Saturday, January 24, 2015

Snow Day

I always forget how beautiful virgin snowfall in deep woods can be. Six inches of powder on the ground, two inches on every branch. Talk about isolated. I'm feeling fairly remote. TR calls to verify that I'm alive, that I can't get out, and that, certainly, no one can get in. He wants to call back later and talk about the Passion. Even the crows have holed up somewhere. Just a slight breeze, enough to blow snow off high branches. I can't walk outside because snow keeps falling inside my collar. It's so lovely, the way everything is defined. I find a Slippery Elm that is bent in a perfect arc and mark it with crime-scene tape. It's a great stick to become a railing for a flared set of stairs. Slippery Elm is lovely wood. It takes a very hard glossy finish. The crows are gone, I suspect they've moved down to the Hemlock stand in the wilderness area, it's better protected; but my three old battered comrades are back and I microwave them a couple of mice. I just read, make notes, drink tea. I made some jasmine rice and ate the last of the pork strips, later I made an omelet with some onions I had cooked beyond caramelization, into the nether world of onion crisps. It was very good. Later, reclining in my tree-tip pit, strumming a slack guitar, with a blue tarp funneling away the moisture right at the edge of freezing. Icicles are a universal problem. Sometimes I can't go outside. It's constellated against any personal intervention. Reverse threads, why didn't I think of that. Eat toast and be happy. After 36 hours of extreme quiet, a dripping on the roof awakes me, then a loud thud as a mass of snow falls on the back porch. It's a physical event, the house shakes, and even though it happens two or three times a years, it always catches me off guard. Loki, or an ice-bear hammering at the door. The Dire Wolf, or some such. At first I used to set in the dark with a shotgun, now I just open the door and scoop compressed snow into a five gallon bucket to melt for wash water. A gift horse. By late afternoon snow is falling off the trees like a blizzard. It's like watching a quiet war. Drone strikes with no audio. Mangled bodies but no screams. I have a nice fire going and decide to bake both halves of an acorn squash stuffed with a red onion, raspberry jam. It's something I can actually do. In the future, I'd like to have a miniature log-splitter I could use for winter squash but in the nonce I use a cleaver. Splitting a squash is similar to splitting an oak round. There's always a certain amount of uncertainty. Read more...

Friday, January 23, 2015

Develop Mode

Social media is so out of hand it's getting difficult to have an actual conversation. I don't have a cell phone. A land line only, with a dial-up connection that doesn't allow me to open anything. Life is good at the rookery. Last trip to town I paid my land taxes and filed for my agricultural exemption. Snow, sleet and rain in the forecast, but I'm secure, with a dozen or so books, and I have a back-up battery for my headlamp. A lovely gentle snow-fall in the afternoon, large flakes, no wind. I'm not sure what boredom is, but I don't suffer it often. Now it's snowing hard, and this was not forecast, the ground is covered. I reread The Riddle Of The Sands, then eat excellent leftovers, the pork strips, cooked in miso, are heavenly, then take a nap. It's so quiet, when I wake up, that I know there's a blanket of snow. I sweep off the approach to the back door and the steps. It's beautiful, snow falling in the black night, and the only sound is the occasional constrained percussive thing that happens when a branch-load of snow falls into a snow bank. No bugs, no birds, no animals. I turn on my computer and consider a couple of commas that may have been extravagant. I often worry about tense, when I'm reconstructing a story. The present is difficult to manage. The past is, however, a playground. Everyone has a slant and none of them agree. If anyone were to stay with me now, they'd have to ask about the crows. Yes, they're sleeping over there, yes they are loud at times, but who ever lived in a rookery? It's quiet most of the time, but the crows set sentries, and they have very good eyesight. I hear that train coming. Read more...

Stone Tools

Uniformly gray. I hiked out to the graveyard, to do my annual count. The sunken graves fill with leaves that rot to a black sludge. I can usually identify between 16 and 22 and this year the number is 18. Rummaging around in the litter I found a lovely arrowhead, quartz and quite small, what's usually called a bird point, used for hunting small game. It makes my day. I was starved when I got home so I fixed the full potato, sausage, egg, and toast brunch, then reclined on the sofa with the latest Lee Child novel. Disturbed, as always, by mistakes in the text. Fact-checking and proof-reading have gone out the window. If it's a library book I make I small pencil line under the mistake and a small pencil dot in the margin, and note the page on the bookmark. That way it's easy for me to go back and collect the mistakes. This is completely an amusement, there is no meaning involved, except that meaning is always involved. Even when Spell Check provides an incorrect word. If I had the time I'd collect this detritus into a volume called That's Not What I Meant To Say. TR called, all excited about the opera project, and we talked for a long time about Bach and polyphony. I hadn't even thought about a chorus, as it was way beyond our budget (our budget is zero dollars) and suddenly we have a chorus that wants to work with us. Who is us? what are we doing? A chorus answers the question. Maybe there's a dance. TR told me to read about Passions, Bach and St. Mathew, so when I get off the phone I go to the 11th Britannica and read for several hours. One thing leads to another. Next thing you know I'm imagining Veronica with her panties around her ankles. I forget which Station Of The Cross that is. I cleaned the arrowhead with my fingernail brush and some dish soap, it's a handsome little piece. I have a box of these, but I don't collect them, they just accumulate. Small points are fairly common. Like fines in the drainage of a creek. Meaning (here we go again) stratifies in layers of rock waiting to happen. Slate, for instance, which is mud waiting to become sandstone but not buried deep enough under ground for the required pressure. I worry too much about extraneous shit, but it's a force of habit, to worry a point. Even the idea of "worrying" a point seems odd, why would you bother? Something in the water. I think of old Basho, retreating to his hut with a bowl of reheated rice and a feather he'd found on the path to the outhouse. My first thought, I have to say, was The Passion of Saint Thomas, but I pretty quickly understood that it needed to be Basho's Passion, which would allow greater liberty and insure I'd be shot sooner rather than later. Pagan, from pagus, out in the country. Drifting snow, it's beautiful, something B said, about covering a multitude of sins. Listen, all I see is a carpet of virgin snow, my own identity seems a closely held secret. This isn't a game. Read more...

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Judgement Call

This freeze-thaw crap is the worst of it. I drove over to the head of the driveway, then got out and tested the surface. Decided I could get out, and following the dictum that at this time of year, one should go to town whenever the opportunity arose. I'd dipped into the back-up supplies of juice and coffee, so I needed a few things; and had decided to duplicate (which is hardly possible) a meal of beef strips, with one of pork strips because there were a ton of loin chops discounted. I brine these, then partially freeze them and slice very thin. A stir-fry, with onion and red peppers, on a bed of smashed baked potato. My sink drain is frozen, this happens every year, and I fall back on the dish pan system of washing dishes. It's actually more economical in terms of water use and I get to yell "Gardy Loo" when I fling the water off the back porch. The house is getting quite dirty, also a seasonal cycle. Tracking in mud and leaves, bark and firewood debris, ash. My outside outer layer of clothing, black Carhartt overalls usually, are a disgrace. I have another pair, insulated, tan, with the zip-up legs, and neither pair of these have ever been washed. I keep a whisk broom, inside the back door, and use that to knock off the larger pieces, but I track huge amounts of shit inside. It would be embarassing if anyone were to visit. Mid-winter, my standards of house-keeping are very low. Thank god I don't have a dog. Or a relationship. I'd have to admit I'd failed. Read more...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Slow Train

Conditions have to be just right. No wind, as that generally comes from the northwest. As the crow flies, the tracks, across the river, are probably five miles due south. I'd gotten up to pee and went outside to see if it had snowed, no snow but one of those early mornings that measured very close to zero on the Stillness Index. I could hear a coal train laboring through South Shore, Kentucky (the south shore of the Ohio river, the northernmost tip of the state) and it gave me pause. Overcast and very dark. I got a drink and rolled a smoke, put on my bathrobe and sat on the back step. What it comes down to is a woeful blues song. That train in the distance, my dog died, and my truck won't start. A couple of fuzzy guitar riffs. The soprano is singing a Greek lament, what she wanted to have happened. A beauty pageant gone bad. Back to almost compete silence, then the train, pulling out of town. The soprano, railing in the distance. Cut to black. Something like that.

Lonesome train is calling
somewhere down the track.
Read more...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Health Care

My sister called, with an update on my parents. I can't follow the ins and outs of the health care system. 16% of the people that go into hospice pull back out. Most of them, I imagine, to die at home, though there is no home, in many cases. Hospice, by definition, is a place you go to die. The iceberg on which you drift out to sea. They put you on a morphine drip and you remember the past. Dad got a little better, and they realized he'd been put on the drip a little too soon so they took him to the hospital (2 miles, $750) where there was some confusion because Medicaid doesn't like to cover both hospital and hospice nor the ambulance in between. Brenda, bless her, is handling this. I couldn't do it. It all makes me want to dig a hole where I could go to rest, freeze to death, be back-filled over and forgotten. Maybe once a year someone raises a pint to salute my stupidity; not that, rather my recalcitrance, everyone smashes their whiskey glass against the Blarney Stone, and somehow, everyone gets home. I'd finally gotten to sleep when I heard a couple of gunshots, a pistol, not that far away. I got up and noted the time, 12:50, which meant it was actually 12:36, because my clock is 14 minutes fast. It's just a game I play. Looking at the time. And almost exactly thirty minutes later there are headlights on the driveway. The deputy sheriff checking on the gunshots. I let him inside and tell him what little I know, two shots, close together, then a vehicle headed west on Upper Twin very fast. I tell him to look at the new sign for Mackletree Road because it didn't have any bullet holes yesterday. Signs don't last long in the country. TR called from the museum, wanting to know which company sold a certain type of light bulb. I couldn't remember, but called him back a few minutes later with the name of the company. I usually remember something I've forgotten just after I stop thinking about it. Most of us do. I've done surveys. I think it's a hard-wired thing. The Ur-Brain tells the Conscious Brain to just get on with whatever it was doing, and it would instruct the reference demons to search the data banks. Laugh, but it's true. Stopped at a traffic light, I look out the window at a plant that I know perfectly well, but I can't remember its name; light turns green, I look both ways, instruct my foot to come off the brake and give it some gas. Teasel was the plant, of course, how could I have forgotten that name. I can do a thirty minute lecture on this plant without notes. Spent the day with an interesting book about survival at the very limits, Life At The Extremes, and read book reviews; late in the afternoon I took a walk, and the freeze-thaw cycle was in full effect. Each of my feet weighed a hundred pounds by the time I got back home. Add mud to the mix. Pagan is from pagus, the countryside. What they do out in the sticks. Read more...

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reading Flaubert

Robert Stone died and he had spent some time on the bus with the Merry Pranksters, a litany of Beat and Post-Beat characters. Neil and Ken, everyone tripping out, everyone dancing on the edge. I had discovered, even then, that I wanted to keep a low profile. If you winter in summer resorts and have a decent job in season, you can get through the year. No reason to call attention to yourself. Better to just lay low and keep quiet. I read for 40-56 hours a week, I walk in the woods, where I'm very unlikely to meet another person, I go to town when I can, and talk to other people. It feels like a reasonably integrated life. Jana feels I should move down to the lowlands and get a girlfriend. Wouldn't work, I'd still be the same asshole. TR said that when I called him at the museum on Saturdays, I was usually the only call; which is only fair, that I should compete against nothing. Got sidetracked into chemistry today. I had been curious about the finish they put on the new generations of flooring materials. Some of these are beautiful, the cork and bamboo especially, and I'd installed some, for other people. The finish was amazing, the hardest surface I'd ever seen, so I'd sent off for some information. I'd heard it was aluminum oxide, it's actually aluminum oxynitride, it's crystal clear and used in making bullet-proof 'glass'. Which led to an endless series of questions about glass generally, and then questions about clarity, and refraction, then more questions about atmospheric phenomena. Thank god I had left-overs for several meals. I love Flaubert, and I often read him when I'm eating dinner. Where Faulkner got his attention for detail. Read more...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Conviction

Is it a good thing to actually believe something even it's wrong? Not an easy question. Belief is questionable terrain. Simply heating a place is difficult, believing is fraught with difficulty. The drift is towards less mediation: Calvin, Luther, right down through the pastor with snakes. A lovely day, slept late as I was up half of the night, it was cold and completely clear and I decided to go meet TR for lunch and talk. We had the pub to ourselves. Cory gave me a taste of the new Jameson Black Label. The conversation drifted all over the board. Three things I miss about not being at the museum, the kitchen sink, where I could use hot running water to wash my hair and take a sponge bath, a warm bathroom, and conversation. Now I'm not so clean, my hair is matted, and I mostly talk to myself. TR checked the long-range weather forecast, and it doesn't look bad. I'd done all of my business, and I just wanted to get home, stoke the fire, reheat some left-overs. Stopped down at B's, to touch base, he again offered me his sofa, and I can imagine taking him up on that offer, but I'm actually quite comfortable, right now, wrapped up in a blanket and weathering the winter. The temps did get into the forties today and the driveway was in a thaw cycle; for the first time, since the new tires and shocks, and I slipped a bit coming up the driveway. I hate losing traction, losing control. But I made it in, and I was hungry, stoked the fire, reheated a cup of soup while I caramelized an onion and a red pepper, stir fried with beef strips, served on mashed potatoes. I made just a small pone of cornbread (a cup of cornmeal) in a six-inch skillet. A last piece of cornbread, with butter and sorghum molasses, is a special treat. Being raised a poor country boy has its advantages: I've eaten ripe persimmons, walked barefoot in creek beds, tracked foxes to their bed, it's neither better nor worse. I could be watching football or playing a game. You just move along. A good book, something for dinner, later, just go to sleep. Read more...

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Wind

A low rumble coming up over the ridge. About four in the morning a ruckus in the kitchen area, I just stayed cocooned in my blanket in the dark, trying to figure out what it was. I'd let the fire go out and there was something inside the stove, a flying squirrel probably. And there's a mouse in the kindling bucket. I just tossed the mouse outside, but I had to get a wee dram and roll a smoke to consider how I was going to get the squirrel liberated without making a colossal mess. I ended up taping a garbage bag around the door to the firebox then opening the door. Worked fine and I'm glad I did it that way, because it was a flying squirrel and he was covered with ash. I knew I wouldn't get back to sleep after so much excitement, so I finished a couple of library books, and planned a trip to town. It's supposed to be nice tomorrow then rain for several days before changing back to snow. Go to town when you can. I get the makings for a couple of multi-meal dishes. Stopped at the pub and Scott had made a very good clam chowder; a pint and a bowl and crackers made a lovely treat. There was a big tray of cleaned and cut vegetables, in that new section of the produce area where they pre-do everything and you just add ranch dressing. Discounted, of course, I mostly buy discounted food, and it looked like a vegetable base for at least two pots of soup and it was $2.49. I dumped it in a pot with chicken broth, garlic and onions, later I pureed half of that and added some cream. With crotons fried in butter, this was very good. I froze half of it, to reconstitute later with some left-over chicken thighs I imagine in my future. A couple of people call, to make sure I'm still alive, and I assure them that I am, ruling my domain, in my fashion. Not that we could trade places, very few people could live the way I do, with good reason, it's somewhat to the left of credulous, and a lot of it is needlessly difficult. Melting and boiling snow water seems like a really stupid way to make a cup of coffee; on the other hand, paying attention is seldom not rewarded. Read more...

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Delayed Reward

The oven was so hot, when I got up on stove detail, that I could have cooked Tandoori Chicken, which I love, but I didn't have any chicken or yogurt. When conditions are exactly right, dry heart-wood, a perfect bed of coals, the temperature in the firebox of the stove is very high, I've replaced the cast iron grate twice. It just disappears. Stress-failure analysis always indicates some minor imperfection in the casting. A dog hair or an air bubble. Fully engaged hardwood, with a good supply of air, can burn at 1600 degrees. I can barely imagine the number of fires I've nursed, many thousands, and I'm always aware that it will, one day, devour me. A minor mistake, an over-looked detail, the next thing you know, you're a pile of ashes. My DNA says we're all related, on our mother's side, but that our father is suspect. It's a shifting brand, the shadows that sleep with you. I never signed-on to be a fucking rookery. Crows murmuring in the night. It's interesting that I had wanted to ask Jenny where the rookeries were and now I am one. I think the murmuring at night is just a product of their sleeping so piled together. They're so unkempt. When they leave, in the morning, they group in twos or threes and fly off in all directions. The Crows Of Low-Gap Hollow has a nice ring to it. I took a long duration walk that covered very little ground; mostly I sat on stumps and thought about which soup I was going to cook next. Or maybe a risotto, which I could take through several layers of left-overs: whatever, it would have to supply at least three or four meals. Maybe a stew. In winter this dominates my thinking. Read more...

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

False Distinctions

There was nothing about snow in the forecast, but there's a solid dusting of those tiny crystalline flakes covering everything when I go out. Bitter cold. Clean out ashes, knock down the stovepipe and clean the throat in the smoke chase then start a roaring fire. I need a pair of those big heavy socks with the leather soles so I make a note to stop by Good Will. My feet have been cold for days, and my hair is very dirty, which happens if you wear a watch-cap 24/7. I've told several of my closest friends to tell me when my body odor gets offensive, they all said I smell fine, maybe a bit smokey but nothing bad. Thank god I got my laundry done before this latest round of cold weather. Mid-afternoon I take a break from reading (the codification of spoken, vernacular, language into typeface), add several layers and go for a walk. The year of the woodpeckers, they're all around and they're a perfect dash of color; and the yearling squirrels running around like mad hatters. When I got back home, I decided to cook the acorn squash, so I halved it and scooped out the seeds, set them aside, stuffed one half with a sausage mixture, the other with a red raspberry and apricot jam mix, wedged them upright with my cooking stones, and put them in to bake. I cleaned the seeds, in warm water for the sake of my fingers, then roasted them with a dusting of garlic powder and a drizzle of bacon fat. I recommend these. The meal was fantastic, the way the squash absorbed all the juices. The stove is cooling down, I wrap up in a blanket and put my hand between my knees. It's supposed to be warmer tomorrow. Read more...

Quiet Day

The weather is supposed to hold for a while, so I take off an entire day and read. Several issues of The London Review of Books, a New Yorker, a Thomas Perry novel. Cheese, crackers, gherkins, olives. I bake a potato and an onion in the firebox of the stove, then partially freeze the beef so I can slice it thin, then do a stir-fry with a red pepper and reduce a butter and wine sauce. Instead of rice, I serve it on a bed of baked potato and onion. It's excellent. Reminds me of a Mongolian dish I had in Atlanta once, cooked on an inverted cone of metal over a live fire. Big Roy's grilled ham sandwiches, with the bone in, and sauced, was one of the great meals ever, the last bite was always the marrow smeared on a smidgen of crust. The crows are back, as if they expected a catered event, baked mice with a remoulade. I get back up at two to stoke the stove, but I need to let it die so I can clean out the ashes and the smoke chase tomorrow. Might go to town and have lunch with TR as I haven't seen him since before xmas. The smoked tea, with cream and sugar and a tipple of whiskey makes a nice toddy. Talk about simple pleasures. I had reading matter spread everywhere, two toddies (because I'd misplaced one), a spread of snacks at the island, several dictionaries opened to different words. A ripple of pleasure, I thought, to be thus located. What I took to be tangerines in the food basket Michael left for me at B's were probably Clementines, so I make a small batch of marmalade. Citrus cross-breed in interesting ways. Hot marmalade on toasted biscuits is a wonderful thing. The next time I call rooster, you'll hook up the plow. Just a trace of condescension, but I have, after all, broken new ground with a turning-plow. Behind a recalcitrant mule, grants me a certain latitude. Not in the normal sense of things, what you would expect, but in that more covert part of your brain, where you hide things. Read more...

Monday, January 12, 2015

Steel Gray

In line with the winter protocol one goes to town whenever one can. Despite a night of rain and sleet, with the new tires and shocks, it was an easy trip down. I needed butter because of my biscuit consumption, picked up an acorn squash to bake stuffed with raspberries, and a discounted flat-iron steak that I intend to cut into strips and serve on a bed of rice. A pint and a bowl of potato soup at the pub, a cigaret with two staff members, sitting out in the sleet. Replaced my back-up bottle of whiskey and bought an additional packet of papers. Back into single digits tomorrow, with snow, but I hope to spend and hour or two hauling the last rounds of firewood off the driveway and splitting another rick for inside the house. The drive back in was fine, just a bit of slippage near the top, and I was thinking about the winter Glenn and I spent holed up in a church. I don't buy into organized religion. I like some of the music but the doctrine is a line of talk. I was trying to take a short-cut today, to get to the butter in Kroger, and I passed several racks of underwear and socks, thank god I had a shopping cart because it made me dizzy. It makes sense, one-stop shopping, but it's hard for me to wrap my head around it. Underwear and pasta. What they meant is the subject of endless discussion. Everything in every direction is gray. Outside, there is no difference, gray, gray; but when the Pileated Woodpecker flits into sight, suddenly there is this red crest. Everything is changed. There actually is color. It exists, vegetable dyes, refracted light, oil in the parking lot. I was talking with Scott, the new manager at the pub, who's married to Jenny, my naturalist friend, who is B's niece. He's a serious cook and we were talking about marrow bones, the rest of the staff were looking at us as if we were crazy. Wiping out shin bones with a crust of bread? I found it passing strange, though this is hill country and everyone is related, that he would be cooking the shanks of the very same animal whose tail is in my freezer. A lovingly fattened steer that had learned to drink Bud Light from the bottle. It gets very quiet later and I can hear the snowflakes dissolving. Just a whisper. I'm glad I got into town because I hate running out of butter, also that I got all of my laundry done and that my long-underwear is clean and that I have a down pallet on the floor, next to the stove. There's no pretense. I have to look at that word for a while, yes, I think, I have none. If I sleep on my right side I can tuck my hand between my knees and I'm very comfortable. Usually, when I get maudlin, I just pull a blanket up over my ears and hum a few bars of Birmingham Jail. Read more...

Good Timing

Because of the cold weather I'd fallen behind on stocking firewood and temps were up to thirty degrees. Frozen rain in the forecast so I went out first thing, split out some knots for nighttime logs, split out kindling and starter sticks, split out three ricks. Hauled everything inside. Just as I finished, the sky started spitting pellets of ice, brought in my tools, overturned the wheelbarrow, went inside. Rolled a smoke, and had a hot toddy. Not bad for an old guy. It felt great, to be outside, but it felt even better to be back inside, with the chores done and dinner within my sights. I made a batch of biscuits last night, and I'll eat soup again, for one more night, but tomorrow I want to cook something else. Lamb stew, maybe. I ate everything I could find on toasted biscuits with kimchee. Cant and recant. G Spenser Brown. The Laws Of Form. I spend an hour with the dictionaries, then take a nap. The silence wakes me, some time after midnight. It feels like snow. I stoke the stove with a couple of knots, but the house is comfortable; no sooner than I get a drink and settle in reading, the history of the fork, that frozen rain starts hitting the roof. It'll change over to something else, and there may, or may not, be an ice storm. I have candles and oil lamps in place. Batten down the sails, change into insulated overalls, add another layer of socks: the game begins. Game, of course, is suspect, and 'begins' is always suspicious. I read until almost dawn (the spoon and the knife are obvious, the fork less so) and the sleet had changed over to rain. Temps above freezing for the first time in a week, but zero again by Tuesday night. The crows are occupying the trees on the edge of where the dozer cleared the power easement. I don't know what they're up to (I tend to confuse Tippi with Veronica) but it's a little frightening, just when there's almost enough light to see, to have a cacophony of crows outside. Spell-check wanted to make 'kimchee' "incoherent', which side-tracked me into translations generally. Another book I'd like to write, Translations From The English. A haze, not fog exactly, water vapor hanging in suspension, and it's very interesting, the way it collects in the hollows. You could cut it with a knife. Obviously it's heavier, so it sinks, condenses. It's the pound cake of atmospheric conditions. The ice formations are exuding from road-cuts. So much water, it hits a layer of sandstone hard-pan and oozes out, freezes instantly, and you get these shapes, a VW Beetle, a butterfly, a two-story crane. You need to remember, meaning doesn't always apply. Read more...