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Thursday, December 31, 2009


accidental zen garden

This morning the phone rang at 10:10. It was Bob Bamberg telling me Ralph Stanley is on Diane Rehm Show, 88.5FM. Bob appreciates Ralph Stanley and knows my appreciation. I was grateful when he told me and all the more grateful by the time it was over. To have missed it would be terrible. Tears ran down my face throughout the interview. Ralph Stanley does that to me. I go to a concert at the Fairview Ruritan and sit in tears from beginning to end. When I play Ralph Stanley, or the Stanley Brothers when Carter was living, on the radio show, tears run down my face. Same happens when I play the Carter Family.

It has a great deal to do with these mountains. That I have been received into the culture as an outsider is a source of such gratitude to bring tears. I've said it before, and will say it again, that playing mountain music for mountain people on a mountain county AM station in the next county west from WPAQ and south from WBRF is the greatest opportunity of my life. I dared never to have dreamed of such. Every Saturday morning I play magnificently beautiful music for people who love it. I think of the people I know of who are most likely listening and I know they are loving every particular tune. There are those that stand above and beyond all the others while being just like them, Ralph Stanley. I know that everyone listening to the show loves Ralph Stanley and I know how much they love him. As much as I do and more. When I don't know what I want to play, Ralph Stanley makes a good show any way I want to play him.

Hearing Ralph talk, his voice had the same beauty as it does singing. When Diane asked him to sing for her, I knew what she was seeing while she was hearing what I was hearing. His face never changes expression, his body doesn't move at all except in a relaxed kind of way, his lips range from a quarter inch apart to a half inch apart when he sings. His lips hardly move. By then she had a pretty fair measure of Ralph the man, but when he sat there and sang into the microphone, no emotive gestures of any sort, singing from the soul, emotion in the voice only, and it loaded with emotion, it took hold of her. I could hear her awe in his demeanor, his voice, his humility, his humanity that was right there wide open. By the end of her attempt to follow his lead with Amazing Grace, she was in the spirit. She felt it. She felt what Ralph Stanley does to me in concert, or just to hear him on cd. She was touched by the soul of these mountains. I was happy for her and glad to see it in her that she could receive it.

A few years back I went to Galax fiddlers convention and didn't get into it. I never felt any satisfaction with all the people and bands that played. I heard the bluegrass bands and felt like they were all sorry. What I'm telling you is it was more me than the bands, where my head was at, wherever that was. I walked to the parking lot, got in the van and put on a cd of Ralph Stanley, the one with the red album cover and a photo of him. Roy Lee Centers sings on it. One of my favorites. There it was. Bluegrass, mountain bluegrass played right. I talked with some musician friends about the situation and they said bluegrass at Galax in these years was dull. It's the old-time bands lighting up Galax in these years.

Part of the good time I had listening to Ralph and Diane talk was hearing Diane discover him. He looks like he could be any hillbilly man his age. First time I saw him I was surprised at how much he looked like Millard Pruitt, Tom's preacher brother. Millard could sing too. Millard could really sing. When Millard was in the spirit singing, he could seem like his feet were floating a half inch above the floor. Anyone who knew him, knows what I mean. First time I heard him, a city dude then listening to punk rock of late 70s, Millard and Ray Caudill sang together at a night church meeting Tom took me to. It was ancient. It sounded like it could be two old Tibetan men, or American Indian old men, or Sufi old men. It was from another world, a universal world where it's all the same thing, sung from a deep spiritual place that encompasses every aspect of their lives.

The old-time religion Ralph Stanley came from with the Old Baptist way of drawing syllables out into 2 and sometimes 3, was sung by people who loved God in all parts of their lives. They are the people Ralph Stanley came from, people who in this day and time continue to assemble and sing the old way. When it comes to the quality of his voice, it really works in his gospel songs. Carter had it too. When Ralph Stanley sings a gospel song you feel it. I loved hearing Diane Rehm feel the place within where Ralph's voice took her. She heard what it is about mountain music, these mountains, the old ways, the spiritual depth or expansion of the soul singing these old songs in a church with others, all there to praise God. The songs are such that you get something from them while singing them. Like Psalms in that way.

When it comes to expectation, I would never have expected to hear what I heard. I heard Diane Rehm discover Ralph Stanley live on the air, and seeing the magnitude of this tiny man who probably doesn't weigh 120. I heard her fascination grow as she discovered in him his true hillbillyness, which isn't Beverly Hillbillies at all, but something real, something true that runs deep. She felt the spirit in him that flows from him to the audience in a concert, and from the audience back to him, and from him back to the audience, an ongoing circle of love energy. I've felt that with Doc Watson too. He loves his audience and his audience loves him in turn, increasing their love for him, and his for them until the circle of energy flows through the whole place. I heard Diane Rehm go through in an hour what I've gone through since I lived in these mountains, ongoing awe for mountain people and mountain ways that grew into love. By the end of singing Amazing Grace with Ralph, she was there. I'd guess this show would be way high up there in her archive of favorite shows.

When I hear Ralph Stanley, I hear all the people I have known in these mountains and every man I've talked with of his age. He talks like any mountain man of his generation, and has the manner of singing of an Old Baptist preacher. It's that universal place Ralph comes from, the Clinch Mountains of southwestern Virginia where the music tradition goes all the way back to across the ocean and no telling how far back there. Ralph called himself a singer of mountain music instead of bluegrass. It's true. Like Roni Stoneman said of him, Ralph Stanley IS these mountains. There's no 2 ways about that.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


spring flood

Earlier, I was out walking in the woods with camera. Came home, looking at the pictures, this one on the screen, I clicked the negative button and the above happened. To my eye, it looks like flood water flowing through a forest. Or desert moving in taking over a forest. The flow lines I was looking for with the shadows worked to my satisfaction best in this image. I chose to show you the negative because of the flow lines. In fact, the negative is about the flow lines, and the positive is about the trees. In the negative, it looks like it might be in a book I have called Contemporary Japanese Prints, printed in 1985. Usually, I'm disappointed in what comes up when I click on the negative button, so I don't do it much. Today, I wanted to see what it would do with the lines on the snow. Pow.

I'd stepped outside to go to the mailbox and one of Allan's dog's was here, Martha, the rowdiest and most excitable, and fortunately, the smallest, or almost. She's a growing puppy. I put out the leftover catfood for her and she went at it like she was trying to get it all in one bite. She eats like that at home too. She came up the least one of half a dozen, so she had to struggle to get what she needed for herself among the bigger dogs going for what they need too. She's a jumpy, yappy, completely out of control puppy, the kind that jumps on you and keeps on jumping on you, cannot stay down. I put my hand down in front of her nose so she can't jump, and gradually fade that impulse out of her, but then next time I see her it's back like it was, of course.

When I closed the door, I thought, I'm moaning and groaning that it's no fun to walk without a dog, giving that as my justification for not exercising, and lo! a dog is at my door wanting to go out and play. I put on coat and hat, picked up camera and went out the door. A bit of a struggle with the dog's impulse to jump, keeping my hand down in front of her nose until she wore herself out looking for a way around the hand that moved as she moved. She settled down by the time we reached the road. She'd go ahead a little ways, then turn and run to me wanting to jump on me and we'd play that game again. Then she'd go off ahead again, and be back again. The last time, she came jumping and her right rear foot somehow went under where my foot came down from the step in progress. It held her foot a split-second and she fell over backwards. She landed on her back and let out a yelp. She jumped up and the foolishness went out of her. When she came around, it wasn't jumping. From the look on her face when she got up, I had the impression she believed it was done with intent. I didn't have intent, but could have, so I left off apologies.

She became something of a walking companion after that, and I was thinking I'll put food out for her every day and she can come over and we'll go walking. Then she'll start thinking she lives here and that won't do so well. The cats don't accept dogs, any dogs, especially rowdy dogs.
That will have to be whatever it turns out to be. Winter, she'll learn to go home at night where she's let in the house. We could get a good rhythm going with her coming here daily for a walk. Or not. It doesn't matter what happens. She may just come over every once in awhile. That's ok too. As we spend time together she'll settle out of the jumpiness. I enjoyed watching her run about out in front, looking off into the field to our right frequently, looking for something to move that she can chase. I was thinking when we're in the snow will be a good time to get some pictures of her. Martha has the markings of so many breeds of dogs mixed together, all you can say is she's a dog. I thought snow background might bring out her unusual face markings, like white paper around a portrait.

As soon as we reached the woods and the snow, Martha thought she saw something move in the woods. She ran off, head and ears up, tail up, bounding on alert to find out what it was. I thought she'd be back. I went along, taking my time getting pictures. Martha is barking in the near distance, out of sight. Barking, barking. I holler, shut up crazy dog! every once in awhile, to hear my own head roar. She kept it up and kept it up as I began to question if the dog had a possum flopped over playing dead, or a coon up a tree. No, they're night critters. Deer? Probably not, we're too obvious. I kept on walking, going where I wanted to go, snapping a picture here and there, getting shadow lines vertical in some and horizontal in some, looking to see what makes a good shadow on the ground in the woods with snow picture. And the dog continued to bark.

I came out of the woods into the road and saw Martha in front of my house, standing on the snow beside the road, barking into the woods across the road and up the long bank. Her stance said she was ready to run the other direction the moment she saw something move. I had a feeling she got spooked by whatever it was she went chasing when she couldn't find it. I wondered about her intelligence, and assessed it pretty good. When freaked out in the woods, run to the house, the safe zone the wild things stay away from. She is, after all, a puppy. When she saw me, she was jumpy again, and a few times of hand in front of nose discouraged the jumping. She was looking at my eyes and I was telling her with my eyes I'm not mad at her, she's my friend, I like her, and we can have a good time if you'll contain your excitement. I know self-control is a lot to ask of a puppy, and it will take awhile.

Heading toward the door to the house, I was remembering Aster the dog teaching the kittens that are cats now to stay out of the road in their first days of walking. I'd put them outside for a bit to let them crawl around on the ground. Whenever one would look like it was heading for the road, Aster turned it gently with her nose, changing its direction to back where it came from. That was it with the kittens and the road. I've often thought since, there must have been some invisible communication between them, because all I saw was dog turning kitten around, but it took deeper than that.

I believe if the dog and I take walks together the rowdiness will go out of her before long. When she finds she doesn't have to be in my face to have my attention, we'll have a good rhythm together. I imagine she knows when Allan comes home and will go home then. She wants to sleep indoors and be fed her regular meal too. The other dogs need never know Martha had the very best today, catfood.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009



The end of the year is at hand. Looks like I'll be doing New Years with friends, the Carpenters, from Georgia. They're driving up tomorrow with daughter Meredith and Meredith's husband Greg, who are in graduate school in California. Future Scientists of America. Meredith is in biology and Greg chemistry. Both of them fields that pass me by. Too left brain for me. With the mind Meredith has, she could pursue any field she chose. She chose Molecular Biology, I expect for the challenge of it. I'd go for something easy like Existential Drama or Egyptian Archaeology. I didn't have the self-discipline or clarity of mind to study well enough to make all As. I was one of the kids that does well in courses he likes and not so well in courses he doesn't like.

I went through school with no intent to use it for a job. Started with the notion of wanting to teach, but by the end didn't want any more to do with the educational system. Evidently I had expectations about it that were off the mark. I've always under worked my education, because I never wanted a hi-end job. I knew when a child that I would spend my entire life learning, following curiosity. I also knew I'd be going through several big changes in adult life. I wanted the freedom to go with it as the change occurred, rather than having to put it off on account of a good paying job and a wife locked down with a job. I knew then that I'd live my adult life simply and in a manner classified as poverty. I wanted the freedom to do that.

I have a friend who likes to challenge the rationality of a lot of principles I hold for myself in a values kind of way. I agree many of them are not rational, but I don't believe rational is the only approach to living one's life. He doesn't either. It's a good tool. An excellent tool for making decisions and friendly interpersonal relationships. I like to allow for that which is not rational too, the other half. The left hemisphere, the right. The balance of the two is the ideal. I believe I'm about all right brain, only interested in art, visual and written. Would rather know the person in people I know than their position.
My bank can tell you I'm not a good money manager. I can tell you that better than the bank can, because the bank only knows the done deed, I can tell you how it got that way if you're willing to listen like a psychiatrist. I wouldn't do that to you, so don't fidget. Though writing to you like this every day is something of a psychotherapy, letting it out. Woody Allen saw his psychiatrist every day about all his adult life, then divorced his wife and married their 19 year old adopted daughter. His films since then have been 3rd rate. If he operated from rational mind, I don't see much evidence of it. Maybe he allowed himself passion.

I've become suspicious of self-examination beyond a practical point. In the 1950s and 60s we had a cluster of poets called the confessional poets. Ann Sexton, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, all poets who will never be forgotten, ended up killing themselves. I'm all with know thyself, pay attention and understand self, be well acquainted with who that is within, but not necessary to make every thought, every written word self examination because dwelling on self leads only to depression. It's hard not to be depressed looking inward all the time, looking at ongoing dissatisfaction. Unless one is looking at God within. Looking at God within can take you to a whole new place. Looking too deeply at self within, looks to me like leads only to a heavy heart. Characters in Chekhov's plays lament 'if only,' wallow in their loneliness and depression spending summers isolated at their country estates. If only, dwelling in the past on that which is no more, and never was then, missing the flow of the living present.

I don't mean to imply I'm something special when it comes to being in the present. I'm just as much in past and future mentally as anyone else. I also believe I do connect with the present moment from time to time. It's this present moment that our pets live in. It might have a great deal to do with why humans don't understand animals and have to buy books that tell you how to dominate an animal to make it do your will. That's the left brain way.
I've never seen a book, though there must be at least one, on my way, to love them. They love us. Love them in turn and real communication flows back and forth on wings of love. I've never trained any of my dogs or cats. They automatically want to please us, love them in turn, allow their love something besides disappointment and they learn fast because they want to please. No need to carry treats in the pocket to reward good behavior. A touch on the back, a few words is the reward most deeply appreciated.

When we look within we tend to judge ferociously. It's good to know about ourselves and not be one of those people who believes others want to hear me talk without end. I saw a cartoon today of a man and a woman at a cocktail party, holding drinks, talking. The man says, "Allow me to interrupt. You're really boring." That's not how we want to get our self-knowledge, but sometimes it comes to us that way. It feels better to get it the gentle ways. Like discover it yourself and say, Oh My, I must do something about this, and set about it. Sure. For me, it takes something like God putting a pinto bean in a slingshot and bouncing it off my head. That's ok. It's part of the fun.

Monday, December 28, 2009



The wind chimes are making music this evening. Gusts of wind pass by and make music with more or less random notes always pleasing to the ear. Brings American composer John Cage to mind, who played with principles of chance in his music, some of it lovely as wind chimes. A sun shining day with snow still on the ground, patches of ground showing through. The snow crust is ice after a day of rain and a night of freezing, a day just above freezing, a night below freezing, meaning it's with us for awhile. The 10-day forecast doesn't indicate any melting weather coming up. The weather will go on next week close to like it's been the last few weeks. Cold during the day, colder at night.

This winter seems to belie the global warming talk over the last several years. And dear old Al Gore stuck his neck out as the prophet of global warming after the international embarassment of the coup that put him out of the presidency he was elected to. Since the film, which I found over-praised and nothing new, the patterns of hurricanes he articulated have changed altogether. It's not to say he didn't have his finger on the people who know what is happening, only that this must be a freak winter as the pattern for the last several winters has been milder every year. The most interesting thing I found in the Gore-Bush election, is both their names are nouns and verbs. Polar bears are drowning at sea and eating each other. That says a whole lot.

I can't help but think there is something about the weather that is conscious and knows about our satellites and one thing and another we study the weather by. It seems like when a conclusion gets drawn about the weather, something else happens. The weather people have it now to
where they can put down a 10-day forecast to the degree in temperature, and it be so close to accurate it can be called accurate with a straight face.
It seems like there are times when forecasts don't work and forecasters have to fess up, the weather is doing its unpredictable thing today. Somebody told me a few days ago a bomb was set off on the moon a few days before to get a dust cloud up so it could be studied grain of sand by grain of sand.

That's some advanced science, the kind of minds involved that get Nobel Prizes. MIT, Berkeley, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, all these schools and many more graduate an awful lot of brilliant minds with excellent educations every year. Where are they? They are not out here in the world. They are clustered in universities, cloistered away as effete intellectuals the rest of society doesn't even want to know about. Too boring for television. It's something you have to pay attention to. Too bad for It. Turn on the dog show.

The part I have a hard time getting is people like Cheney, Rummy and Condi had good educations, did well in school. Brilliant minds. They attempted to replace the Constitution with Ayn Rand's fiction, making me wonder what making good grades means. Made me wonder, too, what an intelligent black woman was doing in that company. It's hard to know what real intelligence is. I sometimes think what a cartoon moment it would be with Condi in an elevator. The door opens and there's Angela Davis. I believe they'd recognize each other and be friendly, appreciating each other's minds first so the politics would be secondary, like a job. Meaning, that's not how it would be at all.

I learned in the time when Jr's mind was going and gone that anything I ever might expect is never the case. If it happens some time or other, that's merely law of averages or something like that. Chance. Every time I was ready to open the door after being at the grocery store or feeding the cats, I reminded myself to clear my mind of any expectations. Whatever I expect will not be what I find. Ever. That clued me to look for that out and around in everyday life to start paying attention to my expectations. What I found was they're never accurate, and when they're not I'm disappointed. I want to be disappointed less, so I expect less. It seems like something as audacious as jumping off a cliff with a hang glider to let go of expectations. But now it seems ridiculous to go about with expectations. Jr was good schooling for me in many ways, letting go of expectations the best learning I can think of. There was more than that, but this is good enough for now.

Jr stays with me a good bit now. After the call of the hoot owl the night of the day he left, it has seemed like memory of Jr faded and was fading away. But now, when I drive the car, it feels like he's in the passenger seat watching the countryside go by. I feel his presence in the car like I could talk to him. Jr taught me to take an interest in the weather. Not by intent, but he paid such close attention to it, I had to notice too. Jr understood flow. He knew the flow of the weather, the flow of water, the flow of air. He understood it, not in words but by feel. When it was 80 degrees in the house and 23 outside, Jr was cold. He saw enough change over the last 30 years to see the weather is different from what it used to be. Nothing I can do about it but sing, Que sera sera.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


waterfalls creek, air bellows gap
We're in the zone between Christmas and New Years where nothing gets started, very little gets done and party hardy is the spirit. I like stay at home hardy. Full moon for the First. Years of working in Sparta, being away from my mountain all day every day, then staying with Jr and rarely at home, I came to miss home until it became an ideal I looked to at some point in the future. Now I'm at home, have been almost 2 months, gradually feeling in place. I had to start my own momentum here in the place that had gone static. All I want to do is watch movies, read, sit at the computer and write to you, go over emails, feed the cats and sleep. I'll do this until something else happens. I could stay this way the rest of my life and be happy.

First years in these mountains I read frequently and identified in a fantasy kind of way with Chinese poet Han Shan from the period of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Not much is known of his life but what he wrote in the 100 poems of his small book Cold Mountain. Han Shan was a Buddhist monk who left home and took up on Cold Mountain, a mountain remote and difficult for any transport but walking. I identified with him leaving the world of commerce and going to the mountain for a solitary life in simplicity among the clouds. The simplicity I sought could not be as extreme as his; I needed to work to make a living, and needed people to know.

My solitude then was knowing less people than before. I have strong leanings toward being solitary, but not one for all out solitude. I like the company of other people too much. Donna Shumate told me not too many months ago that I'm a people person, which I'd never thought of myself, but when I look, there it is. I think it's always been this way, but it took to a certain point in the life to be able to appreciate other people to the point I pay attention with interest instead of duty. Now that I've got there to some degree, I've come to see it doesn't matter at all if I can't like everybody and everybody can't like me. There's always that, no matter what. It's learning to live with it so it's not a passion in the mind or a guilt to carry, just how things are. Some dogs have spots. Some don't. No big deal. The people I think of as my friends have the highest value of any treasure.


As for me, I delight in the everyday Way,

Among mist-wrapped vines and rocky caves.

Here in the wilderness I am completely free,

With my friends, the white clouds, idling forever.

There are roads, but they do not reach the world;

Since I am mindless, who can rouse my thoughts?

On a bed of stone I sit, alone in the night,

While the round moon climbs up Cold Mountain.

-Han Shan
These poems have been with me the whole time in these mountains. I step into them when I walk in the woods among rocks, water, trees, a carpet of leaves on the ground, birds, the self-sustaining world where self-consciousness is unknown until somebody like me walks through with a head full of electrons jumping out of their orbits. Han Shan in a simple hand-made robe as monks wore in his time, me in my sweatshop made in Asia discount store American casuals, bluejeans and tshirt. Han Shan walking in straw flip-flops, me in LLBean sale walking shoes with good tread.
Perhaps it's from Han Shan I learned to take an interest in the everyday Way, everyday life as spiritual path. For years I read scripture and studied. Then came the day, 10 or more years ago, I said it's time to start practicing what I've been studying. That sounds easy until I ask, How? How now brown cow is the answer I get. Find it for yourself, in other words. Like Jr with his banjo, pick it up and figure it out. How to practice what I'd learned, I waited for, let it come forward of its own when it was ready, instead of charging ahead using unreliable mind for navigator. It's not a workshop or a church thing. It's standing at the checkout register in the grocery store, talking with my friends, sitting with a cat on my lap.
I think it has to do with the present moment, being in it. It's whatever I do, whatever I say, whatever I think about being in the present moment, flowing through time with it, not locking down in a belief system following the rules of supposed-to. That gets techous, mountain for touchy. You'd be surprised at the particular people you know who get upset over you not adhering to the unwritten rules. It can alienate a lot of people, especially people who entertain notions of control; in hindsight, people it doesn't hurt to see go away, and sometimes it does hurt. I experienced a big shake-up when I stopped allowing myself to be manipulated by somebody with control issues. People who like to believe they control you, seriously dislike you when they find out they can't. I like to leave the control freaks to people who want to be told what to do. Plenty are about.
Back on my mountain, I feel enriched by the experience with Jr. I feel changed by it. I don't know yet what kind of changed, my reason for sitting back without worries about what's next. I gave myself a new Atlas for Christmas, one with all the -stans below Russia, Waziristan, Kazakhstan, like that, places the Silk Road went through that carried the plague from China to Europe in the 14th Century by fleas, which caravans carry more than anything else. This Atlas has the composite images of every continent from satellites, as well as what they call "political" maps with countries delineated. I can be entertained by an Atlas for a very long time. Things going the way they are, which they're doing, it won't be long before Greenland is prime tropical real estate with reggae and hula girls.

Saturday, December 26, 2009



I saw today that I've truly become an old turd. A cranky one at that. The young are conceptually far, far away. Like J Alfred Prufrock, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. And I do. They don't make pants short enough for my legs, 29 inch inseam. 30 is as short as they make them. There are some 29s around, but you have to search for them, like 14" chrome wheels. I roll the bottoms of my trousers. I'm so far outside the realm of fashion, it doesn't matter what I look like, as long as I don't try to look good. That's when I really fail. At this time in my life, I wear cheap clothes and not a great variety. I think I make an effort to look bad. The saying, clothes make the man, is so true I tend to go counter to it, because it's so boring.

When I'm in town dressed up, people who drive Cadillacs see me and speak. People driving pickups don't see me. When I dress bad, the people in Cadillacs don't see me and the people in pickups do. Alleghany is a dress down place. I like shoes that are well made and fit well. I get them from LLBean at half price sale. Jr once made a remark about me wearing LLBean shoes, like that's being uppity. When I told him I got them for half price, then he thought it clever of me. It's not like wearing the bottoms of my trousers rolled attracts attention. It deflects attention. I wear white socks too. The white socks say: not a climber. The rolled trouser legs say: too old to know anything about fashion. Together they say: too boring---leave him alone---he's too wierd, a nerd that never figured out how to be cool, beyond listening to Patti Smith.

I grow old. I grow old. I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. This morning I came face to face with the fact that I've become an old turd. I don't care anything about being around young people any more. By young, I mean under about 25. I understand why men of my grandparents' generation used to moan and groan about the young kids today. I swore to myself I'd never get like that. Then one day I noticed the sound of skateboard wheels on pavement made my skin crawl. Kids. Today a similar such experience with a guy 19 or 20 I don't know. He was subbing at the radio station for Sue today.
When I tried to communicate with him, it never worked. He'd attempted to drive his car up the ice driveway to the station that had never been cleared of the snow, which melted and froze last night into solid ice. He got half way and then slid over into the deep snow and couldn't get out. I caught myself thinking, anybody with eyes can look up that driveway and see it can't be done without 4-wheel and maybe chains too. I parked down by the road. I huffed and puffed inside about how do the young live? How do they survive everyday life? How come they don't just drop down holes like in Mario Brothers nintendo? I was on a roll in my mind about the younger generation. Having a ball being right.

I was a little in awe that this guy was able to turn the station on and can operate it and knows how to turn it off. I went on in my mind seeing the young consumed by pop culture, post-literate, unable to do anything practical like work a wrench. On and on I went, having a good time in the righteous indignation of knowing I'm right. When it was good, and I was full of my own rightness, I looked at myself at 19. Could I have gone into a small town radio station, turned it on in the morning, went on air and played music and commercials, tell the weather, and all that. Could I have done that? No. That one was easy to answer. I could not have. I looked at him and he changed before my eyes into somebody who can do something I could not have done at his age. I'd say he made better grades in school than I did too. First time I drove in snow I made a bigger mess than he did. I managed a 360 degree circle in a major artery in Wichita, Kansas, without intending to. Like a ride at the fair. Sit in the seat, hang on while the seat compartment turns all the way around in a circle. Once traction is lost, where we'll stop nobody knows.

When I was 19, it's a shame how retarded I was. Shy like you wouldn't believe. Self esteem dragging bottom. Knowledge: C average. Intelligence: C average. I didn't know how to connect with The World. There came a time when another day in the house with the parents, gaskets would start to blow and steam would spew in great white clouds. I needed an apartment of my own, needed to start making my own decisions. Alas, I didn't have any experience with decisions. They were all made for me, evidently because I wouldn't make the right decision. And I wouldn't. From the time I left the nest and learned flight by necessity to the time that I came to embrace making decisions as something to be done consciously, paying attention, was a great many years. Great many. Early decisions I made in that zone between leaving home and finding my way were desperately costly decisions that cost a very great deal for a very long time.

Years and years of making decisions that didn't benefit my life at all. M&M's film 8MILE is a story of his life in that time. It's quite a good film too. My experience in that time of my life wasn't nearly so dramatic. The story it made I'd have a hard time signing my name to. Did I really do that? Did I really buy that? Was I that full of shit? Yes, yes, yes. It was the worst time of my life. It lasted about 5 years, from 18 to 23. By age 23 I had settled the major obligations I was born to, beginning the first steps of a life of self-examination that led to the major realization at age 33 that God indeed is, and once I saw that, everything was new. My parachute landed me in Air Bellows Gap in the back yard of Tom Pruitt, God's first gift to me in this new world of the way things used to be.

All the way along, I've told myself never to get to a place where I start sentences, The kids today. I can make up all kinds of stuff to say about them, and none of it would fit. Stuff out of my mind, because I don't know any of the 'kids today.' I don't know what they're like. I've noticed we speak different languages, though use the same dictionaries. I remember 19 and people with white hair being the other side of a zone there's no communication across. I was as inarticulate then as I see people of that age now. When I get going on the kids now, it always calms me down when I look at myself at that age, entering the unknown with hesitation, but no choice.

Some I've known have gone through their lost years too, got some understanding and came out the other end whole. Some are working on PhDs in medicine, biology and chemistry. I couldn't have done that and especially at UCalBerkeley. If I'd applied there, my application wouldn't have even been looked at. It would go straight to the stack to be returned with a form letter of rejection. These 3 youngsters I know, children of my friends I've seen grow up, when I say I can't communicate with them, I mean I don't have the intelligence or knowledge to understand what they're saying when they tell me what they're studying, like molecular biology.

The kids today it turns out are like the kids of always. Some are achievers, some are slackers; some have considerable inate intelligence and some do not. Like Dickens wrote, It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The kids today range from the best to the worst and everything in between, just like when I was a kid, when my grandparents were kids, when King David was a kid. The older people don't have any idea what the kids have going on in their minds, same as the kids don't know what the older people have in their minds.

In my teens, I was incapable of conversation with anyone not my age. Incapable of conversation. Incapable. Couldn't do nothin. Didn't know nothin. Could pass tests and that's about it. Knew all the words to Little Richard's and Chuck Berry's songs. They were my poetry. I saw Uncle John with bald-headed Sally, he saw Aunt Mary comin and he duck back in the alley. I'm in no position to judge the kids today, because whatever I come to, it will be nonsense.

Each one is an individual, just like all the old people are individuals. Kids today, those two words are essentially meaningless in the way they're used, making conclusions with nothing to go by but guesses. Now that I've become an old turd, if I haven't been for quite some time, I still can't let myself get away with believing there's any validity to generalizations about people I know nothing of. It's getting by the best we can, whoever we are, a kid today, tomorrow, yesterday, whenever. And a crabby old turd today, tomorrow, and yesterday too.

Friday, December 25, 2009


robert mangold, curled yellow figure

It's Christmas morning when kids all over the Eastern time zone are opening presents and playing with Santa toys, or not. Rain is wetting the snow good at 33 degrees. Occasional gusts of wind thrash the window with splashes of water. Heavy overcast sky, an actually beautiful shade of light gray. To mix the color with paint, it looks like a touch of black in white would get it, but the only thing that would do is show it's definitely not it. Then a whisper of blue, of red, until it gets close enough that to get it right you have to feel it. Painting a cloud is not just white paint, and not just a touch of black for the gray underside.

All that's saying is, it's not as simple as it looks. Like everything else. First thing I always learn when I take something for easy is, it's not. Whether or not I paint worth a damn is not the important part to me of painting. Everything I've rendered in paint has taught me a great deal. Foremost, it takes awhile to fill a canvas with paint, whatever the size, and make it look like something. Each one is a project that is ongoing for however long it takes. I told myself early on, it's not because it's supposed to be this way or that, it's a process, like reading a long book. It doesn't do to hurry. I like it to take a long time, like months, because my way of seeing what I'm doing changes and I get a broader perspective of what I'm reaching for.

Patience may be the most important part of painting, like in shoveling snow. Without the patience to hover over one detail until it's right, there's no getting it done. Artist Robert Mangold paints a canvas in one color, always a shade of a given color you've never seen before. He'd be called a colorist in the minimalist period that came after abstract expressionism, the same time as pop. With a single pencil line, a fairly big kindergarten sized pencil, he made a circle on a square canvas like the one in the permanent collection at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, a soft kind of pastel olive green that's not olive.
The green is one I've never seen before, that is, to notice. The circle drawn in one pencil line almost touching the sides, comes back to the beginning center bottom of the square, missing the beginning about an inch. In that 1" space is a dynamic tension that raises one line on one color to art. To see a sample of Mangold's work, you can google his name. When the google page comes up, click on images in the upper left. You'll get pages and pages of images by him, articles about him, pictures of him. I don't mean to promote him, by any means, as the greatest of the greats. He has an interesting eye that I happen to appreciate.

All I'm getting at, is something so simple can be so beautiful, like the 0 in zen ink drawings. They get their tension in the nature of the brushstroke, the white streaks that flow with the black. Mangold got the same tension with a pencil line by not meeting the beginning point. It's a totally visual moment with feeling. My own particular feeling was awe in a big way to see something so simple have such a strong impact as I felt standing before it, wanting to close the circle, wanting not to close the circle, an alternating current visual sense. Back and forth. Standing at the top of the stairs of StPeter's in Rome, looking up the columns to the ceiling overhead, which looked like it wasn't far away, then having to adjust focus seeing it's not as close as it looks, it's a long ways up there. The refocus has an emotional element in it that swirls around awe. Made me feel like an ant.

Passing through this space gives a feeling of humility automatically, so stepping inside the cathedral almost equals stepping into glory. It feels like a sacred space whether or not you're Italian, because Michaelangelo understood what the French call a trick of the eye can do to bring a work of art to life. Inside the big chapel, where God and Adam reach to touch fingertips overhead, it looks at first not too far away. Then again, eyes need to refocus a time or two until you realize what looks like its life-sized characters just out of reach is actually gigantic characters a very long ways away, scaled so they'd look life-sized from standing on the floor. There again, refocus generates an awe factor giving one the feeling of humility in the presence of the Most High, who is also the same size we are. I imagine Michaelangelo reminding us what Jesus said, 'ye are gods.' Perhaps he was saying, God is vast and far away, while at once the same size as us, and approachable.
It's real art that generates awe for whatever it makes you feel. In the National Art Museum in DC, I was walking toward, if I remember correctly, the Manet room, seeing the painting of the dead matador through the doorway on the far wall. I started in that direction, and on my right it was like somebody flashed sunlight from a mirror in my eye. I was passing the doorway to the Gauguin room. The colors on his canvases I saw through the doorway glowed like the light was inside them. I made a right turn and stepped into a space surrounded by these colors with light in them and felt that awe again. The light in the colors does not translate well in photographs. I didn't know Gauguin paintings glowed. I looked close to see if I could find what made them glow. All I could see was he felt it and made it what he felt, using his own tricks of the eye to get there.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


white christmas

It's the night before Christmas when all kinds of things happen. We cheer about the pretty, and keep down the ugly, and everybody has their own feelings about it. I've never had any associations with Christmas that made me think of it as anything other than a good time. I'm glad of that too, because terrible things have happened to some people I know on Christmas or Christmas Eve that makes it a sorrow every time it comes around. Jr had the very worst blow of his life on Christmas Eve, 1945. He never recovered, but he picked himself up and kept on a-keepin on.
Jr had been married 5 years when his older half brother came to the house on Christmas eve wanting Jr to drive him to his in-laws house to see his second wife who was mad at (and afraid of) him and staying with her parents. He played fiddle, Jr played banjo, Jr's wife played guitar and sang. The three of them made a lot of music together, were close, knew each other well. Jr looked up to half brother like a shrub looking up at an oak. Jr's wife said, he's drunk, there will be trouble; if you go, I'm leaving you. I take that to mean voices were raised and an argument averted by Jr deciding to stay.

Half brother got another ride, went in the house, shot and killed wife, shot father-in-law 3 times, who survived, and cut up mother-in-law, who also survived. And the 4 month old baby survived. He went out to the front yard and shot himself in the head. Merry Christmas. That was the end of Jr's marriage. He was struck so deep in the heart by that blow, he left out of here and went to Wytheville first and drove a cab for awhile. From there he went to Toccoa, Georgia, for a construction job he'd heard about. From there to Decatur to work for AK Adams Construction Co. He started out pushing a wheelbarrow and was promoted to working a gang of 20-some black men. It was his first experience being around that many black people, and Jr came to like them. They liked him. He treated them right, like he always treated everybody right. He was never been one to be down on black people ever since. From there the company moved him to Decatur, Alabama.

In Alabama, he worked a crane that went 150 feet in the air, used for lifting materials to upper levels of high rises of the day. He liked the work, had a good future with the company, liked the people in Alabama, was thinking about staying there. He had a girlfriend who was a teller at the bank, whose last name was Maxwell. Dad started getting older and unable to carry on the farm work without Jr's help. Mom and dad needed him at home, and he came back. He'd never been certain after coming back that it was the right thing to do. But it was done, and Jr was a son with genuine filial piety. He never regretted returning, but often wondered about his life had he stayed in Alabama. There's no way Jr Maxwell could say no to his mother and dad's appeal. Also, he knew how his daddy was knocked down by the incident at least as much as Jr was. I suppose their shared grief bonded them with a permanent weld, which they already had.

Jr returned home broadened by his experience in the flatland and jumped into doing what he had to do to get by here in the late 1940s, when just working a farm wasn't enough anymore. When he was ready, he got in touch with Lois Lowe, who was working at a sewing factory, Hanes maybe. He'd known Lois before. They fit like hand and glove. Lois worked side by side with Jr all the way through their life together. He said she could work as good as a man. In my early years here, I worked with Jr and Lois putting up hay. She amazed me how she worked. When I was driving the tractor with the wagon behind loaded with hay, looking at the hill I had to drive the tractor down with a curve in the path and a gate to get through at the bottom of the hill. I assessed there's a fair chance I could make it, but there's also a fair chance I couldn't. I talked with Lois saying I don't have enough tractor experience to say I'm 100% certain I can do this without tipping the hay. She said she'd do it. She stepped onto the tractor and drove it down the hill while I watched in awe.

Through the years of sitting with Jr over our drams at his table, talking freely, openly about our lives, memories, what we believe and don't believe, talk, Christmas was never an issue. It's just another day, a day without much traffic on the highway. Everything shut down. We didn't do presents or cards. We were aware it was Christmas, because we couldn't turn the radio on for several weeks for all the Christmas music about shopping. Every Christmas he relived that night in his mind without wanting to. Myself, I don't have anything against Christmas, only that the gross commercialism of it is too much. In this time, there's no alternative but to let it go by and let other people max their credit cards and shop til they drop and watch football all day. My boycott of one again. At the table, we acknowledged Christmas with the first drink, glasses held up and we both said, Merry Christmas.

When I look at Jr now, remember much that I appreciate about him, and automatically think, I wish I'd paid more attention while he was living. But I can't say that, because I did pay attention. I'm grateful in myself that I had what it took to see the Jr Maxwell I only know of 2 other men who knew the Jr I knew. That's his lawyer, Jimmy Reeves, and his friend, Paul Reeves. I have appreciation for them because they see the same Jr I see. Jr had asked me more than once why each of them have to do with him. Of each of them my answer was, he respects you. That's when I get the look that says, you tell me the craziest damn shit I ever heard. I had a feeling that deep inside out of sight he saw it. He didn't understand it, but accepted it.

When Jean was with us, she would bring in little Christmassy things from Dollar General and put them around. She'd put up a little tree 2 feet high on the counter with lights on it and say to Jr, isn't that pretty. He'd agree. She would sometimes try to pep him up for Christmas, and he didn't have any of what it took to get excited about Christmas. He didn't have a problem with Christmas, itself, he couldn't get excited about it. It's just a day. We already know the story of Jesus and the manger well enough.

Jr was somebody who didn't need to be told something more than once. He asked me to drive him around to his mother and dad's graves in his last days of being able to get in the car and to walk about a little bit. At Liberty cemetery, we entered the gate and he went to his dad's grave, saw it, turned around and left. At this mother's grave in the Whitehead/Joines cemetery he saw the stone, her name, turned around and left.

I was thinking that's like a cat. We humans tend to believe we have to look at something for a long time to see it, to gaze at it, stare at it, stand over a grave. A cat sees something once and that's it. The cat knows it's there. When I saw Jr do that, I was thinking how real that is. When I visit a grave, I see it, then I stand there and keep on seeing it wondering why I'm doing this. I saw it. It's still there. Jr was that way with everything. When something is done it's done, time to get on with what's next. Dwelling on the unnecessary was never his way. That's one thing I saw in Jr I like to adopt in my own way of seeing. It's there with my favorite, stay away from important people.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009



Here's my trail to the mailbox. A lane for each foot with a dividing wall in between like they're putting up on interstates to keep cars and trucks on the right side of the lines. One of the more memorable sights in my visit to Miami 20 years ago was the cement wall between directions on I-95 all the way from FtLauderdale to Miami. It was then covered with black tire marks all over it, bottom to top, like spontaneous graffiti. I can see one every once in awhile, but the entire distance the wall was covered with tire marks, both sides. It looked like every one of them wrecked. They're like crosses along the side of the highway in Mexico, where Ricardo and Juanita left the road and died in one way or another. These crosses are all along the mountain highways.

If those markings on the dividing wall were thick then, the entire wall must be black by now. I don't get it. It really doesn't take much of an IQ to stay on the right side of the dividing lines. We do it every day. That wall is a record of really bad driving by an awful lot of people. If people in south Florida can't drive any better than that, I'm glad I'm not living among them, though that's not the only reason. One's life would be at risk every time you start the car, serious risk. It is anyway, but on that stretch of highway the message is written plainly on the wall for all to see in legible sign language, people here can't drive. I imagine everyone who lives there already knows this. Every black mark may tell of a traffic jam from hell. A wreck means cars backed up for hours.

I happen to appreciate graffiti art, so when I saw that wall covered from end to end with spontaneous black marks, each one unique, like those pictures that are black with white lines of electrons jumping out of their orbits, I'm in a living museum. Both the white lines on black background and the black lines on gray background are depictions of consciousness. I'd guess the black marks are records of challenged consciousness, like mentally challenged, distracted, someplace else in mind like past and future. Every one has its own story and all the stories are lost in the past like the music of fiddlers in the time before recording.

I'd driven to WPalm Beach to see my aunt Teat I'd not seen since I was in jr high when she divorced Uncle Roger after Deena graduated from high school, married again and moved to Florida. I didn't leave her place til after midnight. A long drive to Miami with not much traffic. Coming into the outskirts of Miami around 1:30, I was going along in my 78 Toyota pickup, probably 75 or so, and a red 89 Cadillac passed me on the left like a bullet from behind that missed. I thought he's a good candidate to leave a black mark or 4 on the dividing wall, a potential artist and he doesn't even know it.

The dividing wall of snow between the paths of my left and right feet brings memories of Miami every time. That wall between the lanes on 95 is the one thing that stands out in my mind first of Miami. Little Cuba is quaint and nice, Coral Gables a lot of middle class houses and cars, Coconut Grove a lot of trees, a glut of parked cars. Houses, cars, signs, businesses, signs, traffic lights, continually. Custom in Miami is a drag race when a red light turns green. I was in a side to side, bumper to bumper, race with new BMWs, Jaguars, Mercedes, Cadillacs. I didn't know it, but slower cars took the back streets. I'd go through the gears as fast as I could go to keep up with the car in front of me, then hit the brakes hard. I didn't have anti-lock brakes either.

Once, I slid sideways when the pink new Cadillac in front of me lit up in brake lights, the tail end went up in the air, and I hit the brakes, pedal to the metal. The rear end of my truck came around 90 degrees so my door stopped about a foot from the Cadillac's rear bumper. People in cars all around looked at me like if you can't take the heat stay out of the kitchen. I chose leaving the kitchen.

I went to Miami thinking it an interesting adventure to see a place I'd never seen, but it was little more than sameness in abundance and carried an edge of danger at all times everywhere. I left the city the day before the verdict in the very public trial of a Cuban cop who shot a black man and woman on a motorcycle because they drove by too fast. Moving target. Wow. Bang. Got him. Law enforcement was bracing for riots. I was see ya later alligators.

These are the memories that flood my head when I walk my narrow walkway to the mailbox. At the road where the snow goes above my knees, I have a hole for each footstep. It works. Dumptrucks with scoops on the front have gone by here half a dozen times. They have the roads clear. The meadows, the woods, the Christmas tree patches still have a foot of snow. The snow has melted off the Christmas trees and other tree limbs by now. 47 degrees outside. It slid off the south side of my roof this morning. They say freezing rain is next. Then ice. Then oblivion, I suppose.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


escape route

Went out and tempted fate. Took a chance on a heart attack. There is something about snow shoveling that gets one in a hurry about the time you start seeing how many scoops of the shovel it will take to get it all. That's when one starts piling the scoop up higher and higher, making a great deal of strain. Anyway, that was the hypothesis I went by. I never put a heavy load on the shovel. About half a shovel at a time. Or rather, half of what I'd have done 10 years ago. It was a little frustrating, but at the same time I hadn't oughta been doing this anyway. I went after it in a relaxed way, making the least effort. Shoveled snow until I gave out. Then I stopped. The whole clearing job took 3 goes at it. I was about to leave the shoveling to the next day before I went out the door for the 3rd attempt.

It was easy. I carried little weight per shovel full and stopped to rest when I found myself starting to huff and puff. I believed I'd get through it, but took it easy to minimize risk. I was looking at it as exercise. A senior exercise, where you don't expend a lot of effort. It's more about leisurely exercise to keep joints flexible. It felt a bit strange out there shoveling reminding myself I'm tempting fate. I knew that the whole time. I didn't believe there'd be a problem if I rested as I needed rest without overdoing in between. You might say I more or less did it consciously, aware of the consequences, but believing I knew how to do it. That last part, believing I knew how, is the punchline. Of course, I didn't have any idea if my hunch had any validity. Probably, I'm just lucky, or unlucky, however I look at it. I trusted the hunch enough to test it. It could have turned out like the footstep that didn't hold.

I caught myself a few times attempting to hurry things up, there was a lot of snow to shovel. That was automatic behavior. I countered that with indifference to how many days it took. Sun was out today, temp up to 40, some snow melting, I thought I'd better get the snow the DOT truck threw up in front of the car, more than doubling the depth of the snow, before it froze in the night again and became chunks of ice. I went after the surface layer first. The layer under that was soft, easy snow to shovel. The surface broke up into smaller chunks for the shovel.

I went out 3 times today, worked a short time with minimum effort each time. Hoping tomorrow's sun, forecast just like today, will melt what I've left in the tracks for the tires to come out of it's snow cave on. I wanted to get the windshield cleared today, anticipating the part against the glass will melt slightly when the sun raised the temperature inside the car above freezing. Then it would freeze in the night. If I have to go somewhere tomorrow, the glass won't have ice to scrape. I can get in and drive away. Even dug out a place so the door can open. That will be my parking lot until all is melted.

The foot of snow on the roof will blow off first time I drive. If it's not gone by the time I reach Thompson Flat, it will fly off there in hundreds of small chunks and a big spray of crystalline snow such that if anyone is behind me when it happens, they might have to turn on the wipers. It would be the same as driving through a small cloud of flying snow. I feel good about getting that snow shoveled. I didn't wear myself out, got a little exercise, never exhausted or close to it.

I still laugh at myself for such foolhardy behavior. Ronald Davis drove up and stopped as I tossed the last shovel of snow. He asked what I was doing. I said I was tempting a heart attack. It was really foolish of me to do such a thing, but I can't say I didn't know what I was doing. Every swipe of the shovel I reminded myself this is ignorant behavior. Like it's not going to happen to me. Like my truck burning up wasn't going to happen. I was remembering Jean's outrage when she learned she had irreversible cancer. She'd finally come into who she was, and looked forward to some years of living her own life as herself. It wasn't fear of death in her. She felt it wasn't right to be taken away before she had a chance to live what she'd learned. She made peace with everybody in her life and went out radiant.

I have never thought of Jean as dead, even though I saw her in the coffin. When I think of her, I see radiant light. I also feel like she's always nearby. When I think of Jr, I still don't see him dead. It's like he's at home at his place and I'm at home in mine. I can't drive down there to see him, like I have friends who live so far away I can't see them for years, but I still know they're where they are. I didn't feel a finality when Jr's soul left the body. He's where he is, out of sight of where I am, but it's no different from that. He continues to live, but not in that old skin-draped skeleton. It's like he moved to Maryland. Out there shoveling, I was questioning if I might be wanting to go Over Yonder to be with Jean and Jr.

I thought that's not such a bad idea. It's a win-win situation. I like it here well enough that I take several pills a day to keep the heart pumping and have a device inserted to keep it in rhythm. Though tempting death is kind of dramatic, what I was really tempting, I thought, was an electric shock to put me on my ass. That didn't happen either. I went into it with confidence I could shovel snow in a relaxed way and rest every time I felt like it for as long as I wanted, and not get in a hurry. I was going to say it taught me I'm not as fragile as I've come to believe. But, the only thing it taught me was today is not my time to go.

Monday, December 21, 2009


spring lizard creek
Tapo has come to join me as I write you. I'm in place for awhile, and she knows it. She likes to lie down between my arms and drape herself over one of my wrists to feel the rhythmic massage on her shoulder as my fingers dance over the keyboard. TarBaby caught a mouse in here earlier. He carried it into the kitchen and consumed all of it. Every one of these cats is a good mouser. I call it Hotel Hell for the mice. It's the place you check into, but you only check out by the litter box. No mouse escapes to tell the others to stay away from Hotel Hell. They keep on coming in, unaware they have entered the zone of certain death. This is the home of the mouse-eating monsters they heard about since they were little, but never saw one. When they see one, it's too late. They heard that too.
Earlier I went out for a walk into the woods in snow. Deer tracks were running all around in there. I about fell in the creek once. It wouldn't have been any more than a wet foot, but it didn't enter the water. There is this big maple that fell right down the path. To get around this tree now, you have to walk beside it and the ground gets closer to the water, until getting around the base of it, which is a narrow strip of ground, even narrower in a foot of snow, is an exercise in concentration. When I thought I had a fair foothold, I put my weight on it, and down I went, hands into the snow. It was cold. I was without gloves so I could work the camera better. I'd put it in the carrying box not long before I fell. Once I entered the woods, I knew how slippery the snow was, quite, and I put the camera away to keep it dry when I fell, because I already knew the terrain I'd be walking over, and imagined I'd fall at least twice. It happened 4 times. Like Jr said when one of the Services people said, "What if he falls?" Jr said, "I get up."
When the snow is a foot deep, it fills in the low places and makes little humps of the high places that are hidden under the snow. I knew the ground well enough to know where I was putting my feet every step. Another fall came when I was going uphill and had to step over what looked like a medium size log lying on the ground, a giant step up the hill with center of gravity down the hill took me down. Again, just sat down on the snow. It had a good cushion quality to it.
The next two times was going steeply uphill. None of the last 3 times did my hands touch the snow. It was that or soak a foot at that maple, and have to go straight back to the house. It was icy snow. I needed to grip it with my fingers to stop the slide. It's an interesting exercise to fall in a foot of snow and not use the hands. It's really better not to. Stiff-arming a fall breaks bones. Flowing with the fall makes for a light landing.
I knew before I left the road that walking in a foot of snow is not easy. I don't always want easy. It was an effort punching a hole every step. The snow where it touched the ground was wet and slick, because the ground was not frozen when the snow landed on it. The snow is melting from below, making it wet under the snow. The bottom of every step was in that thin layer of slush, which is why it was so slippery to walk uphill. About went over backwards one time, walking up a fairly steep slope, I was digging my heels to anchor the steps. One time I leaned a little too far back with my center of gravity behind the anchor point and had to take a step back to catch myself from going over. It wouldn't have hurt anything. It would be like falling back on a cushion. But I didn't want to do it.
I had memories of the entire area I walked today. I've been there so many times. It's the outdoor part of my home. I love it in snow. Might tomorrow take about twice as long a walk. The snow will be shrunk a half inch or an inch more by then. It won't make any difference. It's not like I have to race the clock. I can stop any time I want for as long as I want. And I don't have to have a designer workout jumpsuit. All I need is shoes with good traction on the bottom. These I wore today have almost none, the same as none. The absence of traction was behind every fall, but that was fine, I didn't mind falling. I knew when I put the shoes on they'd be slippery and chose to go with them.
The part that made the biggest challenge was entering and leaving the road. The road graders have piled it up to above my knees. I step on it, it almost holds, then in an instant all the way to the bottom. Next step is as high as my knee. The same thing. The next one too. Each one starts with that tentative moment that feels like it might hold, then it doesn't. Did that half a dozen steps each side of the road. As far as I know I have nowhere to be until next Saturday morning at the radio station. I'll let the snow between the Catfish and the road melt as much as it can on its own.
First thought Saturday morning when I looked out and saw the snow, was how much Whitehead misses Jr. On the day of a snow like this, Jr drove his tractor and blade all over Whitehead clearing people's driveways. That is one of several people's memories of Jr. I thought that all over Whitehead people are remembering Jr that morning with all the snow. In the spring they'll remember him again for plowing gardens for people all over Whitehead. Go out one morning with the blade on the tractor to push snow and go at it all day. Same with plowing. Out early in the morning and return at the end of the day. He never let the first one pay him.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


where I been

Out in the snow with the camera getting pictures, these footprints to where I was standing stood out for a moment as an image of the past. The past is gone, never to return, but as we go along, step by step, moment by moment, we leave footprints. We all leave our own. The footprints we leave are the record of our past and particular to us individually. The news is talking about carbon footprints now, trading carbon footprints. I was thinking along the lines of our own detritus that falls from us everywhere we go, things we lose, words we say, general attitudes we leave in our wakes going through the day. These footprints of experiences are called our karma.

You might say our karma is what we carry with us from the past. The collection of our experiences create who we are, each one of us unique, because our varieties of experiences are unique to each individual, and the interpretation of those experiences. We can interpret experiences the same as we interpret dreams. The morning I found a turkey egg against the bottom of the door started me wondering about everyday life experiences the same as dreams. When you think about it, we perceive with our senses, sight, hearing, smell and taste, very subjective senses that pay attention to something of interest to the individual only. Different people have different interpretations of the same thing. Wm Faulkner would tell a story several times from various perspectives, each one a different story from the others.

Thoughts of the past tend to bring Jr to mind for his attitude toward it that the past is done and gone. It's over. The present is all there is. I think of melodramatic Masha from Chekhov's The Seagull. She says, I drag my life, a dead weight, after me, like the train of an endless dress....One must shake oneself and throw it all off. I came to suspect fairly strongly that Jr shook himself and threw the past off periodically, maybe every day. I also suspect he didn't like to look backward at the past because of what lay there for him, graves and heart aches he couldn't have made it through without his friend white liquor. I also believe he would say his indifference to the past is simply because it's nothing. I have a hard time talking about Jr in the past.

With minds that run continually, we can't help but think about the past even if we don't want to. The time Jr was incarcerated in Independence against his will, he told me one day about his concerns about his money being taken care of and not abused. The nursing home audited Ross's accounting with Jr's checkbook paying Jr's bills, and it came out he was not doing any misdeeds. I told Jr he has nothing to worry about. He smiled and said, "I have to think about somethin. There's nothin else to do in here." The same goes for out here, for anywhere. If there's a human mind anywhere, it's thinking. When I'm in NYC I feel a buzz of energy there that makes me want to get in motion and do something. I come back home and it's gone. That's where the go-getters are. A cluster of several million of them can generate a lot of psychic energy.

Memory is imperfect when it's good. It's really imperfect when it's bad. That's all we have of the past, imperfect memory. Sometimes it's what is called false memory. I've found I had several of them, and probably a great many more I haven't found. I've stumbled over enough to convince myself without intending to that I can't trust my memory. And that's ok. Because that's how it is. I'll always remember Jr saying 2 weeks before last breath, "I've gotta go to the hospital." I asked why. He said, "To find out what's wrong with my mind." This was after it had been gone a few months. I see my memory in decline after seeing his decline so rapidly when it went, and I know this is a natural process. That's how I felt about it with Jr. My part was to make him able to live at home despite having no mind left. I remembered details for him, like names.

For myself, I feel a kind of relief seeing memory dim. It's that much of the past I can't think about. I find my mind races less. It hardly races at all any more. A lot of the time I'll have a blank mind with nothing going on in it. I find it relaxing. I don't care to think about the moral bankruptcy of our corporate society any more. I can only respond to it with my boycott of one; separate myself from it as much as I can and go on living. It's not like it can be got away from without going off to the Yukon. Even then, there's the occasional coffee. Cartridges for a high powered rifle, the rifle.

There's no getting around the corporate indifference to the American people, which our corporate run government has adopted. We good Americans internalize our rage and it comes out someplace else that's altogether unrelated and inappropriate. One of those moments that make me say, Where'd that come from? Then we need prozac, zoloft and any of a thousand others. Depressed. There's no fulfillment. We've been reduced over the last half century from Americans who took pride in their work to peasants. We want more and more to be told what to do. In China, they hate it. Here, it's what we want. They would be happy to trade with us in that way. If people like Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney had absolute control, could execute at will, we'd have the same as China. We're no further than that away from it. We're well advanced into control by fear.

I'm looking at starting tomorrow to dig out the car. The road scraper has piled up the snow between it and the road as high as the hood. It's at least 10' to the road. I need to dig a trench a little wider than the car and that long. I'll go easy at it as shoveling snow is heart attack activity. Esp for somebody as out of shape as I've let myself go. I don't mind the spirit leaving the body. I like that part. But I don't want to leave a corpse by the side of the road for the next person driving by to find, stiff and cold. He's dead! Then freak out not knowing what to do. Get on the cell phone. Call 911. Old turd dead by the road, fingers clenching a snow shovel handle like Charleton Heston's cold dead hands on his rifle. Maybe I'll let the snow melt. I've got no place to be any time soon.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


justin & crystal

I went out for a walk in approximately 14" of snow. If the snow had fallen all night as forecast, we'd have had at least 2 feet. I looked outside at 8:30
last night and the snow had ended. A light mist of freezing rain was in the air. No more snow after that. It made a beautiful day. I was thinking this morning of a hippie band from early 70s called It's A Beautiful Day. They were actually pretty good. With a name like that, I didn't even want to hear them the first time, but they were good. I even bought something by them in the Age of Vinyl.

No radio show today. Sue never made it to the station. It never went on air. There was an attempt at mail delivery today. A red pickup came about 5 hours late and skipped my mailbox. It was too great a distance to the mailbox from where the road was scraped. Shux. A movie from netflix was in the mail today. Now I'll wait til whenever. If he couldn't reach the mailbox, he won't reach it Monday or any day next week. I'm not shoveling the snow from in front of the mailbox. Even if she could get out from home, then the driveway at the station I know has not been scraped. The station manager would never think to have something like that done. I couldn't have got out even if Sue had been able to make it to the station.
Every minute of the day I wanted to be out in the snow. Finally, about 3 I decided it was time to get out there. I liked the late in the day sun for shadows on the snow in pictures. I'd just stepped out into the road and getting a picture of the Catfish and mailbox with big piles of snow on them. Here comes a white pickup. I step out of the road into snow to my knees where the road scraper threw it. It was the sheriff. Must have been out 4-wheelin. Next, I'm walking along the road and here comes a 4-wheeler, and another over the top of the hill. I step out of the road and suddenly I'm face to face with Justin Smith and his wife Crystal I'd recently become acquainted with. Her dad worked on the Catfish to get it going perfectly.
I told Justin the sheriff just went by. The sheriff passed them earlier. Justin was surprised, because it's not legal to run the 4-wheeler on the road. But there's the same as no traffic today. We figured the sheriff wasn't going to get excited about it on a day like this, when he's the only thing on the road. The last sheriff was a thug and his deputies were a gang of thugs, one of them in prison for a long time, the one most passionate about putting young guy behind bars. He was a bully. I'll bet he's not a bully in prison, unless he can find the nerd all the bullies pick on. The sheriff we have now understands the law and he understands how it works. My feeling is that he's a fair minded sheriff. One of those things that comes under you'd think is a sheriff would be fair minded. That aint necessarily so. The sheriff before set kids up to send them to prison for however many years. The sheriff now sets kids up too, but more a warning than shipping them off to hell on earth for the sadistic thrill of it.
It was a happy occasion to see Justin and Crystal again. Justin's dad came between us in the most objectionable kind of way, sending messages to me by Justin and quizzing Justin for info on me. Making him into a spy that was very difficult for Justin to handle. That's when I had to step out of the game and let them do what they had to do and me not in it. I knew it wouldn't last long, in years. Back in May Justin and Crystal married. I was invited to the wedding, but looked at the tension my presence would create and chose to stay tension free. I learned later Justin's dad never went, and probably afraid he'd see me. We had a hard time over what he did to Justin and his own mother. Much tension.
I've met Crystal a couple times now. Her parents I think of as my friends. By friends, I mean people I believe I could call on in desperate need and they'd help. They're God loving people. They love Justin and respect him. He's the same toward them. He's in a good family where everybody cares about everybody else. The day I picked up the car from Chuck, Crystal's dad, she came into the office. It was the first time we talked. There was something about how she looked, her face, her countenance, that rang some bell I couldn't find. After getting the picture above of them, I looked at it full screen on the monitor and saw what it was. Their faces are almost exactly the same. It's like she is the female face of him and he is the male face of her. The more I looked at it with a curious eye, the more they looked alike.
Crystal is a worker. She's the kind of woman that impressed Jr. His wife Lois worked with Jr side-by-side all along their time together. Crystal started a photography studio for weddings and so on, and is busy as she can keep up with. Justin is a good worker too. And he can do anything. He has a good mind, just hasn't had a great deal of encouragement to focus it. He's doing well at his Napco job. She might be able to help him get some focus. He may already have it, for all I know. It's been a few years since I've seen Justin. I'm happy to see he's found a good home. He'd been waiting all his life for one.
The "perfect storm" turned out to be a gentle storm. There has been no wind to make the snow drift. A day of sunlight on it melting some of the surface molecules made just enough paper-thin ice on top to keep it in place. I don't know how it was other places. It's a beautiful snow, and so benevolent not sticking to wires and breaking tree limbs, white pines going off like shotguns when their limbs break. We were spared the worst it could have been, which is how it was prophesied. The worst didn't happen and we ended up with a beautiful snow on the ground and a good excuse to spend Saturday indoors, a full day off from everything.

Friday, December 18, 2009


snow lines

The weather forecasters weren't fooling. I wonder if it would have snowed if only 40% of the people believed it would snow when they heard the forecast. I can't help but think about global warming, which has become something like a politician running for election. If not enough votes back him up, he gets nowhere. It's like the snow. If not enough people believe the forecast, will the snow not fall? It's funny about the global warming issues that it's a political party opposed to believing it, whose members follow the party line, no matter how ridiculous it is, even when it's self-defeating. What does that mean? Nothing. What is, is. Believe it or don't. The sun is a star in the Milky Way Galaxy. If somebody doesn't believe it, it makes no difference. Anyway, enough people must have believed it would snow, if that made any difference. It looks like global warming will have to wait until 51% of Americans believe it. It continues up for election.

Around 4 I went outside for a walk up the road in the snow to get a feel for it and some photos. I wanted to get photographs of the falling snow. The snow was falling so fast out of the east I had to walk to the west to keep the snow out of my face and off the camera lens. Wasn't much but Christmas trees. It would have been better to walk in the woods where the snow falls straight down. Nonetheless, it inspired me to get my winter coat out of the closet I've not worn in several years. It's warm and has a hood that keeps the flying snow off my neck. The snow is powdery. It doesn't stick to wires and narrow tree limbs. If we have wind tonight, this snow will be bad to drift. I'm glad it's not sticking to the wires. It's the easiest kind of snow to walk in. It even has some traction in it making it less slippery than other kinds of snow. The tracks I made three hours ago are now as if they never were.

Jr told me that in the big snow of 1960, at least 5 feet that drifted big. He helped clear the roads of the county with a bull-noser. He pushed snow 14 hours a day for 21 days in a row. It was cold and windy. The snow he was pushing was blowing all over the place, esp around him. He showed me a locust tree once when we were out riding back roads on Meadow Fork Road where he'd been clearing with the bull-noser. He had marked the bark of the tree with the scoop in front. He measured it later and mark was 35 feet up the tree. The snow was deep back in there. It must have been a curious sight for him, riding the bull-noser on top of 35 feet of snow, the crowns of trees sticking up out of the snow.
My first winter in these mountains, I went into as unprepared as could be done. Arrived just in time for winter. Somebody I knew before, told me I'd be back in January. My thought at the time was, you don't know me. Before I left for the mountains, only 5 people I knew believed I knew what I was doing. Those 5 knew me. The others did not. That first winter was something to behold. It snowed so much I could not get off the road with the 4wheel Jeep pickup to get firewood, which I'd not had a chance to put up in advance. I was cutting trees from the side of the road, as directed by Tom and told which particular trees to take. That winter it snowed a foot, the top melted and refroze at night several times, giving it a good crust. Then it snowed 16" on top of that and the same thing, the top thawed in sunlight and froze at night, making another crust. These two layers of snow shrank as time went by, but not much. Two crusts to bust through every step.
Some years later I had to walk to the barn where I fed the cows in 16" of snow that fell in the night and the day before. I found a calf had been born. It was lying on the snow. I picked it up and carried it to the barn to get it out of the snow, hoping mother would follow. No. She wouldn't leave the spot where her baby had been. I carried it back out to her, to show her this is her baby, follow me. I walked to the barn and she wouldn't follow. I went ahead and put the bales of hay around for them to munch on. Then I took one to where the calf had been on the snow. Mother cow wouldn't leave the spot. I spread hay on the snow fairly thick to make an insulated cushion, went back to the barn, carried the calf again, and put it down on the hay.
This present snow is forecast to be a kind of "perfect storm" where two storms met and became one. It's not snowing now at 8:45 pm. No breeze. Peaceful and quiet out there. And 24 degrees. In the morning I'll wake up and see what happened in the night. If it doesn't snow any more, I can go out early and shovel the Catfish out of its parking place easily and get to the radio station. I'd like to drive the Catfish in this kind of snow to get the feel for it. New tires and front wheel drive, it will do about as good as 4wheel. The roads will be packed down snow on top of ice. Slick. With a new vehicle, I'd like to get some time in feeling how it drives in these conditions. It seems to have a good center of gravity.
A walk in these mountains in snow can be as magical a moment as anything called magical. Mountain landscape in snow is as beautiful as it gets. I drive along and gawk like somebody in NYC the first time. In the navy it was against the rules to "skylark." That means hang about and watch the ocean. I did that all the time. I didn't have to be any particular place to see it. I was always aware of it. Indoors, I had the motion of the ship. I loved the ocean. It's the same with these mountains. In snow is mighty nice. I can't say it doesn't get better, because about June they're rather remarkable, autumn colors are too. Snow is one of the many beautiful moments in these mountains. Every day has its own beauty, but some days are extra special, like when the mountains are covered with a blanket of snow.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


find tarbaby

The forecast is calling for it and everybody is talking about it. Snow. A good day to go to the grocery store if you want to see a lot of people. The parking lot was full to where the only places left to park were down at the end by the Chinese take-out place. That's where I wanted a place. Needed to get some catfood at Food Lion and some other necessities. Then to the Chinese place for something to take home. I believe it does a body good to eat something that tastes so good it feels good going down and continues to feel good after it's been down awhile.

The fun thing about our Chinese restaurant is it could be in any Chinatown anywhere in the world, and anywhere in China. They talk in Chinese behind the counter. The sound system, a small stereo, very small, Asian small, plays a Chinese chanteuse who is probably a pop sensation in the Chinese language part of the world, which is substantial. 2 white middle class women were having a meal in there. One of them asked them to turn it down. I've seen so many Chinese films their language is familiar, though I can't make anything out. I know one word. Ha means Yes. Though if I were to say it, it would mean something else. Has to be said just right. Like you don't say yees for yes.

I imagine they like to watch Jackie Chan and Jet Li and a long list of Chinese movies. It's a big industry in Hong Kong, Beijing and Taiwan. Some beautiful films are coming out of those places. Some extraordinarily awful ones are too. They seem to never get enough martial arts mayhem. There is also Zhang Zimou, director of fine works of contemporary art. There are several others making high quality film, which is possible because boxoffice is not the bottom line. Sometimes, in mainland China, a director will be banned from making a film for a couple of years, because he made China look bad or something that challenged the party line. They walk a thin line. We have our military censors who have to approve anything in a film with military in it, as well as party line. Hollywood self-censors. It's like they're the inmates and the guards. Good behavior.

Food Lion was bustling. It wasn't as bad at the registers as usual. So many people were in there, they had all the registers going. The only problem when it's busy is all these displays in the aisles that block the flow of traffic, make people stop and negotiate who's going to do what. They're a nuisance, but it's marketing strategy. When it gets in your way, you notice it. A grocery store is a marketing wonderland. A lot of people study marketing in depth. They write books and make computer programs. People are hired out of universities in the field of marketing to work a computer and fine tune down to pennies. I'm actually fascinated by the frequent changes of stock arrangements. Obvious marketing strategy when it's getting so frequent now that the people working there have a hard time keeping up with it as much as the customers. But I don't want to know about all those subtleties. I know enough as it is. Live in our American culture all your life and you become versed in advertising.

I'm one of the shoppers they understand. I go after what I go in there for, sometimes a basket full, sometimes just catfood. I don't even look at displays. Why would I want 10 of something I don't want when I can save a dollar getting 10? Instead of 8 or 3 or 1, or none. If I don't buy any, I save at least $15. I never understood how spending is saving. As many people as were in there today, I don't remember seeing anyone I knew.

The snow appears to be a certainty. Strangely, I bought 2 half gallons of buttermilk today. I never do that. It just came to me looking at the milk section I almost never go to, that I like buttermilk and haven't had any in many a year. I guess you could say that was an impulse purchase. It had a card on it that said 2 for whatever the amount was. I thought, yeah, I'll give that a go. I've forgotten what it tasted like. Pet. When I was a kid, Pet advertised a kid's show called the Big Top or something like that. I have a psychological affection for Pet dairy products. I didn't know that until today when I saw myself pick up 2 Pet half gallons. I remembered the Big Top and the kid ringmaster who dressed as a clown and had a red pingpong ball nose. They had things like Chinese circuses that were unforgettable, somebody bends over backwards and sticks their head up between their legs, or spins pie tins on a stick, does tricks with multiple rings.

It looks like the snow really is coming. Looks like it will start around noon tomorrow, Friday, and snow all night. A foot or so forecast. I don't doubt it. We'll soon see. It will be wonderful. I've noticed hearing tv weather every once in awhile and radio weather reports, they seem to be making the weather as sensational as possible now. I've got to where I tell my friends in Atlanta who want to come up here to their place and see a weather forecast on tv that sounds like it will be the snow of the century, to check with me. They make 2 inches of snow sound like the big blizzard we'll never forget. I don't like to hear that dramatic weather reporting. Maybe it makes better ratings and gets broadcast awards, but I'm glad I don't get pumped full of that.

After the snow plows do their thing, the Catfish will be behind a wall of snow waist high and I'll have to go at it with the snow shovel. I'm ready to hunker down for several days. As long as we have electricity, I'll be fine. Without electricity, it's panic time. I like getting snowed in. Like it a lot. I may go out from time to time and shovel my walkway to the road so it won't get so deep I have to punch through the snow every step. Snowed in, unfortunately, I'll have to miss the radio show. I don't even know if there will be radio Saturday morning after an all day and all night snow. Might be a wet snow too, as the day's high will be 32 for a few minutes in mid afternoon. It does look like a certainty there will be snow.