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Thursday, October 31, 2013


In the afternoon, I looked out to see where the donkeys were in the meadow. Jack and Jenny were playing chase. They took turns. Jenny chased Jack, then Jack chased Jenny. Eventually, the game of chase got Jack charged up and he jumped onto Jenny's back. She stood still and allowed it. He stepped down and they both went back to grazing. Playing chase and the game turning to serious business, Jenny put her head down and her ears back anticipating Jack biting down on her neck. He followed close by her side, but never made a gesture toward biting her. I am leaving them to work out their relationship without human interference. Every day it is a new feeling between them. I took some sweet grain and some carrots to them a little later. Jack came to me first, braying, wanting to smell my hand to check sight and sound with scent. Jenny walked up for a treat. Jack grunted his growl sound and turned his back end to her. Jenny stopped and stood still. Every time she would attempt to approach me for a bite of carrot, Jack growled at her and she backed off. He kept his rear end pointed at her. His ears were laid back. All the time he was eating carrot and grain, his eye was on Jenny. His muscles were taut. He did not like her approaching me. I threw half a carrot to her and she picked it up off the ground. She couldn't get close enough for me to give her a handful of grain. I poured some grain on the ground for her and some for Jack. Tight tension between them today, mostly coming from Jack. He was wound up, grunting his growl at Jenny every time she came too close to him. He wanted the human to himself today.
I was looking at a couple of big books of color photographs by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher, African Ceremonies. I found some donkeys in a photograph somewhere in Mali. The donkeys were Bethlehem Cross donkeys like Jack and Jenny. I made the mistake of mentioning to a fundamentalist I know that I'd seen someplace they say Jesus rode into Jerusalem on one of these donkeys and forever after, this breed of donkey had a cross on its back. She said it is so, that Jesus riding it put the cross there. All I could say was, "Genetics doesn't work like that." Of course, it didn't mean anything to her, Jesus performed miracles. She told me about the dogwood flower with the petals that have red around the hole at the end of each petal representing holes in his hands. She said he was crucified on a dogwood tree. I couldn't pursue the subject any further. Explaining anything would have glazed her eyes and she'd have balked mentally. I didn't want to go with this, so I changed the subject. That's easy to do in today's America. Span of attention is nonexistent after more than half a century of television, and now cell phone computers. I've found it impossible to keep a conversation going on a given subject for more than a few sentences before an interruption of some sort breaks what little concentration there is. It's become so bad I have lost interest in conversation. Mid-sentence, somebody says, "Hi! How are you!" Jabber, jabber. Gone. Back to the conversation. Forget it. Neither one of us has any recollection.

I've come to the place that when I'm interrupted I do not allow myself to remember what I was saying that was interrupted. I will not waste mentation trying to hold a conversation together once it has been broken. I refuse to go back to the subject before. Everything has changed. Start talking again, then here comes somebody else. In America it is Rule #1 that we are duty bound to interrupt any two people seen talking. The only way a conversation can be carried on in America is for two people to be isolated from everyone else, no cell phone, relaxed conversation. I despise it in restaurants when I'm in conversation with the other at the table when the waiter says, "Is everything all right?" We have to stop what we're talking about and answer. Every time, I want to pull a Chris Rock on the waiter and say, "Shut the fuck up!" But this is America. We interrupt anecdotes with anecdotes unconsciously. We operate in unconsciousness. The waiters know the etiquette: see two people talking, interrupt them. I go into a restaurant with a friend to have a face-to-face visit, talk about what's important to us at the moment, not to be interrupted repeatedly during conversation. Though it annoys me every time, I'm used to it. Interrupted, I let the last sentence go without any attempt to hang onto it. I refuse to struggle against this cultural trend of unconsciousness. It's the nature of my place and time in the world, so I let it have its way. When the other says, What were we talking about? I answer, I don't remember. Even if I do. Why bother? A new subject of conversation gets started and it will soon be interrupted by the first person to see us talking.
I tend not to talk much of the time, because I dislike being interrupted so much. I've learned to ride the wave of interruptions and take it as the American form of conversation. To an outsider, a television non viewer, I have seen over years the dwindling of the American attention span. It is down to nothing by now. In the 1970s I was seeing the attention span around me about that of a cat's. By now, a cat is a deep thinker compared to an American. It's no wonder our politics has gone off the deep end into unconsciousness to all but money, the American mind. What we have now for government is the result of money being the only. Nothing matters but money. Recalling a statement from a man I know of that mind, "If you're not making money, you're going backwards." The Reagan Revolution created a couple of generations of college graduates unable to make money. Revolutions start in the middle class. We evidently have a revolution of some sort on the horizon. There is so much talk about it, just the talk itself may make it happen. White man is backed into a corner. Democracy was ok as long as white men were the majority. Though still controlling the military, white men are anxious seeing the hold on democracy slipping away. Hence the trend in red states to make laws restricting voting by college students, women, Latins, black people. Doing it out in the open on the evening news and nobody says anything about it of substance. It's like a good idea. The republican collective mind has become so moronic, I've lost respect for everyone I know who is republican. I used to give them the benefit of the doubt. I've learned, give them the benefit of the doubt and watch out.  
I came to the mountains to live a solitary life, though not necessarily solitude. I need the presence of others, friends, people I can count on who can count on me. I need social interactions. I need to talk about subjects of interest with others. I need to hear what others are thinking. I'm drawn to people who like to talk, because I like to listen, though am bored by chatter and can't take much of it. When I'm in conversation with somebody and a chatterer interrupts, taking the stage, I tune out and have even gone so far as to turn my back and start talking with someone else. I understand the impulse to curmudgeon. It's a word that defines me fairly accurately. I don't see any hope for humans to solve any problems created by humans. It's getting close to time for Divine intervention if we are going to make it through this time. I'm curious to see how Divine intervention manifests. It will pass unnoticed by the ones waiting for Jesus to come down from the clouds to wave his magic wand and fix us, heal us of our minds focused on nothingness in the form of numbers, driven by greed for more. We are seeing now that greed built into Capitalism turns out to be the cancer within that grows and destroys the living form. What's next? We will wait and see. Now that Capitalism is challenging Democracy, it might be that a hornet's nest has been disturbed. A whole generation of college graduates with student loan debt and slim resources, seeing their basic American rights eroded unto gone, will not be so easy to dismiss as the working class.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


john cale and lou reed

We'll have no more musical inventions by rocker Lou Reed. He has left us so much to listen to, so much that is fresh and new every time, his body of work extensive. To celebrate Lou, I went to cds and picked up a 3-cd set called The Quine Tapes, cassette tapes recorded in three different cities in 1969 by Bob Quine. I think they were released in a box set of three in 2001. On facebook appeared a question to name your favorite Lou Reed song. That one just stopped my mind. I couldn't think of anything. So many titles it makes a log jam to try to think of them all at once. Even reading a list of his songs I couldn't pick one and say this one above all others. I've been listening to Velvet Underground since the album with the banana peel by Andy Warhol. I wasn't ready for them first time I heard the album. It was a period of time when the Rolling Stones were filling football stadiums all over the world, the Allman Brothers with Duane Allman, Eric Clapton with Cream, and the two got together as Derek and the Dominoes. I was into Blind Faith, Cream + Steve Winwood. This was the direction my rock n roll ear was going at the time. Then I hear I'm Waiting For The Man, Heroin, Black Angel Death Song, European Son, a sound my ear wasn't used to listening to. Didn't play it much, but each time I heard it, it became a bit more interesting. Then I discovered Lou Reed and John Cale as musicians and it was on.
john cale, lou reed, sterling morrison, mo tucker
velvet underground
I think of Lou Reed an American poet who gives poetry readings as rock concerts. It's the same for me with Bob Dylan and Steve Earle. It was hopeless to have a chance to see Lou Reed give a concert outside New York. They were a particularly New York band, the art world part of New York that does not translate well to the rest of the country. The Velvet Underground sound seemed to my ear to turn its back to the flower child phenomenon, taking on a rough edge instead of the guitar solo smooth edge. They seemed to reach back into the Fifties sound that the rest of the bands were leaving. The psychedelia bands drew their inspiration from Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee, while the Velvets drew their inspiration from Bo Diddley and Buddy Holly. I'm speaking only from my own ear. I've never read any books about the history of rock & roll. I don't even look at Rolling Stone. The few times I've looked at a Rolling Stone it seems like an oxymoron to intellectualize rock. I don't want to read anything intellectualizing the Murderdolls or Mazzy Star. Rock is what it is. That is all it is. It has never seemed right to me to write about rock. I see book after book on the subject, even picked up a history of rock years ago and never opened it. I looked at the pictures. Not much can be said about rock. At this very moment am hearing the Velvets playing an eleven minute version of Ride Into The Sun. Dazzlingly beautiful. Now is starting a 28 minute Sister Ray / Foggy Notion. Thank you, Lou Reed.
lou reed
I can't even think about evaluating Lou Reed critically. I can only write of my own experience with his music over way more than half my life ago. My own Lou Reed experience is that every time I hear anything he made, from Velvets to his last as Lou Reed, I appreciate it more than before. It has been stair-step up the appreciation scale all the years I've listened to his music. Especially now that I've been listening to acoustic music played by masters of their instruments for so many years. Hearing Lou assault his electric guitar strings wringing out Sister Ray. Sterling Morrison is playing rhythm and lead with Lou, Doug Yule is playing bass and Mo Tucker beating the drums. These are people whose musicianship I appreciate more as what my ear can hear expands over years of listening to music. I've never liked boring music. Lou Reed's music is never boring. He doesn't like boring music either. His band was something of a war on boring music. Years of hearing African urban dance hall music from all over the continent, old-time fiddle and banjo music, bluegrass, country, and punk threading through all of it. I need to have my punk moment from time to time, put on Nina Hagen, Jim Carroll Band, The Damned, Hole, L7, Rage Against The Machine. When I want to rock, I want to rock. At this moment I'm asking myself why I don't listen to more. I'm enjoying this madly. I like the sharp assault they hit the strings with. I'm turning the volume up and up as it goes along. I like Lou's verbal assaults. He doesn't scream. He hits with words. He does his screaming through his guitar.
velvet underground
He published a book of his songs without the music, Between Thought And Expression: Selected Lyrics of Lou Reed. It makes a good book of poetry. When it comes to poetry written by rock stars, it is out there in a league of its own. Lou Reed rates a place among contemporary American poets. He has influenced many an American poet of his generation and younger. Bob Dylan is another one whose lyrics make good reading independent of the music. Both Reed and Dylan tend to talk their songs more than sing them. In the time Lou Reed was making new albums, each one was a work of art. It wasn't just a bunch of songs thrown together to make an album. It was, but he was reaching for art in his writing and in his music. He caught it. I don't hesitate to call Lou Reed an artist in the same meaning I'd use for Larry Rivers and Jasper Johns. When psychedelia faded into Bon Jovi, a wave of punk hit the world's big cities. It seemed like it happened all at once. The Sixties bands that featured virtuoso guitar solos could not be topped by the next generation. Punk happened and you didn't have to know how to play a guitar. Sid Vicious never learned. He was so bad the Sex Pistols only used him on stage for the outrageous audience appeal. They had another bassist for recording. Paul Simenon of the Clash didn't know how to play a bass when they started the band. He was a friend the others wanted in the band. Punk was all-out whatever noise you could make. A revolution. The Velvet Underground was the band from the Sixties whose influence went on into the next generation of rock. Lou Reed lived long enough to see himself become a legend. Though he probably never reached his own ideal, he could certainly look back over his lifetime and see that he made a difference.   
lou reed

Sunday, October 27, 2013


jack and jenny

The donkeys are settling down a bit. I've been staying out of the meadow over Jennie's readiness to kick. She kicked Jack whenever he would move within range. I was out there with a plastic bowl of sweet grain in hand. Both of them would start kicking when they came to me for grain. It turned into something that told me to get out of there. This was donkey business going on. Did not include me. No need to be donkey kicked when I have a choice. For three days I handed Jack his daily carrots over the fence. He was not the problem. Here comes Jenny. Jack growled and kicked at her. She kicked him a good broadside, both hooves on Jack's ribs. It was like she'd kicked a tree. Jack didn't budge. They danced around with their rear ends to each other, moving out of the way and into position to kick at the same time. So much tension was running between them, I thought it best to leave the kick-boxing ring to them. First day, I noticed Jack was kicking back and Jenny was a little reluctant to start a kicking match with him, but it didn't slow her down. Second day, Jenny stayed out of kicking range while Jack was having his carrot. I offered her carrot, but she was too reluctant to be near Jack. Instead of her kicking him, she stayed away from him. It told me something major was changing in their relationship. Before, she had one wet place on the back of her neck. This day I saw that Jack's teeth had left marks over an area about as long as my forearm. He had been taking charge of her with intent.
By the third day, Jenny stayed back and watched while Jack took his carrot. I left off the sweet grain. They were in such an equine place that did not include me, I made the daily visits brief. Jenny was anxious, but not kicking. She was calmed way down from what she was a few days before. Jack had been pulling her down, taking hold of her neck, evidently taming her to himself in the way a stallion takes a mare for his own. It looks like she is conceding to his will, tired of him pulling her down by the back of her neck. Jenny in her first days with Jack was obviously in charge. Jack was shy around her, let her kick him and did not kick back. The first time I saw him pull her down by the neck was first time I saw Jack taking charge. Jack was kicking back, kick for kick. He was aggressive with her like he was telling her to stop kicking or there would be hell to pay, and she evidently knew what he meant. Each of those three days I stayed out of the meadow, I saw she was paying more attention to Jack's will daily. Third day, in front of me he mounted Jenny's back, not for penetration, but to show me what he can do now. Twice he mounted her back and she did not move from under him, nor did she kick. He only stayed a few seconds, enough to let me see the progress made training his babydoll. When she would swing her rear end around, ready to kick, he swung his rear around, too, and it went no further. He told her to stay back from me with grunts I took for donkey growls.
Fourth day, I tried going into the meadow. The donkeys were at the far end of the meadow. I called to Jack. He started walking while I called, "Donkey Jack." He broke into a casual run and ran to me without braying. We spoke and I handed him the carrot to take a bite from. I leaned down to eye level and spoke to him, told him I'm glad to see him again. He looked at my eyes while I spoke. He understood what I was saying. Like cats, we did not need to linger and have a conversation. The eye-contact for a moment was all we needed. I'm glad I have learned from all the four-leggeds in my life that without the forebrain they don't have need to make a moment last. The moment speaks its meaning, that's it. Jenny, seeing it was carrot time, walked to us while Jack chewed on his carrot. I took the moment to talk to him, see him eye to eye, remind him that I appreciate his donkeyness. Jenny walked up to us, Jack grunted a growl, turned his rear end to her and she backed off. I held out a handful of grain to Jack that he picked up with his lips that he can work like fingers. For Jenny, I extended my left arm out to the side so she could have some grain without stepping into Jack's strike zone. I stood beside a small maple trunk that helped keep them apart and gave me something of a shield. Jenny step too close to Jack, he let out a growl and she stepped away. This day, they would be standing side  by side, even touching, and not kick..

Jenny would not approach me while Jack was there. He growled at her several times, and she paid attention. Only once Jenny turned her back end to me like she was about to kick. Jack turned his back end to her. It was looking like a kicking match was about to begin. Jenny backed down and Jack settled down. This almost incident caused me to step over near the tree to put something between me and them in case they started getting rambunctious. They settled down. I gave them both a handful of grain until none was left. They were focused entirely on each other. This was a tense time for them. I knew they would not miss me, so I said good-bye and walked back to the gate. Looking back, they were standing side by side picking up bits of grain that had fallen from my hand. The sides of their bellies were touching. They probed around on the grass with their lips picking up the grain. It told me Jenny is now Jack's donkey. They appeared comfortable together. I don't know what to call what they are going through. It is definitely a courtship, but not in the way we tend think of courtship, wooing your sweetheart spending money on her. Donkeys don't have money to spend, so they do it their own way. Jack breaking Jenny's will by intimidating dominance reminds me of caveman cartoons, knocking the woman in the head with a club and dragging her home by the hair of her head.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


scott freeman, spencer strickland, gerald anderson, butch barker
scott freeman, spencer strickland, gerald anderson, butch barker
Friday night at Willard Gayheart's Front Porch Gallery in Woodlawn VA, five miles past Galax Walmart, behind Harmon's, is the Fiddle and Plow Show. After several years of listening to the music played at the Front Porch, I forget my initial attraction to the music, how much I loved Scott Freeman's music upon first hearing an Alternate Roots project. I have never grown weary of his music, rather appreciate it more every year. It's about the only music I hear anymore, except when I want to rock and put on something like the Clash or Garbage, or want to hear Schubert quartets or Thelonious Monk with Charlie Rouse, Straight No Chaser. If that were the only jazz album in my house, I'd be satisfied. It seems like I appreciate the Rolling Stones more as I get older, for their musicianship as much as for their music. Musicianship has always been important to my musical ear, but since discovering mountain music, in particular the music of Scott Freeman, Willard Gayheart, and the acoustic musicians of their world, SW Virginia and NW North Carolina, a high grade of musicianship has become my norm. Every week, bands or particular musicians are invited by Scott and Willard to play to an audience of most often less than twenty, though this show had an audience of about 45, full house. I'd missed at least the last six weeks of shows. Hearing the band brought me back like I'd been underwater too long, breaking the surface, inhaling the music of four mountain musicians whose musicianship is out there past what words can tell. Everybody who came through the door knew we were going to be hearing some music when these fellers set to jamming.  
scott freeman, spencer strickland, gerald anderson

scott freeman, spencer strickland
spencer strickland, gerald anderson

Gerald Anderson, Spencer Strickland and Butch Barker evidently play together as a band. Anderson and Strickland have been making music together quite a number of years. I heard Spencer Strickland at the Wayne Henderson Fest eight or nine years ago when he was in his late teens. I'd not seen him since, though had heard him on a few cds. He can tear up a mandolin. He and Scott played mandolins together on one song. They had a good time, something like kids playing catch. Scott played the fiddle mostly, and Strickland played the fiddle some, and Scott played mandolin some. Strickland could make the fiddle do its thing, too. He had a good touch with it. Good mandolin touch too. His picking and his fiddle have a lyrical lightness about them. I mean lightness like a chickadee, no weight, can cavort in the air like a swallow. He and Scott were enjoying making music together. Both are masters of the mandolin and both excellent fiddlers. It was visible they were tapped into each other musically, were flowing. They've known each other several years and flow very well together. It seemed like there was understanding between them throughout the show. No one-upmanship was going on. They made music together, flowed together with Anderson and Barker like a jazz quartet jazzing some traditional songs in their own style. Like in the be-bop period, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson, jazzing Broadway standards, these guys jazz traditional tunes from another songbook.
gerald anderson
scott freeman
scott freeman

scott freeman, spencer strickland
Anderson is a noted luthier of the region. His mandolins are prized instruments to the musicians who play them. He makes a good guitar too. He is one of the mandolin players of the region in the same league as Scott and Spencer, also a guitar picker who can knock your sox off listening to what he can do with his guitar. So far I've stressed musicianship, which is an aside in relation to the music. The music is what they play. Their musicianship gives them a broad range of sound possibilities. Gerald Anderson played guitar at the Front Porch once before, accompanied by Scott and Willard. These are all musicians who play music first. The depth and breadth of their musicianship is what they play the music with. They are not musicians to show you all the tricks they can do, not at all. They show their musicianship by playing the songs about the best you ever heard them. They draw attention to the music, not themselves, in the mountain tradition. Butch Barker's bass was one of the instruments in the band. He kept the rhythm, but he also picked the bass in a way that made it all the more interesting to the ear. He played guitar in the Ashe County bluegrass band, Rock Bottom Bluegrass. They were good listening. The band is no more, and Butch is now playing bass with Anderson and Strickland. They make a musical team with their own sound. The show was a good welcome back for me after such a long string of circumstances that prevented going. The welcome back from the others who go almost every week was like family. Appreciation for this music is our bond.
butch barker, scott freeman
gerald anderson, butch barker
spencer strickland

butch barker


Friday, October 25, 2013


By day the bat is cousin to the mouse,
He likes the attic of an aging house.
His fingers make a hat about his head,
His pulse beat is so slow we think him dead.
He loops in crazy figures half the night
Among the trees that face the corner light.
But when he brushes up against a screen,
We are afraid of what our eyes have seen:
For something is amiss or out of place
When mice with wings can wear a human face.
                               ---Theodore Roethke


Thursday, October 24, 2013


For a couple weeks I've paid next to no attention to the news. The most interesting media broadcast came to me by way of BBC radio. In Mogadishu, Somalia, teachers are having a problem enforcing no cell phones in class. That struck me as news worth hearing. We only know of Mogadishu from Black Hawk Down, a fairly good military action movie. Somalia we know of for pirates abducting oil tankers for ransom, a country of extreme poverty without government, the place we'd like the Teabaggers to go where they can live without government and have all the guns and ammo they want. But, as they say, "That's not what we mean." I see Sarah Palin's face and Ted Cruz's face every time I got to facebook. Finally, today I made comment to the source of a Ted Cruz article about what a bozo he is: His game is name recognition and you're helping him out. Fact is, I'm helping them out here using their names while dismissing them. Their advisors have taught them name recognition is all that is important. It doesn't matter that Sarah Palin said Jesus celebrated Easter. A year from now, nobody will remember. Ten years from now, everyone will remember the name Sarah Palin. The real horror story is that she is so popular. Faux tv can't keep her off the air by viewer demands. We who like to think ourselves somewhat rational see Ted Cruz a blithering buffoon. Yet he is wildly popular. Because he's a moron. That's where I scratch my head. I already know anti-intellectualism in America has degenerated to anti-paying attention. And here it is, popular ignorance, the legacy of the Reagan Revolution.
I've become shy of calling my mother. Her new husband is a Faux tv enthusiast. They live in separate apartments in an assisted living facility, but they watch tv together in the evening. Last time we talked, she said, "Obama is ruining our country." It took me back to age 16 when I was listening to Little Richard and she said, "The niggers are taking over." Then, as now, I could only think: What? The woman who has parroted preachers all her adult life is now parroting Faux tv. I wanted to say, Please stop watching that ignorance. But her fundamentalist religion has a tv news channel now. Her new political awareness via indoctrination tv is the political equivalent of her religion. It took me fifteen years to shake off the belief system she enforced. I had to throw out the baby with the bathwater, as they say. I turned my back to all of it by way of education. I went to college to flush the ignorance out of my system. One of the first things I learned studying 20th Century American poetry, dogmatism is not where it's at. Turns out I'd thought it was. It was a shock. One of my initial attractions to Bob Dylan was his dogmatism, which caused me eventually to say good-bye to him. Then his last five albums happened and each one pulled me back  Sitting in front of a preacher several times a week through the entirety of childhood was crazy-making. I'm reminded of a brother and sister I know whose dad made them sit and listen to Rush Limbaugh before they went to school every morning. Daddy was a preacher man. Eventually, I came to see preachers as culture cops. They enforce culture. If they paid any attention to "Jesus' word," they'd be promoting loving one another instead of guilt.  
The culture of my developing years was Kansas creationist, before Creationism, fundamentalist. Of course I believed it. But something is amiss when what it did to a kid of a questioning mind was pack him so full of sewage that he had to open the release valve and get rid of it all. That is the process that took fifteen years. Westboro Baptist church that's frequently in the news is Kansas fundamentalism. It looks odd from the outside, but on the inside, that mind is a dynamic force. That the likes of the Koch Bros are from Wichita surprises me not. All my life I have questioned myself and God about why I was destined to grow up in Kansas this time. Could I have read The Wizard of Oz in my former lifetime? Could the horrors of the previous lifetime, Europe subdued by Nazis, have made me long in my heart for the "free world," for Kansas, "there's no place like home." To quote Lou Reed from one of his songs, "Just goes to show how wrong you can be." When I question how I came about my parents by way of karma, then I wonder how they came about me? If I was the torment to them that they were to me, I know they were glad to see me go. Mother lives in a state of denial and I can't get a straight answer from her about anything. Denial is what it takes to keep her equilibrium. I was taught denial in depth, and never to talk about anything that might run a ripple across her smooth lake of denial. Next, I find myself drawn to people of these characteristics. First thing I did was marry daddy. Then came the day I said this will not be the nature of my life. I will not live with him in a woman's body all the way along. I've already done my time with him. I felt like a kid born in prison. I was not going to drag that ball and chain through the rest of my life.
At age 23, as far away from Wichita as land allows without the extreme of Alaska, the checklist of obligations to rule by others, parents, school, church, marriage and military, was done. The marriage was divorced after two years when I realized I was living with daddy and liked it less every day. I turned my back to all of it. Release from the navy, then release from marriage, I started at the College of Charleston because my X had told me I would not be accepted there. Challenge a Taurus. I started the first day of my life that would be my own at the College of Charleston. The entire student body would not fill an auditorium classroom at a state university. It was not a high-powered school. It was still an Old South college. I loved that about it most of all. I had longed throughout childhood to feel the soul of the South. Most of my friends in the South have been non-racist people of several races. The great southern writers are not racist. I know there is a great deal of fervent racism in the South, but I don't care. It's everywhere. It's worse in New York City. In the South I learned not to let other people's belief systems be a problem for me. They allow me mine, I allow them theirs. I've found it to be a Southern code wherever I am in the South. I don't mean to apologize for barbeque culture or any of the parts of Southern culture I don't participate in, only that in the South we allow each other to be who we are. So you think different from somebody. So what else is new? I've found the Southern people best known individually.
From the outside the southern people are judged collectively by abstractions without meaning. People outside the South think they know all about the South. I'm here to tell you, nobody outside the South knows anything about the South. The South can only be known from the inside. Southern people don't care that Yankees think they're ignernt racists. It keeps them away. It's a good thing. When I found out about a Yankee I know who told a sheriff deputy living a couple doors down the street in town to keep his dog at home--it's shitting in his yard, I said, What! Man! This is the South! We don't do that shit! I don't mean the South is Ozzie & Harriet forever. I mean there is a bond between somebody from North Carolina and somebody from Alabama when they meet at a convention in New York. I saw recently in the news that a couple in Johnson City, Tennessee, were renting out their teenage girls to make porn films, getting paid pretty well, subsistence. They started when the girls were 9. Shit happens in the South same as shit happens in the North. We're all a world of people, all of us endowed with human nature, whatever our culture. I love about the South that it continues to be a culture even after all these years of television. I don't like to leave the South anymore. After the second half of my life in the mountains, I don't like to leave the mountains for more than a very short time. I don't like to leave my county anymore. The people of Alleghany County allow me to live among them and many of them have a place in my heart. I've walked my own walk, talked my own talk; I love living among the Southern people and am grateful to them for allowing me to live happily among them.
 I really don't care if somebody is racist or not, whether somebody is republican or not. I've known enough people of other races to see they're racist too. In the South, you take it for granted everybody is republican and leave it be at that. I don't care how they vote. People I like are people I like. I don't want all liberals around me. I don't want everybody around me agreeing with me. I want different kinds of people in my life. Somebody's racism is their own business. Somebody's politics is their own business. Same with religion. In the world of people I know that I live among, it is a wide variety. I like that every person I know is unique among all the others. Last week I saw a friend who is 81, bluegrass bass player, good a man as you'll find on earth, haughtily rejected for his PC insensitive language. He was hurt by it, didn't understand it. I was perplexed. I stood there and watched my friend be rejected by intolerance for his unconscious clich├ęs of intolerance. I had to remind myself this world is not necessarily rational. That I have reminded myself so many times explains why it shocked me to hear Joe in the coffee shop say that something to do with somebody's behavior was not logical. That rang every bell I had. I didn't know that Joe took the logical for the norm. And I'm not sure he really does. It's a conjecture from one word. All I mean to say is it shocked me to hear it, no matter who said it.   



Tuesday, October 22, 2013


shadow screen
The new shadow screen in my yard is now completed. Today I picked up the plastic spread over rocks I did not want to drip paint on. Put all the paint cans in a box with the brushes to have them all in one place for the next coat of paint. Thought I'd repaint it every year, using the paint for a protective coat over plywood that has been dry for ten years in the shed I keep scrap wood in. Now several coats of paint will keep it firm for several years. It's mortal, of course, and some day the plywood will do whatever old plywood does. It's not for all time. It's not universal. It's not high art. It's fun. Over about twenty years I've been keeping scrap wood in a shed that I used for a chicken shed about ten years. Now I want to convert the shed into a stable for two donkeys. The wood has to go. This project is made from scraps in the woodshed, none of them altered in any way. That was control number one, use the wood exactly as it is. For perspective, the disk is four feet across. The initial visual idea was a sun rising or setting behind the mountains. The disk was yellow and the horizontal waves were green with highlights of blue. I painted both sides the same. The side facing north toward the road is a yellow disk with green mountains. I wanted my side to be my own, different from the other side,
Friday a week ago I was sitting on an upside down five gallon bucket looking at it in its yellow and green phase wondering what I could do to make it my own. The other side faces the road. It's the public side. This side, the south side, is my own personal side. I did not want to do something I would get tired of seeing every day the rest of my life. First thought was to paint the disk Chinese red, a red that makes fire truck red look dull. Too powerful. I did not want the visual equivalent of a loud speaker playing heavy metal FM. I wanted something that would cooperate with the quiet calm I feel when I step out of the car and enter the canopy of trees. By the time I reach the door to the house, the trees have welcomed me showering their relaxing vibration all around where I walk. This is my small world of chipmunks, gray squirrels, red squirrels, several kinds of birds, crows. I wanted something that would flow in this immediate environment. It is situated with the flow of the wind through here. I don't anticipate the wind hurting it, unless we get another direct hit by hurricane like Hugo in 1984. Hugo would have sent it flying all the way to Pine Swamp. That's the worst extreme. It would take such as the most extreme to destroy it. The wind runs through here east and west. North and south winds go over the tops of the ridges. The house sits in a valley with ridges all the way around. It doesn't feel tucked in, but it is. Extreme storms are the only times the wind is bad.
Sitting on the bucket, gazing at the yellow disk, I was looking for something to give it some life, give it some lightness, make it dance. I visioned different colors and nothing was satisfying. Looking at possibilities in my head, I sat gazing at the yellow disk, watching the shadows from the trees move slowly, very slowly, across the disk. After watching the shadow the whole time looking at the movie screen on the inside of my forehead, bingo, I saw the shadow I'd been gazing at while my mind was looking inside. White was the answer. I wanted to make it a shadow screen. I wanted to make the  circle like the Zen zero, black ink on white paper. Making the black outline makes the whole image a suggestion of ink on paper, same scene as other side; color on one side, black & white on the other. I did not want to depart from the color side. If I had not seen the shadow, I was thinking it would be fun to give a spray can of any color to everyone who stops by in the course of a month, and invite friends to do some spray can graffiti on it, kids especially. Anything. Anything they want to do. Cover it up with graffiti. I still think that would bring it to life. For me. When my inner eye connected with my outer eye, I found what I was looking for. If the other side can be called the sun in the mountains, this side can be called the moon in the clouds, making both sides of the construction a unit, like a coin. For anyone who wants to know if I call it a sculpture or a painting, I'd like to call it a stabile. Alexander Calder called his metal constructions that stood in place stabiles. I like that.
The lower horizontal edge is sixteen inches above the ground. It stands on one post, the one on the right. It is a mailbox post with the arm that holds the box planted in the ground like a fencepost, tamped down good. I had a 6x6 inch post standing under it at the other end while painting it. Replaced it with a rock that exact length, by chance, it standing on a flat rock. The weight of the construction holds the rock in place while the rock holds it up. It would eventually sag without a support. I chose that height to have it above splashes from rain on the ground, and the grass that grows in that area is about a foot and a half high. It will give the suggestion that it is floating on the grass. A wall of jewelweed stands behind it in the summer. The jewelweed has fallen down by now. It was as high as the goldenrod in the picture. It makes a beautiful background. Several ferns grow in this place. On the right is a small rhododendron that will be a little bit bigger each year. Soon it will become a part of the whole image. Standing to the right of it I have yet to plant Tom Pruitt's mailbox and post. It is at least seventy years old. It's made of steel. Has two bullet holes in each side, entry and exit. It's all rust. The post is old wood roughly nailed together with about four times as many big nails as needed. It is a memory of a good old friend.
The vertical posts are 6x6's and 8x8's, cut in different lengths between a foot and a half and two and a half feet. I have seven of them painted different colors, blue, green and white. Have stood each one on a flat rock. Placed them randomly. Will make changes. Have two more not painted yet. They are three feet long. I'm thinking about placing them horizontally on flat rocks. Using the rocks to keep the painted wood up off the damp ground to inhibit rot. These are blocks found here and there over the years. When I see one being thrown out at a building site, it goes into the trunk of the car. One more item for the shed full of wood scraps. Also thinking about painting the vertical blocks with different colors on each side and the top, kinda like that. Everything chance, as it happens at the moment. I wanted to stand the blocks because of a forecast for snow Wednesday. I don't know whether to believe it, but wanted the posts standing in case it does snow. It has the potential to be gorgeous in the snow. The snow will give me some ideas for the painting of the vertical blocks. Thinking about painting them white and black, each one differently. The snow will tell me. I look forward to seeing it with grass and ferns grown up around the posts so only their tops are visible. It works well with the feeling walking under the canopy of the trees, rhododendrons, big ferns, big rocks. It is a good place to sit on an upside down bucket and watch the shadows. Most of the time it has no shadows, and that is equally satisfying. It is a different light every time I see it. Fun is the best part. It was a fun project.
by tj worthington


Monday, October 21, 2013


here comes jack

This morning after a cold night I looked out at the donkeys. They were standing still in the sunlight soaking up the warm morning rays. A few hours later I was ready to go watch the race with friends. I took another look at the donkeys. Jenny was standing next to a small black pine about four feet tall in the meadow. Just standing there. Couldn't find Jack. He was on the other side of the creek. That caught my attention. I wondered what it took to make him decide to cross the water. Surely, Big Mama Donkey had something to do with it. I came home not long after the end of the race, worn out from not enough rest the night before. I wanted to take some sweet grain and some carrots to the donkeys before a nap. Jack was on this side of the creek. Maybe he is discovering that he can cross the water easily. This is the first time that I know of he crossed the creek of his own will. The first time, I'm imagining he crossed it to get away from her kicking him. On the other side he wanted to be back with his baby doll. Considering he crossed the water the first time out of immediate necessity, the second time he thought about it for awhile. I'm thinking after he has crossed it as a result of thinking about it, he has a better understanding that there's nothing to it.

jenny looking pretty

Jack saw me walking toward the gate and here he came, braying, happy to see his friend after the days of ordeal with difficult Jenny. I was happy to hear Jack bray again. Jenny saw me giving Jack a carrot and here she came. Jack turned his back end to her and she moved around him for the carrot. Close as they were, they kicked at each other, half-kicks saying don't get too close. It was a dance they were doing while I held out a handful of grain for each. They gobbled it up like two dogs with one feeding bowl. They are catching on that we take turns. The calf came for some. All three were ecstatic with the good grain. Each one after eating a handful had to lick my hand between the fingers to get the last molecules of that good flavor. Three of them desperate for each handful can be a bit challenging, especially when the donkeys are kicking at each other. One time Jenny turned her rear end to me like she was going to kick. I threw a handful of grain at her rump and said, "Cut that out!". It stopped her. I saw myself for a moment in my mind's eye an old farmer out feeding his animals, talking to them and they mind him. They were frisky today. Jenny did not want to be messed with at all. She would not have being touched. They have been through so much power-handling each other, kicking, biting, using their weight with intent to subdue the other that I understand the motivation for the earliest humans to use a pointed stick to defend themselves from about any animal. If either one of these donkeys took a notion to attack me in earnest, I wouldn't have a chance.


I've stopped wondering what the donkeys will do next. The only thing for me to do is observe, let them teach me the ways of donkeys. Their relationship is different every day. It makes me want to sit out there in the field like Jane Goodall and watch them. Taking carrots and grain to them will have to do for my interaction time. I'm wanting to get acquainted with Jenny, get to know her like I know Jack, but it's going to be a longer process with her, considering the sexual tension they're going through. I'll keep on hand-feeding Jenny and we'll gradually become friends. Even Jack in this crazy time doesn't want me handling him much. He doesn't stand still long enough for me to rub his legs. He and Jenny were dancing around me kicking at each other, inhibiting any interest I might have in talking with them and having some eye-to-eye time with each one. Though they fight all the time, I'm detecting the suggestion of affection between them. Jenny can't let up her guard, so she's anxious all the time about attempted rape. I have a feeling this tension between them will go on until she goes into heat. I'm wondering if this particularly equine foreplay might trigger a heat wave. It is a wearisome struggle for both of them. They know each other's physical frame very well by now, and, like Marsha said, they are playing mind games. Each one is totally focused on the other. I imagine they are tuning in to each other telepathically, too. Or maybe that's what their mind games are about.

jenny's scratching post

I have a suspicion that this time of ongoing attempted rape, both of them zoomed in on each other with a focus of attention that never lets up, is a bonding time. She can't stop thinking about him and he can only think about her. He wants to crawl her bones and she just wants to be friends. She says, You'd be this way with any girl. It's not me you love when you say, Baby I love you. He says, What are you talking about? I never think about what I will miss after the time of my dying, because from that moment on, it doesn't matter and I won't care. But I can say openly and honestly I am happy to have lived long enough to have donkeys in my life. I don't even expect Jack to recognize me in this time of his struggle with a difficult woman, a black belt kick-boxer. I felt like what they were doing while they were kicking each other, drawn together by the two-legged that lives in the human barn, they were sparring. They had no intent to hurt. It was no more than donkey sparring, interacting, feeling each other's power and cleverness, finding each other's vulnerabilities. I was surprised when Jenny made the first moves toward kicking me, then remembered she'd even kicked the calf two or three times, and she doesn't kick the calf. I felt like she was feeling especially aggressive today, defensive, worn out from fighting that crazed sex fiend four days and nights. It's like she was mad at the world and everybody in it. Jack was on automatic pilot. He was feeling a similar anxiety to what Jenny was feeling. He was so tired of being kicked he was in fight back mode, kick for kick. I like my donkeys spirited. I also like them eating from my hands. I was happy to see Jack could take a time out from that mind he was in to bray to his human friend.    

jenny and jack


Sunday, October 20, 2013


 jenny kisses april
Pictured is my friend April Holcomb Joines kissing my ass. Ever since she heard I had an ass, she has been after me to let her kiss it. I said, Come on, you don't need an appointment. Here she is with Jenny, planting a good one on Jenny's nose. Jenny likes getting face to face with a human making eye contact up close. Jenny likes for me to very lightly rub the whiskers of my chin and upper lip on her soft, sensitive nose, muzzle, whatever it's called. She likes to feel the whiskers, once, out of curiosity. After one time, her curiosity is satisfied. Like here with April, Jenny is curious about April touching her nose with her lips. For donkey, it was an interesting exchange with a human. I've found that donkeys like interactions with humans. They find us more interesting than we find them. I'm noticing, too, that donkeys frequently touch each other, bump, rub, know each other very well physically, weight especially. Sometimes I'll stand beside Jack and bump him with my hip, the way dogs bump each other, to give him a feel for my weight. I'll put my arms around his neck from his shoulder to give him the feel of my arms. Not controlling. Arms are especially curious to him. We don't use our front feet for walking. Until Jack learned that human arms move unpredictably, he would jump when I made a quick arm movement.
jenny enjoys april's and cindy's attention
Jenny doesn't like to be touched. She will get face to face, likes having her head and neck scratched around the ears. From the shoulder back, leave her alone. I touched one of her legs and she jerked it back. I can honor that. That's just Jenny's personality. It will be a little while teaching her that she can depend on my hands not to hurt her. Being touched at all goes entirely against their four-legged nature. We teach our kittens and puppies to like petting. Otherwise, they'd prefer we not touch them. I respect Jenny's apprehension about being touched beyond her neck. For one thing, she has this sex-crazed jackass chasing her with a foot long dong dangling, determined to rape her if she'll just stand still a minute and quit kicking him. She's involved in mind games with a jackass, really tired of him trying to jump on her every moment she's not watching him. I can't have an undistracted eye-to-eye getting acquainted time with Jenny like before with Jack. While I'm giving Jenny a carrot or just talking to her, rubbing her forehead, she is aware of Jack nearby, ready to kick if he gets too close. Jenny has a little bit wilder spirit than Jack. She stands tall, neck up, ears straight up. Perky. It might be her apprehension in her new home where nothing is familiar. About twenty minutes ago, I had to go out the front door and yell loud as I could in my role as the big bad giant that lives in the house among the trees. Coyotes were probably not a hundred feet from the house taunting the calf. I have tried clanging metal, but a big bass human roar does it faster. They really respond to GIT yelled in a monster roar.
andrea with a treat for jack
The donkeys are here to keep coyotes out of the meadow. Nonetheless, the donkeys are pre-occupied with their focus on each other, both in a world they don't understand yet. This is the first time coyotes have been here since Jenny's arrival. Tonight they were all around the house. I hesitated to take more than one step beyond the door. I hate it for the calf to be surrounded by those demons wanting to kill it, yipping and yelling in their shrill eardrum-piercing shrieks. The donkeys were probably at the other end of the meadow. The coyotes know where to find the calf at night. It stays among the tall ironweed and goldenrod in a small section by the creek too soggy to bush-hog. Plenty of grass grows in there. She beds there for protection. This side of the creek has no good protection from a coyote attack. The other side has great protection from coyotes, but neither donkeys nor calf will cross the creek. The meadow is in such emotional chaos right now, all I know to do is let it run its course, let the process of equine getting-to-know-you play out, observe it, be fascinated by it, learn much from it, be in awe of it. Marsha Wagoner gives me good tips on equine behavior. I like her understanding of them, it's empathetic, she's a friend with her horses. I want to be a friend with my donkeys they can trust absolutely. I want them to know that when I take people into the meadow to see them we're all friendly.
petting zoo day for jack and jenny
I was glad to see April. Hadn't seen her in several years. She is a lover of the four-leggeds, the helpless, the poor. She has a fascination for serpents that she understands after a lifetime of interest in them. It doesn't trip my trigger at all to have a snake crawling on me, but I understand she likes them. If I knew them as well as she knows them, I'd probably like them crawling on me too. It's what I've appreciated about April all the years I've known her, her way of following her own interest whether anybody around her likes it or not. She has a beautifully realized feminine spirit. A woman who runs with the wolves. Cindy and Andrea are also women who run with the wolves, each in her own way. It's why they're drawn to each other. It's why they wanted to interact with the donkeys. They know a person is inside each of the donkey bodies. Cindy keeps parrots. Andrea loves a chance to interact with a four-legged, a winged, she loves them all. These are people who respect the world outside the human rat-race track where the money game goes round and round. They're a little bit country and a little bit soul. All have lives full of issues. They got together for a Saturday afternoon to ride around, be together, drop in at Allan and Gary's stain glass exhibition on Studio Hop weekend, stop and see TJ's donkeys, have a relaxed day of it, trouble free. And don't get donkey kicked.
jack chases jenny, his ears up, her ears down
Jenny went off to herself a moment. We saw her raise her tail. She peed and walked away. Jack predictably stepped over to sniff the pee. He sniffed and sniffed. That lip curled up and his face wrenched up like he was tasting raw mustard the first time, and we all knew it was on. Jack took off after Jenny. She popped him in the chest with her powerful back feet, over and over, Jack right behind, chin high, as much out of range of kicking as he could get it. I heard her connect one on his chin that got his attention for a split second. He stayed right behind her, his dinger almost dragging the ground, him almost making it onto her back a few times, but never successfully. He pushed himself up beside her and took the nape of her neck in his teeth to subdue her. She conceded to his control. They walked around and around in a circle, like in a circus ring, Jack's jaws clamped down on the back of her neck, Jenny with her ears laid back allowing him control. He had to have something of a vice-grip hold on her to control her weight and her resistance as firmly as he did. It looked like a National Geographic video live in my back yard. The Wild African Ass. Jack would let go and make another attempt at her from behind, but she kicked and kicked, them running around in the field. He bit her neck again and took her under his control. Marsha told me Jack would assert himself soon. We laughed like children seeing the donkeys perform their most primal pre-human love dance. I suddenly realized my buddy Donkey Jack turns out to be a stallion.

jack takes the fight out of jenny