willem dekooning, pirate, 1981
Had a call this morning from my friend Judy who lives near Atlanta. She's back from a few days in NY seeing her sister. She went to Museum of Modern Art and saw the present show of deKoonings. She said he painted like a master in all the styles he painted through his lifetime. I would love it. MoMA is a reason almost good enough to live in New York. I don't think I was ever aggressive enough to live in New York and didn't want to become New York aggressive. I'd need a lot of money to live there. I'd want to be going to some sort of concert or art show every evening. There is so much that is wonderful in New York. The only problem, as I can see it, is it costs a fortune to live there. I'm too sensitive to other people's psychic energy to live in a honeycomb with people in every cell. It seems creepy to me. Times I've been in the city, I'd look at apartment buildings with all the windows; people above, below, to the sides, out the windows. It seems unnatural to me to live where just about the only part of the natural world is people. Above, you have clouds. I need the world of tree frogs, flying and chirping birds, trees, bugs too.
I like it that hunters hunt all around where I live. It's a good place to stay indoors during hunting season. This hunter and that hunter might be good and never take chances. Not all of them are like that. Some hear something and take what they call a "sound shot." It only takes one. It was somewhere between 10 and 20 years ago, a news story from down in the flat part of North Carolina. Father and son hunting. Good hunters. Dad takes a sound shot. Finds his son with a hole in the head, blows his own head off. Happy Thanksgiving mama. Stories like this happen every year in every county up and down the mountains from Maine to Alabama. I like living in a place where people hunt, because that's where the wild things are. When my dad was visiting here many years ago, he stepped out of the car, looked around and said, "This is where I need to live," so he could hunt all the time. I thought: that's the reason the mountain called me to it and not you.
My first month in the mountains, associated with the farm, some rangers from forestry came to tell us about something to do with Christmas trees. They were talking with Ted Stern and I was tagging along behind. I was the one they were to give the information too, but he was the important one. I heard one of the rangers telling him about what the Bible says, that the Lord gave man dominion over all the animals. He took it to mean the right to kill them. My jaw dropped. I took dominion for the responsibility to take care of. Dictionary says dominion is supreme authority. That still doesn't say the right to kill. Say I'm the admiral of an aircraft carrier with dominion over the entire crew. Does that mean right to kill? I don't think so. But that is a puny way of looking at it. Killing is the major factor in life on earth. Everything that eats has to eat something that's alive, and it sometimes needs killing first. Sometimes, like grass, it is killed as it's eaten. I suppose what makes killing something reprehensible among humans is killing without intent to eat. Like killing all the buffalo and leaving them to rot was not responsible dominion. The Plains Indians were in awe of what manner of man could do such as that. It wasn't believable, but there it was.
Like the ranger was talking about hunting deer to eat, God and dominion, it makes more sense to me now, many years later, after I've come to see that death is nothing in God's eye. Intent to end somebody else's life for revenge or rage or money or whatever, is an egoic act all the way. When it's egoic like that, then it's an issue. When a man has to eat, he brings home a deer, cuts it up, puts the parts in the freezer and his woman feeds the family with it through the year. I have a hard time with shooting crows for target practice. Every hunting season thins our crow population considerably. But, as long as I'm not the one doing it, it's not an issue for me. The crows are advanced to their next lifetime. I don't know what kind of karmic debt would go with killing crows, incredibly intelligent birds that live in families, for target practice. It doesn't compute for me, but killing is a rush for a lot of people, an ego rush. Crows will stay out of your garden if you throw them the daily garbage. The garbage will go a whole lot further making friends with the crow family that shares your territory than it will in a plastic bag in a landfill.
I don't know about anything having to do with death, what's on the other side, anything. Only that when it happens, like Lou Reed said, "it's the final thing to do." More Lou Reed: "Why don't you take your old lady by the feet and drag out in the darkened street and by morning she'll be just another hit and run." One of his many New York stories. It's like his heart is with the down and out people, and for all the comfortable people he seethes with contempt. His album called New York is one of my favorites. I've been a Lou Reed and Velvet Underground fan for a very long time. The songs are portraits of New York street people. They bring to my mind the American poet Edgar Lee Masters, who also wrote portraits of people. In the New York street scene, death is common; OD, murder, suicide, every kind of way. In the country a rabbit runs under your tire, a deer jumps out in front of you, a dog runs under the wheel, so many unavoidable moments of killing without intent. I say a prayer for their souls and write it off to the modern world. I don't like it, but got used to it.
I don't know if I'll ever understand the subtle world of intent. Some time in the 1980s I was called to jury duty on a local murder. It came down to we had to decide whether it was intent or accident. She swore it was an accident. The sheriff swore it was intent. The jury decided it was accident. When I handled the shotgun passed around the jury, I realized everything she said was true. The stock was made so when the thumb pushed the lever to open the shotgun, it automatically moved the forefinger to touch the trigger, which in this case was a hair trigger. She said she pushed the lever to open it and it went off. Sure enough. When I saw she was telling the truth, I saw how much the sheriff was making the story what he wanted it to be, and was not being the least bit objective about it, wasn't from the start. He wanted her put away. It was going around the county among the men that it won't be safe for a man to take a shower. After the trial, a man said that to me, and I asked him if he had reason to worry. It was a hot trial. I saw with my own eyes the sheriff lie to the prosecutor. She was drilling somebody on the witness stand, turned to the sheriff and with a look asked if he'd done what was said he did and he shook his head no. I was glad to see the defendant go free. I heard later the judge agreed with the jury's decision. That was good to hear.