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Wednesday, September 30, 2009


composition in gray #9

There was a time today when 5 people came to see Jr at the same time, and not in a group of 5. It just worked out that these people all came to see him independently at the same time. It took raising him from his pillow. I like for his friends and relatives to see him as he is now so they will know. I believe it's important for them to know how he is in every phase of his fade. I tell them their visit is important to him even if he doesn't know who it is or what they're saying. It is. He will ask me later tonight or tomorrow some time while he's up riding the wheelchair who all those people were. I will tell him about them individually and he will gradually catch on. I explained to them he's in a daze that sometimes sees with some clarity and sometimes does not. They're neither one predictable.

I want them to see him, because, like I explained to 2, because it's important to him to be visited, makes him feel good even though it wears him out and he doesn't know who it is. I don't tell anyone that just a few weeks ago he said to me, "I've got a short time to live and nobody is coming to see me." Days go by when no one comes to see him. Everyone tells of how important I am to Jr. They mean it. I appreciate it. The very best was a few days ago when I was at my wits end, being short with him family style. When I had everything cleaned up and him settled clean in the bed with head on pillow, I put my hand on his shoulder and said, "I really do care about you." He said, "You sure do," and drifted into sleep or wherever it is he goes. I don't need any more than that.

Monday night 1am I wake to a loud crash. The kind of thing that the first thought in my mind as I woke was, Is this it? He had been up riding the wheelchair. The carpeting in the house is like mud for his wheelchair. He rolls 3 inches forward, 2 inches back each turn of the wheel. He doesn't get anywhere very fast, especially through doorways. He likes the floor in the other part of the house because it's hardwood and smooth like a gym floor. He likes to roll the wheelchair in there, because it's so easy and he can actually make it roll. When he came back out, he found the door that I had leaned against the wall just this side of the door he went through, believing it out of the way, out of his way, safe.

After he came through the doorway on the return, he went to close the door that I had leaning against the wall. It crashed, broke a little bit of stuff, made a big bang that woke me. He sat in his wheelchair like an innocent baby, had no idea what happened except the door fell down. He was bewildered, not knowing what to make of it. I told him it was all right, not a problem, nothing got hurt. I showed him how I had the door leaning there and explained he tried to close it instead of the other door. And it's not a problem. All is well. He was glad to know that. It eased his guilt of doing something he didn't know he did.

Explaining doesn't help a very great deal, but I still know Jr is inside there even when it seems like he isn't. I know that he understands what I'm doing and what I'm saying on the level of the subconscious, possibly bypassing the conscious that has lost its foundation. I know Jr is understanding me, so I talk to him as I always have. One part of his mind may miss it, but the other part gets it, and that's the part I'm talking to anyway. I feel like I have a feel for what he's going through, not an understanding, but a feel. Though he's far away, he's also present. His mind is a fog, but we can communicate in a fog like we can drive in a fog, just not as fast as in the clear. That's ok. His mind has slowed down considerably, and I go with it as I see it.

It's become so interesting keeping with his changes as he declines in body and mind that it somehow bypasses the sorrow I feel for his condition. I pay close attention when he talks, unless it's jibberish in slurred and mixed up words, I respond to him and he understands. When somebody stands there and talks to him, I feel compelled to explain that he can't understand sentences any more. Phrases or words. But I can't do that, because Jr also likes the sound of being talked to and pretends he understands what he's hearing. When he can't act any more, he starts talking about something entirely unrelated and he talks away what energy he has left, then he lies down and puts his head on the pillow and he's gone. I've learned how to stay with his mind and be able to communicate with him along the way. It has its moments, but for the most part we communicate very well, because I let him lead the way when we talk, as I'm never sure what he can comprehend.

Say something to him that causes him to have to stop and think about it, he can't do it. His mind goes blank. Nothing. There are times that visitors talk past his comprehension, and I feel a need to advise them, but can't do it. It's such a long list of things I'd have to tell everyone, that it becomes something everyone has to discover for themselves. And again, the only thing that's important is that the presence of a visitor be there. He didn't know who was there today, but during the course of the day tomorrow, he'll ask me questions and gradually piece it together who was there. When he gets it, he's got it. Then it's gone. But that's ok, because it happened and the real Jr deep within was aware the whole time, and that moment was all it's about.

It seems like he's trapped in the present, but then I think what a ridiculous thought. Trapped in the present. The present is all there is. Is that really trapped? Like being trapped in the universe. Just trapped in existence. But in Jr's mind he's only trapped in a mind that doesn't work. The Jr within that is the observer is the same, it's just that he has very limited control over expression. So I regard him and talk to the Jr I know is inside at the same time I talk to the Jr that can only understand words and phrases. This is why I can't turn him over to a nursing home. I know he's in there fresh, alert, alive like he's always been. The body and mind don't work anymore, but that doesn't mean he's not there.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


My friends have been on my mind a lot today and what it means to be a friend and have a friend. Jr makes a good example, because anyone who ever met Jr Maxwell is his friend. I've spoken that to several people who have known him all his life and they all agree it's how he is. It's real and genuine too, not anything about it insincere. Of course, he's been at odds with some people along the way, as we all do, as is part of our existence, but if any of them was to walk in his door you'd never notice there'd ever been a problem, because in his mind it's over. It's in the past. This is now.

This is a man who has lived his entire life in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Whitehead, a rough way of living, a rough life, and he loved it rough. In a way, he has a case of short man syndrome, but it's kept to himself and he was never one to try to make himself seem bigger than he is. When he was a kid, whoever it was keeping the Whitehead store at the time, kept boxing gloves in the store for anybody who wanted to box. The boys took to it. Jr, of course, was good, because he was good at everything he put his hand to.

He learned foremost, it seems from looking over his whole life, that taking it is more important than giving it. He never gave it, so to speak, in any kind of aggressive way in his whole life. Never once had a fight without the boxing gloves, and that wasn't over being mad. Like a natural born martial artist who knows he can kill anybody with one finger, but never does it, even if provoked, a man with a gun is the same.

He had an older brother, who, in Jr's words, 'was too quick with a gun,' and ultimately shipwrecked Jr's life and the lives of many others in one moment of that quickness. Jr was a constable in Whitehead for several years and never arrested anyone. A couple of boys get drunk and fighting and making a ruckus, he takes them home. He mentioned one boy who was into all kinds of trouble regularly from being drunk and stupid. He drove the boy home one night after an ordeal and talked with him about what he was doing and what it was getting him. They guy was never in trouble again, set out living a sensible life and did all right. One day many years later he came to the shop to see Jr and tell him how that night had changed his life.

My first experiences with Jr was putting up hay with him and Lois in my first year on the farm. They made it fun. It wasn't like work. Jr talking telling funny stories, pure, raw mountain as they get. I'd been getting acquainted with mountain people gradually, learning how to know people in a way I'd never known before. In the culture I came from the amount of information you could amass in your head was important. In this culture it's your character that's important, or used to be. Still is among the older people and the lovers of God. It took me a long time to adjust to being around people who'd never heard of Elizabeth Bishop or Andy Warhol and didn't want to. So I had high phone bills for several years talking with friends from my former culture gradually weaning myself of it.

It's another world of thinking, another world of doing. Like Jr quit school after 11th grade because he wanted to work and be making some money. Me, I wanted to be in school because I didn't have to work if I was in school. I'd have put off growing up forever, if it weren't a process that gets you later if it doesn't get you sooner. Jean put her finger on it: she said I live my life like a college student. I guess you'd call it arrested development. Or maybe it's just that I've felt transient all my life until I got here to the mountains that crept into me gradually until there came a time that when I left the mountains to go to a city, I felt like I was in a world of crazy people and wanted to get back to where the sensible people live.

Then it got to where I can't cross the county line without intent to be back before bedtime. I don't want out of these mountains and I don't want out of this county. Even narrower to Whitehead would suit me, but I do need the mall that Sparta is. It's a mall where you drive from store to store instead of walk. Like today I needed to drive to town to drop some prescription bottles off at Halsey's, the purpose of the drive to town, then to Kerr where I picked up a little spiral notebook for keeping notes. I've found I make a lot of notes and lists lately, am always looking for scraps of paper to write them on. Finally it came upon me to carry a small notebook and write the notes in it. The last one is down to 3 pages, so I went to Kerr to get another. Then back to the house fast as I could git, like Arnold Schwarzenegger riding a dirt bike away from an exploding factory inches ahead of the flames.

Today's entry, 'Life should be about fun.' a quotation from the Hong Kong men-with-guns movie I saw this afternoon by John Woo called HARD BOILED. Was it ever. Chow Yun Fat of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON said it. He's a gun toting Hong Kong cop who is out there on his own, like a Steven Seagal character without, of course, the slightest character development. It was about gunfire from start to finish. Just what I wanted to see. In Hong Kong men-with-guns movies the only time guns aren't going off is when they're reloading, every 10,000th round. It was pure Surrealism in camoflage. Woo makes a visually stunning film. Content is a void, but that's ok. It's a genre that is sometimes fun. This one definitely is. You don't even need subtitles. Good soundtrack.

The next time I saw Jr was the next summer down at Ralph Crouse's trout farm at the foot of the mountain in Whitehead, in the bend on Air Bellows Gap Road. The following summer I helped Ralph out some at the trout ponds, like seining a mess of the trout to deliver a given number to High Meadows and Roaring Gap restaurants. Jr and Ralph were neighbors and friends all their lives, and sometimes Jr came by, and when he saw me he spoke to me by name. I'd already learned very well never to expect anyone I meet to remember my name next time we meet or that they've ever seen me. When I was used to it, Jr spoke to me by name, and I thought, What? It stood out. Listening to him and Ralph talk in their mountain way of speaking was one of my joys. I first wrote down accent, but it's not accent. It's a way of speaking unto itself.

They went off for a couple weeks to restore an old log cabin and make it like original someplace where they had to take a trailer to sleep in and have a kitchen. They asked me to go along, but I was committed at the Stern farm in the busy time of year and couldn't justify going, though really wanted to. The thought of participating in the restoration of an old log cabin with two mountain men who can do anything like that, and what I could have learned from them has haunted me ever since. Seeing it then as I see it now, I would have gone.

Monday, September 28, 2009


waiting for it

While Jr was sleeping in the early afternoon, I made a run to town to get some cat food. All out of dry and would need more wet after today. Now that I'm driving Jr's car, I leave a window open so TarBaby can jump inside and curl up on the driver's side of the back seat. As soon as he's had his meal, out the door he goes, and later when I leave I find him in the back seat looking at me. He doesn't like to get out. If I leave the back door open and start the motor, he's gone.

TarBaby's only riding experience is inside the travel box in the front seat of the truck. He didn't like it. He never got used to it. I don't like to have to put him in it by surprise. I'd like to give him a little notice so he'll understand what's going on. But I've found the element of surprise is the only way to go. If I tell him what I have in mind, he'll disappear and I'll never see him the rest of the day. When I bring the box in the house, all the cats know what it is and they don't like it. But I leave it on the floor with door open and cushion inside. One will step inside and look around, but that's it. It only has one meaning for them: the vet. Get grabbed by the back of the neck and held with slits for eyes, needles, something in the rear end that's a surprise. They all 3 stand there and take it, but they don't like it.

TarBaby is the biggest baby of the 3. He curls up in the back of the cage and cries. Meao! Meao! Meao! I talk to him, telling him we're going to the doctor, because if we don't he'll get bad sick. It doesn't soothe him at all. The only thing that works with TarBaby is to put one finger through the wires in the gate and let him rub the sides of his face on it. Every critter I've had along the way has gone into shock at the top of Twin Oaks Mtn where the scents from the vet's office flow up that holler beside the road. Our noses don't even notice, but a dog and a cat nose sure do notice. Like the dogs I've lived with, one might be lying down curled up on the seat while I'm driving on highway. I pass skunk roadkill and dog is up on feet looking all around for something to chase.

All the dogs that have lived here rode on the seat in the truck. When I drive on a gravel road they'd be up watching. As soon as I'd get on pavement, they'd curl up and have a snooze. With the first one, Sadie, when I'd come up on a fox in the gravel road, it would inevitably take off running down the road in front of the truck. Sadie would have her front feet on the dash squealing at me to stop and let her out. She was half fox dog. Anything we'd come up on the gravel road, she would get anxious about and want out to go catch it. But foxes really got her going. For me, it was beautiful driving down the road and 20 or so feet ahead of me is a fox running. Like those times when a hawk flies in front of the hood.

I do miss a four-legged companion driving. Cats aren't much fun to ride with. They like to walk on your shoulders. Years ago in rural Georgia, east of Covington, I was stopped at a stop sign on a rural road that ran beside I-20. A woman in a rough looking old pickup made a right turn from across the road from me, to take the bridge over the interstate. While she was in the turn, the Siamese cat that was on her shoulder went flying out the window with all paws fanned out trying to fly. It hit the road and tumbled a couple of times, got up and dashed to the grass beside the road. It was my turn at the stop sign and I went straight ahead. I had a strong impulse to help her get the cat, but there was so much traffic at those stop signs, I had to let it be one of those misfortunes I witness in motion and it's outside my reach. I can't control everything, starting with myself.

When I think of dogs, first one that comes to mind now is my great great grandfather's dog. I don't know the dog's name. The place: Ninemile, Tennessee, between Crossville and Pikeville. 60 miles due north of Chatanooga in the Cumberland Plateau. Great great grandpa shot himself in the barn lot when he was 74. His dog wouldn't let anyone near the body until the 3rd day. That, in my way of seeing, is a good dog. It's not that I want a mean dog, but all dogs have in them a loyalty to their human, ready at all times to take on anything to protect the human, never needing a moment to think about it. What I found interesting about the people is they didn't kill the dog. They let the dog do what it had to do. It's not like killing a dog in that time was anything but easy. Pop. That's it. Just a dog. I find everything about that story remarkable, am glad I know it.

Great great grandpa is another thing. I'd say he was a hard core man in his time. Worked on railroads in Alabama young making money to buy a farm back home. Bought the farm, wife and kids. The Civil War. He and his 4 brothers went. All but one returned. He died in a Yankee prison in New Jersey. When I hear Jimmy Arnold sing Rebel Soldier I think of him. Will my soul pass through the Southland? It must have been terrible for a Southern boy to die up North.

Great great grandpa reconstructed his farm when he returned home after no telling what kind of horrors for wife and kids. He had some degree of post-war syndrome, angry all the time, drove all his boys away from him. There were no heirs left in the county for his will. I expect he tilted the fruitjar a bit too. Most likely a good dancer, a proud dancer who made fancy kicks. He is said to have caused at least 4 illegitimate kids and blamed them on his boys. I imagine him everybody's friend outside the house, but in the house, look out. Daddy's drunk again. But the man had a dog that loved him.

Love between a human and a dog is a beautiful love. Same with a cat. They've been bred to be our pets for so many thousand years they've become part of us. They wouldn't do well on their own. I suspect one motivation for the love they have for us is that we give them shelter in a human world that has no place for a dog without a human. Without a human, a dog is in trouble. There's no place for it. Other dogs' territories everywhere. My dog friends are as loved in my memory as my human friends. Possibly one of the great attractions of pets for humans is they don't gossip, they're not fickle, and they don't judge. That's the big one.

It used to bewilder Tom Pruitt that people told him things they didn't tell anybody else. He said it had been like that all his life. He didn't know why. It's because he didn't judge. And he didn't gossip. If you entrusted something to Tom, it went no further. We all need a friend like that.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


sky brooding

The sky is clear this morning after 2.5 inches of rain in two days. The highway is wet, the lawn is wet, cars are wet, the sun is out, the wind is flowing up the highway 18 wind tunnel through Whitehead, west to east. Years ago, Jr planted a couple of white pines and some other growth to the west of the house, which slows the wind down considerably where I am, outside on the cement slab porch. Out beyond the white pines, the wind is making the sycamore dance like a big-leg woman doing the bump. Isaac Hayes had a song in his disco (cocaine) period, "Juicy Fruit sure is cute / in her sexy jump suit." I think of the tree in a green jump suit, Juicy Fruit, doing the bump, a whistle hanging around her neck like a coach, blowing the whistle while she bumped with everybody around her on the dance floor.

I look at the dance of the tall grasses on the edge of the lawn, the kind that favor a bushy foxtail on a long stem. A cluster of them is moving slowly, dancing like flame, no two nanoseconds alike, them glowing, backlit by morning sun. It's the same with the sycamore dancing like flame. Of course, I'm thinking of a contained flame like in a fireplace where we can watch a fire and feel good about it. A fire out of control is something we don't think is so pretty. The wind is getting to be such that it's approaching impractical to stay outside where I'm thinking more about how cold it is than anything else. Seems like it's colder than it was a few minutes ago when it was pleasant.

I came inside because I'm not like somebody who climbs Himalayan mountains and thinks it's just starting to get good at zero. It felt warmer when I went out there when it was 57 degrees than it does now at 59.7. It's the kind of temperature that's all right for awhile, but if you're going to stay in it, need to dress for it. Green and yellow leaves fly up the highway wind tunnel alongside brightly colored motorcycles. I saw a buzzard wobbling this way and that, unable to keep it steady, like a boat on rough water, or good sense in a troubled mind.

The phone rang. Then Jr got up. He drank an ensure. At 1 in the morning he was up and peed in the wheelchair, then tried to get back into the bed. I woke from him calling me. He was on the bed from the waist up, face down, his legs hanging down, and he couldn't move. It was awkward to work with. If I remember correctly, which I don't, I believe I had to tuck one arm down to his side, and roll him over that way, pulling his legs up and over. That only partially got done. It hurt him so bad I had to stop. We agreed on something that wouldn't hurt so much, me taking him by his ribs and scooting him on his back to where his head was on the pillow, then pull the inert legs up and onto the bed. Jr moaning, "I don't know what I'd do without you." He does, but we don't talk about that anymore; the answer is to obvious to mention. He's having a difficult time, but he's not in despair.

What shape I'm in, I don't know. I find myself wiping a tear from one eye or the other, or both, from time to time during the day. Nothing in my mind I feel weepy about, that is, that I'm aware of. I do find myself in a state of constant sorrow, that male thing Ralph Stanley put his finger on. When that movie brought the song to mainstream awareness, I was struck by how men took to it in such a mass way. It's a song Ralph Stanley has to sing at every concert. About 7 years ago I went to Ziggy's in Winston-Salem to see Papa Roach, a suburban punk band that made one great album. When they played, "I know my mother loves me, but does my father really care?" a male chorus went up from the audience singing along, drowning out the band's vocalist.

The whole song was sung male chorus, by me too. I knew the words. One of those songs that's called anthemic, like it could be our national anthem except for its absence of political cliches. I thought: Wow, we men have a collective problem that's for real, depression. I tried prozac for a few years, but started missing myself. I was in a sweet mood all the time and nothing got me down, but, I told myself, this is only half of it. I want the whole deal. If my karma is such that it's created a depressive, well it's done the same to everybody else, so rather than shelve it away in a prozac high, I wanted to go back to living it. Feeling sorrow is a legitimate feeling too, not to be denied, though not to be dwelled on either.

I'm not afraid of sorrow. Some people cut out their sorrows by cutting out their joy. I don't go around with a television bright-eyed smile on my face like I'm running for election all the time. I don't want to look like I think I'm on tv. Besides, all that bright white-teeth smile says to me is somebody is trying to sell me something. Usually, it just means, like me. Maybe I lean more to the sorrow side of the scale than to the joy side. So what? Everybody has their own place on that scale, mine is mine. And bell curves don't dictate normal. Nothing dictates normal, because there's no such entity and never was meant to be. What we call normal is a certain code of conformity to adhere to, like in America we conform to want more money than you need, any way you can get it.

I feel a great deal of what I think of as legitimate sorrow in this time with Jr. I don't believe I'm ruled by it. And it doesn't feel neurotic. I see in my mind right now a woman I came face to face with at the side door to the library a few months ago. She wanted to know what I'm doing since my store went under. Like that was the only thing in my life. I didn't quite know how to answer. Did she really want to know? No. Was she ready to sit down and listen for a while? No. Then I must, again, reduce my answer to a phrase, because she was just making talk. I said, "Getting some joy back in my life."

She said, "Back in your life?" with the awe of surprised amazement. Like what kind of a life do you have where you have joy? I thought, What have I done? Wasn't it a simple answer? Her face fell and she said, "I've never had any joy in my life." Her husband came to mind and I thought, No doubt. I didn't know what to say. My impulse was to hold her and give her a meaningful hug, but that would have been too awkward. I didn't know her well enough. Her husband doesn't like me anyway, and if she told him I hugged her, I'd do well to get a bulletproof vest and carry a gun. Too much trouble. I gave her a look that said, I'm sorry for you, and let it go.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


behind the wheel

Today was the day of the parade getting rained on. At the radio station this morning I was reading the weather on the half hour. The forecast for this day was the worst (for rain) of any around it. I thought it might be kind of interesting to have everyone in the parade carry an umbrella and everyone watching the parade with umbrellas. That would be quite a spectacle seen from the air. I recall a rain at a Wayne Henderson fest. A field of multi-colored umbrellas. It being a middle class event, very colorful synthetic clothes. It's the same at Merlefest. It's the cool tshirt showplace. Everybody wears their cool tshirt. And many of them really are.

This morning I played some Dock Boggs to get started. He played banjo and sang the old songs from Norton, Virginia, same place Ralph Stanley's bass player, Jack Cooke, lives. Worked in coal mines. The recording came from a concert in 1966 at ASU in Boone. Then some Wade Ward, who lived in or around Independence, Virginia. He played with Charlie Higgins and Dale Poe for much of his adult life. Played Ward picking banjo. Then Ola Belle Reed from her radio show recorded live in her country store, I think Oxford, Pennsylvania. She has a special way with songs of the heart. Like I'll Wear A White Rose, or Lamp Lighting Time in the Valley. Her voice doesn't have a great deal of range, but she can get the feeling across. The NC news wasn't on--they were playing what sounded like an infomercial, so I went back and played a song by Roscoe Holcomb of Hazard, Kentucky. And last was the best, Great Speckled Bird recorded in a holiness church around Hazard, beautifully sung.

This morning was the first time I came close to calling Sue and asking her to cover for me. I was not in a mood for it. I wanted to brood. On the other hand, I looked at it as a chance to get out of the house. We had a rough night last night starting at 4am. I was not able to get back to sleep, afraid I'd oversleep and miss the radio show on time. Must be on the air on time. The ordeal in the night was not a matter of mess to clean up, but seeing how far away Jr has gone over the last few days. It's not another decline. Now it's a continuing decline. And just a few days ago he drifted over into pitiful. The kind of pitiful that makes me want to cry, that frustrates me like crazy, and finally I end up in sorrow, where I just about stay now.

Jr discovered last night that if he backs the wheelchair into the pottie chair, knocks it over and puts the wheelchair on the spot where it stood, then the wheelchair is the pottie chair. A whole lot easier than before when he had to struggle out of the wheelchair into the pottie chair and then back, and then back to bed. I could not reach him. I tried to explain as simply as I could that it doesn't work like that. It was like I was telling him something that simply wasn't so. He knew it and looked at me wondering why I didn't get it. It's obvious. What's the big deal? He had it all figured out. And it's still that way. I've had to plead with him to use the diapers he's wearing, and he may eventually, as it gets more and more difficult for him to get out of the bed.

This morning, in acute frustration that helps me understand elder abuse, not that I have any inclination to be mean to him, but, oh boy, it takes some self-control, getting with myself and saying, Why so upset? It's like getting upset over a baby crying all night. It comes from such innocence, from outside guile, that it can only be regarded with patience and understanding. Without patience and understanding, I really do understand how some old people get taken away from their homes by Social Services and put into nursing homes, where it's actually better for them.

One time a few years back, a block-headed smart-mouth, who knew no need to back up anything he said with fact or anything near it, had heard some BS from a major BSer and came to me, hands on hip attitude, and said, "You're hurting Jr!" He meant by letting him drink when he wanted to. The only thing I had to say was, "That's not possible." It was a totally unprovable charge, one of those moments that to say, who do you think you are, would be redundant. Like now that Jr is really outside himself and acting like a baby, I can't get upset over his behavior. All I can do is go on making things as easy for him as I'm able.

A few weeks ago a couple of the angels from Hospice advised me that he's entering the stage where he will become frustrating. He's there. Yet, while I really do get frustrated, I don't allow it to motivate any of my action. Even though Jr doesn't seem to be in there anymore, I still know the Jr I've appreciated all these years is still in there, he's just trapped in a body and a mind that don't work anymore. It is still my friend, Jr Maxwell, in there, an observer and not much else anymore. I told him back when he had his mind that I'm with him to the end. If he gets beyond what I can handle, I'll learn how to handle it.

When I look at him he looks like he is trying to figure out who I am. I smile to him and he smiles back. He dislikes the shape he's in much more than I do. If I think it's frustrating for me, it's something way beyond frustration for him. Knowing his inner observer is the same now as when he had his right mind, I continue to treat him as I always have, with respect. That respect breaks through the frustration and makes it manageable. I couldn't do this with somebody I didn't know and care about with a great deal of respect. It's respect that will always be there between us and guide my action.

Friday, September 25, 2009


A dozen or so crows were in the lawn pecking at apple slices I'd put out for them. A hawk flew through the space from the left side where there is meadow, to the right side where there is meadow. It caught my attention from the corner of my eye. It looked like a rabbit flying about 4ft above the ground from left to right. All the crows lifted into the air at once and took off flying. The hawk came back by from the right, flying after a crow that went around the left side of the house.

The the hawk came back and flew over the lawn chasing a crow that flew up into a locust tree. The hawk landed in the tree a few branches below the crow. It jumped a branch toward the crow. The crow jumped a branch away. The hawk hopped a branch again. The crow hopped a branch, the crow using the tree for protection from the hawk, and I had a feeling it was decoying the hawk to give the other crows time to get away. It can't fly and maneuver in the tree. The crow and the hawk sat and groomed themselves for a little while, thinking about what to do next. The crow left the tree flying fast as it could go. The hawk took off after it. It was a big hawk, not a redtail. The tail feathers had black and brown bars. I didn't know hawks went after crows. Of course they would. Evidently a crow can outmaneuver a hawk like a mockingbird can outmaneuver a crow.

A couple days ago I was sitting on the porch watching 2 buzzards circling in a thermal the other side of the road. A crow flew in among them and joined them circling, the crow riding the updraft like the buzzards, around and around. Then, like a buzzard, the crow left the circle and glided in a straight line to where it wanted to go.

Today for the first time I played call and response with a crow. I'd stepped out to the porch while the crow was on a fence rail. It flew to the trees across the highway. I watched it and saw it light on a branch. After a short time it let out a crow sound, not the caw, but one of their many other sounds. I called back, imitating the best I could, which wasn't very good, but close enough I believed it got the bird's attention. The crow made another call, and I imitated that one, again, the best I could, which wasn't much, but the crow was getting it that I was attempting to grasp its language.

Imitating words like a child. That's yellow. Say yellow. Yell-ow. Good. Say it again. Yell-ow. That's kind of how it was. The crow gave me a sound to imitate and I did the best I could. I don't think it mattered that I wasn't exact; it was close enough to let the crow know I was imitating. I was, after all, one of the giants that every living thing is afraid of for good reason. The crow was getting it the giant that throws apple slices and other treats to the crows was attempting communication, paying attention to his language, repeating it back to him, the best the human could do. We went on like this for probably 15 or 20 minutes. They make clicking sounds too, sounds really difficult to imitate. I returned clicking sounds, but not nearly as fast as a crow can make them. It was one of the moments of my life I hold as a treasure and will never forget.

I felt like I was communicating across at least two major leaps in consciousness. When I had chickens in childhood that were my pets, plus they made eggs to eat, we communicated very well. I had birds in cages in childhood too. A couple of canaries, one at a time, and a couple of parakeets the same way. My first 10 years in the mountains I kept a flock of chickens. So I go into this exchange with the crow having a little experience with bird consciousness.

This crow in the tree across the road seemed a bit dumbfounded to witness one of the giants of the earth calling back, imitating it so many times that the bird knew I was playing a mind game with it. It made quite a variety of the sounds crows make, which I find rather complex like sounds in a language that are spoken a particular way. Especially, now that I know crows have to learn their language, that it is a language. Like in Chinese where the same word has different meanings according to the tone. We have that too in certain words with a range of meanings, like rendition. Same tone, very different meanings.

A moment of communication with even a human is one of the most delightful aspects of life on earth. I don't mean communication like television is communications, because it's not. Communication is when it's between two consciousnesses, human, dog, possum, duck. I turn on a tv and it's Ellen DeGeneris talking. She's not talking to me. She's just talking. She's a talking artist, so she has a talk show.

Australian aborigines believe our voices are meant for singing praise to the Creator only. Talk is jabber full of lies, interpretations, self-serving memory, no good, not worth the energy expended. I feel in touch with the flow when I'm able to have a verbal exchange with someone of another language. We can always manage when our languages aren't the same. I've got around in Greece and Italy and Germany not knowing any of those languages, and was able to communicate outside language. Like some one in Greece says, Par-a-ka-lo. I say, Par-a-ka-lo. I sound like a parrot, but it's a moment of communication. The crow says something and I say it back until it becomes a game and we communicate playing a verbal game. Evidence to me the four-leggeds and winged have intelligence too, they like games.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


remains of a day and time

The two angels flew up the driveway to hover over Jr and make him better. A very little bit before they arrived he'd made a mess. It was all his mind that's gone haywire. It gets fixed on something and that's it, for days and nights. He's at that second time in life when fecal matter is interesting. I left him to them, because they came to clean him up and they do it a lot better than I can. Then later in the day he went and made another mess. I'll never figure out how it happened and don't care to try. Let the mystery be.

He feels so bad about the messes he makes without any self control, he sometimes looks at me expecting me to bark at him, but I don't. I put on the rubber gloves and do as I've been trained by the 2 angels. Rubber gloves first. That's such a good thing to have. It makes all the later stuff easy. Peel those gloves off when done, drop them in the trash and that's it, clean hands. They have the cleanup down to a minimal fine art. When they're done, one of those plastic grocery store bags full of this, that and the other, tied at the top and dropped in the trash is all that's left.

I've learned how to do as they've taught me. They leave plenty of the kinds of supplies we need, rubber gloves, some absorbent pads, some washrag things that don't need water and soap. It's not a great deal that's needed. It's just knowing what is needed and having it. This kind of prepared readiness state I'm in has informed me to get the fire extinguisher for the car. Something really bad can be reduced to something easy to manage with a little conscious readiness. I look at the interiors of other people's cars when we talk and I see fire bombs. I pray that the people of my world be safe from these bombs we travel in.

We are an intelligent civilization. We have all kinds of really worthwhile aids to existence; collectively we have tremendous intelligence, yet we have to have wars that kill off and hinder intelligence, while at the same time advancing our intelligence by leaps. War is what we do as humans. It's our most serious activity, a high turnover time in reincarnation. Men love it. It makes them crazy as bats afterward and they go home to raise kids with post-traumatic stress disorder, a seething anger that's too easy to set off, then their boys are angry, problems at school, learn nothing and join the marines to direct their anger, or go to prison, these being the cures we offer.

Again, I don't mean this to be a generalization that applies to all, but more a rule of thumb, a pattern in the process that's been with us since before Roman times. Since before civilization. It comes from tribal times and before that. Chimpanzees do it. Ants do it. The very most primitive people do it. The very most advanced people do it. And hold wars way up high. A relative who fought in the Civil War we hold dear. Same goes for any war. He dropped firebombs on Tokyo. Oh my, what a hero.

Perhaps in my high school years on tv was a show where people get together with people who were important in some way to their lives they've not seen in a long time or sometimes ever. I don't remember what it was called. Maybe Art Baker could have been the MC. This Is Your Life. That's it. Was it John Cameron Swayze? One night they had a Japanese man who had survived the Hiroshima bomb, and lost his extended family, meet the pilot of the Enola Gay that dropped the bomb. It was very awkward for all concerned. The pilot was like a good ole dog with his tongue hanging out saying he was following orders, a good soldier, no hard feelings, no guilt.

The Japanese man was freaked out, holding his composure as only the Japanese can, like when the American President puked in the Japanese Prime Minister's lap on tv. Solly Cholly. That's how we do things in civilization. This is a particularly awkward time in civilization with the old ways going away all over the world and the new ways becoming a universal civilization of bluejeans and tshirts with television and rock&roll, pop culture the universal culture. Michael Jackson is America to the rest of the world. Madonna too. So is Arnold the Gov of California. And Sylvester Stallone. And cocaine and every other drug there is.

A political cartoon I saw at the time of Obama's inauguration: he was given a broom to clean the place up after the fraternity party mess left in the White House for him, in the tradition of black people cleaning up after white. I think it's funny that Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich look like pigs. Some pigs are more equal than others.

Then we have jazz, which knows no borders or races. Russian jazz musicians are brothers with Zimbabwean jazz musicians, with French jazz musicians, with Egyptian jazz musicians, American, South African. A jazz musician from Norway is a friend with a jazz musician from Brazil. They don't need to know how to speak the same language. They can make music together and that's what matters. I like to believe that somewhere in the near or distant future the varieties of people on earth will come together in the same dignity and respect as jazz musicians have for one another no matter the race, religion, nationality. That appears a ways down the track, but I do believe we're headed in this direction despite detours from time to time.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


composition in gray #8

Hospice provided someone to come in and stay in the house with Jr to give me 3 hours free time. I came home and watched a movie. Haven't seen one since Jr left the last nursing home. That's been a few months and I am a netflix junkie. The movie waiting to be seen was BUTTERFLY. Made in Spain. Took place in the time of the Spanish Civil War, in the early part when people in a village who have lived among each other all their lives start turning on each other, the fascist party rounding up the communist sympathizers.

A beautiful story of an old man teacher who taught the kids the wonders of nature, taught them to appreciate what is around them. The priest doesn't think so much of him. The rich man in the village doesn't like him. One little boy who started out wretchedly shy, the teacher supplied him with some self-confidence. His students looked to him with much appreciation. Until the suspects are rounded up and the old teacher is taken away among them with people shouting at them to cover up their own suspect backgrounds. The little boy turned on the teacher at the end when they were taken away in a truck, throwing rocks at the truck, calling out "atheist!" Not even knowing why. Sad story, but so very true in everyday life.

It's the mind of the 20th century, dividing up between the red and the black, communism and capitalism. People turning against their neighbors, their friends, over politics, ideologies,which there, like here, are entirely mental phenomena. I think it oughta be this way. Well, I think it oughta be that way. I have more capacity for destruction than you, so you do what I say. Big doggin. Which one can pee the highest on a tree trunk is in charge. And all the rest of us have to live under the shadow of all these people making decisions that always endanger us, and sometimes do us in.

The rule of thumb in conflict is the one with the most advanced technology wins. What we call terrorism challenges technology. We have the technology to bomb entire villages from the air, which is what we do.
So they use bombs too. If you're not afraid to die, you're a lethal weapon.
It's what happens when you have people cornered, no place to turn, when they're too poor to have an army, the people become the enemy. It becomes real confusing real fast as we saw on the news the last half century. Since WW2 we've had continuous war, none of it legitimate war, nor internationally legal war, the rich countries stomping the poor countries and the poor countries have everybody out fighting back. When everybody is in a corner, that's when they get fierce and even kids attack GI Joe, the menace of the non-white world.

I saw the Bush-Cheney-Rummy triumvirate as the white man's last stand. Turned out it was. Nothing like a bunch of bleached white men trampling civil liberties to keep somebody colored from getting something for nothing, and taking everything for themselves, to turn the scale so far as to get a black man, the only one who stood up to their intimidation and was on record for it. All the folks of any degree of color, and the white women that white men haven't been so good to either, they outnumber white men. White men rule no more. They were going after everything they could get before the clock ran out. The Mongols are coming! Grab all the loot you can get and get outta here quick as you can git.

The early half of the 20th century was a rough time for Europeans, coming into the time of electricity with the people divided between capitalism and communism. The Depression during reconstruction after WW1, then WW2. Then Asia. Then Middle East and Africa. Middle East has oil, so meddling in their business is what we do. Africa is frightening to the white world. Best just stay out of it. A very different way of thinking and doing things. Seems like in Africa killing is the same as nothing, like swatting flies.

And here we sit in peace at home where I can watch a movie and write my stream of consciousness thoughts after seeing it with my cat Tapo between my arms with her head in the crook of my right arm, snuggled in good, feeling at home. Perhaps the best thing there is to being an American is that ability to allow the other side their right to be, the same as my right to be. We're good at that. When it comes to different reasons different people have for being glad to be an American, maybe that's it for me, that we can not just shake hands, but be friends with someone the other side of that mental divide that keeps things stirring.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


composition in gray #7

My mind stays in the halls of gratitude. Through the course of a day, I remember what I saw, the intensity of it. It never was a feeling of loss, strangely. I still don't understand that. Even when I didn't know I had fire insurance. It seemed like part of the flow, like this is what's happening now. The gratitude continues and it grows. Can't be any gratitude for saving the truck, because it was gone the moment the first little flame started. Gratitude collectively for these guys who go into overdrive when they get the call. They're not doing it for themselves. They're doing it for us, the rest of us who never think about them, but live with the satisfaction that they're ready. These are individuals doing their part in their own way to make the world they live in a little bit safer for all.

They're not held up high as important people, which they are, and it's a good thing they're not. Like among musicians when the fun goes out of it, the music goes with it. They're just people like the rest of us, people who are doing their part. They ask for no attention or to be thought well of. They like to fight fires, it's what they do. Of course, a thank you doesn't hurt anything, and a donation keeps them going. They'd fund it themselves if they could.

Since this fecal occurrence of truck going up in flames, my mind has been seeing quite a lot going on there. First, the indifference to loss of the truck, something that comes under quantity, stuff. It's necessary, but it is still stuff, an object. Second, the awe over other people I largely don't even know dashing to my rescue. This is quality. The quality of life. People taking care of people in a difficult time. No questions, no blame, no threats. When it comes right down to it, what we do to benefit others is where the real quality of life is found. Like those firemen carry in their hearts the satisfaction that they're doing something that is worthwhile. They don't need praise or honors or awards. They are in there because they want to help out others in rough times.

It's the same satisfaction I feel from looking after Jr. I don't feel any need for praise or attention for it. It's got nothing to do with me. It's all about Jr. I feel satisfaction that I am able to make his present state of helplessness not totally disabling. He can stay at home and doesn't have to take care of any of the domestic demands. He can lie in the bed and not have to worry about everything around him falling apart. He can be comfortable as can be in his own bed, not some institutional contraption that puts you into all kinds of uncomfortable positions. That inner satisfaction comes not from the place of pride, but recognition that I've done something that's actually important in my lifetime, something that benefited someone in need.

It cracked me up the day of the fire Dean Richardson said again something about getting blessed for what I'm doing, which has nothing to do with my motivation and thus makes me a bit uncomfortable when somebody mentions that, though I know at the same time it is coming from their heart and they're telling me I'm appreciated. Who can turn that down? It means a great deal. I tend to see it that the inner satisfaction of doing something worthwhile is the blessing for me, because it's a peaceful inner feeling. I don't mean to sound like the Eagles, but it is a peaceful and a loving feeling within.

I believe this is where the upwellings of gratitude come from that have been with me day and night. There is great gratitude within for the Hospice people. When one of their cars comes up the driveway, it's the same as seeing angels flapping their wings headed our way. It seems like lately I've been surrounded by and rescued by people who are living as Jesus said. It's the quality of life Jesus was talking about. And that quality is in treating the people around us right, helping ones in need. That's about all Jesus really asked us to do is help each other out. And he wasn't speaking idly. He knew the full import of what he was saying. I can't see it as a commandment, like you-better-or-else. I'm inclined to see it more like if you want a good life, here's how you do it, treat other people right and love God. But we have to wrap it all up in finery and ornaments and make a mummy of a living truth in how to have a good life on earth, look after each other. I'm not saying a lot of people don't. I'm saying a lot of people do.

Since I've been with Jr, I've talked with quite a lot of people doing the same thing at home with a husband or wife or mother or father or child. When we talk I find they know what I'm going through and I now have insight into what they're going through, on the outside, the cleaning up, the struggles, as well as the inner light that comes with it. I see in the people I know keeping a disabled mate, relative or friend, a certain light. I see an inner stillness. I feel an inner stillness. Earlier today I was sitting in the wheelchair beside the bed while Jr was sitting up drinking an ensure from his red plastic cup he likes. He said something to me about not talking. I reminded him I just don't talk much. I don't see a whole lot to talk about any more.

On the tune I use for the theme song on the radio show, Jr picking at Billy in the Lowground, making up as he went along, bluegrass banjo with fiddle playing tenor, it starts with Jr laughing. The song was recorded on a cassette tape one night when the Green Mountain Boys were practicing. It's just a second of Jr's laugh then the banjo starts rolling. That laugh is so characteristic of Jr, everyone who knows him would recognize him. That laugh is no longer in him, and it was with him all his life. He doesn't have the energy any more. On Saturday mornings when I play that, I'm grateful that second of Jr's laugh begins the song. For me, that moment of a laugh has Jr's integrity in it, just like his banjo picking, and Jr Maxwell's integrity is considerable. When I play it each week, I hear it in awe that this is in Jr. He says he's not a banjo picker any more. I say he is still a banjo picker, it's just that his fingers can't do it any more.

Monday, September 21, 2009


T0day I went to Farmer's Hardware and bought a fire extinguisher for Jr's car, which I'm driving now. I've determined I will always have a fire extinguisher in whatever I drive next. Curiously, it fits perfectly in the armrest/glovebox in the middle of the front seat. It fits like it was made for it. Snug, but not tight, enough that it doesn't rattle around. It stays in place. The instructions on the box say to put it in the trunk. No way. That's way too far away. And when you're excited because there's a fire under the dash, trying to fumble with the key and the keyhole in the trunk is a problem. Plus, you have to get out of the car, go around to the back first, then fumble with the key in a frantic state of mind. I want it next to me, so all I have to do is lift the latch, the top comes up and there it is.

Now that I know how fast a vehicle's interior burns, I will not be so vulnerable again. On the box they note that in USA there is a vehicle fire every 79 seconds. That's a lot of insurance replacement money. Seems like if insurance corporations would give some kind of incentive to people to have a fire extinguisher, like have one or you don't get insurance, they could give the CEOs even more billions for salaries. If there are that many vehicle fires, it means a lot of people lose their lives in the worst kind of way.

I don't want to know how it felt to Joan of Arc and all the women burned by the righteous in Pilgrim times. The interior of a car is so volatile, it's very much the same as throwing a gallon of kerosene inside a car and putting a match to it. It wouldn't go up any faster that way than without the kerosene. You have time to get out and run for it, and that's about it. If I'd had a fire extinguisher, I would have had only superficial damage. Wouldn't have cost me anything or the insurance corporation either.

I could almost go at this issue with missionary zeal, start a website, get a thing going like MADD and DARE and give talks in high school gyms to teenagers scaring them with horror stories into paying attention, promoting fire extinguishers. It had never entered my mind a car's interior was so volatile. Never thought about it. None of it is flame retardant. None of it, except the steel frames of the seats and steering wheel.
Witnessing such a fire from start to finish, I was dumbfounded. In a movie when you see a vehicle interior on fire, it really is like that. They don't need to add explosives to make the fire big. Of course, they use explosives to mock the gas tank explosions, for control, which I knew, but I still did not want to see the gas tank explode. It was full, so it wasn't as bad a problem as a tank full of fumes, but it is still 17.5 gallons of 83 octane gasoline. That's a lot of fire. Napalm is made of gasoline.

Two women of our county, that I know of, both of them women everyone who knew them had nothing but the best to say about them, were burned to death in vehicle fires, one a car, the other a tractor. Wonderful people, both of them were. It wasn't right then and it isn't right now that they had to burn up as they did. I don't know about other people's karma, or my own, but I still don't see that either one of those women deserved such a frightening awful way to go.

When I was watching it burn and taking pictures I was thinking of them. I was actually relieved to see that it was at least fast for them. I'd imagined Susan slowly tortured by flames, which she was indeed, but I imagined for a long time. What I saw was it wasn't long at all. It was horrid, and it was a very long minute, but it wouldn't have been much longer than that in seconds. I think of them as people in my world, which is a small world, and expand that to the world of all the people not in my world, all other counties in the country. If every county has 2 people who died in such a way, that's a lot of people adding them all up.

What I saw, with these two women in my mind from the very first moment I realized a fire was going, was our vehicles are far more lethal as fire hazards to the occupants than flying through the windshield headfirst into a power pole. Any kind of little fire that gets started, the vehicle is gone as soon as it starts. Without a fire extinguisher. The one I bought today was only $15. That is very little compared to the expense and misery of a vehicular blaze.

I know we can do nothing about making car interiors fire retardant, but since they are so volatile and will go on being so, a little self-help goes a long ways. I'm telling you this, because you're dear to me and this strikes me as something really important to understand, that your vehicle interiors are high-powered fuel. I don't mean to be your Brooklyn step-mother and browbeat you to catatonic boredom with it, I just feel a need to share that part of my experience, which I believe is the most important part. One of the firemen told me they have a lot of experience with vehicle fires.

Much of this I see as another hazard of the modern world. I think about a jet pilot. Something goes wrong. Zap. Your head in the helmet might be found someplace, but nothing else. It's the hazards for going fast like we like to do, and mass production keeping costs down as much as possible. It's how we live now. I cannot make an entirely flame retardant automobile interior.

What I've seen is this extremely dangerous pod we lock ourselves inside when we go someplace can have all its potential danger removed with a fire extinguisher. Danger eliminated. Of course, you can get out and save yourself easily, but then your car, truck, tapes, cds, tools, all the stuff you carry is gone. And it goes away before your very eyes, up in smoke, thick black boiling smoke. It looked like an oil well fire. An extinguisher would have eliminated all that smoke pollution. It was the sort of air pollution that can be seen from a satellite.
I continue to be overwhelmed by gratitude for the volunteer firemen, who also make the fiddlers convention possible. Like Bob Lane said while he was driving me to Jr's, you don't know how important they are until you need them. Isn't it so. These are the men who chose to stay here and live the best they can instead of going to a city after high school for a better paying job. These are the people who carry on mountain culture through their generation on into the next.
Mountain culture is a changing thing like everything else. These are the mountain people of this generation who carry the tradition. What I stood there and watched, more overwhelming than seeing my truck in flames, was these guys are carrying with them the best of the mountain spirit, the core of it. You see and hear about "the kids these days," and there are some losers going about, always are, always will be, but a lot of these guys were of the "younger generation" and they weren't no fools among them. It made me feel at ease about the future of the mountain people.

Sunday, September 20, 2009



Tapo and TarBaby need the presence of the giant tonight. Tapo, black and roundish, "the one with the delicate legs" my friend Kay called her, to distinguish her from TarBaby, the other black one, the athlete cat. Tapo is between my arms on the desk between the edge and the keyboard. TarBaby on the slide-out board on my left wanting to be the one between my arms, to lay draped over my left arm feeling the vibration of fingers pecking the keyboard, and purring. TarBaby climbed up onto my shoulders and stood there a few minutes, walked down the other side to the desk, then around between the keyboard and the monitor back to the other side. He went out on the sliding board, then jumped off the diving board to the floor.

Tapo has the place he wants. It frustrates him, but one if the cats doesn't bother another that is getting my attention. When one is getting attention, it's that one's turn. They all know I care about them equally and there's never been jealousy between them from the time they were kittens. I've fed them together too since they were little. There are no mealtime growlings and goings on like that.

I've seen since they grew up that it might have been best to give them separate bowls at a certain point as they individuated. But they have eaten off the same plate all their lives, and it's too late to make a change that isn't even necessary to start with. They do fine. TarBaby has to be the first to eat now. He's up there on the table I feed them on ready for me to dump the can of catfood on the plate, acting like he's starving to death. He licks the gravy and leaves the rest to the others. They all prefer the gravy. Caterpillar likes it too, an awful lot. Tapo likes it too, but she doesn't care any more because she's the bottom of the pecking order and the others always get it first. They seem to like the gravy of canned food and for solids they prefer the dry food. They like both.

Caterpillar and Tapo can eat side-by-side, but any other time to get that close together, one of them, Tapo, would be hissing, and Caterpillar looking at her with eyes that say, I'm gonna box your ears! Tapo hisses and says with her eyes, You better not! Caterpillar says, I'm going to! Tapo says, Leave me alone! Quit it! Caterpillar looks at her with relaxed eyelids saying, I'll let you go this time, only because I don't feel like wasting my energy on a shrimp like you right now. Tapo looks at her and says, Get out of here! Leave me alone! I'm not bothering you! Caterpillar turns away with a studied nonchalance saying, Don't forget who rules here! Tapo says out of the side of her mouth, How could I forget? Caterpillar sharpens the focus in her eyes and says, What's that? Tapo says, Nothing. Caterpillar says, That's what I thought, and walks away, slowly to let Tapo know she doesn't have to hurry if she doesn't want to.

Tapo growls at TarBaby when he gets too close. Sometimes TarBaby will put his ears back, lean his head back in a defensive pose ready to dodge a swipe of claws when circumstances beyond his control bring him too close to her. She growls because he torments her too, and she's letting him know he makes her mad. He will usually walk by her very slowly with an eye on her in case she pulls a surprise attack. Sometimes he jumps over her. Jumps over Caterpillar too. TarBaby is in his own world that doesn't include the other two, except in his role as the big one who protects his two sisters. TarBaby would rather be out hunting mice. Bossy ole Caterpillar he stays away from most of the time. When she wants to get sassy with him, he jumps over her and goes on his way.

Sometimes TarBaby will suddenly take a spell to chase Tapo. He'll look at her. She'll hiss. He'll hold his head up and advance on her. She'll back up and hiss with her ears back. He'll keep on advancing, ready in his cat martial arts way, relaxed, awake for anything. Tapo will turn and run a few feet, turn around and hiss. TarBaby will keep on walking with his eyes locked on hers. She'll turn and run and he'll run right behind her. There's no tight place she can get into that he can't get into as well. He runs her to the farthest corner where she crouches down with her ears back, eyes fierce, teeth ready, growling, telling him she'll shred his face if he comes any closer. TarBaby will reach up like he's going to swat her, and she'll hiss, making TarBaby laugh. Then he jumps on her and they tangle round and round making catfight sounds. Then TarBaby backs off slowly, very slowly, one step at a time, Tapo watching him, ready for any surprise, and TarBaby slow-struts away into another room laughing like he'd just had himself a good time.

These are their tussling moments. They never hurt each other. Often I see TarBaby stretched out on a chair and Tapo right up against him. They lick the tops and the backs of each other's heads where they can't get themselves so well. I stay out of their relationships with each other, because they know better what's going on between them than I do. Meaning, they know everything that's going on between them and I know nothing about it. Bottom of the totem pole, bottom of the pecking order, hierarchies based in physical size, ability and temperament. That runs through everything.

In school it's the big tough guy at the top of the pecking order and the chubby or skinny kid with glasses at the bottom. In the working class the pecking order has to do with might and strength. In the middle class it has to do with intelligence. In the ruling class with power. With cats it's all about who fights the best. Same on Wall St. Same in Washington DC. Same at work, same at school, same at home. It's so primal it's like the foundation of our interrelations as humans. I'm better than you because I drive a BMW and you just drive a Cadillac. I'm better than you because I have more assets than you, more money, more intelligence, more strength, more slickness, a newer car, Dylan's latest album, a nose that doesn't look like a pig's, the best part of town, the best church, came over on the Mayflower, the list goes on forever. Anything applies. Always playing hierarchy. Crows play the game too.

That one is so deeply ingrained in us, I've an idea it will continue all the way through the evolution of civilization in all its twists and turns til we return to aboriginal as the most practical, most intelligent way to live after how many thousand years tearing up everything getting back to what we had right to start with, the Garden.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


flight of the turkey buzzards

There must be some kind of thermal in the mountain across the highway. Odd, considering the temperature in the 60s and a wind. A little while ago at least 20 buzzards were circling above this one place in the mountain. If the mountain were a clock face, they'd be above 11 o'clock. It wasn't like they were waiting for something to die, more like riding an updraft. Then about half of them set out sailing from north to south to the ridge behind the house, gliding as buzzards do. Then I looked up and there was one buzzard left circling. A murder of about 20 crows flew up from the trees all at once. Three of them went to diving at the buzzard the way they do hawks. The buzzard was flapping wings and dodging them to get away from the pests. Something like watching a raincrow dive on a crow or a cat. It was also like watching footage from WW2 documentaries of big slow bombers with fighters diving at them and buzzing like yellowjackets.

The above, I wrote yesterday just after seeing the buzzards. Today I was sitting on the porch talking with Carole on the phone and several buzzards started gathering above the same mountain, but another place, like at 1 o'clock on the clock face, some of them trying to circle like there was an updraft. But today, like yesterday, is too cold, 60degrees, and windy, it seemed to me, for updrafts. More flew in. At first it was around twenty, flying around and around, gliding, enough wind to give the air substance for their wings to ride. More came in from all directions, mostly from the ridge behind the house, until there was a gathering of around 50. They flew in no order, and not all flew in circles. The whole crowd of them flew around for approximately a 60second minute, a huge cluster of them, each flying on its own terms, not bumping into each other, not even coming close. Then they all glided off in their various directions.

I sat here in awe. As much awe as when I started seeing that crows live in families, extended families. The way I see them interacting, they are conscious on a lot of levels. Their intelligence is beyond bird. Birds tend to be flock creatures like starlings or individual like wrens. In the crows I'm seeing conscious social organization, their social hierarchies, and that learning to speak crow language takes years. The young ones from this spring's nests are still making the monotone squawk with no music in it. They don't seem to wean their young. Mother gradually slows down feeding them, continues to as long as they demand it, to a point. Then she has to have some words with them in a you-better-listen-to-me tone of voice. The young ones are probably 6 months old now, and some of them continue to follow her around when she's looking for something. When she finds something, she'll fly off 15-20 feet and land in a place away from the others. When one follows her, she picks it up and flies another 15-20 feet. They wean slowly and gently. It's not like kicking them out of the nest saying, 'Have a good'n.'

The crows appear to have a fairly complex social organization. Both those sightings of buzzards gathering for a few minutes, then going on their own ways, coming in from several directions and going back in several directions. It had never entered my mind that buzzards might have social lives too. They probably live in families as well, to some degree, though nothing like crows. Maybe. Then there's chickens. The roosters and their harems. Some roosters seem to have the intelligence level of a crow. They're intelligent birds. They're wary too. While his women are out pecking around, he's watching like the buck watches for his does, though the rooster has to watch the sky as well for hawks.

I've always known crows made a variety of sounds, but never really paid enough attention to see how many. It's a kind of minimal language where tone has a lot to do with meaning, as in oriental languages. Sometimes I hear one sitting on a limb kind of warbling to itself, making sounds like it's talking. I hear many different sounds they make and the varieties of 'caw.' Always brings to mind a moment in childhood when I'd been out listening to crows and hearing they weren't pronouncing the k sound of the c, but were sounding more like h, haw, haw. I mentioned it to daddy like I'd made a big discovery and he said, 'No they don't. Crows say caw!' Another disappointment. Go outside and catch grasshoppers, pull their legs off, put them by an anthill and watch the ants make tunnels through them, carry them away a bite at a time.

Some crows are in the locusts behind where I'm sitting, hollering back and forth, at least 4 or 5 of them. So many different tones and expressions. It might be a cat rambling through. Crows don't like cats. Five of them just now flew to the trees across the highway. There are still some behind me, but it sounds more like they're talking to each other. They're alert to something. Now birds are flying in from other places to have a look at what has this one crow in particular so agitated. Now it's back to sounding like he's letting a cat or something know it's not welcome here. I don't need to see the cat to know that cat is walking along like it doesn't hear a thing, a casual stroll with ears alert, acting like he might like for a crow to take a swipe at him to see if he can catch one. If it is a cat, it will walk along in pretend nonchalance, daring the bird to do something about it.

I've surprised myself with the lives of the critters around here I'm seeing. Bluejays I've not seen all year have turned up in numbers. Hearing the various bluejay calls too. They are same family as crows, corvids. Their flight is similar, their calls range from the raucous to the melodious. I watch a spider that kept a web on the outside of the glass on the storm door to catch night bugs. There came a time he probably got tired of the door opening and closing so much. He moved to a place about 6 feet away to what he must have thought a better place. Must not have been. The wind blew it away easily. Opposite corner of the porch he's found a place where he has a post for vertical and the horizontal of the roof framing, a good place for a web. Used to be a lot of crickets until I mowed the lawn. Must have mulched a few thousand.

Here I sit, more or less a shut-in, unable to get out of the house very much, staying indoors to make Jr's helplessness something he can live with. He's right at that place where he's becoming pitiful. Maybe somebody else thinks he's already there, and they'd be right. As I see him every day I'm still able to see the Jr Maxwell we know is still in there, he's just not able to express himself anymore. It takes too much energy to talk, even to pay attention any more. A few days ago he said, lying in the bed, 'I have a short time to live and nobody comes to see me.' I wanted to try to explain that they want to remember him the living Jr Maxwell, who was a friend to everyone who knew him, but it wouldn't have mattered what I said, so I said nothing.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Here you can see what is left after an automobile fire. Frames are all that's left. It was curious to see the glass melted looking like cake icing. I thought about taking a piece, but it was welded to the steel. I went out to Tommy's garage in Twin Oaks to see it and take the license tag off it. Not to say good-bye. I did that while it was burning, when the headlights went out. They just faded out the ways eyes die. By the time I saw it at Tommy's, I was over it. It was dead, this the remains after cremation. It was nice, nonetheless, to touch my old friend.

Curious feelings standing out there in this place that takes care of dead and rehabilitated vehicles clicking pictures of it. It was a good truck. I loved it and it loved me, like a good old dog. It's name was Swift Round Feet. I don't know why except that's what came to me and nothing else would. I wanted a variety of names to pick from, but that was the only one that came to mind, so that's its name. I bought it from a fellow in Ashe County named Perry. Found it in the parking lot in front of Roses in Jefferson with a phone number in the window. My friend Bette Rose was with me. We were driving back from Little Switzerland. I saw it when we passed, it felt right, had that golden glow about it that said it was my next truck.
I'm thinking I might talk to Jr and Ross about buying Jr's car. He'll never drive it again. It runs good. Only needs a tuneup and an exhaust leak fixed. I'd want to have it painted too. I'd like to drive it the rest of my life just because it was Jr's car. Like Larry Woodie has Jr's banjo and isn't going to let go of it, because it was Jr's banjo. I'm certain that's what I'll do. It has front wheel drive, which is necessary for winter. Front wheel is so close to as good as 4wheel that I really don't need 4wheel now that I don't cut firewood anymore and snows are less severe. Big snow, I stay home. No problem.
First thing I'll need to learn is to turn the headlights off when I've been driving in the rain during the day. I have failed to think of turning them off 3 times now and have needed help getting it started each time. I've vowed to myself that won't happen again. Turn off lights. It was Jerry Edwards' car before. Jerry takes good care of his equipment. It's been well treated. Until Jr backed into my front bumper and broke the tail light, which also needs fixing. He felt bad about that. He said, 'I've never done that before.' And I knew he was right. Jr is accurate about everything he does. He's always been hyper alert and aware until these months when he can't even be barely alert and aware.
Today he was kind of off the deep end. When I woke this morning near 7, I found him on the floor with his head touching the wall, just lying there waiting for me to wake up. Patience is his virtue. I've told him I'm there to be woke up when he needs help. Oh, I don't want to bother you. He wasn't in pain or uncomfortable. I sleep on the floor. He's not afraid of the floor. I set about getting him to sit upright. No. Wanted to lay there. OK. I fussed around, made some coffee, and made another attempt to help him rise. No. And he hurt all over, which is an all the time thing. The only place I can handle him to move him is with hands on ribs. That's the only place he doesn't hurt. To pull on his arms is such pain it's unbearable.
When I saw there was nothing I could do without hurting him, I called Hospice some time after 8, maybe quarter til 9. I waited long enough for Jr to make up his mind about getting up and he continued to choose to stay. The floor's OK, but there comes a time when it's not all right. Like I'm not going to leave him on the floor all day. Two of the angelic nurses showed up. It was like they were cooing over him getting him up. They talked to him, asked him questions, talked to him as a mother would, so loving and so personal, and they reached him. They convinced him to let them help him up into the wheelchair so they could give him a check up and clean him up, because it turned out he was on the way to the pottie chair and didn't make it. He had diaper underpants on, so that was less gross than it might have been.
Watching them help him upright was like seeing two daughters taking care of their daddy they loved with all their hearts. They poured the love into him, assuring him they're with him. It made me tremendously happy for Jr, because I could not allow him to leave his difficult, honorable, noble life in despair as a stack of lumber with a file number in the computer, cared for superficially in a cell. I could not allow that for Jr. It is a peculiar part of our medical system that allowing someone to die at home is about the same as against the law, nursing home the answer to old age.
Hospice is giving him way more than I can give. I can take care of the house and the food and laundry and always be there for his comfort so he can rest knowing I'm there, parcel out the pharmaceuticals, see to it he has at least one ensure a day, keep the pottie clean. Jr has a deep need for feminine energy. He's like a rechargeable battery and feminine energy is the charger. I'm not meaning in a sexual way, though that's there too. I've seen it over and over that there is something in what I call 'feminine energy' that revives him, that brings him to life, just the presence. When a woman comes to the house to visit, I always ask her to sit close to him, and with some I explain it's for the feminine energy. It helps him. All understand what I mean.
The hospice nurses have an understanding of their feminine energy as a healing energy. I have a great respect for women who understand about themselves that feminine energy is a strong healing force. I.e. nurses. Male nurses may know what to do and be good at what they do, but they don't have that healing feminine energy. In Bridget Bardot's (French Marilyn Monroe who could almost act) early films, she's often a nurse. I can't supply that, so I encourage all the women who care about him to come to see him. The women who work with him through hospice and hospitals I encourage them to be aware of their feminine energy as a healing force for him. I don't always put it in those words, but I've never had any trouble getting it across, because women understand it. Jr's mother was a nurse.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


11:30pm 16sep09

It seems like every time we're talking with somebody and the state of the world comes up, everybody is an expert. And it's always 'people' that are the problem. People do this, that and the other, as well as things you'd never think of, and are glad you can't. Excepting present company, of course. That's always understood. It's really good when a couple of preachers get together and start talking about how bad the world is. I don't mean to be pointing fingers, because I'm as good at it as the next one. I can get in there and talk it with preachers too. Unconsciously, we put a lot of effort into studying what's wrong with the world so we can have something to say in these conversations, sound like we're paying attention and know what's going on. And don't we love to hear it when somebody says, 'You're right,' when you've made some especially erudite point about something that's wrong with the world.

The theme occupied my mind for many a year. So much, you could possibly say I have a degree in it. My first several years in Alleghany, I became in expert on what's wrong with the place in all kinds of ways I knew nothing about. Then came a day I noticed I had it covered. There was nothing new I could find that was wrong with the place. It was a strange feeling. What am I going to gripe about now? I thought: now that I know everything that's wrong with this place where I am, maybe it's a good time to start looking at what's right with the place. Find balance. I didn't even have to start thinking about examples. My whole inner being told me that what's right about this place is so big I couldn't come near it with a single-space list a mile long. Without even having to think about it, I was overwhelmed on the spot, tears of joy welled up and my heart felt as big as a watermelon. I look to that moment as the time I fell in love with the people of Alleghany County.

If you'd like to see one thing right about the place, try driving down the road at 11:30 pm, see smoke coming from the vents on the dashboard, really bad, billowing smoke that tells you something aint right. Had to open the window to let the smoke out, but that ventilated the source of the smoke and then you see the floor below the dashboard on the right side glowing yellow-orange. Not me. Not now. Not my truck. Not this major inconvenience. It was all of the above. All I could say was, 'Shit,' the tragic eloquence of modern man.
I pulled off the road at the first pull-off place I knew of. The motor had died by then and it coasted to where it could pull off the road by Claude Whitehead's house, though far enough not to endanger the house. Flames were licking. I thought of Susan Billings on Hwy 21 when the truck fell on top of her car pinning her inside and setting her car on fire. I thought of Sue Wagoner trapped in the tractor cab and it burning. I said, 'That aint gonna happen!' But I wasn't sure, because as long as I was inside and the flames got bigger, I was getting closer. There was also something kind of NASCAR about it.
Coasting to the place by the side of the road that was clear, I was thinking about gas lines, full gas tank, lots of things that could happen before I get stopped and out. Of course, I didn't have a fire extinguisher. Next vehicle I own will have one. I went at the fire with a towel I found behind the seat. I dabbed it, smothered it, put it out, but the melting plastic caught fire again the moment I lifted the towel. It kept getting bigger. The first moment I saw for certain it was out of control and I couldn't stop it, I realized my friend my truck was gone and I need to call 911 so they could at least get to it before the fire reached the gas tank.

I went and banged on the door at Mrs Whitehead's house until her dog started barking, then kept it up to let her know why dog was barking. I felt sad for her having to go the door and see a stranger at 11:30 in the night, but I also knew as soon as she knew what was happening, she'd be all right with it. She came to the door and looked through the glass, bewildered and half asleep. I hollered, 'Call 911.' I didn't want to ask to come into her house. That's too frightening in this day and time. I didn't want to scare her, I wanted to thank her. She made the call when she saw the truck on fire and I wasn't lying.

By the time I got back, the whole cab was a conflagration: big flames engulfed the whole interior. Big flames. Everything on the inside was petroleum based; seat, dash, door panels, steering wheel and column, headliner, floor mats. Poof. And that was only about 2 minutes later. I didn't realize a vehicle burned so easily. There wasn't anything I could do but watch my friend, my truck of 14 years that has been as faithful to me as a good dog, burn completely up and die in front of me. When the headlights went out was the moment I think of it's death. I heard 3 blasts that sounded like shotguns. Tires exploding. I stayed way back in case the gas tank did like they do in Steven Seagal movies, knowing it is explosives they use in the movies and gas has nothing to do with it. But still, 17 gallons of 83 octane petroleum in a container with fire going all around it was something I didn't care to dilly-dally with.

Saw getting any closer something like looking down a hole drilled in rock to see why the dynamite didn't go off. There's a grave in the Caudill cemetery on the hill here of somebody who did that, Dean. I had the camera with me in a bag I carry back and forth between Jr's house and mine. I thought it's a little cold to take a picture of my truck burning up. Then realized I'd regret it if I didn't get some pictures. Got pictures of the firemen working too. Soon after the 2 firetrucks arrived and the whole gang of pickups and cars, men putting on those huge outfits they wear around fire, I felt better. But they showed me something great big and equally important.

I saw our VOLUNTEER firemen responding and in action, up close. Naturally, I felt like Jr feels about me doing things for him---feeling bad for causing them so much trouble. One of them told me they love going out on calls, so don't feel a bit bad about it. Highway patrolman Lane came along and was every bit as friendly and helpful as everyone else. He brought me back to Jr's place when the show was over. Tommy Andrews came with a big rollback and hauled it away.

Strangely, I felt nothing about the truck and what was in it that is gone forever. Keys too. Left all my keys in. Once I saw it was irreversible, I accepted my friend was gone. The feeling I felt most strongly was gratitude toward everyone who came to the event. Still, next day, I feel nothing about losing the truck, but my already immense gratitude grows as time goes by. It's not for myself as much as for the people they've helped through the years. And it's done by people wanting to do it, volunteers. I was thinking about Benjamin Franklin started the first fire brigade in Philadelphia of volunteers, just to put it in historical perspective.