Tuesday, September 27, 2005

September 22 - 26

September 22, 2005

Autumn now. Another summer gone like a bloom. Mine one to remember. We’re back from the trip to Eugene, which was great. The city is like Bend, but bigger—clean, artsy, progressive and laid out in a grid along the Willamette River. It took me five minutes to find a WiFi café. Ten to find a dog park. Eugene has four or five of them. We visited two and both were bigger than a New York City block. One of them was a short walk from the house I stayed in. My host, Cecilia, was kind and engaging. She’s a writer and teacher and former editor of The Northwest Review. I enjoyed spending time with her and her husband, Craig, an artist and retired art professor, who does excellent landscape drawings in graphite. The reading was great. Big turn-out, attentive audience. In the library there was a huge poster advertising the reading, with bios and photos of me and the other reader, Laurie Lynn Drummond. I was tempted to snag the poster, but it was under glass. Laurie was quite good. She read a short story from her collection, What You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You, stories about women police officers in Baton Rouge. Yes, she was a cop there before becoming a creative writing professor at the University of Oregon. I read first, and did sixteen poems, a few from my book, the rest pieces written out here. Lots of people spoke with me at intermission and after the reading, and I signed a good number of books. One woman asked for my poem “Sheep’s Skull,” which she wants to send to a friend. I was surprised to find that one girl in the audience was, like me, a former Pearl Hogrefe Fellow at Iowa State. She and I chatted about the professors there. After the reading, Cecilia, Craig, Laurie and I went to a restaurant called Zenon (same name as a science teacher at my school, though pronounced differently) for drinks and dessert. In the morning Cecilia and Craig came by and brewed up some good coffee. We had breakfast goodies, chatted some more, and then walked up to the dog park. They recommended some places to check out before I left, and we said goodbye. I got my watch battery replaced at a watch repair shop, bought a cheddar brioche and some oatmeal cookies at a bakery, and then drove across the river to buy a four-track cribbage board for Bradley, a gift I’ve been searching for since I went to New Jersey. Then we left Eugene and drove to Grants Pass to get my mail, do laundry, and shop at Market of Choice. In the mail was a rejection from Barrow Street, but with a nice handwritten note saying that my poem “A Mouse in the House” came very close and that I should try there again with some other poems. Barrow Street is a prestigious, lovely journal. I will indeed send more. The long day of driving combined with lack of sleep had me wiped out by the time we made it back to the cabin late in the afternoon. Gus was glad to get out of the car and run free again. When it got dark I heard the strangest noise, kind of like raccoons fighting but louder. I shone a flashlight from the deck and saw two sets of green eyes glowing up the road a bit. The beam was too week to see clearly but the shape of one of them was a small bear. Don’t know what the other was. I was in bed before nine o’clock. Read some more pages in Bob Dylan’s terrible book and conked out.

Today I stacked more of the madrone in the upper wood shed, finishing the bigger of the two piles Bradley and I made. The stack is well over my head now. There’s something satisfying about stacking wood. Doing it, I understand in some small way what it must be like to be a mason making a brick wall. Later I worked on the oil painting some more. It’s looking better. I want to let it dry before I put on the finishing touches. I’ll take a photo of it when it’s done. It’s a forest scene, kind of impressionistic.

It’s 3:20, sunny and cool. Bees hover at the eaves. A squirrel is chirping. Gus is lying beside the La-Z-Boy. Seltzer whispers in the can.

September 23, 2005

A little rain came through last night, so Bradley and Margery should have a nice drive in, very little dust.

Last evening I discovered that the fence battery was in the red. I walked the perimeter of the garden twice and the wires weren’t touching metal or anything else. I can only imagine that some critter got a big zap the night before and drained down the battery. I turned it off to see if it would recharge, and it didn’t. I’m going to let the sun hit the small solar panel all day today and see if that charges it up. If not, I’ll have Bradley take a look when he gets here later today.

While in Eugene I chatted with Cecilia Hagen about The Christian Science Monitor and the essays I’ve written for it. Then I had an e-mail from Casey McIntyre, a former student and now in college in Atlanta, and she said she’s using one of my Monitor essays in a nonfiction class she’s taking. I considered this a sign that I needed to write a new short essay and send it in. I’d all but given up on the Monitor after never receiving replies from the last two essays I sent. But I wrote a new one, and will send it. This one’s about the lone hummingbird I saw this morning. It makes reference to the episode this past summer when I caught a hummer. The piece is short and sweet, and may be perfect for the paper. Here it is:

Birds of a Feather

Today I saw what may be the last hummingbird of the year, a female Rufous, mostly green. These tiny flying gems are always in a hurry, but this one looked almost anxious, as if she’d bided time too long, greedy for my sweetened water, when she should have already flown south.

Last night a rain came through. In my sleep I was vaguely aware of it thrashing the roof, pattering on the skylight. In her little nest this hummingbird must have been cold, much colder than I beneath my down and wool. Maybe her mate was there to share body heat, their two pea-sized hearts beating together in time, a song for warmth inaudible to all except them in their woven bowl.

Now the sun has cleared the ridge, and she and I will soon fool ourselves again. We’ll pretend summer didn’t end. I’ll slip on some shoes and go out to the garden to pick the two dwarf cucumbers, but I won’t actually do it. I’ve been hoping for a growth spurt, though every day they appear to be the same size, the same distorted shapes. They’d make good baby dills, but there’s just the two of them. A salad then, when I finally do pick them. Under the sun, with the chill burned off, it’ll be easy to forget it’s autumn. My hummingbird, drinking sweet rainwater out of the morning glory trumpets, must be just as reluctant to let summer go.

It wasn’t long ago that I stood beneath the red feeder while she and six of her friends or family zipped around me. I’d been astonished to feel the wind of their wings on my face. I’d been a little envious of their play, too. I’m forty, but there’s a boy in me who refuses to move out of the house of my mind, and it was him who thought to catch one of them. It’s easier than one might think. I stood statue-still, my index finger and thumb poised beneath the feeder. The seven hummers hovered and zoomed and peeped. Then one, a coffee-brown male, stopped just above my waiting trap and I had him by his feet, which were black and thin as pencil lead. I was gentle and didn’t hold him long, just long enough to have felt as though I’d joined their game of chase, just long enough to have gotten a close look at his iridescent orange bow tie.

Now my green friend is dipping into the purple petunias in the basket hanging above my deck. Of course, I can’t be sure that she was among the seven that day I caught the brown male, but I’m good at pretending. So I know why she’s still hanging around. She’s middle-aged and there’s a girl inside her who won’t fly away. She’s not anxious at all. No, she’s asking me to come out and play, out there in the sunshine where it’s always summer.

September 24, 2005

Remember everything I said about fly fishing? Well, I gulp my words. Bradley came hurrying down the road yesterday afternoon with his fly rod in hand. “Let’s go fishin’,” he said. I hadn’t even heard them arrive, hadn’t yet met his mother, Margery. We were at the river about five minutes before he hooked into one, a beautiful silver steelhead. A steelhead is a sea-run rainbow trout. They’re born in freshwater rivers, then go out to the ocean to feed, and then return to their home rivers. Because they feed on shrimp and ocean life, their flesh is pink rather than white like a freshwater trout. The fish he caught was a good size, so he bonked its head on a rock and bagged it. A minute later, another. He let this one go. Now I was itching to catch one. We went downriver a ways. Bradley had a tug, but no taker. Then we made our way upriver. He took his time and showed me all the back eddies and pockets. At one of them he told me to toss the fly right in this foam. And I had one! The first fish I’d ever caught on a fly, and I fumbled a bit with the slack line at my feet, but then I had the fish in hand, pulled the fly out of his downturned lips, bonked and bagged him. We fished for another two hours or so, Bradley giving me good lessons in casting. He’s a master at it, can lay a line all the way across the river, and he knows how to work the fly so it looks just like a fish in the water. I hooked into another in a back eddy, but it jumped off. Once stung, it wasn’t coming back for more. Up in a nice gravel run, Bradley landed another fish, a hatchery one, and had several other strikes. I fished very little here, because it was a hard place to cast. He knew what he was doing, so I let him work the water. On the way back down, at the same place where I lost a fish, he caught two more, one of them a nice 14- or 15-incher. I caught another fish, but it was small, only about six or seven inches. Bradley said it was a rainbow trout rather than a steelhead. With five fish in the bag, and with dark coming on, we headed back up the trail.

I met Margery, and she’s a fantastic lady! Ninety-three and quick as a bullwhip. And very sweet. She was so happy that I’d made her an apple pie and that I’d caught my first steelhead. Bradley told me he learned all his fishing skills from her. While the chicken was cooking on the barbeque, Bradley taught me how to clean the fish we’d caught. Now I’m all set to catch more, clean them, and eat them. I hope to eat a lot of fish in the next three weeks. All I needed was an attitude adjustment, a willingness to accept the many facets of fly fishing. Here are the five we caught:

And here’s Margery:

We’re heading back down to the Rogue around noontime today for more fishing. Can’t wait.

After cleaning bat guano from the windows of the upper house (much to Margery’s appreciation) and then chopping some firewood, Bradley and I made a trek to the river up above Horseshoe Bend. We left Gus at the cabin. He gets in the way and jumps in the water. As we made our way upriver I hooked but lost three fish. I think I’m still getting used to setting a fly once a fish takes it. That, and keeping tension on the line. I’ll work at it. Bradley caught one in this stretch and let it go, because it was small and wild. Pretty fish, though. Here it is:

My teacher:

He lost a couple of fish, too. Finally, after walking three miles and fishing a nice stretch of the river, he caught two beauties, bonked and bagged them. It was starting to get dark and we had a three-mile walk back up. In all, we walked six rugged miles. “You gotta have the love,” Bradley said.

Later, at the upper house, he prepared a gourmet meal of the steelhead we’d caught the day before. He stuffed them with onions and apples and fried them in butter. He also made a stir-fry of red peppers, zucchini and onions. I contributed a salad of tomatoes from my garden with red onion, basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. For dessert: more of my apple pie topped with Ben & Jerry’s vanilla.

As pooped as we were, we got in one game of cribbage on the new four-track board I gave Bradley as a present for schlepping me to the airport and back. He won.

September 25, 2005

This morning we played cribbage again before Bradley and Margery left, and I won, despite his screaming lead with a sixteen-point hand. So we were even this time, which means I’m still undefeated as the individual cribbage champ of DHH.

I had a great time with Bradley and Margery, and I was sad to see them go. Margery is full of stories and is fun to be around. She began a nice watercolor painting of the view from the upper house deck. I gave her a copy of my book, and she kept saying she enjoyed my poems. I plan to send her some of the new stuff, especially the ones about this place. I know she’ll appreciate those.

After they’d driven off, I had lunch and then a nap and then headed down to the river, determined to catch a fish on my own, and did! And in the same spot as yesterday. Here it is:

A little further up I hooked another, even bigger. He put up a great fight. I had him almost to the shore and he dove down under a rock. I worked him out and was lifting him in to grab and he flopped off the hook and was gone. This was in the same spot where I lost one yesterday and where Bradley caught two. It’s a tried and true pocket, and I’ll revisit it next time. I fished for another half-hour and had no more strikes, so called it a night. I had a nice fish in my bag. Dinner. Here he it on the cutting board before I cleaned it:

I prepared him the same way I watched Bradley do it last night, minus the dill, which I don’t have. Coated with flour, stuffed with apples and onions, fried in butter. With some leftover rice and leftover tomato salad, it was just great.

Not bad for my first caught, cleaned and cooked steelhead. I cooked it just long enough, too, so that the spine and all the bones came out in one perfect piece. If you cook them too long the bones stay in the flesh.

Another adventure-filled weekend at the Dutch Henry Homestead. God, I’m going to miss this place.

September 26, 2005


Winged seeds of maples, as thin as paper,
as green as katydids, scapular
fruit dangling

in the shade of late summer and one day
splitting their seams and spiraling off
in a breeze.

We called them helicopters, made a game
of chasing them, our outstretched hands
landing pads.

And when we caught one we’d pry it open
exposing seed and sticky milk,
and glue them

to our noses—Cyrano, Pinocchio. Now when
I see one I’m carried back
to the lie

of childhood, its long, slow convolution toward
the touching down, the welcoming,
the cold ground.

Well, the solar-powered battery that charges up the fence around the garden has gone kaput. Bradley and I fiddled with it while he was here, and the box was full of nesting bees, but I don’t think they had anything to do with it. I think the battery just died out. It doesn’t much matter now. There’s no fruit on the fruit trees, and the only morsels that might invite bears are the concord grapes, the wine grapes, and the last of my tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers. This morning I harvested a nice load of yerba buena and put it in the dryer. I want to bring home as much as I can.

Went fishing again this afternoon and had more good action. I didn’t see a single rafter, and my only company was a bald eagle, a kingfisher, three mergansers, and Gus. On my second cast I hooked into a nice steelhead, fought him, and then was hoisting him up on my rock when he made a final thrash and bit the line just above the fly’s knot. Now there’s a steelhead out there with an orange fly in his lip. Maybe I’ll catch him some other time. He was about as big as the one I caught and ate yesterday. I tried the same pockets that have been successful, but today they weren’t. All I pulled out of them was a squawfish. Heading back toward my beach, though, I stopped at a spot I hadn’t fished and made a long cast, worked the fly over a submerged rock, and hooked a steelhead. This one I was determined not to lose. I muscled him onto the shore, unhooked, bonked and bagged him. I’ll have him for dinner tomorrow. Here he is, a thirteen-incher:

It was getting late and I’d caught a fish, so started back. I figured I’d take a few last casts at my rock just below my beach. Again, I sent the line out far for a long drift and arc. Bam! A big fish! I could see his silver flanks as he fought. This was the biggest one yet. I quickly reeled in the slack. The drag screamed out line. I held line to rod, fought, pulled him in a good twenty feet. Then he made a violent thrash, dislodged the hook, and was gone. Apparently it wasn’t yet his time. But it was some good action before the walk back up.

Tonight I carb-loaded: rigatoni with sausage, tomato, onion, green pepper, basil, and porcini mushrooms, topped with grated asiago cheese. Sun-dried tomato flatbread to go with it.

All these trips to the river are getting me in shape, but I’m pooped at night. The price one pays to fish for steelhead on a wild river, no one else in sight.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

September 15th - 19th

September 15, 2005

I plan to leave in exactly one month—October 15—to make my stay an even six months and to give me time to drive back East and set up my bungalow. It’s strange to think back on my arrival here five months ago, on April 15, when there was a foot of snow on the road and rain was falling. Back then I wore fleece and a rain jacket. The meadow shone bright green. The river flowed about five feet higher. Though I still wear shorts in the afternoon, it’s feeling more and more like autumn every day, and it’s nice to have left the heat of summer behind. It won’t be long before I break out the rain jacket again.

My garden is dealing its last hands—some stunted peppers (jalapenos, red bells, poblanos, Thai peppers), the last of the tomatoes, some hard yellow squash, a few midget cukes, celery. Yesterday I picked a big squash growing out of the compost bin, the result of some seed last year’s residents, Martha and Lang, must have tossed on the heap. I don’t know the variety, but it was football-shaped, yellowish-green, and striped white. It was delicious sautéed with garlic, tomatoes, and red onions. Made a nice side to my rib-eye steak. The jackpot of my late summer garden, and I didn’t even plant it.

I got up early today, before light, and Gussie and I drove into town. I needed to make plans for next week’s reading in Eugene, and I e-mailed and then spoke on the phone with Cecilia Hagen, the organizer of the Windfall Series. Cecilia said she and her husband each have a house, and she’s going to put us up in one of them as long as Gussie gets along with her cat. I may stay an extra night either there or in a hotel so I can explore Eugene a little. The reading is Tuesday the 20th at 7:00 pm. It’ll be nice to meet some new people and see a new town.

There’s a slim chance I may have another visitor before my residency ends. Neil Curry sent me a letter and said he’d like to come again. And my friend Peter in New York is talking about trying to come out for a long weekend. Either or both would be most welcome.

Today I had my head buzzed down short to match the beard I’m growing. Yes, I’m going for the G.I. Joe look again. I’m tired of trying to fool myself into thinking I’m not bald.

September 16, 2005

I heard some scary snarling and growling going on down in the canyon this morning. Gus and I were in the garden picking some celery for a corn chowder I made for lunch (delicious!), and I heard what sounded like two animals fighting. I immediately thought it was a cougar and a bear fighting over a carcass, but who knows? Maybe it was two bears. Or two cougars. Whatever it was, I worried that Gus might run down to investigate and become the next carcass for the critters to fight over, so I distracted him and got him inside.

Later, walking back from the pond, I came across this big wood-ear type fungus, which may bode well for chanterelles popping up soon:

Here’s a shot of the upper cabin that shows some of the madrone Bradley and I chopped last month. I’m stacking it in the woodshed a little at a time:

This afternoon I saw the first bit of rain in over two months! From the time the sun came up there were clouds about, big and dark, but with patches of blue sky between them. After lunch we went to the river where I tried my hand at fishing again. This time I didn’t even bother with the fly rod, using the spinning rig instead. I had several hits but no takers. While we were down there a few fat raindrops fell. But just now, back in the cabin and waiting for my chicken to cook, I glanced out the window and it was drizzling! It lasted about three minutes, but it’s something.

Once again the aroma of Barbara’s Famous Chicken is filling the cabin. With brown rice and a salad, it’s going to be sublime.

Friday, and it’s movie night! I bought a copy of Million Dollar Baby while in town yesterday. People raved about this movie and it won four Oscars, so I figured I’d give it a try. I’m a boxing fan, and most boxing movies I’ve seen, aside from Raging Bull, have been cheesy. I’m also usually dubious of any movie with Morgan Freeman in it. I know, he’s a good actor, but the movies he’s in are always so…well, feel-good and Hollywood. I do like Hilary Swank, though. Not only is she gorgeous, she’s one of the great contemporary actresses.

A post-dinner, pre-movie puff on the meerschaum:

September 17, 2005

The mists returned this morning! All through the spring I was enchanted by them—white, diaphanous shapes snaking through the canyon. I missed them all summer. Before they burned off, we went out for a walk. Here’s what they looked like:

It rained a bit during the night. I woke up once to the sound of it pattering on the skylight. While out looking at the mists, I poked around some for mushrooms, but I think it’s still too early and not wet enough.

It was kind of a lazy Saturday. I chopped a little wood, put more mint in the solar dryer, and tried to make an oil painting. My heart wasn’t into any of it. I thought about going fishing, and then thought of the steep hike back. So instead I finished the Ted Kooser book, solved a few crosswords, played hearts on my laptop, changed the strings on my guitar, sat out in the garden enjoying the breeze, napped, and finished this poem I’ve been tinkering with for a few days. The form is a rimas dissolutus.

Water, Father, an Unsteady Boat

He and I cut an awkward, crisscrossed wedge,
a wake of whorls gurgling back to black glass,
and in the rear I could hardly see him
for the fog. His paddle knocked at the prow,

its blade dripping, our silence like a pledge
of truce to our ancient war of redress.
I owed him as much, as far as we’d come—
through the portage of years and our somehow

still burdensome need to push from the edge
into the deeper mystery of us.
Perhaps this was why he taught me to swim,
for the passage he couldn’t help but allow:

water, father, an unsteady boat, the ledge
toward which we rush, buoyant and yet hapless,
where lakes become rivers, rivers become
seas in the confluence of then and now.

I just got up to get a drink, and saw a great moonrise over the ridge. I set up the tripod and took this shot:

Tried watching The Importance of Being Earnest tonight, and just couldn’t get into it.

September 18, 2005

Another day of perfect weather here, but again I’m feeling distracted, as though I’m just waiting around for the trip to Eugene. In the morning I worked on a new poem and then stacked more wood in the upper wood shed. I figure I better get it under a roof before the rains return in force. Couldn’t muster the motivation to hike down to the river to fish, and so spent the day milling about the cabin. Making lunch, I heard a huge horsefly buzzing at the window screen. It was almost the size of a cicada. I trapped it in a glass and let it go:

I’m about halfway through Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, which despite all the rave reviews and my love of Dylan’s music and mystique I’m finding to be a bit too pretentious and slow-moving. For twenty pages he’s looking out a window in a friend’s apartment. For another twenty he rants about all the books he half-read. I’m a third of the way through the book, and I still feel as though I know very little about his upbringing, his coming of age, his feelings about things. As with his music, he seems to hide himself behind the words, always in shadow or distorted. Who’s the real Bob Dylan? Maybe his persona has become so huge that not even he knows.

Here’s the new poem. The impetus for this one was a recollection of seeing migrant farm workers up in Pine Island, New York, the “Black Dirt Region,” which produces a huge percentage of the country’s onions. The three pickers reminded me of Francois Millet’s famous painting “The Gleaners.”

The Pickers

Bent against a sunlit field, like Millet’s
gleaners, they could be either women
or men, and like them they toil for little.

They have traveled far to gather onions
the combines missed, crossed a border at night
and no doubt left something sacred behind.

Trucks loaded high grind by, and the pickers
straighten their backs, make some unheard remarks.
Along the heaped rows seagulls flap and screech.

They have traveled far to gather the worms
the combines unearthed. They know no borders.
The pickers reach. The sacks and bellies fill.

Elsewhere in fields rich with corn or beans
the birds may be turkeys—toms or hens—
and the bending people women or men.

I set up the tripod again tonight, this time waiting for the moon to rise. The small picture hardly does it justice, but it looked pretty neat rising behind some giant Douglas fir trees in the distance. The trees looked like they were on fire:

September 19, 2005

The lines in the following poem should have a staggered indentation. For some strange reason HTML can’t do indentation properly. So imagine that in each stanza the second line has one tab, the third two.

Jays Raving at Dawn

Once again I’m ratcheted
out of darkness and into dim vision:
the cabin cold and damp as a grave.

The jays, the jays, the jays.
Same web between glass and screen.
Like me it has changed little

these many days. It trembles,
vacant silk, like the scarf of a baby’s
ghost, and despite this being

the first thing I see when I wake,
I like this time the most. Stretching
my toes into the cool space

a wife once occupied in that life
that seems sometimes like a dream.
The jays. The clicking of claws

on the floor when my dog
and I rise together. Water filling
the empty heart of the kettle.

Blue flames. The tiny brown
mountain of coffee dressing
the pantry with its smell. And the jays,

the jays. I can see them now
through the kitchen window,
a family of them, blue and proud.

The jays, the jays, the jays.

I tried the river again this afternoon and saw some big fish surface, but none of them went after my lures. Bradley said I should try the fly rod again. He’s coming in this weekend with his mother Margery. I look forward to meeting her. The residency award is in her name, and she’s the matriarch of the clan. Bradley said he’ll take me down to the river and show me how the fly fishing is done.

Pa called tonight and said my mother’s operation went well. I thought tomorrow was the day she was going in. Must have confused it with my reading. I’m not good at dates, especially out here where I lose track of what day it is. I often have to check the tiny calendar in my checkbook just to remind myself the day of the week. It’s a relief the lump is out. Next come the treatments to make sure it doesn’t return.

Tonight I’m going to print the new manuscript and choose which poems to read tomorrow night. I plan to read a few from Velocity and the rest will be stuff I’ve written here.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

September 11th - 15th

September 11, 2005

It’s unsettling to be boarding a jet plane this morning. Four years have passed since the attacks changed our lives, changed the world, but I’m still humbled and sobered by the date, which will ring blackly in my ears forever.

A happier thought, then: Gussie’s excitement upon our reunion later today, and my own glad comfort to have him sitting in the passenger seat of my car.

My brief return to the East has come to a close, and it was a fun and successful trip. Having landed the bungalow so soon, I had two whole days just to relax and visit family and friends. I spent most of my time in Manhattan, which helped to acclimate me to urban craziness and which will make my return to the wilderness all the more serene and sublime. I drove down yesterday morning and met my sister and her family on 43rd Street, where they were having a street sale. I also met Annie Hall, who’s been a big fan of the blog since I started it back in April. At the sale I found a handsome little photograph of blue doors and a set of stationery. Then I went downtown again to hang around with Peter for a while. There was a huge street fair on 8th Avenue, and we noshed on ethnic food from various stands. I bought a tee shirt and a new case for my iPod. Then I zipped back up to Jersey for a dinner with colleagues at Saigon Republic, a nice little Vietnamese restaurant in Englewood. We had a fine meal and then gathered on Roz’s new backyard patio for desserts from Balthazar’s and good conversation. A lovely way to end my visit.

My dad called last night to tell me he’s home from the hospital after his surgery and feeling tired. I suppose one would be after having had a major artery hollowed out. I know my mom’s glad to have him home, too.

Next post will be from Oregon.

September 12, 2005

After my long journey yesterday I was finally reunited with Gussie, who seemed very happy indeed to jump into my car and leave the kennel behind. He gave me many sweet kisses, but then gave me an accusatory look and sulked in the back seat. On the drive back to the cabin he finally forgave me and climbed into the front seat. Once home, he was excited to hop out of the car and run down into the meadow and then to sit out on the deck while the sun fell and the crickets started singing. I was pooped after six hours of flying and six hours of driving, but it felt good to be back at Dutch Henry breathing the sweet-scented air and having so much open space to myself. I was sad to see that my sunflower had withered up a bit despite a little rain, but everything else was as I left it. I put away my things, started the mesquite in the Weber, encrusted some lamb chops in garlic and rosemary, and strummed my Gibson till the coals were ready. I had a nice dinner followed by leftovers from Balthazar’s, compliments of Marge Boyle (who bought them) and Roz Maiden (who packed them up for me), and I was asleep before ten. Gussie, perhaps overly attuned to the quiet after six nights in a kennel, woke me up several times barking at the critters passing in the night, but I couldn’t be mad at him. I was just glad to have him with me again.

As it was back East, the weather here is great. Chilly nights, sunny and mild days.

Down in the garden my chamomile grew many more blossoms while I was away, and I picked the flowers and lay them in the solar dryer. When all is said and done, I should have a nice baggie full of dried chamomile to help me relax on winter nights at the new bungalow. More tomatoes were ripe for picking and drying.

A small poem:

Early Girls, Late Summer

So glad to be red and full in the sun
after a whole summer of unquenched thirst,
the tomatoes hang heavy on the vine
and can’t help but grin when their tight skins burst.

Gussie, deprived of running and swimming for a week, was eager to get out this morning and visit the pond. So I took him. Here’s Dutch Henry’s meadow and his old apple trees. Doesn’t it look inviting?

And here are some blackberries. They remind me of Galway Kinnell’s famous poem “Blackberry Eating” (a copy of which last year’s resident, Martha, left in the bathroom at the cabin, and which I read every time I brush my teeth). It’s a poem I know by heart. It begins:

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry making….

At the pond, Mr. Bullfrog greeted us…

…along with attendant newts:

When he picked me up at the airport yesterday, Bradley had an Altoids can full of newly tied flies along with some advice on how to use them. Thus, I’m heading down to the river later today to see if I can get one firmly affixed in the lip of a steelhead.

Back from fishing, and no luck (again). I tried both the fly rod and the spinning rig, to no avail. Will keep at it. Writing in the morning, fishing in the afternoon. Not a bad life.

My stomach’s growling like a cougar. I’ve got Barbara’s Famous Chicken in the oven, and it’s filling the whole cabin with a vinegary-chickeny smell. The recipe is my sister’s invention, and calls for a marinade of olive oil, vinegar, garlic, paprika, salt and pepper. I added a pinch of cayenne and a diced tomato to spice it up a bit. I like to use thighs and/or drumsticks for the crunchy skin and dark meat. With some brown rice and a salad, it’s going to be scrumptious. And I’ll have leftovers.

Still trying to decide on a title for my new manuscript of poems. I’m leaning toward Transit, which with its several meanings might work:

tran-sit n. 1. a. The act of passing over, across, or through; passage. b. The conveyance of persons or goods from one place to another, esp. on a local public transportation system. 2. A transition or change, esp. from one life to another at death. 3. Astron. a. The passage of a celestial body across the observer’s meridian. b. The passage of a smaller celestial body across the disk of a larger celestial body.

The American Heritage Dictionary
Second College Edition

I think this title works for quite a few poems and themes: the passage from being married to being single, the passage from East to West, the poem “Transit” about the terrorist bombings of trains and buses in London, several poems about death, and a poem from last year called “The Eclipse.” I’m not crazy about one-word titles for books, though.

September 13, 2005

Now that fall is nearly here and we’ve had some rain (while I was away), I’ve got mushrooms sprouting in my brain.

Rubaiyat for Chanterelles

I wait for them the way I might
a lover. Visited at night
by visions soft and golden—flesh
of cap and slit of gill—I fight

my sleep to step instead through trees.
No doubt like love it’s a disease
of mind and body—wide and deep,
its roots as mycelial as these

October fruits’—this need to find
and lose oneself at once in blind
pursuit. The hunt’s the thing that feeds:
the forest damp and cool with vines

as sweet as shampooed hair; the oaks
all smooth and posed in their baroque
undress; a kind of eagerness
in that autumnal air, like smoke

before a fire. I wander thus
the edge of sleep a man obsessed
with love—the fungus rarely found
and only sometimes poisonous.

September 14, 2005

This afternoon I edited a story I wrote earlier in the summer, and now I figure I’ll post it. I’d be curious to hear comments from anyone who reads it. The plot is based on an actual event that occurred here at Dutch Henry Homestead and another that’s a legend.

The Trap

The trap—made of 14-gauge steel, heavy duty green mesh, and a spring-loaded door—was, like Roger himself, getting old but still efficient. Mounted on a flatbed trailer for quick and easy transport, it was designed to lure a bear, confine it, and keep it safely contained until it was sedated, driven many miles away, tagged and released in a place more accepting of its disagreeable habits. To Roger’s way of thinking, the black bear, Ursus americanus, was far more accepting of the disagreeable habits of humans, habits like building cabins in places where people really shouldn’t live. Most bears went about their business, pawing around old logs, blackberry bushes, bee hives, rivers and streams, and they never bothered anybody. Sure, once in a while one might turn predatory, might chase somebody down. But it was rare. Most of the trappings Roger had done as a ranger with the Oregon Department of Forestry had been in small river communities in southern Oregon, places like Merlin and Galice and Glendale, where people were careless with their garbage or hung bird feeders where bears could reach them. But two days ago he’d gotten a call, packed his gear, hitched up the trap and trailer, said goodbye to Lydia, called Tina to tell her he’d be late in coming by, and driven some fifty miles along rutted gravel roads roughened by water dips and mud holes to get to this place, a fifty-acre inholding along the Wild and Scenic corridor of the Rogue River. The property’s structures consisted of two small cabins, one of which had had a wall torn down by the 300-pound sow Roger now studied through the mesh wall of the trap as she slumped into sleep, the thin white drool of chewed marshmallows oozing from her toothy maw. The sow’s body settled. Its right paw, tipped with long black claws, twitched a few times and then went still. Its tongue lolled out, as big and pink as a sandwich steak.

Roger laughed. Bears were funny creatures. Judging from the damage to the cabin and the prodigious piles of scat, this one had spent about three nights tearing and gnawing at the cabin’s cedar shake walls. It had snapped one wall stud in half and nearly chewed its way through the back board of an oak cupboard. Driven across who knows how many miles of dense conifer forest by the tempting smell of about one-eighth of an ounce of sardine juice, which had leaked from a rusty tin on the top shelf of Barbara Walker’s pantry cupboard, a scent not even the ants or mice had noticed, the sow had consigned all 300, maybe even 350, pounds of herself to three nights of hard labor and, now, to tranquilizer dreams and the confusion, when she awoke, of finding herself in completely foreign territory far away from the fishy-salty juice of her torment. Funny indeed. But also majestic. Roger had trapped over a dozen bears in the dozen years he’d worked for the ODF, and he’d never gotten tired of it. Climbing into the green, banged-up trap to tag the sedated bears with a quick ear-piercing, he liked to open their huge mouths and inspect their teeth, feeling for those five or ten minutes like a lion tamer. Using his nail clippers, he’d cut out burrs embedded in their thick fur. He’d check their ears for infection or for horsetails, their pads for thorns, their snouts for ticks. The musky smell of a black bear gave him a feeling of being closer than ever to nature. Sometimes he’d just sit with a sedated bear for a while, petting its huge head as if it were a sleeping dog.

He’d gotten the call from Dean Vaughn, his former supervisor, a nice old guy who’d retired a couple of years ago but who still stopped in from time to time to say hello. Dean had called because he knew the complainant personally. “Roger, I hate to ask you to drive all that way to remove a bear for scratching up a cabin, but Barbara’s an old friend and she’s almost ninety, and I’d hate to think of her getting in a tangle with a marauding black bear.” He went on to tell how Barbara had gone in with her youngest son for a weekend, maybe one of her last at the place, and found the cabin all torn up, the bear still lingering about. Roger had planned to spend the evening at Tina’s, as he did every Monday. Dinner at Pasta Piani, ice cream at Jake’s, put Tommy to bed, and then have a roll on Tina’s futon. He’d been thinking of her succulent lips, her warm tongue, even as he said to Dean, “Hey, what are friends for. Where is the place?”

Tina had pouted on the phone when he told her, gone silent, played that passive-aggressive game she liked to play when things didn’t go her way. At least with Lydia, Roger usually knew where he stood. Not with Tina. She clammed up and made him guess. He’d seen her do the same thing to other people on the phone. Her mother, her ex. She’d chew her Orbit gum, twirl her hair, roll her eyes, hold the phone as though it were a turd, and give one-word responses—“Whatever,” “Okay,” “Sure,”—or the repeated single word response: “Right, right.”

“Listen, babe, I’ll be back in a day, maybe two, maybe even tonight,” he’d said, and he could picture her twirling the little curl above her left ear.

“Sure. Whatever.”

He’d been inside his truck in his driveway talking on the ODF cell. About a month ago he’d seen Lydia looking through his Qwest mobile bill. Roger was pretty sure that Lydia knew he was having an affair, but she hadn’t yet asked and he wasn’t about to bring it up. Still, he found himself trying to hide his tracks. Postponing the inevitable. He’d been married to Lydia for sixteen years. In their second year together she’d had a miscarriage. They’d tried for the next five to have a child, Lydia turning as sour as old milk. And then she’d had the hysterectomy. Congenital defect, the doctors had said. It was probably just as well. Who could afford to send a kid to college these days? Sometimes when he played with Tommy, Tina’s four-year-old son, Roger felt something like regret or anger or sadness well up in him. Roger and Lydia had wanted a boy, had even settled on a name. Matthew. In a strange way Roger appreciated it when Tommy acted badly and Tina screamed at him; then, driving back home, to Lydia, things would seem not just bearable but right, destined. Through the picture window he could see Lydia now pushing a vacuum around the living room, her brown ponytail swinging between her shoulders. “Hey, I’ll come by as soon as I’m done with this and stay extra late,” he said.

“Okay,” Tina said.

“As soon as I get a signal I’ll call you.”

Now he looked around. Green, fir-topped ridges, blue sky, a red clay road, the madrone trees dropping their leaves like autumn, though it was only July, and beyond the cabin a high meadow full of daisies and grass starting already to seed. There was no cell signal out here, and he hoped there never would be.

The bear was asleep, its breathing slow and steady, its tongue still hanging out. Through one of the square gaps in the mesh, he reached in and nudged her. The fur was warm, coarse, a fiber that seemed manmade it was so strong. She didn’t budge. He went to his pickup to get the tag and the piercing gun, and removing the gun from his bag he was reminded of the time he went with Lydia to have her ears pierced. She was twenty years old and had never worn earrings because her mother, a manic-depressive and the daughter of a Baptist minister, thought it crude. They’d gotten drunk first on beer and then gone to a mall in Portland and at a kiosk a young girl had punched holes in both lobes with a metal gun. Lydia had cried on the ride home. Later, one of the holes turned swollen and red with infection. How long it had been since those holes closed up? Lydia hadn’t worn earrings in years, or any other jewelry for that matter, except for the gold crucifix which had belonged to her grandmother and which Lydia took off and kissed every night before getting into their canopied bed. Maybe she’d come to feel the same way her mother did about dangling ornaments from holes in her ears. Maybe she no longer saw a need to be attractive. Not like Tina. Tina wore hoops, big gold ones, and rings even on her thumbs, and a month or so ago she’d had her navel pierced with a thin gold stud. At first Roger had laughed. But now all it took was a glimpse of that stud and he’d be groping for her. He’d always told himself he didn’t like women piercing themselves all over—their noses, eyebrows, lips, nipples, who knows where else—but now he wasn’t so sure about that. Tina, ten years younger than Roger, had awakened him to the potential in his life of youthfulness, sex, and something else he’d all but forgotten was possible—joy. These eight months with Tina had been like a rebirth, an epiphany. They had showed him all too clearly how loveless his marriage was, how depressive Lydia could be. For sixteen years they’d been doing the same exact thing, week in and week out. The same breakfasts of yogurt and fruit, maybe on weekends some eggs or pancakes. The same flavorless and overcooked dinners eaten off of trays in front of the TV while they listened to the themed crescendo of the evening news, music which promised importance or disaster or some small triumph in an unrelenting world. On Fridays they’d eat out, but it was always the same three places and she’d dress in the same long-sleeved shirts and wear the same perfume and order the same dishes. “I know what I like,” she’d said to him once when he made fun of her. Twice a year, usually in May and September, they went away somewhere—San Francisco, Mendocino, Vancouver—and for a few years those week-long trips had been times to which they’d both looked forward, events that gave them something to talk about, before and after. But for too long now the trips had become obligatory, like weddings, like funerals. The scenery changed, but they didn’t. At a winery in Napa, it was still Lydia standing beside him rolling the sauvignon in her glass, cheerless Lydia, with the black bags beneath her green eyes and her wild brown hair and sagging breasts. Even with a few glasses of wine in her, she barely came alive, barely smiled, barely laughed. She’d never gotten over the miscarriage and the operation that confirmed once and for all that she’d never have children. She’d nearly gone over the edge. When they first met, kids were all she talked about. Whenever there was a baby around, she’d tell Roger he was a natural. “You have such good instincts,” she’d say. But Roger never felt that way. Babies made him nervous. They were so helpless and fragile, their necks weak and unable to hold up their oversized heads. “Three,” she said to him on their honeymoon in Mexico. “I want three kids. Three has always been my lucky number.” So she was three times sadder after the hysterectomy, though by then she would have settled for just one. They’d talked about adoption, but they both knew it wasn’t the same, and back then they couldn’t have afforded it anyway. Motherhood had been all that Lydia ever wanted, and to be denied it had all but drained the life out of her. When Roger thought about Lydia finding out about Tina, he wasn’t worried so much about her reaction to him having sex with another woman; no, it was Lydia hearing that Tina had a son.

He’d met Tina at the Riverside Cafe in Medford, a cheap place to get breakfast when he was in that town on business of some kind or another. She’d been his waitress, her first week on the job, and he liked her black ponytail, her white teeth, her tight blue tee-shirt. The flirtation was instant and reciprocal, and after she’d taken his order he realized that he’d stuck his left hand in his coat pocket. By the time she came back with his eggs he’d taken off the ring and rubbed at the red rut it left. Later, after they’d met at Dutch Brothers, a coffee place up the road, and were smiling incessantly and holding hands across the small round table beneath the too-loud music, she admitted that she’d seen the ring but didn’t care. No need for secrets with her. “I’ve dated married guys before,” she said. “Whatever. No biggie.”

The thought of Tina made him want to talk to her, to tell her he’d trapped the bear and sedated it, and now he just needed to tag it and then drive it deep into the Siskiyou National Forest along one of the Bureau of Land Management roads. By the time he got to the spot he had in mind, the bear would be awake. He’d release it and head straight to her place, an hour’s ride, maybe less. He knew it was useless to try the cell phone. Maybe he could get a bar or two up on the high pass after he tagged the bear and hitched up the trailer and trap. He glanced at the plastic tag, opened his log and wrote down the tag number and location.

Back at the cage he nudged the bear once more through one of the gaps in the mesh. She didn’t move. He unlocked the door and climbed inside, laid down the tag and piercing gun and looked the sow over. Judging from her size and the condition of her teeth, she was probably four or five years old. There was a wide scar in the short blonde hair of her snout. He lifted her eyelids and looked into the unseeing brown of her small eyes, lifted her ears and saw in one of them a dog tick bloated gray with blood. He plucked out the tick with his nail clippers. The sow’s paws, huge and heavy and tipped with black claws longer than his hands, were in fine condition. Then he saw her teats, pink and distended. She was lactating. But where was the cub? He’d gotten here around nine to find the whole valley shrouded in mist. He’d set the trap and unlocked the undamaged cabin with the key Dean had told him where to find. With his Thermos of coffee, he’d sat on the deck and watched the sun burn off the mist and set the spider webs gleaming. He’d found some old newspapers piled by the woodstove and taken a crossword from one of them and was almost finished with it when he heard a snort. And here she’d come, lumbering out of the shadowy tree line and through the bright meadow toward his pickup and the trap baited with a whole bag of Western Family Mini Marshmallows. He hadn’t seen a cub.

He glanced at his watch. Almost one o’clock. If there was a cub, he would have seen it by now. Maybe something had happened to it. Roger had heard of cougars killing young cubs. This one would be about six months old. Black bears bore exceptionally small offspring relative to their adult size. Yes, the cub would be small enough for a cougar to take down. Or some poachers might have shot it. But how would they have gotten through the locked gate? He looked around and listened. A tanager was singing in one of the old apple trees. Madrone leaves were falling in the road. The meadow made a seething sound. Everything else was still. The last thing he wanted to do was separate a cub from its mother. He thought of Tina, thought how the tranquilizer would be wearing off, thought how unless the cub walked in the cage in the next hour or so, there was no way he’d trap both of them unless he gave the sow another dose. He folded the nail clippers and slipped them in his pocket. Might as well tag her. He slid the piercing gun over her ear and pulled the trigger. The sow jerked her head and Roger sprang back and stood up. She groaned and he took another step back and banged his head, hard, and before he could stop it the door slid through its oiled grooves and clicked shut.


He couldn’t find his breath, couldn’t see well, couldn’t think. He dropped the piercing gun and tag, jerked at the door, kicked it, jerked at it again. Coffee and stomach acid rose to his throat and he swallowed it back down. The bear’s small eyes were half-open. Uncomprehending, but half-open. He tried to remember everything he knew about the trap, the door, the lock. Was there some kind of manual release on the inside? He knew there wasn’t. When he’d opened the door to climb inside, he’d reset the mechanism. He could see the lock, but there was no way to reach it through the mesh. Crouched in the corner, he studied the bear. Her beady brown eyes. Her breaths came in short gasps. Her tongue, lathered white, slipped in and out of her mouth. The eyes closed again.

Suddenly alert and focused, though his pulse was racing, a sensation much like the one time in college during finals when he’d snorted methamphetamine to help him cram, Roger tried the door again. It didn’t move. He had a momentary vision of one of his ODF colleagues finding him out here, in the cage, half-eaten by the sow, its face gory with his blood. He saw Lydia dressed in black weeping by his casket, saw Tina in the crowd, Tommy standing beside her looking confused and sad to see his mother cry. He felt empty, felt again as though he might vomit, but it wasn’t panic. No, he wouldn’t panic. His response was almost automatic, a decision he was hardly conscious of making. He moved toward the bear and nudged it with his boot and when she didn’t move he did his best to roll her. Her shoulder was muscular and warm. He straddled her, pushing the huge head back, revealing the neck. The nail clippers had been a gift from Lydia, part of a men’s manicure set she’d given him for Christmas after he’d left his others behind at Tina’s. He’d told Lydia he’d lost them in the locker room at the YMCA. He snipped quickly at the coarse black fur until he saw skin, pale gray. He scratched with the edge of the two curled blades and drew blood. Folded inside the clippers was a short, dull blade, one side of it a file, the tip of it curved for cleaning out the black moons that formed beneath fingernails. His fingers slippery now with the sow’s blood, he gripped the file blade and pressed it hard into the small gash. The bear’s body moved beneath him, the shoulder contracting, one of the back legs scraping at the steel floor. He worked the blade violently, digging deep, tearing through the layers of muscle and fat. Inside there, he knew, was the carotid artery, coursing with blood rich with oxygen. He stabbed at the wound with one hand while the other yanked at the flap of flesh. Blood seeped from the wound, and he thought of Lydia, that morning when she’d come to him. He’d been out on the patio of their first home, the little ranch house in Grants Pass, reading the newspaper. A spring morning, damp with mist and fog. She’d said his name and he’d seen the blood dripping from both hands. The hysterectomy, he’d thought, the operation. But that had been two weeks ago. And then she’d held out each gashed wrist like a gift, like an offering.

When he pierced the vessel the blood rushed out, warm, like stepping on a garden hose left out in the sun. Roger sat back and watched it, his heartbeat sounding deep inside his ears. He heard a twig snap, saw through the green mesh of the trap the black form come into focus, its little blonde snout, the curve of its back. The cub lifted its nose, sniffing the air, and then it stood on its hind legs looking almost human.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

September 8th - 10th

September 8, 2005

I’m in New Jersey! I flew from Portland yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon and had a long but painless journey. Brother Bradley and family were kind enough to put me up on Tuesday night, and we had a fun evening. I won at three-way cribbage and then we spent the rest of the evening solving some difficult riddles the kids had gotten at school. Fun stuff. Bradley dropped me at the airport bright and early, and by 7:45 I was climbing to 30,000 feet. I made it half-way through Cormac McCarthy’s new novel, No Country for Old Men, five hours had passed, and then we were descending into Newark. Fifteen minutes later, I was in a rental car and driving up the New Jersey Turnpike and contrasting the filthy salt marshes with the pristine Rogue River. And there was Manhattan staring from across the river like a gang of thugs, but a sort of welcome gang of thugs, one you might want to join someday. Then I was pulling up to the house of a friend and former colleague, who has put me up in the posh third-floor suite of her house. Most cozy quarters and fine company.

Today I found a new abode! As hoped for, I landed the bungalow up in New York just north of the Jersey border. It’s a cute little place, about the size of the Oregon cabin, and will be perfect for the Gary/Gus duo until I find myself a real house. There’s a den, an office, a breakfast nook, a bedroom, and another room where I’ll keep clothes, etc. And it’s in a nice location. Feels woodsy, but close to shops, malls, highways, a dog park. I also got to see Sharen. She was getting her Mini fixed and I picked her up at the Mini dealer and together we poured on the charm with the 90-year-old landlady at the bungalow and persuaded her to let me have the dog. Here’s the place:

Much relieved at having gotten the place I wanted, and so quickly, too, I suggested Thai food at our old favorite place. (My bungalow is ten minutes from there!). It was the best meal I’ve had in six months! Sharen and I caught up a lot and had some laughs, then I dropped her back at the Mini dealer. I’ll see her tomorrow in Manhattan, where I’m also planning to meet my friend Peter and my sister and her kids. The plan is to visit the Cezanne/Pissarro exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. I’m also going to a gallery opening tonight: Martin Mull’s paintings. Should be fun. Martin Mull, by the way, is the actor who starred in “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” on TV and in many movies.

The Martin Mull opening was hopping! Twentieth Street, nay, all of Chelsea, was swarming with people, a bit scary but exciting for this longtime hermit. Apparently it’s the week when all the galleries start having openings; thus the crowds. Walking to the gallery, I passed David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame). I always see celebs in New York! Some kid walking by confirmed the sighting, when he looked at me, nodded, and said, “Yeah, that was David Byrne. Pretty cool.” Roz and I went in the gallery, got some drinks, and started checking out Mull’s large, lovely paintings. Almost all of it depicts scenes from the 1950s era, but unlikely scenes full of wonder and deep emotion. Many draw upon Mull’s own upbringing. Around almost all of them he painted frames imitating ‘50s style wallpaper, as though you’re gazing through a house window into the scene. Very nice touch. We checked out about five paintings and then Roz ran into her high school friend, whose son owns the gallery. Like a docent, Lynne took us around and told us lots of great details about each painting, most of it based on stuff Mull had told her or her son. For instance, for the following painting Mull painted the view from Steve Martin’s back deck at his home in Hollywood. The boy holding the cat is Mull, and the sheep a memory of farm life. Steve Martin bought the painting.

This next one is one that Lynne and her husband bought. I think it was my favorite out of all of them. I like the quintessential Midwestern feel of that house and the sheer desperation on the face of the swimmer, the feeling that he’s fighting for his life to escape this scene, this flood, this dreary life.

Here are two more. I felt weird about photographing the paintings, so I quit after these.

But I did get a shot of Martin Mull:

The photos make the gallery look empty, but it wasn’t. It was packed. I took the pictures later, as the crowd started to thin out and there was an open view of the paintings. They’re all done in oils, and appear almost photographic, as though he merged multiple photos together. But they’re all brushed by hand. He’s a technically skilled painter, to say the least. Worth seeing.

Here’s a shot of the gallery next door as we were heading back to the car. Darkness teeming with New York’s bountiful beautiful people:

Stopped at Ben & Jerry’s in Englewood on the way back, and was glad to see a former student there managing the place. Even as a sophomore, Brad had a full beard. He’s a genius with his own theater company. I don’t expect he’ll be managing Ben & Jerry’s long. He gave us a discount, of course. Good man.

September 10, 2005

I spent all of yesterday in Manhattan. First stop: the Cohen residence, 43rd Street. When I got there only Ezra and his friend Dale were home. Barbara and the girls were at Food Emporium. So the boys and I decided to trick the girls and have me hide. I sat cross-legged on a bench among all the girls’ dolls in the corner of the big living room and posed completely still. Barbara and the girls came home and Lucy looked right at me and didn’t see me. Barbara glanced my way and nearly had a heart attack. We boys, of course, had a good laugh.

An hour later I drove downtown to Greenwich Village to see Peter Marcus, a poet friend I met two years ago at Bard College. He lives in a great neighborhood, and so we walked around looking at more of New York’s bountiful beautiful people. Fashion models were teeming in the streets, all there for the big fall fashion shows. Peter and I had delicious Mexican food for lunch, and then coffee and chai tea at a café.

Around 3:30 I took a subway up to midtown to meet the Cohens at MOMA. The new MOMA (which typically charges $20 to get in but is free on Friday afternoons) was fabulous. And the Cezanne and Pissarro paintings blew me away. The two painters were friends and collaborators for many years, often painting the same scenes side by side. The curator did a fine job of grouping the similar paintings, or the paintings that spoke to one another. The museum was packed, of course, since it was free. But after two days in NYC—overstuffed subway cars, gallery crowds, elevators—I’d gotten a bit more used to the proximity and abundance of my fellow man.

Then it was back down to Peter’s place on Horatio Street, where he was working on a new long poem, an elegy to his uncle, who committed suicide this past summer by jumping off the roof of his apartment building in New York. It was a moving draft, and I had him read it alouod. An hour later Sharen arrived and the three of us took a cab to Peter’s favorite sushi place. We had a feast. It was the best sushi I’ve ever had. And lots of it. Then we walked around the East Village, making our way to Rice Dreams, a great rice pudding joint. By that time we were all pooped and we took a cab back to Peter’s neighborhood. I gave Sharen a ride to her car on 33rd, and zoomed back to New Jersey feeling glad to have had a nice bite out of the Big Apple.

I may head back to Manhattan this morning to meet the Cohens at their street sale. The whole block of 43rd Street will be having a huge outdoor sale today. Tonight it’s dinner with several colleagues at a Vietnamese restaurant in Englewood. I’m sure getting a good dose of tasty food and good company while I’m here in civilization.

As fun as it’s been, I can’t wait to fetch Gussie from the kennel on Sunday evening (I find myself looking for him beside me) and get back to the redolent peace of the Dutch Henry Homestead and my daily writing routine.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

September 2nd - September 6th

September 2, 2005

One thing I won’t miss about my life here is the long, dusty, rocky drive out to Grants Pass. Once out of the shade of Dutch Henry’s woods, the road is strewn with fist-sized rocks and layered in about an inch of gray dust from days of baking in the sun and the churning tires of my car and those of the men caretaking out at the castle. Even rolling along at 20 mph, I can’t help but rouse a huge wake of Steinbeckian dust. A look in the rear-view mirror, and I get a sense of what the Okies saw when they parted the curtains and glanced through their filthy kitchen windows. And like the Okies’ kitchens, the inside of my car and everything piled on floor and seats is covered with a gray, pollen-like coat, and to touch anything leaves a fingerprint. Then to touch my nose leaves a brown mark of dirt. Forty, and I look like a kid when I see my face in that quadrangle stuck above the dash. Half-way there, going in either direction, I can feel the dust infiltrating my nostrils, eyes, ears, mouth. I wonder how many ounces—nay, pounds—of Josephine county dust I’ve consumed this summer. Forty years old, and eating dirt. At least as a kid I did so of my own volition.

And the bumps. Driving the Whiskey Creek road feels a bit like playing a video game, a test of hand-eye coordination: how to find the smoothest track, how to avoid the biggest and sharpest stones and limbs, the worst washboard ruts. Whole CDs play through and begin again, the tracks skipping over the bigger bumps, and I’ve been oblivious to the music so intent am I on dodging holes, washouts, ruts. Teeth rattling in my mandible, eyes shaken sore, neck stiff from clenching, I drive unblinking even as the flecks of dust jab at my sclera. My shocks groan. My struts squeak and bounce. Ruts like a giant’s washboard, logging debris, razor-edged stones darting the road edge like teeth, and an hour or so later, when dirt and rubble finally give way to a kind of half-asphalt, I’m exhausted not so much from the hour behind the wheel but from the intensity of my road gaze, my gamer’s concentration. The one consolation in all of this is that the road gets progressively better the closer I get to Grants Pass. Finally, a half-hour or so from Merlin, the roadway blazes with the familiar comfort of yellow stripes and solid pavement, and I accelerate a good 40 mph. Through Galice, not really a town but a handful of outfitter stores, rafting companies, and riverside homes. Through Merlin and its strip of convenience and antique shops, feed store, post office. Onto 1-5 South for three miles. And then I flick my right turn signal and I’m there: Grants Pass. No apostrophe.

Today I drove my car through an automatic car wash while in town. I wasn’t so stupid as to think my car wouldn’t get just as filthy after my drive back in the afternoon; I paid the $5 just so I wouldn’t look like Pigpen every time I opened a door or brushed against the car’s invisible paint while I ran my errands; $5 just so I wouldn’t leave fingerprints around the door handles.
During my stay in said town-sans-apostrophe, even as I did laundry, visited the dark-haired beauty at the coffee shop, got on WiFi, bought groceries, and drank Dutch Brothers iced chai, the trip back loomed like a dust storm, like human plight itself, so that when the time finally came to head home, I almost got on I-5 south, toward California, to go pick peaches like the Joads in shady groves and drive the smooth, paved roads of the growers. I had a cooler full of food on ice, a bag full of clean laundry. I could have done it. I could have. But I didn’t. No, I clutched the wheel like twin joysticks and turned north to begin the game again. Heading back, of course, the bumps, ruts, and dust get progressively worse.

Thus, I sit here in the La-Z-Boy with a headache and the taste of dust on my palate, despite having showered and eaten honey-slathered grilled pork chops, garden-grown tomatoes with basil and vinegar, and warmed leftover homemade apple pie with Ben & Jerry’s vanilla. My breath smells of the Whiskey Creek road, and everything I see is tinged with gray. But I have a fridge full of seltzer, a dresser full of clean underwear, an empty trash container. I received a nice hug from the dark-haired beauty upon my departure from the Tee Time Diner; an acceptance of a poem by Alimentum, a journal devoted to food literature; a fresh supply of Chemex coffee filters, compliments of my father, who made a special trip to The Coffee Exchange in Providence to get them; more classified ads from my pal Stan Flood; and many kind blog comments and welcome e-mails from family, friends, colleagues and students.

What’s a little driving?

Did I ever mention that the fire’s out? It has been for a week now. Often I’ll catch a whiff of burned forest, but it’s just the wind. There’s no more smoke. Here’s a view of Rattlesnake Ridge sans smoke. Note clouds. I’m liking the clouds:

September 3, 2005

It’s 1:58 AM and I’m sitting in bed with a bowl of cereal (amaranth flakes in soy milk) feeling the warmth of the propane lamp on the back of my neck and listening to the night’s one long, twittering whistle, which every now and then pauses like a coach catching his breath. The bird clock ticks. The lamp hisses. The spoon taps the bowl. I am awake because Gus the Dog saw fit to spring from the bed at 12:20, woof through his nose, climb atop the large maroon chest in the other room, and bark through the window above it at whatever scented creature (most likely mammalian) happened to be passing the cabin. My usual routine is to get up and close the windows to seal out the scent, rebuke him for waking me, click off the flashlight, and go back to bed where within minutes I feel the familiar, welcome bounce of him at my feet curling into a quiet breathing heap. Tonight, though, I left the bedroom window open for the crickety whistle, the cool seeping. Unable to sleep, I got a bowl of cereal. And Gus the Dog, rather than rejoin me, has taken up a sentry post on the living room couch. Even now he snorts at some other or the same presumed threat to our late night peace. These nights I don’t fall back asleep all that easily. Tonight I tossed side to side playing scenarios of future days, envisioning scenes that won’t come to pass. They never do as we work so hard to imagine they will. So, some pages in a book to tire my eyes, distract my projecting thoughts, my worries dark and shriveled like the raisins in my cereal only not as sweet. No, not sweet at all. When I get up to put the bowl in the sink and brush my teeth, I’ll close the windows, quieting the whistle and letting the nocturnal creatures pass in peace while we sleep.

I woke at 7:45 to an overcast sky. Yes, the weather pattern is changing slowly but surely. I think it will rain within the next week or two. That will settle the problem with the dust on the road.

A near tragedy this morning! I usually prop my glass Chemex coffee beaker on a tripod-like stand atop the wood stove so that my second cup is every bit as warm as the first, maybe even warmer. Well, walking past it I must have nudged it with the sleeve of my robe (I didn’t feel anything) and there went the pot, tumbling onto the iron stove and then the brick footing, spilling coffee into the wide lip below the stove door and onto two of the big square bricks. I thought I heard glass crack and shatter, and my heart stopped. I rely upon my Chemex like a pacemaker, and I left my reserve pot in storage back in New York. Miraculously the pot was unbroken. Not even a chip, not even a hairline fracture! This after a three-foot tumble onto iron and brick. I’ve broken two or three of these pots merely tapping them against the faucet in kitchen sinks. Perhaps the ghost of Dutch Henry himself cushioned its fall. Tomorrow I’ll pour a bit of black coffee over the deck railing as a libation. Thanks, you old murderer!

Gussie, wanting to come out on the deck:

I finished an ambitious poem today, one I’ve been working on since hearing about Hurricane Katrina. It took shape as a double sonnet, which is its present title.

Double Sonnet

The equivocal eye has come and gone,
gale and rain minced the faith we each depend
upon. Another storm has met its end,
blind to wreckage, utterly overthrown
by its own gyrations. Cities lie prone
as lakes. The sun, as if nothing happened,
strews from its azimuth countless diamonds
on the signed canals, plays like God’s trombone
a warm and silent jazz, a sine qua non.
Onto half-submerged mansions gulls descend
to vie with anhinga for dividends:
flotsam in the deluge like stepping stones.
And in their tiny, eager eyes is shown
in miniature a scene to apprehend:
what the dove might have had the world been manned
so long and been so ruthlessly outgrown.

Where I tune in, two thousand miles away
in the undestroyed Pacific Northwest,
my hand-crank radio seems strangely apt.
On NPR familiar voices say
what they can to keep listeners abreast,
the general theme being: people adapt.
My own storms seem like showers, a spring day.
I put a fool’s trust in the old beau geste
of time and place. Tomorrow can’t be mapped,
unless by miracle or righteous way
we’re warned, like Noah, who at God’s behest
measured cubits while the thunder clapped.

September 4, 2005

I’ve decided that fly fishing is a myth. Have you ever seen anyone catch a fish on a fly? I haven’t, except in A River Runs Through It, and we all know Hollywood can perpetrate any lie. A few years ago I fly fished in Yellowstone (Wyoming and Montana) and saw huge trout in the water eating stoneflies, and no matter how many times I cast the exact sized fly their way, they wouldn’t budge. I’ve fly fished in western New Jersey and the Catskills of New York, two prime trout areas, and have never caught a trout on a fly. Today it was cloudy and cool, so after lunch I packed a bag and went to the Rogue toting fly rod and box. Brother Bradley, the Fishing Guru of this place, claims that the “half-pounders” should be in the river by now. A passing rafter confirmed this, saying the river guides have been catching four- and five-pounders. (Why they’re called “half-pounders” if they’re four- or five-pounders is beyond me; it’s an Oregon thing, like the way Oregonians say “good on ya!” to mean “nice going!” or “right on!” as a response to just about anything. The latter is repeated for emphasis: “Right on! Right on!”). So I fished a few of the places Bradley told me to, starting at my beach and working my way upriver. An hour of that, and then Gus and I walked about a mile down to a riffle called Doolog. Forty casts there and I renamed the place Poolog, and called it quits. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m the world’s worst fly fisherman. If you don’t know anything about fly fishing (you may want to remain that way), you cast a weighted line rather than a weighted lure. The lure, the fly, weighs nothing. Some lines float, some sink. Some flies float, some sink. Unlike a spinning reel and rod, which I can cast about a hundred feet with one hand and standing on one leg while patting the top of my head with my free hand and whistling “Dixie”, with a fly rod I’m lucky if I get the fly out 25 or 30 feet using all my concentration. It’s a little like golf: it’s not how hard you swing the rod, it’s all in the technique. One of my college housemates, Slim, lived up to his nickname. He was as short as I and skinnier, and he could drive a golf ball farther than anyone. He’s a pro now at the country club my brother superintends. I bet if you gave Slim a fly rod, he’d cast that hook twirled with feathers and thread all the way across the river and catch a lunker steelhead on the first cast. Not me. So, knowing I’m not really going to catch anything, I’ve used my recent outings to the river to practice casting. Today I only hooked one willow tree while backcasting. That’s pretty good. And I made a few casts that felt and looked just right, the line shooting straight out and uncurling, a sweet little ripping noise as it shot through the guides, line and fly landing on the water with grace. When this happens, I’m always sure I’ll catch a fish. But then I don’t really know what to do. The fly zooms in the current and when the line goes taut the fly arcs across the middle and toward the shore. I give little pulls. I try to copy Bradley and curl line in my left hand. Sometimes the fly looks like a little fish darting across the current. But it invariably floats 30 or 40 feet downriver and back to my shore without a nibble, and then I’m stuck with having to get it back out there. I pull line, yank, whip, flick, release line. It’s so much damned work, I’m exhausted after five casts. I know the Fly Fishing Guru is reading this and shaking his head and wishing he could come out here and show me that fly fishing isn’t a myth, and I suppose this is one of my motives for writing this entry. In the meantime I’ll try not to get discouraged. I’ve communicated my worry that I’ll be the first resident in 13 years who didn’t catch a steelhead, and the Fishing Guru assures me I won’t be. In the meantime, I maintain that fly fishing is a myth begun to make spinner fishermen look lazy. Good on ya.

I’m going to miss the hundred-year-old apple trees out in front of the cabin. I’ve looked at them so many times since I’ve been here that I’ve forgotten how impressive they are. One former resident, Steve Edwards, told me in an email that he fantasized about chopping them down when he was here, he was so sick of looking at them. I may have been close to that sentiment in August, but not now. I love the way this one grows sideways out of the ground:

September 5, 2005

Labor Day today, right?

I had ants in my pants all day in anticipation of tomorrow’s parting with Gus and the beginning my journey east. I couldn’t focus for long on any one activity, and so engaged in many. Among other things I: arranged a new manuscript of poems for the New Criterion book contest, wrote an epigraphical poem to open the collection, decorated a walking stick (using blackberry juice) I carved yesterday,

tried to make a painting on a square sheet of Masonite-like material I found in the mudroom, reordered the poems in the manuscript, took Gus to the pond, packed, napped, gathered stuff from the solar dryer and garden, cooked dinner. And after dinner while we were out playing in the yard, I saved this very fat praying mantis from Gussie’s snapping teeth:

I was just saying to Frank Boyden two weekends ago that I hadn’t seen any praying mantises out here.

Here’s Gus wondering where his plaything went:

It’ll sure be strange to walk the streets of Manhattan on Friday night.

Friday, September 02, 2005

August 27- September 2

August 27th, 2005

I got a lot done on my trip to town yesterday. While Gussie was getting his shave-down, I collected my mail, paid bills, did laundry, photocopied the Bend article, made some calls on my cell phone (with my friend Peter, who just returned from a summer in Asia; with Sharen, who was driving a NY state car on I-90; with my sister in Manhattan; with my folks in Rhode Island), got on the WiFi at Dutch Brothers and checked email and uploaded to the blog, shopped for groceries at Market of Choice, and bought a King James Bible. When he was here last weekend, Frank Boyden and I got to talking about Genesis and Revelations, and he said there should be a Bible in the writer’s cabin library. I agreed. He went inside and returned with two crisp twenty dollar bills. “Buy a nice one,” he said. So I did. It’s bound in genuine leather and has large print. It only cost $19.95 (no tax in Oregon), and so I slipped the other twenty into an envelope, wrote “Emergency Fund for Indigent Writers” and tucked it into Psalm 34, where verse 6 reads: “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.” I love the thought of some future writer finding that. Of course, if Emma reads this, it’ll be hers! Among my mail was a package from Stan Flood, one of my English Department pals, full of real estate classifieds from Jersey papers. I made my first round of calls and set up two places to check out, if they’re not already rented by September 8th. As expected, most places don’t allow dogs. One promising rental was a cottage on the Bergen county/Rockland county line (I think in Nanuet). The landlord said she and her husband were reluctant to allow dogs, but I did my best to convince her that Gussie was a great dog and that I was an ideal tenant with excellent references. So I’m planning to have a look at the place. It’s on a property with three other cottages on an acre or so of land. It sounds like an old vacation place, so I don’t know how winterized the place will be, but it’s worth checking out.

All the running round in town and the stress of thinking about the move back East, combined with the long and dusty drive back to the cabin, completely wore me out. After unloading my stuff, I took a two-hour nap. But I was still tired. I spent the evening making a small collage tribute to the newts up in the pond. Then I went to bed early and slept for ten hours! Here’s the collage. It’s made of paper, pastel and pencil. I hung it on a thin strip of wall in the cabin.

Today I wrote a poem to go along with the newt collage. In case you wonder what Sapphics are, they’re metrical stanzas using a complicated pattern of trochees and dactyls. I’ll gladly explain it to anyone who’s interested. One other note for anyone who missed the earlier blog postings about the newts: the rough-skinned newt is one of the most poisonous creatures on the continent. It can exude through its skin a deadly neurotoxin; thus, you wouldn’t want to eat one!

Sapphics on the Rough-Skinned Newt

Toxic swimmers, thousands of them in my pond,
wiggling black-sperm questions for me as I stand
bent and ready, armed with a net and answers
I wouldn’t give them.

Sins of mine—amphibious, star-toed, whip-tailed,
mute transgressions gone unforgiven too long.
Water-borne and treacherous, sedge and dragon-
flies like reminders.

So the net—a Catholic expiation
made of wire and mesh and the need to expose
all my darkest slitherings like penumbras
during eclipses.

Newt on newt. The murky and amoebic water
slick with sex: the jettisoned seed, the poison-
skin’s release, and my uninhibited gaze,
too, like a voyeur’s.

Even netted, even in open air they
cling and shine, and something in me would fling them
far but for the deeper desire I have to
swallow each pair whole.

I found a tiny, shriveled pear on one of the pear trees in the garden and really liked its cracked skin and shape and so tried to get artsy with a couple of photographs:

August 28, 2005

We spent the afternoon down at the river yesterday and again our beach was occupied upon our arrival. Not Boy Scouts this time, but a friendly fortysomething couple from the Bay area. I apologized for crashing the beach and offered to move upriver, but they assured me it was okay, so I planted my chair and umbrella in the usual spot. They’d been floating for four days, taking their sweet time in the Wild and Scenic portion of the river, and were planning for three more days of it. Paul is a wheelchair mechanic. Joyce a musician. I could tell they were good folks and so told them what I was doing out here. I watched their raft for them while they hiked up the trail a ways.

Then they moved upriver to a more level stretch of ground. I couldn’t help feeling like I was ruining their wilderness experience (and I can come to the river any old day), so I read a chapter in a new novel (Falling Angels) and said goodbye, leaving them to the peace of the Rogue. Before leaving I took this shot of the back of Gussie’s head. Ain’t his haircut cute?

Afraid my two huge bowls of tomatoes would go bad, I made another batch of sauce last night. I plan to use half of it tonight tossed with rigatoni and some of the salmon Emma Brown gave me.

When it got dark I watched half of a PBS DVD Jim sent me called “American Photography: A Century of Images.” Great stuff. I’m thinking I can work some of it into my Art & Literature class when I get back to teaching.

Mama bear was in the yard early this morning. Gus told me so. Loudly. When I went out to the car to get his leash, there she was, ten feet away, standing in the blackberries. When she saw me she gave a huge snort, turned and ran. Lucky, too. The car was locked!

With the help of caffeine, I worked out another poem this morning. Many of the new poems, as you may have noticed, pay close attention to form. In the past I sometimes tried to deny my formalist bent, forcing myself to write in looser, free-form lines; those poems are among my worst, I think. Lately I’m embracing my need for order, symmetry, rhyme. If it works…. Here’s the poem, in envelope quatrains.

Pawtucket, Rhode Island: An Interment

Once upon a time it must have been quaint—
old Slater’s place the only industry,
the rest rolling pasture and willow-tree
banks along the Blackstone. No chipped-paint

tenements, no I-95. The bricks
of mills still red clay waiting to be fired—
like the millions who would live and die here.
I see the waterwheels turn like clocks.

I hear the huge looms rattle, the spindles
spin thread down to dowels, the stone-on-stone
knock of building. And dirt flung where the bones
of my ancestors lie. We light candles

in the chapel for our final goodbyes.
Outside a wet snow falls into rows
of graves. The past begins and ends right now,
here where grief powers the machines of my eyes.

Bradley and family, making a trip to California, are coming tonight and staying till Tuesday. I’m going out to pick them a bowl of tomatoes.

A couple of yelps from You Know Who…

…announced the Boydens’ arrival. Outside the upper house we were greeted by Marie, Bradley’s wife, who immediately fell in love with Gus. They used to have wire-haired fox terriers, so when she saw that Gus was a terrier, she cried out with joy. She even considered taking him in while I fly back East instead of me putting him in a kennel, but Bradley nixed that idea. I had a nice chat with the family, and then they were sitting down to dinner, so we left them to eat in peace.

Back at the cabin I finished the recording of what I think is my best song yet. I need to get my brother-in-law Ian or one of my students to lay down a better lead guitar track, maybe throughout the whole song. I think a fiddle or mandolin would sound great, too. With this one, I recorded voice and rhythm guitar together for the first time, hoping for a more authentic sound and experience, and it made for an old-time feel, which I like a lot. I did that track yesterday. The lead stuff in the middle and at the end I did tonight. The song is about an Oregon gold miner.
The Shine in the Sand

It’s a chilly night and the crickets are chirping. Tonight’s the night when Mars is supposed to look big. I heard the whole thing was an urban legend, but I went to check the sky just the same. Figures: clouds, not a single star visible. This after two months of nothing but clear sky.

August 29, 2005

The coolest night and morning since last spring! It was 51 degrees when I got up today, and had to be in the 40s last night. Making a fire in the woodstove, I was grinning like a kid. It’s amazing how much the weather affects my moods.

New poem (strange the places a head full of caffeine will take me):

Black Boy at the White Girl’s Funeral

Lifted up by the rope of the huge bell,
he braces for the deep voice of its dong
and gazes through a window at the town.
A woman on a three-wheeled bicycle

with two poodles in a basket behind
her, a man sawing at a diseased elm,
another ruling with a hoe the small realm
of his backyard garden. Now the long line

of cars with their lights on in the August
sun, and leading the procession the hearse
black as his jacket. It has to be worse
that he knew the girl, but he knows he must

not be sad; the color of his skin is his
and theirs is theirs. And even if the rope
should wear away his palms, there’s little hope
for the rest. Death reminds him who he is.

He rises, he falls. The bell swings and swings.
In his blood the vibrations of it ring.

Never one to pass up a chance at fishing, Bradley suggested last night that we all take a walk to a creek downriver and try for a Chinook salmon. We packed lunches and set off down the Lang Cook Trail, now with a lot less poison oak after my spraying job but still perilous in places because of loose stones and steep drops. Marie slipped and fell once and scraped up her thigh. Aside from that and the annoying flies hovering around our eyes, we had a nice walk. Here’s a neat madrone on the trail with a huge peeling burl:

We couldn’t see any salmon in the mouth of the creek, but Bradley tied on a fly and tried just the same. Meanwhile Marie said she’d like a Christmas card photo of the kids, Hollynd and Wilder, so I tried for one up on the rocks above the creek:

Then we all went down to a wading spot in the creek, where we entertained Gus with tossed sticks. Hollynd and Wilder are remarkable kids. Funny, smart, adorable. I most enjoyed their company.

Here’s Hollynd trying unsuccessfully to wrest a stick from Gussie:

Here’s Gussie peeking out from behind some leaves:

After the creek adventure, we took the river trail down to my beach. The weather was just perfect. In the high 70s. Maybe low 80s. Intermittent clouds. It was one of the best days in a long time. Here’s the Boyden family posing on the trail above the river:

The kids found a katydid floating at the swimming hole and saved it from a watery demise:

We’d planned for a big dinner at the upper house and I’d promised to make an apple pie. With the day getting late, Gus and I left ahead of the Boydens so I could make the crust and pick some apples and get the pie in the oven. The trees in the garden were almost bare, but Bradley had four or five Granny Smiths in his knapsack. Not the best pie apples, but better than nothing. Hollynd and Wilder were excited to use the Apple Machine apple corer/peeler, a gift Lang, Martha and Riley left here last year. It’s a scary-looking contraption, but it works like a charm, coring and peeling the apples and slicing them in neat spirals. Here they are with the Apple Machine out on my deck:

Very good action!

Our dinner was great. Barbequed chicken a la Bradley, corn on the cob, zucchini from my garden, and a nice avocado salad Marie made. The pie came out great, though it seemed juicier than a pie should be. Not sure if it’s because of the Granny Smiths. The mixture was dry when I put it between the crusts, so the apples must have had a lot of water in them. We split the leftovers, so I have a huge slab of it in the fridge for tonight. Giddy up!

While dinner was cooking, the bats entertained us again, thousands of them dropping out of the cedar shakes. This time I had the camera at the ready. Here’s a bat dropping out:

And here’s about a half-dozen of them about to come out through the gap. You can see their ears and eyes:

After dinner we played a four-way partners cribbage game. Hollynd and Wilder both wanted me for a partner. I can only assume that they could sense their dad’s inferior cribbage skills. Wilder won the flip and he and I won the first game. Hollynd and her dad took the second. By then we were all tuckered out from the big day, and so Gussie and I said goodnight.

The stars were thick and it was downright chilly as we drove back down to the dark cabin. Dreaming weather. And I slept. And I dreamed.

With the Boyden family hoping for a mid-morning start toward the redwoods, we had to get in our tie-breaking cribbage game, so Gussie and I walked up after breakfast. Despite many superstitious knockings of cards and Wilder’s inspired sound effects, he and I lost. I attribute their win to Hollynd’s astute strategizing and clever pegging. Okay, her dad had a 14-point hand, too. It was a sad defeat, but I left assured in the knowledge that I still reign as the singles champ of the Dutch Henry Homestead. (Maybe this will entice Bradley out for another visit before I leave in October!)

I had a grand time with the Boydens, each of whom contributed to the goodness of the action. I’ll see them again one week from today, when they graciously allow me to spend the night at their house in Portland before my early morning flight to New Jersey. Should time allow and Hollynd and Wilder not have homework after the first day of school, perhaps the cribbage board will make an appearance for a partners rematch.

Out in the garden there’s a lone sunflower, thanks to a seed left behind by Lang, Martha and Riley last fall. It’s about six feet tall now and stunningly beautiful. Thanks, guys!:

August 31, 2005

Sharen called yesterday to see if I’d heard the news about New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf. I hadn’t. The last I’d heard on NPR the hurricane was still a couple hundred miles from landfall. What a disaster. I’ve been tuning in and catching some of the news and interviews on NPR. I feel so bad for all those displaced people, not to mention the families of the dead. Terrible, terrible news. I feel very lucky to be in this place, with a roof over my head and good food to eat and clean water to drink.

I heard the price of oil skyrocketed because of the devastation, too, with all the Gulf refineries virtually inoperable. I’ll be curious to see what the prices are at the pumps in Grants Pass when I go in tomorrow or the next day. I fear the oil situation is only going to get worse, despite the President’s plan to open the reserves. Maybe I should trade in my car for a hybrid, especially if I’m going to be commuting, as much as I like the on-demand 4-wheel drive in the snow. Something to consider.

While the world has been coming apart a bit more, I’ve spent two pretty lazy days here since the Boydens left. I did do a bit of work today, mowing the grass in the garden and swabbing out the upper house fridges, but for the most part I’ve been taking it easy. Yesterday I finished Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels, which one of my students gave me to bring out here. It’s the story of two families in England at the turn of the 20th century and the changing roles of women. One of the wives becomes a suffragette. The point of view shifts between each of the dozen or so main characters. My favorite was a gravedigger boy named Simon. I also printed out my essay “A Heaven We Knew Once” and packaged it up to send to an essay contest in New York. And last night I wrote a new song. Today I started to organize and assemble into a new manuscript the best of the poems I’ve written here and a few older ones that didn’t appear in my book. It’s always a challenge to try to make a cohesive whole out of miscellaneously written poems, and to put them all under one title. There’s a book contest sponsored by The New Criterion for a manuscript of poems paying close attention to form. I was a finalist a few years ago. The new stuff is tighter, better, so I think I’ll try again. Wish me luck.

Tonight I recorded the new song. I like the chord progression in this one. Again, it would sound better if I had some accompaniment, especially percussion. It’s pretty bare bones with just me and the Gibson and my inept guitar playing. But it’s fun! And it’s the songwriting piece I like most.
Home Today

I’ve been fretting about next week’s trip, waking up in the middle of the night and tweaking for hours. I hate to part with Gus, especially after spending five months as constant companions. And I hate traveling on planes. So I need to keep reminding myself that I could be in Mississippi or Louisiana, a refugee in some shelter, my home under water. That’ll help put things in perspective.

One game of Spider Solitaire, then off to read. This time a Ted Kooser nonfiction book about life in Nebraska. My friend Neil sent it to me.

First day of September tomorrow!

September 1, 2005

I began my sabbatical exactly five months ago. Doing this thing has given me a taste of what retirement must be like, and I have to say I think I’m going to love it! Of course, I have many years before I’ll be able to call it quits.

Feeling guilty about the condition of the Corral Trail, I went down this morning with bow saw, loppers and rake and cleared the trail. At one point I dropped the saw and it slid down into a deep ravine. I thought I was going to break my neck going to retrieve it. I scrambled half-way down holding onto roots and then realized I could snag the saw with a long stick. It worked first try. I was completely bushed and soaked with sweat by the time I finished around noon. And with the temperature warmer today (high 90s), the hike back nearly did me in.

Gussie hurt his paw this afternoon. Not sure how. I was sitting on the steps of the cabin breaking down some dried mint and suddenly he was limping and whining in the grass. I took him in and put him up on the grooming table and had a look with a flashlight. His paw was all red in between his pads. I thought maybe he’d stepped on a thorn, but I didn’t see one. I put some Animax cream on the spot. An hour later he was walking fine. Now I think maybe he got stung by a bee or a wasp. He is always chasing and eating them.

In the pantry today slicing up some tomatoes for the solar dryer, I caught this psychedelic-green bug:

New poem:

Sheep’s Skull

I know it is waiting in that storage
garage, wrapped in newspapers in a box,
horned and hollow and bleached by Ireland’s
treasured sun. Gaudy bones. An end for books.

She never liked it. The day I carried
it through the cottage door and held it up—
“Alas, poor Yorick!”—she shook her head, said,
“You know you can’t take it home, right?” I slipped

it in my suitcase rolled in a sweater.
For four years it gazed through the barrister
bookcase glass in our house, a reminder
of Achill’s wasted landscape, our time there,

the hardness beneath our soft flesh. One day
soon I’ll retrieve it and my other things.
At times I’ve thought to give them all away,
start from nothing and see what luck might bring.

But I like those horns, those deep eye sockets,
the passages that once were filled with breath.
I take comfort knowing that I’ve packed it
again. A keepsake of marriage, life, death.