Today I've been filled up with a loving feeling for my four-legged friends and the winged friends. With that inner joy comes its balance, sorrow that the world I live in has so little use for anything living, even human life. After more than six thousand years of religion, the humans of the world still get their greatest kick out of killing. In the time I was new in the mountains, in awe of the natural world, I saw a blue heron in the lake one day. A lake here is a glorified pond made by a bulldozer, or bull-noser as they're known by the men who drive them. Later in the day, I told old man Tom I'd seen a heron. He said, "Kill it! It'll eat up all the fish in the lake!" I thought, All the fish? The bird isn't big enough to eat all the fish. It was passing through, saw a restaurant and dropped in. I did not kill the bird. The thrill of killing was one of the first characteristics I learned about old man Tom. His eyes sparkled when he told about killing something, anything. The thrill was the kill. I wondered how a man who talked about Jesus with genuine adoration, obeying God and love for God, can want to kill everything around him. In his later years he sat in an upstairs window facing his garden at sunset. I would hear a .22 rifle shot and know Tom shot another deer. He would wait for them to go into his garden he did not keep a fence around, shoot them in the belly with a .22 "so they'll go off and die." He didn't want them to fall down dead in his garden. Set up internal bleeding and they'll go away to die. He talked of it with fascination like he'd figured out something really special. He hated the deer. I asked him about the snakes in my first year. His answer, "Kill ever one ye see!" I didn't follow that counsel either.
Tom's brother, Millard, an old-timey Regular Baptist preacher. Brilliant man. Bible scholar. Truly inspired in the pulpit. Killing was his answer to solving problems. Seeing the evening news with him one evening, Iran and the Ayatollah issue was on. His recommendation: Nuke em. I said to him, You nuke this one you don't like, another one you don't like, there will come a day you've nuked everybody and you're the only one left. "That'd be all right." He meant it. I wanted to take it for humor, but it wasn't. He meant it. And it fit his character perfectly. Though he preached Jesus and love, outside the church love was a four-letter word and he didn't like hardly anybody. A Reaganista. The part that gave me pause was these are Americans from the traditional belief system of the time before electricity. These are people who call land "improved" when all its trees are cut down. Tom was not above pulling power on me to make me do his will. One example, I had a maple tree growing close to where I park. It was a nice tree. I liked it's color in the fall. Tom told me to cut it. I said no. He went to Ted Stern we were both working for and told him to tell me to cut it down. Really pist me off. I was told to cut it down because Tom wanted me to. After reasoning over it a day or two, I cut it down to keep peace and made firewood of it. Tom said he likes a place open. He can live in a damn desert if he wants to, but leave me alone about my trees! Next spring three sprouts grew up from around the trunk. I let the three maple trees grow in the place where there was one. The tree is even more beautiful now. This memory brings up a time he lied to me looking straight into my eyes. I told him I didn't believe it. He said, You calling me a liar? I had to say, Reckon I am. An intense moment. I did not see myself getting to my car alive. I did expect to be shot there and then. His eyes became shotgun barrels, and I felt like I was shot in his mind. I had nothing to do with him for four months after that. I couldn't even look at him I was so outraged by the betrayal. I thought we were friends after about five years. Turned out we were not. Ok. I never got over it.
I tend not to get over betrayal. It's not so much a principle I cling to, but deeper than that, down in that place I don't have a lot of conscious control over. Throughout childhood my mother betrayed me every opportunity. I learned early on I could not count on her. She taught me to lie to her. I became a private child. I couldn't count on either parent nor the church. I could count on school. School was my home. Loved going to school in the morning, hated going home. By the time I got into factory school, the fun of school went away. I've had a fondness for school, because that's where the love was in childhood, the other kids I was growing up with and teachers that really liked the kids. A second time, school put me on my feet by way of a small Southern college that was intimately small with a largely good faculty. I came to the mountains and moved into a schoolhouse. The house is the old Air Bellows school house. Now, in this time of the life, the place I call the home of my soul is a schoolhouse. I put all this together and see school in childhood was my refuge, and now in my adult life a schoolhouse is my refuge. My schoolhouse is loaded with shelves and stacks of books. At home with parents I was not allowed to read. If you got time to read a book, you got time to cut the grass, wash the car, wash the dishes. So I watched television. No consequences. As soon as I was in my first apartment, I stayed in and read as much as I could. It was like the dam broke. All I wanted to do was read. It's been that way ever since. I can't read Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum; that kind of writing spits me out before the end of the first page. Instead of turning to page two, I close the book. There is so much that is good, I'm unable to waste my time on pop testosterone fluff. Thomas Powers wrote a fabulous biography of Crazy Horse. I'm glad I did not miss Saul Bellows' Mr Sammler's Planet by reading some espionage nonsense of the day.
Something else I'm seeing the first time tonight, my adult life is characterized by reading. It's not the act of reading I like so much, but what I'm learning. I've been in cultures all over the world by way of reading. I read a nicely written novel from China and get a keyhole glimpse into the culture there. Reading takes me inside the minds of some brilliant people. Russian artist Kandinsky wrote two small books on art that taught me some important qualities of color that inform my every use of color. Poetry has been one of the great loves of my life. Reading it more than writing it. I have to thank Allen Ginsberg. He wrote in such a way a high school graduate could read it and feel like he got it, at least somewhat. Next, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the greatest introduction to poetry there ever was. I may have to find a biography of him. Everything I've seen about him over the years has told me this is an intriguing character, a man who truly took his own path and made it work for him. I still love his poetry. It blows my mind he wrote Coney Island of the Mind in the 1940s. Henry Miller's writing was astonishingly contemporary to today in the 1930s and 40s. He was writing in a place and time, but it's more like he was writing in that time, not of that time. His writing does not date. Nor does Ferlinghetti's. Miller's Tropic of Cancer made a sensation with its American edition around 1960. It was originally published in English in Paris, 1934, and I have a copy. It's still contemporary. I love Miller's writing. Reading him, I'm observing his thought process, his attitude toward life, his associations. I feel like he was so formative in my early reading life that now, diving into his mind again, I feel like what I'm reading was written by a close friend I understand well, just from reading his story. I admire his character. I admire the man. I admire who he is. I learn from him. Perhaps his most important message he had for his readers was to love your life and live it. Every page I read by Miller I'm in awe of his beautiful writing, how he tells a story, the freshness of his mind. If I'd spent my life watching television, I'd have never had the opportunity to know anything Henry Miller had to say. A tragic loss it would have been.
wassily kandinsky himself