Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sweat and Art

Saw a great pianist, Daniel Barenboim, actually sweat last night, just like a laborer. It was cool! Too bad he was playing Beethoven—"Moonlight"—, who was doing his thing. Beethoven explores the outskirts of the instruments too hard. It is a small fault. But I suppose it is human nature. Test pilots call it stretching the envelope. Then it seems like Beethoven is working at stretching the envelope as an expression of ego, and the essential grace falls off. But the idea that the impulsive/compulsive/spontaneous part of Art comes with real sweat is worth thinking about. Then there is also the cool detachment. Think about the notion of doing hard things easily! I doubt Sprezzatura had much to do with sweat, but we are a democratic people who sweat in our labors beside the rivers and the roads, and yet Americans love Sprezzatura, too. In our athletes! Perhaps I am embarrassing myself when I admire sweat dripping from the nose of a great concert pianist. Perhaps that is something we should not notice, never mind think about. Some of us still are proud of our sweat no matter where we find it. Lisitsa plays "Moonlight" cool, detached, even the blown up third part. Barenboim gets into it with blood. Lisitsa has hands like an octopus; Barenboim has the thick fingertips, the muscular shoulders of my old sax teacher; he has to work at it. No time to comb your hair. The story goes that Jack Kerouac, when writing On the Road, the forever scroll, sweat through it just like a laborer in the sun. He spoke to his ancestors who worked from dawn deep through the high sky into the twilight. Maybe that is the definition of genius: the ability, the God given compulsion, to think so hard you sweat.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Different Direction

This morning I was up in my barn workshop. I had a job to do. It was cold. I wore a pair of old gloves with cut off fingers. The morning sun was bright then clouds swept in, stealing Spring from most of the afternoon. I am anticipating warm evenings spent out on the porch after supper listening to the Red Sox game on the radio. My neighbor, Andy Smith, has finally sap flowing into his sap pots, two (or more) frustrating weeks late. His fancy corrugated aluminum pots hang optimistically in expectation of a worthy harvest. He and his daughter are always too busy collecting the sap for a shiftless retiree on an afternoon walk to be disturbing them with burning spring questions. This year they drive around from pot to pot in a snowmobile. When they jump off the snowmobile they might sink in the snow waist deep.

Yesterday the sun was out all day, high and golden. The experts claim for morning light a therapeutic effect both on mind and body. Doesn't it seem that people who get up late have missed something? I believe the maple trees would say so. After such a long winter though still cold nights in the twenties the morning sun is bustling. Although a few days too early to see buds on the upper limbs, at least in the foothills—the coast advances in these matters at a sharper pace—the woods are yawning in the shadow of big ambitions. Yesterday was warm nudging 50f, the night was cold, today a disappointment, the temps in the dreary light hovering around 40f all day. It is always surprising to me the difference ten degrees makes. You wouldn't think it, would you? Try a zero morning in February before a morning at ten below! Actually ten below is not that bad; now take twenty below; and if you really have hair on your chest, thirty below!

These minute comparisons of one day and the next mean nothing unless you do something outdoors. If you pull up your car to an elevator and it slowly rises in the shadows of a high rise and deposits you ten feet from your living room door, I wonder whether you'll know or care when the spring sun is especially bright or if the sap is flowing. Yesterday the brilliant light lit up big ambitions in the trees and in me, too. Being a creature of routine and instinct, I trudged through the snow carrying my collection of classical records and an ancient Sears phonograph to my workshop. I like to play music in my old Dostoyevsky hovel of a workshop. In midsummer sunlight blazes through the shadows, bees buzzing, a wildcat passes through, chickens chirping and pecking and what's that scratching somewhere? all of which lend a hand to my musings and the music. Today I know that in my chilly workshop the records won't play very well. The vinyl would not be soft enough and the needle would skip across a sudden, violent Beethoven crescendo. But close enough, in my opinion. Spring brings on the desire to do something novel. My sap is flowing. The nights are cold. Tired from the winter, one sleeps dead to the world, awakes tingling, anticipating a change. At dawn the sun is compelled past the faraway horizon as if rocketed aloft. The days warm up sharply. Yesterday was bright from dawn to dusk; but today the morning was bright then the sky greyed in and the clouds returned the woody foothills to mid-March.

Yesterday out in my workshop I was busy moving around. I am much more sensitive to the cold than I used to be, and no heat at all in thirty degrees in the shadows of the old barn drills to the bone eventually. Outside there is the sun, inside the cold shadows lie. An entire winter of ruins had collected on my workbenches, my table saw, and everywhere else flat. Boxes of books covered the big workbench near the door to the chicken coop. Tools used at various times during the winter, when it was too cold and I was too impatient to put them away, covered another workbench. Near the door to the chicken coop was a big pile of chicken droppings, hay and shavings, a wonder of garden fertilizer. That all had to be pitched out and piled beside the strawberry patch, which is just outside the barn door, and as soon as the snow clears I'll cover the just greening plants to keep them free of weeds and warm during the chilly May nights. Early June I'll rake away the cover and marvel at the broad brilliant leaves on the just beginning strawberry plants. It always seems to me something of a miracle as annual plants crawl green out of their winter cover. But now, today, all of that laboring done yesterday, on this very day, the gray cold: not so good. The sun finally came out again after supper but the temp never did touch 40. Although cold feet and hands were a distraction and an irritation, I remained outside in my cold workshop, for I had a job to do. Why shouldn't I have a job to do? I don't work any more, but I am not entirely unemployed. I know what is going on. Pay attention, now.

Now, just so happens two of our wildcats have not been neutered. For the last month I've been trapping them and taking them to Don, our friendly vet, for the dirty deed. The last one was a powerful tom. He had a b-b pellet in one leg, a big trap gash in another and he was fat and ready at any time to put forth a worthy potation. It is always a moment for contemplation to see such a force of nature's continuity and stability reduced. There are two others not I or my wife have had any luck catching, both females, I suspect, and no doubt pregnant. They have so far avoided every wile. No matter what smelly lure I bait the have-a-heart with, they stand outside gaily in the sunshine like Roman warriors basking in a sunny Gallic interlude. The rest, Don having clipped an ear on each, play on the frozen surface of the snow in the morning, dare the trap, get caught, finish their lunch and wait for me to come and let them out. Nature is playing me the fool. Well, I am about to launch on a different path. I feel the need, spring has the sap flowing, so here I am.

I set up my records, get the Eroica going. Beethoven even told his friends, so it is written, "I set out on a different path." Well, so am I. Time for me to build a trap to end all traps. It will be such a trap that no cat has ever seen. I had a notion to purchase three inch strapping at the lumber yard and cut it down to one-and-a-half inch, but my table saw suddenly quit on me and is no more. So I bought two inch straps enough to frame a box. Then I bought bird netting to staple all around and over it. I'll set up one side of the box on a foot length of stick, attach to it a bit of twine, and when the pregnant darlings venture under the box to eat their smelly supper, I'll pull the twine and down will drop my box trapping them underneath. Then one way or another I'll get them into a cage and off they go to Don and the dirty deed. I am feeling the sap rise and dream of a more hopeful future. The explosive growth of our den of wildcats will be forever cut off, that is unless there's another "drop off". (I love that phrase "drop off". It is thoroughly modern. You can drop off anything in somebody else's backyard from six worn out spare tires to fracking trash to four pregnant wild cats. That is a drop off. I might try it myself one day.)

I heard the Friends of Feral Felines took 45 cats out of a house nearby, and they didn't get all of them. The person in the house moved out she was so overwhelmed and unable to deal with the situation. Alas, where will those left end up? It is a question yet to be answered. But then there is another story I should tell you about, the story of the wild turkeys. One day soon, maybe. Right now, no sun and I am freezing and time for lunch, and I have sure enough progressed far enough on this work to take a break. The frame is built, I'll cover the frame with the netting tomorrow.

My new trap should be finished and in business by the weekend. After all this aggravation, I sure hope it works. No guarantee. Elderly, retired curmudgeons don't guarantee anything especially when they are off on a different direction.