselytizing, and talks more about what he specifically sees. And how, when he doesn't know what something is, he finds out. I was cleaning out an old bottle, I use bee-bees for this, because they're cheap and reusable. Or is it just b-bs, or bi-bis, or be-bes; those little copper-colored pellets, though I suspect they're no longer copper, that are actually quite uniform. I believe they could be key to my system of weights and measures. All I had been trying to do was to determine what quantity of dried mushrooms were required for a certain dish, I wasn't trying to determine the weight per acre of pollen in May, but if you had a pint jar of completely dried morels, how many meals was that? Two meals, as it turns out, two meals and two additional meals of leftovers. By my calculations I need to dry 13 pounds of morels in the next six weeks, and I seriously doubt I can do that. For some reason I started thinking about prime numbers, a familiar theme for me. I know very little math, but I play with numbers all the time. When I last went to the courthouse, to file my tree-farm for a tax break, I'd stopped to sit on a stone bench. Knowing that sandstone weighs 140 pounds a cubic foot I calculated that the bench seat I was sitting on weighed 420 pounds. No wonder it wasn't attached. Most of the stone blocks, two feet thick, that make up the courthouse, weight about 1250 pounds, can't have been easy, to mortar and set those in place. And it's an odd unit of measurement, 18 inches by 24 inches by 36 inches, but maybe that's the unit they could handle. The quarry, at Lower Twin, was downhill all the way to the river, the only real problem was stopping the rock at the bottom. I like to take a couple of wraps around a hard-wood tree and set back on my heels. Never wrap the rope around your wrist. Or your waist, for that matter. Cut in half by a shroud, listen, 500 ropes, under tension, you lose a few; the French tended to shoot for the rigging. At the waterline, most of these ships are 22 inches thick, Florida Live Oak, but it still splinters after a 32 pound shot. Haul a prize into any neutral port, accept the current value. Two owls, how cool is that? Read more...

Friday, May 6, 2016

Water Vapor

A mist, I would say, is different from light rain. It's all about suspension. I've been observing water closely, the last couple of weeks, because there's been so much. Just when I think I'm bored with it, it surprises me. There was a ground fog, the sun came up in a clear sky, and all of the fog trailed off like smoke. I made a note to pray for fog, so I could watch it dissipate. The Tom TV show is just three hours a day. He hits us at eight with hog futures and a video of the fog dissipating, then at noon, with breaking news about sublimation at some of the higher passes, then a human interest story at eight, involving a pet. Add it to your package. In an attempt to not come off as a morel jerk, cooked them with parsnips, with turnips, with all of the root vegetables. Morels cooked in butter on a sweet potato is a revelation. Because I'd been reading about Mandelbrot I was struck by a passage in Thoreau: "... that each little pebble that had protected the sand made the summit of a sort of basaltic column of sand, --- a phenomenon which looks like it might be repeated on a larger scale in nature." Fractals. They're everywhere. A dreary day, threatening more rain, and quite cool. In the forties last night and again tonight, and the leaves are turned inside out. A freshening wind in the afternoon. Blossoms on the blackberry to the south of the house. I curl up and read for eight hours. Great day for it, a stadium blanket and a mug of tea, I unplug the phone and turn off the breaker for the fridge. Mere quiet, of course, because there is the sound of snow falling off branches, or a single crow, looking for a hand-out, or the white noise of gentle rain on the roof, some sound that is no longer silence. You deal with that, sometimes I use earplugs. I'd turned the compost pile and added some rank kitchen trimmings, stove ashes, and covered it with green-stuff I'd cut with the sling-blade on the path to the outhouse. I knew some critter would dig it up, and about 3 in the morning there's a huge uproar, the bob-cat and two feral dogs. It would be cruel and difficult to film this, and I usually break it up with my sling-shot and a couple of marbles. Since I discovered the decorator marbles at Big Lots, incredibly cheap, now, I only use marbles, and occasionally ball bearings, to make my point. Imagine, I used to pick up rocks. I still do, of course, rocks interest me, certain plants I see on the roadside, the colors ponds assume. Was there ever a bit of frost that revealed so much. I was going to the corner store to get a stick of gum. Read more...

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

High Water

I didn't know it had rained so much, but the bottoms near town were flooded. The heirs of Boone Coleman will be paid this year to not raise soybeans. A quick beer and a very quick trip to Kroger and got back home just as the rain started again. Red beans and rice for an early dinner, with hushpuppies, then read Thoreau for a couple of hours while rain pattered on the roof. I'm quite dirty, as I've been cleaning, and I look forward to a full bath on the deck in the sheep-watering trough, but I put it off for another day, because I'm just going to get dirty again. I'm trying to get rid of some paper, New Yorkers, London Reviews, New York Reviews, tie them into bundles, for the recycling bin and try to take two into town every time I make the trip. In just a couple of months I should be able to double the usable space in my house. In many ways I don't pay any attention to what's happening off the ridge. That other world. May 9 Mackletree closes down so they can build a new bridge over Turkey Creek at the spillway. A big job, months, millions of dollars, and an enormous pain in the ass for everyone to drive around. I can get out Saturday and lay in supplies but visitors (two in June for me) will be hard-pressed to find the back way in. What was formerly remote becomes very difficult. Thank god I don't have to commute to work. I will go down and watch them build the bridge, construction is always interesting, and I have an abiding interest in spanning gaps. An obsession of mine forever, a simple truss, or some complicated combination of king-posts and queen-posts. Reading Thoreau, just before and when he was living in the cabin, his writing style changes. He starts to notice things. The writing style becomes natural. The posturing falls away. He walks a lot in the rain, and I wonder what he wears. A slicker and a rain-hat? Nothing at all, probably. I keep a lush towel for drying off, when I come in, and a change of clothes, start a small fire of junk mail, just to dry out the house, a wee dram to clean out the sinus, roll a smoke with a nominal gram of tobacco. Two fingers and a thumb. Reading about Benoit Mandelbrot. Fractals. Interesting that the entire development started with a paper he read (or heard) on word frequency. I have a word frequency index, a study for a dictionary, and I often pull it out to see where a word falls. Harvey, bless his departed soul, made a poem out of the first fifty words, in order. It involved an amazing display of punctuation and line breaks. We printed it as a broadside but I don't seem to have a copy. It was quite funny. Another day of rain with a break of a couple of hours. Wandered outside, because it had gotten so still. Not a bug, not a bird, no wind, everything about as wet as it good get; extremely overcast, with a low ceiling. The rain (condensing drops of water, not quite rain yet) were forming at about the height of my chest. Right there in front of me. Watching rain starting to fall. Hiking in Colorado you could sometimes walk down into a rain shower. Many times I've walked down into a fog, but I was watching rain happen, and it felt slightly magic. Filed the thought away, or lost it, the magic part, at least. Gathered enough morels to make an excellent gravy for a small steak. Shad and the dog-wood are blooming, and it's lovely to see them, untended, in deep woods. What was I thinking? Read more...

Monday, May 2, 2016

Rare Intervals

Fleeting beauty. Broken clouds after a rainy morning and enough leaves that the light is becoming shafts. The green is beginning to run rampant. A flood watch, down in the lowlands, but the ridge absorbs like a sponge, now, and the driveway is little affected. More rain moving in, so I go out and collect a small batch of morels, to tide me over. I made a soft-spread last night, actually this morning, working off the tapenade theme, morels cooked in butter, smoked cured ham, sweet relish, and black olives; process with a little brandy. Being poor, I eat this on generic saltines. I recommend it as a way to use up extra morels. Most recipes using dried mushrooms call for using a reconstituted ounce. I don't have a scale that's accurate in small quantities, I mostly weight rocks and large pieces of wood, and I don't need very specific numbers. Sandstone is 140 pounds a cubic foot, more or less. So I was considering making a simple balance scale, but I have no standard, I need something that weighs a gram. This entire issue only came about because I was rolling a smoke and I wondered how much tobacco I used in the average cigaret. I guessed it was a gram, a complete guess. Thought about it later, and started collecting small pieces of metal, if I can get access to a decent scale for an hour, I can nail this balance down. B called and wanted to come over for a drink. This is like a once or twice a year occurrence and I could only imagine something was wrong, but, no. He's hosting the family dinner on May 15 and wanted to cook the very large roast I'd scored from the pub. Dinner for 20. I tell him, sure, we can do that, cook it in the smoker with a pork roast above it, dripping down, for about 20 hours. He's so relieved that I'd thought about it, I can see the worry leave his face. We make some plans, agree to talk again. Ronnie will make potato salad (really an egg salad with potatoes, the best I've ever had), Dawn will make a green salad, B will bake French Bread, Josh will bring beer and ice. I had thought about it. If Jenny and Scott are going to be there, we might arrange a morel gravy with several pounds of morels. This could end up being one of those legendary meals. I've cooked at several. You feed 12 to 20 people a feast, and a couple of years later 70 people swear they were there. See my offprint, The Family Meal, An Exercise In Manners. B wants to cook a whole pork loin as part of the mix, and I need to think about the arrangement of the meat in the smoker. This kind of feast takes a mind of it's own, yes, it will blow your mind, stay calm, arrange the meat and go to bed. Tomorrow, some things might be made more clear. Read more...

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Story Board

It starts raining in the night. Cool enough, when I get up to pee, that I shut some windows, and put on my bathrobe. I'd been working on a paragraph for several hours, trying to align punctuation with what was said, had drifted off to into a consideration of the ambiguity of language. How emphasis is enhanced by structure. How structure is achieved. Finally nodded into a dream where little people were stacking large blocks of stone to build abutments for a bridge. Hours later, when the rain reminded me to pee, I picked up the thread of what I had been saying, saw clearly that there needed to be a comma before the conjunction. I often enjamb beyond my intent in the interest of being clear. The nature of the affliction. Joel gives me a raft of shit, well deserved, because I often fail to see the pile of yak dung. He calls while on dialysis, which sweetens the pot. In training for being blind, I seldom turn on any lights for mundane chores, going to pee, getting a drink, rolling a smoke. Rolling a cigaret in the dark was by far the most difficult. You need to know which edge is gummed, but there is a pattern and that's the key. The gummed strip is always on the inside top edge of the fold as it emerges from the pack. Learn to do this with your left hand, so that with your right hand, using a thumb and two fingers, you can pick up just enough tobacco for a smoke. When I succeed at this, more than half the time (54%) I'm proud, if I have to light a match or a candle, it's no big deal. As a test to my faith, the goat-suckers are out in force. I swear, when they were goading me down the stairways of hell, shackled like a slave, the soundtrack was always those goddamn Whip-O-Wills. Listen, I love a few things, the Cello Suites, Greg Brown, those last drawings Modigliani sketched without second thought; and I don't like other things, pretense, bad pottery, inexact language, so I figure I'm nearly normal. You like some things and don't care for others, welcome to the game, or the race, or whatever it is. It cleared a bit in the middle of the day, found a few morels and made a nice tapenade, clouds move back in with thunder, I shut down and took a nap. Rain on the roof wakes me. My earliest memory is of rain on a Quonset hut, last time we lived in one, on a Naval base in Maryland. Mom says this isn't possible because I was not yet two. Leaf-out is probably 25% on the ridge, nearly 100% along the river road into town. Saw a river tug pushing a load of road trusses up river. These are made at a huge yard outside Cincinnati where I've often stopped to watch them move very large things. They also make pre-stressed concrete roof panels which I figure are quite heavy. The weight limit must be whatever the weight limit is for the road that gets them to the river. Around here it's coal trucks, and I think the load limit is between 100,000 and 120,000 pounds. Factored out per axle. But still, there's a section of road over in Kentucky, on my route to Florida, a dozen or so miles, between a power plant and a coal mine, where the ruts are dangerous. I did the math on this, back when I could do math, figuring the coal at about 90 pounds a cubic foot, specific gravity of about 1.5, though I have no idea where I got those numbers. They mound the trucks with a shape that roofers would call a 'pyramid-hip-on-a-gable' which I'm sure puts them ten or twenty thousand pounds over the weight limit. There are never any cops on this section of road. I go this way to Florida, because there's a stretch of the road in Virginia and North Carolina that is absolutely stunning, and I love the geography, on the high ground, until dropping down at Columbia, to the coastal plain. Then hundreds of thousands of acres of pine trees. Until I was 16 I was pretty sure I'd end up being a swamp rat. You could tie up a house boat or whatever hull you'd re-floated on hundreds of miles of tributaries to the St. John's River. Easy life, in some ways, no bills, no debt, but it's difficult to get a library card, and you have to dock close enough to a town to row in and get supplies. The ridge is a good substitute, the isolation, the quiet, the darkness, though I do miss the lapping of small waves. More than compensated by the wind in the trees. Rain on the roof, thunder, I'd better go. Read more...

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Just Food

Driving in the usual way it's five miles through the State Forest, then five miles on Route 125, then seven miles along the river into town. The long way around it's seven miles through the forest then 17 miles along the river. Both routes share the last seven miles, but otherwise they're different in terms of specific environment. The plants are a lot different. I wanted some cattail shoots, so I went the usual way, out past the lake. In the make-over of park services they've allowed access to a new area, a small cove, and it's thick in cattails. It takes about ten minutes to harvest a batch. These are very good, peeled and steamed, with pesto mayonnaise; and I'd bought a bag of mixed baby greens, which I wilted with hot butter and mushrooms. Wilted salads were a big thing, when I was a kid, fried salt-pork and cornbread. I still love it, though my mother would never have considered morels. As a family we did harvest wild blackberries and wild plums, to make jams and jellies, ate fresh fish twice a week, and had access to the great military commissaries at very low cost, milk and butter and cheese. I never knew we were poor, Upper Lower Class, until I was in college. Even then, the wealthier kids, mostly from the Northeast (going to college in Florida) vied to be asked to dinner at my parents' house. There was usually a weekend fish-fry, shared effort, Dad fried the fish, Carlene made the hush puppies, somebody made slaw, Mom made cornbread sticks, essentially an all-you-can-eat buffet for free. First-time Yankee students usually ate until they vomited. At the same time, I had never eaten a mushroom and never seen an artichoke. It just struck me, the name for tiny ice crystals that fall out of an often clear sky is spiculae, I'd lost that word, so I write it on a slip of paper and pin it to the wall. There are dozens of slips of paper, with words or quotes pinned to my walls, they're part of my memory process. Like some radio shows, this time of year, talking about proms. I went to mine, with Sandra Harper (as I remember), but it wasn't anything special, a night in a rented suit. In my mind, I was already out of there, having accepted a job in summer-stock theater for that summer, which changed my life completely. New England, gay people (who ran theater before AIDS), good and interesting food, and a general intelligence that reached beyond mere survival. A whole new world. That I could do this still mystifies me. I would say that nothing prepared me, but something must have. Now, fifty years later, I'm collecting rain water in a bucket to wash my dishes, reading by candlelight, and drinking moonshine. Talk about success. But maybe it is the measure, what you can do without. It's at least a measure by which the rest can be judged. I love the tension drawn by a line in the sand, not that it means anything, it's, after all, a line in the sand, ephemeral at best. After the hour spent on commas in that last sentence, I spent all of my effort building a small mousetrap from small sticks and string. It didn't work, but it was a fun project. I spent an entire evening gluing sticks together, forgetting the basic tenet of 'outward force', a trapped mouse, like a trapped pig, is always going to push against the fence, so the rails need to be on the inside of the posts. Joel thought it was stupid I'd read Thoreau's journal, which it would be, but I read a lot, so I can spare the time. Read more...

Friday, April 29, 2016

Crossing Shots

Rodney called and I tried to tell him that I didn't need a buddy. A difficult but interesting conversation because he was drunk and deep into his personal hell. I hate this shit, but it is interesting. I'm fine with myself, I know the chinks and voids, and I try to never offer advice. Usually I mumble, little more than nothing, a smear of butter, a hint of exotic marmalade. But the endless cascade of hard times wears on me. It bores me, actually, I'd rather be pilloried, drawn and quartered, whatever. D had already called, so I felt like a phone junkie. Never could get back into my groove. Had a drink and listened to Bach, turned off the lights and sat in the dark, got into a non-thinking mode. The light rain helped. More light rain in the morning, enough to prelude a trip to town, the weather sounds better for tomorrow. I'd started smelling something dead, but I can't find whatever it is. Probably dead mice in the walls. The smell always goes away after a few days, but I have to look under everything, under the house, behind piles of books, because you're not supposed to have rotting animals in your house. They mummify, actually, with that death mask on their face, and even a small mouse can look quite vicious. I had to laugh, I was completely disheveled, in my bathrobe and slippers, I'd started the espresso maker, and I went outside to collect enough morels for an omelet. I'd seen a few, breaking ground behind the shed, coming in yesterday; but the very idea that I could go out in my bathrobe and slippers and get morels for breakfast seemed like a big deal. It wasn't a big deal, it was merely a matter of putting things together, morels, omelet, coffee, hungry. In our film Basho is a bum, wearing layers of clothes, puts on the coffee, walks a hundred feet from his back door, in his fucking bathrobe and slippers, and harvests morels for breakfast, he doesn't say a word, the soundtrack is the usual subdued TR, a duck egg we had watched Basho/Bum steal from a nest becomes this fragrant omelet that steams in front of us. Two takes right away, one is that he's a total fake, the other is that he might be the real thing. Trip to town, low on supplies, skipped the library because I'm expecting Thoreau's Journals; at the pub the main cooler, with six of the taps (including the Guinness) was being repaired, so Cory gave me a bottled beer. The books were in, and cheaper than expected, $50 for the two-volume Dover reprint of the 14 volume original, printed four pages to a page, 2,000,000 words. I'm in deep clover for the next year. Way oversized, heavy hard bound books, I'll have to read them leaned from lap to desk, which digs into my thighs and makes my feet fall asleep, so I have to get up fairly often, stretch, take a walk, eat something. This works well for me, a trip to the woodshed, sweeping snow off the back porch, getting a drink, rolling a smoke, then reading for another couple of hours. As a sidebar I was cooking red-beans and rice, the entire concept of red-beans and rice has changed so much in the last twenty years. These 'red-beans' might actually be crowder peas, and then the rice. I think the best rice in the world is being grown in Louisiana right now, and I fully embrace it; the red-beans I'm still tracking dow. Read more...

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Slow Rain

A train in Kentucky, coal for the power plants. Strange to hear it, but the conditions are exactly correct, so when I get up to pee what I hear is dripping rain on the roof, some frogs and bugs, and a train. The darkness was absolute, and I had to feel over to where I kept my headlamp. I didn't want the light, but I didn't want to stumble and fall. I'd already knocked over a pile of books tonight, which happens when you just pile books up. Forces my hand, and I'll put away some books later, sorting them by size and color. This is a stupid system I started using decades ago where I'd remember that something I wanted to reread was in a small yellow book. The system actually works, some of the time, which is about as well as to be expected. B has his library arranged alphabetically, which is so logical it leaves me speechless, my system of size and color pales. Through a scrim softly, back light, vague shadows, does one thing matter more than another? No. That classic butterfly in Mexico, a myth, is real enough; or dancing with the little people. What becomes iconic is simply fulfilling a function, a small gasp of disbelief, then you realize Donald Trump is actually running for president. I have to retreat to my redoubt and reconsider. Later, after a night of rain, fog is so thick I can't see across the hollow. Not a breath of wind, and the green is truly beautiful, washed clean and in hundreds of shades. Sitting on the back porch, with a cup of coffee, I feel detached from the politic of the world. I notice a lovely soft green plant in the cleared area, walk over there and see that it's Black Cohosh, a folk medicine for 'woman problems', plentiful enough that Dave says it isn't worth digging. He supplements his income by digging roots. It's interesting to note that many people on the creek dig roots, most everyone carries a trowel in the fall, one friend carries his in a holster. Brought up on westerns in the early days of TV, I've always loved the idea of a holster, wore a Buck knife for several decades, now I carry a Gerber knife that clips on the inside of my jean's pocket, and a Leatherman tool, with which, given the right soundtrack, I could build a new world. I'm granted a bit of hyperbole because I have a lot of morels right now, and I'm inordinately proud of that. I have morels and you don't. Clearly something is signified. All it means is that I spent some time in the woods, but when it appears on my table, a thick and smooth mushroom gravy, it seems to acquire meaning. Another title for my memoirs might be Butter And Bacon Fat, which would be not far from the mark. I need butter as I'm down to a single stick. Olive oil is fine, it brings out the fruit (apricots) but animal fat brings out the woodsy, smokey flavors, and that's what I like best about wild mushrooms. Mostly I just indulge myself. Ryan and Lindsey worked on the driveway, digging out the grader ditch, and they dug in all the right places, which is both pleasing and interesting to me. Pleasing, because I don't have to do it; and interesting because they dig in the correct places. Drainage, if you study it, makes a certain sense. And their timing is spot on: when the trees start leafing they absorb huge quantities of water, so there isn't the same danger of damage. Late winter, early spring, is when the driveway is most vulnerable. For six or seven months I should be able to get to town whenever I wish. D calls and wants to come out with a load of white oak stumps in exchange for dinner and conversation. I can't believe my good fortune. A load of white oak now, with what I pick up during the summer, will see me through another winter. I still have some wood left from last year, and Ryan said he'd come over and split what I needed. A deed of trust.

Nothing prepares you
for the still night, and the smell
of fragrant flowers
Read more...

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Too Good

Spoiled. Found another nice patch of morels and made a soup that's more like a stew. Butter, minced onion and mushrooms, a can of chicken broth, with cream added at the end and pulled off the heat. Now that I'm into the swing of it I read about sea-battles, then a couple of interesting pieces on ship-building. I was working on a paragraph, though it's fair to say that I'm always working on a paragraph, and I had completely lost track of time, when Samara called from Denver. A good call, talked about gardening and cooking, and she now wants to visit during morel season. I could leave her my map. Which could be useful. They seem to prefer certain areas, burned hardwood, wild fruit trees, canopied oak, but there's very little pattern I can distinguish, mostly I just walk around carefully, and try and stay one step ahead of the turkeys. I know I'm riding a wave here, the bounty of an exotic, but it's very real, I'm actually drying morels because I can't eat them all fresh. Granted, I'm spending all my time doing this, but what better to do? I got a little turned around today, sat on a stump and enjoyed the illusion of being lost. I was specifically lost, but in general I knew where I was. West and south of the house there are many square miles of unbroken forest, but I know most of the drainages, so I can usually find myself fairly quickly. It starts clouding up again, mid-afternoon, so I walked north until I could sense Upper Twin Creek Road, which hereabouts is called Rocky Fork, then cut back east. I intersect my property down slope, where are three natural terraces that step to the road. They actually look man-made, but I assume settled sandstone dikes. The second was revealed to me as a morel spot some years ago by a hunter (I'd caught a dog of his, and held it), and I found some there, including two large enough to stuff. I'm harvesting them early this year, because of the turkey problem. I'm planning a meatloaf with a thick mushroom gravy. The large ones I'll stuff with cream cheese and minced onion, served on a bed on enchilada/tomato sauce. I realize I'm slightly obsessed, but I'm not a threat. The first little shower came through and perched a perfect crystal on top of every leaf. It's incredibly beautiful for three or four minutes, then it's gone. In a stand of Mountain Laurel today, and the dark green was intense, like with Holly, the leaves are constructed to retain moisture, and they feel plastic. I keep finding myself at the bottom of the hill, no matter how often I swear not another climb. And it isn't too bad because I'm not in a hurry. I'm thinking about a paper, Some Median Plants, that would address the number of miniature plants that grew in a stressed environment. Deep vested thunder, but it's to the SW and that's not my weather side. Still, I'd better go, it's extending all around. Read more...

Monday, April 25, 2016

Musing Aloud

Leftovers On Toast is the working title for a memoir I seem to be writing. Twenty years ago I wrote a small book of poems using a tape recorder. I was living alone in the desert. I drove endlessly through Paradox, with all windows down and the hot air swirling like a nightmare. A small voice-activated recorder, and I'd devised a cradle for it on the steering column. I had to talk loudly, because of the wind noise, and there's a deeply desperate quality to the sound. I was remembering a particular event, a clam bake on Cape Cod, on a private beach, an assemblage of theater folk, and had the thought that I could more easily record those 3 AM moments of apparent lucidity than keyboard them, because I'm such a terrible typist. But then I remembered how dreary transcription actually was. Still I might try it, just to hear the rhythms. I was working recently, that 3 AM shift, not knowing if I was beginning or ending something, and I enjoyed reading a paragraph out loud. I changed a few small things, because they missed the beat. Hearing the voice is so critical. There's a moment, reading a poet (manifest in hearing one), that you actually hear the voice. From then on, the reading is easier; prose, of course, also, Proust, Faulkner, McCarthy. When I can hear a voice, I'm transported out of myself. The leftover mushroom dish was fantastic for breakfast, morels and cheese on toast, with a fried egg on top. I would only ever feed this to someone who was going to die anyway. I'm running low on butter and I just bought some. A great day in the woods. Found a dried wood-ear mushroom that would be large enough to make a soap shelf in a shower. I've done a couple of these and they're real crowd pleasers: flatten the back, hollow the top, and plaster it into place. It looks like it grew there. And I found a new patch of morels before the turkeys got to them. The down side is that I harvest them young, they'd be twice as large tomorrow, but I know those goddamn turkeys will find them. When I got back to the house there was a vehicle, a late model small 4-wheel drive pick-up, and an older couple looking for the graveyard. They were polite, as you might expect, when I emerged from the woods. I looked a bit frightening, but they held their ground. Rufus (I swear to god) and Betty Blevins, looking to see where some distant kin was buried. I asked them in and fixed tea. They were somewhat intimidated by my house and the ten thousand books, but we had a nice cup of tea, then I donned leather gloves, picked up some clippers, and took them out to the cemetery. They actually knew who a few of the people were, distant great-uncles, and at one point Betty said, pointing to an infant grave, that it was her great-grandmother's sister. Walking out, Rufus said he thought it was strange that I'd own the family plot, talked to me about the church that used to be down on the Rocky Fork side. Corn, he said, in all the bottoms; it was, he said, a corn economy. I was happy to be shed of them but it was an interesting diversion. I'd been thinking about waves all day, now that I could see the wind stirring tender young leaves, the invisible made visible; oh, right, the wind, now I see it. The news of the day, another hundred thousand seeking asylum, 500 dead in a capsized barge, a bomb going off somewhere; and it is clearly avoidance, that I choose hunting morels rather than considering whether Ted or Donald is the better candidate. Read more...