Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Thanksgiving List from Pablo


Everybody knows I am addicted to lists. This is my T-day list:

1.  First freedom, this above all.  Praise to democratic man!

2.  Don't forget error.  How can you explain it?  Just because there are two points of view, why does that have to mean that one is in error?

3.  If you do anything mistakes happen, and they are essential.  Get over it.

4.  If a website doesn't open, don't spend ten hours trying to get in.  Forget about it and try again tomorrow.  A lot of things are like that.

5.  It is not true that you don't know anything.  It is true that you don't know much.

6.  The way of doing something you are most familiar with may not be the right way or even the way you'd want to use.

7.  It is better to have somebody pass you the potato than to be damned to taking it for yourself.

8.  Congratulate yourself.  You have made it this far.

9.  Don't trust in God.  Figure it out for yourself.

10. There's more than one dog show in town.  And every dog will have its day.

11. An empty room is not perfect, it is empty.

Have a great Thanksgiving from StoryNoir, me Pablo.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sept 28, 2013

                              The weather in Maine lately has been typical to the autumn. A low in the Maritimes has been reluctant to pass on. The blunt north-east wind has a chill and the clouds in the afternoon have been thick and dark. And when a cloud slips past the sun, the shadow is ominous. It is a nervous light; it influences one's metabolism. In the end it makes you want to hurry. There is work to be done, firewood to be stacked. Chores around the house take on an added necessity. The pump house must be re-insulated, fixed, for it has received quite a bit of attention this summer, new parts, a new pressure tank, and new light bulbs set up to provide heat in the small space on those bitter winter days. The skirting of the trailer must be replaced in places. The air conditioners were removed and stored away awhile ago. The chickens have ceased for the time being to lay; they are saving their protein. I'll have to trick them into laying again with a light in the hen house for a few hours every evening. But I'll wait till mid October, for they have worked hard this year; they are in their prime, and they deserve a vacation. The pigs are hungry all the time. They are oversize for the butcher anyway, and they are troublesomely untrustworthy. They are so big! I am reluctant to put a hand where they can get at it. In the mornings when they get their ration of goat's milk they become ravenously occupied, they dive into their feeders with loud snorts of glee, and while they are clamoring I have a few seconds to climb in the pen with them and drop some hay in their shelter, pick up feeders they have thrown around, and maybe quickly check the fencing. Oddly, even gentle pigs like the ones I have raised this year, are defensive of their territory; but once outside by some means, they tend to be peaceful, and they will be lead around after a fashion, so long as not rushed. I ought to fence off my failed garden plot for them to dig in. I am ashamed of what happened this summer, when much of my vegetable garden fizzled drowned in the rain. A man I met in Home Depot was buying a lot of drainage pipes for his garden. He had had enough. He had ditched his garden, lined the ditches with crushed stone, and now he was laying the pipes. Too many wet summers lately, he vowed. I am embarrassed to pass by my garden, and if the pigs were in it, they'd make short work and soften and grease it up for next year, too. But my horticultural good spirits have died with the season. I am picking corn; the cobs are smallish this year, but prolific and sweet. In a few more weeks these pigs will go to their semi-tragic end. Although they live together, though they come to me when I approach, I will preside over their slaughter, and like all God's creatures, they will die apart and alone. Another thick, dark cloud has darkened, made vague and cold the ground. A shadow crosses the heart. I will not raise pigs any more; I will not plant a garden. I will not participate in this damnable cycle any more! But the long winter coming will re-educate me, and the new spring will recommend the dark, rich soil, piglets will be born, laying hens. A brood of young guinea hens was born this summer! This after many years! The vile despot, the vulture, which was pecking the chicks to death each summer died last winter. The chicks are just now learning to fly. They spread their wings, flapping, take off, circling noisily around the mother hen, and then crash land beside her as if glued in a magnetic field.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Milk and Mud

The real thing. The true staff of life. Touch it!

                   So you have decided to come out to the barn with me? You’ll need these boots. There have been eight inches of rain just lately. I’d give you gloves too, if you’d take them. I have observed that for many people mud is a drawback. My wife has me come in the back door. She has a rubber mat set out in the back hallway. I kick off my boots before I get inside. Then I put my boots carefully on the rubber mat, even before my poor body comes inside. No matter. She says the mud smears and spreads. Oh, she does carry on. I’m sure you’ll hear about it. Shows disrespect, so she claims. Never heard that much about it before we were married. I always was a muddy boots, dirty hands critter. That was just thirty some years ago.
      I guess people are inclined to change concerning their opinions. And Lord knows the smell of sweat these days seems unfashionable. I’m inclined to think that folks aren’t interested in working where there may be dirt and sweat around, as if it was unhealthy. I can’t see how mud and dirt can be unhealthy. You don’t stick your fingers in your mouth, do you? I’ve heard explained that the smell of a goat in the rut is invigorating. It does tend to stick to whatever it touches; like a good vagabond, it gets around. I personally think the smell would be all right if it was toned down. But a lot of things seem okay when they are toned down.
     You got those boots on by now? There you are. You might want to figure out something to do while you’re here. Just a theory. Wonder what you might think. Might be a bit of a shock to the average city fellow...
     ...what? Oh that’s just a slug. What can you do? This much rain they come out of everywhere, and apt to get into everything. I’ve considered doing a study. No way to get rid of them, I imagine, without killing a good bit of the rest of nature besides. I’ve found that to be true generally. Mother nature is stubborn about her ways. Damage one part of her one where and another part of her elsewhere tends to kick about it.
     ...now, as I was saying, might be a bit of a shock walking into a place—that is if you’re not used to it—where any damned thing can happen. I suppose you might say it could be amusing if you’d let it be. For instance, how can you know what you’ll be doing from one minute to the next? It’s a sort of Shangri-La of fuzzy details. The details may even be surprising. I’ve heard that described as an interesting way to carry on. What’s next? You get up each day wondering. Then you take care of whatever is necessary. Might be enjoyable, I guess, if that’s your object in life. A little something interesting every day.

Berry and Lady. They are the old girls. They were born in this barn
and they will die in this barn.

    Oh, that’s just the girls bellowing. They want to be fed and milked. No, they’re not suffering. No, they’re not pregnant. They are just good, sturdy, healthy, fat goats—like The Bible recommends.
     I guess we might as well start chores, before we end up with a stampede. Berry and Lady, those two taking a rest, are past being freshened and they are in peaceful decline, as they say: not a worry in the world, unless in consideration of mortality. Since they can’t freshen, there’s no milk in their udders, and they don’t get on the milking stand.
     First I grain the whole herd, and they dive in for their share. But the others get grain on the stand also. Once they get grain, they get hay. You can put out the hay. Don’t be cheap! Put out some hay for the girls. Here, Moon. Come here. Here, maybe you’d like to try milking? Think not? Oh, you’d prefer working with a closed system? My, you’re a humorous fellow. Oh, no a goat’s udder is certainly not what you’d call a closed system, if there is any such thing. No dust in the transistors?
     Now that’s hard to imagine! Your transistor is just a small barn, to my way of thinking. It’s like everything else. When you can figure out what’s gonna happen, everybody wins. But when does such a happening come about? Other how you’re stuck with the dust in the best of plans. ...Calm down, Moon. You wouldn’t mind handing me a cup of that grain, would you? I think a smart fellow can have a general idea, nothing specific, what’s gonna happen. But only to a point. Why just last winter, we were proceeding along smartly when our prize milker, Circle, apparently healthy, suddenly keeled over and dropped dead. No! Wind and sun are into everything, if for good or ill, whether visible to us or no. They are in the dust and the shadows. Everywhere! Why should you be surprised by mortality, if you aren’t surprised by an udder with milk in it? I wonder that God might have done that a little better, given us a clue about what’s gonna happen, you know, maybe he did but we’re too blind to see it. Just the other day nature came to visit in the eye of that young milker. The eye became inflamed pustular, and it closed tight. When life has gone awry and they are sore and confused, goats will approach and complain softly. Nature may be unkind: a protruding branch, a spiny plant, an impatient comrade, namely myself, who happened to be on the upswing with a pitchfork. An accident happens hardly noticeable. But it has to be tended to. Don’t you see, young fellow, a little direct, objective observation...you can’t turn your back on it. Why would you want to?
     To get “clear of that crap?” What crap? Nothing’s crap.
     What is that faint, mysterious shadow on the northwest horizon? I expect it should be stormy tomorrow. A world of rain has made early haying hard going. I have surmised that the grasshoppers will be worse by far this summer. If no second crop this year, milk production will fall off early. Now there’s plenty to think about. Milk in the bucket! No, I suppose it won’t launch a white rocket to the stars.
     Well then, before we give much consideration to the stars and the white rocket, let’s clean up the place a bit. You take that pitchfork, and I’ll take this, and push in the wheel barrow. We’ll clean up this pen, move the manure into the pile outside. It may take an half-hour or so. You’re sweating? It’s good exercise. Just as well. It puts the mind into focus; it puts roots on your reasonings. If the reasonings have been held up overlong, or are vague or unreal, once they touch ground in the sun, suddenly they vanish. Why would you want to expend even a few hours on an unclear idea? Sweating is good for you. You’ve had enough? You’d rather be inside? You take this as a waste of time! Really? Well, some books, I think, put the mind in such a strain it feels good to get away. I prefer outside. Still, when I’m outside too long, I wish I was inside; but when I am inside too long, I wish I was outside.
     Well, go inside if you wish. Read that good book you’ve brought with you. And work on your computer, too. But be sure to knock the mud off your boots before you go in. The better half is hell on the world’s mud, and it seems it has been raining for the last two weeks, and more to come I expect. Might get ready for it if I can.
   
Can this be what old mortality looks like?


Tree Satori—Part 2

                     So the tree is down. It fell exactly where I wanted it. Now the work becomes safer, if not simpler. It was that big gray birch behind the buck barn, forever backward leaning into the shadow, and seedy. The log is very heavy. The work has proceeded according to plan. The tree did not fall into the muddy swale and my truck is not stuck in the mud, and I have pulled it up nearby the log in order to load it efficiently. Sometimes the work of cutting and hauling can’t be done in one day. Just because you can’t haul your handiwork out the day you cut it down, because the ground is still muddy from the winter, doesn’t mean you have to spend the afternoon reading Plato. Plato is for after sunset. Plato is a good reason to make a point of living long. But first square away your days! You may not finish the work on this tree till summer, when you have moved the wood near the house and stacked it in the woodpile there. But for the sake of happenstance, you've driven the truck alongside the log and all is well. Now, is it best to start at the top and work toward the stump, or start at the stump and work toward the top? Or even maybe start somewhere in the middle? In other words, where is the beginning?

Here are your tools: chainsaw, wedges, maul; and beat up fifteen year old Nissan truck.

Some say the top is the beginning, from which one works down toward the root; some say the root is the beginning and one should work toward the top. The top is often paltry in comparison to the bulk of the root. A good many woodlots have tops piled high untouched. The tops aren’t worked up at all! In season when a burn permit may be gotten, the tops make a handsome bonfire. Sometimes more frugal workmen are allowed to salvage the worthwhile firewood. There is always more than anyone would estimate, and bone dry, for the leaves are still attached and transpiring moisture to the sky. The top being closest to the sun supports a tangle of life giving branches. I have never been too proud to exclude roundwood from my woodpile. But get among these branches, screaming chainsaw in hand, and you may wonder which is the branch and which is the leg behind the branch. A tangle, a slip and a bucking saw may conspire unhappily. Is the trunk closest to the root where one should start? Start at the root and hope there’s a flower or two up a way. Especially when the trunk may sport fifty or more feet of clean, solid fire wood. In fact, after the which, why continue? Slash and burn. The big money is already made.

A woods just logged…day cold and dark and still…this winter's first snow.

But not the old penny wise wood burner. He runs his life on the assumption that his time is worth nothing, therefore, he has time to save time. If time is money and one works for money then half the job left undone is the most thrifty. I must not be very thrifty either of time or money: no tops trash my woodlot.

Now, I cross my arms thoughtfully and spin a cogitation upon the subject of which end of the tree is the beginning. One case may not compare to another case. Here is experience: I felled this tree exactly so and not otherwise for several reasons and among them was a slight ledgy hump on which lies the trunk about half way its length. It teeters as on a fulcrum. So most of the stress is lying on the fulcrum, and the best part of the trunk is lifted clear of the ground. In this case the trunk makes dandy cutting. Here's the best place to start work on this tree: at the root. As the saw screams the big chunks drop on the ground with a thump.

Baby the chain, baby the saw, woodsmen say. With the trunk slightly lifted on its fulcrum but still bearing weight, start cutting on the top, cut a good bit, perhaps three-fourths through the log, and then gingerly switch to cutting from below. Cut a small notch below, then cut on top again. The log being raised clear of the ground, there’s room to start the nose of the bar below the log without contacting the ground. The blink of an eye when the chain is in contact with an almost invisible stone in the sod under foot, for instance, may send you to file a numbed chain. The cutting edge of a sharp chain should draw itself at a good rate into the log. Sometimes this is hard to get. We, the amateurs, can't afford a new chain everyday, but we can sharpen our old chain everyday. The chain shouldn’t need to be pushed down to get it cutting. When a lengthy and thorough filing won't do the trick, it may be time to pony up for a new chain. New chains cost fifteen bucks or more, and it’s a dark day, but when I get home and back cutting again, I'm not unhappy anymore. The saw is cutting like mad. I can feel the energy in my hands. Running a good running chain saw is enjoyable work, but it doesn't take much to make it downright unenjoyable work. Baby the chain, baby the saw.

Now the cutting is going pretty well; the bar is piercing the log at a good rate. The bottom cut has almost reached the top cut. Before the log can start to pinch the chain, slowing it down, pull the bar out quick and cut again from the top, and the cut parts cleanly and that section of log falls off. In all work with a chainsaw, if there is any weight to shift, it will shift onto the bar of the saw. If the tree is big, it will lay its weight upon the chain and the bar of the saw in an instant, pinching the bar in the cut, and when the bar can't be wiggled out, it is a great aggravation. Should another woodsman see you in such a circumstance, he might find it worth stopping for a moment of ridicule. Quite a few woodsmen lug around two even three saws. Some even as many as five, whose chains they sharpen every night razor sharp. But a poor man will be happy with one saw and a wedge applied smartly.

I am then proceeding along steadily. My lucky fulcrum, which I spotted by means of long experience, helps a great deal. If I had not been so lucky, I may have to find a good place to cut somewhere along the log, and cut off a big section, but still small enough for me to handle; and catching it with the bolt-hook, which hopefully is not lost in the sod where the truck can run over it and puncture a tire, turn the log around to cut on one side then on the other side. Exhausting work because the log can be very heavy even when cut up into thirty or forty inch bolts, which most likely it won't be. Not to mention the possibility of impacting the chain with the ground and numbing it dull. And remember: these logs tend to be round, and if set up on a hillside, once they get rolling, the paltry flesh of a man will not slow them down.

Now that I have sawed off a good chunk of the log into twenty inch segments, maybe it would be a thought to shut down the chainsaw, take out the splitting wedge and maul, and enjoy the silence for a time. I may then work up a sweat, get the blood flowing to the brain, perfect for contemplation. I am a great one for talking to myself. I may wonder about a thousand subjects, none of which seem to be in books. You'll see me far to the back of my woodlot sitting on a turned up stump, castigating whomever over whatever. Fortunately, my boss is nature, who has provided me an entire spring to get a leg up on this work before the vegetable garden starts clamoring. But up again eventually, and at it for it won’t do to sit around all afternoon. And too much thinking gets on the nerves, especially thinking in day time. Thinking in such a way that the nerves are not soon all jittery and anger rising takes a knack and a bit of practice. Perhaps rare. Back to my chopping.

Now I have come toward the top of the tree, the area of thick branches. These branches make the best burning of all the wood by far in my country woodstove. Come winter, throw them on a bed of coals, which have been dug out of the night’s ashes, and they draw up forsooth with a bluish-red flame, extremely mobile, like fine silk in the wind, a wand of heat like the half transparent dusky glimmerings in Hell. By God, if I could get up enough of these thick, defrocked branches to burn, I wouldn’t burn anything else. I'd have hot Hell in a cage! Now apple tree limbs will heat you out of the house. Some years I can get a pick-up load from the orchard down the road. I save them carefully for the darkest, coldest winter nights. Once the stove is packed full, soon the glass crawls with flame. Apple limbs afire bring out the Jim Beam from the cupboard; time now for a shot, for this fire will last awhile. The house creaks from the bitter norther. Ten below and dropping. I stare into the efficient and well made fire, and I salute it from my easy chair with my naked toes. The soles of the feet are the best way by far to drug up heat inside.

So do I cut down my tops? By the time I finish with this old gray birch, there will be nothing left but a few rounds a quarter inch or less. My pile of discard will look like a convoy of grasshoppers basking in a warm evening. And in two years after tramping down the pile once a month, these little sticks will join the earth. Nothing left of one tree! But nature grows on.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Red Trailer

                     Laid off again. It was a hard time. Obviously we had to make a change or we would be out on the street. Kathleen, my wife, thought we might rent the house for extra cash. It was a terrible sacrifice for her to leave her house. But the land that we had bought in ’92 was available. (We called it “the land”. It was almost as if we were going camping. If nothing else we were survivors. I have observed acquaintances clinging to fancy sucked down, and only a bottle of wine and the shirts on their backs were left over; and their future and their childrens' future ruined. A real estate agent advised them to walk out of the mortgage.) I had a little cash left from the better days, just enough to put the septic in and a gravel pad and a well. I started to look around for a used trailer. In Maine they are called “starter homes”. (I love that phrase. In Maine it has special meanings. I guess you have to be a Mainer.) You wonder how you get into these situations but it is unwise to get too down about it because bad can go to worse in a few days. It’s amazing, for instance, how fast you can get hungry. I thought about Knut Hamson's novel, Hunger. At each mysterious twist and turn of free market capitalism in my life the book has come to mind. We weren’t in that situation yet, but we needed to make better use of what we had or we might be.
     Rather than spend her days weeping and beating her breast, Kathleen studied the newspaper ads. In the Lewiston paper there was a used trailer near Sabattus, not too far away. It was mud season and once you drove off the main road, the dirt road into it was almost impassible. The billowing murk pressed on my nervousness and the grey rain beat against the car’s windshield. I zigzagged from one side of the road to the other in order to avoid the muddy ditches. I was still driving the Mustang, a left over from my better days—Kathleen owned the mandatory in Maine 4-wheel drive "Jimmy". As we pulled up to the trailer I already knew I was going to buy it. It had been re-sided with T111 which had been painted barn red. The roof line was vaguely convex. Actually this was probably the best house we ever had for heat. Roofers who know what they are doing often build flat roofs because they are so heat efficient. But the big weight of the snow on the roof eventually plays havoc, and the house won’t survive long, I don’t care who the builder is. If you know how to shovel a roof, that, so it turns out, becomes less a problem. But shoveling an icy roof is a quaint occupation. It is surprisingly easy to fall off a roof, even one that is just slightly pitched. The trailer had plenty of windows, another advantage. The young couple living in it was anxious to move out and away from “the road” which was a “disaster” and into an “apartment” where they could “just live”. Besides, the owner of the land was planning a trailer park with new trailers, and they’d have to move out soon anyway because their trailer was too “crappy” for this new neighborhood in development. The bedroom was filled up with a giant water bed, which surprised me because I didn’t think a waterbed was the greatest thing for fornication. They were in a family way, that period in life when people are often very soft and gentle and sweet and enjoyable to be around. Didn’t I feel them in the years afterward improving my mood when it was dark? I figured that the building was worth two-thousand. They weren’t inclined to argue.


************


     It was a crazy time of my life. I finally got another job. I was driving down country to go to work, 120 miles, and staying over with my father in Hampton for the three day work week in a type shop in Salem, Massachusetts. The owner of the type shop was looking for a computer guy. They were hard to find back then, and I wasn’t one, so I was lucky to hang on to the job for a year. On top of that acknowledged instability I was stunned with organizing the survival. Took awhile before we managed to get the trailer moved to “the land”. It blew a tire on the way. Moving trailers is big business in Maine. I was lucky only one tire blew. Upon arrival at the land the movers reminded me that the blown tire had meant a lot of extra work, and they had not ripped me off. The estimate for the move was $400, but since the tire had blown, it would be more. I thought: “Okay. Thanks.” I waited, studying the ground, not breathing, wondering. They tried to sound conciliatory: “Fifty bucks more.” I sighed, relaxed, said, “Okay.”
     Now, the land was hard scrabble forest land in West Paris, Maine, damp around the edges, not ideal; and having been recently logged, it was grown over to thick swatches of saplings and brush. The dirt road, Kittridge Brook Road, leading up to it, was even less ideal, but I knew from my experience in road construction that the driveway into the land would stay put. I bought the land from Corneilieson, who laid the driveway. He said: “I happened to run into some good gravel.” Good gravel packs and sticks together like cement. It is the same one-hundred years later, in good times and bad. Frank Wright should have used more of it under his houses. Then they would have lasted longer. Good gravel is hard to run across nowadays. What you end up with is grainy ballast in too much sand. It floats away with the rain or blows away on the wind. I have invented another name for it: bullshit. It is everywhere I look.
     But the lot was well insulated from the neighbors. It had firewood and solitude, and it was flat, the better to raise animals, my wife’s first love.
     We moved into the old junker 70 foot trailer even before the water was hooked up. Although the son of a friend of my wife’s helped us, for me the learning curve was steep. The roof had to be sealed; skirting installed; gas and heating oil systems attached; plumbing put in. Water systems, for instance, are tricky for the luckless beginner with no money. Eventually, after a summer of struggling, I bought a new pump from Sears on credit and a plumber helped me install it. He did the plumbing with real copper and solder, not PVC. He explained to me enough about the ins and outs to survive. I can’t remember whether I ever paid him. He was a neighbor, and neighbors are like that in Maine. Later, adjusting the plumbing on my own, I used a fitting with a tiny scratch in it which, having allowed air into the system, caused it to run lousy. I am a stubborn person; I never ask for directions; it took me an entire maddening month to finally give up, but the plumber came over and found the problem in a couple of minutes.
     The last of the kids left and my mother-in-law, Ruth, came to live with us, and she kept my wife occupied. After all the anguish my wife expressed to me about her mother, having hardly a single good word to say about her, they got along peacefully; they pacified each other. They’d sit together for hours in the evening, employing themselves one way or another. My wife would say, “Aw, Ma”, and no matter how she tried she could not veil the affection in her voice. But Ruth must have wondered about me, a great reader, hiding forever somewhere behind a book. She said to me a few admonitory comments— “A man should occupy himself with his hands.” That sort of thing. But for the most part she was cordial. She noticed that I also went to work outside the house, an important ritual in life for the old people; and not nearly so important nowadays since everyone wants to work at home in front of their computer. When I was laid off there was land to clear and firewood to work up. Otherwise when I eventually found steady work, I went out every day in a decrepit Chevy pickup. So in the end she didn’t seem to mind whatever I did with my own time. Kathleen follows her mother, whether she likes it or not. They both have enormous inner resources for amusing themselves.
     In fact, I might add as an aside to folks stumbling toward marriage, for the bridegroom, think well of thy mother-in-law for the wife will soon be like her, and for the bride, think well of thy father-in-law for one day the husband will be like him, and probably sooner than later. And hope for the good times while expecting the bad times in order to avoid disappointment.


****************

     Even as a child in third grade I had loved to write. Now I had no money and no job, I had no excuse not to write in lieu of some more expensive hobby. In this junky old place I think that I progressed more than anywhere else in learning how to write.
     I set up shop in a corner of the bedroom. My desk was crammed beside the closet. The clothes hung in the closet nearby me, and there was also the water heater. I had taken off the sliding door to the closet to be nearer the water heater. It was such a grungy corner: books crushed into every open space, a mouse’s litter of notes and draft pages everywhere. An old man, the husband of a close friend of my wife’s, who had developed great intellectual strength through years of solitary study, when I showed him my writing hole, laughed at me. “No,” he said. “That won’t do at all.” But an omnivorous reader in the detachment of his books is actually a simple person, not complicated like a writer, who is anything but detached. I know because I have been both. Writers tend to dig holes; then they pop out every so often like cicadas, climb a tree, take a gander at the real world, spread their oats, flame out and fall back. I used pen and ink but also there was the flea market typewriter. It was so simple! Although I sat transfixed upon my study far away from the woodstove, the water heater always warmed this spot even in mid-winter with the west wind howling. I believe that the clothes hanging in the closet like Hades’ scriveners formed a sort of insulation. And this spot was always so quiet! The Red Trailer deadened sound to the maximum. I don’t know why.
     And in the bad weather, or just too worn out to do anything else, I whittled at my sentences for hour after hour. I settled into a habit of how to look at sentences, whether long ones or short ones are best, and how to think in sentences consecutively; it’s a sort of meter. There’s a meter to prose as much as poetry, though in poetry the diction tends to be “higher”—meaning I think more old fashioned. Maybe poetry is historically more reluctant to accept the vernacular than prose. It tends to eschew those numerous sturdy indefensibles and word inventions that invade the Democratic vernacular like the hordes of Attila.


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     Grammar is hard for me; I am reluctant to bend a knee to authority. It is as if the very word rips something out of me. Eventually I established two hopeful objectives for each sentence: the sentence will be grammatical, and the sentence will be clear. Probably grammar and clarity go together. Another word for grammar is correctness. They are not exactly analogous words. Everyone’s ambition is to be creative. I have always loved the imagination, but I have been in a painful confusion about what it is. Maybe someday I will learn, and when I understand it, I might be more inclined to utilize it. But for the time being there is grammar. Grammar is about rules, but correctness is more about the fusion of rules with energy. Why am I spending so much time thinking about this old and crusty word, grammar? Because it works! My object has always been to create a meter of my own. While the water heater softly sizzled and bubbled like a brook in the glens of Xanadu, I thought a lot about an American language. So I needed a meter. And since obscurity is a sin I needed some grammar. But it takes a long time to learn to look at sentences that way. It should be simple but it isn’t. I don’t know what I mean by correctness, though I sure do use the word enough. It’s the energy, it gets in there and it makes everything complicated! If you can't quite believe everything you say, which happens all the time, at least bring it with energy, enthusiasm. But everybody should know that.
     What I mean by style is a manner or approach to language; when one brings to bear on language energy, it creates style. The assumption is that the language has certain rules and these rules make choices less difficult, and you have to know what these rules are in order not to get lost in a diaspora of choices. Most rational people are aware of the idea of basic rules, and I think form may amount to a series of educated personal choices. It is a structure. I don’t know exactly what would happen if the energy were not attached to a structure. By that I mean whether the language would be intelligible. When I note that I have been loosely attached to the structure of the language—its rules of grammar and usage and composition—then intelligibility (clarity) seems in general to decline. But a certain type of energy may prefer more uncontrolled word positions.
     I’m stretching for excuses for that kind of thing. Art should involve a rational mind. If it does not what else is going to?
     What is at the center of it, all other considerations being equal, in my opinion, is the epithet. That’s an idea that came to me from Jorge Borges. Borges said one day in a TV interview that he studied epithets in Middle English. When the interviewer doubted this was useful or even true, Borges became irate. You tighten up the verbs, form correct clauses, sometimes a matter requiring much staring, simplifying or not to taste, and then guard the epithets like a mother hen her chicks. I learned a little about that in my nest in the Red Trailer. The epithets taught me a meter; the meter taught me a mood. But that is only a start in the real world. And in fact it means nothing unless you get to actually doing it. And in the heat of actually doing it you can end up forgetting everything.


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     For five years, while I was carrying on my wonderments about writing, I went from one job related disaster to the next. I don’t hold grudges. My ex-employers are all dead or dying, or they went to Florida and became drunks. Thereupon they met young women who knocked them off, usurped their children’s inheritance and squandered it in Las Vegas. I doubt that they got any fun out of life, while I enjoyed my little home in the Red Trailer.
     Took me awhile to write a sentence, and then I learned to write more than one and make a story or poem or whatever. I never gave up on that day job though, and eventually I got a pretty good one, as has been recorded elsewhere in these Annals of Pablo. My new career, occasioned by my numerous lay offs, has both frustrated me and caused me much satisfaction. Was it luck or just a simple willingness to endure and try something new? Alas, I am still alive and roof over my head. I congratulate myself that with the help of my family it was not all luck.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Tree Satori


                                     After I bought my land, I was dead broke. The land had firewood on it. How else was I going to heat the house? Now, how to chop down a tree without squashing something. Isn't that the first thought that comes to one's mind when considering the problem of gathering firewood? You'd like to predict which way or how the tree will fall. There are a few things to learn but very little is written, and in those sorts of skills the actual doing becomes more like an art. You've got the work in front of you; you are in close contact with it; a few procedures are established to go by: you may even have your own personal taste about how to use these procedures; the problem now is to get through it. As you look at that big tree, what firewood gatherers of the past are available for advice? As you become more proficient the tree usually crashes down safely in the planned direction. If you become very proficient, the tree always crashes down where you planned. And your physical body or anything else that is valuable is not located where it crashes. But in this business the possibility of deadly accident through error and bad judgment is always close.

Behind the buck barn stands an obstinate ancient Gray Birch. I have known this tree for many years. I am not friendly with it as I am with the Red Oak standing off a short distance. Over the years I have put upon both trees a botheration of goats who snack on low sagging limbs and are unkind to roots. And my general human rush is bound to violate tree stuff too. But the Red Oak has flourished, producing each summer a numerous crop of leaves and I swear almost visible growth. The Gray Birch has been less lucky. In terms of a tree’s history this fellow has seen better days. Now his bark is peeling off in wide swaths; his top limbs are bedraggled bare and weary. Often I have stood nearby scratching my head. I should get a life as many times as I have ventured to this place to contemplate the plight of this tree. I think I remember a clean straight tree, a stalwart. I’d bet he is a hundred. Although there are even now no weird splits or crotchets, he has obviously reached his doldrums. Despite all the clearing done around him, all the sun let in, he has persisted in leaning backward into a low swampy place away from the sun, away from the daylight into the shadows. Now I have lost patience and sympathy. I have come out with my chainsaw. A going back now would be a weakness, though I am tempted. These occupations are sometimes not worth the effort. One day it will fall over on its own. But a young lovely sugar maple stands in sunlight only a few feet away. Soon I will be old, and this sugar maple will put up with my spring amusement. Not everything should be left to wind and time. In dealing with this crusty old codger, the Grey Birch, suppose there should be an accident? Which way will he fall? Not I hope on the sugar maple. The woods’ complaint would groan in the wind for a long time. The woods must take a dusting, a clearing out, as must everything, and the Grey Birch will yield an easy cord of good firewood. I’ll be rid of him and next winter he’ll keep me warm.

Now, time to cut a notch. I fire up my chainsaw and on the side of the tree in the direction I want it to fall, I saw horizontally a thumb past a quarter of the way through the trunk. About three inches above this cut I begin to saw in the shape of a triangle another cut. This cut would resemble the hypotenuse of a triangle, as it meets the lower cut at its farthest point into the tree. The triangular slot, once it has been cut, will then pop out. There is always a great temptation to saw the first cut too far into the tree, in which case the tree will fall back against the cut and pinch down on the chainsaw bar. It is in the nature of temptation that it will ruin one's day. I feel in a hurry; other jobs are waiting. Temptation waits always in the thoughtlessness of hurrying. It is not unusual to find a rusted out chain saw blade stuck, sticking out both sides of a tree trunk, the tree having nabbed it and grown around it. If I do cut too far and my chainsaw blade does get pinched, no amount of wrenching and pulling and tugging will loosen the bar to get it out. Perhaps there might be just enough opening to insert into the cut a wedge. If this happens, and you beat enough on the wedge, perhaps you can make enough space to loosen the bar and tug out the saw. More likely, you are in a serious bind. An axe blade might open up the cut enough to get the wedge started. A second chainsaw is a luxury, and suppose it gets stuck too. Where did you think all that cussing would get you? Perhaps best disassemble the saw and move it away from any further disaster. You can buy a good, straight used bar for ten dollars; fixing a stove chain saw can get expensive. You’ll take a fierce ribbing at the saw shop. You might go and find your come-along. (No one can live in Maine without a come-along.) If a tree is nearby to loop it to, at great risk to your good health, you might be able to drag the tree over. Or get out the old duct taped axe and chop the tree on the side opposite the notch, and just chop it down. Damned if the saw bar gets rolled over, bent and ruined. On the other hand you could retreat, sit down and enjoy the weather. One day a big wind will come up and fell the tree for you. Why all this invention and struggle when a big wind could do the work? Nature may be for a minute fed up with you, man!

Enough depressing possibilities! Waiting for the wind? Risk that young sugar maple? Likely I’ll be senile before a wind comes up, if I am not senile already. I won’t get my saw stuck, not after so many years. Surely I have learned enough in my life to avoid this temptation. I have plans for the sugar maple! While the ancient is yet strong enough to stand, I stop cutting. I bring experience to bear. Now I am ready to insert my wedges.

I summon up the necessary persistence and application. If one must persist in this simple chore, deduce the rest!

Now I begin to saw the trunk on the opposite side from the notch and three or four inches or so above it. (Getting this alignment right is not so much a science as an art. You estimate it by the eye; study it and the eye will tell you how close it is to being right.) Again, saw no more than a third of the way through the trunk. When done, roughly a third of the way around the cut insert the first wedge. With the maul I pound the wedge until the cut slowly begins to open up. Another third of the way around the cut I start the second wedge and briskly pound it. Ever so slowly the tree begins to straighten up or tip over in the direction I want it to fall. Then I plunge the saw bar into the cut in front of the wedges. If you strike the saw chain cutting edges on a wedge, I hope you have a clean file because you’ll need to do some sharpening. Now cut an inch or two farther toward the notch; the tree can’t fall back, pinching the bar because the wedges are supporting it. More desultory pounding later, the arms and shoulders are feeling weary. Even on a cool early spring day, you’ll easily break a sweat. Then finally the wedges have opened the cut so the bulk of the tree is leaning toward where you want it to fall. Weight has come off the wedges so that they loosen in the cut and they literally fall out.

Now I may pause, for it is a satisfactory moment. I have adjusted nature in the interest of my human service. Then back to work; a breeze may up any moment. The chainsaw makes quick work of it. The forest resounds with the mighty crashing. The nearby young sugar maple breathes a relieved sigh.

The old codger is down! By means of my human machination, he has come down not on the young sugar maple or into the low muddy bog, where I can not drive my truck, but onto the high ground, where I can drive my truck, and safely away from the sugar maple. I will cut him up into stove wood lengths and load him into my truck. I do not regret what I have done. About fifty years ago Greg Watson of Sumner logged this land, but he left a good number of well established trees, such as the Red Oak, a sturdy and straight tree whose upper limbs preach bravely toward the heavens. I will not cut down that Red Oak. It is precious to me an I'll leave it to the future. I myself will be cut down to dust long before that tree. This that has happened that I have done hasn't it seemed likely?