July 3, 2005
Today I encountered far too many of the worst kind of creature you can find out here. Not bears. Not coyotes. Not cougars or foxes or snakes. No, these were bipeds with opposable thumbs. And they ruined what was shaping up to be a nice day. Gussie and I made an early start down to the river in the hope of claiming our beach. Sure enough, there were three rafts shored up, and about eight or nine people lounging around our beach and noshing on cherries. This was a friendly group. I asked if they were camping there, and they said no, they’d be leaving in a minute. Just stopping for a snack. I chatted with them while one woman entertained Gus with sticks thrown into the river. They gave me cherries and offered me trail mix, we chatted a bit, and then they were off. I bivouacked. This time I brought a folding nylon chair and the umbrella, with the plan of stashing both close to river so that I wouldn’t have to haul them back and forth. We went for a dip and then I settled down to a New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle. An hour or so later, I was three answers away from being done with it, when I heard voices and Gus started barking. Out in the river there were three guys drifting in the water, no boat, right toward our beach. They started telling Gus to calm down, and so did I. “You guys lose your boat?” I said. Right off they seemed a little cagey and suspicious. Three guys drifting down the Rogue in nothing but life jackets? One guy had a big knife strapped to his shorts. They said they were river guides, and then the biggest of them said, “You living at that cabin up there?” I knew the jig was up. I couldn’t bullshit them. I had nothing but an LL Bean day pack, a bottle of Calistoga sparking water, a chair, an umbrella, and a crossword. “Yeah,” I said. They mentioned the name of someone who runs one of the lodges downriver, said he’d told them about the place. He went on to say that they were waiting for a party to arrive and that they’d be camping for the night upriver at one of the stops on the trail. “We’ve got some time to kill, so we thought we’d go check out the cabin. Is it far?” I was going to say that the place was private property, no trespassing, but I feared it might start a fight, and there were three of them, so instead I lied. “It’s a good three miles,” I said. “Oh, is it that far?” Then they were off walking up toward the trail. I cheated on the last three answers of my puzzle, cursed under my breath with all my best swears, and packed up. I didn’t bother changing out of my swim trunks. I just put on my hiking shoes. The three guys had been dressed in nothing but shorts and Tiva sandals, and I knew I could catch them if they did indeed find the trail to the cabin. I knew, too, that they weren’t planning an extended walk in the woods dressed like that. At the start of my trail, I found their life jackets in a pile. More curses. Double-time now. Uphill and steep and 80+ degrees. Half-way up, I could hear their voices. And finally, about to pass out from the effort, I intercepted them at a split in the trail. “Hey!” they called. “That was quick. You must be in good shape. How many times have you walked that trail?” I gave them my best scowl. “Quite a few,” I said. Now what? Do I politely ask them to bugger off? “Where does this trail go?” the biggest one asked. “To a creek,” I said. “Are you heading that way?” he said. “No, I’m going home,” I said, very unfriendly-like, and turned and left them there looking after me. Now I just wanted to make it back to the cabin and to my car before they did. I snatched the keys where I’d left them in the ignition (won’t do that again), unlocked the cabin door, and locked it up again behind me. Here’s where you’re going to think I’m turning into Ted Koczinski: then I loaded the .22 and sat on the couch listening through the screen. I had all kinds of wild visions: the three of them splitting up and coming at me from all sides; the three of them watching me from the dark edges of the woods, waiting for nightfall and then assaulting the cabin; the three of them letting the air out of my tires because I’d been so unfriendly. I suspect they caught the hint and just went back down to the river. But I’m still listening to every twig that snaps and wondering if it’s them. Dressed the way they were, they’d get tired of the mosquitoes real soon. So they’re probably back at their camp. But the thing is, they knew the way up here. How? That, I don’t like.
Anyway, here’s what our beach looked like just minutes before the amphibious weasels arrived:
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And here’s a Western Sandpiper that came by for a visit:
And a pair of Common Mergansers
When my anxiety finally eased, I took a shower and lay down for a nap, and was awakened a half-hour later by Gus barking. I sprang out of bed, threw on some shorts, went to the sliding door, and saw heads walking down the road. Different, younger heads. They looked scared. Gus has an intimidating bark, and when you can’t see how big he is, he probably sounds pretty scary. I said through the screen, where they couldn’t see me well, “Hey, what are you doing?” They had fishing poles in hand, and clearly had just hiked up from the river. “Didn’t you see the signs?” I said. “No trespassing. This is private property.” The kid closest to me said, “Sorry. Can we ask you a huge favor? We’re dying from the hike up. Could you drive us up the road?” Anywhere else, on any other day, I would have gladly given them a ride, and a cold drink, too. But my nerves were already frayed from the cagey trio I’d encountered earlier. “Where are you going?” I said. “Oh, to the camp nearby,” he said. I asked what camp he was talking about. “Not a camp, really. The ranch. The castle house. We’re staying there.” A felt a bit of relief. He went on to say that the other kid with him was related to the new owners. “Well, like I said, this place is private property, and we don’t want any trespassers,” I said. The kid apologized, said the new owner at the castle said it would be all right. “Well, it’s really not,” I said, “and I’d appreciate it if you just moved on.” Then they were gone.
Maybe it’s because it’s a holiday weekend. But whatever the case, my peace has been disturbed and I don’t like it. It’s given me a headache. What I should so is start firing the 30.06 randomly into the forest, so all lurkers will think I’m crazy and go back to their rafts and trails and cars. But that thing scares me more than they do.
Homo sapiens keep out!
For about 37 out of my 40 years on this planet, I’ve spent the night of the 3rd of July at my grandmother’s house in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, across from the minor league baseball stadium, where the city shoots off a damned good display of fireworks. It was always a fun time, a chance to see all my cousins and all the old Portuguese folks, a time to light off our own supply of bottle rockets and firecrackers and, if we were lucky, M-80s. The streets were always packed with people, the stadium mobbed. It took an hour to get out of the neighborhood after the big finale. A few years after my grandmother got sick and frail and went to live with my parents, they sold her house and the tradition went with it. And then she passed on. Tonight a new family is gathered on the square lawn, sitting in their folding chairs or on the grass or on the cement wall facing the stadium. And somewhere my grandmother, my Voa Voa, has become part of a bigger lightshow firing beautifully in some unknowable plane.
Tomorrow’s the Fourth, Independence Day, and I’m feeling homesick.
July 4, 2005
A hot holiday, well into the 90s. I was leery of going down to the river with all the folks about, so we stayed put, and my big activity of the day was weeding the strawberry patch. Can’t say as I’ve ever done that on the Fourth of July. But it needed to be done and it was the only chore I could muster the motivation to do, and only because I had my iPod plugged into my ears and I was rocking out to Luna. I treated myself to three of their CDs when I was in Ashland recently, and I’m enjoying the songs. My friend Peter and I saw Luna’s last show in New York City back in the winter. They were a great band, but alas, they’re no more. Every day’s a holiday out here, so I guess it really doesn’t matter that I spent the day doing little more than working in the garden. I was thinking a lot about Rhode Island, though, and wishing I was at Flo’s clamshack eating clamcakes and chowder, standing around in my still-wet swim trunks, my skin covered with Atlantic salt, sand between my toes.
For the first time in my residency, I’m starting to feel bored often, and I think it’s the heat. When it gets too warm, I lose the motivation to write, to read, to noodle around on the guitar, to walk or hike. The river’s the place to be. Maybe tomorrow, after the holiday revelers have all gone back to their lives. In the meantime, thank goodness for crosswords. I find myself most energized and happy early in the morning, when the air is cool enough for fleece and the mosquitoes all seem to have gotten bored and left. This morning sitting out on the deck, the spider webs gleaming as the sun came up, was the happiest part of my day. Maybe I should wake up earlier and write until it gets hot. Then I can allay my grumpiness with an afternoon trip to the river, or a long nap in the bedroom, which seems to be the coolest room in the cabin. Even poor Gus, usually a bundle of energy, has been listless all day. I’ll take him up to the pond after dinner.
On our walk up to the pond, I discovered a bunch of Leopard Lilies growing near Bill Graiff’s old stream. Quite lovely:
Here’s a look at the shortcut I mowed through the meadow. It goes from the pond to the woods and then the path goes to just above the upper house. The grass around the swath is taller than me!
On the shortcut path I discovered that Mr. Bear didn’t clean up after his dinner. He tore this old tree to shreds dining on grubs, and then had the bad manners to leave it right in my path:
Here’s a nice shot at dusk. I like how it’s dark in the foreground, still bright in the background:
And here’s Rattlesnake Ridge soaking up the last of the sun:
I found this Old Man’s Beard, a cool kind of lichen, on the road back:
I picked my first zucchini. Sauteed with garlic, it was sweet and succulent. Went well with my grilled marinated chicken kabobs:
Tonight this big flying bug came and landed on my shoulder. It looks almost albino. He got in through the gap in the screen door. I really need to plead with the Brothers to fix that sliding door, which is the source of all invading flying insects. The mosquitoes have been supping on me nightly.
July 5, 2005
I followed my own advice and got up around 7:00, when it was cool enough to make a fire, and wrote a draft of a new poem. Then I cleared out the water dips and culverts along the road. I did this earlier in the spring, but the heavy rains in May filled them again with silt and debris. I also cut a fallen madrone that was sticking out too far into the road above the lower gate. A good few hours’ worth of work. Then I came back and put some finishing touches on the poem. Here it is:
My Flawed Utopia
If I could cook for her—
roasted lamb with a demi-glaze,
say, or coq au vin
(anything with wine),
potatoes baked in their dirty skins—
while her wet clothes
dripped on the line
and Allen’s hummingbirds
sipped the sugared water
hung above the deck; and if the light
was just right, and the breeze
easy, carrying a dry trace
of bay and the madrones’
yellow leaves; if she liked
the sound of it cracking
in a mill, and sea salt, too,
and coffee sentenced
to the antique oubliette of a hand-
cranked grinder; our laughter lost
for a time in the teapot’s whistle,
then—what? Who would I be
for her or for me but the man
who in the undreamt world
tires too soon of talk
and can’t stand a cluttered table.
In the middle of some story
told more to fill the empty space
between our plates than to reveal
I’d find myself dreaming
of the green river, of the way
it hugs my legs when I wade in it,
or of the lizard I saw
doing push-ups on my steps.
But I’d be looking in her eyes,
wet and brown, and thinking
at the same time
that this is what love is—
the sweet burnt crust
of crème brûlée and the dark hair
falling across her pretty face.
July 6, 2005
My hands finally wear the smell of fish—seven of them! Seven laughably small but feisty little swimmers. Against my better judgment as a dignified person and wannabe fly-fisherman, I followed my brother Richard’s advice (it’s his birthday today) and dug up a dozen or so worms from one of my garden beds and found some small hooks on which to impale them. I made a lunch, filled my hydration system with ice cubes and water, loaded up towel and trunks, and twenty minutes later, on my second cast, I felt that unique sensation of a fish jigging at the end of my line. I landed seven within about twenty minutes, all of them four to six inches in length (as I said, laughably small). I think they were trout. One appeared to have the rainbow coloring, but I’m not really sure what they were. Maybe Bradley or Frank or Lang can set me straight. See photos:
I kept thinking of the mother in The River Why, who irks her husband, a fly-fishing snob and expert, by fishing with worms and hooks. I guess if a worm works, throw it out there!
ADDENDUM: Lang says the fish are squaw fish, not very well-liked by salmon fishermen, since they eat small salmon.
It was breezy down at the river. Took the edge off the heat. And this morning there was a most welcome mist and fog up at the cabin. I found myself wishing for rain! I kind of miss the sound of it pattering on the roof. A little rain would make the road less dusty, too.
I saw this deer in the deep meadow last night, almost invisible in the tall grass:
Not sure what this flower is, though it looks almost like a rudbeckia or coneflower. I think its petals haven’t yet grown:
A ladybug. I haven’t seen too many out here. Back in New York, they used to swarm my house, thousands of them crawling all over the window screens.
July 7, 2005
Very cozy and cool last night. I closed up the windows and took the wool blanket off the shelf again. Even made a fire this morning. I took advantage of the cool and cloudy morning and moved five more wheelbarrow’s worth of logs into the woodshed and raked out the debris. I did some work a the pond, too, pulling up sedges and grass and skimming off algae.
I also completed another crossword, this one with a golf-related theme. I think it’s worthy of one paper or another. It’s tough writing clues without reference resources, but I’ll tweak it when I’m on WiFi again, and then send it out. I’m also close to finishing a Sunday puzzle, bigger than a daily, measuring 21x21, and paying three times as much. Not sure if the theme is great, but I’ll give it a whirl.
July 8, 2005
A new poem:
Autumn in July
All the great shakers are at it again,
or as ever, making news for the world.
Papers have yellowed, their edges have curled,
and those deserts have grown weary of rain.
The end may be near, but here it is just
beginning, again, as ever, with birds
doing what birds do, clouds moving like herds,
and the river announcing what it must.
The leaves have yellowed, their edges have curled,
and, oddly, it is summer still. And ants,
doing what ants do, march through my pantry
carrying spoils back to their little world.
I consigned myself to a few hours of hard work this morning along the Corral trail. I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t even gone to the Corral yet. The ticks kept me away back in the spring, and lately the hot days and the prospect of Gus getting covered with burrs have kept me away. It’s supposed to be a great place for seeing wildlife, but I know Gus would just go chasing after whatever was moving around those meadows. And I can’t bear to leave him in the cabin while I go out. He goes everywhere with me. So we’ve only gone as far as the creek. Today I raked almost the whole trail. It was covered with madrone leaves, which make for a slippery walk. I also graded a detour where a tree fell over the winter. And I pulled up all the saplings growing along the edges of the trail. I was pooped by the time I got back to the cabin around noon.
I’m losing track of time again, and my watch, when I consulted it this morning, was no hope. It told me it was the 9th, my niece Lucy’s birthday, so I called her in Manhattan to wish her a happy day. She seemed a bit confused and passed the phone to her mother, who told me it was only the 8th. The calendar on my watch has 31 days. For every month with only 30 days, you have to manually make the adjustment one day forward, something I should have done a week ago but didn’t. You’d think a Swiss watch would know to make the adjustment itself.
The days this week have varied between easy contentment and acute loneliness, sometimes within the same span of an hour. Most days I’ve woken up feeling glad to be here and eager to see what the day had in store, but by the afternoon I’ve felt pangs of isolation and boredom. Catching fish the other day was entertaining. I like the little walks we take, despite the mosquitoes. Most of the time I like the work—writing and chores. But other times I’ve found myself feeling sick of being in my own company, sick of cooking for myself and eating alone, sick of all the ways I occupy my time. The funny thing is, the longest I’ve been in solitude out here is about ten days. I can’t imagine being out here in the winter, when you can’t leave. Maybe I’d feel differently if I had people visiting or if I had a writing project going that I felt confident about. The writing comes in little spurts and I have trouble sustaining them for long. Still, I’ve written some good poems and might have a second book’s worth by October. And I’m midway through a new story. Soon I may have some visitors, too. Cindy Thompsen and her brother and sister, who live in Eugene, might be coming out in early August. Then I’ve got a reading in Bend in mid-August, and then the Brothers are bringing next year’s resident in for an orientation the week after. So next month will be full of activity. A visit from anyone would ease the loneliness. And I have my trips into town. Those help.