Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Week of May 17-24

May 17, 2005

The cold weather continues. It dipped into the forties last night. As nice as it is that the chill is keeping the mosquitoes at bay, it’s also keeping me indoors. It’s about 3:00 PM, and I’ve only gone out a couple of times today—once to photograph a snake Gussie rustled up (see below) and another time to plant my new cantaloupe (which I encased in a cut section of plastic bottle to protect its stem from the killer grubs).

I was finishing my coffee this morning, when Gus began barking. I went out to investigate, and discovered that he’d found himself a big garter snake, a Western species with red dots, more colorful than the Eastern ones I’m used to. I picked it up and placed it atop my chopping block so Gussie wouldn’t hurt it, and while it was there I got some good photos.

I read in my North American Wildlife book that nocturnal snakes have vertical irises. Diurnal snakes have round ones, like this snake. I saw a different species of snake the other day while I was adding a fenced run to the chicken coop. It was a beautiful little snake, one I didn’t know, and it kept poking its head out from the cedar shakes. I didn’t have the camera with me. I’ll keep looking for it.

Here are some recent photos I shot when I did have the camera with me:

Black-legged tick, found walking on Gussie’s back.

Gussie keeping vigil over the bane of his existence. Reminds me of the cartoon with the sheepdog and the wolf.
“Mornin’, Ralph.”
“Morning’, Fred.”

My bathroom at night, kerosene lamp burning.

The daisies have opened, and all the meadows and roadsides are littered with them. They fill a vase nicely.

A bearded iris, planted by a former resident. He or she would be glad to know I’ve been enjoying it. Note the raindrops.

From above.

Wild rose.

While I was in Ashland, I stopped in Bloomsbury Books and bought the Audubon’s Field Guide to Wildflowers, Western Region, and it’s been a total flop. Hasn’t helped me identify a single wildflower except Elegant Cat’s Ear. I should have known better; their bird guide stinks, too. Here are five flowers the book either didn’t include, or which it does include but the photos look nothing like the actual flowers.

Here’s a link to Lang’s wildflower site. It probably includes them, with Latin names. I just haven’t had time to download all the pages.

I started T.C. Boyle’s newest novel, Drop City, and it’s a riot. It’s set at a California commune and later in Alaska (after the commune moves there) in 1970. Time to gobble up a couple more chapters.

May 18, 2005

Can you say, “Rain?”

Today was a miserable mizzling drizzling day. There were patches of blue—little teases. Rays of sun—false hope. It would rain for ten minutes, stop. Rain for twenty minutes, stop. Rain for five minutes, stop. Now randomize and repeat. As with yesterday I ventured out about twice. Once to replenish my kindling supply, a task which I had to finish on the deck because it started to rain. Another time to take Gus for our evening walk. Yes, it rained then, too. I bet if I were to step outside right now it would be, yes, you guessed it, raining. I thought that May was supposed to be a beautiful month here. So far it’s been wet and cold. I’d say that in the last fifteen days it’s rained about twelve of them. I’m hoping things change by the weekend.

I couldn’t get motivated to write anything today, so I read a bunch of chapters in Drop City and started making a collage. Last time I was in town, I picked up some Mod Podge glue and some heavy sheets of card stock. My other collage glue must have been in the package that got lost in the mail. It was fun to get back into collage-making, and so far, so good. I’m still ripping off Bearden, but it’s what I like. If it comes out as a keeper, maybe I’ll frame it and hang it in here as another donation of mine to DHH.

Speaking of which, I bought a composter, too, when I was in town. I’ve been trying to compost, but the bin in the garden was in a bad state of disrepair, and I didn’t like the looks of it or fancy the prospect of trying to nail it all back together. It looked like the kind of setup that makes compost about once every two years. So, I went to The Grange Co-op at the south end of Grants Pass and bought a nice round-barrel rotating type composter. This way I’ll have usable compost in 4-8 weeks, depending on the heat and moisture. It’s a sturdy rig, and will come in handy for future residents here as a batch composter.

I’m pleased to say that the garden looks happy after all the recent rain. My cukes and squash have survived the killer grubs. One plant has a 2-inch yellow squash on it! And the cukes are sending out tendrils. As soon as it’s sunny again, I’m going to erect some poles for them to climb. I can’t wait to start harvesting veggies. My red and green Romaine are looking good, and I think I’ll be able to start picking those in three weeks or so. I plan to harvest some of the mesclun greens tomorrow. After our walk up to the pond, where Gus took a long swim, I harvested a second batch of strawberries—a half-dozen nice-sized ones. I’ll have them with cereal tomorrow.

The local deer family is getting braver. Apparently, they’ve realized that Gussie’s bark isn’t ever accompanied by teeth, so they’re grazing close to the cabin and in broad daylight. I shot these two photos late yesterday after dinner.

Okay, time to climb on the bus with the Drop City characters. The commune is moving up to Alaska, after “the man” chased them out of California. This is such a fun novel. Add it to your summer reading. You won’t be disappointed.

May 20, 2005

Today’s highlight was doing telephone conference calls with three of my classes at old THS. I had to wake up bright and early—5:15—for my first class, and that was rough. It’s by far the earliest I’ve woken up since my last day of work on March 30. It was even more difficult because I couldn’t sleep last night. Perhaps it was a case of nerves at having to use an alarm clock. I was up reading at 2:00 and slept only a few hours, fitfully. But it was a delight to talk to all my students again. The creative writing classes read me poems of theirs, and I read some of mine. I answered questions they had about my experiences out here. Some of my colleagues stopped in and got on the phone, too, and it was fun to chat with them as well. For my seniors I read my usual summer send-off poem, “First-Year Teacher to His Students.” The only annoying thing about chatting with the classes was this radio phone. I only get to talk for ten minutes, and then I get disconnected, and I also have to click the mic every ten seconds or so, or the thing thinks the call has ended and it’ll hang up. So, while kids were reading me their pieces, I had to keep clicking the darned mic. And with each class I had to call three times. I guess the radio phone is better than no phone at all, or the satellite phone last year’s residents used. You had to stand in a field to get a signal on that one. As much as I’m liking being here, I do miss my students. It’s sad that I won’t see the seniors finish up the year. Maybe I could go into town on graduation day and watch it on streaming video on the Internet.

Another day of rain. I’m beginning to get a bit nutty with all the rain. I’d like a few days of sun, please. At least long enough for everything to dry out. The road is a muddy mess. And it’s been too cold to sit out on the deck for more than a few minutes. And I haven’t gone down to the river in three weeks. It’s weird that a month ago, my second week here, I was lying out in shorts and a tee shirt. I’d gladly take one or two of the hot days everyone promised. I’ve had the stove going all week. I don’t think the temperature has ever climbed out of the fifties.

Neil Curry called in the afternoon. He’s arriving at the Grants Pass bus depot on Wednesday evening. I’m looking forward to having company.

Well, it’s another Friday night at DHH, and I have to say that Friday and Saturday nights are the hardest. Back in my old life, I always found something to do on a Friday night, and in the last several months before I left I would typically go to the Peekskill Coffee House to listen to live music or to the Paramount Theater to see foreign movies. Those are the two things I miss the most out here. A movie on DVD would be nice, but I’ve watched all the DVDs I have here. I need to buy some. I looked some over at a store in GP last time I was in town, but they were all bad adventure movies or sappy romances. I like independent and foreign flicks. If anyone out there has any of those you wouldn’t mind parting with, send ‘em along!

P.O. Box 1212
Grants Pass, OR 97528

Tonight I’ll have to settle for a bowl of popcorn and the last few chapters of Drop City.

May 21, 2005

Finally, a day without rain! To cure our cabin fever, I took Gussie down to the river. I packed us a lunch, dressed in light clothes to spot ticks, and took the spinning reel and rod along just for the hell of it. As expected, the river was really high and cloudy after all the rain. In fact, our little beach beneath the osprey nest was completely under water. I threw about thirty casts with a rooster tail, but nothing. Gussie swam and was his usual crazy self. At one point he ran past the fishing rod and got the lure caught in his hair. Then he wouldn’t come to me so I could take it out. Finally, I enticed him with a biscuit and disaster was averted. The hook was nowhere near his skin. We had lunch on a rock, waved to some rafters, watched the osprey.

I saw another interesting bird, charcoal gray with a short tail. At first I thought it was a blackbird of some kind, but then I thought it might be a black rail. According to my bird guide they’re rare. I didn’t see the telltale red eye, though. So I won’t add it to my residency bird list.

After lunch we hiked upriver toward a scenic bend in the river, but then I lost Gus for about fifteen minutes. Apparently, I somehow got ahead of him, and when I finally turned around and saw him again, he was biting at his paw. I looked, but didn’t see what was bothering him. Then back down the trail a ways, I saw rusty barbed wire from the old telegraph line posts, and some of Gussie’s hair on one barb. I think he snagged himself on it. We were both tired after the steep hike back, but his paw seemed fine. And after dinner tonight—homemade sausage pizza with fresh mozzarella—he was chasing sticks like the crazy canine that he is.

Okay, time to dig into another T.C. Boyle novel. This one’s called East Is East.

May 22, 2005

Mr. Bear!

Yes, I finally got a good look at a black bear. A fat, tan-nosed ursine snorfler. All afternoon I’d heard it in the forest just beyond the meadow behind the garden, where it was knocking around stumps and making a racket. Then around four o’clock, I went out to lie in the chaise. Gussie came along and lay beside me. I had my eyes closed, soaking up the rays and petting Gussie’s warm back. And when I opened my eyes, there was Mr. Bear out in the meadow, about 400 yards away. I was afraid Gus would see it and make a chase, so I got him to follow me to the cabin. Once he was safely inside, I went on the deck and got another good look. By the time I got the binoculars focused, though, it had wandered back into the woods. Then Gussie sensed something was up and started barking. I figured I’d take the camera out and see if I could get a photo from behind the garden fence. Gus stayed inside, and he was beside himself, barking and whining and scratching at the sliding glass door. He hates to miss out on adventure of any kind. So I went back in. I don’t know if the bear was male or female. Maybe next time I can have a closer look with the binoculars.

Worked hard in the garden this morning, pruning the grape vines, ripping out some old netting and wire, and eradicating every stalk of blackberry within the garden fence. I pruned the hell out of the Concords, which were in a bad state, all tangled up with blackberries and growing out of control and leaning on broken posts. I reset the posts. I also pruned half of the wine grapes. After that, I trimmed around the garden fence. My decision to spray Roundup around the fence has turned out to be a good one. It killed a small swath around the barbed wire, and now I can trim without the weeder’s strings breaking all the time. And the fence is far enough away from all garden beds and fruit trees, that the Roundup wouldn’t have affected them. I hate to use chemicals, especially around an organic garden, but it saves a lot of hassle.

More trimming slated for tomorrow—up at the pond. The grass never stops growing. Every night after dinner Gussie and I take a walk up to the pond and he goes for a swim. He thinks he’s a retriever, fetching every stick I throw in. The pond weed and algae has diminished significantly, I’m glad to report. Maybe when it gets hot enough, I’ll get up the gumption to swim in there, too. All those newts kind of creep me out, but I suspect that when it gets hot I’ll want a place to swim. The river is great for swimming, but it’s an exhausting walk back up.

May 23, 2005

A perfect day at the ranch—sunny, warm but not hot, light breeze, oodles of birdsong. My big chore of the day was mowing around the pond. I made a nice, wide swath, some twenty or thirty feet around, and cut a wide path to the shortcut through the forest. I hit a huge patch of yerba buena with the trimmer, and the whole place smelled minty and fresh. With the grass all short, the pond will be tick-free for Neil and I to go up and check out the newts and watch Gussie swim for sticks. While mowing I saw two blue-tailed skinks, neat lizards with bright blue tails. I’d seen them before at my house in New York, where they lived in the stone terrace.

The bear was in its usual spot again—the woods behind the garden. I could hear it back there all day making its racket. No sight of it, though. Once the cherries are ripe, I’ll throw all the windfall ones over the fence for it. That might deter it from trying to get through the fence.

The deer family has a fawn! I saw it last night after dinner, a tiny thing with white speckles. I guess I was right about one of the does being pregnant. It’s dusk now, and I’m hoping momma and baby will come into the meadow again.

I encountered another critter last night of a completely different sort. I was on the couch listening to some tunes, when I saw something black creeping across the kitchen floor. It was a scorpion. I’d heard there were scorpions around here, but I expected to see one in the wood shed and not in the house. Bad karma that it is, I stomped it. I was afraid of getting stung if I tried to pick it up and throw it outside. Here it is prior to the stomp:

I think I saw a digger squirrel today, too. This morning Gussie was sniffing around the pile of boards I shave into kindling, and something was squeaking in terror. I was inside sweeping, and so I went out with the broom to investigate. I stuck the handle into the little cave the thing had found in the pile of wood, trying to drive it out Gussie’s side, and the thing popped out his end and leapt through the air so fast all I saw was a dark flash of fur. It looked to be bigger than a mouse, and it didn’t squeak like a mouse. I think it disappeared into one of the many digger squirrel holes under the deck. Ergo, I think it was a digger squirrel. I’ve come to hate these little buggers. They make holes all over the meadow, holes that the mower wheels get caught in. Little piles of dirt pop up in new places every day. They must have a huge network of tunnels all over the property. They’re like the Viet Cong. They’re the Varmint Cong.

Here’s a picture I dedicate to my nephew Ezra. I took it while Gussie and I were lazing in the yard eating pistachios (a snack Guster favors as much as any liver treat).

Worked out this sonnet today:


Not enough for a bowl of cereal,
so I tasted them there in the patch—
four sweet spotted hearts, arterial-
red, but cold. And here’s the catch:
I was thinking of some other berries,
ones that bit back, their long stems
a swarm of thorns, and how she,
too, had bitten my sticky thumb
as we ate them in an Iowa ditch—
me feeding her as if she were a queen,
she baring her straight stained teeth.
How apt that such gems ask a fee—
tart flesh to feed a lonely wretch
for a little blood left on a latch.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Week of May 10-16

May 10, 2005

The cabin’s feeling more and more like home to me. I spent last night in Grants Pass, taking care of some school business and running the usual errands. As nice as it was to eat Middle Eastern, to get on the Internet, to watch the evening news, and to chat for a while with the pretty woman waiting my table at a breakfast joint, I was glad to make the turn down the DH road, to nap in the bed I’ve come to know, to light the woodstove, to cook a rack of ribs in the little propane oven. Right now I’ve got the kerosene and propane lamps burning, a hot bed of coals in the wood stove, and the solar inverter humming behind me as it powers my laptop. Gussie’s curled at my feet, content to have just hollowed out another marrow bone. The cabin smells of burning madrone and barbeque sauce. I know my way around this place in the dark now. I know where everything is and how everything works. Staying in town for the night, I missed my routine, even the morning chore of hand-cranking the coffee grinder, which takes me about 100 turns on the handle. While my water boils in the new kettle, I crank the grinder and look out the little kitchen window at the meadow, the old barn, the tall trees. Here, there’s very little to worry about—a bear getting into the garden, Gus getting lost, me falling ill or getting injured. The likelihood of any of these things happening is slim. Out in town, there’s so much more to juggle. Wearing a watch and carrying a wallet and a cell phone and three sets of keys and two checkbooks, and making sure not to lose any of them. Toting a laptop and my solar backpack and a bag of clothes, and worrying about them getting stolen. Keeping Gus on a leash and away from speeding cars. Worrying about what to do with him while I’m in stores, restaurants, the laundromat, the grocery store (thank goodness for the folks at Dutch Bros. coffeehouse, who allow me to bring Gus inside). When we got back this afternoon after the muddy return trip over the mountains, the sun broke through and the rain stopped, and it all seemed symbolic. We were home.

One thing I do like about going to town, though, is getting mail and email. In yesterday’s mail was a DVD from Jim Dowling: two episodes of Deadwood and a bag of oatmeal cookies. What a guy! I plan to watch one episode after writing this entry. There was also a letter from Neil Curry, who’s due to arrive from England two weeks from Thursday. He says he’s going to learn to play cribbage. I liked hearing that. Another treat was a copy of The New York Sun Crossword Collection # 6, containing my “Record Spinners” crossword. Yes, folks, I’ve been anthologized as a crossword creator. Good action. Another treat was a couple of DVDs from Paste magazine. I’d written the editor to say that I enjoyed watching the latest DVD out at the cabin, but that I couldn’t locate my previous two, which I thought I’d brought out here with me. Having never gotten around to watching them back in New York, I was looking forward to playing them here. I wonder if they were in the box that got lost in the mail. Anyway, he sent me new copies. I love that magazine. And I have a feeling he’ll be including my letter in the next issue. Finally, I had a letter from Sam W., one of my students. So nice to hear from her. It always feels a bit like Christmas to take all this stuff back to the cabin and open it.

I checked things out after unloading the new supplies. Dutch Hen laid two eggs while Gussie and I were away. She’s a machine. My garden looks much happier. I think the mulching and the rain have helped. Garlic is sprouting, one of the stalks three or four inches high already! I’ll have my first strawberry tomorrow or the next day. And cherries are forming on the cherry trees. I need to remember to buy Mason jar lids to can the cherries come June.

May 13, 2005

Finally, a few sunny days. Yesterday was just perfect. Cloudless. Warm. Pleasing breezes. Aside from mowing a swath around the garden fence and spraying more of the nasty herbicide in the pond, I took it easy. I read, did a couple of crosswords, worked on a new story, made chocolate chip cookies (rivaling Blue Mountain Center’s), and watched birds.

Goldfinches have discovered the thistle feeder I hung on the deck, and they visited all day, bright yellow and vocal. Between them and the hummers, I had trouble concentrating on my reading. A pileated woodpecker cackled periodically, and I finally got a good look at it in the late afternoon when it landed in a nearby tree and then flew across the meadow. Western tanagers and Steller’s jays added to the noise of my fine feathered friends. The female grouse continues to visit my apple tree every evening. Last night I watched her through the binoculars again.

I heard my first bear yesterday. Around four o’clock, in the tree line beyond the garden, came the crack of an old tree being knocked down. I heard snorfling, then more wood cracking. It was a bear tearing up an old tree to get at the grubs inside it. I didn’t catch a glimpse, but now I know they’re around. I was glad Gus was inside. If he heard the noise, he would have gone to investigate, I’m sure.

I stayed up past midnight working on the new story. I can’t seem to get to bed any earlier these days. I’m sleeping in later, too. I still wake up at seven, but then fall back asleep, lapsing back into vivid dreams. The other morning we slept in until nine o’clock, something I haven’t done in years.

May 14, 2005

This cute woman at the breakfast joint has turned into a Muse. Of course, I’m exaggerating, but it seemed like there was a connection. Anyway, she’s been the inspiration for a couple of poems. Here’s one:

Eggs Over Hard

We meet and there is no place to put my hands.
Your teeth, white as a stove, go where mine won’t.

Balancing? you say. Both of them, I reply.
You ask why I have two checkbooks, and I’d tell you,

but it’s a long story that ends with a divorce,
so I say something about being between banks.

I have lived so long now breathing my own air,
when we share it I come up short. You could be

twenty-five. I want you to be forty, and I don’t.
We both know that my eggs are getting cold,

that the party at the other table has closed its menus,
that the crown of my head is a clear-cut slope;

still, something reaches through the two feet
between us—you holding pen to pad as if to

describe it; me with fingers poised above calculator
as though math might explain my spiked pulse.

I’ll inhabit that charged space for days, shake
our sweet scene like a sugar packet—until it, too,

grows cold as a number. Age is a coat without pockets.

May 15, 2005

Exactly one month today that I’ve been here. One-sixth of my residency.

Sunday at the homestead, cool and drizzly and dreary. Again. I lit a fire for the first time in a few days. After breakfast I took advantage of the colder weather to suit up in my mowing clothes and trim down the whole garden, a big chore with the lousy mower unit and the weedwhacker. But it needed doing. These mowing clothes—an old pair of khakis and a sweatshirt, are filthy with grass stains, but I don’t bother washing them. Come summer, when I no longer need to mow, I’ll probably just burn them. Mowing is an odious task. I keep finding myself pining for the typical blade mower I’m used to, instead of this one that works like a giant weedwhacker on wheels. It’s hard to push and the strings are constantly breaking. But it’s all I’ve got. After mowing, I lit a slash fire out in the meadow and burned some of the broken branches from the apple trees and many of the boxes cluttering up the mud room. I need to start straightening the place out a little in preparation for my first (and probably only) visitor, Neil Curry. I fear he’s going think the place too cluttered and dirty. I know I felt that way when I first arrived. But one thing I’ve discovered about living in the wilderness: it’s impossible to keep a clean house, especially with a dog around, and after a while you give up on certain aspects of cleanliness. The floor is forever dirty with blades of grass and wood chips and ash. I sweep the linoleum of the dining area and the board floor of the cooking area. When I get really motivated I turn on the generator and use the vacuum, but I could pick up more sucking air through a straw. So I resign myself to the fact that there are grass blades and wood chips on the floor. As long as the bedroom, bathroom, and cooking area are clean, I’m happy.

I finished a wonderful little novella today, God’s Mountain, by Erri De Luca. It’s an English translation of an Italian book, and it’s about a thirteen-year-old boy coming of age in 1960 in Naples. There’s a bit of magical realism with a boomerang, which turns out to be much more than a toy, and an old, hunchbacked, Holocaust-surviving cobbler sprouting wings. There’s also Maria, the lovely upstairs neighbor who becomes the boy’s lover. I recommend it. This book was magically refreshing—a two-day read—after the month-long, laboriously thorough and repetitive Lewis and Clark biography. The latter was worth reading, but when I finally turned the last page the other day, I felt as though I’d done the expedition myself! I’m looking forward now to turning my attention to more of T.C. Boyle’s stuff. I have a tome of his short stories and a few of his novels.

As I type this a home-made pizza dough is rising in an oiled bowl. Toward the end of God’s Mountain, there’s a scene where they go out for pizza, and after reading it, I was craving pizza like never before. It’s been five weeks since I tasted gooey cheese on a crispy crust. The last was at my parent’s house, where we had a few pies from Uncle Tony’s as my farewell dinner. My mouth is watering thinking about them. I know tonight’s pizza won’t taste anything like Uncle Tony’s, but it’ll sate the craving. The Fannie Farmer cookbook I’m using is excellent! So far, everything I’ve made from it has come out great.

I’m heading into town again tomorrow for a resupply mission and to check for bills and email. Deadwood tonight, thanks to Jim!

Monday, May 09, 2005

Week of May 3rd -8th

I decided that it’s stupid to have to scroll down and read backwards, so from now on, I’ll post oldest to newest, even if blogspot posts newest to oldest. Sorry for the confusion, but I think it’ll be easier to follow this way.

May 3, 2005

There’s been a ruffed grouse haunting one of the apple trees between the cabin and the garden. Twice last week I spooked her as I made my way down the path, the leafy mass exploding with wing beats. This evening I stepped out onto the deck to water my geraniums and here she came and landed in that same apple tree. I crept back as quietly as I could, slid the screen door open, and grabbed my binoculars. I focused the lens, and there she was, larger than life. Little crest atop her head, black broken bands on her plump breast. I watched her for a minute. Was she nesting? I could have sworn that grouse nested on the ground, even beneath snow in winter. Well, she settled in and went right to munching on the tender leaves. No, she wasn’t nesting, just noshing.

I’ve seen grouse before, but never this clearly. Usually you practically step on them and then they’re off in a flash of tanbrownwhite and you’re left there with your heart racing. I don’t know how hunters ever get a shot at them. Unless it’s when—like tonight—they seem oblivious. This one went right on having her apple leaf dinner even as I leaned over the deck flashing photo after photo. Here she is:

May 5, 2005

It started to rain just after I turned off the last lamp and settled in to sleep around midnight, and it’s still drizzling now at midmorning. I’m not sure if this bodes ill or well for my garden, which seems to be struggling. The mildew or mold or whatever it is continues to wreak havoc, and I feel like a Civil War doctor every time I march in and amputate the dying leaves and branches. The soil is clayey and clumpy, and I’m not entirely sure if the plants are getting too much or not enough water. The days have been sunny and hot, so I’ve been watering in the morning and at night, but maybe I’m watering too much, and that’s why everything looks so unproductive. I can only guess the effect of this latest rain. I keep waiting for everything to just pop, but so far only my peppers and tomatillo seem happy.

The gray rain, the drops falling from the eaves, a fire in the wood stove and a pot of coffee warming atop it—these things breed poems. Here’s one I just finished:

One Fell Swoop

I park beneath the leaning tree,
having left the one-lane bridge

behind me. No one else around
for miles. Ridges point their teeth

toward the empty bowl of sky.
Inside, the wood stove pulses heat,

its straight black artery clogged
with plaque. I eat what I shouldn’t,

smoke my pipe, gaze into the dark
of the forest’s open eyes. This

place once teemed with Indians.
Every gift given is taken back.

I wait, I wait for the attack.

May 6, 2005

4:00 PM
My radio phone stopped working today. Suddenly, I get no dial tone or noise of any kind besides the tones for the numbers on the keypad. I don’t like having no way to call for help. It makes all the more frightening the prospect of a heart attack, a broken leg, a rattlesnake bite, a deep cut. I kept fiddling with the phone, but no luck, so I decided to drive up the road to a high elevation where I could get a signal on my cell phone. The DH road was a muddy mess after two days of rain and the BLM road was even worse given all the cars and trucks coming out to see the crazy castle, which goes up for auction tomorrow. I drove through drizzle and deep fog, and after a half-hour drive up, I finally got two bars on the cell, through fog and all, and called the company that handles the radio phone. The guy was of little help. He said he’d try calling me, and that if it rang but I couldn’t answer, then it was a problem on my end. If it was a problem on their end, he’d get to work on it. Well, I’ve been back at the cabin for almost an hour, and the phone hasn’t rung. Did he try to call me? I don’t know. While I had cell reception, I also called Bradley and left a message with him asking that he try calling me tonight. If I get no call, I’ll assume my phone is broken. And if that’s the case, I’ll take it out with me when I go to GP on Monday to pick up the Omega proof. I was going to track the package and see if it arrived by Saturday morning, but if the phone doesn’t work, I can’t call, and I don’t want to travel the muddy roads again. Monday it’ll have to be. The one serendipitous occurrence in all of this was that as I was driving out I passed two vehicles going in. One car had a young couple in it. The other, a lone young man. It occurred to me that they’re probably caretaking at the castle and showing the place to potential bidders. They’re also probably behind the gunshots I’ve been hearing off and on for the last week or two. After I made my calls and turned around, I encountered another car. This time it was an older couple. I stopped and chatted with them. Them seemed like good people. Yes, they’d been up at the castle. No, they wouldn’t be bidding. Too rich for their blood. Yes, there’s some young folks caretaking the place. Go have a look. I couldn’t resist. I was dying to see the inside of the place. So I drove on in. There were three or four cars, and when I pulled up, a kid no older than twenty-five, dressed in camo pants and a hooded sweatshirt, walked up to my car. “Here to see the place?” he asked. I told him I was. Another guy, tall and late twenties, stood with a camera taking a picture of his wife or girlfriend and their baby. I doubted they’d be bidding on the place, too, from the look of them. The kid ushered me inside. The place wasn’t as nice as I’d imagined it would be, but it was something. The bullet-proof windows, tiny slats really, were covered with steel, so there wasn’t much light inside. The bedroom was nice, with recessed dressers and shelves. There was a full-sized, pink-tiled Jacuzzi bath. A couple of the rooms looked as though they’d never been used at all. I climbed the ladder up to the turret, which had the same thin windows for shooting out of. The kid told me there were a couple of tunnel exits, but I declined going in them. I’d seen enough. I chatted briefly with the gaggle hanging outside the door. They’d noticed my New York tags and thought I’d come all the way from New York to buy the stupid castle out in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t disabuse them of the notion. It was fun to pretend I was a millionaire. I said to the kid in camo, “So, caretaking out here—now you’ll be able to say you’ve lived in a castle, even if it was for only a couple of weeks.” The kid laughed. “Actually, we’re staying in a tent at Marial.” That was nice to know. They’d probably shot off their guns just before heading back to their tents for the evening, after all the potential bidders had left. Soggy weather to be sleeping in a tent. I hope they’re getting paid well.

9:00 AM
Another drizzly morning, the canyon shrouded in fog and mist. I’m hoping to finish the short story today. I worked on it for about six hours yesterday, and it’s almost done. I know how it’s going to end. I left off last night at page 30, and it’s pretty tight, so not much revision will be necessary. Wish me luck with the ending.

As I said in yesterday’s blog entry, this is poetry weather. Process: Insert coffee, yogurt, granola, banana bread grilled with butter, and orange juice. Out comes this:

Full of Blood, and Irrelevant

If memory had fingers, it would wring
from me each forgettable day we shared.

The double-date drive to Plum Island
in the pouring rain, windows fogged

like shower glass. I’d listen now to your
every laugh. That Sunday morning,

March, repairing a botched crossword
while our clothes rolled in the laundromat’s

mechanical song. What shirt were you
wearing? How long was your hair then?

A year in retrospect is a checked list
written in disappearing ink, clutched

in a tight fist. Pick up shampoo. Take out
trash. Replace washer in kitchen sink.

How many hours did we pass together?
How many games did we play?

Given the chance to do it over, would we
do it the same way? And if memory

did have fingers and those fingers formed
a fist, would those times shine out,

red as rubies, full of blood, and irrelevant?

May 7, 2005

Shortly after I wrote yesterday’s entry, my radio phone rang, and it was Marge letting me know the Omega proof had arrived in GP. After I hung up with her, the phone was working fine. I don’t know if the folks at the phone company fixed it, or if I just needed someone to call to reset the thing somehow. In any case, it’s working again. I heard from Jim this afternoon, who called to say he’d mailed me two more episodes of Deadwood on DVD. Sweet. You have no idea what a treat that is for me out here. I’ll make popcorn, and it’ll be like the movies. I also was able to call Jim back, when the stupid phone cut out after ten minutes. This is one of the annoying features about this radio phone. Because I’m on a party line with a half-dozen other people on the river, the calls are limited to ten minutes. I suppose it makes sense; you don’t want someone hogging the line all night. “So, how’s your papa’s horses?”

It’s been a rainy few days, but the clouds finally blew away and stayed away for most of the afternoon. The drizzle came back an hour after I hung my laundry on the line. Go figger. I was hoping for a weekend of warm, sunny days to dry out the muddy road. It’s in rough shape from all the people coming out to look at the castle, which must have sold at today’s auction. But there was enough sun today that I got to walk the perimeter of all the meadows (except the pond area) and pull up or lop saplings. This is one of my chores. If it’s not done, the forest creeps in a little every year. It took me several hours. Saw some dog ticks, but flicked them off. I must have yanked out a thousand fir trees. Lots of poison oak, but I was careful. And I washed with Tecnu afterward. My other big chore for the day was weedwhacking the garden. I mowed it three weeks ago, and it was already getting high again. While the grass and weeds grow, my vegetables continue to languish. Maybe it’s the weather or the soil. The strawberries are bearing lots of green fruit, though, after my intense weeding and mulching. I hope to make some strawberry jam. The garden fence is working well. No shorts yet. Needle in the green, Mr. Bear ain’t been seen; needle in the red, on garden he’s fed. I think I’ve zapped a bear twice in the night. I found two of the bear licks knocked off the fence. Hmmm.

For dinner tonight I got adventurous with the leftovers and made a meat pie. It was scrumptious! I made a homemade tart crust. Meanwhile I chopped up the remaining roast I made the other day, and mixed it together with sweet corn, onions, garlic, asiago cheese, and the au jus from the roast. I rolled out the tart dough, cut it square, and added the filling, sealing up the edges. It came out like a big burrito, only crunchy and buttery on the outside. The corn added a sweetness that went perfectly with the rest. I ate the whole thing. For dessert: two slices of watermelon, my first of the year. I’m getting hungry again just thinking about it.

Last night I finished the short story I’ve been working on. I titled it “The Blue Tent.” I think it’s the best story I’ve ever written. I want to tweak it a bit more, and then I’ll send it out somewhere.

It’s 11:35 PM, and suddenly pouring rain. My clothes are still on the line. An extra rinse cycle, I guess. So much for the road drying out. The sound of the drops on the roof and skylights does make for cozy sleeping, though.

Good night, faithful readers.

May 8, 2005

Another typical May day in the Pacific Northwest. I woke to rain, and then it cleared in the afternoon. But, of course, a few more showers came through. Again, I spent the morning composing a poem. I’m liking this routine. Here’s the poem:

Citizen of the Lone World

The underclothes I hung on the line to dry
drip now, sad wet flags
of my private country.

Mist inches across the meadow like a ship.
Cliff swallows convey their joy
or hunger through the fog.

I reside inside—the house, my head, that place
I go where the path
is unknowable

and there is no return but for the useless map
I’m left with. My dog,
asleep at my feet,

tramps through his own gray territories.
He, too, feels no need
to be found.

When I’ve wandered far enough, I will surrender,
I will return. There is always
a blue door.

I’ve had crosswords on the brain again, after a recent email from the crossword editor at the L.A. Times. He wrote to say there was a problem with the puzzle of mine he’d accepted last summer, and he wanted me to fix it. He was hoping to run the puzzle at the end of May, and still might if I can get it repaired soon. I wrote him back explaining my situation: no Internet. He said to send it whenever I could. Well, I got home and, alas, I don’t have the latest version of the file on my laptop. I’m going to have to get him to send me the file, and then I can try to repair it. Apparently the problem was that I had a crossover: I used ACADEMYAWARD and ACADEMIC. I didn’t catch this flaw, either. We were both negligent. He had a couple of other words he suggested I change, too. So, I have this bit of work ahead of me.

In the meantime, I revisited a 70-word themeless puzzle I started back in the fall. I’m in the process of writing clues for that one. There are a few for which I need the Internet. If there’s one thing that requires Internet access, it’s puzzle-making. Anyway, I hope to send that one out, too.

When the rain stopped, I fired up the generator, plugged in the laser printer, and printed three stories to send out, including the new one, “The Blue Tent.” I’m aiming high with that one and sending it to The New Yorker. It’s a crapshoot, but what the hey. I’m sending the other two to a magazine called American Short Fiction. I plan to put together some poetry submissions soon, too. I should also send out the latest chicken story, but I can’t think of a good venue. The Monitor doesn’t like anything with blood or death. And, they never responded to my last two essay submissions. I’ll keep thinking of a place to send it.

Went out to the garden this evening and took some photos. The plants look a little happier after three days of rain and this afternoon’s sun. The three cuke plants I was worried about have made a comeback. I only lost two.

Sharen will like that the garden is a lockdown facility, barbed wire and electrified fence!

I did some pruning of the wine grapes the other day. They’re leafing like mad.

This bed contains peppers, lettuce and basil. I also planted peas, but they haven’t come up yet. The photo makes it look small, but this bed is actually about 25- or 30-feet long.

One of the pepper plants.

A mesclun salad mix.

I’ll have strawberries soon!

One of about nine strawberry plants.

Beds, looking due south. The structure in the background is the old chicken coop, which isn’t being used.

I’m a complete failure as a naturalist, for this is another flower I can’t identify. Someone planted them in the garden, so it’s a perennial of some kind. “Hello, Mr. Bee!”

The new chicken coop, also a lockdown facility!

I’m hoping this will keep out the maniac chicken killer.

Speaking of the perp, that’s him on the deck, to the left, angry that I’m outside without him.

“Here’s your daddy!”

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

this is an audio post - click to play

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Adventures Continue: 4/26 to 5/1

Note: Since the blog posts online go from newest to oldest, I suppose my combined weekly posts should do the same. Sorry if I didn’t do it before.

April 26th, 2005

A true story. Warning: this is long. I’m thinking of submitting it as a personal essay to someplace or other.

My Soft-Coated Wheaten Terror: Gus Gets Blood-Lust

Over the last three years or so at my house in Fort Montgomery, New York, I raised various flocks of backyard hens almost continuously. This odd hobby was sparked by my graduate school days in Iowa, when my wife and I lived for six months in an old farmhouse in the quaint little town of Eldora. It was at this farm that I developed a penchant for fresh eggs. I’ve written elsewhere of building a coop on my New York property and of purchasing my first batch of hens. That’s a feather in an old hat.

Two years ago, after much thought and planning and research, I decided to take on a new pet, a Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier. One equation I didn’t know then but know now is this: chicken + terrier = terrorized or dead chicken. In my research I’d read that Wheatens were bred on farms in Ireland, and that their primary function was to catch mice and rats. A farm dog certainly would be fine around chickens, right? The first time I took Gus up to my chicken coop, I was wise enough to have him on a leash. I figured I’d let my new friend, this adorable bearded puppy with big floppy paws, meet my older feathered friends. Well, he got one look at their golden feathers and red combs and plump downy breasts, and his brown eyes took on a gleam I’d never seen, his pink tongue lolled and dripped saliva. Like Wile E. Coyote, he literally licked his chops. Then he barked like mad, yanked the leash from my hand, and ran around the coop looking for any gap in the fence through which he might squeeze. As he grew older, sometimes he got loose, and the chicken coop was always his first stop. He never forgot what was up there in that crooked little house, behind that flimsy fence. And every time he ran up there his teeth would glisten.

Last summer he finally got a chance to sink those teeth into warm feathers. Or at least I think he did. It was a hot day, and in the morning I’d let the hens out of their pen to eat raspberries and to scratch for worms. Afterward, I’d taken Gus across the river to our off-leash trail, where he’d run so much I was sure he was pooped. We pulled up the driveway, and I washed him off at the hose, and then trusted him to follow me to the backyard gate. Even as tired as he was, some synapse in his doggy brain fired chickenschickenschickens. Off he ran. I got up the hill in time to chase a few inside the pen, but Gus was in hot pursuit of my lone black hen. Squawking, barking, feathers flying. Then total stillness. No sign of dog or chicken. I called and called. Fifteen minutes passed. Then thirty. I got in the car and searched the neighborhood, asking if anyone had seen a tan dog chasing a black chicken. Everyone looked at me as though I’d escaped from Rockland Psychiatric. Finally, I gave up. I figured that if Gus wanted to come home, he’d come home, and that if he’d indeed caught the chicken…well, he was having his toothy way with her and there was nothing anyone could do about it. I walked into the backyard and heard his tags jingling up the driveway. He made a tentative approach to the gate, but what I was looking at wasn’t my dog. It was The Swamp Thing’s dog: a brown, tangled, muddy, leaf-littered thing. But there was no sign of blood. Or feathers. So I’ll never know if he actually did get to sink his teeth into my black hen. I never saw her again, and I envision Gus shaking her the way he does toys and balls and socks, his strong jaws squeezing, squeezing, her yellow legs whipping left and right. After that, I was careful to never let Gus loose while the hens were outside the gate foraging. Several more times he’d made covert missions up there, but they were always safely fortified. No further casualties.

So when I won this writing residency, a chance to live in the wilds of Oregon, you’d think I would have been more rational. Nope. I was thrilled to read in the description that not only were dogs allowed but that one of the structures on the property was an old chicken coop. I visited last summer to check the place out and have a weekend orientation.

“So it’s okay to have chickens?” I asked the Boyden brothers, who own the place.

“Do whatever you want,” Bradley said. “It’s your place.”

Frank added, “One resident had a rooster. She carried it around on her shoulder. It slept in the house with her. Don’t let yours do that.”

I assured them I wouldn’t.

Nine months later I arrived and one of my first tasks was to scope out the chicken coop. I was disappointed to find it quite run-down. More work than it might be worth. Then Bradley told me the smokehouse below my cabin wasn’t functional, that the pipe was completely filled with dirt. “Convert that into a chicken shack,” he said.

The smokehouse was overrun with weeds and blackberry bushes with shark fins for thorns, but it was the perfect size for a couple of hens, and all it needed was a new door. That was two and a half weeks ago.

A few days later, during my first trip to town, I asked around at both a garden shop and a feed store. At the latter, the owner had Barred Rock chicks. I’ve always wanted to raise Barred Rocks, which are gorgeous chickens with white and black stripes, the zebra of the fowl family. But these peepers weren’t more than three weeks old, which meant they wouldn’t lay me an egg until August, and like most creatures, I want what I want when I want it.

“Check the local papers,” Debbie, the feed store owner, said.

I made my second trip in to town yesterday. First stop: the feed store. I wanted to ask Debbie if she’d sell me one of her own adult hens. I’d pay her whatever she wanted. The place was closed. I ran my other errands, and stopped in again later in the afternoon, my last stop, or so I thought.

“I was thinking about you,” she said. “You wanted egg-layers, right?”

I told her I did. Out in the car, Gussie’s floppy gray ears probably perked right up.

“I saw something in the paper here. Hold on.” Debbie, a short red-haired woman who looks as though she should own a feed store, thumbed through a newspaper. “Mares. You don’t want horses. I could have sworn I saw someone giving away sixty hens.”

“Oh, I only want a couple.”

“Now I can’t find it.”

“Hey, why not just sell me a couple of your adult birds?”

“I don’t have any.”

“I thought you said you sold fresh eggs.”

She laughed. “I do, but I buy them from these old twin sisters down the road.”

“Well, maybe they’ll sell me a couple of hens?”

“They’re just the sweetest old ladies; you know, I’m sure they will!”

Debbie called and relayed my offer of ten bucks for two hens. She also told them she’d have me dispatch two of the Barred Rock chicks in exchange.

I was back in business! Fresh eggs out at the homestead!

She hung up, and I said, “I’ll need a waterer and some feed and some wood shavings and some straw.”

“We don’t have straw.”

“I’ll take everything else,” I said.

Ann and Mary Wilson looked like a couple of old hens themselves. They were identical twins, each with white hair, dark little mustaches like the one my grandmother had, and neck flab that drooped like wattles above their stained white shirts and house dresses. Mary reached out a claw and took the brown peeping bag I held out to her.

“I’m Gary, the guy Debbie called about. Those are the chicks,” I said, though both of them were already looking inside. Mary took the bag and disappeared inside their mobile home. Ann led me across the lawn. Their place, about a quarter mile down the road from the feed store, consisted of an acre or two. In their front yard they had a strawberry patch raised on a bed constructed of gray PVC pipe. In the back, they had a huge fenced compound of various shacks and gates and little doors—the telltale signs of chickens. There were probably thirty birds, some of them little Aracunas, but most of them the Golden Comets I was used to, and a few of them black sex-links like the one with which old Gussie had had his fling.

Scrambling around the big pen, it took me about ten minutes to catch two of the Golden Comets and stuff them in the box Debbie had given me. I felt a bit like a poacher, standing there in Ann and her sister’s chicken pen, snatching up her birds and stuffing them in a cardboard box. I handed her two fives and she gave one back.

“A chicken don’t cost more’n two-fifty,” she said. And then, as if to assure me of the bargain I’d just been made, “These birds’ll lay right on through winter.”

“Oh, I’m leaving in October,” I said, and then it occurred to me that these ladies might be the solution to my problem of what to do with the hens when I had to leave and head back east. As much as I’d been wondering where to get some hens, I’d also been pondering what to do with them once my residency ends. I wouldn’t slaughter them, and I couldn’t watch someone else do it either. I also couldn’t just let them loose in the woods to feed the cougars or coyotes or owls. And now it seemed I was about to kill two birds with one stone, though this was a cliché I could never say to Ann Wilson. “I could even return them to you in the fall. That is, if you’d want them.”

“Okay,” Ann said. “And I’ll give you your money back.”

“Oh, you won’t need to do that. They’ll keep me supplied with eggs all summer. So I’d be paying you for that.”

“You have a house for them?”

“Yes ma’am. There’s one out at the ranch.” I didn’t tell her it needed a door.

We walked back to my car, and I opened the rear door and loaded the box in beside the flat of lettuce and broccoli and celery I’d bought to plant in my garden. Before showing up there, I’d strapped Gus into his harness in the backseat and buckled the strap to the seatbelt to keep him from any mischief. Now he looked with curiosity over the seatback.

“Never mind,” I said to him. “You stay and be a good boy.” He sniffed, his brown eyes twinkling. “Stay,” I repeated.

Then Mary came out with a bird cage and in it the two chicks peeping. “We’re gonna have a rooster, Ann,” she clucked.

The three of us peered into the cage.

“How do you know?” I said. “They look exactly the same.” The little chicks could have been Ann and Mary seventy years ago.

“Look at his crop,” Mary said.

I wasn’t exactly sure what a crop was, and I felt ashamed to have been raising chickens for three years. “Oh yeah,” I said. “Look at that.”

Then Ann started regaling me with stories of the growing brazenness of the local cougar population, how they’d become so tame they were standing in people’s driveways, how last year one cat killed two of their hens, how another cat got run over on the road.

All this time my car was running, the air conditioning on so Gus would stay cool. I inched my way toward the car. I didn’t want to appear to be unfriendly or in a rush to go. But I was in a rush to go. I still had a two-hour ride back to the cabin, and daylight was waning. I realized then that Debbie had charged me for a bag of feed but that I hadn’t loaded one in my car. The perfect excuse to go.

The old twins held the cage of new twins and wished me luck.

“I’ll bring the hens back in the fall, if all goes well,” I said.

“Want some eggs to take back with you?”

Never one to turn down fresh eggs, I said I’d take some. Ann went to a fridge on their porch and took out a dozen and opened the carton. “See, these are brown eggs, like you’ll get.”

“I sure do thank you, ladies. I should go get that feed and head back. I’ve got a long ride out to the cabin.”

I opened the back door to put the eggs in my cooler, and I saw something funny. My lettuce plants were tipped over and the back of Gus’s head was sticking out of the box holding the hens. There were his two droopy ears. He turned and I saw the wild look in his eye. There were feathers all caught in his beard. There was blood.

“Gus! What did you do?” I said desperately.

His harness was tangled around him. He made a move to dive back in the box. I climbed in and tried pulling him out. The harness was twisted and tight. I heard a whimpering sound. I heaved him over the seat, but already he was trying to get back over, his tongue hanging out between his pearly canines. Behind me Ann and Mary must have been wondering what I was wrestling with. I slid the box out and looked inside. One hen was dead, its eye closed shut. The other was huddled in the corner, blood pooling in its open beak. She was alive but hurt. I could see wounds on her body where Gus had bitten down, stripping off feathers.

“My dog,” I tried to explain. “I thought I had him all strapped in tight, but he climbed over the seat and got at them while we were talking.”

“This one’s dead,” Ann said, lifting the limp body out of the box. “He broke her neck.” Mary took the dead bird and held it. “He must have gotten this one by the throat, too. She’s bleeding from her mouth.”

“I know,” I said. “I’m so sorry. I thought he was secured.”

“Let’s see if she can walk,” Ann said. She placed the wounded bird onto the lawn. It took a few wobbly steps and sat down.

A minute ago, I’d been elated. Two birds with one stone. Now, two birds with one dog. “Damned dog,” I tried. “I’m so sorry about this.”

“Some dogs’ll do that,” Mary offered. Their own dog, a little, salt-and-pepper, wire-haired mutt with a protruding row of bottom teeth, looked up at me as if to say, I don’t.

“Would you like me to bury her?” I pointed to the bloody, limp chicken hanging from Mary’s hand.

“No, I’ll bury her later,” Ann said. “Do you want to try again and get two more?”

Here’s where I should have said no. Ann’s question was stitched with reluctance and kindly obligation. But I’m greedy when it comes to chickens and fresh eggs, and I’d been thinking so long about having hens at the cabin. “Okay,” I said, but now I wanted to get out of there, and quickly. “But maybe I should just take one and see how it goes. I’ll keep her on the floor of the front seat with me.”

This time I took a black one.

Once a chicken-loving Wheaten Terrier sinks his teeth into living feathered flesh, the thrill of it wedges in his doggy mind like a stuck bone. He works at it and it works at him. He can taste the blood on his tongue, feel the hunt in tooth and paw. His brown eyes flicker, his tongue pants and lathers, his upper lip curls away from his teeth with something like a maniacal grin, and his nose darts through the air like a heat-seeking missile.

The whole ride home he stood like this, peeking over the seat at the box on the floor.

“You stay!” I said, and laid the bag of feed atop the box in a feeble effort to cover the smell of the bird.

Two hours later, I repeated this useless command at both gates while I unlocked them. With the falling sun hitting the windshield I could see nothing but the reflection of the trees and sky. Gus could have leapt the seat and been digging in, again. But miraculously, he stayed.

By the time we made it to the cabin and I’d unloaded all the stuff I’d bought in town, it was beginning to get dark. There was no way I could get the smokehouse renovated before night fell. Even if I’d had power tools, it would have taken an hour just to repair the door. I put the black hen in the only safe place I could think of, despite the fact that I knew Bradley wouldn’t approve: I locked her in the tool shed.

This morning Gus rose with the sun and ran straight for the door. I figured he had to do one of two things. Or both. Wearing nothing but boxers and sandals, one of the benefits of having no neighbors in a forty-mile radius, I pushed open the back screen door and followed him outside. He made a bee-line to the tool shed, sniffing at the crack beneath the door, already panting.

I knew it was going to be a long day.

I’m not sure what’s easier—catching a loose Wheaten Terrier or a loose chicken, neither of whom wants to be caught. While the hen was safe, though probably petrified, behind the locked tool shed door, I did my best to cajole Gus back inside. My usual tactic is to say something like “Come get the cookie” or “Come fetch the stick.” If I’m holding neither cookie nor stick, this tactic inevitably fails. It sometimes fails when I am holding cookie or stick. Gus, I’ve found, usually knows what I’m up to. When he was a puppy and I was a new dog owner, I made the mistake of chasing after him when he did this. Now I do what little is in my power to make him come to me. Gus is a very intelligent dog, and my own self-respect and pride dictate that I outwit him whenever possible. After much scolding, he gave up the tool shed door and tore off into the meadow, leaping like a deer through the unmown grass in a wheat-colored flash, a veritable tick magnet. He made a lap around the garden fence, then up the road, into the woods, back down the road, through the meadow and back to the tool shed door, where he stopped, panting heavily. Here was my ace in the hole. “Gus, you want a drink? You want some water?” In the pantry beyond the screen door, I ran the tap. And in he came.

The chicken presented a more difficult challenge. You’d think that any man who can outwit a blood-lusting terrier could outwit a chicken, one of the dumbest animals on the planet. But a tool shed is a dark place with many unreachable nooks behind rakes and gas cans and chainsaws and countless other obstacles. And a chicken is quick. Ten minutes of prodding with a hoe handle, and I reconnoitered. It occurred to me that what had worked for dog might work for bird. So I filled the waterer and a bowl full of feed and placed them in the open doorway. Then I positioned myself behind the door, a laundry basket poised over head, ready to drop my makeshift net. Three minutes passed and my arm was aching, stiffening. I dropped the laundry basket and went and sat on the steps of the cabin. From the darkness of the tool shed I heard a few tentative clucks. I replied in my best chicken impersonation, something like, “Dut-dut-dut-dut-doot-doot-doot.” Then it occurred to me that here I was talking to a chicken when I should have been doing something productive and dignified, like writing—my whole reason for being here, right? What the hell was I doing letting my dog ravage some poor ladies’ chickens, wasting hours of my day trying to coax a bird from a tool shed, preparing to spend countless more hours converting a smokehouse to a chicken coop? For what? For eggs? A buck-fifty a dozen at the supermarket? I should have been inside writing some oft-to-be-anthologized poem, or an essay so brilliant it would find its way into Best American Essays 2005. I should have been penning a short story worthy of the coveted font of The New Yorker. It’s no wonder I’d never enjoy any of those accolades; I’m a man who spends his time in the pursuit of frivolity and self-imposed exasperation.

Then I saw black feathers, and I was up and running.

She let out a squawk and bolted for the woods, and I knew I needed to head her off, or she’d be making a nice lunch for the pair of peregrine falcons nesting nearby. From the living room window issued Gus’s animated yelps, and I could see him there, his bearded face peering down with fury that I should be engaging in the very behavior he’d been dreaming of since yesterday. How dare I? So, like a wheaten terrier, albeit a maladroit and ham-fisted one clutching a green laundry basket, I chased the black chicken till I was out of breath and she was safe and sound beneath the footworks of the cabin.

We shot this scene with more than half a dozen takes, but in between chases, I rebuilt the smokehouse door, threw down some cedar shavings, built a nest box and filled it with straw, and arranged waterer and feeder on the new cozy floor. While house smelled a tad bit like burnt hickory, it would make a lovely, dry home for my soot-colored hen. If I could ever catch her.

Gus meanwhile had gone plumb out of his mind. Darting from deck to living room window to bedroom window—wherever he might catch a glimpse of the hen happily scratching for slugs and grubs and seeds—he had worked himself to a literal lather. Heat pulsed from his thick coat, his tongue dripped hot spit. He hadn’t eaten all day. And when I’d let him out in the morning he hadn’t pooped or peed. Yesterday he’d gotten a taste of living flesh, had felt the small bones crack between his teeth, and now his sole purpose for living had manifested itself in the shape of a dark, plump fowl, a shape which had pecked at his mind so long that he would find no solace until he consumed it, until the black bird filled the black void of his biliousness.

I went in to have a very late lunch and to try to console him. But Gus could not be consoled. He kept up his frustrated dash from window to window all through my turkey sandwich. I put my dish in the sink and went to join him on the couch to see the object of his obsession, and there she was, like a well-behaved lady, standing in the doorway to the coop I’d fashioned! Before Gus could lick his chops, I snuck outside, skipped to the smokehouse-turned-coop, and gently closed the door. I consider this one of the great achievements of my writing residency at the Dutch Henry Homestead.

Dinner went much the way lunch had. I’d never seen Gus like this. So, I let him out, off-leash, figuring he’d see no chicken and move on to other things. He ran straight for the smokehouse door.

And he’s out there now, sniffing, sniffing, sniffing.

I can see myself already, pulling up to Ann and Mary’s mobile home, handing them back the cardboard box heavy with my great regret and the living effigy of Gus’s lust for blood.

April 27th, 2005

After two weeks of not playing my guitar (on the drive across country it was too much hassle to unload it from the packed truck), I finally took it out yesterday and noodled around. It felt good to start calluses again, to strum out on the deck. I wrote a little Dutch Henry ditty yesterday. But today I composed a nice chord progression and wrote a much better song, entitled “Grinning Ear to Ear.” I liked it enough that I set up the Fast Track and microphone and made a recording. I promise this blog won’t turn out like the last one, full of songs on which I sing badly, but here it is:

Grinning Ear to Ear

April 28, 2005

I’m losing track of time. Beginning this entry, I had to count back to the day I arrived and then add weeks. Even then, I wasn’t sure whether today was Wednesday or Thursday. There’s great freedom in this, but there’s something unsettling about it, too. I’m compulsive, and like to know minute, hour, day, week. Following Lang Cook’s advice, I’ve stopped wearing a watch, and somehow I haven’t yet found myself looking down at my bare wrist.

But I have set up two clocks in the house. The first is one I brought from home, a small wooden clock a student gave me one year for Christmas. This one sits atop a bookshelf in the living room area. The other clock is one I found a few nights ago while rummaging around. One of these huge bird clocks (I think they’re made by Audubon, and you get one for free if you subscribe to their magazine, or something), I was elated when I found it. Yes! A clock for the bedroom! With the skylight above and a huge window to the right of the bed, and with the walls painted white, I’d been waking in the mornings to pale light of indistinguishable hour. If it was six, it was too early to get up. If it was eight, I probably should. But I had no way of knowing, unless I climbed out of bed, walked to the dresser and checked my watch. Then, of course, I’d be up. So the bird clock seemed the solution. These bird clocks are cool in theory: every hour is depicted by a different bird and when the hour strikes, you hear the bird’s call. Sharen and I had one at our house, and after a couple of days we tore it off the den wall and hung in the downstairs bathroom, a room we never used. Its hands stopped at the moment of battery death. But here I was, excited to have found a clock. I loaded in the three AA batteries and set the time. The hands swung round and a chickadee called. Gus barked. A song sparrow twittered. Gus barked. It occurred to me that these damned birds would not only keep me up all night with their yammering, but that Gus would awaken and bark every hour on the hour. And Northern Mockingbirds aren’t meant to sing at 2:00 AM anyway. Like any sane bird, they’re sleeping. So, out came the two AA batteries that make the birds call.

Now I wake each day to the sounds of real birds, and the time is clearly visible, even with these deteriorating eyes of mine. I’ve propped the silenced bird clock on the top of the dresser, dead center.

The latest I’ve slept is 8:00 AM. You’d think that with nowhere to be and no set agenda for my day, I’d wake at 10:00 or 11:00 or noon. But I haven’t slept that late since college. Undergraduate college, that is. Here, I typically awaken between 6:00 and 7:00, and some mornings hit the inner snooze button and go back to dreaming for ten more minutes.

The days pass slowly, though I’m not bored. Here’s what I did today (I’ll leave out the bathroom parts); times, of course, are rounded:

7:00 AM: Got up, made coffee, lit a fire in the cook stove to keep my coffee pot warm, let Gus out.
7:15: Made a bowl of oatmeal, completed a New York Times crossword.
7:30: Fired up laptop to continue work on an essay.
9:00: Put on my mowing clothes (grass-stained pants and sweatshirt) and finished mowing the lower meadow while Gus romped all over.
10:30: Went back inside and had a piece of apple cobbler bread and a glass of OJ. Futzed around, wrote out what I hope will be my last mortgage check on the house.
11:00: Had a long, hot shower.
11:30: Brought some feed out to the hen, who was sitting in her nest laying her first homestead egg.
11:35: Filled up bird feeders and hung them on the deck, added more sugar to hummingbird feeders, watched hummers drink.
11:40: Loaded rake, loppers, bow saw in car and cleared road all the way to the lower gate, Gus romping alongside the whole way. Also raked leaves around upper house.
1:30: Made lunch: steak quesadillas, chips and salsa.
2:00: Watered garden, played with Gus in the meadow.
2:30: Read two chapters in Lewis and Clark book.
3:30: Napped on couch (the book has that effect on me).
4:00: Practiced new song on front porch, had a cup of Yerba Buena tea (which I picked along trail the other day).
4:30: Got the egg from the hen’s nest, changed into fleece, did dishes.
5:00: Called mom and dad, puffed on the meerschaum out on the deck.
5:30: Fed Gus, started my dinner (Mexican rice and the last of the left-over steak, tossed with fried onions).
6:00: Ate dinner, thumbed through Poets & Writers.
7:00: Did dishes, took Gus out for one final romp with soccer ball.
7:30: Chopped kindling.
8:00: Fired up laptop, wrote this blog entry.
Plan for the rest of the night: light lamps, light fire, watch Paste DVD, look at stars, read more about the adventures of Lewis and Clark, pet Gus, fall asleep.

I know, I should be writing more. I need a rainy day!

Ten things I need to do (and in no particular order):

1. Take more pictures.
2. Take out binoculars and add to bird list.
3. Go mushroom hunting (haven’t seen a single morel, and I fear I’m too late).
4. Fish creek for Chinook salmon.
5. Finish the damned Lewis and Clark book.
6. Finish incomplete short story I’ve been writing.
7. Start writing something big.
8. See if I can cross creek to get to The Corral (huge meadow area, so called because the U.S. Cavalry corralled horses there).
9. Visit Ashland.
10. Buy a guide to wildflowers.

Over and out.

April 30, 2005

Last day of April today, and I feel bittersweet about it. April’s been nice. My starting month, a month with nice daytime temperatures (hasn’t been above 80 and most days have been low 70s), cozy-cool morning and evening temperatures, and not as much rain as I expected. And no mosquitoes! I know they’re coming, and I know in June and July, I’ll be wishing it were April again. The only bugs have been bees, several varieties. Carpenter bees have been buzzing around beneath the house, scoping out the insulation for nesting spots. Yellowjackets, though I suspect they’re a different variety, because they’re quite tame and don’t sting, come in the cabin to visit, and then I open the door and let them out. I was even brave enough to snatch one bee’s wings between two fingers and assist it out the door. No sting. I think Gus got stung the other day. He was playing with something in the grass and gave a yelp. I was terrified at first that a rattlesnake had bit him. When I got to him, he swiped at his snout and then seemed to forget about it. That’ll teach him to try to eat bees.

Just about every night and morning I’ve made fires in the woodstove. Some nights it’s dropped down into the 40’s, and I love it. Good sleeping weather. I have the windows open all day and then close them up at night. And the fires have been most cozy. After an initial problem with getting proper draft, I finally got the flue adjusted right, and now I’ve mastered the art of making a nice madrone-wood fire. Madrone is a hardwood of the Pacific Northwest that dries and splits and burns beautifully. The wood shed is full of it.

Yesterday I wrote for about seven hours, sixteen pages of a short story as of yet untitled. I’m not sure it’ll be appropriate for posting on the blog, so if you want to read it, shoot me an email. Of course, I’ll want to finish it first.

I took today off from writing (except for this blog entry). All that staring at the laptop yesterday gave me a headache, my first since arriving here. And only the day before yesterday I’d been telling my parents that I haven’t had a headache since I’ve been out here. Go figure. Instead of writing, I tilled the garden bed Lang and Martha used last year. I fired up the Pony again, and it took me for a ride, but an hour later I’d tilled all of it but the rows of last year’s celery, lettuce and onions, all of which are good. Who knew you could harvest a garden for two years? The lettuce is a little bitter, but maybe it’s supposed to taste like that. I don’t know. The onions I use just for scallions. Also good. In the newly tilled bed, I planted starters of broccoli and celery and I also transplanted some red Romaine which I’d planted too close together in another bed. The soil in this spot was much better than in the other two: more loamy, more organic matter, less clay.

One of my garden beds is doing poorly. Two cucumber plants have died of some kind of mold or mildew, which has also spread to two tomato plants. I’m hoping everything else will survive. It’s probably just as well that I lost these plants. I’m sure I won’t need four cucumber plants anyway. I’d have pickles coming out my ears.

Another task today was laundry. I tried firing up the old agitator washer, which according to Bradley has not been used in over a decade. I set up the hoses, started the generator, plugged the washer in, and watched in dismay as the motor puffed smoke like George Burns. It smelled like wires cooking, so I pulled the plug. The last thing I wanted to deal with was a fire. So I wheeled her back to her corner, put the green cover back on, and filled up the utility sink with hot water and detergent. If you’ve never hand-washed clothes, you’re lucky. It’s an exhausting endeavor, especially the wringing and squeezing. Try it with a pair of blue jeans. From here on out, I think I’ll just do laundry in town, unless it’s an item or two. There is something nice about line-dried clothes. I guess I could wash in town and bring the clothes back wet and hang them. It would certainly save me time and quarters.

In a previous post I promised to take more pictures. So here are some shots from the last few days, with captions:

The home of Dutch Hen. I know, it looks like Appalachia, but if I move the board from the front of the door, it looks a little better. I leave it there to keep Gus from breaking in. He still wants to do the Shake-n-Bake with her, but if I yell enough, he gives up.

Here’s what I’m living in. No, I swear I’m not in Appalachia. It looks small and cluttered, but it’s really not. To give a bit of perspective, the round black thing on the deck is a Weber grill. And the thing coming off the right side of the deck is an 8-foot solar panel. I keep the frequently used power tools beneath the deck so that they’re handy and stay dry.

In this dryer, located within the fenced garden, I’ve been drying bay leaves for cooking and yerba buena and mint for tea. It works!

You lay the leaves on screen racks and then close them inside the dryer, which is painted black and soaks up the sun’s rays. There are various ventilation openings to keep air moving through. Herbs will dry within two or three days, depending on how sunny the days are.

Bay leaves.

My folks and my sister did some research on this herb. Apparently, American Indians used it to treat pain. I tried it as a tea the other night, and it was pleasantly minty and mellow.

The reptile life around here is plentiful and varied. These are just two of the many lizards I’ve seen. My North American Wildlife book wasn’t all that helpful in identifying these critters. They might be Sagebrush Lizards. I’ve also seen one Alligator Lizard, which at ten or twelve inches long, has got to be one of the largest lizards in these parts. I’ve only seen one snake, a garter.

My book failed me with this flower, too. I really need a western wildflower guide. Lang told me that he’s made an online guide using photos he took. I’ll consult that when he sends me the link.

This looks like a primrose to me, but again the book was no help.

Here’s a shot of the upper cabin from the meadow its deck looks out upon. Nice ferns!

“Do the jitterbug down in muskrat land….” No, that’s not a muskrat. It’s Gus taking a swim. Don’t worry; he hasn’t eaten any of the toxic newts.

Tan oak? Live oak? Some kind of oak. A pretty oak in the upper meadow.

Here’s a view of my spread from the road near the upper house. The huge fir tree is blocking the view of the cabin. My garden is barely visible in the distance to the left of that tree. The structure you see is the old chicken coop, which would have been too much work to repair and too big for Dutch Hen.

The next four photos are of Gussie in all his glory. He’s off-leash all the time now, except after dark. He picks up ticks and grass and burs and brambles, but he cleans up nicely. The worst part about him being off-leash is that he runs in poison oak, and then I pet him. Despite the fact that I’m constantly washing with Tecnu, I still got a few blisters on my wrists and forearms. And it’s itchy.

On road, as we begin our afternoon walk.

“Come on, good boy!”

“Rokay, ticks, rop aboard.”

Snorfling after a digger squirrel.

May 1, 2005

May blew in coolly on the backside of last night’s thunderstorm, the first since I arrived. Thunder and lightning lingered above the canyon as darkness fell. I woke to fog and mists and what looked like a gray day of rain. But by nine the sun was out.

Flipping through Poets & Writers after breakfast, I saw a call for submissions for an anthology of poems on the myth of Demeter and Persephone, and I couldn’t resist and wrote one. It’s a revisionist poem of apostrophe; in it, Demeter addresses her daughter, who’s been living in the underworld for a long time, married to Hades. But to Demeter’s mind, Persephone went looking to get abducted and had been obsessed with death since she was a young girl. It’s a little racy, but aren’t all the Greek myths? In fact, if you think about it, Persephone is abducted and ravished by her own uncle. Here’s the poem. Wish me luck with the anthology. The address was Broadway in NYC, so maybe it’ll be a nice book.

Mother to Daughter

Little whore, little deceiver,
let the rest believe what they will.

You knew enough about fissures,
and that flowers rose

from black ash and flashed
their sex to bees before

they withered. I watched
you sift dust through fingers

and thrust that dirty hand
beneath your linen smalls.

You’d always been enchanted
by talk of shades and souls,

lingering too long at graves,
picking through rotted breasts

of crows for cold keepsakes—
bones for wishes, hearts to range

like stones along a shelf.
I left you seeds, tried my best

to teach the ways of rain
and light. But like the primrose

you bloomed at night.
Through the crack in the door

I saw you scoop pitch
and smear it, swallow shadows,

paint yourself with soot.
The tines of your hands

had tilled your hot bed
and you were ready to be seeded.

It wasn’t ransom I offered
but a handsome dowry—

food for every other mother
and winter for my spite.

Satisfied that I’d done my work for the day, I loaded up a day pack and the fishing rods and Gus and I went down to the river. It was an outrageously ticky affair. By the time we reached the river, I’d flicked some twenty ticks off my pants and sleeves. The buggers cling to the ends of long blades of grass and latch on when you pass. The river was muddy and high after last night’s rain, so I didn’t even bother trying with the flyrod. I threw a couple of little spinners for about forty minutes and then decided to hike to a nearby creek to see if there were any Chinook salmon at its mouth, where it empties into the Rogue. It’s about a mile hike from my swimming hole, and the trail is scenic, traveling high along the Rogue and offering miles-long vistas. Apparently, it’s also a hangout for black-legged ticks. Every thirty feet I checked my legs and had to flick them off. Then at one point I thought one had bitten me on the neck. I tried to use my sunglasses as a mirror, and my neck looked clear. I felt something there and pulled on it, and it hurt. I figured it was a skin tab irritated by my camera strap. Unlike the Rogue, the creek was crystal clear and looked like a nice place for wild brook trout, but I didn’t bother trying. From thirty feet above the mouth of the creek, I looked for salmon, but didn’t see any. Still, I snapped a fly down into the water a half-dozen times. Nothing. I wasn’t wearing a watch and had no idea what time it was, and I was suddenly afraid that we’d be walking back up the steep DH trail in the dark. After swimming, running, romping and hiking, Gus was all worn out, and for the first time ever he let me take the lead for about a half-mile on the hike back. Again, ticks everywhere. I was exhausted by the time we got back the cabin. The last half-mile is steep, a real killer. Before going inside, I stopped on the steps and searched Gus’s fur, which was still wet from swimming in the river. I removed and killed about ten ticks. Then I took him inside to give him a bath. I wanted to wash off any remaining ticks and wash off the poison oak he’d surely run through. I checked myself in the bathroom mirror, and lo and behold, the thing on my neck was a tick! It was embedded and it hurt. A trick I’ve employed on Gus is to smear the tick with Vaseline or something like it, the idea being that the tick, unable to breathe, will loosen its hold. I used Neosporin. It didn’t loosen, so I pulled it out with tweezers. Immediately the spot swelled up like a huge mosquito bite. And it hurt even more. Then I read in my wilderness medicine booklet that the old wive’s remedy of using Vaseline actually encourages the tick to release more saliva and toxin into the bite. I think that’s what happened. This book suggests gently pulling the tick out with tweezers, pulling straight and down, no twisting, so as not to leave any piece of the tick in the bite zone. I cleansed the bite with hydrogen peroxide and then, following the advice of my book, a towelette of benzalkonium chloride. In the bathtub, I found three more ticks on Gus and washed them down the drain. I soaped him up, rinsed him off, and put him on the deck to dry. I showered and thoroughly searched myself for any other nasty parasites. I was clean. But the bite was still swollen and hurting. Out on the deck I used the grooming table to do a closer inspection of Gus. I found and killed about eight more ticks. Now I was freaking out about the tick bite. Why had it swelled up? My wilderness medicine book mentioned several diseases carried by ticks, including Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Colorado Fever, a couple of Latin-sounding nasties, and tick paralysis. The latter had me most freaked out. Later, I got a call from my sister, and I was relieved she called. She’s a bit of a witch doctor, practicing with success homeopathy and other alternative remedies.

“Put a potato on it,” she said. “It’ll draw out the toxin and reduce the swelling.”

So I’m typing this now with a slice of potato on my neck.

The she got online and did some research. It turns out that the black-legged tick does carry Lyme disease, but that it’s rarer in the Pacific Northwest than in the East. And, an infected tick needs to be embedded for 24-48 hours to infect a person. My tick was sucking on me for about an hour. She also found out that tick paralysis happens only in small children.

I’ve been bitten by ticks before, including deer ticks back East, and I’ve never contracted disease. Let’s hope the same will be true with this tick bite. I’m hoping that I’ll wake up in the morning and it’ll look better. I feel fine, too, aside from the tenderness around the bite area. I’m drinking some yerba buena tea, too, which might help with the pain, if the American Indians were right about that herb.

I think I’ll try to avoid going down to the river until the hotter weather comes and the tick population diminishes. I’m not catching any fish anyway!

Going into town tomorrow to pay bills and do my other business. If the weather is nice, we might drive on to Ashland and spend a night there. I’m eager to see the place.

Dutch Hen gave me my third egg today!

I’m loving the creative outpouring: poems, essays, a story, songs, the blog.

Oh, here are photos I took today on our river hike:

This is our swimming hole at the Rogue. Good place to fish, too, according to Bradley, though I’ve had no luck.

Looking downstream from the swimming hole.

Gussie loves to swim!

Gus doing Gus stuff.

The bridge near the swimming hole.

And here comes Guster!

View of river from the trail to the creek. Probably two miles of river.

Trailside flowers. Probably swarming with ticks.

I think this is a May Beetle.

The last four are more wildflowers I can’t identify until I get a decent guide.