Friday, October 21, 2005

October 20th - Final Post

After spending last night in Pennsylvania, we pushed east again this morning and arrived at our bungalow in New York around noon today. The bungalow is located just north of the New Jersey border. We didn’t stay long, as the landlord was repairing a timer switch to an outside light and I didn’t want to be in the way. Next stop: the dog park. I’m glad to report that there’s a nice park with an off-leash section about ten minutes from here. Gus had fun meeting some new dogs and running around—much needed exercise after five and half days in a cramped car. After that I stopped at Lemongrass, my favorite Thai restaurant in New City, and ordered take-out of my favorite dish: pad kee mao with tofu. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening unpacking and setting up our new place. Right now I’m drinking a cup of Dutch Henry tea, a special blend I made of chamomile and mint from my garden.

Thus ends the greatest adventure of my life. Oregon seems awfully far away in terms of highway miles, but it’s still close in my heart. I have a feeling I’ll go back some day. Unpacking my things, I was happy to find some river teeth that I picked up along the Rogue. What are river teeth? The writer David James Duncan describes the phenomenon eloquently and poetically in his book entitled River Teeth. In a nutshell, here’s what happens: a conifer falls into a river, and the river goes to work breaking it down. Maybe in ten years most of the tree has broken up and eroded. But the branch joints, those places where limbs met the trunk, places dense with pitch, last much longer: hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years. And when they finally do wash up on shore, they’re quite shrunken and soft, and very often they look like teeth. I’m glad I kept two of them. I’ll display one in my office at the bungalow. The other I’ll keep on my desk at school. I like to think, too, that the river worked on me during my six months of living along it, and that now there’s something durable, something thick with the pitch of my soul, laved by all the times I swam in the Rogue or dragged a fly through it or merely gazed at it and let its whorls tell its story in that language I couldn’t really translate though I tried. Those teeth of the Rogue, hard and yet soft and shaped by a beautiful and patient persistence, have sunk deep in me with their memories of the river’s endless conversation. I can hear it talking through those teeth even now.

The End.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

October 19th

October 19, 2005

I’d planned on an easier day yesterday. Sioux Falls to Chicago. According to an online distance-checker, it was 474 miles. Well, the site was wrong by about 100 miles. Then I made the mistake of going through Chicago at rush hour. Bumper to bumper for 40 minutes or more. I’d been driving since 8:00 am. By now it was after sundown, I was hungry, Gus was ready to get out of the car, and my nerves were fraying from the craziness of the city. At one point I realized I had a train to my left, a plane flying overhead, and a sea of cars in front of and behind me; the cabin flashed in my mind: the wood stove crackling, the crickets peeping, the moon rising over Rattlesnake Ridge. It’s strange not to see fir trees everywhere. And I miss the smell of the canyon: that dry scent of madrone, bay laurel, Douglas fir.

After four days of driving, I finally found my maps! I’d put them in one of the backpacks. Now, though, I pretty much know where I am and where the road goes. I’m getting on I-80 East this morning. I’ll probably make one more overnight stop: Pennsylvania somewhere. Then home, though it’s really not.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

October 18th

After driving over 700 miles yesterday, I’m now in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and getting ready to ship out again. I’m hoping to make it to Chicago today. According to a distance-calculating site my dad sent me, it’s 474 miles from here to Chicago. South Dakota was a drive of mostly rolling hills. Saw signs for many historic sites and landmarks—Battle of Little Bighorn, Deadwood, the Badlands, Devil’s Tower—but didn’t stop at any of them. Here are a few shots from the journey so far:

A salmon swimming through the fish ladder at Bonneville Dam, Oregon:

Larches (they look like conifers but are deciduous, dropping their needles) turning in southwestern Montana:

Four shots taken from the car window while driving through Montana, "Big Sky Country":

I’m in Central Time now. One hour earlier than Eastern Time. Getting closer.

Monday, October 17, 2005

October 17th

October 17, 2005

Well, I’ve driven about 1,100 miles or so since leaving my grassy slope beneath the madrone outside the cabin door. I’m in Billings, Montana, and I’m about to hit the road for another day of driving. Two nice things about reintegration: The Weather Channel and HBO. I just watched the former, and it’s going to be a clear go for me today. There’s rain ahead of me and behind me, but I won’t see any of it. And the latter: last night I watched my first episode of Rome, and I’m already hooked.

I took a few pictures along the drive yesterday, but haven’t downloaded them from my camera yet.

Onward and upward (or…across).

Saturday, October 15, 2005

October 14th & 15th

October 14, 2005

Our last day at Dutch Henry Homestead and the gods were as unhappy about it as Gussie and I; it was a violent, blustery day, with the worst winds I’ve seen in the six months we’ve been here. At one point this morning I looked out the window and there was a blizzard of orange needles falling in the yard. I’d been loading gear and had the car doors and the Thule box open. Fir needles everywhere. Later, on our final walk to the pond, debris blew into both my eyes. There were limbs crashing in the woods around us, twigs and branches falling in the road. I had to get the bow saw and cut one fir tree that had fallen across the road above the lower gate. The surface of the pond was covered with needles and leaves, but it didn’t stop Gus from having his last few plunges fetching sticks. After the car was all but loaded, after printing out a note for Steve, a note for Bradley, a new story I wrote, and a cover for my printed version of the blog, we made our last hike down to the river to go fishing. Again big limbs were crashing all through the forest, the wind whipping. Our trail was littered with green fir branches freshly fallen. In the open, down at the river, where the canyon is like a wind tunnel, I felt the full force of the gales leading the low front coming in from the Pacific. I could see dark clouds moving in. But I wanted to catch a fish to bring to Bradley and so in spite of the crazy wind and impending rain, I fished from the creek to the back eddy and back again to our beach. And struck out. I had one fish rise and turn, but it didn’t bite down on the fly. The river was full of leaves and debris. A real mess. Bad action. About two hundred yards from the cabin on the walk back up, the rain started.

Since yesterday Gus has known that something’s up. He’s been watching me pack stuff up. He saw me break down his crate, and gave me an anxious look. This morning while I was loading the car, he jumped in the front seat and wouldn’t budge. I think he was afraid I was going to take off without him. He wouldn’t let me out of his sight all day. And later, down at the river, he looked sad, even amid all the excitement of the front moving in. Here he is saying goodbye to the river:

And here’s the two of us lying one last time on our beach:

The poison oak is a beautiful red right now:

I liked the colors in the composition of this mossy tree on the walk back up to the cabin:

This week I made a collage to take home with me, a reminder of this coniferous forest. Aptly, it’s made of torn paper (newspapers, file folders, covers of poetry journals). A touch of pastels and green marker, too.

On the drive to town yesterday the fog over the river compelled me to pull over on the Whiskey Creek Road and take this shot:

I had a final burst of writing in my last three days here: a new fishing story. I’m going to send it to Fly Rod & Reel in the hopes of winning the Robert Traver Fly-fishing Fiction Award again (I won it in 1997 when I knew almost nothing about fly-fishing). Recently they more than doubled the prize money. I have a few edits to make after I get online again and do some research. I’ll post it when it’s complete.

Gussie and I have indeed had a great go of it here. It’s been one of the deepest experiences of my forty years on this planet, and I’d do it again without thinking twice. Some day, maybe when I’m retired or if my life circumstances change, I’d like to do what Margery suggested—come here for a winter stay. It must be magical here in winter. Finally, I want to express my gratitude to the Boydens (and Bradley in particular), to PEN Northwest (John Daniel in particular), and to the Tenafly Board of Education and administrators for making my stay here possible.

October 15, 2005

It was a sad and soggy departure from the cabin this morning in a light drizzle and before sunrise, followed by a long day of driving. I stopped by Bradley’s to give him the keys and say goodbye to him and his family, and then pushed on, stopping at Bonneville Dam to see the salmon climbing the fish ladder. It was pretty neat to see big salmon swimming by the glass. They actually pay someone to sit there and count and log species of every one of the fish that passes through. Amazing. I’m in Spokane, WA. We made over 600 miles today. I’m pooped; thus, the brief posting. More later.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

October 8th - 13th

October 8, 2005

More thick fog this morning, beautiful to watch sifting through the meadows and firs. After coffee and an hour’s work on a new poem, we went into town to get mail and do laundry and hit the farmer’s market, where I treated myself to a delicious cheeseburger and bought some croissants, a small walnut pie (just had a piece with vanilla ice cream!), a bone for Gus, and a housewarming gift for Sharen—a rounded-edge myrtlewood bread board with a gorgeous grain.

No bobcat sightings on today’s drive, sad to say. Just some deer, one of them a big antlered buck, and lots of grouse and quail. I was thankful the road was damp from the recent rains. No dust to undo yesterday’s cleaning job on my car’s interior.

I’d planned to leave next Saturday, but I spoke with Steve Edwards tonight, and now I’m wondering if I should stay through Saturday night and exchange stories about our experiences here. He seems like a great guy. He’s teaching at the University of Nebraska, where he said he sees Ted Kooser every day. I’m only reluctant to stay the extra night because I want to make it to New York by Friday the 21st so I can move my furniture on Saturday the 22nd. Stan Flood, a pal from the English Department at Tenafly, said he was available to help me that day. Sunday the 23rd is an option, too, but I have concert tickets for an afternoon Ellis Paul concert at The Mansion. Don’t want to miss that. So, the question is: can I make it from here to New York in five days (or six if I drive all day Sunday instead of staying at Bradley’s house in Portland)? Well, I have the week to think about it.

I received copies of Crab Orchard Review in the mail today. My friend Peter and I each had poems accepted for their “Ten Years After: Documenting a Decade 1995-2005” issue. What a nice journal. I’m honored to be included.

On the drive back I stopped at The Silver Sedge Fly Shoppe and bought myself a new leader. The one on my rod is too short and is curling in places. I may have better luck fishing with a new, lighter line. I plan to try tomorrow. If I do stay next Saturday night, it would be nice to cook Steve Edwards a steelhead dinner.

October 9, 2005

After several nights of troubled sleep, I finally slept well last night despite having school on my mind all day. Didn’t wake up once. Maybe I’m getting more used to the idea of returning to my life.

First Day of School

They file in with their bags and books,
as tentative as reluctant penitents,
their bodies sweet embarrassments,
their eyes on guard for funny looks.

They’ve remembered pens and pencils,
paper and erasers, calculators
and planners, granola bars
to sneak, but have forgotten the rules

of fitting in—how and when to smile
or laugh, what to do with hands and feet,
how not to ooze into plastic seats.
All they want is to be liked. Meanwhile

there’s the teacher with her bag and books
and a roster of strange and common names.
After a week of troubling dreams,
her eyes, on guard for funny looks,

wear dark moons that shine across the room.
She’s remembered pens and pencils,
her brown planner and gradebook, the rules
of attendance, bells timed to the clock that looms

and draws all eyes like a giant silver sun.
But she’s forgotten everything she planned—
opening joke, stern warnings, the hand-
out detailing her policies on grades and gum.

So she simply smiles and with deft
gestures hides shaking fingers and beating
heart. And soon enough she’s teaching,
when all she really wants is to be loved.

The day began with clouds, but by noon it was sunny and warming up. I looked along the logging spur for chanterelles again. Nothing. Bradley says it may take a few weeks for the mycelia to get going, so I fear I won’t get any.

Went fishing in the afternoon. Despite my new leader, it was bad action. I caught one small trout in a back eddy. Had a nice hit at the mouth of the creek and another upriver in a shallow gravel run. Lost the last two Boyden pattern flies—one of them on a submerged rock, another on a backcast (couldn’t find where it snapped off). I’m going to try my hand at tying some tonight. I think part of the reason I lost the two flies is that the leader was too thin. I got a 4.4-pound line. Should’ve gotten a bigger one. Finally, I just cut a foot off of it, and then it was fine. Hoping for better action tomorrow, if I can manage to make some decent flies.

Good wildlife down at the river, though. I saw two great blue herons, four otters, a huge red-tailed hawk, several water ouzels, and three deer. The otters were fun to watch diving and rising along the far bank, like dolphins. I also heard a pileated woodpecker and something big crashing through the woods on the walk back up. May have been Mr. Bear. Saw fresh bear scat up near the pond this morning. I think the dish du jour was acorns. Here’s one of the herons. It was a bit dark to get a good shot, so it’s kind of grainy:

October 10, 2005

I was up until after midnight tying flies! Of course, my first few came out badly. I even left out one ingredient—whitish strands of sparkly stuff. But the next couple I made looked about right. This morning, I went right back to the vise. It’s a meditative task. I could see myself really getting into it. I made about eight flies using the pattern Bradley taught me. I’m probably in violation of the secrecy code posting this (and I’ll take it down if Bradley balks), but here it is:

Not bad for an amateur, right?

I feel like a true outdoorsman. I caught a steelhead this afternoon on one of the flies I tied with my own two hands! It was a beautiful strike. I was up on a ledge just downriver from our beach and I moved the fly past a submerged rock. Up came the fish, slow and graceful, snapping the fly. I set the hook and he fought me for a bit. Then while I was reeling the slack he dove beneath the ledge I was standing on. The line wouldn’t budge, and I couldn’t pull him out. Determined not to lose this fish, I tried pulling from every angle, tried giving slack to see if he’d swim out, tried moving upstream and down. Finally, after five minutes, I pushed the rod out toward the river as far as I could and pulled, and out he came. The poor thing was exhausted from the pulling, all the fight gone out of him. Here he is:

I had a few more nice strikes, but no takers. Here we are fishing:

I just cleaned the steelie and put it in the freezer. If I stay Saturday night, I’ll need to catch one more so Steve Edwards and I can have a fish fry. If I don’t stay, I’ll leave him this fish and some butter. He’ll like that.

October 11, 2005

Talons and teeth abound in these woods, and most of the time you never see them. I’ve encountered a myriad of cougar scat gray with fur and bones. I’ve twice walked out my door in the morning to find smaller scat on my doorstep. Marten? Fox? Fisher? The other night I heard what I think was a screech owl with its eerie call. Sometimes, though, you get lucky: you do see them. I saw another bald eagle flying upriver today. But I’ve seen them before. No, today I saw a bird I’ve never seen and have always wanted to see. Walking up from the river around 5:30 this evening, I heard a bunch of chickadees sounding pretty alarmed, and there in a tan oak I saw what I thought at first to be an oversized Oregon junco. But I’ve seen lots of juncos in this forest, and they were all much smaller. I had a mosquito net over my head, something I’d discovered in the cupboard a long time ago and never used until today. It’s made of green netting and fits over a hat, with an elastic ring that goes around your neck. Lately tiny gnats or flies or whatever they are have been tormenting me on my walks, going straight for the eyes and ears and when I’m breathing hard from the steep hike, going down my windpipe. They don’t bite. Just annoy to hell and back. Thus, the mosquito netting, which made for a very pleasant walk. But back to the bird. I lifted the netting for a better view. The sun was beginning to go down, and I had to shade it with one hand. The bird was no junco. I saw the head turn to reveal “false eyes.” A Northern Pygmy Owl! I’d long ago given up on seeing one out here, even though they often come out in daylight. Now, in my last week, I’ve been rewarded for the wait. The Northern Pygmy is the smallest owl, about as tall as a sparrow but three times as heavy. A small, fat body with no neck. According to John Kemper in Southern Oregon’s Bird Life, “They often hunt in the daytime, and their principal prey is small birds…”; thus the squawking of the chickadees. Kemper goes on to say that they are “ferocious hunters, and frequently take prey twice as big as they are. One will hunt from a perch, holding perfectly still except for its head, which turns constantly this way and that, seeking prey. It can turn its head completely around, of course, and when it does, the false ‘eyes’ on the back of [its] head become visible.” This is exactly what I saw it do. It seemed unperturbed by my presence. I was only about fifteen feet away. Twice it turned its head showing the black feathers on the back of its head that look like eyes, an evolutionary wonder. After about five minutes, I returned to the trail. When I looked back, it was still on its perch, head turning from side to side looking for dinner. Or would it be breakfast?

Fishing was bad action. I turned a few nice fish, but they didn’t take. I caught one tiny one. The owl sighting made up for the lack of fish.

I rototilled two of the garden beds today. It was sad to churn up my pepper plants, even though they gave me very few peppers. I left the basil and parsley and chamomile. The former I hope to use for dinner with Steve. The latter two herbs should last through the winter. The chamomile has been most productive, giving me a half-quart baggie full of nice flowers for tea. I didn’t touch the bed with the tomatoes and cukes. They’re still bearing, and Steve can eat some, and then Lang and Bradley when they come out in a few weeks. I also didn’t till the bed with the sunflower and zucchini. The sunflower isn’t quite ready for eating. And the zucchini plant is still bearing. More food for those lucky enough to be coming out in the next few weeks.

There was a pretty moon rise tonight. The digital doesn’t do well with little light, but I tried my best:

And here’s a night shot of the cabin. That’s one of the propane lamps burning. The pole to the right is the antenna for the radio phone. There’s smoke coming out the chimney from my fire, but you can’t see it:

October 13, 2005

Two nights ago I woke up with an idea for a new fishing story. I’ve been wanting to win the Robert Traver Fly-fishing Fiction Award again (I won it in 1997) from Fly Rod & Reel Magazine, especially since they raised the prize money from $1,000 to $3,500. Good cash money! Inspired by Laurie Lynn Drummond’s stories, this one is about a cop dealing with guilt over a family tragedy and the help he receives from his compassionate partner. I worked on it all day yesterday, finishing eight pages, and I feel good about it. I need to check the FR&R web site and see about word limits. If I recall, the stories can’t be more than 3,500 words, and I’m close to 3,000. After my Rogue River steelhead experiences, the fishing details have been easier to write than in previous fishing stories I’ve done.

Yesterday morning I walked out on the deck and saw deer in the garden! Three of them. At first I thought they’d jumped the fence. Then I saw the gate was wide open. Apparently, after chugging the rototiller back up to its parking place beneath the cabin, I forgot to go down and close the gate. I didn’t want the deer eating the tomatoes and cukes and sunflower, so I took a walk down there. I thought it would be easy enough to herd them toward the gate. I was wrong. As soon as they saw me, they started trotting around. Then the youngest of them dashed right through a gap in the barbed wire. I winced, imagining its hide being scratched by the barbs. Another one ran into the fence two or three times. I was horrified. I started backing away. The last thing I wanted was for them to hurt themselves or damage the fence. This one was much bigger than the youngest, but miraculously it also leapt through a gap in the fence just east of the run-down chicken coop. I hightailed it back to the cabin, where I watched the third deer. She walked the perimeter, finally found the gate, and trotted through it and off into the meadow to rejoin her scratched-up family. I went back out and inspected the fence. No damage done. The gap through which the biggest deer leapt was a rectangle measured about 15 inches high by 20 inches across. I could see bits of fir on the barbs, but no blood. I thought for sure that the two deer going through the fence would have messed up the electric wire, but they didn’t. The wires were perfectly intact. Incredible!

No fishing yesterday. I was too engrossed in the new story. Anyway, it was hot. Felt like summer in the afternoon. Taking a break from writing, I printed out a condensed, hard copy version of the blog (minus pictures and audio and HTML codes, of course). To shorten the page count, I single-spaced, reduced the margins, changed the font to Garamond (a nice, small typeface), and changed the font size to 11 point. Anything smaller would be too hard to read, especially for any future residents as old as me. Thus shrunk, the blog ran 114 pages. To conserve paper, I printed on both sides, first doing the odd pages, then the evens. Half-way through the odds, the generator ran out of gas. When I added more gas and started her up again, the laser printer got all screwed up and I had to cancel the print job, reprint four or five pages, and then pick up from there. When all was said and done, it took me over an hour to print the darned thing. But it looks nice. I’m going to try to have it spiral bound at a copy place today.

This morning I woke up at 3:00 AM, a wee hour, and couldn’t fall back asleep. I tossed and turned for two hours, before I finally got up. I took Gus out for peepee/poopy in the dark, and the stars were thick, crisp, cool, Orion there large in his perpetual hunt. We’re making our final trip to Grants Pass today to mail four big boxes of stuff, close the P.O. box, wash the bedding, and run a few other errands.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

October 2nd - 7th

October 2, 2005

It rained on and off throughout the day. During a morning lull, we went out looking for mushrooms and didn’t see a single fungus. Maybe we need a day of warm temps following the rains to get the spores popping. I checked a place where Lang and Martha found chanterelles last year—along a now overgrown logging spur off the DHH road. In the afternoon we braved the drizzle to do some fishing, and I got skunked. I fished from the creek up to the back eddy pockets and then back to our beach. Had one hit, and it might just have been a squawfish. Where are all the steelies? It was nice to be down there, watching the mists and the occasional patches of blue sky. Even standing in the rain. Gus didn’t seem to mind much. He was wet from the river anyway. On the path out, sitting on a log to switch from my felt-soled wading shoes (good on slippery rocks) into my hiking shoes, I saw a bunch of mushrooms, but they weren’t chanterelles. Soon, I think.

I’ve had the wood stove going all day, keeping the cabin warm and dry. I’ll miss the coziness of having a wood stove, the chore of chopping and carrying wood. At the Fort Montgomery house, it was my nightly routine in the winter to make a nice fire. That stove, a Vermont Castings I bought in the Adirondacks and hauled home in the trunk of my Honda Civic (nearly breaking the springs), had a window. I loved watching the flames and hot coals. Many a night I fell asleep by those fires. There’s no wood stove or fireplace at the new bungalow. If I ever buy a house again, it’ll have to have a wood stove.

I did some more packing today, another big box, this one full of books and summer clothes. I don’t think I’ll be needing shorts or short sleeves much if this weather keeps up. I kept out one pair or shorts and several tee shirts just in case.

I worked on a new poem today. The title is a bit of a pun, which soon becomes evident. I got the idea when I saw a call for manuscripts in P&W for a literary magazine doing a theme issue on “simple virtues.” I assembled a few other poems and story to send in, too. The lines should have staggered indentation. Each section has a different point of view.

Cardinal Virtues

I. Justice

Eggs in nests, breakable,
in need of constant heat
and turning; squirrels

and hawks, and at night
the black gaze of owls
piercing, piercing.

Cats at feeders,
poised, slow as the sun
but quicker than light.

Plate glass windows,
clean, clear like the gaps
between trees. Hard, hard.

II. Prudence

Beware of clearings
and the yards of boys.
Beware freely offered

seeds. Forage most
in autumn when the leaves
and you are one. Beware

a background of snow.
Do not linger at dusk.
Take a circuitous route

back to the nest
you’ve built high
above the ground.

III. Fortitude

At the top of a pine
the fledgling, awakened
by the marrow of its thin

bones, peered out
of the woven bowl.
It liked its home—

the smell of grass
and moss, the down
from its mother’s breast.

Fear lit its eyes,
but something just as old
told it how to use its wings.

IV. Temperance

They eat when they’re
hungry, and they’re always
hungry but never gluttonous.

Water’s harder
to come by, and so at times
they love the rain too much.

Their very lives
are arranged, like feathers,
with form and moderation.

They are no more
red than a jay is blue.
Refraction: light, them, you.

Rich Norris, crossword editor at The L.A. Times e-mailed to say he wants to publish another puzzle of mine, but I have to make the grid easier, since it’ll be a Monday puzzle. I fixed it up today and will send it when I get on WiFi again.

October 3, 2005

Bradley and his friend Bradford (I know, that sounds funny) are due to arrive this afternoon bearing a new sliding door for the cabin. I have a feeling it’s going to turn into a very big job, a mandatory course here at the Dutch Henry Institute of Technology. Needs to be done, though.

I’m making a batch of Gary’s Famous Barbequed Ribs and I’ve had the Cubans properly humidified for a few days. Should make for some good action at the upper house tonight.

New poem, a loose sonnet. I can’t seem to escape the Adam and Eve story, which figures prominently in the new book. So here’s another. By the way an arbor vitae (pronounced vigh-tee), is an evergreen with a strong smell.

Arbor Vitae

She was seven and I was eight
and we were as old as need be
when we hid beneath that arbor
vitae in its sour pungency.
Needles, little serpents, bit
inside my collar. I could hear
hollering in the fenced darkness,
but couldn’t see to see, and there
were spider webs surrounding us,
sticky things to push through or fear
if fear was what we wanted. We
didn’t know. We held each other.
That was all. Where else could we go?
We didn’t know. We didn’t know.

October 4, 2005

The Two Brads arrived yesterday afternoon with the huge new door strapped to the top of the pickup. The plan is to begin work on installation today. While we were chatting on the deck, a nice rainbow formed right over the garden:

In the evening we had a good time at the upper house, eating a plate of the ribs I made and then some barbequed chicken. Bradley’s friend Bradford is a character. He grew up in Preston, Idaho, the same town where Napoleon Dynamite is set and was filmed. In fact, he said that in the movie you can see his parents’ yard. He now lives outside of Phoenix. He kept us laughing with stories about drag racing, grilling, and Evel Kneival. The funniest episode of the night was when he told us a riddle that a radio show up in Washington broadcast a few years ago. The prize to the first person who called in with the right answer was something like $5,000. Riddle: “What’s the first thing you know?”

I’ll give the answer next time I come to town.

As Bradford drank beer at the table with his eyes closed, Bradley and I played four games of cribbage. I beat him three to one.

October 5, 2005

Yesterday commenced intense vocational training at the Dutch Henry Institute of Technology, when The Two Brads came rolling down the road with their box of tools. Soon my deck was strewn with the dismembered, disassembled, disabled parts of the old sliding door and various and sundry windows, T-111 siding, propane gas pipes and moldings. While I stood around “holding the rope” and collecting wrenched-out nails, the professors did all the work and in a few hours had the old door out and the new one loosely fitted in. The door wasn’t sitting quite plumb or square, and the afternoon had lapsed well into fishing time, so Bradley put some temporary tacks to hold the door in place, said, “We’ll finish her tomorrow,” and the three of us and Gus went fishing. We got skunked at the river. Bradley and I had strikes, but no takers. Very bad action, but our dinner and continuing banter made up for the lousy fishing. Steak, mashed taters, Walla Walla onions, string beans—all of it, of course, cooked in butter, the fat of the gods. It was a clear, cool night and the stars were thick. Bradley brought the cribbage count from 3-1 to 4-3, but I’m still leading. Around 11:00 I called it quits, thinking I’d come back and read another one of Laurie Lynn Drummond’s great cop stories, but when I went to light the propane lamp above my bed, I remembered we’d had to shut off the gas when we disconnected a lamp near the sliding door. So I made a fire in the wood stove and went to sleep. This morning, without gas, I boiled water for my coffee on top of the wood stove. Roughing it.

The other day Bradford asked me to write a poem for his wife, an apology for him having come out here and left her with all the chores. Here’s what I came up with:

Postcard Too Small for My Apology

—for Kathy

For the cool prelude of my side of the bed;
for the paper not yet read still waiting
at the end of the drive with its creases
and bad news; for the bee hive humming
in the eaves and the too-heavy ladder;
for the dog’s empty water bowl,
his whining by the locked door, the tug
of his leash, the brown steaming piles;
for the rubbish and recyclables—blue bins
loaded with the waste of our consumption,
the dark and sour smile of black beans
at the bottom of one tin can; for no whiskers
like hyphens punctuating the bathroom sink,
no uric ellipses on the toilet seat, no moist
sock like a sad brassard on the arm
of your favorite chair; for no black hairs
stuck to the bar of soap, no farts, no dopey
jokes, no charred-army body count
in the glass ashtray; for no one with whom
to drink or commiserate or die those little
deaths; for your speechless disbelief when I say,
“I’m going fishing for five days, can you
watch the kids?”; for Eve made from Adam’s
rib, and the long, long history of grief;
for what happened in the Garden—for all
of this and more, I humbly beg your pardon.

I’m expecting the professors to come rolling down any minute now to begin my practical examination—the final steps in the installation of the new sliding door. Then, to my best guess, we’ll be doing more fishing.

Evening post: The door’s in and sliding like butter. My deck’s back to its original state of semi-disarray. I got skunked again fishing, but The Two Brads just came up at first dark and said they caught two. They’d gone down through the corral and upriver fishing downriver. I’d gone to my beach and fished upriver. I’ve been feeling pretty lousy (upset stomach) all day, so I didn’t wait for them and just headed back. More action at the upper house tonight.

October 6, 2005

Last night I spent more good time with The Two Brads in the coziness of the upper house beneath a blanket of stars. Sitting out on the deck, I saw two shooters, one of them an orange blaze with almost no tail to it. Bradley whipped up a batch of his famous boneless pork ribs, this time with a spicy chipotle marinade. His pan-friend potato cakes were sublime, as was the honeydew drizzled with lime juice we had for dessert. Despite all this kindness, after a 4-4 tie in the cribbage tournament, I beat him in the last game. I’m ahead 5-4.

Here we are:

I got a call yesterday from Loretta, Judy Montgomery’s friend in Bend, who had been so kind to me when I was there, baking me treats to bring back to the cabin and bringing rawhides for Gus. She called for my address because she wants to send me something, and while we were chatting she asked how Gus was doing and then told me her own dog died suddenly the other day. I can only imagine how sad it must be. Anyway, I wrote this poem for her and her husband Pete.


—for Loretta and Pete

Come, sit, stay awhile
before the end, old friends.
I’ll miss your smiles,
your bountiful hands,

the commands I never
listened to. Now I would
hang on your every
word, sit, stay, be good.

Life was a leash I loved,
and I knew it well.
It was heaven enough
as far as I could tell.

They say there are no
fences where I’m going,
and I’m afraid I won’t
know what I’m doing

there. Hard to comprehend
—all that space to run.
I promise, old friends,
if you call, I’ll come.

The whole canyon was full of thick fog this morning, the first time I’ve seen that. It was beautiful. Now, at eleven, it’s burned off to a sunny day. We’re going to move some wood into the woodshed and rototill some of the garden beds, and then go fishing. We need a third fish for our fish fry tonight.

October 7, 2005

I caught us the third fish we needed, a nice 14-inch steelhead! He fought like mad and after I got him onto shore he broke the hook in half. A feisty fish indeed. I landed him right at my beach on a rock I’ve dubbed “Gary’s Rock,” because I usually have success there. Here I am with it:

Just before I caught the fish I saw two otters in the river, my first glimpse of them out here! They looked right at me, snorted, shook water from their big whiskers as if to say hello, and then dunked down and were gone. Very cool!

Later, just before we quit, Bradley caught one, too. That one he’s bringing home to Margery. What a good son.

We had a great dinner of the steelhead, some sautéed veggies, and some fried taters, and then we made the huge mistake of playing Trivial Pursuit so as to let Bradford get involved in the evening gaming (he’s not a cribbage player). Well, the game went on past midnight and then I finally won it. Afterward Bradley vowed never to play Trivial Pursuit at Dutch Henry again. “Throw it in the fire!” he spat. I think I concur. Cribbage is the house game, and all you really need.

It was a beautiful morning today, cool and sunny. I woke late after a lousy night’s sleep, my stomach bothering me again. I think it’s anxiety about leaving next week. After breakfast we loaded Bradley’s truck with firewood for him to take home to Portland, then stacked the rest in the woodshed. Between them packing up to go, we got in one more game of cribbage, and I won, bringing the series to 5-3. It’s official: I’m the undefeated champion of DHH for 2005. Man, I’ll really miss playing cribbage with Bradley. Here we are:

Here’s Bradford out on the deck taking in a last look at the amazing view:

By the time they were heading out, some weather was moving in. May rain tonight:

And here’s Gus looking a little sad to see the guys go:

Around 1:15 I said goodbye to The Two Brads, feeling sad to see them go. I had a great time with them. Then Gus and I were back to our quiet canyon. In anticipation of leaving next week, I cleaned the inside of my car, washing out all the dust and dirt I could and then wiping her down with Armorall and cleaning the windows. With a damp road, I should have a nice ride into town tomorrow for my penultimate trip to Grants Pass.

I may have one last visitor, if I decide to leave on Sunday instead of Saturday. Bradley says Steve Edwards, a DHIT alum, is planning to come in on Saturday. I feel torn. On the one hand, I’d like to be alone when I say farewell to this place; on the other, it would be fun to spend a night with Steve and compare notes on our Dutch Henry experiences. I’ll see how I feel when the time comes. Now that I think of it, if I want to move my stuff from storage on the 22nd, I should leave Saturday to give myself 7 days to drive across the country.

I’ve got baked ziti (homegrown tomato sauce) in the oven, and it smells good.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

September 28 - October 1

September 28, 2005

I’m getting very anxious about the prospect of my reintegration into civilization and my life back East. I have less than three weeks remaining here, and I’m afraid to leave the safety of the wilderness; pretty ironic given that I was terrified for a whole year at the thought of coming to live here. I’ve gotten used to the buffer of countless miles and boundless quiet, a wall which makes for a lightness of being one cannot know in cities and towns, a lightness born of obliviousness and small wonders. Only when I’ve turned on the radio out here or gone into town and read newspapers has that wall been breached. Tonight, listening to NPR while cooking dinner, I heard reports of people starving in Africa, people in our own country displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the ever-rising death toll in Iraq, and I suddenly had a headache, and then had a hard time enjoying my sesame-encrusted pork loin. And I feel embarrassed to even write that. In my old life, how did I ever eat all my dinners in front of the six o’clock TV news? I don’t think I’ll do that anymore once I’m back on the grid. There is so much suffering in the world; how do you live so that it doesn’t rot you on the inside? Do what you can to alleviate it? Make donations? March in protest? But do these lift the weight, stop the rot? Listening to the report about these people in Africa, whose crops have failed and who don’t have enough to eat despite international help, I thought of all the food I’ve consumed out here. I spend an average of about $75 a week at Market of Choice. I treat myself to expensive cheeses, meats, olives, snacks, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Choice stuff. I’ve stocked dry goods I’ll never eat: brown rice, flour, sugar, oat meal. Listening to the news, I found myself wishing I could send my whole pantry to these malnourished people. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true. An hour before all this, I was down at the river catching steelhead on flies, watching water ouzels and a great blue heron, my head as clean as the river, the air. Oblivious. Light. I was happy. Yes, I think there’s something to be said for obliviousness. Maybe that’s a cop-out. It doesn’t stop suffering except in the one oblivious. It’s a shirking of responsibility, even. But maybe that’s the guilty trade-off for peace of mind.

I’m not sure how I’ll handle the reintegration. I had a fleeting fear recently that I’ll have a complete emotional meltdown. But of course I won’t. I’ll be grumpy for a time. I’ll grind my teeth in my troubled sleep. I’ll have headaches more often. I’ll ride the high of the intense stress that comes with being a high school teacher. But I expect I’ll do what I’ve done here to find peace of mind—revel in the small wonders. I’ll look for them or stumble upon them as I always have. Fall foliage going from red and orange to brown. Snowfall in the glow of a streetlight. Ellis Paul singing “Maria’s Beautiful Mess” live at The Mansion in Middletown, me sitting close enough that I can touch his guitar. The sound of ice shifting on a frozen lake. Gussie’s sweet, attentive eyes; his big black paws; his taut little body. Coming to know and love a new batch of students. Seeing the first crocus of spring. These and a thousand other things will iron out the wrinkles made by my wincing at the hard, hard world and my new life, forty and divorced.

I’m tired tonight. This morning, feeling guilty about the condition of the corral trail, I lugged the Stihl chainsaw about a mile down the trail and cleared all the fallen trees. Cutting the biggest tree, I got the blade stuck, despite my silent assurance that I wouldn’t let it. I didn’t want to bend the bar or damage the chain trying to yank it out, so I hiked all the way back to get the bow saw to finish the cut. It did the trick, but now I’d walked twice as far as I’d planned. As if all that steep hiking wasn’t enough, in the afternoon we walked to the river for more fishing. I fished for about twenty minutes and had several tugs, but caught nothing. Then I noticed that the hook on the fly was broken, its point and barb completely gone. That explained why I wasn’t catching fish. Duh. It must have broken against a rock during a back cast. I tied on a new fly and tried my trusty pockets, but nothing doing. Then I made my way back to our beach, where I encountered a nice family on a raft. The Cramers. They’d parked right at our beach and were setting up camp to spend the night there. I got to talking with them, and they gave me homemade chocolate chip cookies and showed me a Rogue River book I hadn’t seen. There was a section in it on Dutch Henry. Annoyed that I hadn’t caught a fish, I decided to try the mouth of the creek before I left. And there I caught one, a nice steelhead, about 14 inches. I offered the fish to the Cramers, but they politely declined. While we were chatting, the older of the two brothers, casting from my rock, hooked into a steelie with a spinner. Here’s the picture of them unhooking the fish and giving Gus a sniff of it:

September 29, 2005

Having coffee this morning, I discovered an issue of The Alaska Sportsman magazine dated June, 1945. I got a kick out of flipping through it and seeing all the old ads for polar bear rugs, shotguns, Tlingit baskets, references to the war. But the back cover ad for Schenley whiskey had me laughing out loud. It reminded me of Gus chasing around old Dutch Hen:

Today I lacked all pep, and my right shoulder was aching. Maybe it was all the walking and lugging of the chainsaw yesterday. It was all I could do to go to the pond and back, put away some gardening tools and hoses, chop some kindling. I napped twice in the afternoon. Once didn’t do it. Had no juice to go fishing at the river. So, a day of rest. In Genesis even God needed one of those.

I cooked up the fish I caught yesterday, and it came out just right. With some shad roe Bradley left me, some brown rice, a corn salad, and a romaine salad, I had a nice dinner.

I’m starting to think about packing up. My car and storage box were full coming out here, and I had to mail myself several boxes of things. I guess I’ll do the same when I leave. It occurs to me that I won’t have a bed to sleep in when I arrive at my bungalow. My bed’s buried in storage. I’ll be roughing it until I can find someone to help me move the big things. I’m tired just thinking about setting up the new place.

September 30, 2005

Feeling much more energized today after a good night’s sleep (even though I stayed up late watching Patton), I started packing stuff this morning. I filled up two big boxes to mail to myself, one box full of spices, teas and stuff I’ve dried and canned, another box full of books. I need to get myself more boxes and packing tape on my next trip to town, which might be tomorrow. With Bradley coming in on Monday with a friend, I’m thinking I should go to the farmer’s market in Grants Pass and get some goodies.

After lunch Gus and I went fishing. The river was like a circus. As soon as I got off the main trail to head down to our beach I encountered a hiker. He’d walked about 14 miles and was looking for a place to camp. I directed him to a nice spot with a flat area and close to an outhouse. Then there were two boats at the beach, some people stopped for lunch. After they left, three more boats pulled up, guides saying they had twenty hikers coming to camp there. It’s just as well. The river was high and cloudy and the wind was blowing like crazy. I think a dam must have been opened upriver, because the river’s been so clear and low. Anyway, the fishing was no good. We fished as far as the back eddy pockets, and then headed back.

Looking at some maps this afternoon, I decided to head back by going north into Washington where I’ll get on I-90 and take that all the way, through the Badlands. It was the way I wanted to come on the ride out, but didn’t. I think I’d rather see Montana than Nebraska again. Man, it’s a big country. I don’t relish the thought of driving it again. I’ll have to download more books from iTunes.

October 1, 2005

Well, October made a splash here. Literally. A whole night of rain. All day yesterday I could feel it coming, could sense it in the bluster, see it in the swirling clouds, and by evening I felt the first tiny droplets falling. Several times I woke in the night to hear it dancing on the skylight. When I got up this morning the mists were snaking along the ridge. I’m grateful for the rain. It’ll make my drive into town so much more pleasant. No dust!

With the change of month, I had the calendar on my mind this morning; or the lack of one. I haven’t had one out here, except for the tiny calendar in my checkbook I’ve consulted from time to time, or the date on my watch. But no tacked-up calendar with big boxes to X out. And so, this draft of a new poem. Of course, as with most of my poems, it’s about more than that (or at least I hope it is):

Numbered Days

In this ambivalent wilderness
I’ve lived long without a calendar
to mark the things I’ve done
or haven’t—no exes through
my cabin days like the eyes
of the dead in comics, or on maps
for tourists the places that say

You Are Here; no appointments
scribbled or scratched out;
neither birthdays nor holidays
to mind like pots of rice.
To know the phase of the moon,
I’ve waited for the glow along
this eastern ridge. To know

the day, I’ve gazed through
the square pane of a bay window.
And when one month ended
and another began, I turned
no page but the one on which
I wrote in longhand the vain
stanzas of my numbered days.

On the drive into town I had a really great look at a bobcat. It was on the side of the road eating a dead deer. I slowed and watched it and it ran across the road. Then I stopped and turned around. Out it came for more. Again I drove up and got a great look. Then it dashed off again. I waited for more, but cars started coming by and it didn't come out for ten minutes, so I gave up. Pretty neat.