Friday, September 27, 2013
Still dark when I got up this morn. I always have the feeling of winter in the air as mornings get darker. I read for awhile. I am right now in a chaos of reading. I can't make up my mind what I want to read. Erich Auerbach has me for now. Wouldn't it be wonderful for American lit if a guy like E.B. White, who can really seriously write the English language, wrote a book like Mimesis? I was thinking about certain passages I might lean on if I should ever try myself. There's one chapter in Zhivago. I'd have to look it up. It has tormented me for a decade now. I am afraid to read it again. Even Plath's Bell Jar is less ominous. That chapter at the end of Whipple's Castle, and "A High New House". There must be some poetry. Drum Taps. A good long kick of a piece of Four Quartets. Just how great, after all, was Eliot's prose style? Who wants to write like a college professor? I wish I could say that White had more upstairs. But there are plenty of folks who'll say that about anybody. I still don't know where writing comes from. Why would any one want to make poetry? Make themselves prey to liars and cheats. Even the thought of truth telling is embarrassing. Sincerity is embarrassing. Must I tell the truth? Must I be sincere? In the chill and annual lowering of the sun I was fixed by unimportant personal things like what damned book I should read next. That's not even to speak of what I should be writing next. What embarrassing human frailty will I expose next? After awhile a chaotic life gets to you. A life of numerous interests can be happy, if kept in check. Should I read next Mimesis or The Selected Essays of E.B. White or go back and check out Zhivago again, even if he is a Roosian? And then Tom Williams has been bugging me from beyond the grave to reread a handful of passages, and I got out Russell Edson's selected poems from Minerva, the inter-library loan program, and then I bought a copy of Stallman's Emacs–Fifteenth Edition from Amazon, for UNIX is constantly on my mind. I swear Apple is holding me back from getting somewhere, I know not where. FSF and GNU will save me. One of the kittens, we are overwhelmed by kittens, is prowling around the house. I can see it in the dawn from the window in my man cave. It is practicing hunting. It prowls stealthily, just like the lions on the TV; it has found a mouse, it suddenly pounces, a flicker of a little grey tail above the grass–when was the last time I mowed the lawn?–, it lets go, the tops of the leaves of grass wrinkle, it pounces again, plays with the small live thing as if a toy. The disgusting despot! We will need heating fuel for the winter. There is no money in the pot. If the winter is as stormy and unstable as the summer was, we Mainers are in for it. They are predicting a stormy winter beginning in October. A friend of mine reminded me of Stephen Crane, how young he was to die. I have just found a fine book: The Complete Short Stories and Sketches of Stephen Crane in a used book store nearby my house. I settle down and soon I am at peace.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
There was something about digging potatoes today. I couldn't figure it out. I dug up shovelfuls of soil, revealing the potatoes that popped up as I dug, then I kneeled down to grab them and put them in my bucket. These are the red potatoes my wife likes best. They come in early and are very tasty, though they tend to be smallish. They surprise me as they spread out on the surface of the very dark granular soil, straight well rotted goat manure I piled up in that spot five years ago. This garden that I like to plant potatoes in is slightly raised above the surrounding ground. This summer it stayed mostly dry, or perhaps not too badly drenched, considering. The soil is very black and rich and still damp despite the dry August. I think that I wondered about the red, ripe sprinkling of potatoes clashing against the black soil. I dug up lots of worms too but the potatoes seemed healthy. I'll have to move the potatoes to another patch next year, or take a chance on the rot. It must have been a good year for potatoes. In other years I have got what I considered to be a good crop, but this year there seems to be more than usual. Considering just about everything else bombed, I should be pleased. So maybe that was what interested me so much, how nature appears to have retained a balance. I know the weeds grew vigorously this summer; so they also must be part of the balance. I hate the word balance. There is a mystic something about it impossible to put your finger on. When you use words like that, everything comes from faith. I know people who have faith that never attach to their faith a single skeptical thought. How do they do that? It seems to me that despite the lousy growing season, in which many of my normally most abundant crops failed, that nature showed a sort of balance by providing many more potatoes than usual. But what does that prove? It is much more than a leap of faith to say that nature demonstrates a characteristic called balance. It only says to me that in this situation I got more potatoes than usual. The potatoes, especially the smaller ones, were perfectly round about the size of baseballs. They spilled out of the black soil, and they seemed to me precious, as if I had uncovered in the fruitful earth a precious metal. So I stopped thinking about balance, which is just another fancy, meaningless word, and I thought about potatoes. I remember once helping a neighbor dig out his potato acre. It was late September, cold, a hint of rain in the air, maybe sleet. There was a sociable gang of us, all working for a couple of bushels to take us into the winter. We dug a pit, filled it with coals from a wood fire, and dropped in potatoes. Once they were baked, and it was too dark to dig any more, we ate potato after delicious potato topped with sour cream and chives. Stop there! Why go on? You don't need faith, you don't need balance, all you need really is for someone to pass you another potato.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Date: Tues, 03 Sep 2013 6:00:33-8:00
--text follows this line--
No, I never got married. It's just one of those things that you wonder why and you never come up with an answer that makes any sense. Of course I remember the day you met Nanny. Instant new trouser style! You were in ski pants! And I know she was beautiful, and you can tell she was real. Pablo, there aren't that many girls that are worth marrying. That's just my opinion. And don't forget you were the best skier on the hill that day, the best skier anybody ever saw on that hill. And Nanny wasn't no snow bunny either. A lot of people would have loved to have her ski. So it was kind of an alignment of the constellations. So you were lucky. Dontcha believe it was set up for you by the sky pilot? But I never had that feeling. The closest I came was a girl I had gone with say a solid year, and we were talking about marriage, and one day she sort of wandered off from the group and somebody said I should go look for her, and so I went, and she and her ex-boyfriend were in the trees kissing passionately, and I realized that I didn't really care that much. I mean, if you're gonna get married, you ought to care who she's climbing on. She blushed, it wasn't a brazen thing, and she wasn't that way, the kind of girl who tells you one thing, and then does any damned thing she wants. The way I see it...who was the moron who said, "Well, in life you have to make trade-offs."... The way I see it, there is a certain individual freedom you give up for the right to get married. I don't want to make too big a point on this because girls are a dime a dozen mostly, and certainly nothing unusual about me or you, and you can always get a divorce, or leave the bitch if it strikes you that way, but the birth of the kids, the family love...the family love, Pablo. That is deep, and I know you take great pride in being a father, and your kids, you and Nanny's kids, are good people, and that is something, even if you don't do another damned thing in your life, to tell St. Peter at the gate. But with me the freedom, the freedom to do anything you want. Well, it's what I wanted, and it was I thought the only way I could see the world truly and make a true statement about it. Maybe it's my Roman Catholic upbringing, where the priest is a solitary figure not pulled one way and another by loves and loyalties. He remains at all times detached, dis-associated. Not like he doesn't care but dispassionate. I think that is a good place to start in seeking wisdom, and I wonder to doubting if that is possible for a married person in love with his family. And Pablo, knowing that business and that wing of the mental hospital you work in, do not end your email by telling me, who lives a hundred miles away, that Bradley is breaking out the door, because Bradley is probably some jailbait who would just as soon bludgeon you to death as look at you. I hope you are still alive and can read this email. Your friendly lifetime fool...etc. Eddie.
Monday, September 16, 2013
The driver knew that the dispatcher had told him to turn right. Well, the dispatcher was full of shit and now he was heading down a dead end road and how was he going to turn out of it? Maybe at the end there would be a turn around. Sometimes the turn arounds were wide enough he could get past without running over anything. This could not be a dead end, could it? He had not seen a sign. But every time he looked ahead into the darkness, he thought he saw a tree line. It made no sense to stop now since he could not back up in the dark without crushing something. Cars were parked on each side of the road. It was a snug fit.
He drove down this road another mile. There was one turnoff onto another lane, but he could not make the turn without wiping out the corner. And how could he know where that road ended? It would be almost impossible to back up in the dark without help. Then he came to the end; the road just stopped. He got out to take a look around. There was one driveway. It was a double lane leading to a two car garage. He thought the driveway was long enough. But he’d end up wiping out the mailbox, some shrubs and a part of a picket fence. His delivery was supposed to happen by midnight. Nobody liked to be late. He wondered how many times trucks had ended up here. He would bet that he wasn’t the first one.
There was a house beside the driveway. The front door opened, and a porch light went on, suddenly brightening the darkened street.
“Hello,” a voice shouted from the porch.
“Hello,” the driver shouted back.
“You much fucked up, aren’t you?”
“Yeah I am.”
“Well, I called the cops. I’ll be right down.”
The driver didn’t like that idea about the cops, but the man had sounded cheerful. He was probably good for a couple of hundred bucks each time he got his mailbox nicked. He didn’t sound mean or angry. He walked down the driveway, a wobbling, good-natured strut.
“They ought to put a warning sign up the end near the intersection,” he said. “No trucks allowed or something. They were supposed to build a turn around but never did.”
“I could swear the dispatcher said right.”
“They all say that,” the man laughed. “Done now. So relax. The cop will be here in a minute they said.”
“Hope so. My drop off is supposed to be before midnight.”
“Well, you’re almost there.”
“Isn’t this the damnedest thing?”
“Yeah, it is. But the cop they usually send down is an old time trucker, and he always gets ’em out not too much trouble.”
The man had strong white teeth and the driver could make out his friendly smile. The road had street lights, and the light ended up tangled in the trees. A line of trees marked the dead end. The driver turned to look at the trees. “No place to turn around,” he said.
“Oh yeah, there’s a place.” The man smiled, glancing at the end of his driveway.
“I wonder how often do they end up here?”
“Oh, every couple of months. Sometimes more often. So don’t feel bad.”
“Huh! I feel bad anyway.”
“Why? It’s done now.”
“‘Cause it’s done now.”
“Bad feelings make it worse than it already is. Bad enough now. Why make it worse?”
“I guess you’re right,” the driver had to admit.
“The cop coming is a nice guy, and everybody else done this has survived.”
“Sure. Well, nice talking to you. I’ll see you later. San Antone is playing Sacramento on the tube. San Antone is my team.”
So the driver stuffed his hands into his pockets and leaned his back against the truck and he waited. This was the last straw in a really crappy day. He couldn’t think of anything bad enough that he had done to end up like this. Maybe he had been not too bright. That possibility occurred to him quite often. But what the hell did it mean, when he was just another one in millions, surviving, making a living? So while he was waiting for somebody in the rest of the world to show up and help him out, the easy thing was to put himself down. He was tired and hungry; he had driven twelve hours today; and now he looked like a rookie.
But he didn’t have to wait very long. The patrol car pulled up silently, and a short, powerful looking cop got out. He had a big, strong nose and under it a little mouth which was trying hard to squeeze out a smile. He wore a ten gallon hat that couldn’t have been part of the uniform. He must have been a town cop. The driver knew that the cop once was a trucker because how could he have been anything else?
“Hello,” the cop said. “So you were taking a snooze?”
The driver blushed.
Then the cop stood still, staring at the end of the road. The night was warm with a damp feel about it. Moths flickered in the street lights. The neighborhood was so quiet that even though they whispered the words came out like little explosions. “They’ve been dawdling about the turn around because they’re gonna extend the road, I guess. Still need a turn around though. Your delivery is tonight?”
“Well, let’s get you out of here. Now, there’s two ways to do this. There’s me driving, which if I run into anything, I get a slap on the wrist. Then they’s you driving, which if you run into anything, donno what will happen.”
“Be my guest,” the driver said.
“All right.” The cop dived into the patrol car and backed it into a driveway so that both sides of the road were clear of parked cars. Then he came back with a flashlight which he handed to the driver. “I guess you must have figured out what I’ll be trying to do.”
“Otherwise we’ll be backing up a mile-and-a-half, and there’s a curve up there. So let’s try this. I can usually make it.”
The minute the truck started moving, the driver knew that the cop had it figured out. The neighbors came out to watch the excitement. The cop backed up on the curb and over the sidewalk and he was brushing the guy’s mailbox, and then he straightened out maybe a dozen times in increments of a couple inches at a time, each time backing deeper into the driveway until finally he was a half-inch from the garage door.
After another dozen or so back and forth motions, the cop had the cab turned up the road just enough. The front bumper missed a telephone pole by a half inch, and a trailer tire gouged the edge of the front lawn beside the driveway. Half-a-dozen other people had come out to watch the huge tractor-trailer get turned round on their tiny street. They cheered the cop, stomping on the divot at the edge of the lawn between times when he had to put the rear tire across it again. The driver thought the cop was doing a hellova drive. The driver was really grateful. Nobody was mad at him. Nobody even asked him what had happened.
Finally, the truck was straightened out in the road heading in the right direction.
The cop jumped out and said to the man whose driveway he had used. “Anything?”
“Nah, gotta go watch San Antone beat up on Sacramento.”
Then the cop said to the driver, “Go make your delivery.”
“Thank you.” The driver jumped into the truck and he was moving up the road in a hurry before anybody could change their mind.
Nobody changed their mind. This was the USA. This was the way it was supposed to be.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Today I was stacking firewood. This wood has been hanging around all summer in a big pile beside the driveway. It has been rained on, blazed on in ninety degree heat, dried and drenched continuously for six months. Whatever chemical process that happens to split wood that makes it eager to burn has happened. When winter comes and I stuff it into my woodstove, a little fire will expand into a big fire in a hurry. There will be a puff or two of whitish smoke, then within five minutes my fire will be smokeless and a big fireball will fill the window in the wood stove's door. Now time to shut down the air and close off the damper. It is undesirable to turn your house into an oven. Adjusting the fire will provide a low, long lasting and efficient fire, a fire that will inspire contemplation of the fire in Hell. If your firewood is dry.
A tree that was cut down before spring sap and split before summer will provide dry firewood. Dry firewood is fun to burn; a tree you have cut down in fall, split leisurely and expect to burn after first snow is not fun to burn. Some people believe in wood sheds. They split the wood and stack it in the wood shed and then they claim in a month it will be dry. Wood sheds are good if you happen to have teenage children. But unless the wood is in the sun it never seems to dry as I like it. If you have dry firewood, when you get up in the morning and sweep the ashes off the big clunks of coals, there will be still a dull red flame. Stuff in a few smaller logs, and a big log or two on top, and grab that dusty paperback copy of Anna Karenina and find the page you quit at before bed…probably make some coffee after a bit…and have a good time because shortly the fire will roar and heat will flood the house.
This firewood I am stacking today lands with a solid heavy clunk when I drop it down. Let me remember when I got it. Yes, it was a breezy, bitter cold week in March. There was a foot of snow on the big logs which had been downed just after Christmas. No easy task to shovel away the snow.
My chainsaw doesn't care how cold it is. Likely not much help in my task on a day like today. My neighbor Richard dropped by.
"Running out of firewood?" He wondered.
"No," says I, "next winter's."
Surely he must know that next winter will need its heat and firewood same as this winter did.
"Now why didn't I know that?" He says ambiguously, as if I must be some kind of damned fool to be out on such a day cutting firewood for eight months hence, when I could be inside enjoying the fire I've got.
And no help will please a fool who's in a hurry.
So he left me alone that day.
But the months have passed and now I am stacking on a breezy day of ominous shadows for winter may be a bare few weeks away, and my firewood is dead, stone dry and will burn like the pools of fire in Hell. And while my feet are up on my easy chair beside my blazing woodstove, and I am enjoying life, praise the Lord, the young fellow down the hill is fighting with just split firewood and his house is freezing, and a great sooty smoke cloud from his chimney blots the sky same as last year, and the year before.
Then it occurs to me, "How must God know I am down here for there is no sign coming out my chimney? while the young idiot down the hill is filling the sky with an advertisement of his distress, and near the edge of burning his house down."
Now there is a particular good chunk of ash. I handle it fondly, thinking perhaps I should set it aside in a pile for an especially cold night. I'd just as soon God was not noticing me and counting the hairs on MY head. I'm pleased just to get by on my own.
Saturday, September 14, 2013
It has been awhile since I have visited my bookshelf. I have not felt like being honest with myself. There's too much to say! We have had more than our share of rainy days. This entire week in September I have been fed up with rain. But I have a better excuse because I have a confession to make, and that is what has been holding me back. I confess that in my lifetime I have read and, I am ashamed to say, admired too much European and Russian literature. You can start with Sartre, Nietzsche, Dostoyevski and Freud. My copy of The Brothers Karamazov, a funny little pback, is a total wreck. At one time I gave these four authors each a quarter slice of the world. But even such an authority as Hemingway, when he compared Main Street with Buddenbrooks, remarked about how much more interesting Buddenbrooks was. I might wonder what I imagine Hemingway wondered: why so little interesting American literature? I'm glad I wasn't the only one to get fooled.
It has always astonished me, with the great empty nature of the American west available to finish off a boy's education, that the noble patriarch of the James' sent his two boys, Henry and William, to Europe! Europe almost finished them off. But on the other hand this education he clobbered them with gave to America two stones for the foundation. The Adams' did likewise. In my lifetime alone I have watched a dozen kids grow up in the White House. You would think that they would at least get an education that would make them useful. They turned out nice people, but not a one very bright. Lately, the young Clinton has turned an eye or two for some reason. One recent presidential candidate, a multibillionaire, has adult children who speak with embarrassingly bad judgment, as if they were not educated at all! Maybe their father should pack them off to Europe now the west is as mall crazy as the east! When I learned in my school days that Eliot and Pound and all the numerous others found succor in Europe–is Great Britain Europe?–, I did not blame them. But I did not admire them either. Incidentally, I have never been able to read either Main Street or Buddenbrooks from cover to cover.
Now that I have confessed my own shortcomings, if you were born in a country other than America, I don't hold it against you. Take Boris Pasternak, for instance, whom I extol as a prose story teller. I wish he had come to America on the boat; he would have made a fine American. Pasternak wrote a few good prose works, one of which is especially interesting to me because it is autobiographical, Safe Conduct. Then he wrote Dr. Zhivago. Just thinking about Zhivago makes me want to read it again. It balances an epic period in Russian history with Pasternak's personal characterization. Everything is dramatized, and not a phrase wasted in tiresome exposition, and transitions are as concise as possible. No doubt a Russian would take from it a thousand special meanings unknown to me; still I happily share in the universality of its love story. Imagine the great story he could have written, if he had been an American, about the depression decade, or better still, my own favorite, the Viet Nam decade, the '60's! No such luck, I guess. Mother Russia turned him into a crabby and obscure poet.
But while writing prose, he couldn't have been better. Although Zhivago is greater than the sum of its parts, its parts are complete and well drafted. You can start reading anywhere in the book and become immediately engaged. (Incidentally, engagement is one of the requirements that push a book into my special bookshelf. I mean by that you can open up the book on any page and it sucks you in for a swim.) The 1957 translation by Max Hayward was hurried but passible. It has an echo of the American language in it. (A fellow can dream, can't he? They say Hem wanted to write a similar book about WW2, but never got around to it. I doubt anybody would think Islands in the Stream was an attempt.) There have been other translations of Zhivago since. I am troubled by Pasternak's arduous poetry. But Dr. Zhivago has me scratching the back of my head to find praise enough. The movies are paltry, dust off the jacket. Zhivago easily made the shelf. If my special shelf were ten books, Zhivago would make the shelf. I have placed beside it Leaves of Grass basically because of "Drum Taps".
The use of Europe by Americans to murder themselves continued through a great part of the twentieth century. Numerous American pilgrims sought out European existential cross purposes. Even Frost took the boat, but beat a quick retreat from the city into the English countryside. The first of these pilgrims, of course, was Thomas Sterns Eliot, the poet. I have rarely had a good word to say about Eliot because in school they fed him to me ad nauseum, especially "Prufrock", which I consider to be the worst poem ever written in the history of mankind. But Eliot also wrote "Murder in the Cathedral", "Four Quartets" and a few other very fine poems—among them not necessarily "The Wasteland". His dramatic works are worth getting into if you like to suffer. Recently, while my father was dying, I sought to occupy myself. Wonder why I picked out Eliot's Complete Poems and Plays? It's a good looking volume with very nice typography—in short, unlike most modern computer typeset books, it doesn't look like hell. I thought I might hide behind it, my eyes bugging out and my fingers up my nose. My father was still a strong man at 90 and I desperately prayed to see his big nose sticking out of a Smucker's label. Eliot must be good for something.
Eliot had not changed much since my school days. To me he is the same noisome High Anglican. I guess in Britain he was a Conservative? But he has an hellova English vocabulary which nobody wielded with more precision, so his hyper religiosity couldn't keep the book off my shelf. I think that unlike many poets, whose dirty little secret is their non-intellectualism, which they call faith, Eliot was honestly profoundly fond of the intellect. Sometimes I put the book up there on the shelf, and take it down in a few minutes. Can't I keep it up there for "Four Quartets"? But Frost didn't make it either, and his narrative poems are the best kept secret in American literature. This argument between Frost and Eliot has bothered me for a long time. Yeats didn't make it. Maybe there's something wrong with me? A few of Yeats' later poems are very fine, like "Under Ben Bulben". It took him a lifetime to figure out that ornament too easily gets in the way of clarity. The road to drivel is lined by ornament. Pound's Cantos made it. This is for me. Most modern poetry is drivel, and most of the Cantos is drivel, but there are stirring and soul searching parts, too. A small volume of Tennyson's poems made it, though he is like wise as Pound—good in parts. Walt made it because I am an American and he wrote "Drum Taps".
Modernity is not cut out for writing good poetry for several reasons. The first, probably, is because the notion of brevity has been lost in the dust and distance of history. A few pages of some good lines padded out with noisome or boring exposition is preferred over one page of all good lines. For instance, psychology is a common subject to rant about obscurely. Form is attended to after a fashion as a posture rather than an integral explication of the real. Sentences feel coerced, phrases jangle unnaturally in industrious self-indulgence. Conciseness is unpoetic. The second reason is the all-encompassing belief that without faith we are less than human. Science is a game, a short sighted habit, a superficial style, a passing mannerism useful but meaningless, which one should look down his nose at, and therefore science is a wreck waiting to happen. For poetry to reflect an age, which it has done from time to time in human history, for us moderns some balance between faith and technology has to be achieved, or most modern poetry will continue to be a haven for the difficult and obscure and irrelevant–and, I might add, the depressing.
Prose has seemed to fit in a little better with me. Short fiction has stuck with me. Although I load up my man cave with novels, which I used to love in my younger days, I seem not ever to have time to read any. I am only half joking with myself when I wonder what a novel is. But I usually know what a good short story feels like, and I get sucked in. I believe that I would be very happy with one good solid book of short stories, no tricks. But now I am looking out my window, and I notice that the rain has stopped and the sun has come out. I cannot resist going outside for a walk in the woods around my house. Sunshine, my dog, is poking at my elbow. There will be other rainy days and I have much more yet to say on this matter.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
I had known the Paris family for so many years that the boys called me “Uncle”. But what could I say to him? Could I tell him that his father, the dreamer, was the most powerful mountaineer and woodsman I had ever known? What would it mean to him that I had seen his father fearlessly and patiently carry for day after day without complaint enormous suffering? Suppose I described how his father’s simple presence had embarrassed desperate people to calm themselves? Suppose I described to him the many adventures with foolhardy people, who had made disastrous mistakes, whom his father had saved from danger with his methodical risk taking? None of this would mean anything to Dewey Paris. Dewey worked hard and he was ambitious for himself. Dewey worked for money.
We were sitting on the porch steps, quietly enjoying a beautiful summer morning. Over the years my visits here had become less and less often. Paul and I did not go into the mountains any more. We had gotten work. As Paul said, the mountains were too hard and complicated: they did not feed you. Then I remembered a time when Paul and I had leveled with each other. It had seemed advantageous. We were bivouacked on a cliff side in sleet and ice and it had seemed likely that before dawn something desperate would happen. I remembered very well what Paul Paris had told me. And this is what I repeated to Dewey.
“One night many years ago your father and I were hanging onto a cliff for dear life. We had been caught in one of those sudden fall storms that surprise every one. I was very nervous, but to your father the storm meant little, for he was remembering and dreaming. Even then many years ago he was a dreamer. So there we were, if you can imagine, hanging from this cliff in zero visibility, the wind howling around us. Your father was telling me about when he was ten years old and beginning to get around a little in his life. As he was wandering into more distant territories, he explored as far as Atlantic Avenue. The pastures of the famous Billings Stables were spread out alongside that road. Often in these pastures were turned out famous racehorses. Your father told me his heart would pound when they’d gallop. It was the first time he ever remembered his heart pounding quite that way. One of these horses won the Kentucky Derby by a nose, then lost on a technicality. Later he learned which of the horses it was. The idea that you could lose though winning struck him like a bad disease, a disease that got into his bones. Even when he didn’t want it, it came over him, and he could never shake it. Then your father said to me, ‘It made me a dreamer.’ I don’t expect that would explain much to you, Dewey. There was more we talked about that night.
“Paul said that some days he would avoid the stable because he didn’t want to feel bad about that horse. What kid wants to feel bad on a sunny day with the turquoise sky towering almost to heaven? So your father would stop his travels at the pond on River Road, which was this side of the four corners before the stable.
“Your father admitted that if there had only been that pond in his life, he might have done better, and he might not have been a dreamer after all, for he loved that pond whether in winter or summer. It was sacred ground in his youthful universe.
“Your father and I went there together quite often. Needless to say, I didn’t see in it the same things he saw, but it was the best skating pond in Pewter. The surface iced solidly sooner there than anywhere else. After two days in the teens before the first big snow there would be a smooth sheet of glistening ice to skate on.
“When we went there, we would have to be careful because Ray Moulton would get together some men from the neighborhood and they’d cut the ice off that pond and stack it in a barn near the shore. So the ice would be thin in patches where they had cut it. Your father always tried hard to keep track of the happenings in the neighborhood. He always was a great student of happenings: wrecks, stray dogs, fires, cat fights, crack ups. I guess I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. But he admitted to me that night on the ledge that he never actually saw the ice sawed off the pond and collected. It must have been a grim, awful and dangerous task, he thought, the pushing and pulling, as the slabs were transported onto the shore and stacked in the tall barn, a cold and dreary job happening in the slanting twilight of a mystery. That was a troubling thought to him: how had he missed the possibilities of that happening? What else had he missed? But he did see the ice when it had been stacked to bed in the barn between blankets of sawdust. On the ledge that night he admitted that never having seen the ice sawed and collected had been a great disappointment to him in his life. And if there was one thing he could change, that would be it. Does that sound strange to you?”
Dewey looked at me for a long time. “Uncle, to be honest, yes, it certainly sounds strange to me. But then that’s Dad, whom I’m wondering about.”
“But why should it be?” I replied. “Dewey, I have sat much of my life on a bough. I’ve seen a thing or two passing by. I’ve suffered some, hit upon a little bit of success and a little bit of failure. It does not surprise me at all. But he had more to say, your father, the dreamer, as we fought off the storm on the rotten stone of that ledge.
“He described to me how this new experience of his youthful drifting roused in him enormous longings. Then he began his career as a dreamer. He dreamed about the ice, and he dreamed about horses, and goats prancing around in the back yard and cats and dogs and strange shapes and shadows rent in darkness, the big lonely eye of the cyclops, lots of things.
“His dreams happened at night, but sometimes they were dreams in daylight, too.
“I remember very well how he described the ice, as it has been a great consolation to me in times of hardship.
“The ice was packed away in sawdust in Ray Moulton’s barn beside the pond. Do you know where I mean? The barn has been taken into a housing development now, but if you look for it, you’ll find it. The ice hangs on to its cold year round, and far from melting, it doesn’t change at all. Instead it waits. It waits through the seasons of many a year.
“The barn stands to this day tall and plumb, but here and there in the boards in the walls are these knotholes. These holes are just big enough for a boy to fit an eye over and peer through. The ice looked clear and clean, undisturbed by the world’s influences. He studied and studied for a sign of change, but observed nothing—petrifaction, icy stillness. Or is that a sort of something? A silent reality?
“Now, sometimes your father’s father, your Grandfather, John, whom I know you remember very well, liked to go skating, and we’d go all of us together to the pond. His skates had extra long steel blades. When he skated fast across the ice there was a sibilance sounded. Ducking as if to hide from the world’s resistance, he’d clasp his hands behind his back. His slow, graceful strides dwelt in a background of extreme haste.
“Your father said that his father used to hang his skates on a nail in a floor rafter of the cellar. So your father would contemplate them there. They could easily be fetched in cold weather when the new ice was smooth.
“Now, these skates had over the years acquired marvelous powers. Your father dreamed about them, Dewey. And when he put them on he dreamed that he could turn great circles in the ice at amazing speed. Therefore, they allowed him to investigate the darkness and light across the universe. But though he turned these great circles in the universe beyond the stars, he always returned to the barn in which was the ice.
“This is how your father told me the story. He raced effortlessly. Sometimes in the wind he could hear the cheering and applause of me and his other friends. He wasn’t alone? No! Even you, Dewey, his son of the future was with him as he skated supernaturally fast around the big pond of the world. But he always came back to his pond in Pewter, USA. The door of the barn was a big, gray maw. And through the door into the ice like iron filings to a magnet flew his boyish, bleak thoughts. And the ice saved them frozen still, and he skated on in all innocence, new and fresh. Everything had been saved and nothing would be lost. In the centuries to come, even when the souls of the dead would come to light, even past doom, nothing would be lost.
“But your father told me more on that cloud tormented ledge that night. And this is the part that may help to explain to you what is puzzling you.
“In summer, when there was no skating, as if by magic, observing some mysterious inclination of the universe, he’d drift toward Ray Moulton’s barn where the ice was. He said that he could not help himself. By now after these great circles through the universe, they were memories long gone. But when they’d see him coming, they’d wake up! Bold as a flight of sparrows, they’d fly out from the ice where they had been kept still and they’d fly out of the knotholes and they’d flutter around his head to greet him. He hadn’t lost a single one! True and whole they came out, circling him in a joyous dance of recognition.
“He marveled how they had protected him over the years. Even now on the storm chaffed ledge they were protecting him. They were at once alive and active, and yet still and quiet like history.
“They took a moment but they perched on his shoulder, whispering truths in his ear.
“So that was the story your father told me that night. There was nothing confusing or obscure. He recognized everything clearly. In the ice was more like a web than a plot, and in the ice he’d live forever.
“You see, Dewey, nothing is wasted. That is the story of your father, the dreamer. You will see one day. Nothing is wasted! Nothing so paltry that it is wasted by forgetting.
“And then at the height of the storm that night, into the song of the wind your father shouted, ‘Oh look! There is the big horse now. He has returned after many a year. What a dilemma he lived! Who ever heard of such a thing, winning to lose? He’s the big roan with patches of pure white on his flanks. I see him as clearly now as I did that day many years ago. See him romping in the pasture? How handsome he is!’
“This Dwight, while we were inches from death, it was your father’s dreams that kept us alive.”
Dewey studied me. Perhaps he thought that I could not understand. Perhaps he thought I was daft, though a family friend of long standing. I knew that Dewey worried about many things. He had become a carpenter and he was ambitious for his work. I also knew that he hated being poor.
Then Paul Paris his father walked out the door of the house and crossed the porch in front of us. He seemed not even to notice we were there. He walked down the driveway to his garden and he bowed down to his plants and tended them with a distant look in his eyes.
Dewey, observing the instinct of a good son, stood and went out to the garden to help him.
“Hi, Papa,” he said.
And Paul Paris looked up from his tomato plants, and he said, “Remember I was thinking about the Angels’ wings. Remember, Dew, not so long ago, while you were helping me with the roofing on the barn. I could not figure out what those wings could be made of so they would be able to protect us the way they do. Well, I think I have figured it out. It is a great relief to me.”
Sunday, September 8, 2013
In the grand late summer weather we have been having lately I was happy to start morning chores early. Ezzie, our young Nubian buck, surprised me this morning by how ragged he looks. His gums are dead white, and he stares off into outer space forever. He has not been looking well, but this morning he is clearly worse. His listlessness has me worried, so I got occupied in studying. I think he has worms. The worms ball up so much space in the goat's complex digestive system that they starve the goat to death. There are medicines that kill the worms, but some worms are so stubborn you almost have to kill the goat to kill the worms. It can be a struggle, and the goat needs a powerful will to live. In the worst cases the goat will lie down and soon be dead. Pilot, a much older boy than Ezzie, does not look too well either. In his case I think he has begun the rut fever. But when Pilot was Ezzie's age he got so sick with worms that he almost died. He flopped down on me one day, but when I shouted he jumped up and staggered around woozy. A friend of my wife, who is an expert about goats, was visiting us when Pilot was so sick, and she knew how to apply the right medicine, and soon Pilot had an awful case of the shits, and he was eating again. That's what happens when the worms die; the poor goat gets the shits. But when he was finally scoured out, Pilot started making gain, and he matured into a proud herd sire. It is nerve racking that Ezzie's condition is so lackluster because the rut is beginning, and it will be frustrating if he is too sick to serve any of the girls. There are big plans for him this year. Although his face is not handsome, his build is athletic, his ribbing is open, he runs like a deer, his back long and flat, his legs are strong and feet clean, and his butt is wide and powerful. I love athletic goats; even if they have a bad year, they hang on to life, get better and last a long time. After tending Ezzie I dug potatoes and worked in my tomato patch. Never have I ever had such a sorry bunch of tomato plants this late in August. The great tropical downpours we have had here in the foothills of Maine this summer have ruined my garden. The plants have made no progress. My theory is that the roots are rotted out. I wonder what would happen if Ezzie and my tomato plants did not keep me so busy. There is a lot of science to taking care of them. If I did not have to pay so much attention to science, would I have more time to think about God? Then I might get my faith back. I firmly believe that is what has happened: I got too busy with the science of things to think straight. And that's how I lost my faith. Believe it or not I have always dreamed of going to the Holy Land to live awhile, despite all the belligerence going on. But what possible holy land can there be: no faith no holy land. Consequently I have had to put it off and put it off while I'm waiting to hear from my faith again. In the meantime, I'll take care of my garden. To me science is a big drawback in keeping faith. But Ezzie would die without science and experience. You can't throw science out the window just to get a piece of your faith back. I have heard scientists claim that through science they have gained in their faith. So science has taught them that somewhere beyond the quantum is an intelligence who knows every hair on your head and has a plan even for poor Ezzie and my tomato plants and humble me too. I think I'll apply more wormer to Ezzie tomorrow morning, and I took him out of the pen with the old boys, who have been harassing him in his sickness, and put him in with the babies. Ezzie is very shy. And I'll mulch my tomato plants thoroughly. I have a plan for them, or, I wonder, is it they who have a plan for me?
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Subject: Learning how to think for yourself
--text follows this line--
I know what you mean, Eddie. Man, I'm telling you, to be honest, I've thought about the marriage thing a great deal, more than I can tell you. It has been a weight on me. Nancy and I have had our ins and outs. You know how beautiful she is. You were there when I first saw her. It was like getting fragged. "Who is she?" Remember I said. And you said, "Oh she's alright." I couldn't believe you weren't feeling what I was feeling. The waters in us are the same; the rivers are the same; the air is the same. My glasses were fogging up. Eddie, I don't think I had a choice. If it was love I don't think love can be anything like they picture it in the books. I can only speak for myself. Lately we've talked about it a little, because marriage is a complicated thing, and when you grow up it is something you can't help talking about with anybody who will listen. We listen to each other. It isn't like it used to be. And there's another question. Is marriage better when you are clawing at each other like maniacs, or when it is more tempered by common sense? To some people marriage is over when the clawing declines. That's like the kids I know at work, the way they think of it. Trouble is, by then there are two babies on the ground and another one thinking about it, and babies need the grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, dads, all the weight behind them that they can get. Little bodies but big souls, which flutter around in the moon like bats. And if you try to tell them that kids need a father, even if he is a maybe not too bright, and if you try to say to the fathers and so on, they go, "Now why does he say that? My boyfriend is around all the time." I think Plato would have loved this situation, the famous passages in The Republic where the kids are taken from parents and set out on the society with a specific agenda for their education, depending on what their abilities are estimated to be. I think I got that sorta right, Plato I mean. And so on, and one in a thousand are Philosopher kings, I guess. You remember Doc Frankl in school? He said you could study The Republic all your life. Trouble is, there's nothing about marriage in it. But I think when the clawing ends, marriage is different. It is less talked about, I think it's a secret in life. You're not supposed to talk about it. Nancy and I had the kids, and we had time for other things, and we did things together. It wasn't like a waste of time, Eddie, you know what I mean, like the courtship, where you went to certain parties, and you danced together and what not, went to movies, you know. I used to think why doesn't that bitch just marry me, instead of wasting my time like this. I had books to read, real important things to study. But later when we were out together camping, and our kids were so stalwart and they were clowning around, it seemed only to last for a short time. Oh, shit! I'm at work and Bradley is trying to beat down the door at 2am to go out and play in the traffic. Gotta go for now. Just got off the crapper. Pablo.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Subject: How do you learn to think for yourself?
From: Eddie (Aug 31, 2013)
--text follows this line--
What have we been talking about for the last thirty years? What's the one thing? How do you learn to think for your self! What philosophy teaches you to do that? Is it logic? If it is logic, then I can study logic. There is a lot to it, I know, and if I really believed that I'd start tonight, right now. You said to me: "I think about philosophy a lot, and I buy the books, but I don't read them." Yet you, Pablo, also are a searcher for wisdom. I know you have searched high and low. Often I know you are reading ten books at a time. Your little room which your family gave you, whose bookcases your very own son built for you and the beautiful roll-top desk Nancy found for you, and the computer and the extra large monitor...how can you tell me that wisdom is distant, that you will never find a way to seek her out, never mind reach her. There must be a way, Pablo. I must calm down and think this out from the beginning. I think I will die soon. Anybody might die soon. (Maybe that is a the beginning.) But I do not want to die without entertaining in my mind a single shred of certainty. Why was I born, if I was to live in this quandary my entire life, sacrificing, too, in many ways, and never come out of it? Well, why was I born? To live a life. To gain experience. So I lived a life, and I gained experience...well, what did we do, you and I, sit around on our fat butts, doing nothing? No! I was always busy...Pablo, was I not, did I not keep busy? You and I have been friends for years. When was I not doing something? Did I sit on my fat butt half of a life time drinking beer? I did not! Maybe I did not read as much as you did, but still I went about, I tried to balance so I was doing while I was not doing, so there was time to consider. And I did consider; it was a form of prayer, sort of, you know, I used to sit quietly staring out the windows of my eyes upon the world, and I'd consider, often for hours, noting what I thought in my little notebook, not all of what I thought, but a piece here and there that I might find useful. I know you filled many notebooks too. But I put myself in this special situation, Pablo, I did not marry, you did. I was able to isolate myself; there were times I did not work because I did not have to; I gave myself up to my prayers. And I thought in this isolation of mine I might get somewhere, I might get to the bottom of things. But you know I didn't, I haven't and still to this day I can't point to one blessed thing that I can think of that has about it certainty. You will say, "Oh for God's sake Eddie, trust science. You will say that won't you?" But I don't. I would be happier a prehistoric North American indian at oneness with the earth. Well, what do you think about that my friend Pablo? Seems to me at one time I heard you speak in some such a way. Friendship on this earth is hideous because they just die on you. Eddie.