Thursday, August 25, 2005

August 15th - 25th

August 15, 2005

I’m back from my trip to Bend, which was just what the doctor ordered: a healthy dose of friendly, intelligent, artsy, kind, relaxed people; shared meals of excellent food; a hike along the Deschutes River through volcanic terrain and ponderosa pines; a reading; a hot tub; my very late discovery (in Audubon magazine) that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is not extinct!; and nicer temperatures (the mornings were actually pretty cold). Following are some pictures of our walk along the Deschutes:

This is at the start of the trail by the river. It’s hard to see, but in the background is a ledge of volcanic rock, a massive tumble from an old active butte. It looks almost like huge rows of dried-up chocolate cake. The water here is wide and slow.

Some treacherous rapids downriver.

And more white water.

Phil took this shot of Judy and me. I should’ve had him use the flash on my camera, but I didn’t realize we were so backlit.

The following poem was inspired by our walk through Lava Lands:

Lava Butte

Brown butte, clumped
lifeless ledges
rising out of the forest

between piles like slag, rows
of scars, charred
spot where Vulcan

could have forged weapons
or kenneled
the dogs of war.

But here, beside the Deschutes’
white froth and its
never-ending aria,

hip-deep in the shining
green manzanita
and sniffing vanilla

in the bark of a ponderosa
pine, I’d rather
view that wasted butte

through the osprey’s eyes and see
a mole on the face
of a lady reclining

in a desert land and not yet mythic,
not yet exploited
by a lame god or man.

Judy and Phil, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, were lovely, gracious hosts. Indeed, I received the royal treatment, down to the thick white terrycloth robe to wear on my walk back and forth from the hot tub. They’re both great cooks and they have a beautiful home on a couple of acres about ten minutes from downtown Bend. Judy and I got to yak about poetry and trade some poems, and she showed me some nice journals to try out. Gus was a good boy, for the most part. He has bad manners around food, always reaching up to the counter for a sniff. At mealtimes, I banished him to the back deck. Here he is looking rather sad in his exile:

The reading was a smashing success. They all said it was the largest crowd to date in this “Second Sunday” reading series. The turn-out might have been the result of the big write-up on me (almost a full page) in the Bend paper, done by journalist David Jasper. Since I can’t send a copy to everybody, here are some pics to give you a sense of it:

This is the front page, where I got mention in the upper right.

This is the article itself, with headshot and excerpt of poem, etc.

I think a lot of people read the article. I had a random comment on my blog from a woman who read it, but couldn’t make the reading. And today I received a call on the radio phone from a different woman in Bend, who did go to the reading but had to leave because her daughter was antsy. She’d listened to my audio post on the blog inviting all callers, and so called to see how I was doing out here with the wildfire so close and to say she liked my poems. I have a fan! I can’t recall if I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I also ran into one of my college professors at the reading. Don Kunz was one of my profs my first year of college at the University of Rhode Island. I always remembered his name, and my first poetry publication, in a journal called Literati, was side-by-side with a poem of his, which I thought wonderfully ironic given my less than stellar academic performance at that particular institution. Anyway, he and I got to catch up. He retired from teaching and moved out to Bend. After visiting there, I can see why. I’ve had my own fantasies already about living there someday. I was also given a copy of a fabulous new literary and arts magazine called High Desert Journal and invited by the editor, Elizabeth Quinn, to send in my poem “One Day in July,” which I’ll happily do. The inaugural issue featured David Duncan, Gary Snyder, John Daniel and Judy, among others. A bunch of people bought copies of my book, and I signed them. Then we went back to Judy and Phil’s house and a few of their friends came by for a barbeque. Loretta and Peter were so kind, bringing Gus some rawhides and me some cupcake-like cookies to take back to the cabin. They also made a sinfully rich and delicious dessert of cherries in a chocolate cake topped with chocolate fudge. I have a huge slab of it here in my fridge, along with delicious orange/chocolate chip bars that Judy made. Just had one of those, in fact. Judy and Phil made me a big breakfast this morning, and then Gus and I hit the road around 8:00 am. We took a different route back, going by Crater Lake and then down to Grants Pass, where I got my mail and had some lunch at an outdoor café. I was excited to have received the new issue of Paste, and surprised to see a letter of mine printed in it! I’d written two weeks into my residency to say how much I was enjoying the DVD and lamenting the fact that I hadn’t brought out the other Paste DVDs to watch. Not only did the editor print my letter, but he sent me replacement DVDs so I could watch the previous ones out here. All you subscribers, check out my letter. All you nonsubscribers, subscribe! It’s hands-down the best music magazine in the world. My mail also included a Holly Palmer CD from Sharen (our friend Jamie Saft played piano/keyboards on it). She found it in a used CD store for a buck.

I also found out via e-mail that one of my puzzles was accepted by Games magazine. Very cool. It’s an unconventional puzzle, with four squares outside the grid, and so would’ve been hard to fit in a newspaper, which is always short on space. Not sure yet when it’ll appear.

I ran into a couple of guys on the road close to the DH turn-off, and stopped to see who they were. I thought at first they might be firefighters, because they were filthy, but they said they were caretaking over at the castle. Apparently, the new owner is planning to build his own trail down to the river. We chatted for a bit. It turns out it was the driver’s nephew I chased out of here a few weeks back. I apologized and explained that I’d been sort of harassed earlier in the day by the guys from down at the river, that his nephew happened to cut through at a bad time. I don’t know that he cared all that much, as he and his buddy appeared to be pretty drunk. They were swilling beer as we talked. I told them I had ice cream melting in my cooler, and went on.

My garden dried up a bit in the three days I was gone, so I’m leaving the sprinklers on all night for a good soaking. I’ve got tomatoes coming out my ears. I wish I could send some to Judy and Phil without them going bad in the mail. I brought them a bagful and they were ecstatic. Apparently, Bend has a very short growing season and so they can’t grow tomatoes there. I only wish I’d had more ripe ones to bring last week! I’m making sundried tomatoes with the Romas, and have a baggie full of them already.

The weekend left me feeling energized and excited for my Eugene reading in September. I’m thinking about spending a couple of nights there before the day of the reading. It’s the second-largest city in the state, and a college town, and school will probably have started already, so it’ll be hopping.

August 16, 2005

It’s a cool night and the crickets are chirping and the mosquitoes are biting. Today I mowed around the pond and in the garden. The heat has stopped the growth of most of the grass, but it was high in places. I also harvested a bunch of tomatoes and canned two jars’ worth. I can’t possibly eat them all myself before they go bad, so this way I can preserve some for sauces and other dishes. It’s been about ten years since I canned stuff. With tomatoes, what you do is boil them for about two minutes until the skins crack and then you soak them in cold water, peel them, stuff them in clean jars, and fill the jars with water leaving a half-inch of space. Then you submerge the sealed jars in boiling water for 40 minutes.

I ripped up my tomatillo plant, the one that grew better than anything else all spring and into summer. Despite all the flowers and the formation of the papery sacs, no fruit grew! I think the plant wasn’t cross-pollinated or fertilized or whatever. Maybe I should have planted two of them? I saw plenty of bees on the flowers, but not a single tomatillo formed.

Next time I go into town, I’m going to try to buy more seeds or starters (if there are any left) and do a second planting of lettuce and maybe cilantro. I’ll see what else might grow in late summer/early fall. I don’t like that I have to buy lettuce again at the market!

I harvested all my garlic—six bulbs—and it’s potent and delicious. I’ve got a few hanging in the mudroom to dry, along with some lavender. The dryer in the garden is full of thin-sliced Roma tomatoes, mint and chamomile. I can’t wait to fill it with chanterelles!

A lone bear (possibly Mama bear) was in the yard this morning. At one point I looked out and it was in the apple tree closest to the house. I tried getting a photo of it up there, but by the time the shutter clicked, it was running off:

August 17, 2005

The cooler temps continue. I even lit a fire in the wood stove this morning, making for a cozy few hours of writing time. While I was working on the orange/brown couch, I noticed some new birds in the yard and took down my binoculars and had a look. a MacGillivray’s Warbler and a Black-Throated Gray Warbler. Apparently warblers are migrating through, heading south, I guess.

My experience of canning tomatoes resulted in the following poem, which is a bit sexy, but should be read with tongue in cheek. It’s meant to be lighthearted.

Canning Tomatoes

I love the way they slip their skins
and settle into jars,

pink flesh pressed against hot glass
so that I cannot help

but think of sex and the last time
I had it. And their names

vaguely erotic—Early Girl
and Better Boy, Beefsteak

and Sweet. Steam rising from the pot.
Gold bands on the counter

like bangles slid from a thin wrist.
And the round lids’ red lips.

Fruit packed in its own murky juice,
and a kind of pact made

at the rim not to leak a word
of it to anyone.

Long after everything has cooled,
some night when I’m eating in,

and thinking of this time I canned them,
the precautions taken

to preserve these bright globes I grew
out of earth, I’ll unscrew

counterclockwise and watch them spill
from the jar like a birth.

This afternoon I made some fabulous chicken croquettes from scratch. The first step was to make a homemade cream sauce from butter, flour, half-n-half, salt and pepper. Then I cooked some chicken breast on the grill and finely diced it. Meanwhile I chopped some celery from the garden, leaves and all, and some onion. I mixed all those ingredients together (saving some of the cream sauce as a topping) and chilled it for a half-hour. Then I formed balls and dipped them in beaten egg and rolled them in breadcrumbs. Then deep-fried them in vegetable oil. With a side of tomatoes, red onion, and basil in vinegar, it was one of my tastiest meals out here!

August 18, 2005

For the third day in a row the weather is pleasant: plenty of sunshine (after morning clouds—the first I’ve seen in two months!), nice breezes sweeping through the canyon, temps in the low 90s. Much nicer than 105 or 106! In preparation for company arriving tomorrow (the Brothers, John Daniel, and Emma Brown), I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies and cleaned up around both houses. Yesterday I fired up the fridge in the upper house and filled the ice trays; swept the deck; took out the grill; hung the hammock. I’m also planning to make some tarts (blackberry, apple, and cherry) for tomorrow night’s dessert. The berries and cherries are ones I picked here and froze. The apples will come right off one of the trees in the garden.

Mama bear and cub are hanging around and Gus is giving me a headache with all his barking. He really hates our ursine visitors. Here are a couple of shots of Mama bear:

August 20, 2005

My company arrived late yesterday afternoon! Walking back from the pond with Gus, iPod blasting in my ears, I was startled by Frank’s maroon truck inching up behind me, John Daniel and Frank waving out the windows. Right off, Gus gave Frank a hard time, humping his leg and jumping all over him. I was embarrassed. Gus always goes right for the Alpha male. With John, he was gentle as can be. At one point Gus was being such a pest on the upper house deck that I put him inside the house and he turned around and ran right through the screen door, knocking it off its runners (I was glad Bradley wasn’t there to see it; of course, he’ll read this and know about it). Gus was very hyped up, to say the least. Finally, he calmed down. It was great to see Frank and John again. They started in with the stories, which went nonstop until late into the night. While I was back at my cabin preparing some hors d’oeuvres and my shepherd’s salad and wrapping up the homemade tarts I’d made, Bradley and Emma arrived. Emma, as I imagined, is great. She seemed to ease right into the Boyden banter. I’m sure she’ll do just fine here next year. As evening came on, we watched about a thousand bats (not an exaggeration) drop out of the cedar shake siding of the upper house. Bradley cooked up some delicious steak on the Weber, and with sautéed Walla Walla sweet onions, mashed potatoes, zucchini and the shepherd’s salad I’d made, we had a great feast. Emma got to hear all the Dutch Henry legends. My tarts were a big hit, especially with Frank. I felt bad I was only able to make eight of them (ran out of butter). The canyon was a bit smoky last night, and it made for a beautiful rise of the full moon. Emma’s orientation continues today. We’ll probably take a walk down to the river. And Frank said he’ll hang the new screen door at my cabin. Good action so far. It’s fun to have company.

Bradley said that the grandson of Bill Graiff (the hermit who lived here after Dutch Henry) is coming out here on Sunday to see the place. The grandson is now in his 70s, and the last time he was here was in the mid-1960s.

August 21, 2005

Yesterday morning, while Frank and John hung the new screen door, Bradley, Emma, Gus and I hiked down to Horseshoe Bend via The Corral, a huge area of meadows. This is a hike I haven’t done in my time here. In the spring, I was afraid of the ticks and in the summer the burrs. And yesterday my fears were justified, big time. In the Corral area Gus picked up so many small, tacky burrs that he turned a brownish-green color. His legs, belly, chest and face were literally covered with them. I felt like crying when I saw him, for I knew they’d just be impossible to remove from his soft coat. And they were. I tried combing him out later in the afternoon, and all I got done was his face and the lower parts of his legs. I tried him both dry and wet. No go. Every swipe with the comb pulled out clumps of his hair. I called the groomer, and Gus is going in on Thursday to be shaved down. It’s the only solution. Despite the major thrash of burrs, blackberry brambles, poison oak, and swamp near the river, we had a nice walk and rested atop the rocky hill at Horseshoe Bend, where we saw a gray fox scampering around. Then we hiked downriver to the swimming hole. Here are some pictures from our walk:

The Corral (aka The Land of Ubiquitous Burrs). That’s Gussie to the right of the trees.

Bradley and Emma in The Corral.

Gus getting covered with burrs.

Chicory (love the color of this stuff!).

Horseshoe Bend. Note the smoky haze from the wildfire.

The Rogue from atop the rock at Horseshoe Bend.

Bradley and Emma at Horseshoe Bend.

Some of the river rocks have huge holes bored in them from spinning eddies of water wearing them down for centuries.

Here’s a beautiful riffle between Horseshoe Bend and Meadow Creek.

Bradley and Emma on the trail along the river. Where I shot this picture, there was a fallen tree in the trail. Bradley cleared it with the bow saw.

Once again the bats entertained us in the evening, hundreds of them dropping out of the siding. Emma and I tried to get photos of them, but the bats are too quick and the digital cameras too slow. Bradley cooked up another fine meal, this time barbequed chicken, corn on the cob, and wild rice. For dessert: watermelon and cookies. Frank regaled us with many good stories. Here’s a shot of him and John on the deck (Frank’s on the left; John’s on the right):

Emma came down alone this morning, bearing some smoked salmon for me (thanks Emma!), and I got to give her the scoop on the radio phone and the garden and the various and sundry items in the cabin. Then we all gathered again at the upper house for lunch. When Graiff’s grandson didn’t show around noon, Frank and John took off. Then Bradley and Emma were leaving, too, when they encountered Graiff’s grandson on the road, so they turned around and brought him and his wife down and showed them the place. The grandson had with him a huge binder full of Graiff’s documents and photographs. He promised to make Bradley a copy of it, which will add much to the history of this place. Everyone hung around here at the cabin for twenty minutes or so, and then they headed out.

Gus and I are back to our peace and quiet in the smoky canyon. This evening tiny ashes were falling on me like snow as I swayed in the hammock.

August 22, 2005

Before drifting off to sleep last night I started a new essay on solitude and death. I worked on it for a few hours this morning and another hour or so this afternoon, and I’m six pages into it. Happy with it so far. We didn’t do much else today: a walk to the upper house to swab the fridges and read what the visitors wrote in the journal (a tradition here), a walk to the pond so Gussie could swim. Looking for ways to use up some of my many tomatoes, I cooked up a delicious batch of homemade tomato sauce (diced cherry and beefsteak tomatoes right off the vine, onion, oregano, thyme, fresh parsley and basil, wine, sugar, salt and pepper). Had the last of my croquettes for lunch. Just as good a couple of days old!

As feared and despite my generous applications of Tecnu after our Horseshoe Bend walk, I’m developing poison oak rashes on my arms and legs. Got a nasty bit of it bubbling in the soft flesh of my elbow joint. I probably got it from touching Gus after applying the Tecnu. Now I’m walking around like a leper, covered with pink spots from calamine lotion.

The canyon cleared out over night. And the prevailing wind blew to the west, keeping the smoke away all day.

I keep wondering about what’s in my P.O. box and e-mail inboxes, but I won’t go to town until Thursday, when Gussie has his grooming appointment. It’ll be nice to be able to run errands while he’s at the groomer. No worries about the hot car.

August 23, 2005

My mother called last night with the terrible news that she has a cancerous lump in her breast. Needless to say, I’m in a funk about it. It seems especially unfair given that she just got the “all clear” on the bladder cancer she was diagnosed with a couple of years ago. She seems hopeful about the treatment, though. And her mother survived breast cancer for many years, so maybe that bodes well, too. My mother seemed more worried about my father, who’s going in for carotid artery surgery (his second) soon. The artery is almost totally blocked. The first operation went well, though he was in intensive care for about four days. These developments make it harder to be out here.

Last night I worked for about two hours recording a new song. I laid down three tracks (chords, vocals, and lead guitar fill) and was in the middle of tweaking things on the computer when the program crashed and I lost it all. Bummer. I think there’s a way to piece it all back together, but it’s tedious work. I think I’ll just try recording again when I feel up to it. Last night I needed the diversion.

I worked some more on the essay today. I’m up to ten pages. If it turns out any good, maybe I’ll send it to Literal Latte’s essay contest, if I haven’t missed the deadline.

A team of researchers with the Department of Forestry came today and parked down at the turn-around. They’d called Bradley and okayed it, and I opened the lower gate for them so they didn’t have to make such a long walk. Apparently there are research plots all over the state where they track growth of trees and compile other data. They were off in the woods all day, and just came back up looking sweaty and tired. I went out to chat with them and the mosquitoes were horrific. The researchers didn’t stick around long.

I heard from Bradley and from these researchers that the wildfire is about 90% contained and they think it’ll be completely contained by Friday. This is good news. Once again there was no smoke in the canyon today, and the weather was cool.

August 24, 2005

I re-record the new song last night. It’s called “Just Drive,” and it has a mythical allusion to Charon, the ferryman to the Underworld.
Just Drive
Note: if using iTunes, you may need to convert the file from mp3. It sounds lousy on iTunes, but okay on MusicMatch Juke Box on my computer.

I’m all but done with the new essay (a few things I need to check on or add to), and I think it’s the truest piece of writing I’ve done here, so I’m posting it as is. Writing it, I’ve come to appreciate this place a whole lot more, though I’m not sure if I’m any closer to making sense of my life. It’s a bit long and I forgive you if you don’t read all of it.

A Heaven We Knew Once

For over four months now, I have lived almost totally alone in a remote cabin in southwestern Oregon. Yes, it’s true that I’ve had visitors—a friend came and stayed a week, the owners of the property spent two weekends, and a biologist came on two separate afternoons to look for peregrine falcons. It’s true I’ve had unasked for human contact, too—rafters passing on the Rogue River, hikers on the trail, stray walkers on my road. And I’ve made journeys into town every week or ten days to retrieve mail from my overstuffed post office box, to check my e-mail and upload my daily journal at WiFi hotspots, to pay bills, to stock up on provisions. I’ve spent a few weekends in towns like Grants Pass, Ashland and Bend, sometimes delighting in civilization (foreign films, Greek and Italian and Japanese food, cafés, ice cream, poetry readings, CD stores) and sometimes not (less than cozy hotel rooms, ambulance sirens, Walmarts, car horns, litter, $3.50 iced chais, the signed gaudiness of capitalism). I’ve even had a couple of unspectacular dates with a darkly beautiful waitress, who continues to haunt my thoughts. Still, I have spent well over a hundred days with no company except my wheaten terrier, Gus. A lone human in a vast wilderness. And now it will be easier to die.

Not that I want to.

Like Thoreau, I think I came here in part to take stock of my life, to see if (or what) I haven’t yet lived. But however much I’ve pondered life, I’ve discovered that solitude is a kind of preparatory course in the ultimate aloneness of the abyss that awaits all of us, a curriculum in which the lone self is both student and teacher. I used to dread death. Many a night, unable to sleep, I’d open my eyes to the dark and try to imagine the absence of consciousness, the existential void, nihil humani, and I’d fill with terror and anger and sorrow. At those times it would seem to me that life was a scam, a con game, the creator I’d been raised on the Grifter of all grifters. Buy this life, but…sorry, it’s not really yours, it’s not really for keeps. Like a cheaply made thing, it’ll wear out all too soon.

I don’t remember exactly when I became aware of my own mortality. I’m sure I watched cowboys die on Gunsmoke without really considering the implications of their pained expressions, their clutchings at gut or chest, their crumplings into dusty streets. Half-asleep and wedged between my mother and one of my siblings on a couch in our finished basement, I may have felt bad for the dead cowboys, but it’s more likely I just followed the marshal through the swinging saloon door and deeper into the narrative. I think my first real experience of death was the passing of my paternal grandfather, Gilbert Whitehead, a man I loved for his white hair and tanned arms and the catamaran he kept at his Falmouth beach house on Cape Cod. I remember hearing his voice through the metal vent in the floor of that house, as my brothers and I, lying on fold-out cots, drifted off to sleep, our heads filled with blue crabs and waves, sand and shells. And I remember sitting on his knee and patting his salty merchant marine arms and begging him to stop smoking cigarettes. But by then it was too late. I was in first grade when he died. I didn’t go to the funeral, but I was told that Grampa Whitehead was gone, that I’d never see him again, and that now he lived in heaven. I imagined him in a round gold house like the one at church where the priest kept the white wafers people lined up at the altar to eat. And I knew then what sadness was. My father’s red eyes. My brothers’ awkward avoidance of the topic of Grampa. The beach house. The catamaran. Mrs. Duncan, my teacher, told me she was sorry and she hugged me, and this gesture made me even sadder than I was. Other deaths followed. My maternal grandfather, my Voo Voo, Antonio Fernandes, was next. I was two years older when he died, and I had Grampa Whitehead’s passing as a reference. I knew how to wear my sadness. Now I was a boy without grandfathers, and a piece of me had been left behind like a suitcase full of familiar clothes redolent with cigarette smoke and whiskey and sweat. But I buttoned into the new glum reality, the conventions of loss. For years I watched my Voa Voa, like the night, wear nothing but black dresses.

I suppose I wondered where my grandfathers had gone, where they’d “passed” to. Attending Catholic school, I’m sure I had some vague conception of the Christian idea of afterlife. As far as I was concerned, my grandfathers had both been good men, and so I probably accepted the idea that they were up in heaven with God and Jesus and Mary and all the saints. But Grampa, like my father, was a Protestant. What he protested against, I didn’t know. Going to church, maybe. My father didn’t attend church. It was my mother who dressed us up and dragged us there, despite how much we protested. “I want to be a Protestant, too,” I said to her more than once. And she would glare and hiss, “You go and get dressed before I count to three. One, two….” I liked that my father didn’t go to church. It was rebellious and brave. Church was so dull, the pews so hard and uncomfortable, the goings-on up on the altar so hypnotic and vague. I hadn’t had my First Communion, and so I couldn’t join all the other churchgoers at that high point in the Mass when the organ music set the grim tone and everyone lined up to open their mouths. However much my stomach was rumbling, I couldn’t eat the unleavened bread, the flesh of Jesus Christ. I remember looking around at the other kids my age or younger, many of them my classmates, all of us left behind in the long wooden rows looking altogether unworthy and childish. Or I’d look up at the stained glass windows and think of my grandfathers standing still in such holy and colorful light, near God, their heads haloed, their bodies shining all prismatic and beautiful. But weren’t their bodies buried in graveyards? I couldn’t quite figure out that conundrum. But faith, the nuns told me, was the belief in things you couldn’t see or understand. And maybe Grampa was in a different heaven than Voo Voo; maybe Grampa was in a Protestant heaven where the light wasn’t so colorful. In any case, they were both dead and I was struggling to understand just what that meant.

One summer day when I was a little older, I went off in the woods with a friend’s Daisy BB gun, the kind you could fill with the tiny copper balls and pump a dozen times for every shot. By now I liked to read Outdoor Life magazine, the hunting stories especially, and sometimes I’d feel as if a wild streak, a primal desire for stalking, was locked in the chains of my DNA, those double helixes I’d recently learned about in school. Stepping silently through the steamy oak leaves and brown needles of pines, gun in hand, I felt completely unleashed and primitive. And when a rabbit dashed out from the brush and paused in a clearing, my heart leapt and I held my breath, sighted, fired. Down it went. Suddenly I was large, ancient, capable. I understood in those first few seconds the romantic vision of Outdoor Life and the pride in the eyes of camouflaged men holding up antlered heads. Then I stood above the brown-furred body, saw my own face reflected in its drying amber eye. Its body was limp and warm in my hand. Those were bones in there. And organs and blood vessels. Its long back feet had made their last leap because of me. The rabbit was dead, no longer conscious, and now I had no intention of skinning it or eating it. I considered bringing it to my Voa Voa, who liked rabbit and would probably know how to dress it, but I knew that to carry it from this clearing meant to hold up my shame to every gaze beyond this private and terrible place, eyes in which I might see myself the way I’d seen myself in the rabbit’s unseeing amber orb. Arranging its limp body in a grave of leaves, I wondered where the rabbit had gone in its death. This Christian afterlife I’d been persuaded awaited me—was this for humans only? Would this rabbit be there to confront or receive me? And all those elk, moose and deer I’d studied in the pages of Outdoor Life, would they be there? And the Japanese beetles, a whole mayonnaise jarful, my brother Michael and I snatched last week from our mother’s roses and drowned in gasoline? Christian doctrine had no room for the billion other life forms. Heaven was a place for humans only. Fifteen years later I came upon James Dickey’s poem “The Heaven of Animals” and discovered I wasn’t the only one to have wondered about this. But in his vision of animal heaven there are no humans, just animals engaged in the never-ending hunt of one another, ecstatic in the kill necessary to the food chain. In school, learning about St. Francis of Assisi, who like Dr. Doolittle on TV surrounded himself with animals, I wondered how he reconciled himself to a heaven without all his beloved creatures.

By the time I reached high school, I couldn’t bear the thought that one day I’d be torn from my mother, father, sister, brothers; that I’d get to know them so long, love them so much, and then be orphaned to eternity, never to come home again to find my parents sipping coffee from their forty-year-old flesh-colored mugs, the ones they’d been drinking out of since the day after their wedding. Ten years later, as a married man, I felt a similar fear of separation, and to walk through graveyards and see the headstones of couples, side by side, gave no consolation; for while their bones, arranged in their best suits and dresses, lay mere feet apart under the earth, in death they neither reclined in plots nor rotted between ruffled satin and each in his or her own nonexistence was, I knew, quite quite alone. I made it clear to my wife early in our marriage that I wanted to be cremated. I didn’t relish the thought of being bled, pumped full of embalming fluid, made up like an actor with rouge and powder for my final silent performance at wake and funeral, hands folded around a crucifix in which I never really believed. Having moved around a lot in my twenties and thirties and feeling rather rootless, I told her to scatter my ashes in Eagle Lake in the Adirondacks, a place where I’d experienced peace and happiness at an artist’s colony over two separate summers. She had a similar wish: donate her organs, then cremate. Last fall, six months before I came out to this remote cabin, she told me she was unhappy and had been for a long time. Having accepted a promotion, she’d been living three hours from our home for over a year and visiting most weekends. After almost twelve years our marriage was over. She wanted out. We signed a separation agreement, and it was official. All last winter, I drove the swerving, slippery roads of the newly divorced, sliding into resentment, anger, fear, shame, regret, and the deepest sorrow of my 39 years. Meanwhile I was preparing for my six-month writing residency in the backwoods of Oregon. I found a buyer for our house and signed documents with my attorney. I moved all my things into storage and cleaned out the house. On the last night of March, a week after my 40th birthday and the night before driving West toward Oregon, my final hours in our house, I ate takeout sitting cross-legged on the bare bedroom floor and traversed the past that had led me to this moment. Forcing down my fried chicken wrap, I closed my eyes and ran the gauntlet of my conflicted feelings. Then I collapsed on the sleeping bag, my sobs echoing through the empty rooms. Later, lying in the darkness (all the lamps were in storage), it occurred to me I was indeed alone in the world and so perhaps ready to live in the wilderness in almost total solitude. I also realized I had no one now to carry out my wishes should I die, no one to take my ashes up to Eagle Lake. And the wilderness would be a dangerous place, full of bears, cougars, rattlesnakes, a wild river, steep and precarious trails, impenetrable darkness. I’d be a good fifty miles from a hospital. More than a few times I envisioned my dead body flown back East in the cargo hold of a plane or laid out in a suit in a shiny box surrounded by flowers. What would become of Gus? Would my sister take him in? Her Manhattan apartment was already a veritable zoo. Rolling down the driveway in my overloaded Honda, I was homeless and, but for the formality of paperwork, divorced. Having lost my soul-mate, my own soul felt adrift, a piece of space dust hurtling through the void and ready to blaze upon entry into the atmosphere of a perilous new world.

When I first arrived at the cabin a week later, I thought very little about death, for the place was so full of life: fruit trees bright with blossoms and dripping with spring rain, meadows a rich green, wildflowers everywhere like tiny works of art, the irrigation pond teeming with rough-skinned newts. I saw garter snakes and bull snakes, alligator lizards and blue-tailed skinks. From daybreak to nightfall the forest and meadow hosted a chorus of birds: tanagers and chickadees, sapsuckers and woodpeckers, juncos and robins, grosbeaks and finches, wrens and jays. Nighttime brought the arias of spotted and barred owls, congregations of mule deer grazing the rich shoots of grasses, a gray fox in my compost, a thousand bats dropping out of the cedar shakes to erase in moonlight the white moths marring the dark. Planting my garden—lettuce, broccoli, celery, squash, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, herbs—I felt no existential angst. This was life, these were living things, and as alone as I was I felt surrounded by creatures. Genesis doesn’t say who died first, but if Adam survived Eve, then I felt the way he might have as a widower: a man who had known love and lost it and found succor in the tendriled, leafed, winged and legged things of the world. That barren place the winter of our separation had made in me was filling in now the way the trails were with saplings of fir and madrone and huckleberry. Self-loathing and regret, sorrow and shame—these I turned over like my garden beds. And over the course of weeks contentment sprouted, took hold, survived the spring rains.

But death came knocking, as death will do. Quite literally, in fact. One morning, reclined on the orange sofa, sipping coffee and writing a short story, I watched a pair of sapsuckers flitting around the yard. Their play was either a courtship or a happy marriage, I couldn’t be sure. Whatever the case, I felt almost jealous of their companionship, but getting lost in my story, I forgot about them. Then came the crash against the glass, and I nearly dropped my laptop. Looking down, I could see the black and white tangle in the grass, the female of the pair. I went out and picked her up and stroked her still-warm breast. She’d broken her neck in the crash and was dead. I buried her behind the tool shed, this time feeling not guilt and shame the way I had with the rabbit all those years ago but a sense of injustice and, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, a tiny stab of vindication too. That’s what love’ll get you. Afterward, I couldn’t bear to watch her mate cruising the yard, calling. I shut down the laptop and took Gus down to the river.

Death has visited in other ways, too. Not long after my separation my friend Jim called. I was still a bit sore with him for having poo-pooed our protests at the Republican Convention in New York and for having voted for George W. Bush, but I forgave him these trespasses and decided it best that we not discuss politics. I’ve known Jim some fifteen years. In college we formed a poetry group with a few others and have been close ever since. Jim had always idolized my marriage, had always told me how much he admired the easy way my wife and I had with each other, and he was shocked to hear the news of our separation. On the phone that night I poured out all my anger, all my lamentations, and when I felt spent and was getting ready to say goodbye, he told me he was dying. I can’t remember exactly how he phrased it, but it was couched in a joke. I’ve always admired Jim’s wry humor, but this time it floored me. He’d been diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas and liver, and he didn’t have long to live. This was last November. He’s still hanging on. Before driving cross-country, I visited him in Rhode Island. Now whenever I talk with him on the cabin’s radio phone, I savor his deep voice, knowing it may be the last time I hear it.

Cancer is Death’s favorite dish; He serves it liberally and often. Just last night I got a call from my mother, who told me she has breast cancer. This after getting the “all clear” two weeks ago on the bladder cancer she was diagnosed with a few years ago. Unlike with Jim’s cancer, with my mother’s new tumor there’s hope. Given the advancements in breast cancer treatment, a lumpectomy and radiation might cure her. I wish the same could be said of Jim. Some nights, after shutting off the propane lamp above my bed and after my eyes adjust to the dark, I gaze at the stars through the three-foot square skylight. Emerson said that if a man wants to feel alone, let him look at the stars. At these times I do indeed feel alone, feel that all of humanity is insignificant, each of us no different from that woodpecker who crashed into my window. Life, then, seems a series of accidents waiting to happen, one following the next without purpose, and the stars themselves the result of some mishap and one day to die out, too, making for a whole new map of the night sky. Creationists would have us think of a grand design, but I don’t believe it. Grand designs are the things of men, otherwise God’s a killer.

As an adult I’ve been wont to kill things, the result perhaps of guilt I’ve felt for the hosts of creatures I slew in my youth. An amateur naturalist and birder, I’ve preferred to observe rather than shoot or slap or swat. When a bee was trapped in the house I’d catch it in a glass and release it outside. When I saw a spider in the shower I ignored it. At our house in the Hudson highlands of New York, my wife and I bought catch-and-release mouse traps, even after looks askance from the feed store clerk. “You know they carry diseases, right?” she said. Good karma, we replied. Mice deserve to live just as much as we do. One day I released a mouse in the road without even stepping out of my car. Just opened the door and shook it out of the trap. The poor thing was shivering, filthy with its own excrement, shocked mad like an inmate in solitary. In my rearview mirror as I pulled away, I could see it hadn’t moved. And on my return trip from buying half-and-half at the corner convenience store, there it was, squashed by some other passing car. Chance accident or grand design? If the latter, to what end? I know my mother would say, “Ours is not to wonder why,” but I do. I wonder why. After my wife took her promotion and moved to Utica, I started buying the old-fashioned mouse traps and baiting them with peanut butter. She was no longer around to frown, and anyway she’d never released any of the live mice we’d trapped. She hadn’t seen the mouse I freed get altogether flattened on Canterbury Road. Some nights I’d be in bed reading when I’d hear the neck-breaking snap down in the garage. In the year or so I used them I must have killed at least two dozen mice.

Coming out here, where I’ve been surrounded by creatures large and small and usually not human, I’ve tried to resume the Buddhist way of not killing. But I’ve had my lapses. One night, sitting in the La-Z-Boy playing solitaire on my computer, I saw something black scurry across the dim-lit kitchen floor. A scorpion! The first I’d ever seen, stinger poised high on its tail like a question mark. I snapped its picture and then, afraid it might sting me or my dog, I squashed it beneath my Birkenstock. For the first month or so of living in the cabin, I did catch-and-release of bees and wasps. Then I got stung twice. Now when there’s one buzzing around the house, I open the sliding door and try to shoo it out. If that fails, I reach for the fly swatter. With ticks and mosquitoes I have never had and never will have mercy: I squash those fuckers on sight. Flies, too. And pantry moths, those powdery, ash-colored microlepidoptera who find their way into my pancake mix and flour. Anyway, nature seems just as ruthless. The bees I don’t swat tire at window screens, bake and die and pile in the sills. In a cupboard in the pantry of this cabin is a jar of such bees some previous resident collected and labeled “Squeeky’s Bugs.”

If spring swept through this place like the hand of God in that week of his creations, summer came like a plague in Revelations. For a time everything was green and alive. I watched dragonflies change from nymphs to adults and take to the sky. I heard the chicks of gilded flickers peeping from a hollow tree. I had to mow the lush meadows every other day. Then those relentless rains and mists riding in from the Pacific died out like the Indians. The last clouds plumed like smoke signals and were gone. Blue sky. Naked sun. On the rocket-shaped thermometer outside my kitchen window, I watched the mercury rise and rise and rise. One-hundred and five, one-hundred and ten. The meadows, so long green with well-fed grasses, white with daisies, purple with elegant brodiaea, withered and dried a pale brown. Mud puddles turned to dust and where once mosquitoes hatched, now ant lions made their sandy craters and waited for the least trembling. With no electricity in the cabin, and so no fan, I suffered the long, hot afternoons. Cool baths. Pond plunges. River swims. The firs and pines, alders and madrones, their tap roots deep, stayed green. My garden, too, thanks to two sprinklers and an endless supply of water pressurized by gravity. But all else seemed dead. And when darkness fell I found myself more often than before swinging in the netlike cradle of my hammock and gazing through vast distances at the ancient light of stars. Some of those stars, I knew, had already died out, nothing left but the speed of their bright leaving.

It is late August now. Last night I reached in the dark for the eider down and, half asleep, smiled when Gus jumped on the bed and spun himself into a ball between my legs. I’ve gotten used to sleeping alone, but I miss the sensation of a warm body beside me, the smell of Sharen’s hair, the rise and fall of her respiration, the eyelid flutters of her dreams. In a small way my dog reminds me of this. A warm weight alongside. Something dear on a cool morning. We each lie in the bed we make, and—for better or worse—I have either chosen this one or been consigned it. Who can say which? But should I die and my wish for cremation go unfulfilled, the coffin won’t seem so strange. I have slept alone and woken alone and spent over a hundred days alone at this cabin. I have felt small beneath the stars, large standing over a long line of black ants marching across a dusty road. With no one to talk to I’ve conversed with a spotted owl, calling it closer and closer to the cabin until it made a full circle around me in the dark. I’ve talked often to my dog and to my self, if only to know that I still had a voice. I’ve spoken to friends and family on the radio phone and in my dreams. I have listened to a wild river, watched it drop a good five feet from its spring high to its summer low. I have seen things birthed and seen things die, and through all of it I have, like the river, moved closer to the wide mouth of my ending, when I will join the confluence of every other thing that on this third planet from the sun has lived and died. Yes, I think I fear that ending a little less than I used to. When the time comes and if I’m conscious, perhaps that won’t be true at all. Maybe all the old dread will spill right back and carry me off in eddies.

Twelve years of Catholic school gave me a good education, and I’ll always be grateful that my parents provided me that, but however much the nuns, brothers, priests, and monsignors tried, I resisted the indoctrination. Like Thomas, I doubted and still doubt, and one root of my misgiving is the Christian notion of the afterlife. Believe in Jesus and you’ll have everlasting life. To me that sounds too much like a sales pitch, as indeed it is. The easiest way for a business to stay in business is to corner the market. Hence missionaries. Hence the Crusades. Hence the logo swinging at the ends of beads. Church as a social institution makes sense: neighbors gathering in good cheer to share a ritual; in essence, to share a meal, albeit one made of much hocus pocus. It’s the spiel I can’t swallow. Maybe in ten or twenty years—if I’m still walking this earth, still struggling to make sense of this and the million other mysteries—I’ll feel differently. Maybe in time I’ll come to find comfort in the repeated words, the statuary, the stained glass, the golden tabernacle the priest opens with his secret key. After all, resistance is a kind of attachment, isn’t it? Otherwise, there’s just a letting go. I cling to the teachings even as I slough them off. Still, I know I’ll never believe what the nuns and brothers and deacons and priests would have had me believe. I couldn’t stand a minute in an eternity without birds.

I’ve always admired the Transcendentalist notion of the Oversoul, a vast energy into which and out of which all living things take and give up shape. If matter can neither be created nor destroyed, it exists somehow and somewhere and sometime, and no matter is excluded. I like the thought of my matter mixing with the maggot’s and the blue whale’s, with the mendicant’s and the king’s. Most religions are, like country clubs, exclusive. And this is precisely why I don’t want to join one. Cormac McCarthy, in his violent novel Blood Meridian, writes that “every man is tabernacled in every other, and he in exchange and so on in an endless complexity of being and witness to the uttermost edge of the world.” Were this the universal scripture there might be hope of ending the cycles of war. And were we to change the word “man” to “living thing,” it might be a truer mission statement to try to live by. One problem is that it’s so easy to swat the fly, and somewhere in that endless complexity there’s the urge that would make a boy sight a rabbit at the end of a rifle. Or another man. Maybe I’m no closer to understanding any of this, these mysteries of solitude and loneliness, death and love.

This morning, for the first time, I caught a whiff of autumn. Woodsmoke seeping from my stove. Curled bark of madrone. Pine cones. Stacked logs. Apples. My time here will end in the season of endings, in the last colorful splash before the snows. In two weeks I’ll be making a brief trip back East, to northern New Jersey, to find an apartment close to the high school where I teach. Then I’ll return here and stay through mid-October. My sabbatical ends November 1st. I fear this next step. Forty and divorced and living in the suburbs. A lone human on the fringes of a vast metropolis. I fear I may be more lonely there, though I’ll have my students to keep me company and raise my spirits as they always do. I fear the noise, which alone might be enough to drive me mad. I fear the cars and pollution, the strip malls and $6.00 bridge tolls. Out here I have gotten used to not carrying a wallet or wearing a watch. I fear alarm clocks and schedules, landlords and bills. I have lived there before, in the mid-‘90s. I didn’t like it then. In the glow of New York City there are no stars. There are no hummingbirds, no pileated woodpeckers, no bears. I fear it will be an adjustment for Gus, too. So long unleashed, he will feel quite tethered to his new life, romping through huge meadows only in his leg-twitching dreams. These 95 acres surrounded by countless miles of federally protected wilderness will seem to both of us, then, like a heaven we knew once, a place to which, with any luck, we might one day return intrepid and together.

Maybe it was because I had the essay at the forefront of my mind this week that I had so much trouble with the following poem. Or maybe it’s the form: another terza rima. Whatever the case, I’ve been struggling with this one for about a week now. But I’ve put it to bed, and I’m happy with it:

Tilled Acres

When I see them—three boys crossing turned earth—
I fall in step as the brother I was
before the seasons squandered all their worth

through thirty calendars or more. Because
they would never let me, I slow their pace
to know, if I might, how time undoes

the smooth construction of a young boy’s face
or dims the burning at the rims of eyes.
And as the sun sinks low and barn swallows trace

figures in the air, something in me dies
to see the furrows of tilled acres fill
with shadows and a lone vulture’s clockwise

spiral count the seconds as they spill.
When I look again the field’s empty. Still.

Looking over this blog posting, I realize it’s been a busy and productive ten days out here. My trip to Bend energized me.

Leave me comments. Let me know what you think of all this.

And in case you’re wondering if I look like Grizzly Adams…

Saturday, August 13, 2005

August 7 - 13th

August 7, 2005

The bad headache that plagued me all day yesterday—the result, I think, of two nearly sleepless nights in a hotel and lots of driving—has finally gone away. I think I just needed a good night’s rest. Thankfully, the bears stayed away and so Gus didn’t wake me up with any barking. I think I’m so used to the quiet out here that when I stay in a hotel the sound of the air conditioner (a necessity) keeps me up. I never get a good night’s sleep in town.

It was dreadfully hot again (105) when I got back, but I survived. Cindy Thompsen called in the afternoon. I’d hoped to meet up with her and her siblings as they were passing through the area, but we didn’t plan well, and having already driven all the way back here and feeling lousy, I wasn’t up for making the drive out again. They didn’t seem keen on driving the rental car over the bad roads to visit me out here, and I don’t blame them. It’s just as well; I would have been a bad host as debilitated as I was by the whopping headache.

With a clearer head and cool morning breezes, I finished up this poem, a terza rima:

Pit Viper

It comes to me in the night through the grass
of dreams, a living ribbon curled to strike,
guarding some next strange and shifting trespass—

a thing I’ve done or haven’t but would like.
No rattle I recall, no sound at all,
no hissing invitation to its bite.

But a foot will fall where a foot will fall
and might will come what might. Thus the two-pronged
knife, the mind-gall, the choice, the wherewithal

sleep affords the sleeper when all along
he’s walked so blindly through his life. A prick
before I see it, like stepping on thorns,

and then the blooming at my feet, the quick,
the chill as if from an open window
in a familiar room, the steady tick

of seconds counted. And they do not slow.
I’m poisoned simply knowing what I know.

It’s going to be hot again, so we’re heading to the river for the afternoon, where I’ll spend some more time with Woody Guthrie in Joe Klein’s book.

The river was lovely, as usual. Cool, clean, green water and our nice sandy beach. Quite a few rafters floated by, and I tried to find out more about the fire downriver. Last night, listening in on the party line, I was able to gather that the fire exploded over the last couple of days. The folks at Marial Lodge sounded worried. There was talk of back-burning, evacuation plans, and closing down the river to rafters. Some of today’s folks said they heard the river might be closed to rafting as early as tomorrow. I tried to check the Forestry Department web page about the fire while in town yesterday, but the page hadn’t been updated since July 29th. The fire’s been burning now for about 15 days. I’m going to keep trying to listen in and gather whatever info I can, and I’ll call the fire dispatcher tomorrow to get the scoop from there. I wish I could just call down to Marial Lodge, but the way this radio phone works you can’t call anyone else on the party line. I don’t know what will happen if I have to evacuate. Will I just head home? I can’t afford to stay in a hotel for any extended length of time. But I doubt it’ll come to that.

I called Sharen tonight to hear how the Newport Folk Festival was, and she was sitting on Newport Beach with the Subins. They’d just eaten at Flo’s Clamshack. I was most envious.

August 8, 2005

Last night I was all set to get in bed and read, and then I took Gus out for a pee and saw the stars! There was no moon, and they were thick, the Milky Way all nebulous and beautiful, so I decided to brave the mosquitoes and lie in the hammock for a while and watch for meteors. No sooner had I settled in than a huge one shot across the sky. Then another. Then another. In the half-hour or so that I lay there I saw five, all of them leaving long, fleeting trails. It was magical. And I don’t think I got a single mosquito bite. This may become a nightly routine. I got this poem out of it:

Meteors in a Remote Place

Here night is night; there is no man-made light
but for satellites which like runaway
stars could pass for planes in the Milky Way’s
otherwise unchanged arrangement. Tonight,
wrapped in the hammock on the open deck,
I brave mosquitoes for the meteors’
white-blue-orange trails that flash across
the northeastern sky and just as quickly
extinguish. Hard to think they’re just debris—
space dust, pebbles, peas—down here where crickets
sing, a mule deer chomps at the apple tree,
and my dog romps in his sleep beneath me.
As small as we all are, I, too, should shut
my eyes and let the black close over me.

Well, I called the fire dispatcher, who took down my information and said someone would be calling me. I also contacted Bradley to see if he had any news on the fire from the Internet. He said the fire is 20% contained and has burned about 2,100 acres, and that the ODF has been doing all it can to get a handle on it. He asked if I’d seen any smoke in the canyon, and I said no, and it turns out I spoke too soon. Late this afternoon the wind shifted and now the whole place is thick with smoke. I can hardly see Rattlesnake Ridge. The smoke’s irritating my eyes and my lungs, but my hope is that, like the last time it got smoky, the wind will shift again and clear it out. I just got a call back from the person the fire dispatcher contacted. He took down my coordinates and said he’d have someone on the firefighting team call me tonight. It’s good that I’m letting people know I’m out here just in case.

August 9, 2005

When I got up around 7:00 the smoke had dispersed quite a bit. There’s still a smoky haze in front of Rattlesnake Ridge and down over the river, but the air is a bit more breathable. The guy from the firefighting team called me last night, and gave me the scoop. He said the fire’s three miles from me, and that if it started to head my way he’d call. He sounded confident that it won’t, and said the smoke I was seeing was likely from the back-burning they did yesterday.

This morning I wrote and recorded a song for my good friend Jim Dowling. Jim’s got a fatal cancer, and doesn’t have long to live, a dreadful and sad fact we talk about pretty candidly. He and I have been friends for about fifteen years and have had many good times together. The song is a carpe diem (seize the day) sort of song as well as a tribute to our friendship. Hang in there, pal!
Gone for Good

The wind kicked up again in the afternoon, and the smoke came pouring back into the canyon, irritating my eyes and my throat. I tried closing the windows of the cabin, but the place got too hot. It’s hard to capture it in a photograph, so below I have an older shot of Rattlesnake Ridge on a clear day and then a shot from yesterday afternoon to try to give a sense of how smoky it is:

I’m looking forward to getting out of here for the weekend and going to a place where I can breathe!

August 10, 2005

Well, with the smoke working its way into the cabin, my clothes, my hair, my eyes, it seemed only apt that it work its way into a poem, too:

The Dry Season

A fire, sparked by lightning, has invaded
this green wilderness, clouded all vision.
My eyes sting for a thing I haven’t done.
Although I cannot see the charred acres

from here, I imagine the refugees—
mammals and birds and reptiles and insects,
a menagerie not unlike the ark’s.
But what of those creatures too slow to flee—

the beetles and snails, for example?
They’ll be the casualties of God’s wild whim,
like the ones last time round who couldn’t swim.
Mere miles away trees burn like temples

and orange teeth march in a crooked line.
Through tiny eyes gaze down on either scene’s
aftermath—a ship upon a mountain,
a bear clinging to the top of a pine.

August 12, 2005

I got a call on Wednesday from a reporter for the Bend newspaper, who’s doing a story about me for Saturday’s edition in advance of my reading there on Sunday. I’m guessing this is Judy’s doing. It was a pleasant surprise, and I’ll be curious to see what he writes. He’d seen the blog already, and so had a pretty good idea of what I’m doing with my residency. At one point he asked if it’s helped having my dog here. Apparently he noticed my huge attachment to Guster. Anyway, I hope the article drums up a good audience for the reading.

I also got a call from Bradley last night, and he said the fire blew up a bit on Thursday. Starting tomorrow the river will be closed to rafters and the river trail closed to hikers. The fire’s now burned about 3,700 acres (I think that was the figure he gave me), but he said it would have to cross creeks and a road to get here, and that the firefighters will have set up significant lines along the road going to Marial. So it’s unlikely I’ll have to evacuate.

We spent yesterday afternoon down at the river, where at one point I looked up and saw a bear on the other side. This is probably one I haven’t seen previously. I watched him for a while and Gus didn’t catch a whiff of him and so was oblivious. But then it looked as if the bear might climb into the river upstream of me, and I was afraid he’d cross right to us, so I gave a shout. That set Gus off. He went bolting upstream and yelping wildly. Then I was afraid he’d try to cross the river to get at the bear, but he didn’t. The bear finally ambled off and Gus returned to the beach and curled up in the shade of the umbrella.

There was a nice crescent moon rising last night, and the sky above the forest looked kind of purplish-blue. Not sure the photo does it justice, but here it is:

I finished the Woody Guthrie book last night, and had a hard time reading through the tears it brought on at the end. Poor Woody never had a chance against the Huntington’s chorea passed down by his mother, and he suffered a lot at the end. Joe Klein did a great job of bringing Woody to life, and he looms large in my mind now as an important American, like Walt Whitman. It was touching to read about Bob Dylan seeking out Woody at the hospital and playing for him. Woody called him “the kid.”

Now I’m reading Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which Neil left here for me. I’m liking it so far. Holly Golightly reminds me so much of Lori Brum, Sharen’s friend and neighbor when she was growing up.

Finished a couple more new poems. I’m not sure where this first one came from; maybe I’m feeling regrets about the way my life has turned out; maybe reading about Woody’s slew of kids dredged this one up.

Childless in a World of Children

Here comes the moon moving like a lantern
through the trees, and on the canyon’s far side
a pulled shade. Out of all the taciturn
evenings there are these somehow dignified

silent times through which the unborn voices
climb like half-remembered songs I would sing
in small rooms. I am doomed by the choices
I have made. My knees swing lighter lacking

riders, my shoulders slouch beneath the weight
of what they have not carried. My story’s
devoid of characters, and it’s too late
to revise. The moon’s my repertory

now. I watch it, however much dismayed,
playing the same scene it has always played—
a hermit walking home through a dark glade.
I am doomed by the choices I have made.

This next one was inspired by the sorry-looking apples I picked yesterday. Though they look unsightly, they’re actually pretty delicious. I tried to play around in this poem with a strange predominant meter: trochaic tetrameter catalectic. In layman’s terms trochaic means that there’s a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. Tetrameter means that there are four feet. Catalectic means that the final foot is incomplete (just the stressed syllable; the unstressed is left out). This structure works (for the most part) through each of the three longer lines that start each stanza. The short concluding line of each stanza uses a three-syllable line, usually an unstressed followed by two stressed syllables. Why this structure? Well, trochaic rhythms, unlike iambic rhythms, are a bit unsettling, and so they seemed to match the imagery and tone of the poem. Maybe it’s all too technical for the poem’s own good, but I think it works. I say “for the most part” above, because at times I vary the pattern a bit. For example, in the first line the word “Cancerous” should be pronounced as a two-syllable word—“Can-srus” rather than “Can-ser-us”—to achieve the desired effect. Of course, you can read it as a three-syllable word, too, and it’s simply a slight variation of the meter. If you were to scan line 7 you might find the meter a bit mucky in the second foot. Same with the first few feet of line 10. But it doesn’t really matter. My feeling about meter is that a little variation is to be desired. Now that I’ve said all this, I’ve probably spoiled the poem for you, as you’ll be counting as you go. Forget everything I said, and just read it.

Summer Apples

Cancerous danglers, homes for worms.
Some of them afflicted down
their embarrassed longitudes
with gray scars.

Others fallen, already
softened, sweet and crawling all
over with so many bees
and black flies.

But the ones I keep in bowls—
conspicuously flawed, these
sad and spotted bodies—call
to mind now

relatives of mine long dead:
faces powered, rouged and veined;
houses left empty and fruit
still set out.

“Where do they go?” I asked once
of my sister. We were slicing up
granpa’s apples, crosswise, for
their brown stars.

And before they dried where we’d lined
them on windowsills, I knew.
Some of them held seeds and that’s
how trees grew.

A bear was in the blackberries again this morning. I didn’t see the cub, but it looked a lot like mama bear. Maybe the cub was off apace also munching away. I don’t know how the bears can stand to walk through the thorns of those bushes. I slice up my fingers just picking a few berries.

The reporter from the Bend paper called again this afternoon to ask if he could use an excerpt from my poem “One Day in July” in his article. Of course I said yes. I’m glad he chose that poem. It’s one of my favorites of all the poems I’ve written out here. He said he’s including a photo of me, too, the black-and-white one that’s on the web. It’s ten years old, but whatever! It’s fun to get some press.

August 13th, 2005

The drive up to Bend was beautifully scenic, snaking along the Umpqua River and up into the Oregon High Desert. Judy and Phil have a lovely home, and they're the nicest people! Bend is a funky little town. I could live here! I saw the article on me in The Bulletin (including a huge photo of me and an excerpt from "One Day in July"), but I haven't read the article yet. Judy and Phil dropped me in town here for WiFi and a taste of the place while they doggy sit Guster.

I'm glad to be here.

Had a nice dinner with Judy and Phil, spicy porkchops, potato salad, and some of the tomatoes from my garden I'd brought as a little present, the latter done up with basil and balsamic vinegar. Good coffee and a tasty orangey dessert, too. It was nice not to eat alone, especially joined by easygoing, smart, engaging people. Good action!

It's late, and I had a long day. Signing off.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

this is an audio post - click to play

Friday, August 05, 2005

August 4th

NOTE: The domain name of the site I use to host my pictures expired, and so that's why the photos weren't loading. I renewed today (Aug 5) and they said it takes 24-48 hours to get things working again. Thanks for being patient. Pictures should be back by Monday.

Gus and I took a drive out to the coast today along Rt. 199 from Grants Pass to Crescent City, California, a scenic ride especially near the end where we passed through gorgeous redwood forests. It was foggy and cool on the coast, a welcome change from Grants Pass, which is sunny and close to 100 degrees. We wound up at a neat lighthouse, but it was closed because the tide was coming in, blocking the path to get to it. But Guster got to have his first swim in the ocean. He wasn't sure what to make of salt water. He took one drink and sort of looked at me as if to say, "What the heck is this?" Then he went romping in the waves and seaweed.

Here's the lighthouse:

Here's Gus swimming

He's me standing beside one of the gargantuan redwoods:

Thursday, August 04, 2005

July 29 - August 4

July 29, 2005

I happened to turn on NPR this evening, and on “All Things Considered” they featured Stanley Kunitz, who turned 100 today, reading one of his poems. I was quite moved hearing his ancient voice read his poem “The Long Boat.” It was one of those magical moments of serendipity, and I sat there afterward wondering what made me switch on the radio when I care so little lately about the news of the world. Maybe I wanted to catch the weather report or hear some update on the wildfires, but I like to think there’s something more to it. Hearing Kunitz read, I remembered the time a few years back when I attended a reading of his at a tiny church during The Dodge Poetry Festival. I was late in arriving and the only seat left was directly in front of him. I could have reached out and touched his green wool sport coat, which I found myself imagining would fit me. Then I had the fantasy that he was my grandfather and that when he died I’d inherit that coat. He was in his mid-90s then, and still traveling around doing readings. Now he’s 100, and today he was to spend the day at his house in Provincetown with family and friends celebrating. Here’s a poem I wrote for him:

The Salt Marsh

—for Stanley Kunitz,
on his 100th birthday, July 29th, 2005

Beyond his garden
and down the long path
above which herring gulls
toss like angels
and through the tall
spartina and beach
plums, he sees what
for a hundred years
he’s come to see:
evening setting the water
aflame; a hermit crab
waving its one good arm;
a cormorant diving
and surfacing and diving
again; a rowboat waiting
as if for its ferryman;
and the moon, like a coin,
on the horizon.

July 30, 2005

A giant salmon was swimming around in my thoughts this morning, so while it was still cool we packed a bag and took a walk down Lang Cook Trail to the creek. The trail was much improved after my Roundup treatment on the poison oak, though there’s still that big fir tree across the trail. But we weren’t to be deterred. I lifted Gus onto the huge trunk of the fallen tree and he jumped down onto the other side. On the cliffs above the creek mouth, I peered down and, sure enough, there was Mr. Chinook, all 20 or 25 pounds of him swaying around. But I was foiled by the damned rafters. As I was tying on a big, gaudy, orange fly, rafters floated by. Then before I could make my first cast I saw a fishing line fly. And there was the dumb rafter standing two feet above the pool and chucking a huge spinner around. I don’t know if he saw me up above him, but I know his cohorts on the other raft did. I felt like trying to hook him with my fly, but I didn’t. I let him finish scaring away the fish, then I went into a shady overhang of rock and ate my lunch, shad salad in a wrap and a plum, and waited for the salmon to think the coast was clear. When I went back to fish, I couldn’t see him at first. I surprised myself with some nice casting, working the fly along the shady water. Then I could see him swishing around. I threw the fly down about sixty times, letting it drift, jigging it. No luck. But I’ll try again some other time.

I thought all the wildflowers had been obliterated by the hot summer days, but on the river trail making our way to the beach, and I encountered this beauty. Again, my wildflower guide fails me. Looks like an orchid to me:

Having been out here a while, I sometimes forget the majestic beauty of the canyon. Today the view was crisp and clear, and I shot this Rogue vista:

Mama bear and cub have been regular visitors to the homestead driving Gus (and hence me) a bit crazy. As soon as Gus gets a whiff of them or hears them on the property, he runs around the cabin barking incessantly, getting himself just as worked up as he used to do with the chicken. When we’re outside and he catches wind of them, he runs right to them and tries to scare them off. And when he finally comes back, he’s covered with burrs and I have to spend the next half-hour combing them out, a painful process for both of us.

Here’s a shot of Mama bear from last night:

Even as I type this, she and the cub are out feasting in the blackberry patch behind the woodshed. Gus is presently doing a time-out in his crate. I’ve also added a drop of Rescue Remedy to his water to help calm him down. As much as I hate to do it, I’ve instituted a part-time leash rule. If while in the cabin Gus gives any indication of bear-agitation, I keep him inside and take him out on the leash to do his business. I’ve never seen him bark so much as he has in the last few weeks here. When I first got him, he almost never barked. Apparently he doesn’t like black bears, which is too bad, because I kind of like having them around.

July 31, 2005

Last day of July, and I’m glad the month’s over! I hope August brings with it rain and clouds and happier days. I never thought I’d get sick of sunny weather, but enough’s enough. I need a change of pace. It was another day around 105. Right now, though, at 10:43 pm, there’s a nice cool breeze coming through, and I think it’ll drop into the low 50s overnight. Maybe this is the beginning of a cooling trend.

I’m sick of being alone, and I’m looking forward to my reading in Bend in two weeks. It’ll be nice to be among the literati there.

I wrote this poem this morning.

The Lion’s Share

He wakes with dusky colors in his eyes,
tuned to shadows, warm in a bed of ferns.
A yawn erupts from where his hunger burns
without fuel. Soon he and the moon will rise

together to the task predictable
as sex or weather. Meanwhile the meadow
closes slowly around a grazing doe,
a spotted fawn. It’s just as possible

they’ll be gone by the time he’s near enough
to sense them; chance, as ever, left to chance.
In a house nearby a similar dance:
wild eyes of the weak; hands, teeth of the rough;

a human drama with its human laws.
I bring you back to the meadow to feel
the savage beast’s savage strength and the squeal
of something warm struggling in its claws.

Tonight I tallied up my output since I’ve been here:

I’ve written 29 poems so far. None of those has been accepted yet, but not many submissions have come back. The poetry world moves at a slow pace. I’m confident that a good number of those poems will be published in magazines and journals, and I hope that most of them will fit into a new collection, which I haven’t even started to think about organizing. I did receive an acceptance last Thursday, from Crab Orchard Review. A poem entitled “These Last Ten Years.” I’m excited about that. Crab Orchard’s a nice journal, and my friend Peter had some poems accepted for the same issue.

I’ve made 30 new crossword puzzles here, and only one of them has been accepted so far. That’s a bad average, considering that the responses come back quickly from newspapers (except for The New York Times). But I’m learning a lot about the business. It’s all about a good theme!

I’ve written two short stories, one of which has come back rejected from The Atlantic Monthly and North American Review. The other story I haven’t sent out yet. A third story stalled at about 20 pages. And a fourth story, which I’d hoped would shape up as a novel, stalled at 42 pages. I seem to have lost all confidence as a fiction writer. :-(

I probably should have produced a lot more in three and a half months, but at least I’ve written something. And, as my faithful followers know, I’ve written many, many words in this blog. I’m hoping to find a way to print the blog when it’s all done, and leave a copy here at the cabin. It’s a tradition here that the resident writer keep a journal. I’ve spent quite a few hours reading through the hand-written entries of former residents. I don’t want to submit future residents to the torture of trying to decipher my handwriting, and there’s no way I’d rewrite everything just so it’s in the “official journal.” So, I’ll find some way to print the blog, maybe bind it even, and leave a copy here.

Mama Bear and cub were back again this evening, getting Gus all riled up. They’re making the rounds of the blackberries. I went out and picked a large yogurt tub full before they eat them all. My plan is to make a cobbler or some kind of pastry with them.

My garden’s giving me tomatoes now. I’ve eaten several and today I sliced up a few Romas and put them in the dryer. Yes, I’m making my own sun-dried tomatoes. If they dry nicely, I’ll pack them in olive oil in canning jars and take some home with me. It would be cool to preserve some of the bounty of this place and over the long winter back in New Jersey remember my time here. I’ve got a good supply of bay leaves, mint tea, and chamomile tea already. I’ll can other stuff when it’s cooler.

August 2, 2005

The heat wave finally broke! Yesterday and today the weather was just right; it never got hotter than 85 degrees and there was a nice breeze. The cooler temps raised my spirits, but I’m still feeling a bit bored and lonely. Cabin fever. Solitude blues. I’ve been thinking that maybe we should take a drive to the coast. I’m so close to it that it seems silly not to go see the Pacific, even if it’s too cold to swim in it. Maybe we’ll go to Brookings on Thursday and spend the night and then return via Grants Pass to get mail and groceries.

I finished the novel Midwives today, and boy was it a page-turner. It has such a cinematic structure that I’m surprised it hasn’t been made into a movie yet. I’m sending it to my sister, who, if she wasn’t busy raising three kids, would probably be a midwife. I know she’ll like it.

Last night I watched some of the new Paste DVD, and there was a great short movie entitled “The Great Cheesesteak Debate,” a documentary set in Philly that consisted of countless people making claims about which cheesesteak place is the best in the city. Some of these places operate right across the street from one another, and they all do a booming business. Even at two o’clock in the morning, the line goes down the street. The movie was a riot, but by the time it was over I was dying for a cheesesteak! So today I defrosted a sirloin I had in the freezer, and for dinner I sliced it thin, cooked it in a frying pan, melted some American cheese on it and slid the greasy pile into a nice seeded baguette slathered with mayonnaise (healthy heart be damned). Man, was it good!

August 3, 2005

Last night, for the second night in a row, I had a hard time falling asleep and, gazing up through the skylight at the stars, saw a long, bright, orange-white meteor flash past. The strange thing about these two sightings is that I’ve been wanting to go out and watch for shooting stars, but the mosquitoes and bears have made me reluctant to go lie out in the field, where I’d have the best view. I could watch from my deck, but it faces east. I think the best place to see shooters is in the north. I wonder if these shooters I’ve seen through the skylight are bits from the Perseids. I need to check the date on that occurrence, for which I’ll most definitely don the long sleeves, long pants, and mosquito repellant and take to the field with my pal Gus.

It’s taken me a few days to work this one out, but I think it’s done now:


Around the world on trains and buses

real or imagined wait to spark this

to a brief flash at the speed of an idea.
I hear

what comes before as much as after:

cameras clicking, a girl snapping gum,

young men discussing football scores,

sighing open or closed, a cell phone’s

playing Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”
Not a

single seat unoccupied. And maybe
a baby

has started crying and the soothing word

is Arabic or French. Now some other

offers a piece of advice. Streets outside

by like a movie. Even in the bright

of day, for every rider the vast, black

of-the-mind reminder that nothing’s hum-

now. But still, O God, we climb aboard,
we climb aboard.

Steve Edwards, a DHIT alum, emailed a request to take a photo of the bench up at the pond, which he built during his stay here. Apparently his mom didn’t believe he was capable of such handiwork. I warned him that now, four years later, the bench is in a state of disrepair, but I assured him it’s still sturdy enough to sit on, which I do every time I go up there. Here it is:

On the walk back from photographing the bench, I found this dead cicada. I had a really great ending to a poem about cicadas in my head, but by the time I’d walked back to the cabin, I’d plumb forgotten it.

While I was eating lunch today a hummer landed on the chair out on the deck. Scarce as they’re becoming as the summer plods on, I couldn’t resist:

Once again, Mama Bear and cub were back for their evening plunder of the blackberries. This time I got a nice look at the cub, who scrambled about thirty feet up into a tree. The cub’s not much bigger than Gus, and is probably only seven or eight months old (I read somewhere that black bears usually give birth around January).

We spent the afternoon at our beach, where I started reading Joe Klein’s biography of Woody Guthrie lent to me by my brother Michael. I’m loving it.

The heat has returned. High 90s when we got back from the river. Tomorrow we might take a drive to the Pacific.

August 4, 2005

Here's a shot of the wildfire burning downriver from me. I took it on the road this morning: