Thursday, December 31, 2015

On Leaving the Harbor

...though the uneven wind
leaned down the mast
swept the straining sails
churned around the sleek keel
the white ship sailed
out the narrow shallows,
where the currents burst
on the shore of dark rocks,
clean and competent
the white ship sailed
between the lighthouse
secured on the reef
and the beauty of languor
kneading blond land
the white ship sailed
into the finer domination
of broad streams
into the serene cadence
of undistorted forces...
sail bravely, sail bravely

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Lost but Found

Once upon a time an inspiration came to me to raise two lambs for market. It's always better to pair up animals. An occasional pig wandering lonesome in the pen won't matter. In winter a shelter with plenty of hay to burrow into will do; in summer they like to get out of the rain. Pigs make good gain however, alone or with companions. But don't be late for dinner!  You'll think it was the end of the world with the boisterous squealing. I once had a lonely pig become a family favorite. Friendly and bright, she, it was a sow, as I remember, wandered around the dooryard. In fall she dug up my garden for me, fertilizing it nicely with an occasional poop here and there to rototill in. When the meat came back from the butcher, the kids wouldn't eat it. They threw up. It was next year before I could talk them into eating pork again. That's why lamb has been in the past scarce around my place. Kids.

But you certainly do get attached to lamb meat once you start eating it often. That's when I went out and bought two lambs. Lamb costs you and I am cheap. Sometimes you can take a chance on an animal that's walking half dead. Loving care and attention can keep them alive. They're cheap. Nowadays lambs can get expensive. But the lamb died and I had to get another one. Cost me a hundred dollars, a hundred-fifty counting what I lost on the one that died. And I had to dig a hole to bury it. I am living proof of how far being cheap gets you.

Now the usual thing I always do every morning after coffee is go out to the pen and feed and water the lambkins. They are such paltry beings in God's scheme of things. They can't make a big racket like pigs can.

Already it is getting hot this morning after a warm night. The giant moon made night seem like day. I was hoping I might have fun with my new animals and get to know them a little better. I went in the barn and came out with a half-cup of Lamb 'n Kid and a bucket of water. I opened the gate to the pen. The pen is about fifty-by-fifty feet made of ordinary stock fencing. My mind doesn't work in neat geometric shapes; there is a blank spot where squares and rectangles should be. Besides, it makes more sense to hang the fencing on trees where you can. Maine has plenty of trees. Where there is no available tree, you pound in a fence post. At one time I used this pen for the bucks. It is grown up to tall grass and perennial junk now. But it has normal hayfield grass in it too. Plenty for two lambs for a little while.

I walked into the pen, called, looked everywhere. No lambs! I walked around the pen through the deep grass, looking for small fuzzy white rustling. It seemed to me that my stomping around would cause a flurry of movement. But no, nothing. Not a ripple in the hay. Next I walked around the fencing. I covered the area thoroughly. Couldn't find the lambkins. There are two gates in this pen. One is easier to get to in the winter. Rats! Looks like I left one of the gates open. It was ever so slightly cracked open. A little, pitiful trail in the grass led to it. Have I gone that far that I forgot to shut a gate. Not only had I forgotten to shut the gate, I couldn't remember when I opened it!

My wife has been complaining more and more often about what seems to be happening to my memory. It's a good thing I keep copious journals. But the topic of when I opened the fence wouldn't be a topic to journal about. I must have opened that fence though because there is nobody else around to do it. I called myself every bitter name I could think of. The lambkins had left the pen, and I would never see them again. I was sure of it. I set out to walk around everywhere, plowing through the deep grass, looking for a little trail in the woods. I looked and I looked. They are so small, I couldn't imagine they would have gone far. My heart was broken. Not only $150 down the tubes, but little as they are I couldn't imagine them surviving for long. I searched high and low. They are so small and the grass was so high. No luck. But how could I give up? Never! How could I let my little lambkins wander into a life bitter, dangerous and dark?

I took my dog Sunshine and we went for a long walk around the neighborhood. Could not spot anything. Finally I heard my wife shouting for me to come back. They had been lost in the tall grass in the pen! I was not such a failure after all! So after chores I built a little pen for them to get used to their new situation in. They were drinking water and they nibbled on their grain immediately. My wife was happy because she could now observe them doing little lamb hops and scampers. Losing and then finding is an experience that goes way back. It takes on a heightened emotional quality beyond what you'd ever imagine.

Now they are in a smaller world, their little round pen, where they cannot get lost and can easily be found. Sounds like a good plan for an old man, too. A smaller world is harder to get lost in.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Is Experience Enough?

In order to make a mixture of cement good
for laying up stone or other general work,
shovel into a spacious container
four heaping portions of clean sand,
one portion of cement, and half a portion of lime.
Apply a hoe to this mixture,
energetically scraping it back and forth
until the material is thoroughly mixed.
It is best then to push it into a mound
in whose center a depression is formed
deep enough to contain a gallon of water.
Shovel briskly the dry over the wet,
adding more water in small portions
until wet and dry are indistinguishable,
and the mixture is balanced in sticky suspension.
Of this work I am passing certain;
and submit that these facts of experience
possess rhythm and splendor equal
with any imagination inspired by Helicon.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Black Island

North of Center Harbor New Hampshire is the road to Black Island. There is a beach on the neck across the bridge onto the island. This beach was a place for me, a monument in my life. I always felt peace in that spot, even when youthful trouble filled my heart.  Nearby the beach was a summer camp for rich kids. Camp staff taught the kids to play tennis and waterski and other rich kid activities.
    One summer my cousin Nick went to work there. They hired him as maintenance man. He was good at that kind of work. He walked around all day barefoot fixing a window or repairing a leaky roof or whatever other job happened to come up.  He was always punctilious about his work.
    Nick was friendly with Jules and Cesar, two other of the camp staff.  Jules was from Iowa and she had played tennis on the professional tour. But she got in an auto accident that laid her up. Now she was trying to get back in shape for the tour.  One day the tennis team threw Jules off the end of the dock after the big win over a rival camp.  The first time I fully appreciated her was when she was walking out of the lake.
    Cesar's father ran a resort in Acapulco. Cesar, following the weather, towed a speedboat behind his Cadillac. He taught the kids to water ski wherever it was summer.  He followed the summer with his Cadillac and speedboat.  But he was also a good tennis player and he could round Jules into the shape she never lost. Cesar was an athlete, he jogged and did his exercises religiously. But he became friendly with Nick and he might drink a beer with him after he was done with the kids.
    On beautiful summer evenings Cesar would take Nick, Jules and me on speed boat rides. His boat was very powerful. We drove into Meredith to get beer at the general store. Jules loved to drive the speedboat.
    When they returned with the beer they secretly carried it into the back corner of the parking lot. Cesar parked the Caddy nearby. That Caddy had a nice radio. We got BLM Boston. You could see the lake through the trees in the darkness and the houses of rich people lit up across the channel, their lights reflecting on the still black surface of the lake.
    Jules said, "I'm going home. I'm through with this. I am going home and I am gonna get married. We were childhood sweethearts. His father runs a famous candy factory. They make Caramel. His family owns a big Victorian house on the hill. It must be the biggest house in town. They are society. I'm tired of my dream. It's all over for me. I can't make the big, booming shots anymore."
    "Not me," Cesar said. "I'll teach the kids to waterski. While they are children they can be lighthearted before they grow up and the world puts upon them all its cares. Me the Caddy and my boat will follow the fair weather. I can't change the world but I can leave my mark on it."
    "Oh you're such a dreamer Cesar. These kids won't remember you. They'll grow up and get married and have children and that is what they will remember. Then they will die and be buried on some family plot somewhere who knows where. Lucky if they don't hate each other."
    "Oh, woman! Do you think I will change the world? I won't change the world. But I can teach it something, I can be there when it plays. One day when I have done what I want I'll go home but not until I am old and mean and burdened with too much wisdom."
    "Too much wisdom?" Says Jules. "What does that mean?"
    "It means when I figure everything out and I understand that the world wasn't created with me in mind."
    "Oh! And it has taken you this long?"
    "Sure. Suppose it isn't true? Suppose it is just another lie they tell you to keep you still."
    So that was how they talked, Jules and Cesar.
    I got drunk one night. Cesar had to hold me up to keep me from falling over. What was my dream? Cesar wondered about sodden me.  I couldn't figure out what I was smart enough to do. You live a life a certain way and not another way because you can do it the one way and not the other way.
    Cesar let me sleep in the back seat of the caddy. I left about dawn. I had the old Norton motorcycle then and it was running OK. The sun was rising over the lake. I saw it that morning in a way different than I had ever seen it before.
    After that dawn I was out on my own. I wanted to make my own way true to myself. I would struggle to be like Cesar but then I became afraid that I'd somehow blow it. That fear has remained with me all my life.
    In fact I was so fearful of blowing it that I think I did.