Saturday, June 25, 2005

June 18 - 25

June 18, 2005

My little lamb-chop looks so different! Tired of the constant battle against the burrs and horsetails, I had Gussie shaved down real short today—about a quarter-inch all over except his face. I love it. He’s so warm and soft and smooth and clean. The grooming place was great, and Guster was a big hit with everyone there. The cashier told me that the groomer made special mention of how well behaved and gentlemanlike my boy had been. She even came out before we left to tell me in person. She said that of all the Wheatens she’s ever groomed he’s been the best. I felt like calling up the first two groomers I took him to when he was just a four-month old pup. The first place did nothing more than trim around his eyes before calling me up and to say he was terrible and had snapped at one of the girls. The second place gave him half a cut, a veritable hack-job, and practically threw us out of the place, with a similar report. There I was, a new dog owner thinking that my pup was an intractable and vicious nightmare. Turns out he just needed the kind of groomer who would show him who was boss but love him, too: Dapper Dog in Cornwall, New York groomed him for two years and never had a problem. Now, the aptly named Home Away from Home ($30 cheaper than Dapper Dog) has reconfirmed that Gussie’s a good boy. While we were there I asked about his recent problem of bad breath. We checked out his teeth and gums and they looked just fine, and his breath smelled fine, too. The groomer said the smell was probably his beard. I’d never considered that. I figured that with his daily swim his beard would be pretty clean, but apparently it wasn’t. Bathed and barbered, his bad breath is gone. I’ll have to remember to wash his beard more often.

As much as I’ve tried not to think about returning to the East, I’ve been tossing around the idea of renting an apartment close to my job in northern Jersey and buying a small house or cottage in the Adirondacks. Oddly enough, Marge Boyle made the same suggestion when I spoke with her the other day. I had only just thought of it a couple days before. Anyway, I think this would be ideal. After living out here, I’m convinced I need to continue to live in a rural place, at least part of the time. I need the peace and quiet, the trees and fresh air, the vegetable garden, the open space for Gussie to run around. I can’t have that and still work at Tenafly, unless I commute an hour each way. So with this new plan, I could go to the cottage on weekends, during the many vacations I get during the year, and in the summer. And in having this country cottage I could tolerate living in the congested greater metro area of New York City for the rest of the year. The Adirondacks is not a far drive. I could leave work on a Friday afternoon and be there in time for a late dinner. I’ve asked Sharen to keep her eyes peeled for anything affordable that looks nice. And she’s sent me a couple of real estate newspapers. Of course, friends, family and colleagues will be most welcome to use the place when I’m not.

The high point of my day: back from our trip to town, I made a cup of tea and opened a package from Jim Dowling, the contents of which included some 30 DVDs in sleeves in a sleek black binder-type case! What a guy! Some of the titles: the last three episodes of this season’s Deadwood, the recent HBO production of Empire Falls, Cannery Row, The Importance of Being Ernest, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Trainspotting, and a few episodes of The Sopranos. It looks like there are some Nova or Nature Channel shows, too, one of them about birds. In short, enough nighttime entertainment to last me through the summer, starting tonight with Deadwood. Jim, what can I do to thank you for all these wonderful gifts?

June 19, 2005

Happy Father’s Day, Pa!

I woke up this morning with a couplet in my head, and oddly enough it was about a father—Priam, from Homer’s Iliad. I don’t usually write endings of poems first, but this one worked out that way. So, a Father’s Day sonnet:

A Father’s Eyes

My battles ended before they began,
and for that I’m grateful; those neon lips
had too soon kissed the boy from the man,
and hope of truce seemed as absurd as ships
in bottles. But fate sails an unlikely sea.
And gulls flap within the glass. I was saved.
So why do my father’s eyes still haunt me
decades later? How to see what they gazed
on the time I crashed in at 4:00 AM?
He didn’t speak a word; just stirred the storm
in his cup. But his eyes had grief in them,
and love and recognition. They were warm,
as Priam’s might have been to see his boy
dragged by Achilles through the dust of Troy.

Sunshine! Another perfect day in paradise. My first task (after writing the sonnet, that is) was to pick sour cherries from the trees in the garden. I’ve been most generous with the birds. All last week I watched the Steller’s Jays and robins gorge on the cherries, and I did little to shoo them away. I figured there was enough to go around. Today the fruit was finally ripe enough for me. Sour cherries are too tart to eat the way you eat sweet cherries, so you have to cook them with sugar. They’re best in pies. Here’s what they look like while still on the tree:

I picked enough for a pie just grabbing ones in reach, and then I got greedy and climbed on a step ladder. It’s not very level in the garden, and the ladder toppled and I fell. One story in the rich history of this place is the death of old Bill Graiff, the former caretaker of the homestead. He had an arrangement with a bush pilot friend, Deak Miller: if he ever got in trouble, he’d lay a sheet out in the meadow to let the Deak know something was wrong. One fall day, Bill was picking apples and fell out of one of the trees and broke his hip. He was an old man by then, and the accident incapacitated him. Somehow, in all that pain, he was able to get a sheet and spread it out in the meadow. But he was too weak to crawl inside the cabin. It was a couple of days before Deak Miller spotted the sheet and sent for help. A day or two later Graiff died in a hospital. So, brushing myself off after the fall, and relieved there were no broken bones, I decided I had enough cherries for one day. I’ll try to avoid climbing on ladders. I’ve got no bush pilot friend looking out for me. Here’s my bowl of cherries before I pitted them.

My experience with pie-making is that the crust takes some finessing. I have vivid memories of my mother making pie crusts on a roll-out plastic Betty Crocker pie-making mat, looking flustered and helpless as she pawed at the flaky mass that wouldn’t quite form a ball or roll out. So, I consulted my trusty Fannie Farmer cookbook, which suggested not fussing with the dough too much. Do a rough folding-in of the shortening (I use salted butter; none of that white vegetable goop for me) and add no more than a few tablespoons of water, one at a time, and then stir with a fork before making the ball and rolling the dough. The clumps of butter in the dough are what make the nice bubbles in the crust when it’s cooked. My dough came out quite nicely, thanks to Fannie’s tips. Here’s the pie before baking. Not the most elegant lattice, but not too bad for my first try.

And here it is after cooling in the pie safe:

It made a fine, fine dessert to top of my salmon dinner.

It was delicious plain, but I’m decadent; I added a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s, too.

I brought the camera along on our walk this evening. First stop: the garden. I’ve talked about my cucumbers like a proud father. Here’s what they look like:

I’ll pick the biggest one soon.

Garlic is in the foreground, eggplant in the middle, tomatoes in the back. It looks more crowded than it really is. The grass and clover has grown in around the edges:

Poopy fetching a stick in the mowed meadow:

(Where I haven’t mowed at all, like up near Graif’s old house, the grass is taller than I am!)

And Poopy chewing a different stick in the road on our way to the pond. That’s the upper house in the background. You can sort of see his haircut:

Here’s a view from the road of the daisies growing near the garden:

A banana slug, finger added for perspective. This is a small one!:

I love this madrone growing just south of the where the red-bellied sapsuckers are nesting. Its leaves are turning yellow and falling already—autumn in June:

Elegant Brodiaea are popping up all over. They bloom in summer after the fields dry out. Such a sweet little flower. I picked one and tried pressing it, along with some Mexican Golden Poppy and a few other beauties:

This green insect was clinging to one of the blades of grass taller than me. It looks like a katydid, but I don’t think katydids are found out here. I need an insect guide:

June 20, 2005

A bittersweet day today—what would have been my 12th anniversary. All morning I’ve been thinking about Sharen and all the great times we had together. But rather than being sad that we’re no longer husband and wife, I was simply feeling glad for the good run we had. The memory of one of those good times worked itself out in this poem:

Recollection on What Would Have Been Our Anniversary

Her father had given us instruction—
tie back the awning if a hurricane
blew in—and she and I couldn’t contain
our grins. Destruction,

though, is every father’s fear when he leaves
his girl alone. We offered our farewell
and wishes for godspeed to Portugal.
By next day the eaves

poured like tipped urns, and from her twin girlhood
bed I could see herring gulls tossed in gales
and leaves pulling like skeet from the maples.
How in the world could

he have known? An almanac? A forecast?
But young love heeds neither warning nor proof.
We swirled tongues like clouds even as the roof’s
nails complained against

the pull. We rode our own salt swells. It took
the awning lashing the house to rouse us.
In less than a year we would be spouses.
I climbed and unhooked

ropes from their moorings. I held on for life,
or tried to, as we tied the fabric fast.
For a time it held, like those years now past
when I called her wife.

June 21, 2005

The poems continue to come. It’s strange what I find myself thinking about during my morning coffee on the couch by the warm stove. This morning’s subject: genocide, and more specifically, the guys who bury people in mass shallow graves. Just following orders. Not a wholesome thought before breakfast, but there it was.

I’ve given myself back to writing with form and rhyme, finding particular comfort in the envelope quatrain. Here’s the result of this morning’s musings:

Memento Mori

He digs because it’s the job he’s given,
and he does it in the dark reckoning
all the ways it’s just. Soon the sickening
will be dressed and the blisters forgiven

by his hands. The spade’s blade will dry, the field
heal without a scar. Now there is no why,
just the work itself: the moon like an eye
watching, the tool helping the earth to yield,

a mosquito insisting at his ear.
He disregards the contents of the cart,
but it wants attention: blue twisted parts,
like a basket of crabs, staining the air.

He digs only as deep as he needs to,
tips the cart, kicks the spilled limbs. But the hole
is never deep enough. Though the small knoll
will settle, it’ll rise up like a coup.

Today’s chore: clear the road from the lower gate to the upper gate. Limbs came down with the recent windy days. I also need to smooth the deeper ruts in a few places. It’ll be cool in the shade of the monstrous Doug firs.

9:07 PM – Well, I didn’t quite clear the road all the way to the upper gate. I got more particular than I’d planned, and focused instead on several long stretches where many limbs had come down. I raked hard for two hours, and then hunger got the best of me. We came back for lunch, and then got distracted by weeding the garden. But I left the tools in my car and plan to resume tomorrow, if it’s not raining.

It just occurred to me that today is the longest day of the year, which explains why, at 9:07—oops, 9:08 PM—it’s still light out, bright enough that I can see three deer in the thick daisies behind my garden. One of them, maybe a trick of the strange light, appeared to be inside the garden fence, but a closer look with the binoculars showed the barbed wire between her and my tasty beds. I’m sitting on the deck in fleece and a winter hat. It’s about 58 degrees, but there’s a slight breeze, enough to bring on a chill. Gus is lying in his bed beside me, his eyes peeled on the meadow and the forest’s edge, a sentry. I don’t spend enough time out here at night. It’s usually too chilly for my comfort, or the mosquitoes annoy me, and if I’m writing I have to run the laptop off its battery. But tonight I’m out here, with a cup of my homegrown mint tea, and the breeze feels encouraging and there are no mosquitoes so far. Above Rattlesnake Ridge there’s a band of white and above that dark clouds gathering. Rain tonight? I don’t care. I like the sound of it on the skylight as I’m drifting off to sleep. If I listen hard when the breeze slows, I can hear the river down below, pushing its way toward the Pacific. It must be something to be down there at night. Once, before I leave, I plan to take the tent and sleeping bag and camp out there. I’d probably be too worried about bears and cougars to sleep, but I can’t leave here without having done it. And I’ll have my sentry there, too.

I’m waiting for the moon. Last night it topped the ridge looking huge, full, yellow. It’s a trick of perspective that makes it look big, of course. The moon, after all, is always the same size. Seen with trees in front of it, it looks huge. Seen high in the sky, it looks small. So here I am hoping to see it behind the silhouettes of the firs. Maybe it’s too cloudy.

June 22, 2005

Aptly, summer has started with warm days. Today we packed up a lunch and umbrella and went down to the river for the day. This time I remembered to bring something to read. I brought along an issue of Granta. In it I read a beautifully written essay by John McGahern, an Irish writer. This issue focused on mothers, and the piece, which will be included in his forthcoming memoir, details his upbringing in Leitrim. The writing was fine enough to make me want to buy the book when it comes out. I’m a sucker for all things Irish, too, and so the story was all the more appealing. Why is it that the Irish write so well? Is it the rain?

I struck out again with the fishing, reeling in nothing but greetings from passing floaters. One guy said the Chinooks are in the river, but I didn’t see any. I used an assortment of rooster tails and other delectable-looking lures, and I saw a couple of little half-pounders following, but no strikes. I’ve hung up the fly rod for the time being. It’s too much bloody work. I have a feeling I won’t catch anything until the fall when the steelheads come back home. But it doesn’t matter. Just lying out beneath the umbrella, back propped against the smooth rock I’ve claimed, Gussie curled beside me in the sand, and listening to the river’s unstoppable voice, was enough. I kept catching a scent in the air that I could’ve sworn was rosemary. And high up in a leaning cedar, the ospreys kept asking us to leave. Finally, we did.

The hike back up was dry and hot. I love to breathe that kind of air, but I had to stop at The Love Grove to drink the last of my water, and I was parched again by the time I made it to the cabin. The Love Grove, by the way, is a flat, shady grove of tall firs so named when a previous resident, Jenny, fell in love with Ian, Frank Boyden’s son, and the two had a tryst there. They later got married and are living happily ever after. In the middle of The Love Grove is a crude bench fashioned out of two logs and a rough-hewn plank. Atop the bench is a black stone in the shape of a heart. How’s that for romance?

After dinner I was all set to get back into the story I’ve been working on, when a puzzle idea came to me. It’s the first time I’ve tried this: a puzzle in which there are boxes outside the grid (of course, part of a theme idea). Sometime after midnight I finished filling the grid with words. Now I have to write the clues, which is hard to do here, where the only reference book is a dictionary.

June 23, 2005

I’ve been feeling jittery and out-of-sorts since yesterday, and I’m not sure why. My head feels as though I haven’t slept: not really a headache but an uncomfortable, frayed feeling. Besides a new poem I wrote this morning, I’ve had no motivation to do anything. In the late morning Gus looked hot, so I took him up to the pond for a swim. Other than that I just futzed around the garden, worked on the new crossword, napped, and wrote a couple of letters. It feels like anxiety, but what is there to be anxious about? My stomach has felt a little queasy, too. Maybe it was something I ate?

In his new book John Daniel writes about the digger squirrels eating his beets and how, despite his love of nature, he poisons them with Just One Bite. I found this story pretty humorous, and though the digger squirrels have left holes all over the garden, they’ve steered clear of my vegetables, so I’ve seen no need to mess with them. But recently I noticed that the three broccoli plants closest to the chicken coop have been nibbled, and more recently they’re looking downright chowed upon. I hate to use poison, especially since Poopy always follows me out to the garden and sticks his nose in every hole. I couldn’t live with myself if he were to eat Just One Bite and it turned out to be his last. But yesterday morning, having my coffee out on the deck, I spotted one of the varmints beneath the grapevines. I tip-toed into the house, took the .22 from the closet, and loaded it with a few rounds. The .22 is a sweet little shooter, a Winchester repeating, model 62-A. With it’s pump-action, the spent shells flipping out of the chamber, I feel big and bad and a little kinder toward the NRA every time I shoot it. Through the binoculars I could see the Varmint Cong chewing something. I took aim and fired. And missed. And he scampered through the fence and under the old chicken coop. I wondered, then, if that’s what Gus is always sniffing over at the ramshackle coop. This morning, enjoying my coffee and crossword, I looked up and there the VC stood, in the exact same spot beneath the grapevine. I’d left the .22 on the kitchen table (“You know you’re a redneck when…”) for quick retrieval, and now I leveled it once again on the deck railing. When Neil was here I hit a bull’s eye from almost the exact same distance, about 50 yards. Again I missed. And the critter scampered to the safety of his home. Then I remembered: the gun shoots a tad to the right, and the way I hit the bull’s eye was to aim to the left. If he’s there tomorrow, I’ll make just such an adjustment. “Say your prayers, varmint.”

Tonight, for the second time in as many days, Gus found a dead bird. His nose, as keen as a bear’s or a vulture’s, never fails to sniff out exactly the kinds of things I don’t want him finding. Why he can’t catch a mouse in the house or a digger squirrel in the garden, I don’t know, but he has a knack for finding dead birds. Yesterday’s little corpse appeared to be a robin. I wrested it from Poopy’s mouth and threw it atop the slash pile, now its pyre. Tonight’s prize appeared to be an Oregon junco. Both bird were fledglings. They were either tossed out of the nest or they didn’t survive their first flight. It’s sad to think that they never got to know the wonder of taking to the air.

June 24, 2005

I woke up feeling much better. Maybe I just needed more sleep. Some nights I do stay up past midnight, and then my internal alarm clock wakes me at 7:00. Today it buzzed a bit early, 6:30, which was just fine with me. I took advantage of the coolness of the morning to trim the grass around the cabin, the garden perimeter, the turn-around, and the start of the trail down to the river. And again, the Muse visited me:

A Used Book

When I open its pages my dog stirs
from his repose on the couch beside me
to sniff at the spine and trim. His gray ears
lift to listen, and I hear what he hears:
traffic horns, a teapot’s whistle, the purrs
of the reader’s cats on her old settee.

What was she doing reading such heady
stuff so early on a Saturday—sun
not yet risen, her lover still asleep?
The book, I guess, her company to keep,
and the cats, while the light kept its steady
course across her floor. Paris or London,

I imagine, though it was probably
San Francisco, a streetcar passing by
and fog rinsing the morning air. A gray
day then, much like any other. It may
be that she, too, drawn irresistibly
to its place on a shelf in a nearby

shop, blew the dust and bought it second-hand.
And perhaps her cats roused when she opened
its cover, catching the vague scent of dog,
and she got no further than the prologue
before she was off to some distant land
where a man held a page against the wind.

In preparation for tomorrow’s trip into town, I assembled a few submissions and wrote a few more letters. In order to use my laser printer, I need to start up the generator for some juice. So, I get everything ready ahead of time—stories or poems I’m sending out and cover letters—and then I print everything all at once. I can’t stand the sound of the engine running or the stink of the exhaust, so the briefer it runs, the better.

Today was the last day, a professional day, for my colleagues at Tenafly High. I’ve been thinking about all of you. Enjoy the summer!

It’s been about two and a half months that I’ve been out here, and I’m better prepared now to comment on what it’s like to live in solitude. Most of the time, I don’t really even think about it. When I’m engaged in any of my various activities—writing, reading, gardening, playing guitar, maintaining the homestead, walking around with Gus, fishing, swimming, doing crosswords, cooking or cleaning or washing clothes—it doesn’t often occur to me that I’m all alone, no one around for fifty miles except for the occasional passing rafters down at the river. Doing these activities, I am for the most part content and happy, and sometimes I’m deeply gratified. Some days I wake up feeling whelmed with glee to be in such a place and to have another whole day ahead of me here. Other times I’ll see things—the purple Brodiaea growing everywhere, a garter snake, a hawk contracting its wings in midair, a walking stick insect, a blood-red dragonfly, a giant madrone, a single yellow leaf waving like a hand in its descent, the bobcat scat I found on my doorstep this morning—and feel that I’m not alone at all, that there are living things all around me. But there are those times when I crave the company of people: laughter, a shared meal, music, even meaningless small-talk. Living with Sharen, I laughed a lot. The time we spent together usually consisted of a running banter of funny stuff, little things that no one else in the world would get. At work, too, I laughed a lot, in the office and in class with my students. Out here I almost never laugh. Maybe when Gus does something funny. Or when I’m talking with someone on the radio phone (though that’s always a little awkward since the person on the other end can’t hear me laughing). Meals can be lonely affairs, especially dinner. I love to cook, but it’s so much more satisfying to cook for someone else. When Neil was here, I took great pride in the meals I whipped up, and they tasted better than the meals I’d been eating alone. Usually, I dine with a crossword handy, or a magazine or book, and then I don’t find myself looking out the window and thinking, “What the hell am I doing here?” But then I go into town and observe the people sitting around me in the coffee houses and diners, almost none of them alone, and listen to their chatter, and I realize that being in the company of others can also be taxing. During my dinners with Neil, as lovely as they were, I found myself worrying that I wasn’t talking enough, that he was feeling obligated to maintain the chatter. One of the penalties one pays for being in the company of others is the uncomfortable silence and the work of conversing. This is a feeling I have often around other people, especially people I don’t know well, and it’s extremely tiring. It’s a game we don’t acknowledge but know is there. The friends I love being around the most—I think of someone like Janine Sisak—are the ones with whom you don’t feel this pressure to fill the gaps. With them, it’s okay to shut the hell up and just hang. One thing solitude reminds me of is that I don’t have a lot to say. I think this is why I like writing. When I write, I have things to say, or at least I feel as though I do; I feel intellectual. When I’m around people I find myself struggling to maintain interest in conversations and steering away from anything deep. I’m not sure why this is: fear of sounding stupid or of not measuring up, boredom? Maybe it’s just one manifestation of my generalized anxiety, but around people, I prefer my conversations to be short and of little import, and I think this is why I’ve loved game-playing so much when hanging around with people. Playing games—cards, trivia, whatever—there are the machinations of the game to keep the talk and energy going. It’s so much more work to just sit there and actually talk. So, am I a misanthrope? No, I don’t think so. If anything, I think I’ve discovered that I’m insecure, and in solitude I feel pretty secure. I’ve also discovered, though maybe I knew this already, that there’s nothing wrong with silence or with enjoying being alone. More on this topic later.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

June 14th - 17th

June 14, 2005

I stopped in to see Ann and Mary Wilson yesterday on my way back from town (where I’d gone to get some new tires for my CR-V following the flat incident) to ask them about doctoring Dutch Hen. As it turns out, whatever’s afflicting her has also arisen in quite a few of Ann’s birds, mostly golden comets. Ann said she first saw the problem last year when several of her hens exhibited the same symptoms—sluggishness, lack of appetite and productivity, and heaviness and balding in the gut. She said her birds died after a week or two, but that some of them this year have survived for several weeks. She sent one bird to Portland for analysis. The hatchery claimed it was egg-binding, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Ann said her family’s been raising chickens since before she was born and that they’d never had this problem. She’s convinced it’s from hybridizing the breeds, that it’s a genetic defect. She may be right. She said another woman in town has the same problem, and that her birds responded well to Teramycin, an antibiotic. I told Ann I’d pick some up for the both of us when I went into town on Saturday to get Gussie his haircut. In the meantime, Dutch Hen still sits in her nest doing nothing.

I saw a bear cub cross the road on the drive back. It was dark black and maybe 150 pounds.

Another perfect day here. High 70s and sunny, with a cool breeze. I worked most of the afternoon in the garden, tying up my cucumbers (some are four inches long now) to their tripod and my garlic to some sticks. Everything appears to be thriving except the squash, which continues to be decimated by cutworms, and the one row of broccoli which, it turns out, is shaded in the late afternoon. A new batch of mesclun greens has germinated, as well as some arugula and mustard. I’ve been eating many hearty salads. Not that I’m going vegetarian or anything. Tonight’s dinner was particularly good. Porcini mushroom reduction with sirloin tips (cooked over real mesquite coals) and a side of mashed potatoes.

This evening I confirmed that a pair of red-breasted sapsuckers are nesting in one of the dead alders just up the road from the cabin. At first I thought it was a pair of gilded flickers, one or both of which I spooked a number of times taking our evening walk up to the pond. But then I started seeing the sapsuckers. And twice I saw one fly to the tree and disappear. This evening I brought along the binoculars. Sure enough, here came one of the sapsuckers, its beak pinching some tasty morsel. She landed on the tree and poked her head in a hole, a green beard of lichen spilling out. A nest! I thought I heard some little squeaks, but it was hard to tell. There’s a big patch of blackberries below these alders and then high meadow beyond that, a veritable bird sanctuary. I could hear Oregon juncos and robins in there, and so couldn’t confirm the sapsucker chicks. But I’d be willing to put money on it. On the walk back, I saw both the male and the female sapsucker. And then a gilded flicker, too! Now I’m wondering if the flickers are nesting in one of the other dead alders (there are three). Wouldn’t that be civilized? Neighbors.

June 15, 2005

Gus is a disgrace to his breed. A terrier, a mouser, right? Pshaw. For the past couple of nights I’ve been awaked around 2:00 am by a scratching sound, a sound which, in the deep dark and quiet of night, sounded as though it issued inches from my head. I’d click on the flashlight and the sound would stop. I was convinced it was a mouse trying to get in from beneath the floor, nibbling at the carpet in the corner. Or one out in the mud room, investigating the shelves. Two days ago I put out some D-Con on one of the shelves. Last night I was awakened by the noise once again. This time I was determined to find the cause. I lay on the very edge of the bed, flashlight in hand. But the creature was coy. It would wait until I’d fallen asleep and then it would start up its maddening scratching. The flashlight beam revealed nothing. And then, by chance, I panned it across the window, and there he was! A mouse, caught like a wasp between the window and the screen. The scratching sound? His little feet trying to dig through the screen. Gus, meanwhile, was out sleeping on the couch, his big paws in the air twitching at the dream of a lizard or a digger squirrel. I saw him like that when I went out to the living room area to get my calfskin gloves and to ponder this late night dilemma: how to extract mouse from window screen without it leaping into the bedroom and haunting my cabin for the rest of the summer. But here was my answer, my wheat-colored, burr-covered, bearded, brown-eyed pal. Gus. Gussie. Poopy himself. “Gus, come get the mouse!” I said. He yawned and blinked at the flashlight’s beam. But he’d heard the tone. One that promised play, adventure, distraction. And he followed. The mouse, legs splayed, eyes wide and blinded by the flashlight beam, was right where I’d left him. I played the beam on him, pointed for Gus to see. He gave a tentative sniff, oblivious. Maybe it was the reflection on the glass. He couldn’t see the damned rodent. I slid open the window a bit. Now the mouse shifted, Gus heard him, and was suddenly interested. Only he still couldn’t see the thing. Granted, Gussie’s hair has grown long; his fall covers half his line of sight. But isn’t this what he was bred for? I was wearing the gloves and now I knew I’d be putting them to use. It was hopeless to think Gus would jump up and catch the mouse between his big white teeth. No, I was going to have to grab the mouse myself and escort him out of my cabin. This was the new plan: grab the mouse, and if he happened to jump into the bedroom, there would be Gus waiting. Surely, with a mouse leaping past, scurrying at his feet, Gus would spring into terrier mode and live up to his sole purpose for existing. Right? I blinded the mouse as best I could with the flashlight, slid open the window, snatched, and had him! Had him in my right hand, safely subdued within worn calfskin. Then, like Houdini, the thing squeezed through my tight grip, landed at Gussie’s feet, and darted beneath the dresser. Gussie looked at me. Did I miss something? his look said. “It’s behind your crate, dummy! Get it.” And then he seemed to understand. He slithered beneath the dresser, sniffing. And now the mouse was ours. I’d move the crate and the mouse would run right into Gus’s waiting maw. Only it didn’t. It zipped like a trick of the eye through the doorway and off into some remote nook of the cabin. I gave Gus a disappointed shake of the head, called him a disgrace, put out two more packages of D-Con, and went back to bed. At least I would be hearing the scratching noise anymore. When I go into town again, I’ll buy some mouse traps. God knows they’ll work better than a wheaten terrier.

If Gus is lousy at finding mice, he’s good at finding snakes. Today I was watering the garden and heard him barking in the grass along the road. I went to investigate, and he was terrorizing a large snake, about four or five feet long and maybe two or three inches in diameter at its widest. At first I panicked, thinking it was a rattler, but it didn’t have a pit viper’s head or a rattle. I picked up my pal and carried him away just the same. I looked up the snake, and the closest thing I could find was a king snake. I hope I see it again when I have a camera, and when Gus is sniffing around elsewhere.

June 17, 2005

Marge Boyle told me the other night that it was so hot and humid in the East that schools closed early and people were warned to stay indoors. Man, one thing I don’t miss about home is the humidity. My experience with the East is that winter lasts a really long time, you have two weeks of spring—tulips, lilacs, flowering trees—and then the heat and humidity and thunderstorms roll in, and it’s summer. Marge said the temperature there was close to 100 and the humidity just ridiculous. I looked at my L.L. Bean digital thermometer and it read 63. And there’s no humidity out here. When it’s hot, it’s dry, the air crispy and nice to breathe. I remembered that from my visits to California, too. Unfortunately, it’s not warm at all here right now. For the last couple of days it has felt like autumn. Blustery winds, drizzle, cold. It’s almost nine o’clock and it’s 54 degrees out there. I’ve got a raging fire going in the stove. It cleared up briefly late in the afternoon yesterday, and I seized the opportunity to wash the mud and dust off my car and to wash the cabin’s windows. I brought a nice window-washing tool out here with me, one with a telescoping pole and a removable cloth and squeegee. The tall pointed windows above the sliding door were pretty dirty. Now they’re clean. I left one or two streaks, but I can live with that.

I made another collage last night. This one’s a little different: an abstract piece, a kind of experimentation with color and composition and tension. I used paper and pastels. It fit nicely in a frame I found here, and it’s now hanging where a poster of Van Gogh’s boats at Sainte Marie had been tacked up. Sorry Van Gogh. I’m not a big fan of posters, especially ones curling up at the corners. I’ll hang the boats back up when I leave.

Monday, June 13, 2005

June 7 - 13th

June 7, 2005

Today I was looking forward to having an easy afternoon back at the cabin. You know, put away my groceries, make some lunch, check on Dutch Hen and my garden, maybe finish the novel I’ve been gobbling up. I’d gone to John Daniel’s reading and thoroughly enjoyed it, and met Dave and Stephanie Reed, long-time friends of the Boydens. I’d had a nice Italian dinner in Ashland. I’d taken Gus to the dog park. I’d gotten a haircut. But after a night in a hotel and two days spent in town, I was ready to get back to the hummingbirds and my view of Rattlesnake Ridge. No cars, no stoplights, no Wal-Marts, no people. Just tall firs, easy breezes, serpentine mists, and daisies. Lots of daisies. Oh, and rain. Lots of that, too, though I was hoping for a sunny afternoon. The ride was all but uneventful—the usual washboard ruts and zillion curves and here and there a shoulder that drops off into some treacherous abyss. And then, on the road about a mile from the upper gate, I saw a bear. Huge, light-brown, moving faster than my car, he ran in front of me for maybe twenty feet, and then dashed left into the woods. It was the high point of my day. Better than the chai tea with soy milk I’d had at Dutch Brothers. Better than the song I was listening to on my new CD from Paste. Now I was even more excited to get back to life at the cabin, feeling restful with the thought that even among black bears and all the other wildlife out here, I have the comfort of my domestic economy. I’d put away my stuff, have a tuna sandwich, chop some kindling, and make a fire. That’s what I’d do. Then I got out to unlock the first gate and heard it. A hiss like a mosquito in my ear, like a balloon not tied tight enough, like a rubber raft that’s passed over a sharp stick. But my tires all looked inflated. Water hissing on the engine block, I told myself, and then locked the gate behind me and drove on. At the next gate my front driver’s side tire looked a little lower. I could still hear the hiss. I shut off my engine. “Ruh-roh, Raggy!” I said to Gus in my best Scooby Doo, but in my head I was swearing like a sailor. My tire was wheezing out its last breath like some expiring relic of a Good Year commercial. I’d gotten a flat. I’d gotten a damned flat. Yes, a flat, the misfortunate event I had worried about for nearly a year. Late night visions of a flat tire and a dark, dark road in the middle of a vast and desolate forest. I still had plenty of pressure, though, and so I hurried on until I pulled to a stop on the most level piece of road I could find, right smack in front of the cabin. By the time I put my meats away, the tire had sagged like the jowls of a bloodhound. Dead, flat, depleted of air. So much for my easy afternoon.

I had sense enough to eat the tuna sandwich before undertaking the tire-change. “Relax,” I told myself. “It’s only a flat tire, and you’re lucky it happened so close to the cabin. Had it happened half-way home you might really have been screwed.” I’ve changed a dozen flats in my life. No big deal. And I’d specifically bought the CR-V because it had a full-size spare. At least I wouldn’t have to drive all the way out next time on some chocolate donut. No, I’d pop that full-size spare on there in a jiffy and go settle down to finish the novel. But I hadn’t really familiarized myself with the jack mechanism of the CR-V, had I? So I took out the manual and like the rational and self-reliant type I pretend I am I read the instructions: How to Change a Flat Tire. The first step was to locate the jack and the lug-nut tool, which, the manual illustrated for me, would be secured in a small compartment in back of the car. Turn knob counter-clockwise. There, the jack. Okay. But where’s the freaking lug-nut tool? There was no tool. There was no tool! And now I was cursing the tool at Tenafly Honda who’d sold me the car. How was I supposed to remove lug-nuts without the lug-nut wrench tool? I flung down the jack and searched every possible hidden compartment I could find. No lug-nut wrench tool. Yes, I was damned lucky the tire went flat at the cabin and not out along the desolate stretch BLM road 19-77-162.3, or whatever the government calls it, bleak road of my nightmares and populated with hungry cougars and marauding bears.

Luckily, the Boyden hermitage has the dubious sobriquet of DHIT, the Dutch Henry Institute of Technology. There are tools all over the place. Sure, they might be half-broken yard sale wrenches, ancient pipe cutters, dull hacksaws. But they’re tools, right? The tool box yielded nothing resembling a lug-nut wrench. But I did find a socket wrench set out in the mudroom. The handle on the ratchet was about five inches long, offering at best about five pounds of torque. The typical car lug-nut is tightened with eighty pounds of torque, and anyone who’s ever changed a flat knows that when mechanics put a tire on a car they use an air-powered Uzi-looking gizmo that affixes a nut to a screw so tightly it might as well be welded on. But the five-inch ratchet was better than my bare hands. On my way back out, I cast a glance at the green tool shed. Smelling of motor oil and kerosene and moldering pesticide dust, this tool shed houses various hand-tools: axes, wedges, picks, rakes, saws and loppers, most of them broken and repaired by some previous graduate of DHIT. I almost never find what I’m hoping to in that cool, dark, bituminous shed. But I opened the door and there on the shelf the first thing I saw was a lug-nut wrench tool, the same exact color and texture of the cheap-ass jack I’d found stowed in the CR-V. Had I taken the lug-nut wrench tool out of my car when I first arrived and placed it in this gloomy shed? It’s possible, I guess. Whether this was standard Honda manufacturer part or not, it was just as flimsy as it should’ve been, handle welded to socket and designed to break at the least amount of torque, the way all car manufacturer lug-nut wrench tools are fashioned. So now I was armed with two useless tools and feeling all too much like a useless tool myself.

Following what the manual said, I took off the spare and positioned the jack in the proper jacking notch, handily identified on the Honda CR-V by a small arrow. Next step. Loosen lug-nuts on the flattened tire. The instructions might just as well have ordered me to pull my molars out with a pair of tweezers. I pushed, I pulled, I cursed, I hammered. I sprayed WD-40. Pushed and pulled and hammered again. I cursed and cursed and cursed. Nyet, nada, nein. Those weren’t lug-nuts. They were steel extensions of the axle, and they weren’t budging. Hercules couldn’t budge them. The Incredible Freaking Hulk would be hard-put to get even a squeak out of one of them. What I needed was a bigger hammer, something with some weight to it. In the wood shed, I knew, I’d left a huge maul. That would do. But it wouldn’t. It didn’t. Another ten minutes and all the maul had done was bend the handle on the fortuitously found lug-nut wrench tool. I sat there a long time. I had enough food in the cabin to last me a few weeks. If I couldn’t change the damned flat, I’d call someone—John Daniel, Bradley, Dave Reed. They weren’t exactly local, but surely someone could bring me out a decent wrench. Maybe a new tire, too, because now I was thinking about the scenario of getting a second flat. What would I do then? I wracked my brain for options and then I chose the one that any good son would: I called my dad. My dad’s never been the most handy of guys. Sure, as a younger man he tried to do home repairs, changing a door knob or a light bulb. I learned to curse from him, his head buried beneath a sink or behind a washing machine. But I’ve seen him use a screwdriver. Bob Vila, he isn’t. Perhaps recognizing this shortcoming, he befriended guys who were Bob Vila. His friend John Tobin once changed the timing belt on my ’69 Cutlass, using his own tools and no instructions in his own garage on the coldest day of the year. Another of my dad’s friends, Stanley Lachut, could take apart the space shuttle and put it back together again. So I left a message with my dad asking him to find out from one of these self-taught mechanic geniuses how to loosen stuck lug-nuts.

Torque. The word of the day. a force that produces a wrenching effect. Force being the key word. Pounds of pressure. That’s what I needed. And how many pounds do I weigh? For the last six years or so I’ve hovered around 150, give or take five pounds. Add to that weight the force of gravity and the thick Vibram sole of a hiking boot, and you’ve got your homemade torque wrench. This I conjectured, and this I would try. I found a long, open-end, ¾-inch wrench in the DHIT toolbox. Position on lug-nut, climb atop wrench, hold on to hood, and…. First there came a squeak, a shriek, a metallic cry that made my teeth ache. Then I was being lowered to the ground on the little elevator of the wrench and the loosened lug-nut. And before my dad could call me back, I’d put on the spare, affixed the flat tire to the back door of the Honda, put away the tools, and changed out of my muddy clothes. It was later than I would have liked it to be, but I made a fire in the stove, put water on for tea, and retrieved the almost-finished novel from the nightstand.

The registrar may dispute it, but I think this one earns me three credits toward my degree at the Dutch Henry Institute of Technology.

June 9, 2005

I took my first plunge in the pond today. The morning was warm and sunny and I was sweaty from two hours of mowing the meadow. Newts and all, I dove in, and it felt great. I didn’t stay in long, because Gussie came scratching at me with his big bear claws. What I need is an inflatable raft, one he can’t pop. The dragonflies were a sight. Bright red ones, neon blue ones, and the usual black and white ones. I also saw a three-foot garter snake and a frog bigger than my fist.

Late in the afternoon I was sitting on the deck icing a bee sting on my big toe (what I get for gardening in sandals) and there were seven hummingbirds dancing around one of the feeders. See poem below for story.

Seven Hummingbirds

at the feeder, peeping for the sweet
water and making wind on my face
as I stand among them feeling envious

of their games. They seem so happy
to be dipping, reversing, trading spaces,
clapping one another’s wings in mid-air.

They hover inches from my face.
Two brush my hand and I understand
I’m there to catch one and hold it,

because I need to, because I know I can.
And it’s easier than I would have thought.
Fingers spread beneath the feeder,

just a matter of pressing index to thumb,
and I’ve got one, a rufous male, feathers
the color of coffee with cream, a clean

splash of orange at the neck, black legs
as thin as a pencil’s lead, and the wings
fluttering, stymied, like a bee at a screen.

Cupped in my palm, his eyes look a little
wild, his feathers ruffled. His tiny heart
labors like loneliness. So I let it go.

(Note: I actually caught two hummingbirds. The first was the male rufous, who I didn’t photograph. With him, I held his foot and he fluttered and then just sat on my finger. Then I let him go. He’s a very aggressive bird, knocking all the others away from the feeder. He’s a character. The second was a female, and that’s the one you see in the photograph in my hand. I was very gentle with her, and held her long enough to snap the photo and then let her go. She was back at the feeder in about thirty seconds. Good action. The poem works better if it’s the male I hold. I think the reason’s obvious.)

June 10, 2005

It turns out that Dutch Hen doesn’t have coccidiosis but a case of egg-binding, which can be just as fatal. I’m quite sad about this. Apparently it’s fairly common, especially in fat birds, and she’s a bit overweight for her age. The egg has been stuck inside her for five or six days. I’ve tried twice to help her out by oiling her vent, a kind of gynecological task I’d rather not describe, but it hasn’t helped. I’ve also tried getting her to move around the yard, figuring that a bit of adrenaline might help her push it through. But the egg is just too big for her to lay. A clerk at The Grange Co-op, a great nursery/feed/pet store in Grants Pass, set me straight on her problem. He said the telltale sign of coccidiosis is blood in the stool, which I haven’t seen. She looks healthy except for the fact that she almost never leaves the nest now, and that she’s dragging her back end low to the ground. The clerk said it sounds like a classic case of egg binding, and I think he’s right. He printed out a web site explaining the condition, and gave me the pages, and that’s where I learned about oiling the vent. The site also said that sometimes the bird can be saved if the egg is visible and if you poke a hole in it and let the yolk and whites leak out, like making Easter eggs. The hen can then pass the shell by crushing it. But I don’t see the egg. It’s deeper inside. I feel a bit more helpless as each day passes. I’d take her to a vet, but vets generally don’t deal with chickens, and even if they did, I don’t think the bill would be worth it. I keep going to the coop a few times a day hoping to see her moving about and a big egg in the nest, but each time she’s just lying there looking like she’s trying to lay an egg. I’m not too hopeful.

I engaged in another DHIT project today: fixing the utility sink faucet. The hot knob hasn’t been closing properly. Sometimes water continues to come out, and you have to close the knob two or three times to get it to stop completely. Well, this is annoying, and it was time to fix it. But I should have known before I began, that with any plumbing job you usually start by making matters worse. I shut off the valve beneath the sink and took the knob off. I inspected the washer, and it looked fine. The screw holding the knob in appeared to be a wood screw, not the right kind at all. So I went up to the upper house tool shed to see if I could find proper screws and a new washer. I struck out with the latter. There are a hundred washers up there, but none of them the right size. I found an old bathroom faucet and took the two screws out of the handles. Then Gussie and I skedaddled back to the project. Of course, the screws were too big. So I reassembled the knob and screwed it back in with the same old wood screw, which will have to do until I get to the hardware store. Apparently, just moving the washer helped. The water turned off just fine. Then I heard the drips. Uh-oh, leaky! Upon close scrutiny, it appeared that the hoses going from the valves to the knobs beneath the sink were both dripping. How this happened, I don’t know. I barely moved anything back there, and the sink is screwed to the floor. But this is Murphy’s Law of Plumbing, and ours is not to wonder why. I shut the water off again and tried repairing the cold water hose first by using a little plumbing tape around the white plastic thread into which the hose screws just below the knob assembly. It leaked even more. I took the tape out and tightened without tape. No leaky. Pat on back. The hot water hose was leaking at the screw clamp where the hose connects to the valve. The only thing stopping me from fixing it was that there was no room to fit a screwdriver behind the sink to loosen the clamp. So I unscrewed the sink from the floor and pulled it out a few inches. Now I could reach the other clamp, the one on the hot water hose. I loosened it, cut a half inch off the hose, and refitted the clamp. No leaky. Screwed legs back in floor and, voila, sink like new. I even inserted a custom-cut brass screen in the spout for a nicer flow. One-half credit toward my DHIT degree.

I harvested my first head of lettuce today. For a few weeks now I’ve been enjoying the mesclun mix (mostly mustard greens) and a leaf or two each night from one of the heads of red romaine or the green leaf lettuce, but this was my first full head.

You plant a tiny starter, water it for weeks, mulch it, weed around it, let it soak up sun, and this is what you get.

It filled up a gallon-size Ziploc and will give me salads for a few days at the very least.

I’m looking forward to picking the red romaine, too. Here’s what they look like:

My cukes and squash are about three inches long, though the cutworms have done a number on the latter. Here’s one they haven’t gotten to:

I’ve been doing some decent writing. This week I put aside a sixteen-page short story I’ve been laboring over, a story close to its end but which the more I think about the less I like. So this week I started something new. I’m twenty-two pages into it, and I’m hoping it’ll take off into something good. I don’t want to say more for the fear I’ll jinx it.

My back aches from too much sitting on the orange couch. The recliner offers more back support, but during the day when the sun’s coming through the window it throws too much glare on the laptop screen and it drives me nuts. The best place for writing is on the orange couch out of the glare. I can keep the computer plugged in to the solar inverter from there, too. But, oy, my aching back. I fear I’m getting curvature of the spine.

June 12, 2005

Sharen’s birthday today. Thirty-five years old. I called to wish her a happy birthday, and she was hanging by the Subins’ pool—one of her favorite places, one of her favorite people. I’m happy for her. I sent her a bottle of scotch, Johnny Walker Blue. In her old age she’s become a bit of a connoisseur. What she really needs is a jet-pack; she’s always on the go. One days she’s in Batavia, the next in Brooklyn, the next up in Maine for a wedding, the next down in Rhode Island visiting her folks. She’s put about 60,000 miles on the Mini already. Slow down, I want to say. But she seems happy.

I saw cougar scat on the road near the pond this afternoon. A big pile full of bones and blood and fur and other nasty, undigested gunk. I’d walked up the road to clear the screen at the stream dam and to remove fallen branches from the road. But after seeing the scat, I kept looking over my shoulder and panicking every time Gussie went bounding off into the woods. It’s creepy to know there’s a huge cat out there, one who’s well aware of the presence of this human and this tasty-looking dog. Then I remembered the smell of carrion that Neil and I had sniffed one evening walking up to the pond. I think the cougar killed a deer somewhere near the pond and has been feeding on it. The smell is gone now, so the cat either finished the kill or carried it off to some other location. As scary as it is, I’d really like to see this huge feline.

June 13, 2005

Gussie and I spent a perfect day down at the river yesterday, a good five hours of lying about, swimming, fishing and fetching sticks (well, Gus fetched the sticks). I had one tentative strike from a half-pounder, but it looked pretty small. I think the fly was too big for it. We saw about a dozen rafts go floating by. One guy said, “Shouldn’t you have a boat or something?” I smiled and gave the enigmatic reply, “Or something.” It felt like a real summer day. No squalls. No cool breezes. Just warm and sunny. I’d brought along a beach umbrella, so we had some shade. Here’s what our shady nest looked like:

The only thing I was lacking (my own forgetfulness) was a book to read. But the river is so clean and sparkling and beautiful, I was content to follow its story.

After dinner last night Gussie leapt off the floor barking, and I looked out and saw a black lab in the road. At first I thought some hikers had wandered up here from the river and that I’d have to go out and politely as them to leave. Then I stepped out on the deck and saw a family—mom, dad, sis and junior—carrying Pulaski tools and heaving with sweat. There was a second black lab, too. I knew right away who it was: the Cummins family, the folks who bought the crazy castle up the road so they could raise and ride horses there. I went out to greet them, and we chatted for a while. They knew about the writing residency, and I think they’d spoken to Bradley. They were curious to see the river (oddly, there’s no trail from their place) and hadn’t known what to expect, so had brought along the Pulaski tools. I told them they wouldn’t need them, that the trail was clear all the way to the river. I’m sure Bradley’s told them that the homestead is private property, that we don’t want horse traffic coming through here, and that no horses are allowed on the Rogue River Trail. I told them I enjoy my solitude and like it quiet. We exchanged phone numbers. It’s good to have another contact out here, though they’ll probably only be coming in on weekends. Then one of their labs took Gussie’s bone and a scrap ensued, Gussie doing quite well for himself and winding up atop the lab in alpha dog position, teeth snarling. We broke it up, gave Gussie back his bone, and off the Cummins went to check out the river. An hour later, nearly dark, Gussie announced their return. I waved from the deck, and they walked on up the road. They seem like nice folks.

Monday, June 06, 2005

June 3rd - June 6th

June 3, 2005

Back to solitude today, and it feels nice, as much as I loved having a visitor. I got right back into writing this morning, and was almost finished with a new poem when I heard a loud thump against the window. I knew exactly what it was. All during my coffee and while I was working out the first few stanzas of the poem, I’d been watching two western tanagers chasing each other around the yard, a male and a female, and I’d been thinking that they were courting and had a nest nearby. I’ve been seeing them for days. Then came the thump. I went outside and there in the grass beneath the window lay the male. Given the noise of the crash, I thought he would be dead, but he wasn’t. I picked him up. His heart was racing and he seemed to be in shock. I figured that he’d also broken a wing. I sat on the steps with him for a while, stroking his head, sad to see such a beautiful bird, one which only minutes ago had been flying around so sprightly, now so pained and frightened. It was thrilling to hold him in my hand, especially since the western tanager is such a beautiful bird. I saw my first one in Yellowstone park several years ago, and I was excited to find them so abundant here at the homestead. Now here was one pretty banged up and shivering in my hand. I couldn’t just leave him outside like that, so I took him in and fashioned a cage inside a Havahart trap. I was afraid that if I left him on one of the tables on the deck, he would try to fly and simply fall and hurt himself even more. After the chicken debacle, I knew enough to keep him well out of Gussie’s reach, too. So I set him up in the cage. Later I looked out the window and saw the female, his mate, on the clothesline with a bunch of lichen in her beak. She was looking for him, but I’m not sure if she could see him there in the cage. Yes, they were in the middle of building a nest. For the next hour or so I could hear her calling in the yard. After lunch while I was hoeing in the garden I picked up some grubs and worms for him. When I went on the deck to give him the worms, he looked much more alert and was standing up straight. I put the worms in the cage, and then watched him from inside the house. He paid no attention to the worms. Instead, he tried to squeeze through the bars. I decided to let him out, placing him on the glass table. He hopped around a bit, and after several minutes flew to the deck railing! I went inside so as not to frighten him. Then he dropped down to solar panel bar. Then to the grass. I went out to make sure he was okay, shot a photo of him, and off he flew in a wide arc—ten, twenty, thirty feet up and into a tree! A story with a happy ending. Apparently, he wing wasn’t broken. I think he only suffered a concussion in the crash. I’m confident he’ll find his way back to the nest and to his mate, which is more than I can say for myself.

Here he is after the crash:

And here he is five hours later, after recovery, and before his flight to freedom:

Isn’t he a gorgeous bird?

The crashed flight of the tanager added poignancy to the poem I’d been writing, a piece based on a collage I finished last night. Both the collage and the poem share the same title—“Bellevue, Paris, New York, Wherever”—and both allude to the myth of Icarus. In the collage a boy is falling through the air in front of an apartment building in a city. Some people see him falling; others don’t. While assembling the collage, I kept thinking of W.H. Auden’s poem “Musee de Beaux Arts,” in which he describes the scene in Pieter Breughel’s painting “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.” So my collage and my poem owe some debt to Auden, to Breughel and to the injured tanager.

Here’s the collage:

If you’re wondering about the title, it’s what appears just above the chicken and the girl. I clipped it out of a Seattle newspaper I found in one of the pantry cupboards.

Here’s the poem:

Bellevue, Paris, New York, Wherever

A boy falls from a window or a roof,
no feathers, no wax, the sun hardly out,
the peace of dinner broken by a shout.
Flies and neighbors gather demanding proof.

The cat in 14-B blinks from its sill.
But where is the boy’s mother? His father—
don’t you know?—was killed last year in the war;
she took a second job to pay the bills.

A siren navigates the labyrinth
of streets until its red lights dance across
the body covered now with sheets. The loss
deepens in the hush. When the ambulance

rolls away (no rush now), people shake heads
and cough, spent but reluctant to unfold
their arms and ascend the stairs to their cold
plates, their evening news, their familiar beds.

But there is the mother to consider—
how, later, she saw the blood-stained pavement,
and by the open window comprehended
the weight of that falling as it hit her.

June 5, 2005

I landed my first reading! Thanks to Judy Montgomery, whose lovely chapbook I published in 1999, I’ll be reading in Eugene on September 20th. Judy recommended me to the woman who runs the Windfall reading series. Details to follow. All I know so far is the date and city and that there’s a nice honorarium included. I spoke with the organizer woman yesterday. I’m looking forward to it. I’ll have plenty of new pieces from which to choose.

On a less happy note, I think Dutch Hen is sick. She’s been sitting on the nest for three or four days now, her head pulled back into her shoulders. She doesn’t appear to be eating or laying eggs. At first I thought she was sitting on an egg, but she wasn’t. I took her out of the nest the other day and she ate a little bit. When I went out this morning, she was in the nest again. I looked in my poultry book and, based on the symptoms I’m observing, I think she has coccidiosis, a disease caused by a protozoan parasite, coccidium. When I go into town tomorrow I’ll try to pick up some coccidiostats at the feed store and see if they’ll help. It’s too bad. She’d been so healthy and productive.

June 6, 2005

Back to winter today! When I woke this morning it was a rainy, chilly 45 degrees out, and when I got up in the higher elevations on the way to town, there was snow for a good ten miles. Don’t they know it’s June?

It's hard to believe it was in the 90s just last week.

I’m going to hear John Daniel, former Dutch Henry resident and now overseer of the program, read tonight in Ashland. I think he’s going to be reading from his new memoir, part of which is about spending a winter at the Dutch Henry Homestead in 2000. My dad read the book and loved it, and my brother Michael is reading it now. It’ll be great to meet John and hear him read.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

May 27 - June 2

May 27, 2005

Holy summertime temperatures! In two days it’s gone from being in the mid-40s to being very close to 100 degrees. I drove into Grants Pass on Wednesday to pick up Neil, and the heat was blistering. I couldn’t safely leave Gus in the car, so we spent most of our day at Bluestone Bakery at the outdoor tables, where I used the WiFi and Gus relaxed under the umbrella munching on a bran muffin. I did find a shady spot in the parking lot of Market of Choice and stocked up on lots of food for the week. Neil’s bus arrived late, around 6:30, and we made it back to the cabin by 8:15, well before dark. The cabin, which I’d closed up when I left in the morning (thinking it was going to be a cool day), was hotter than Hades. We had a late dinner—chicken wraps and chips—and then relaxed on the deck, looking at the stars. I don’t think the nighttime temp dropped below 65 degrees.

Thursday, yesterday, was another hot, sunny day, the temp climbing close to 100 degrees. I showed Neil around the garden and the upper cabin and the pond, and then we spent most of the day on the deck. We had a little target practice with the .22 rifle, much to Neil’s delight. He hadn’t shot a rifle since his service days in the late 50s. We hung a target about 100 yards away, and we each made two out of four shots. Good fun.

Here are Gus and Neil out at the barn:

Last night we played cribbage, and Neil won two out of three games. Before arriving, he’d made as though he didn’t really know the game that well, and I wonder if he’s hustling me. But I’m determined to redeem myself tonight when the tournament continues. Having beat Bradley, who counts faster than anyone I’ve ever played, I’m determined to beat Neil.

Here we are looking quite serious (and warm):

Before starting our cribbage games we heard a noise in a paper shopping bag someone had left out on the deck. I’d forgotten it was there beneath the clothespins. I looked inside and there was a mouse who had happily eaten a whole bunch of sunflower seeds. Here it is:

Today was cooler than the previous two days. It got up around 90, but there was a breeze. We had a lazy day hanging around the cabin, reading, doing crossword puzzles (we tackled three together), and chatting. At one point we ventured out without Gus to see if we could get a glimpse of Mr. Bear, who was once again knocking over trees in the woods behind the garden.

Every night we’ve taken a walk up to the pond to let Gus swim and fetch sticks.
Here he is in the grass, before the swim:

Here he is retrieving a stick in the pond:

Good action.

May 28, 2005

In the middle of our cribbage tournament last night clouds rolled in, wind blew the trees around, thunder boomed, and lightning lit up the night. A thunderstorm. It was far enough away that we weren’t all that concerned, and we welcomed the cooler temperatures and the breezes. Then it stopped. Around midnight, not long after we’d turned in, thunderclaps exploded again, this time just above the roof of the cabin, deafening booms that shook me awake. Heavy rain followed. The thunder, lightning and rain continued all through the night, and I couldn’t sleep. Around 3:00, I got up with a flashlight and went out to find my earplugs in the mud room.

In the morning Neil said he’d never encountered a storm so dramatic. Apparently he, too, was nearly knocked out of his bed up in the loft. Over coffee and tea we resumed our cribbage games, and the rain started again. I’d lit a fire in the stove, and I could hear drops hissing. Where the stovepipe leaves the roof, there was a small leak. As soon as the roof is dry again, I’ll get up there and patch it with some of the roofing cement. A similar leak happened at my own house in New York last year, and I think I can handle it. I’ll do it while Neil is here, just in case I fall.

I’m now losing the cribbage tournament, four games to five. Not happy about that.

May 31, 2005

Neil caught a fish! Saturday began cool and sort of cloudy, good hiking weather, so we packed a lunch and went down to the river. I brought along the spinning reel and rod just for the heck of it. Neil had never fished in his whole life. It’s a running joke among his pub quiz team members. So, Neil was hoping to catch one or to at least have me take a picture of him casting. On his very first cast, which he sort of flubbed, not knowing how to flip the bail, he was reeling the Rooster Tail dangerously close to some submerged shrubs, and suddenly a small fish broke the surface. “You’ve got one!” I shouted. Neil wasn’t quite sure what to do. He worked the reel as though the handle was stuck, the rod tip bouncing up and down. But then he was lifting up the fish, which was about four or five inches long and resembling a trout. I tried to take a picture of Neil holding the rod with the fish dangling off the end, but by the time I clicked the shutter, the fish had dropped off. Now the poor thing was flopping in the shallows and Gus was dancing around it. I really didn’t want to kill such a small and lovely fish, so I picked it up gently and revived it a bit in the water. I can’t be certain, but I wonder if it was one of the “half-pounders” Bradley had told me about, an immature steelhead. It had the mouth and face and body shape of a trout, but it was sort of silver-colored. I was afraid the fish was going to die, so I let it go before I thought to take a picture of it. But, for those pub quiz team members, here’s a photo of Neil just after the fish fell off the lure, and I can vouch for the fact that he actually caught a fish:

And here’s my bloke taking a cast:

Like the tiny fish, Neil was hooked. He must have made a thousand more casts, all from the same spot. I also made about half that many casts. Nothing. Still, it’s amazing that a guy who’d never fished in his whole life should, on his very first cast upon the Rogue River, land a “half-pounder.”

Like me, Neil’s fallen in love with the homestead. “It’s paradise,” he told his daughter Natasha when he called her on the radio phone for the Liverpool football scores. And yesterday he said rather sadly, “I have to leave in two days.” Here he is looking off the south side of the deck (the pulley behind him is for my clothesline):

Neil took this photo of Gussie and me on the famous orange couch:

I think I fixed the leak around the stove pipe. There was some roofing cement in the upper house tool shed, and so I climbed up and filled in all the possible places where the rain may have been coming through. “No leaky!”

Yesterday our major chore was the badly needed pruning of the apple trees closest to the cabin. These trees, which aren’t behind a fence and so are really just food for Mr. Bear, hadn’t been properly pruned in years and had many vertical branches. I climbed up in one of them with loppers and the bow saw while Neil used the long-handled loppers and saw on the other tree. I left some growth at the base of the vertical branches and saved all the horizontal branches. The tree will be much happier for our labor. There won’t be as many apples for Mr. Bear this fall, but in future years the tree will bear well.

Late yesterday afternoon we went up to the pond to check out the dragonflies. On a trip there the other day I noticed many dragonflies emerging from nymphs as adults, a process that looks like something out of Alien—head being birthed out of head, half-formed wings unfolding. The nymphs hatch from eggs in the pond and then crawl up the banks into the grass. Dragonflies don’t have a pupal stage. Everywhere in the grass were the dried brown shells of the nymphs and beside them the newly formed adults. In one or two of the nymph shells the dragonflies were still in the process of emerging. Here are some photos of the ones we found yesterday:

The dried shell of the nymph is just to the right under the lower right wing.

We helped this one take its first flight.

This one hadn’t yet unfolded its wings completely and couldn’t fly.

I wrote this poem after seeing the dragonflies emerging from nymphs:


All around the pond I find
them clinging to the shells

of their nymph-selves,
their eyes puzzles of facets,

like pear-cut diamonds,
and their double sets of wings

filigrees of the thinnest glass.
It’s hard to believe

they could have climbed
out of these hard little bodies,

which delivered them
from water to air, but here

is one now, head pushing
out of head, like a lily opening,

and here am I, alive to see it,
eighteen years sober to the day.

On the walk back, we discovered this wildflower, called Pretty Face:

And here’s a nice collection of daisies growing just west of the garden:

June 1, 2005

June began with a daring rescue! Neil, Gus and I hiked down to the river this morning in the hope of landing another one of the little “half-pounders.” Neil was off on his rock casting a rooster tail while I was upriver a bit casting a fly. Gus, as usual, had been fetching sticks. Whether he was going after a stick or my fly, I don’t know, but suddenly he was out in the swift-moving current, and he was paddling to get to a rock. Only he was making no progress. He was caught in an eddy. As hard as he paddled forward, the current pulled him back, and he was tiring. “Come on, boy!” I yelled. “Come on!” To no avail. Then I thought to run toward Neil, figuring that if he swam behind one of the rocks there would be no current, and he’d be safe. I called him from there. But he just kept trying for that one gap between the rocks. Now I was getting scared. I had visions of him tiring out completely, going under, and being swept away. No more Gus. I threw down the rod, pulled off my shoes, stripped down to my underwear, and dove in. The river was cold, but I love my pooch. I swam out and grabbed hold of him and pushed him up on one of the rocks. Neil concluded that if dogs are anything like cats, then Gus has eight more lives. We caught no fish, but added two new birds to the bird list: American Pipit and a Great Blue Heron. Then the weather turned cloudy, cold and drizzly, so we folded up the blanket and decided to have our lunch back at the cabin, where we’d be warm and dry and Gus would be safe.

Today is Neil’s last day at the homestead, and we’re both sad about that. We get along well together, and have enjoyed many fine meals, stories, crosswords, games of cribbage, walks, bird sightings, shooting competitions, stars, breezes and the peace of the homestead. It’ll be strange to return to the cabin tomorrow without him, after I drop him off in Grants Pass.

He wrote me this poem yesterday:

No News

On the lunchtime news bulletin
Bush made a statement about judges,
And two rival Palestinian groups
had fallen out about something or other;

While here at Dutch Henry’s place
In Josephine county, Oregon,
We’ve walked the dog, pruned
An old apple tree, caught a neat

Little half-pounder in the Rogue River,
Played two hands of cribbage,
Had cold chicken salad with a little wine,
And are thinking of taking a nap.

Here are a few photos from today:

An alligator lizard spotted along the Dutch Henry trail.


Neil’s cocoon up in the loft. He was afraid of mosquitoes, so brought along mosquito netting.

Looks like a British poet to me.

June 2, 2005

Early day today. We woke at 4:30 to make Neil's bus in Grants Pass. Had a nice ride out, with mists lifting over the mountains.

The final tally on the cribbage tournament: 19 to 12, Gary winning. It's official: I'm the Dutch Henry Homestead Cribbage Champion of 2005.