Saturday, March 21, 2015

Old Blues

I've wracked my brain, but I don't remember exactly when I first heard the blues. High school, Jacksonville, Florida, the early sixties. Somebody had died, a great-grandmother, and there was a wake. We'd driven up from Jax for the service, it must have been my father's side. A small church, Sandy Springs, outside Pocahontas, Tennessee; then the wake, which was a social event of note, and there was an old black guy, sitting on a kitchen chair, out under a sycamore tree, finger-picking a slack guitar and playing the blues. A back-street bar, around that same time, just before the eruption of racial violence, when Miles took me to listen to the music. Decades later, Skip James still sends chills up my spine. When Sam Charters recorded that first Lightning Hopkins record, 1959, the landscape changed, not the least because, like those new caves, everything old seemed incredibly new. Fuck a bunch of shadows. I have to go take a nap. I don't get there because the phone rings. An old friend, or, rather, an old acquaintance, burned out, hard-running poet who lived downstairs in the building where I had an apartment when I was teaching at FSU. I recognized his voice, faintly British, and asked him how he ever tracked me down, got my phone number. Land lines, he said, were easy. Oh. He'd found some of my writing and wanted to talk. His dime, and I'm a good listener. I can roll a cigaret while I'm on the phone; the pause, when you need to lick the paper, can become pregnant. Doesn't have to, but it could. Point is, I wasn't doing anything. His first two marriages had failed. He read me some of his recent work and it was sentimental crap. I realize this is a suicide call, and I don't know what to do. If you're determined to kill yourself, it's pretty easy, stop breathing. I advise him to step back. Circumstances change. Read more...

Friday, March 20, 2015

Eating Habits

Anywhere I ever lived, it was always, pro forma, assumed you would handle the bones and chew off any meat and gristle. Boiled crabs, fried chicken, pork chop bones. I can eat a formal meal and not offend the host, dine at the White House, be a charming guest; but when I cook for the rich and famous, I like to have at least one thing that has to be eaten by hand. Fish tacos. My signature baby-back ribs. I like to see people licking their fingers, it's a sign of good taste. I've been reading about table manners and the way they relate to being civilized. I'm a big fan of marrow bones, which don't lend themselves to civilized behavior: at some point in the meal someone will point to someone else with a shin bone, a dribble of fat on their chin, and question the parentage of the governor. B, for instance is a great dinner guest, because he enjoys the food and conversation, and walks that edge between formal and informal. Rain moves in again and I think that this is the wettest place I've ever lived. The Southwest and California are parched but I have flooding problems. Las Vegas is a joke, but I love the breakfast buffet. Unlimited bacon. And they've drawn down the water table so far, that when the dust settles, it'll be another salt lake. The history is that we fuck it up completely, human nature, exploit whatever there might be and be on our way. The lumber barons. The way lives are expended. The natural world doesn't offer redemption, but it can be amusing. I've watched squirrels for many hours this year because there are two nests with two squirrels each outside my window and their flicking tails attract my attention. I run them off when their games get too raucous. I should never interfere, which I know fundamentally, but the squirrels and the crows do occasionally get to me. Today, though, my close attention paid off. The sumac heads are all shattered and the poplars are barely breaking bud. One squirrel comes out, Spot (you have to differentiate, and this one has a black spot on his ass) and climbs a Red Maple. It takes me a while to realize he's eating buds that I can't see. When I go out later, after spending six hours writing a scant paragraph, I scrape off a few of these barely buds, and they yield a tender fibrous bite that is slightly sweet. Red Maple buds are better than Poplar. In fact, they're quite good. This could be the fennel pollen of the future. Seriously. Shade grown, organic Red Maple buds, we have a corner on the market. Read more...

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lonesome Wail

A coyote answers a train in Kentucky. Takes me a few minutes to remember where I am. It's cold again and I feel around for a blanket. One place other than another, not to put too fine a point. I have a very good map that pin-points my location but it isn't much solace against the confusion. I turn on the radio and there's some small comfort in the delta blues. Clapton playing Robert Johnson. Bach, played beautifully, on a solo horn, a canyon in Utah, no one for miles around. Or that time you walked four miles to eat a donut. Not that I would change a thing. I like being aware of where I am, even when my left arm has gone asleep and I fall off the sofa. Fucking blanket, man, my feet got tangled up. It's already tomorrow, the news comes on, and I've heard it all before. I hate to be a stick in the mud, but who is blocking what? The Easter Break? Bunnies and eggs? Congress is a joke. In the trenches, the poor steal from the poor, no one wears a suit, and a tie is just another way to get strangled. It's a melancholy. A folly. Duke Energy and their coal ash. Philip Glass soundtrack. The tops of the poplars are beginning to bud. The valley bottoms are blushed with new growth. Drove out to B's to give him some recent literary articles and we chatted for thirty minutes. On the way back home I picked up a couple of pre-cut rounds of firewood the power company had left from clearing their easement. It's deeply satisfying to find pre-cut firewood. Like finding money. The poplar buds are quite bland and fibrous. Stopped at the lake, my last time out, and harvested a mess of cattail shoots, and they, by comparison, were wonderful, crisp and toothsome. You could live on a diet based on cattails and acorns, if you grew a few peppers on your windowsill. I have the last of the codfish cakes with a coddled egg on toast. Then curl up under a blanket and finish the Harrison novel. Another successful day. Fell asleep, got up at five to finish the Harrison. Brisk walk at dawn. I can see clearly that the Bobcat is hitting the compost pile. Wet solidified ash is a good medium for tracks. And it's tracks, in the newly solidified mud, that I read for a good part of the morning. Particular spots, a small puddle, can reveal an entire history of actions and interactions. When I had the larger frog puddles, the banks were an epic poem. Aimless through the day, I wanted to hear an interview with Norman Blake on NPR and I had to keep reminding myself. He's one of the great guitar players ever. He and his wife Nancy, a wonderful cello player, were married, then divorced, then married again because the divorce didn't take. It's a good interview, he's extremely casual and plays bits and pieces of old songs. It's a very nice hour. That was my entire plan for the day, though I do have plans to make a pork dish for dinner that might last a couple of days. Cubed loin chops, brined, then seared, and turned into a pan of caramelized onions and peppers. A rice side dish, so everything will end up as pork fried rice in a day or two. This meal is what I remember of a meal I had in Provincetown decades ago. I've always perceived recipes as being ideas. The pork dish is fairly complex and I spend several hours, reading at the island, stirring things. I'll clean up tomorrow. Read more...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Crab Cakes

Nosing around in the seafood case at Kroger there were some premium crab cakes on sale, two in a package, more ball shaped than flattened; they looked very good and I am a student of crab cakes. At the front of the store, oddly placed I thought, was another small case of seafood, also on sale, and I picked up a small package of cod fillets, and another and different package of crab cakes. Late last night I made a couple of codfish cakes and a couple of crab cakes from a tin of good crabmeat. I made my cakes with mashed potato as the binder, minced shallots and a few minced basil leaves. I made a simple tartar sauce, mayo, a bit of sweet relish, and a few drops of hot sauce, and fried one of each of the cakes in butter. A very agreeable late dinner, with just a crust of bread for wiping the plate clean. They were all good. The premium store-bought and my own maybe slightly better. My second winter on Cape Cod seafood cakes were the basis of my diet. I'd usually eat them twice a day. Peter Winslow and I were night fishing off the beach at Nauset and catching great quantities of cod; and every year, on my trip back from visiting my folks in Florida, I'd come home with pounds of crabmeat. My Dad, in his prime, could clean crabs faster than anyone I ever knew. I've always admired skill, in any discipline. In Key West, one of my first jobs, other than mowing yards and washing cars, was heading and shelling shrimp; 10 or 15 people standing at a bench, sluiced with sea water, heading shrimp. Some of them, in spite of the low pay, actually made a living at this, for years, and they were amazing to watch. The St. John's river drainage is Blue Crab habitat, and though they were sold cheaply as chum or bait, we caught our own. You tie a disgusting piece of rotting meat or fowl onto a string and toss it out, pull a loop of line up on the bank, and when it starts dragging away, you know a crab has taken the bait. You pull them in slowly and net them from behind. We always boiled them, eaten on a picnic table covered with newspaper, using small wooden mallets to break the claws. It was years later that I introduced Mom to crab cakes and she looked at me as if I had invented electricity. For decades after that I was known as Hippy-Son-Who-Cooks-Crab-Cakes, and I cooked thousands of them: weddings, funerals, the successful defense of a difficult dissertation, once when a dear friend walked on a (justified) murder conviction because the evidence was contaminated. I'd been a bit melancholy, but I saw the first poplar buds today and my spirits were lifted. The crab cakes helped. A mid-day bottle of stout. My feet are no longer encased in snow or mud. You get through another winter and you don't know whether it's luck or skill. Still alive and didn't lose any toes, which I credit to new tires and shocks, but there's something else going on, Jerry Lee should never have married his first cousin, and she was, what?13? I advise against any sleeping bag, without careful investigation, except in a storm. It's blowing a gale right now and I wonder how the wind, blowing through stick-trees, can create such a sound; Basho thought he should just go to sleep.

This bear hide covers
almost everything, bare skin,
I'd rather sleep.

Sure you could see that,
walk away from the bodies,
later you tremble.
Read more...

Major Flooding

The Ohio cresting last night at the highest level in twenty years. I went into town to see. There's a lot of water. It'll be a big spring wrack field. Stop at the pub and have a beer with Andrew and Jim from the college. Stop at Kroger and stock up on groceries. More avocados. Got the new Jim Harrison novel at the library, and I needed some fiction. Came back the long way around and Upper Twin Creek had flooded yesterday, but the level had dropped down to a creek that was merely raging. Andrew agreed that the morels should be out soon. We were talking about recipes when the new waitress came over and started taking notes. She had just discovered morels last year. When I told her about doing a risotto, with pan-fried morels and their butter, added at the end, she nearly swooned. At that point, Cory reached over her shoulder to give me a free half-glass of Guinness because he was emptying a keg for tomorrow's Irish Celebration, and she realized that everybody knew me, deferred to, actually, this gruff dude, who seemed to know more than he should. Joel, The Wittgenstein Plumber called, and we talked about those early years on Cape Cod, 1970, what a strange and wonderful world it was. I'd stopped, on the way out of town, got a foot-long hot dog (sauce, mustard, and cheese) and onion rings; then went down to the marina, which isn't open yet, and is therefor a great place to enjoy a late lunch or early dinner watching the river. Whole trees drift past. A string of barges struggled upstream. I didn't even hear the police car before it pulled in beside me. I was the only car in the parking lot, and explained that I was just eating supper and watching the river. I had to produce papers, all of which I had, and be careful, because I didn't want to get shot. But I was slightly pissed and told him that this was public land and I was the fucking public, and that where I ate my goddamn footer was none of his concern. He took offense at that. I don't blame him, and it took a few minutes to calm things down. Anything in G, a train across the river, your girlfriend stole your pick-up truck, your dog died. Breathe out. Read more...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Table Manners

Severe clear. A beautiful day for a walk down to where two hollows converge. Sundry springs becoming a stream and flowing off probably to Lower Twin Creek. The edges are beginning to green, water grasses and some early cress. On the way home I collected oak galls, to study later. Back home I made a small pone of cornbread and ate the last of a pot of mustard greens, cooked with cracklings. When I eat alone, roughly 95% of the time, I eat at the island, where there's a ledge and a rock I use to prop my book. Alone, I often eat out of the pan, I might use a paper plate, for my bread, but I'll reuse it several times before I start a fire with it. Cheap bulk paper plates from Big Lots save me a great deal of water. I eat mostly with my right hand and keep my left hand and elbow on the stone surface, so I can turn pages of the book at hand. I do chew with my mouth closed. Some books, though, like Pynchon's Mason And Dixon, get rather badly stained. I was putting some food books away, there's a shelf on the back side of the double sided bookcase, 12 feet by 8 feet, that is mostly food-related text, and it goes without saying that I had to stop and reread some things. J Emery, European Spoons Before 1700; E A Hammel, Sexual Symbolism In Flatware; Villa, Bouville, et al, Cannibalism In The Neolithic. Through the rest of the day I read about things that are taboo. It's a long list, and varied. Kinship, food restrictions, manners. I'm sure, right now, I have the breath from hell, an open face sardine sandwich on toast, with a slice of onion and kimchee. I finally have to rinse my mouth out with a wee dram of single malt. I'm capable of the semi-formal or even the formal meal, I can clean up fine, though I still look like the sole survivor of an Arctic expedition; I can make small talk, or go on at boring lengths about the history of printing or paper-making. Telling stories, as they are, as if it is explaining yourself. What strikes me, is that even the very next day, I can't remember what happened. I dissected some oak galls, pretty much what you'd expect, a worm and layers of membranes that are sweet, as insulation against the cold. I made a very small batch of oak-gall jelly, that doesn't mean I'm crazy. Read more...

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Salt Pork

I have to grin. I try and keep salt pork around, for cooking beans and greens, but I always end up slicing it, soaking in milk (to get rid of some of the salt) and frying it. I love it, always have, and I obsess, saving the strips of skin, for chewing later. You need to use a small baggy, for keeping them in your pocket, because of the potential for grease spots. One of these 'rinds', as we called them, can last for an hour. After soaking in the mouth, and much chewing, they achieve a texture that is sublime. 'Cracklings', which are the same raw material, pig skin (and fat), are deep-fried, and are much more like popcorn. I love them too. Another rainy day and I read about eating skin. There's a recurrent theme, for instance, reading the polar explorers, about cooking and eating leather shoes. It must have had a great mouth-feel, though, since they mostly had scurvy, their teeth were loose and they couldn't enjoy it. Such is the price we pay for our suffering. For reasons that escape me I was looking up Syphilus, the mythical shepherd who so offended Apollo that he was stricken with the disease. I figure he must have been having congress with sheep, but I can't find it mentioned. How had he so offended Apollo? I call several people about this. It might have been a French construct, 1530, creating a Greek framework for what had become a common affliction. I can't use my minimal inter-net connection to search, so I call a couple of people; all of the sources mention the story, but none of them specify the act. I ransack my own library in vain. I can get a little manic when I can't track something down. Made a lovely hash out of some left-over steak and baked potato, an egg on top, served with kimchee, toast and marmalade. Tried to call Howard, to ask him about Syphilus, but he wasn't there and I ended up talking with his daughter for a long time. The rain finally started blowing out in the afternoon, with a brisk wind from the NW. Patches of sunlight. Took a walk, and the water saturation must be 100%, every little wet-weather spring is flowing. Any place there is a cut in the terrain, a logging road from fifty years ago or a steeply eroded creek-bank, these springs emerge wherever surface water meets a barrier. They happen in the same place, they get named, me, I'm Low Gap Hollow, because me, and my grader ditch, are the absolute headwaters of a stream that flows for miles. I take no credit for that, water, flowing downhill, pretty much does what it wants to do. But I do like commanding the ridge. If I can't get out, that means that nobody can get in. I could defend myself against an onslaught of Spartan Republican Assholes, because they'd be out of breath, layered in body armor; and I could just roll some marbles down the driveway and they'd fall on their asses. Read more...

Friday, March 13, 2015

Night Sounds

Another ruckus at the compost pile. The feral dogs are no match for a large male coon. I run them all off because I can't stand their bickering. I was having such a good sleep, feeling contented; while I was up I took off my long underwear and went out on the back porch in boxers and a tee-shirt. It's cool, maybe 50 degrees, but it feels wonderful to be in contact with the air. The frogs are loud tonight, courting, and they've attracted an owl. I saw it when I came in this afternoon, perched on the bottom branch of a chestnut oak, right next to the trunk. Noticed it because the outline was wrong and I know the trees on the very top of the ridge quite well. It did that owl thing, as I drove slowly past, where they keep their body perfectly still and just rotate their head. We used to see them quite often when we were fishing in Florida. Drifting down those creeks, tributaries of the St. Johns, fly-fishing for bass or bluegills, we'd be 25 or 30 feet out, fishing in toward the bank and it was a study in natural history. Otters, beavers, and bears, alligators and snakes. Otters are the absolute coolest thing in the world to watch in the wild. Sufi dervishes. Water lilies and manatees. That part of Florida then was still virgin, you could buy a one acre lot on one of those tributaries for $100. I thought I might end up there, a river rat, pulling crab traps, and guiding fat cats to special places where they might hook into a fish they could mount. I could have been fine being that person. I've even designed the house I would have built, had I been that person. Instead, I got involved in theater, one thing led to another. I'd never eaten squid. Got into cooking. Built a few staircases. First thing you know you expect strawberries dipped in chocolate, a free pass back-stage, or a special carriage that keeps your feet out of the snow. No such animal. Not going to happen. Rain, but most of the frost is out of the ground, so flooding is fairly extensive. In Siberia the mud season is called Rasputitsa, when transport of any kind is difficult. Glad I got things done yesterday, because I'd hate to be out in this weather. Spent most of the morning jumping from one dictionary to another, testing the fine points of distinction. I had ended up with a goodly list of words, reading in new areas. A donga in South Africa, is a wadi, a dry watercourse. A fetch is the length of open water across which a wind is blowing and largely determines the height of waves. Backing, veering, scud; you can spend quite a lot of time looking at nuance. When the rain backs off, reduced to a rhythmic patter, it puts me right to sleep. Just a nap. Bacon, fried potatoes, a cheese omelet, toast. I finish up some books and stack them on the stairs, to put away tomorrow. A phone call from a friend of a friend, I had agreed to it ahead of time, an MFA student, older, and we talked about the nature of remembering. She had been intrigued by my life-style, and it was easy enough, this time of year, to stress the unromantic aspects. She wants to interview me; come to town, rent a motel room (with running water) and spend a couple of days. I tell her she can do that but that I actually live a very mundane life. The high point of my day might be micro-waving a mouse for the crows. Or mumbling some rude imprecation when I realize, in fact, that the definition of a certain word has completely reversed in 100 years. I'll never win the metal, but I did spend several hours today examining maybe a dozen comma situations. In a couple of them, the comma was the key player. My dedication to transparency actually makes me fairly opaque, an inverse thing happens, where when I explain further the subject becomes more confusing. Sand is coarser than silt, silt is coarser than clay. Things held in suspension. An eight grade science experiment. In truth though, it was probably that flash of Maria's underpants that held my attention. I knew. Read more...

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Order Restored

As planned. B called, I met him at the bottom of the hill. I thought on the way down that I'd be able to drive back in. Got the Jeep, stopped at the bank, and went with the full list. There's always a priority list, if I have to walk in, and a full list if I can drive. The full list included drinking water (I've been on melted snow for a couple of weeks) backup juice and whiskey, potatoes, sweet potatoes, salt-pork, eggs. Stopped at the pub for a beer and a bowl of beef stew and spent an hour talking with the staff there about the preparations for St. Patrick's Day which has become a big deal locally. Filled up with gas, picked up extra tobacco and papers. More or less completely re-supplied. I should have stopped at the library, but I figure to go out again, soon, and have lunch with TR. Bottom line is that I'm inordinately proud of getting the Jeep back, doing a big shop, and driving to my house, which, when you think about it, isn't really much to be proud of. Avocados were on sale so I bought several. Steak, baked potato, and avocado for dinner tonight. High on the hog. Trent, at the garage, gave me a couple of shotgun shells re-packed with rock salt, and advised me to start shooting trespassers. One of the mechanics recommended a bear trap. I've calmed down, though, and getting out felt good, replenishing the larder, taking off a layer of clothes, setting aside the sense of being violated. I just want to be left alone. In a flurry of activity I clean out the fridge, dump the ashes from the stove, and sweep the major traffic zones of accumulated crap. I stand to get a few hundred dollars back on my taxes, which will almost cover the cost of the gas tank. There should be a National Endowment fund for dental care and unexpected expenses for serious artists that live on less than $10,000 a year. I'd move to Norway if someone would supply the firewood (an errant thought, but true enough). In this world, the ridge, late winter, I'm merely a spectator. B said he went out and cut a dead tree, the day after the huge snow-storm, because he was out of wood; his survival quotient is actually several steps ahead of mine, I would have burned the dining-room chairs. I didn't step outside for a couple of days. Right now, I'm very tired, I was up all night trying to finish a paragraph, and I need to sleep. The frogs are very loud. Read more...

Wash Out

The driveway did wash almost out in several places. The top culvert, which eliminates the water from the grader ditch for three-quarters of the length, is clear and running strong, but the first and second culverts are completely silted full. Hours of shoveling and I'm not going to do it. I'll pay some college kid. I'll do the minimum amount necessary for passage. A huge amount of snow melt. All the creeks in spate. A churning urn of burning funk. Driving in with Emily yesterday, she slowed down at all the same places I do. It's drainage writ large. I hope the driveway thaws and dries fairly quickly because I'm hesitant to leave the Jeep down there. It's not comfortable to feel insecure. I'd rather avoid conflict. I could set a trap, but that might well lead to escalation. I'm becoming a little paranoid. I don't intervene much, in the flow of data or event, and that might make me look like a likely victim, prey, as it were. I put together a double sealed plastic bag, with a twenty dollar bill and a note that says "PLEASE don't drill the gas tank, $10 dollars worth of gas, and here's $20" with a Velcro attachment to the rear bumper. I'll try that first, and if it doesn't work, I'll shoot their asses with bird-shot. I'm good at doggo. Set up three nights, once, to see a mountain lion come back to a kill. Ground fog in the morning, so much moisture in the air it seems too thick to breathe, the frogs are vocal and the young squirrels are chattering like maniacs. The sun comes out in the afternoon and I have to take off a layer of clothes. I just sit on the back porch, leaning back, eyes closed, soaking in the heat. Trent calls from the garage, the Jeep is fixed, and B can take me into town tomorrow, because he's meeting a daughter for coffee. He'll call, to alert me I need to be at the bottom of the hill at a certain time. I can do that. I know what's required, an insulated mug of coffee and a straight face. Nothing passes by unnoticed. Try not to be a burden. Loren, at the pub, had asked me what I was reading, and I had to stop for a moment, consider the parameters of the question. Well, I said, the history of mining, Olmec sculpture, certain scripts, and the way memory affects what we believe. The frog orgy, for instance, which I have observed, or rather experienced, for years (the aural at least as significant as the visual), and how it was, well and truly, the beginning of a new year. A wan and waning moon, the frost is just coming out of the ground, and the frogs are procreating in a frenzy that boggles the mind. Under the last of the melting snow, some vibrant green, the first ferns, some tiny white flowers. The way it plays out, the days get longer and warmer, you wear less clothes; then it reverses and you obsess with fires and multiple layers. I'd rather not have to worry about assholes who would drill holes in my gas tank, life is difficult enough. Read more...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Pissed Off

The Jeep was at the bottom of the hill, so I walked down, headed for the library and I was out of gas, which made no sense because I always fill up before a storm, as I had, last Wednesday. Thought I had busted the tank driving in over the plowed snow bank (which had frozen). Had to slog back up the hill and call a wrecker, then slog back down to meet them. Hauled it to the garage in town. They dropped the tank, and one of the owners, Trent, looked up at me and asked if I knew that the Jeep tank was plastic, which I didn't know, then he pointed to the two holes that had been drilled in the tank and said someone had stolen my gas. He'd seen it before. Going to be a $500 repair for 30 bucks worth of gas. Trent said I should sit down there with a shotgun, when I get the Jeep back, and pepper someone's ass with bird-shot. He was as pissed off as I was. I walked back to the pub and had a beer, then walked over to the museum to see if I could find TR for a ride home, but Emily (who has my old job) only lives a few miles away from me and said she'd drive me if I'd hang around until she got off work. Walked to Kroger and got a few things, walked to the library and the book they had for me was not the book I expected and something I hadn't reserved, the new Anne Tyler novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, which I took anyway, as I needed some fiction. Emily drove me to the bottom of the hill. It was nice chatting with her, on the drive out, she's a horse person and rides almost every day. I'd had time for another beer at the pub, went back outside and had a cigaret with Loren, he'd heard that my reading at the lodge was great, and his boss, Scott, (married to Jenny, the Naturalist, who birthed a boy yesterday) thought that my extremely casual approach, stories and reading, was an excellent afternoon. Most of the staff at the pub had read an article in the paper about me, and they wondered when I was reading somewhere again. I call B when I get home, he's going to town on Thursday, and even if the Jeep isn't ready, I'll need to ride in and get a few things. What I'm going to do is eat some leftovers, and get some sleep. Read more...

Mud Season

55 degrees in the afternoon. Extremely pleasant, though the dripping off the roof reaches toward a percussive climax. I go outside for a while, but the footing is still awful. I make a pone of cornmeal/acorn bread, very plain, bland, but quite good toasted with molasses. Next time I walk out, tomorrow hopefully, I need to bring in the makings for a stew or soup. Split pea or ham and bean. I'd like to get a good loaf of multi-grain bread and a dozen eggs, but these are both difficult to pack in. Still, I might attempt it as I do enjoy my beans and sardines on toast, and I need the eggs, not only for making decent cornbread, but because omelets are a cornerstone of my winter diet. I have a piece of bubble wrap in my pack, and a couple of large rubber-bands, I wrap the eggs and carry them on top; sometimes I carry a loaf of bread, in a plastic bag, suspended around my neck, so that it hangs against my chest. I have a fairly long list, that needs to be winnowed down, but still, I'll be carrying in a good sized pack. Sherpa mode. Basho hunched with his gunny sack, rice for the week ahead. I was thinking about cooking fires fueled with dried yak dung and remembered I had some dried horse shit under the house. Did, in fact, get a good fire going with junk mail and a few twigs, and had a good hot fire of dried dung to heat water and reheat dinner. I can mark that off my list. I spread the load, when I have a lot to carry, a large sweet potato in one pocket of my Carhartt coat, a sweet onion in the other, a bar of chocolate in the outer tool pocket of the bib-overalls. It's wonderful to discover a protein bar, the next time you suit up, to go outdoors. I pre-load pockets with jerky and trail-mix, or a bag of almonds roasted with wasabi. Lost in a state of wonder. The edge of the back porch was finally dry and I got an early drink, rolled a smoke, and basked in the heat like an old dog. February and the first week of March were tough going, but I only felt threatened a couple of times, and even then I'd just wrap up in a blanket and go to sleep. Being able to read or sleep through a storm is a talent. Hoist a storm staysail and ride down wind. Nothing you can do about direction. It helps if you're in the middle of nowhere and don't have to be concerned about being driven onto rocky shoals. It usually clears up in the morning and you can get back on course. It often helps to read a Scandinavian thriller. Or George V. Higgins. Sometimes I just listen to the wind. Read more...

Monday, March 9, 2015

Breaking Trail

Took me over an hour to get down to the Jeep and back to the house with my stashed bottle of whiskey. The snow had subsided down to 6 and 8 inches, so I'd didn't have to lift my feet as high. Set in the vehicle, catching my breath and slowing my heart-rate. Going back up was a slog through rotting snow. Supposed to be even warmer tomorrow and I should be able to get to the library and get a few things at the store. A steak and baked potato sounds good. One of the books at the library should be a history of mining. I'm looking forward to it. It's a good workout, walking in and out; and I can look for buds and the first green things, in bare patches on the south-facing slope. Tracks of a monster buck crossing down at the print-shop. The squirrels were in the sumac today, they'd rip off an entire seed-head and eat it like corn on the cob. They were at it for a long time, fun to watch, with their cute little hands. By late afternoon it's just too impossibly messy to be outside, I make a toddy and resume reading about bronze and iron. I feel like I'm in the stone age, most of the time. I got the upper culvert catchment cleaned out, but the driveway sustained some damage, which I can't see yet because of the snow. And there are a lot of frozen leaves still in the grader ditch. The water from the wet weather springs is incredibly cold and delicious. I'm a little sore, from the hike, but it was nice to be outside. The saturated air, the smell of it. I got my feet wet, despite having just re-treated my boots, which leads me to believe they're dying. Work boot purchase is a serious consideration. Winter is nearly over, though, you can tell when you start tracking in mud. It can still be cold, but it won't last. The ice I bring in on my crampons melts away quickly, two weeks ago it was freezing on the floor. More tired than I thought, fell asleep almost immediately after eating, let the fire go out, and slept until dawn. I needed the rest, but I woke with enough soreness to re-enforce the sure knowledge that I am no longer a spring chicken. I end up rereading all of Chichester's Gipsy Moth, then review all of the stores carefully, an index compiled by his wife, who did all of the stowage. He was a vegetarian, but ate fish, and seems to have favored, as I do, sardines on toast. Also of interest were the differences in foodstuffs for the outgoing and homeward legs (Sydney was about half-way, and he refitted there), the learning curve: more potatoes, better eggs, easier quick meals. Whatever particular people I happen to be reading about, I'm always interested in the larder. Mine is pretty well shot, as it should be at this time of year, but I do remember a steak in the freezer and a box of dehydrated scalloped potatoes (Mom convinced me that they were better than nothing). Next time I'm at the pub I want a salad. Supposed to be 55 degrees tomorrow, and I make plans to wash my hair and take a sponge bath, then go to town. Now that they've changed the time, I can stay in town for Happy Hour and still get home before dark. Read more...

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Tree Snow

Blue skies and when the sun came up the snow started falling from the trees in cascades. 10 below zero this morning. I left a pot of grits cooking on a trivet when I went bed, hot and filling with a hand full of raisins. Reread The Snow Leopard, while watching the snow stream off the branches. It's lovely. Got up to twenty today, forty tomorrow and the next thaw begins. It's going to be a mess for the next few weeks, a lot of frost to get out of the ground. My house is going to look like a pig-sty. Nothing for it at this point, forge through the last difficult couple of weeks and start thinking about morels. TR called from town, to see how I was faring. Said that Portsmouth had been hammered. Barnhart got stuck in town because of a 'new' music event at the college. Don't know when I'll get out. I thought I'd gotten rid of all the mice, but I left a piece of cornbread out, and the remaining little fuckers had destroyed it and shit all over everything. Later, I find myself making warm mouse on toasted befouled cornbread for the crows. I like doing it, it connects me but doesn't involve domestication. Provides a reciprocity too, that they show me the way home, when I might be a little turned around. Being lost can be a very good thing. My best research is usually a tangent off a tangent, wave action led to dune formation, the random firings of the brain, Leopard Frogs, Dixie under the bleachers. Reading Matthiessen means digging out a dozen or so other books during the course of the day, religious text, some of the same text I'd been reading about world-wide trade in 6,000 BC, geography, mining technology, Hesiod, and several dictionaries. Books at the island and books all over the sofa. It actually seemed like a rather full day. I spent an hour with a great map, a polar projection of the Arctic, ate left-overs with toasted biscuits, then it got dark. I switched over to fiction and read a couple of the Harrison novellas, a form he's made his own. Sleep is fitful, dreams of falling. I consider buying a full set of ice hockey pads and wearing them all the time. Starting to drip now, so tomorrow will be a day of minor flooding, still, if I get down to the Jeep, to get the other bottle of whiskey, I might as well go to town, or at least as far as the Marina Diary-Mart for a foot-long hot dog and an order of onion rings. That's only 11 miles away and town is 17. I need some fat and animal parts. Also I want to try the soybeans in a soup with greens and salt-pork, and I don't have the greens and salt-pork. I vow to clean the house, go through the pantry, and throw away anything that's ten years out of date. I ate something that didn't agree with me, canned eel? water chestnuts? squid? I'm actually kind of famous for being able to eat anything, willing to eat anything. Roasted crickets aren't bad, if you flick off the legs. The dripping is getting louder and I think we'll have great sliding slabs of snow off the roof, this afternoon or tomorrow. Something to start about. It shakes the house. It's kind of grand, in a way. Not having electricity, on the Vineyard, it didn't matter if the power was out, since we didn't have any, now I depend on it more; I have to wean myself of that. The library calls and they've got some books for me. Maybe I could hike out two days in a row, one to carry in supplies, and the other to carry in books. Basho and his gunny sack. I had thought to break trail and go in tomorrow but I might revise that. The library will hold the books for three days, and they're not open on Sunday. Clearly, go get the books, even if I have to leave them in the Jeep for a couple of days, while I figure out the fox, the chicken, and the grain problem. It's amusing, but serious. I get sidetracked by Nansen and the "Fram", a boat designed to get caught in the ice and explore polar drift; she had a round-bottom, an aggregate hull thickness of four feet, iron bracing, and insulation. I'd like to see the plans for that boat. 128 feet long and wide in the beam. A very small crew, which is sensible when you think about carrying supplies for two or three years. I have to go dig out (but I do find it) Chichester's Gipsy Moth Circles The World, because he gives a line-item breakdown of food and drink supplies he took around the world. Trying to get a handle on the larder. The logistics involved. Moving easily and lightly, around the fringes of the ice (between Asia and America), living off the land, might not have been all that difficult for someone used to the life. The same is true for the north Atlantic. Pretty soon I'm reading an essay about Narwhale tusks and wondering what it was I was looking up in the first place. Something about bronze and running out of tin. I have no idea how one thing led to another. I get caught up in this, turning from one reference to another. It's still dripping when I go to sleep. My foray out, tomorrow, will be exhausting, breaking trail in rotten snow, but I only have to trek two-thirds of a mile and only the last half is difficult. Occupying high ground means you're always walking up hill. Read more...