Monday, March 31, 2014

Retirement and Eroica

So on this day I am retired. I hope everything works out. I am listening to the Eroica. There is an excellent (I think) little movie about the Eroica done by the BBC. I swear because of the damned BBC I have become half an Englishman, though I don't take it as far as downstairs, Edwardian London. The movie is factual, documentary in basic style but fictionalized in order to cram in the most information possible. It is also short, important to us retirees. It takes up a few minutes over an hour.

Young Ludwig spiffy for an early portrait:

One day long ago, the first time I heard The Rite of Spring, I woke up. I had a new hero! Bob Marley hooked me too, and reggae still perks me up. Sometimes on NPR I hear an inspiring sound. I am a non-musician so I don't carry a lot of critical freight. Maybe the sound is loud or soft, but if it grabs my attention, separates me for a few minutes from my ordinary days and works, it pleases me. I like to imagine that Beethoven's listeners and the musicians of Europe also woke up hearing Eroica. Of course it was different, there might have been a feeling that too much was going on: chaotic. At first Beethoven called the symphony "Bonaparte" but Beethoven was alert to his times, a hero of the enlightenment, understanding about current events, and capable of such deductions as: if Napoleon becomes emperor, then he must be a despot. He soon changed the name. You can see the little movie here. It dwells on a few of the ins and outs of novelty, and poor Ludwig's star crossed love life.

Now, though retired I wish to be an informed person. Who wants to live in the past, walk around deaf, dumb and blind? The idea I take with me into retirement is to forge onward, range over the earth in such a way that history (tradition) and novelty are set up in balance. I'm not sure that I want to follow hash tags around, but some topics can be studied without sitting on the actual ground or the hash tag. However, I'd like to be able to believe while I am ranging. Do you blame me? The entire English tradition in literature demands a great deal of suspension of disbelief, quite a bit too much in my opinion. For a grown man or woman with some knowledge of life to be sitting in rapt study of Romeo and Juliet makes you think. I have always hated the idea of suspending disbelief to enjoy Paradise Lost, for instance, but maybe it makes sense to get over it and forge on since nobody else seems to mind.

Now, the little movie Eroica is almost over, time for my daily afternoon walk. According to the movie, Beethoven insisted on walking to the rehearsal in which Eroica was first played. Immanuel Kant used to walk with his dog every day, you could set your watch by it. In Hemingway walking is hunting, in which we forge onward toward the prey in the company of the driving rhythm of native drums, as soldiers marching into battle. Kerouac walked between the rides he thumbed. Kerouac walked everywhere, he never learned to drive. Tomorrow there may be a little sunshine and warmth, the first day that might be termed, if you happen to be in a good mood, a spring day after a hopelessly long winter, but then following, so the weather forecasters predict, two or three days of rain, slush, snow, ice. Soon I guess I'll find out what I shall end up doing with myself, what I am made of. How will I react to nothing to do? When I was a kid, a rainy day was an indoor day, a day for loitering over a book. I was always disappointed with a rainy day, since indoors I never seemed to accomplish much. Beethoven was an all weather walker: he walked whenever in the duties of his days it occurred to him whether snow, cold, dim or bright.

Beethoven never retired. His music would lift him out of the sordidness of the world, and his idealism instructed him in the dream that he'd lift future generations with him. But that is just Beethoven. In fact, in the last few years toward the end he challenged himself and his art with an energy that is inexplicable. It couldn't be his nephew, the manufactured family, inspired him. He was just an ordinary boy who wanted to become a soldier. There was some talk of a romance with the wife of a friend. In the movie Copying Beethoven fun is had speculating on this topic. The movie is worse than just bad, as most movies are, to tell the truth. Uncritical, drunken staggering around amidst stacks of movies is nauseating to think about. But in the general ignorance and energy still something may be hit upon. The question is: where could have the last string quartets come from? I have listened to them in different versions many times in my life and I am always astonished. Rarely are they played very well, the intellectual torpor of modernism weakens everything, but even when played badly I cannot stop listening. (Don't forget how bad anything that comes near a digital file SOUNDS!) Genius does not explain everything. You eat, drink, crap, love, hate, hope genius or not. The energy comes from the same place. Most people have very simple reasons for doing things. The list of good reasons is finite, and none of them include age, despair, deafness, illness, extreme isolation. You love your wife and family; you hope to do your duty by them; you get up in the morning, say a prayer that you won't do anything stupid this day but seek meaning, a future for America and your children. And then you go your merry way. But with none of THAT to start with, how can genius explain anything?

It is serviceable for retirees, who are all, of course, hopelessly short of time, to figure out how to accomplish at least two duties at once. Well, during my walks I accomplish at least three, and then some. This is the short list, in no specific order of importance. I walk the dog. Sunshine is fourteen. I notice when I miss a day it is harder for her to rise out of her day long afternoon nap. Then on the way to the mailbox at the end of our road I might run into somebody and so I keep track of the latest. Otherwise I am inclined to contemplation. The long list has to do with exercise, fresh air, the weather and so on. On this day, especially, the first full day of my retirement, I had a little think.

My new video card that I just installed works great. I've never had such a video to work with even on the Macbook. This grand desktop computer I have built pleases me. Maybe I'll buy a 27 inch monitor. I could run that straight away. But enough on computer parts for now. I'm busy listening to Beethoven even as I walk and soon I'll be back again watching the videos. So I have found out that Beethoven read Shakespeare, maybe a good deal of Shakespeare. One documentary seemed to suggest that he thought of himself as Caliban, Shakespeare's mis-shapen monster in "The Tempest", one of my personal favorites of the plays. Might this affinity to Caliban have had to do with his isolation by deafness and his restless life, in which he moved from house to house. He surged onward always, was the apt phrase in the documentary. There was a transfiguration at the end when briefness and emotional content became more and more important, though bought back from the normal formal arrangements. I can just imagine him shouting and irately tossing an overly long fragment of manuscript against the wall. And those blockages exactly in the middle of things; what else could fire a man up more, get him standing on his toes, bring up the stubborn dander at the back of his neck? But most important of all, as he is nearing the end of his life, the emotional content of the music comes directly, I believe, from his lacerated heart in the here-and-now. There is no nostalgia, no looking back, no softening separation in time. He is writing about what is happening to him NOW. Thinking has no container. And especially the thinking in the now, which roars. But in art, the holes to press the thinking in seem so damned small, and sometimes the ideas do a violence against the compression.

Then the last string quartets were composed in the silence of almost total deafness. Can it be that Beethoven forgot what it meant to be connected and as if in a sort of death his psyche wandered around in space looking for a self to live in without torment. It seems almost as if he gave himself over to death in order to feel out the return. The content of these works seems to have been fetched, in my opinion, directly from the present; and the idea that someone may have taken an interest in him as more than just a friend, though farfetched, a love affair if you will, may make some kind of vague, impossible sense. And then I think of all the energy in the Ninth and those amazing quartets and I wonder. The Ninth symphony and the last string quartets seem almost impossible to me for a care worn and disheartened and ill and deaf soul to have carried out. Something must have happened. I say genius cannot explain itself; we must explain it.

A miracle from God? That is even more far fetched. I don't think there has ever been an artist who worked at such a supreme level for so long and then continued to the bitter end wondering why he had accomplished so little.

So fellow retirees, baby boomers, colleagues, on this my first full day of retirement, we Americans have amazingly a Black president and a feeble movement toward health care that will be fair to both rich and poor. The Republicans who led us into a decade of useless wars which accomplished nothing are gayly self destructing. An endless debate, new problems new madness. Movement cares not whether toward good or evil. Human beings give to it intention, not nature. Never give up! Though no genius, perhaps I have something simple left to give. Though none of us are Ludwig Beethoven, should not we all look for a simple gift to give, too?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mar 16, 2014—Spring Signs


                       I snap awake around five, restless in the dark for day to begin. I thank God in my morning prayer that I have slept well and I hurt nowhere. I am at times short on energy. I'd prefer more get up; maybe when the weather finally improves I'll try jogging. A thought of morning coffee crosses my mind, then in the silence I hear a low tumult of windy bluster. The next few nights will be near or below zero, the days frigid. March is acting like a winter month. Spring is supposed to be somewhere close nearby, but where? I am disappointed that I am unable to find it. I'll have to investigate. I have seen a mess of slush on the roads. That's something. When yesterday afternoon Sunshine and I walked on Tuelltown, the pick-ups' passing raised a messy splatter. Best for us to walk elsewhere than this country road. Moran, the down country visitor, keeps the long driveway to his country house plowed. Coming up, he has told me, with a quick upward glance, referring to his visits as a pious man would prayer, is a cooperative family adventure: there is a she who has to have a few days off too, which may happen suddenly. At Moran's driveway Sunshine and I turned off Tuelltown and walked onto the snowmobile path through the woods near his house. The snowmobiles have packed down the snow perfectly well enough for us to walk on. Our elderly crotchets, because Sunshine and I are used to being outside a lot more than lately, slowly disappeared. Honestly, as we walked the snowmobile path through the woods, though we stop now and then to admire an especially stalwart tree, you might think of us as a pair of youthful folks, though it helps to be walking downhill. The slush splattering on Tuelltown, I think, now in the middle of the morning coffee ritual, the solid snow pack on our walking trail yesterday, those are signs of spring, are they not? Now I stare out the window over the kitchen sink. I can barely make out the agitation of the trees' upper limbs against the lightening sky. And ten degrees F. Oh Lord, we be spending Sunday indoors. I have been reading Paradise Lost—though not a sign of spring, that's a sign of a fellow with lots of time on his hands—and perhaps a chapter in the King James Version might make a good past time for a winter day. I have another daily chore, I suddenly remember: Moon has kidded out, so I have milking! And that's a sign of something, if not spring, winter's last gasp. Now what have I done in my dreaming about spring?  Have I measured out four tablespoons of my secret coffee blend into the coffee mill instead of three?  Instead of one I have measured two tablespoons of Starbucks Dark into the two tablespoons of Wicked Joe Bella Maria?  I'd put a dash of Starbucks into anything. It is ground now. I'll have to put up with it. Another casualty of the slow non-appearance of Spring. Then there is the sun, the arctic blue, the much longer days!  By six it is light out!  A shred of brilliant sunlight decorates the snowbank framing my man cave's window. A glance in the wood box shows enough firewood left over for the entire day, as in the afternoon the sun fills the southern windows. By now, in a normal winter, I'd have a cord or two worked up in piles in the woods, ready to be tossed in the trusty Nissan yard truck once the snow has gone. No luck to the maple sugarers either, ancient gatherers, who have had their tubes strung out from maple to maple for two weeks now. Not a drop, yet, I imagine, and more than a few days into the season already. Cats still sleeping most of the day on the bed in the spare bedroom; dogs doing their mid-winter thing. And I am sitting on a blustery Sunday afternoon in March in the foothills of Maine dreaming about black flies and mud.

Sunshine busy on her Sunday afternoon

Cricket ditto.




Friday, March 14, 2014

PabloOS

                        About twenty years ago I found at a yard sale in Norway, Maine a proud Olympia manual office model typewriter. I snatched it up for five dollars. It seemed to me hardly used; still in fact shiny in places. It must have been built in the fifties, and if the former owner had used it at all he must have been a very careful and fastidious typist. I was happy about this great purchase. Later I ended up with a used car that I got for thousands of dollars less than it was worth. They were the two purchases of objects in my life that made sense to me, junk dealer that I am. It does happen, you know, so stay awake. A once in a lifetime deal may suddenly appear to anybody, even somebody used to buying new.
     Once I had bought it, of course, utilization of the big lunk of a machine changed drastically. It became a veteran, a US Army Ranger in the battle of words. Before that time I had always written in small, neat letters with a fountain pen on unlined yellow paper—still the best way to write poetry, I think, though the UNIX app ed has quietly taken hold with me. Since I am a constant and dedicated re-writer, no matter how hard I tried to keep the manuscripts free of pointing cross outs, deletions and additions, they all, even after ten rewrites, always appeared chaotic. (God bless the lovely ladies who type and re-type manuscripts—in fact, do they really do that, the wives of husbands who write, and so on? or possibly a pipe dream. Dunno. I had testimony on one front who claimed his wife did it. Hard to estimate what difference it made success-wise.) I was spending more time, I thought, copying and re-copying than writing. My freshman English instructor at UNH in Durham, New Hampshire, long ago, used to leave comments like "turgid" "unclear" "dark". My festering teen-ager's brain considered that he might be talking about the lack of typing skills. For some reason I thought that the big clunk of Olympia typewriter parts would solve that problem.
     At that time my eyes were beginning to go. The font on the old typewriter was an especially clean and slightly larger than usual Elite type. I hated the old clunky Pica type. This Elite type was especially pleasant on my eyes. I continued along with first drafts in pen and ink, so as not to argue with an old habit, but any further re-writing I typed. After awhile I actually became a good typist. Not a bad pastime, I thought, a spin off from writing. But as the years went by and I attempted to build a point-of-view or an attitude, which meant to me that I had something to say, the constant re-typing became a bigger pain than re-writing ever had been in pen and ink. Some of my short stories were in folders that had a novel's bulk and heft—twenty-three drafts. And if anybody would ask me, which nobody did, I still couldn't say that the story was any better on the twenty-third draft than it had been on the first. Although I was getting nowhere, I returned to writing again and again for the solace and enjoyment of my thoughts. The sentence became a sacred bridge over the troubled river of thought. It took me from what I knew into the dark unknown, and in so doing revealed life's mysteries. Don't ask me what I found out, what secrets I dug up with my heated self-heckling but I was honestly never bored in this back alley of life with my books and my yard sale typewriter.
     For all of this time I did not consider writing on a computer to be a wise idea. My writings were precious to me. Once in it for the hour or two every day my troubles vanished. I was lucky to have a wife who put up with my absences. A thought is very frail. It barely exists like a puff of smoke. Thought is balanced in the upper realms as if on a high wire; any vague wind could tear it apart. For a long time it did not make sense to me to commit my words to a mere machine. Machines were too much subject to vagary and chance. Being mere machines, computers crashed, and if they did not crash, they were untrustworthy for the long run. I had a beginning acquaintance with UNIX in the eighties, and though the system definitely worked, it needed to be rebooted because every so often it got stuck. When you had not saved previous to these sudden freeze ups, at the reboot you lost whatever you had been working on, a very tiresome mis-behavior. There was coddling, maintenance all carried on by odd behaving, whimsical characters in polyester suits. I should mention the very expensive machines UNIX required. Then Jobs came along with his cute machines. As an added attraction I thought he looked like John Lennon. Jobs was another one of those odd behaving characters. OS 9 was the first operating system I considered to be stable enough for my works. But the thought of spending a thousand plus dollars for a machine to write on seemed absurd to me. But in the back of my head there was always that giant book of UNIX lore I had waded through when I was setting type. UNIX was the bear for documenting any tinsy thing, and still is.
     Anybody who does real work on a computer every day will eventually end up with a UNIX system; reason being the documentation is voluminous. The UNIX system I set type on long ago definitely did process words, huge documents longer than any novel. And UNIX was the Internet. Get close to UNIX, get close to the Internet. A writer could get on a UNIX terminal anywhere, write like a madman and know that with the pressing of a button or two he was speaking to the whole world. But for me, because of the quaint peculiarities in UNIX that needed still to be ironed out, computers were still a waste of time. There were system wide crashes. Memory was not enough forgiving. When they were other people's documents, that seemed okay to me, even sensible, but when they were my own documents, not okay. In short, to be convinced I needed the price of the machine to come down, way down to perhaps a hundred-fifty $$! and a foolproof way to save. AND I needed a big breakthrough in operating systems: though a browser might crash, it would not take down the whole system. (Course, I would prefer that nothing crashed ever, wouldn't you?)
     One day I was wandering into work. My boss took out of his pocket a funny looking cylindrical object. I thought it was a tiny bomb. This was soon after 911. My boss was about to blow me up! He laughed, "Oh, this is a snap drive. Two-hundred-and-fifty megabytes. You stick it into a USB port." "No moving parts?" I wondered. "Nope." I had already been filled in on floppy drives, but we're talking a little more than a megabyte. I liked floppy drives, I had put a couple of my stories on one. But you had to format and wade through this process and that before you could do anything with it. They were cute though, and seemed to be a safe way to store things and you could label them and file them into a little box. If you knew gzip or one of the other compression apps, you could put a big novel on a floppy. But on the other hand this snap drive, you just stuck it into a USB and started saving to it. I soon learned that the little white iBook my grandson got from school which followed him around like a puppy used to in yesteryears had not one but two USB ports. Jobs knew better than anyone what was coming.
     The used iBook I eventually ended up with a decade or so ago still works fine. Now I have FreeBSD UNIX on it which runs X, GNU Screen and Pyroom, one of my favorite apps for writing. I transfer files via. snap drive. I can use text based browsers on it—my favorite is Elinks. One tab has Wikipedia, another Google, and there are tabs for Oxford American Version and a thesaurus. I ought to use it more than I do. But I have a Desktop with FreeBSD, too, which I use mostly. I have a MacBook Pro, it was a retirement gift I gave to myself, so it was not about writing. It has an SSD and 16G of RAM. I hate laptop keyboards generally, though not the iBook so much, whose keys are bigger and softer and more convex so that they are more comfortable to type on. But the Macbook is very frustrating to type on. Some people, who like their laptops and use it as the sole and primary machine, carry around portable keyboards and they connect them via. USB to their laptops when they get where they are going. Keyboards are a study. New, fresh designs for keyboards and mice are all over the web. I bought a used IBM standard keyboard for my Mac and for the FreeBSD Desktop I use a Realforce ten keyless as my everyday keyboard. It has Topre keys. It was very expensive. When I started to use it a lot, I became a good touch typist; and the sore fingers, wrists and shoulders ceased. The last thing people usually buy or pay attention to is the keyboard. Ditto monitors. Master typists don't use cheap keyboards. They don't use laptops either. Most good keyboards don't travel well. But there are some on the market that do.
     I built the FreeBSD Desktop out of a litter of junk parts, and I'm not kidding. The CPU is about eight years old, an AMD 64 dual core. The board is four or five years old with four gigs of RAM. I didn't know what I would put on this piece of junk. I was in the mood for experimenting. I had been tending in the direction of BSD for a long time. But there was GnewSense, Knoppix, Trisquel, a fresh new release of Fedora that I had been hearing good things about, as well as an old standby Debian.
     I don't know how people use Microsoft Windows. They sit at their machines all day, waiting and waiting and waiting. OS X is hopelessly slow also. But Microsoft is the worst. People go to their jobs and they boot up and they wait and wait. That alone must be stressful. I don't know how big business can justify the hours and hours of down time and inactivity they must suffer. After a few years I switched over to Linux. Linux is the wild west of computing. There are a thousand Linux OS's. Naturally, some of them are good, others not so good. I remember Debian Sarge and then Sid, with which I replaced OS X Tiger on my iBook. I used XFCE desktop in Debian. I do actual work on my machine; I don't have time to wait or worse try to figure out how or why something got broken; I am not interested in guessing my way through a "work-around". Sid (Debian) was great. Nothing ever went down. Eventually I even finagled a right click out of the iBook (F11). Later a friend at work gave me a broken down DV7. I put Crunchbang on that, another very well thought out Linux distro which is based on Debian. The standard Crunchbang window manager is Openbox, a derivative of a very strong line of window managers—Blackbox and Fluxbox. Crunchbang introduced me to a strange, new possibility: that you could do a lot of writing efficiently on a computer because Crunchbang reminded me of an IBM Selectric Typewriter. You press a button and there it is: it was instantaneous. No lag at all. This word "instantaneous" is something you have to experience to understand, especially Microsoft users, who think waiting five or ten seconds to get Word or 15 seconds to get a browser, or a ridiculous minute-and-a-half to boot up is "quick". Then after you understand it, you never, never want to go back. Crunchbang also was very stable. When I got a used Kingston SSD on Ebay, I was able to switch to Xubuntu, where I could use a more complete window manager (XFCE again) and still keep the amazing quickness. Linux Mint Helena was also very serviceable. But all these Linux distros had quaint sensitivities. Certain apps don't play nice. You can easily run into a part that doesn't want to cooperate with the whole. Spending even five minutes fixing something that who knows how it got broken irritated me. Updates in Linux are the worst. Of course, updates in the commercial distros are bad also. Pondering this dark subject, I have had less trouble with OS X updates than any of the others. But times have changed, and I have moved on to UNIX. On that dark subject in FreeBSD so far so good.
     Now, I speak as a non-programmer. I write every day, sometimes for hours. Like most writers on any given day I may have three or four different projects going. I need version control, and I need an easy way to compare versions. I need good pdfs, which when printed, have near typeset quality. I need HTML that will not fall apart or print differently from one browser to the next. Yes, I need to make footnotes sometimes and appendices. Above all, I need apps that are quick and efficient. I can't afford to buy a new computer every year or every other year or even every five years. I have tried every word processor or editor I ever heard anything about. Some were so hard to work with you felt like somebody was trying to chop off your hands. It just hurt to work with them. I wanted to create a flow, just as I had with pen and ink, that felt natural. Besides, nothing made any sense if I couldn't get on the Internet with it. If I could get inexpensively typeset quality PDFs, then I could publish myself, make sturdy, good looking books, a rarity nowadays when every book you look at is almost unreadable. The tools to create such an environment come from UNIX and they start with Emacs and Auctex (LaTex).
     When I bought the Macbook, I knew I was buying a UNIX machine. I also knew that I was buying an exceptionally high quality machine. As it turned out, I was not disappointed. Also it had a huge battery which supplied enough juice for eight to ten hours whether on the web or not. And besides it is beautiful, well, pretty maybe. At least it is not junk. I don't know why I don't use it very much. I may buy a big box of T-40 parts, put another junker together and sell the Mac and the DV7. I have the MacBook set up now with an IBM Standard Keyboard, an Apple mouse and modern HP Pavilion monitor; and I don't use it! I use the junk with UNIX on it. It goes together better. It also helps that emacs works better on it. For some reason emacs does not work very well on OS X since Tiger. In Tiger aquamacs, the Apple version of emacs, worked very well too. I have not tried aquamacs in a long time. I don't know if I'd say that aquamacs was broken, it just didn't work very well. It may be that aquamacs is in a transitional phase. Irritating peculiarities add up when you do actual work on your machine. Of course, if you are a programmer to put up with anything that does not work very well is absurd. I am not a programmer, I do not write code, certain things that suck I have to put up with, but when I eventually discovered ways to put open source apps, UNIX apps, on OS X, it went better. I came to an uneasy peace with a commercial distro. But now I can simply ignore it.
     It does not serve a working man to become too attached to junk. Some junk is better than other junk. The next step in this saga is to swap the disk on the Macbook and see where that will take me. If it works out and PabloOS works on it as well as it works on the junker Desktop and I can attach a serviceable keyboard by the USB, then I am no longer confined to a desk and I can take my tool and my writing into nature. There begins another story.

Put your monitor where you want it.



     This set up was $40 at Monoprice. Don't hurt your neck! Save your eyes!


Good keyboard. Lousy mouse.


Great keyboard, good mouse.
 Mice are a study, as well as keyboards. Do your homework. Save on the irritating, time consuming point-and-click.

Way to go. Notice all the programmable keys!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

After the Storm

                        The wind blustered all night, setting off the motion sensor lights on the barn, and they flooded the front windows of the house. The snow fell ceaselessly and the wind pushed the snow into eerily rounded drifts. The extreme light and shadow from the cold flood lamps on the barn lighted a chill moonscape of fluid pallor. Though the temp was 25f the storm was ending as icy rain. These persistent breakdowns in the stability of the weather are troubling. We have thunder storms in snow squalls while the temperature is in the teens Fahrenheit; rain happens after a week of sub-zero cold; the sun is out, skies clear but snow flutters in the frozen bluster. Did not twister weather pop up around Atlanta the other day? When you ask people who do work outdoors in close association with nature about these persistent dilemmas, they seem confused, even aghast. Our planet is a small miracle of the cosmos. That fact becomes more and more evident as astronomers are able to learn about it. Might not an ignorance here or there break its delicate relationships? At any rate why take the chance? Who can prove precisely that global warming caused gridlock in Atlanta or the sudden explosion of green crabs in the clamming beds of Maine, a phenomenon eerie enough to trouble the hardiest soul? So on the other hand, who can prove that global warming did not? Therefore, why take the chance? or nuclear power plants or tar sands? Why take the chance? Funny how this home grown logic works for me, while another person would say, "So, why NOT take the chance?" They see it either way as an opportunity to go fracking, pipe-lining or nuking or anything else that happens to present itself as an "opportunity". "Jobs!" They shout. My logic becomes a weak-headed muddle. It is another subject I have decided to try not to think about.

Instead, the ritual of preparing the morning coffee presents itself. A quarter pound of Starbucks dark mixed with a pound of Wicked Joe Bella Maria makes a husky, strong extra-dark. There is also from the Bella Maria a delicate something or other that caresses the back of the tongue, a sweetness almost.  Coffee lovers would say that my taste is too complicated. Our friendly neighborhood veterinarian, Don, made me a cup of tea from a fragment of what looked to be a dried up stump. It was a mushroom, he said, non-hallucinogenic. Don is a science guy, a familiar of scientific terminology. The rest that he said was beyond me. The tea's taste was also complicated. It was black as coffee and thick and hearty without any trace of bitterness beyond any tea I have ever tasted. We were at that time ending the sexual life of numerous feral cats, a complex work befitting the complex nature of this tea. And now I am into a further complexity with this stormy morning's coffee.

I grind three tablespoons of the beans for six seconds, drop it into the coffee pump. By now the water is boiling slowly. My well is a dug well, but the water in it comes from hundreds of acres of undeveloped hillside. When I count my blessings the fact that I have drunk good tasting water all my life is number one. I am among the minority who have enjoyed that particular blessing. I wonder exactly how small that minority is or will be. What about water on this morning when we have just got plenty of the solid variety? What about the Nile valley 3 or 4 thousand years ago? What a fascinating study that must be! All built around the daily presence of water without industrial sewerage. I try not to think about my ignorance concerning these matters. Mankind must have progressed in these three or four thousand years beyond the fresh air, clean water phase. We have computers! We have chemo! Our sacred rivers are polluted! I wonder how clear the air was in those dull, superstitious times. I wonder if the wise men of Chaldea died young of a tumor in the brain? There certainly is plenty to wonder about in mornings following an overnight storm. Maybe I should just drink my coffee, stare out my window and leave off the wondering.

To be honest, these vague notions are to me dangerously similar to hallucinations. Now I have serious subjects I am more knowledgeable about to remind myself of. I remind myself, as I do every day, to try not to say something so stupid and outlandish in a fit of irritation that no one will take me as a serious person. Why I would want to be taken as a serious person, I don't know for sure. For some reason I prefer to be thought of as a serious person. Needless to say that attitude winnows out a lot of stuff. I think it might not be so enjoyable to be a serious person. Isn't it "funner" to be silly and loose? I guess becoming silly and loose may be funner, but not funner enough to be worth it, considering the drawbacks. Actually that's an interesting thought for a snowy day like today. Except outside for a few errands and chores I'll be inside for most of the day. I leave a note in the litter of computer parts on my desk to consider at some point why idleness is not improving to the constitution. It seems to me that the people I have known who lived a fun life have been dead for a long time already. No! I cross it off the list for snowy day possibilities. A few of them who died young I was fond of. I think maybe I'd better try not to think about that idea too.

Say, this coffee is awfully tasty and hot. Here, I'll pour you a cup and we might have a chat. The gray dawn is coming up over the hills. Oh, thinking about things I probably ought not think about I almost forgot it was Valentine's Day! I have to write a nice note on the card I bought the other day just to remind my wife how long we have been married and how she is my best friend. I always buy chocolates, too. And yesterday she got a dozen roses. She was very happy. Simple things make her very happy. Almost anything makes her happy. I think I know quite a bit about that. It is something I could think about for a long time and maybe I'd get somewhere because it is something I know a lot about. I have tried to buy her non-simple things on birthdays and holidays, none of which worked out. If you have had everyday contact with some one person for ten years, I think you can say that you know something about her. That goes for things too. I am hitting close up to 30 years with her all told. But at times the ten years or even the thirty years rule for knowing a thing or two about something may be debatable. What looks simple, such as my Valentine, may not be so simple at all.

I have been reading a poem by John Milton called Comus. In Comus Milton's Lady gives up trying to explain to the magician Comus the sacred doctrine of Virginity, saying around line 785: "Thou hast nor Ear nor Soul to apprehend.../...the sage/and serious doctrine of Virginity." Meaning Comus is deficient in understanding, which, though a debatable opinion, is well enough said if you happen to be into Virginity. But further, said the Lady, which caught my eye: "And thou art worthy that thou shouldest not know/ more happiness than this thy present lot." Oh-oh, another idea I best not think about. I had supposed Comus was ignorant but I had no idea he might be unhappy, for he seemed rather jolly with his potions and his partying. Hard to tell why that poem has been bothering me so much lately. I think part of it may have to do with the lousy weather. Once I get out and gardening again, and working on my woodpile for next winter, and sitting in the barn in my rocking chair with my animals, I doubt I'll be thinking about Comus. My big task for the more temperate future is to make friends with a few of my de-sexed wild cats so I can give a few of them away. But big snow last night and the first signs of spring still at least four solid weeks away. I often thought Milton's Lady must have been in a bad mood that night she ran up against Comus. She had been out in the wild darkness, separated from her retinue and protective brothers, apparently disoriented. But now I think about it, or rather now I am trying not to think about it, she might have had something there after all. Comus might definitely have been missing something in terms of virginity. But the flowing of the waters on this our miraculous green place, industrial sewerage or not, don't have me in mind or Comus, his magic or not. In fact, they don't have Milton's Lady in mind, whether she may like it or no. The waters just flow toward the sea. Certain seasons the waters may overrun me and you and Milton's Lady. What am I doing reading that poem? I thought I put that poem away a long time ago, in my college days, when I knew perfectly well there was no such thing as Virginity. Though chastity was a word that bugged me because of my Roman Catholic upbringing. Well, so what if there is Virginity. Why shouldn't I be at my age by now beyond such worries? In my opinion old dudes still dogging it are ridiculous.

There are other things I like to remind myself of every morning. I have been awake, I mean I have been alive these almost seventy years. I haven't been intoxicated most of the time; I've enjoyed good health; energy level good, and so on. But I am presently damned if I can think of one subject I can be absolutely certain about. Certainty has passed me by like a pterodactyl. No wait! There's slavery. That's supposed to be over, thank God. Freedom! Democracy! Oh-oh, I might be a slave. I was for fifty years a member of the industrial proletariat. So far as I know that's still going on. They paid you, but they paid the slaves, sort of, to keep them alive. What good was a dead slave? I think numerous industrialists would be perfectly happy to have dead workers if only they could figure out a way to get work out of a corpse. And did you know that Hesiod and Virgil were big time slavers? And there is Dante, doin his thing, Virgil at his side! I think I should not think about that today.

And anyway it has become light enough to go out. The snow seems to be lessening. Soon Clay will come plowing. That is one thing I am certain about: Clay hasn't missed a trick in ten years. Broken throttle foot and all. He fell off a roof last summer. Three, four inches, and with the storm being over he shows up. Best I get off my sorry butt and all these uncertainties, clear away the vehicles to move. Pre-storm I like to arrange trucks, cars, stock trailers so Clay has room for a couple of clean swipes up the driveway. On this storm I want to hook the stock trailer to the truck and move it out of the way so Clay can curl back the pile. Who knows how much more snow we will get in March? Could be too much. That is the crying claim of plow guys late in a bad winter: there's no place to put the snow!

Looks like a few cracks in the clouds. Coffee is down to the dregs. Best get out there. I look forward to Clay's big Ford Diesel coming up the driveway. My driveway is long. He has a half ton of logs loaded in the pickup body. He rarely uses chains, and he never gets stuck. And I mean never. Everybody else drove me mad by getting stuck. He comes in with good rubber, big diesel roaring. Clay likes my driveway! I have never had to explain to him what not to do in order to avoid getting stuck; he figures it out for himself. As an added positive, he never runs into anything. Who is this miracle of common sense, this paragon? Just another country guy likes to plow, a smallish, red-haired fellow. Works reasonable, too.

In fact, here he is now. I jump into my snow boots. About a foot-and-a-half in the dooryard. A half-hour later he has pushed all of the snow out of the way. There is plenty of room to park my truck, the Oldsmobile and the stock trailer, and plenty of turn around too. Wouldn't be half a bad day to ride with him for awhile. He has to do a house on the highway and maybe he'll need help with a driveway on a hillside toward Sumner.

"Sure," I say, grabbing my snow shovel out of the snow pile. John Milton, the big pile of conundrums paper-clipped in a pile of sticky notes around the clutter of computer parts on my desk and the rest of all the puzzles I probably should not be thinking about can wait for another day. Today there is cleaning up after the storm.