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Saturday, January 31, 2015

AN EVENING OF MUSIC FROM HOME


joe willey


jerel willey


Last night a good round of music, bluegrass played by pickers from Whitehead, Pine Swamp and Miller's Creek. The Willie brothers, Joe picking mandolin and Jerel the bass, with Jerel's boy, Justin, picking resonator guitar, better known as the Dobro. Gary Miller from Miller's Creek picked banjo, and Bobby Wagoner from Pine Swamp picked guitar. Bobby, Jerel and Joe sang the songs. Chris Durgin picked guitar. It was a jam at Chris's house of guys who like to pick together. I saw Chris last week, he told me to come on by for the jam. Different ones get together on Friday nights at his house to jam. They've been doing this for a few years. I knew about it, but, like everything else, it takes necessity for me to turn the key in the ignition to go someplace. I've become so jealous of my time, I don't want to go anywhere. I like to see people I'm close to and that's about it. Social for the sake of social is not enough to inspire me to leave the only place I want to be. Gas is expensive. I like to do my part keeping the pollution down by staying home. Now and then I feel a need to get out among some people I am comfortable with, like tonight, a bunch of Whitehead fellers I've known for a long time with a great deal of respect. Chris I've known for several years. He was new here about ten years ago. Bobby and Gary I met the first time when each one walked in the door. Bobby's singing took hold of me. He knows a lot of songs, good songs, country classics like, You Win Again, I Still Write Your Name In The Sand. Good singer and good guitar picker. Gary's banjo was not showy, but listen closely and he's right there every lick of the way. Justin started on mandolin, by now is playing guitar and banjo, and tonight was playing his resonator guitar. I'd heard Jerel play bass a few times, but had never heard Joe play mandolin, though I've known he was a good picker for some time. The best part of their music, to my ear, was their drive. They make music when they play. It's not just playing a tune and having a rhythm. They do all this and they make music too. By music, I mean infectious, makes feet tap the rhythm, forces body to move with the rhythm.


bobby wagoner, joe willey, jerel willey


Seeing and hearing Joe and Jerel, a moment from the past took its place in the front of my mind and stayed there. It was the time I missed hearing Joe pick at Jr Maxwell's 80th birthday party. Several musicians showed and had a dynamite bluegrass jam. I intended to be there. It was a special occasion, Jr's 80th. A woman Jr knew declared no liquor at the party. No liquor at a birthday party for Jr is not even a consideration. Of course there will be liquor. I'll drink before I go, thought I'd get my head right. It's a back road down the mountain. Thought I'd get my head in a place where it would last awhile, then go. Went past that place before I knew it. It weren't no bonded liquor, neither. A time came right away when I drank more than I knew I oughta and it was too late. Too many trees between here and the bottom of the mountain. I did not want to bounce from one tree trunk to another like a pinball on its way to the hole at the bottom. Milly called telling me to get my ass down there, some good bluegrass music is going on, people are asking, where's TJ? I said I'm on my way out the door, and didn't make it to the door after assessing the chair I was sitting in the best possible place to be, considering I did not want to run into a tree, did not want to mess up the front of the truck. Thought I'd stay in place, let the liquor wear off. It didn't happen. I stayed in not quite a stupor, but unable to move about accurately. Milly called again letting me have it. I didn't want to say I was unable to move with certainty of balance, said I'd be there soon, on my way out the door. I sat feeling I'd done something dumb, and realized, too, that I drank that much to make it impossible to go. I did  not want to be there. I accepted it, because it was the case. I did not want to be there. I wanted to see all the people there, but individually. I do not do well in a big bunch of people, whether I know them or not. My inner Taurus objected to the ban on liquor as pretentious, having nothing to do with reality. I didn't feel like honoring it, objecting to the control issues going on. I didn't want to be there. By this time in the life, I'd given self permission many years before to honor I-don't-want-to as valid a reason as any.


gary miller and justin willey


It was not an intelligent move. My life is not characterized by intelligent decision making, so it was nothing out of the usual. But it was another of many times I've had to remind self, I did not come here for this. I like knowing the people and do not like crowds. It's my right and I hold to it as such. Jr loved the music and all the good picking going on. He talked about Joe Willey's mandolin picking as something to regret missing. I believed him. He talked of Joe's mandolin with the satisfaction of an older musician seeing a younger musician he'd watched grow up turn out able to pick and make music too. Jr talked for weeks and months and years about Joe's picking. When asked why I didn't show up for the party, I answered straight up, I didn't want to, told him I got shit-faced to stop myself from going. I did regret bypassing a chance to hear Joe pick, knowing he would be good, just by knowing Joe enough to have seen he's good at everything he does. At work, he's a cabinet maker, a lifetime of working with wood, paying attention to detail. Joe's mandolin style struck me something like Bill Monroe's. I can't explain. It's a fast kind of strumming to keep the strings ringing. Noting with left hand determines the tune that flows on the wave of continuous mandolin strings ringing. A few times during the music, I felt like I heard a fiddle. Where was the fiddle coming from? I knew Gary played fiddle, though only brought a banjo. I searched for the location of the fiddle sound, knowing my ears were playing donkey tricks on me. I think it was three times I heard the fiddle. Each time zooming in on the fiddle strings, I found it coming from the mandolin. Only then did I hear the rhythm of his licks. It sounded like a long draw of the bow on the high strings, the noting fingers telling the story. I watched Joe's noting fingers dance on the strings as casually as my fingers dance on the keyboard. I'd think, Joe has been doing this for a long time. Joe likes a strong driving rhythm that pushes the music forward. He plays a mandolin like somebody who races motorcycles. Bluegrass is his music. He plays country and old time, too, though it's bluegrass that lights him up. 


justin willey picks chris durgin's guitar


Jerel is a bluegrass bass player who picks the bass instead of thumping rhythm with it. He carries the music in the bass in association with the other instruments. Jerel playing it, the bass becomes an integral part of the music. He doesn't overwhelm the other instruments with the power of a bass's vibration. The bass flows in the music. I'd heard Jerel's bass a few times before. His boy, Justin, who was playing Dobro, then was in a band with a couple other kids in high school, and English teacher, Lucas Pasley, on fiddle. Jerel with them, Borderline, I felt like Jerel was using the bass to back up the younguns, take care of the rhythm for them, keep the music flowing. I saw in Jerel with the band in Chris's living room cut loose on his bass and do some bluegrass singing too. He and Joe were bluegrass singers to my ears' satisfaction. Their voices have the mountain ring to them that is the heart and soul of bluegrass. Their music making all the way around is particularly bluegrass of the central Blue Ridge. Justin grew up musically with these musicians, one his dad, the other his uncle, and everyone they make music with. He was at home musically. Justin learned his way into music with a mandolin, became a respectable musician in a short number of years. During a break he picked up Gary's banjo and picked some licks. Another time, he picked Chris's guitar, feeling its sound. Perhaps my greatest appreciation of the Willeys as family, Jerel and Joe are friends with their kids, friends who can be counted on to the grave. I call it good people. First thing they wanted to do when the instruments came out of the cases, was work on a song they were learning, Angel On My Shoulder, recorded by bluegrass singer Larry Cordle. They had a good groove, a good flow with it, singing it the high lonesome bluegrass way, made a beautiful song of it. A second audience member came in, Pam Sundstrom, a facebook friend who knows a lot of people I know, though we'd never met. Her art form is silver. Interesting woman to visit with. Brought refreshing feminine energy into the circle. An evening of mountain music by musicians from home restoreth my soul.        

chris Durgin


*

Friday, January 30, 2015

FAREWELL FRIEND BILL FOY


Three days of my mind encircling two friends of many years who both left the body same day. Jeanette in Atlanta was lifted out of the body sitting in her car after work. In Eufala, Alabama, my friend Bill Foy didn't wake up that morning. His sister, Delia, found him still sleeping. I've entered the zone where my peers are taking leave of this world. Bill, I see all day the same as I see Jeanette all day. They take turns in my mind's eye and memory. All my life I've been drawn to people who make me laugh. Bill was a stand-up comic, a sit-down comic and a telephone comic. He also had the darkest sense of humor of anyone I know. First image to come to mind, a Christmas card he made one year, a postcard of black ink on red paper, Malcolm X in profile wearing a Santa hat. The greeting: Merry Xmas. His caring was deep as caring goes while at the same time suspicious of caring. At heart, he was a visual artist, who did not like the gallery world of sucking up to the rich, being the token artist at cocktail parties. Not his world. I have the same affliction. I love Bill's painting, but he let it go for wanting nothing to do with the art market world. Had he gone on, he'd have been a well respected artist by now. It had no appeal for him. He majored in art at U of Georgia, Athens. He knew the guy from the band, the B-52s, at UGa and was a B-52s fan the rest of his life. They never tripped my trigger, but I wasn't Bill. He saw the Sex Pistols at both their Atlanta shows. Like me, he was somebody who had a hard time living in this world of jobs and inter-human indifference. It was Bill who turned me on to John Waters films, Pink Flamingos first. He was a lover of foreign films, Waters his American favorite film maker, no close second. His sense of humor and Waters' matched like twin souls. He had the original LP of Divine's album of singing. He was a collector. His house had a room full of big boxes of his collections, off the wall items you'd never think of collecting. In the living room, done in 50s chrome and plastic chairs, on a chrome and glass table between two chairs, a small bowl. Sitting there having a drink, some good music playing, talking, I reach automatically to the bowl of peanuts to pick some up. I look and the bowl is full of human teeth.



I met Bill in my last months before leaving Charleston for the Blue Ridge. A friend of mine, who was a friend of his when he lived in Atlanta, told me she was driving to Atlanta for a Stanley Turrentine concert, jazz, tenor sax. She was from Atlanta, also visiting parents. I went with her and first thing was to see Bill. We went by his apartment. He had some friends there involved in some art project. He looked at me and looked away, paid me no more mind. This was 1975. I took to dressing mildly wild in my last year in Charleston. I'd wear things like a black mohair suit found at a thrift store with an electric blue shirt. Had a canary yellow mohair suit, too, found at the thrift store, I wore with a hot pink shirt. With both suits, white dress shoes. When I wanted to look really bad, I'd soak hair with Vitalis and comb it straight back. Greaser. It was something to do to break the monotony of everyday life, give it a little zip. Several friends were dressing up too. That evening I was wearing the black pants and a black leather vest, no shirt. Bill told me later he wondered where Sally picked this clown up. We didn't use the word geek then. He and his friends were wearing button-down collars. In the apartment, I paused at his bookshelf. I read titles of other people's books. It tells me what their interests are, what they're reading. I worked in bookstores about ten years. Bill's rows of books looked like my own. I'd never met anyone who read the same titles I read. It made me curious to know Bill, but he was being aloof and I don't recall we talked at all that weekend. I learned about him that he made postcards, arty postcards, and mailed them to friends. 




Upon returning home, I found at a thrift store a Kingston Trio album, the famous one from the late Fifties with Tom Dooley, the Zombie Jamboree, a record I never wanted. The front and the back were almost separated and the record in terrible condition. I paid maybe a dime or a quarter for it. I tore the front off. It had a picture of the three California guys in button-down collars. I mailed it as a postcard to Bill. It started years of postcard exchange. He told me some years later he wondered what that thing was about. I told him when I saw the album cover I thought of him and the two guys at his apartment playing art, all in button-down collars. I didn't know anybody wore those collars anymore, like alligator tshirts. He made me a clever card I received soon after. I made a card for him and we went back and forth making postcards to send, the cleverest, funnest things we could put together. I didn't even try to compete with him when it came to the bizarre. His cards were always funny in one way or another. His bizarre items were about humor. It was like playing scrabble with somebody who beat me every game. It was the game I enjoyed, especially receiving his cards. He had a card printed every year for Christmas. The most memorable one had a b&w picture of him with arm draped over Jonbenet Ramsey's tombstone. She was buried in Atlanta. The text: Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, except in the basement. The theme that ran through everything for him was to fly in the face of the holy, whatever the holy may be, from Van Gogh to racism. I moved to the mountains and we continued our postcard correspondence for several years. He moved to Charleston where he coincidentally lived in the apartment above the one I'd left. Weekends I'd go to Charleston, we'd get together, see a movie and entertain ourselves with laughter for a few hours. Our humor was where we connected. 



I never felt like he flourished after he moved to Charleston. His spirit grew dim over time in a place with no aesthetic anything going on. This was before the new Charleston, while the new Charleston was brewing. On one of my visits to see Lucas and Judy who live near Atlanta, I'd heard Bill was in the hospital in Atlanta after heart surgery. Lucas and I dropped in to see him and put a big surprise on him. He kept us laughing the whole visit. We wondered if the laughing might be a problem with the new surgery, but couldn't stop it. He said he wished he could have a video of the operation. That one was over the edge for me. I couldn't stand the thought of seeing a video of a heart operation on anybody, certainly not myself. It was one of those things only Bill would say. Bill was in a foreign country in Charleston. The city drained his vitality. He needed social activity, people with interests similar to his. Hurricane Hugo came to town. The days before the hurricane struck, he spent his time boxing his collections of items all over the house. It took longer than he'd hoped. He meant to evacuate town with everybody else, but was unable to get away in time. He was then living in a little old wooden house west of the Ashley. Bill hunkered down in the middle of the house with blankets up for flying glass. He said he would never ride out a hurricane again. It felt like the house would be blown off its foundation. The roar was constant. He said he would rather lose all his toys than sit on the floor wrapped in a blanket for twelve hours with the house straining to break loose ever again. He said it was fear like he had never known and did not want to know. Some years later, after his mother died, he moved back to Eufala to live in the house he grew up in and the culture he grew up in. His sister, Delia, was living in Eufala with her husband, Jim Estes, the name of a neighbor kid in my Kansas City childhood, who turned me on to Elvis before Heartbreak Hotel, Sun label songs, and among others, Searchin by the Coasters, a song I love as much now as then. 



I met Delia once in Charleston; she happened to be visiting when I went by. I liked Delia a lot. She was a psychotherapist in the Atlanta prison. We talked at length about the American penal system. She told me interesting accounts of her experiences with the prisoners. Mostly, she took care of homeless guys put out of mental institutions by the Reagan Junta. She said they would be arrested for peeing outdoors because businesses would not let them use the toilets. They'd be arrested for indecent exposure, put in prison without charges or trial to be abused by the hardcore convicts. They were living a Kafka story. We spoke of the futility of wanting major change in the penal system. She said it is not going to change until the attitude of the American people changes. She could not change the system that was the entire American population bigger than she was. She could, however, work to help some of the people in there who needed help, who desperately needed help. Another big coincidentally, Rob and Bet Mangum, potters who have lived here in the county as long as I have, came here from south Alabama. In school growing up, Bet and Delia were friends. Delia's husband was the forest manager for a great timber forest in the area that had to do with Bet's family. Rob and I only figured it out a few years ago that we both, oddly, know Bill Foy and his sister Delia. I called Rob this morning to tell him about Bill if he hadn't heard. He'd already heard from Delia. We talked about Bill at length. He told me Bill's humor came from that part of Alabama. He said it was the style of humor particular to the area. Bill and I have only talked on the phone a few times since he moved back to Eufala. His friend Sue Highfield messaged me on facebook with her phone number, wanting me to call her next day. Good sign something was up. I saw it a certainty that he had died. Same day as Jeanette. Very first thing, I regretted I'd not called him in so long. I called Sue, and sure enough, Bill was no more. The last few days my mind has zoomed in on Jeanette and Bill. Both their faces I see like faded transparencies before my eyes I see though. Close my eyes and there they are. 




*


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

FAREWELL MY FRIEND

georgia o'keefe

I did not want to write tonight. Hearing about my friend Jeanette passing totally by surprise, evidently just sat in the car and expired at the steering wheel. I've been so shattered I wanted let the writing go and get some sleep. In the bed, I only thought of Jeanette, woke up more the longer I stayed, until I got up. I close my eyes and see Jeanette's profile. She had a beautifully distinctive profile. A nose that gave her face a beauty she did not see. I especially liked  her with her hair pulled back tight. Strong face in profile. She had the facial poise of a dancer. This is my own point of view. Jeanette is, I don't want to use was, in my heart one of the people in my life with a big place in my heart. She and Ty live in Atlanta. It's been several years since I've felt like dealing with the highway for six hours. We don't see each other a lot, but when we do, we pick up as if five years shrank down to a few days. I see Jeanette powerfully in my mind's eye. I close my eyes, I see Jeanette. It's like I look through her image to see the monitor of gray lines on white. It has not yet sunk in that she is absent. I feel no sorrow for her. She's wide-eyed in Gloryland. Ty is having the worst day of his life, as is their boy, Dylan. I see Jeanette's kitchen and the interior of the house she decorated. I see Ty and Dylan in an empty house, bereft by the absence of presence. It's not like she has a round trip ticket. This is one way as it gets. She's the sister of my friend Lucas, who is feeling her absence, as is Judy. Jeanette and Judy are probably each other's closest friends. I'm not good at condolences, like saying, "I'm sorry." I've never understood what it means or why it's always the right thing to say. There's nothing else to say. I see Jeanette in my mind's eye in her house, where I knew her mostly, with dog and cat, the house in a subdivision, set back among trees giving the feeling of being in the woods. 

georgia o'keefe

The one memory that stays in my mind is the time we, Lucas, Judy, Ty, Jeanette and I, met in Athens, Georgia, where Ty and Jeanette were at U of Ga. We drove into Atlanta for the Bob Dylan concert, his first tour, at the Omni. He sold the place out twice. We went to the afternoon show. The night show was next. Driving into Atlanta in Ty's beloved Camaro, we had no idea how to find the Omni. None of us knew Atlanta. We stopped at a gas station to fill up. Asked station attendant if he know where the Omni was. He didn't know. In the car, we were on the way to pull into the road and saw directly in front of us a sign that said Omni Parking. It was straight across the road from the gas station. Not only was it in sight, it was half the landscape. I forget the year, mid Seventies. The Dylan tour was the big event of the year. For all of us it was an epic moment. My only memories from the concert were of Dylan at a piano singing Ballad of a Thin Man, "Something is happening and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr Jones," and the performance of Like a Rolling Stone. The show climaxed with, "Once upon a time you dressed so fine, you threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you. People call, say, Beware doll, you're bound to fall, you thought they were all kiddin you." The Band brought the music up to orchestral, major volume, and lights on the stage so intense Dylan and everybody in the Band were bleached white, ghost-like figures in a field of intense light. The emotional intensity of the moment was the highest. It was the song everybody in the auditorium loved unconditionally. I felt like the concert bonded us like a trench-mate experience in WW2. It was a bright star in the firmament of each of our skies. A fabulous memory we share. I remember Jeanette's joy. She and Ty were in love all the way through their college years and married upon graduation. When it comes to two people in love, Ty and Jeanette were in love from the moment they met and it never went away.      

georgia o'keefe

I think of Jeanette a dedicated teacher who believed in teaching as her role in doing her part to make the world a better place. She has the ability women have to carry full-time work with hours of homework a day, keep a house clean, feed a husband, child and self, shop for groceries, do laundry, clean toilets, keep her life at home going too, and have something of a social life. She kept an extensive flower garden outside and plants inside in good health. I see Jeanette a seeker and a striver. She had a deep and realistic spiritual life. She was like her brother, Lucas, wanting to be the best a teacher could be. I believe they both reached their goals. I sat in on one of Lucas's classes, this day's subject the New England Transcendentalists. He was good. The people in the class paid attention. Jeanette gave the kids at her school full attention. She felt a need deep within to make a contribution in her world to make "the world" a better place. And she did make her world a better place. I don't like to think about Ty and Dylan without Jeanette. I have felt deep loss, but not anywhere near what Ty is going through. My experience is no more than a peep-hole view into Ty's. It's an empty, desolate feeling. Nothing inside but a big black hole. No hope. No anything. No forward, only wanting to go backwards and rewrite the story. There is no changing anything. Followed by the period of grief, hanging on, hanging on, missing it when the grief fades away, feeling guilty because it doesn't hurt so much anymore. Wanting to feel the pain again. It's all that's left. Eventually fall into a groove and go on like before, just in a new way. I cannot imagine Ty without Jeanette. It fails to compute. It's Hansel without Gretel, Yoko without John. Ty's purpose and his support, all went away at once. There is no advice I can give him, no consolation either. Words when you're down and out at the bottom of the pool are like swimmers wiggling above on the surface, silent movement, looks like they have reason, but don't know what it would be.

georgia o'keefe

I'm not one to say, "She's in a better place." She may be, but her part is whatever it is. We on this side of the veil don't know, though each of us has our ideas about it. We in the world of illusion don't even know what's going on where we're at. Jeanette has transcended illusion. We, the ones left without her are more of my concern. This side is where the hard part is. No matter what I think I believe about spirit, soul, I don't know anything. This side of the veil, a black hole has opened in several hearts. I have as hard a time imagining Dylan's pain in this time. It's a bottomless pain without any sign of an end. I don't know what to say, don't know what to do in the face of  such enormous anguish. I feel Oedipus in his agony blinding himself, did not want to see any more. Ty didn't know Jeanette until after high school. There's not been a day of Dylan's life he didn't know Jeanette. I'm not one who can pat them on the back and say, "Everything's gonna be all right." Maybe ten years from now it will be, but it's not now. Nothing's all right, and it's not going to be any time soon. If I were there, all I could do would be to hug and cry. I wouldn't have any words, unless it would be something like shi-it, two syllables. This is not how the story goes. It goes another way, damn it. This kind of thinking is short-lived. For my part, I say prayer for Jeanette's soul, not that I think she needs the assist, just to say, "You got a good'n. You already know her. What can I say? We miss her." My heart embraces Ty, Dylan, Judy and Lucas. It's after five now. I've been at this all night. At first, I did not want to dive into my sorrow and couldn't sleep for seeing Jeanette's face. Writing like this is a meditation, a good chance to dwell on my friend of many years at length, examine what I feel, examine what I think about this moment from out of the blue like a meteorite crashing through the roof, but worse. I'll go take a nap and later in the day when I'm awake, I'll call Ty and hear what he has to say. 
   
georgia o'keefe herself


*



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

HAY IN THE TRUNK FOR DONKEYS

jack and jenny

Bitter cold outside with enough wind to make the wind chimes ting. Both thermometers are dead,  both stuck at 42. I took them down so I won't see them, tired of looking at 42. Sunday morning was out of hay. I wanted to wait until early morning to drive down into the low place the barn sits while the ground was frozen. The ground has been wet for several days after rain, snow and ice, I did not want to mire up and need a 4-wheel drive pickup and a chain to pull the car out of the mud hole. As I had feared, the cold only froze the surface of the mud, making it even worse to drive on. It gave me a little bit of crust, anyway. The day before, Saturday, was above freezing, and I did not dare drive into the mud pit without at least a little crust. I backed down into the hold, a trick in itself, as the driveway turns to the right backing down the slope at a big dead red oak tree. I don't want to cave in the right side of the car with the tree. If I continue in that curve too far, it will put me into the worst mud of all. I have to stay in a certain track to stay out of the mud I'd get stuck in for certain, going backward. Ride the brake to keep control. Back up to the barn door, take key around to open the trunk lid. I stepped inside the old barn, which, to me, is a hallowed spot. The trees were cut by old man Tom Pruitt in the late 1930s. He hauled the trees down the mountain on a horse-drawn wagon to John Richardson's sawmill at Whitehead operated by my friend Jr Maxwell, who then was in his late teens. Jr sawed the wood into boards Tom hauled back up the mountain to this site and built the barn the old-time way beginning with four corner posts set in the ground like fence posts. Tom used two layers of wood. First, he put the boards at a 45 degree angle, then a layer on top of them vertical. The barn is made of oak and chestnut, chestnut on the northern side. The barn has two floors. Originally, the upper floor was for storing hay and the ground floor a place to keep cattle. The old trough is still there. I've changed nothing in the barn. I store hay in the ground floor and leave the upper floor empty. The wood is old and colorful. People visiting the waterfalls help themselves to a board off the side of the barn from time to time.

donkey jen

It feels good to me inside the little barn, built by my friend Tom and the wood sawmilled by my friend Jr, both important souls in the second half of my life. I know the barn's history and how it was built. It is a basic rectangle, maybe ten by twenty feet, with a tin roof that slants from north to south. The wood by now is delicate and needs repair from time to time. It was empty until I put hay in there for the donkeys. Anything portable kept in there would be carried off by tourists who think they're in the boonies and everything is free. Nobody steals hay bales. Some do, but that's another situation. Only other people around here with cattle who ran out of hay would steal hay. It happens. This is a bad spot to steal from with the mud pits that get everybody who drives down in there to see how far they can go. They don't get far. Finally had to put a no trespassing sign up. A game warden told me nobody pays attention to a store-bought sign. A hand-painted sign scares the hell out of everybody. I put up a hand-painted sign and put a stop to the pilfering. I hated to cut off the trail to the waterfalls, but the Chamber of Commerce was advertising them as something wonderful to do in Alleghany County. The road in front of my house became a state park parking lot. Something turned up missing from time to time. I trained the cats to stay away from people they didn't know. "Mommy, what a pretty cat. It's so friendly. Nobody lives in that old house. Can we take it?" "Sure, honey, I don't see why not. If you promise to take care of feeding it and the litter box." "I will, mommy." I liked the idea of people getting to see the waterfalls, but when it got out of hand, I talked with some people who had beach-front property at Jacksonville. They told me to stop it now, because I won't be able to stop it later. The hand-painted sign took care of everything. It continues a few cars a weekend, which is not a bother. The people that visit the falls now are somewhat respectful. I emailed the Chamber some photos taken across the road of bears and coyotes. I used to advise people about the bears, but everybody thought they could handle a bear encounter. Whatever. I don't bother anymore. 

donkey jack

Inside the barn, I counted the bales of hay I have left for the donkeys. Twenty-two. At a rate of about three a week, that's about seven weeks. That's close to the end of March. It's still winter. End of March is when we have surprise blizzards. Last year's hay from then on. I don't know what I'll do. They will not eat last year's hay. I use it to spread on the floor in their den every week. I'm told, "They get hungry enough, they'll eat it." And they probably will. May not have a choice. That's a bridge to cross when I get there, not today. I threw three of the bales out the door, then put them in the trunk with lid up. I encountered on the way out the very problem I had been wary of. The ground was a little too soggy to get some momentum going before the uphill grade on grass with ice mixed in with it. One little spot of gravel about half way up to help with traction. I made a run for it and made no progress up the hill. Had to back up and go again. Needed to back all the way to the barn to get some momentum going. Made it a little further next time. By this time, I've made some ruts in the mud to render it all the more difficult to wind up some momentum. Third time, almost. Fourth time, I said,"I'm coming out of here." Backed up to the barn and bore down on it in Dr-1, low gear. I knew I had to go through the mud like it's not there for the momentum necessary to make it all the way to the top. Got a good start, the spot of gravel half way up the incline came in for an assist when I needed it, smoked the left front tire a little bit. As long as I was creeping forward I gave it the gas. When forward momentum ends, it's over. It kept on creeping like an inch at a time, tires spinning, and finally caught on some gravel under the grass and pulled me the rest of the way. Another test in what I've learned living in these mountains the latter half of my life. I would not have backed down there without new tires on the front, nor without knowing the spot of ground as I do. The new tires made it possible. They brought me out of there.

jack and jenny

I learned first-hand why to stay out of there when the ground is wet. If it doesn't dry soon, I may have to ask Justin or Melvin for help in a pickup with four-wheel for next haul. I've found the limit of front-wheel drive. Rear wheel drive would not have had a chance coming out of there; it would have mired up in the mud. It felt good driving onto the pavement. Had to leave the pavement again to off-load the hay bales. The grass was covered with ice, though not a problem. I only had to drive forward on the uphill grade enough for the car to be off the road. I can back onto the road from there, which is easy on ice. You might say it was superficial ice; it was only on the grass, not on the ground below. OK to drive on, but not uphill. The donkeys wait at the fence, side by side, ears up. They know new hay. They like this hay. They watch me roll the bales down the hill, one after the other. It appears to me, anthropomorphizing, they want to play with the rolling hay bales the way a child likes to play with a rolling ball. I have thrown some over the fence in the past for them to roll down the hill in the meadow. The donkeys jump and play. Toys. They know it is their hay I keep it under the tarp. They watch me toss the tarp aside and place the hay bales on a platform of old pine branches put there to keep the hay off the damp ground. Hay in place, I unfastened the gate, picked up about a third of a bale, carried it out into the meadow, a place in the sun where donkeys can stay warm while they eat. I walk across the soggy, icy, muddy ground inside the gate where they keep the ground walked the most, around a spread of donkey biscuits, walking beside the donkey trail so Jenny, walking beside me, can walk in her trail. It is a joyous experience first thing in the morning after waking up to interact with donkey friends I've learned to love, and they love me.

donkey jack

I feel good, at-home good, the feeling that this is my place, the spot on earth I belong to, the spot on earth I have loved enough never to allow it to be used for anything commercial, like Christmas trees or pumpkins. I feel like this spot of ground, these few acres are mine to have dominion over. I've heard dominion defined as the right to kill, but I think that's a tyrant's perspective. I want my dominion to be in peace, like King Samuel, my favorite of the Hebrew kings. I love it about him that he retired himself so far into the desert the camels could not hold enough water for the journey. Samuel was out of reach. King Saul used the witch of Endor to get in touch with Samuel in a psychic way to ask him a question. It was an awkward moment for Saul who had been responsible for the purge of the psychic women. The witch of Endor lived so remotely she was one of few psychics left, and legitimately afraid for her life with him in her house. Samuel's belief about dominion was peace. The people grew weary of boring peace and wanted the drama of war. Samuel turned them over to a tyrant and left them to what they wanted. I want the ground I have dominion over to live and breathe. Before donkeys, I let the deer graze it. Donkeys bring the meadow to life in such a way it's become my yard. This morning we had a quarter inch of dry snow with enough wet to hold it in place. I spread the hay on the ground under the dogwood tree. The limbs were covered with snow almost like spray paint. The ground white and the dogwood with buds at the tips of twigs all in white, the underside of the branches like pencil lines, it was like a bouquet in the center of a table. It felt like a good place to let the donkeys graze for the day. It snowing, I did not want to give them more than they could eat in a day. Gave them enough for half the day. At two, the braying began. Jack bellowed a long bray and Jenny followed. She has found it. All she needs to do from here on is learn how to play it. She has a good bray; she plays alto to Jack's tenor. Donkeys had finished the morning hay. They were standing at the fence looking at me in the window. Jenny called to Ice Cream Man like Billy Idol's song, with a rebel yell, she wants more, more, more. Time to put on coat and hat and take them more. The snow had melted from all but the shaded places.

jenny and jack


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Sunday, January 25, 2015

SELF AND OTHERS



Awake in the night, unable to fall back into asleep right away, I turned on the radio for BBC all night news. The talking at low volume has a way of putting me back to sleep, which it did. Just before losing consciousness I was hearing some people in Athens, Greece, talk about the difficulties of living in an economy without resources going under. I've spent time in Athens and was able to see the city and the people in memory, wondering what it is like there now. I suspect Athens is very much the same today as it was forty-plus year ago. People still drink retsina, the buildings are the same, the streets the same, the museums and antiquities in place, the people Greek. Looking around Athens in my mind's eye, I was thinking I like the idea of Athens more than the city itself. Western Civilization crossed the Suez from Egypt, went through Mesopotamia into Greece, Rome and Europe. In that time of the life, I hesitated to go into countries with an alphabet I could not understand at all, like Arabic, Hindi, Chinese. In Greece, or any other country using our alphabet and variations thereof, I could make out words on signs to look up in dictionaries. In Arabic I was totally lost. It kept me from crossing the Bosporus into Istanbul. I tend to like to walk long distances through foreign cities to get the feel of the place, what it's like from the inside. I need signs and a map in a city to help get around. I didn't have a lot of money to spend, so I explored by observation. I don't like to just see a place, but to get inside and roam around seeing what it's like to live there. I found Athens to be a twin, though not identical, with Charleston, SC: not much going on, tourism a great part of the economy, community fading away, famous historically. Listening to Greeks talk in English, I was remembering the Greek accent speaking English, feeling familiar with the visuals all around. I thought, a good place to live. Would living there would be a pleasant life? Yes, but for being "the American." Nationalism, a bigger form of tribalism, another form of racism, came to mind as the question's dead end. At home, I am not "the American," just an outsider, which I am anywhere on earth. 


I fell into thinking about racism as another form of tribalism and nationalism, over differences that come down to: not-me. All others in this world are not-me. Anyone of another language is definitely not-me. Another nation is not-me. Another color of hair or skin or eyes, another body, another fashion, another belief system, another level of education, another socio-economic status, not-me. We ally ourselves with others similar to self in varieties of ways. Birds of a feather flock together is one of the natural laws like you get what you give. Same language, same skin color, same country, same county, same family. Seeing it thus, racism ceases to be about skin color as much as it is about not-me. Hence, Jesus sez: love your neighbor (the other, not-you) as yourself. Giving importance to not-me is ego. I put before such statements by Jesus, "If you want a good life...." If you want a good life, love your neighbor as yourself. If you don't want a good life, forget about it, do what you gotta do. It only applies to anyone who wants a good life. By good I mean an attitude toward life with returns to your liking. Abiding by not-me is ego. We need ego in this world, though it has a way of wrecking our lives with uncritical self-interest. Ego is not something to do away with, but to educate, to control. Ego is a baby saying, "mine." Basic self-awareness  is the beginning of taking control of the ego. Gaining control of the ego is the nature of the spiritual path, an individual path, not a collective path, except in the great big picture, so big it's invisible, like the universe beyond the pie slice we're able to observe. Seeing it like this, it came to me that it's a waste of mental energy to attempt to wipe out racism by passing new, more restrictive laws. Civil Rights laws didn't change racism. Civil rights legislation would have gone the way of the ERA, lost in capitalist limbo, were it not for the corporate coup of the Kennedy assassination. The legislation gave black people a chance where government employment was concerned and a ray of false hope. The hand that gave the hope turned and took it away without resistance, the most advanced and subtle propaganda hand ever experienced on earth.    



I woke later, after falling asleep again, continuing the thought, racism is an aspect of ego and will be with us as long as there is ego. We need ego in this world. The spiritual path is about educating the ego to the place it does it's job holding us upright, but doesn't rule our intelligence quite so much. It looks like the obvious, racism is with us. How to live with it, flow with it, seems a better way to approach the problem, which is an actual problem; educate self in relation to one's own racism. Pointing the finger and calling somebody a racist is a nice way of saying son-of-a-bitch (not-me). Egoism with a different name: intolerance. I have a problem with the present white middle class approach to racism exhibiting the same degree of fake as Ann Coulter: racism is bad, it's not nice to be a racist, racists are evil, if you're a racist I don't want anything to do with you. Nigger is now the unspeakable word for white people, except in certain circles like the working poor and the rich. Making taboo of words and propensities only gives them power that grows with time until the lake is too big for the dam to hold. I went through a period of time a die-hard anti-racist, which turned out to be just another ego identity, exclusivity. There came a time I learned from experience the black people are every bit as racist as the white people, except they're not the privileged race. I'm not saying black people need to go back to Africa. I'm saying we need to examine our own racism, individually of any race, for some self-awareness on the matter. Self-awareness is the starting line. Not everyone is willing or capable of self-awareness. It's not my place to command them. It's my place to understand them and not judge them, allow them. We do not all have the same latitude of consciousness. One small group of people exercise diligence to ban one word for everybody else by calling people who use it the nice word for son-of-a-bitch, or the more contemporary motherfucker, acceptable on tv: racist. It goes in circles and gets crazy like Little Black Sambo and the tiger running around and around the palm tree. 



I see the Polish football fans calling an African football team monkeys. Racism cannot be defeated collectively is what it looks like. Again, making it a bad word pumps steroids into its power. Making racism an evil polarizes it to one extreme of the spectrum of life, gives it no room for understanding. Zero tolerance. Like the way cops treat black people. Racist. The word fuck was held down, unprintable, unspeakable in certain circles, until a year in the mid-Sixties when it became a required word in a work of fiction and in film. It was in the time of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid and Antonioni's Zabriski Point. The word became so overused in its liberation it became tiresome and wore itself out. Now it's free. We can say it or or not. It lost its power. It's no longer taboo. Its balloon went flat. It's just another word. I feel like suppressing the word nigger gives power to racism by way of denial, the white American way of life, the illusion of privilege way of life. Political correctness amounts to a style, like how you wear your hair, long or short, like what car you buy, American or Japanese. Making a word taboo, it becomes subject to denial in one society and a password in another. Where is the gain in social evolution if ending racism has been a goal? Dealing with racism, itself, as an issue is only realistic inside oneself. Missionarism and making your life a commercial to make the world a better place is egoism just like racism. Maybe the world is already a better place, exactly on target, on schedule, and we're so self-involved we're missing everything. As long as we divide ourselves into us and them, me and other, there is not going to be any collective progress on the issue of racism. I don't see us dividing ourselves into self-identity groups going away any time soon in centuries or millennia. The way I chose to work with racism in myself, which I grew up in pre-1954, when I became aware of it. For a long time I denied it, buried it. Seeing it didn't go away after awhile, I decided to allow it, pay attention to it, get acquainted with it, educate it, understand it, transcend it. It's about living in a world of others, how well we do it, not in what we oppose or promote.      




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Saturday, January 24, 2015

WALKING THE DONKEYS HOME

the road

Woke up in the morning, looked out the window and saw white spots on the ground. Went to the door, opened it and saw sleet all over the ground, rocks wet, rhododendron leaves hanging down covered with ice. The Cosmos was telling me the trip is off to Charlotte to see Daniel Biggins' band, The Seduction, play at the Milestone with three other bands, a CD release party. I knew the ice would not be a factor from the place I was scheduled to meet Daniel in Cherry Lane, though between here and the meeting point would be more ice than I care to address. Driving home at 4am in unknown conditions, more than likely worse, convinced me this is not a good time to go. The Cosmos knows. Much as I'd love to be there at this moment, a few hours into the show, it's not a problem. The future is open. I'll hear the band again. This coming week I'll find Daniel to buy some copies of the band's new self-produced CD from him. I already know it will be a good one. I wanted to hear the other bands too, Viajando, in particular. The two bands play together fairly often. Maybe I'll get to see them with DSR (Dirty South Revolutionaries), who, by the way, are playing in Atlanta this weekend, a Charlotte band. My feeling about the Cosmos shutting me out of this event tells me another show is coming up soon even more to my liking. Since my first show at the Milestone, I've been wanting to go back. I like the vibe there. I like the people there. My mother saw a video of Daniel's band last week I put up on facebook. She wrote in comments: "Did you get out of there alive?" I wrote her back, "They are wonderful, friendly people, nobody gets hurt" The people I'm among in there give me a good feeling about the future. I see the people in the bands artists. They explore new compositions of their own. Talented songwriters among them as well as guitar players and drummers. I see talent galore. And I hear talent. They rock the way I like it.   

dsr

Looking out the window at the weather, I saw the donkeys in their new meadow, heads hanging down, the precipitation sticking to their backs, walking to a sheltered place. They looked so forlorn I decided carrot time would be the best time to put my new hypothesis to the test, walk them from one fence to the other, leading them. I went to the gate with carrots. They were visibly glad to see me. I stepped inside and gave them each a carrot, relaxed, tuning in to them. Jenny stepped through the opening. Jack stood beside the gate and wouldn't move. OK. I followed Jenny and Jack stepped around to the opening and joined us where Jenny was making the decision not to step onto the road looking like ice with a small stream of water was running down the road. I walked by Jenny and around the car, Jack following me and Jenny following Jack. I walked them by the house and to the gate into the meadow. Jack walked in behind me. Jenny found some fresh hay on the ground beside the fence where I roll hay bales down the hill. She followed the trail of hay up to the side of the road, found nothing there of interest. I picked up some hay to carry into the meadow and she followed me through the gate. Nothing big deal about it. We went for a walk. I wanted to keep this sojourn as volunteer on their parts as possible. I never directed either one. I walked from gate to gate and they followed entirely of their own volition. I feel like they will learn the walk from gate to gate better by walking it out of curiosity than being directed. To them, this side of the fence is my world. They see me in it every day. I'm glad they found a chance to check it out relaxed, following their curiosity, Walking them to the other gate in summer would be another matter. We would need to make the walk before the jewelweed gets past seedlings. The donkeys love jewelweed. I give them each a jewelweed plant in summer for dessert when carrots are gone. They would not pass the jewelweed patch until it was all eaten.  

jack and jenny wait for me to help them find their way home

Another bridge for another time. I don't believe we'd get very far in summer volunteer walking. It could happen, but Jenny has a curious eye and a will of her own. They don't eat only grass. I see what they eat from what grows up where I spread their biscuits for fertilizer. They appear to like daisies. Jenny's name before she became Donkey Jen was Daisy. I was inclined to go on calling her Daisy. I don't like to change a pet's name. Talking with Justin about it, he said, "I'm gonna call her Jenny. You can call her anything you like. She'll always be Jenny to me." I was good with calling them by what they are. Male donkeys are Jacks and female donkeys are Jennys. They're probably the most common donkey names. Good. I didn't want to call them cool made up names like Jellyroll and Tulip. Jack and Jenny are good names. Little Richard sang her song. Jack is a name I associate with a friend of my parents when I was a kid. Jack and DeLouris. I loved Jack and DeLouris. I wanted to know them grown up, but Jack died of cancer before I could know him as an adult. DeLouris is gone too. DeLouris was Billy Graham's first cousin and would not allow it to be mentioned. My mother thought it was the coolest thing there ever was, but DeLouris did not. I mentioned it to her once and she said we're not going to talk about that. Jack and DeLouris took me to see Elvis Presley's first movie, Love Me Tender, 1956, seventh grade. It was billed, "Mr Rock n roll in the story he was born to play!" To a teenage kid getting caught up in the new stars of pop culture, it was gloriously sentimental. Elvis died at the end, sob, sob. And then he came back in Hollywood swimming pool movies surrounded by babes in bathing suits and high heels. He died and came back in a martyr's heaven. The name Jack has its own happy association. I don't think about the other Jack when I'm with Donkey Jack, same as I don't think about Little Richard with Jenny. They're just name associations. 

elvis the pelvis

It felt good this morning to walk the donkeys back to their home meadow after a night out. The precipitation set me in motion, wanting them in their home meadow before much more of the ice was on the ground. I wanted to get them to their shelter, knowing they were uneasy, especially after sleeping outside their den all night. Gone camping. They were safe and Jack knew where they were. I imagine they slept wherever he slept. It turned out to be a good experience for all concerned. I felt like the whole experience was for the three of us to share. I didn't go nuts and scare them out of their wits. They walked to the other gate, I thought it would be a good time to introduce them to the meadow the other side of the creek, and a whole lot easier than trying to get them back to the gate they came out of while they were in full exploration mode. Gave them an acre to run in and memories for Jack. This morning they were ready to go home. I took it for a success in how my philosophy plays out in the world. I felt a twinge of alarm when I saw Jenny walk by and Jack close behind her. There would be no turning them around. I put the hay down and entered their flow. It's the three of us out for a walk, not me in charge. I know better than to think I can take charge of a donkey. I relaxed into their flow. They went to the other gate out of curiosity. I've a confidence now that were they to get out and wander someplace before I know they're gone, I'll be able to walk them home simply by joining them on their walkabout. No need to round them up with a switch and holler and cuss, get in there you jackass bitch. About the time somebody talks to Jenny in such manner, she will be alienated from that moment on. Jenny is a proud woman. I'm happy with my relationship with the donkeys. Jenny has a brilliant mind and her own will. I like both characteristics in her. I want to allow her her own mind. The journey worked out successfully both ways allowing Jenny her curiosity, joining her in it, flowing with donkey mind instead of against it.  

donkeys at home


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Friday, January 23, 2015

JACK AND JENNY'S BIG ADVENTURE



This morning I went out the door with five carrots to see the donkeys. Both hearing my footsteps in the house went to braying as soon as I crawled out of the bed. Jenny's efforts sound like a dog barking. She's closer to a bray than she ever has been. Jack brays, Jenny barks. I broke the carrots into three pieces each. Jenny always wants a new one before the one she's chewing is done. Jack would rather finish the one he's chewing before he takes the next one. Carrot time over, I unfastened the gate, leaving it closed, turned to pick up an armload of hay and saw Jenny walk by with Jack close behind. I put the hay down and followed them. Hollering at them would only make them nervous and I couldn't do anything with them nervous. They walked all around the house, exploring the zone they see every day. I followed, calling their names to keep them aware I was nearby. I could see they were already spooked from unfamiliar territory, and didn't want to make it worse. I spoke their names to help keep them calm. They walked into the road. The time Jack was out by himself, he would not step onto the road's surface. I turned a little bit nervous with them in the road. I wasn't afraid of a car coming along, but hesitated within wondering what's next. If they decided to follow the road, I was in trouble. I watched them, calling their names, thinking this may take awhile. They walked to where I park the car and left the road toward the gate to the meadow they won't cross the creek to go into. I went to the gate and opened it and they went back to the road. I walked out into the meadow and they followed. Their spirits perked up in the expanse of meadow. I went back to the gate, closed and latched it while they watched. They took off running. They ran and ran from one end to the other and back. This was the meadow Jack lived in before Jenny came into his life. Wondering if he remembered it, I saw him go around to his favorite places in the rhododendron grove. He went to them like he was showing them to Jenny, like he was saying to her, "Here's a good place. Over here is another good place." He took her around to the places he would go to rest and hide in dark shadows.



Jack would take off running, Jenny beside, in front or behind him, galloping, heads up on full alert, the hair of their cropped manes sticking straight up, ears up, running around in a big oval. Jack kicked his back feet in the air a few times. They went to the corners, walked along the fence, explored the meadow together in detail. Jack going to his favorite places first told me he remembered his two months living there. I returned to the house, leaving them to their new territory. How to get them to cross the creek they will not cross was the next question. Thought I'd let them investigate their new space. I went back out later, after they'd calmed down. They were rubbing their necks on a tree's bark. I went into the meadow and walked to a place I thought they might be able to cross the creek easily. I stepped across and they watched. I walked out into the meadow toward the hay I'd put down earlier. They watched. I called to them. They watched. Soon they were bored, turned and walked back to a place they'd found to their liking. I came back to the house and had a nap. Upon waking, I saw them out the window standing among the rhododendron near the place Jack made his first dust circle. I went into the meadow looking for the best place for them to cross easily. The place that looked the best was the worst. Long grass had grown and fell across the creek, looking like a good place to take a step. In other places the creek was narrow, the bank was too steep. Jack stood at the edge of the bank, considered it and backed away. The bank looking from where I stood gave the appearance of a gentle grade. Later I looked at it from where Jack stood and it looks straight down. I found no good place to recommend. They followed me up and down the creek, trying to figure out what I was doing. I told Jack, You're gonna have to figure it out for yourself. I don't know what your problem is, why you can't step across a narrow strip of water. I see it is a problem for you, but I don't know the alternative.



I returned to the house, and the donkeys to the place they like. I checked facebook, read a few articles, one by Noam Chomsky, saw a reliably funny Jon Stewart clip and one by David Pakman. I've grown weary of Pakman feigning surprise over the obvious. Too much like network tv in that regard. Bill Maher has come to bore me with his fundamentalist atheist talk. It appears he and the other tv atheist fundamentalists are going into competition with the so-called Christian fundamentalists, the American taliban. I want to tell him he is setting his sites awfully low. I find none of his criticism of the pope valid. He sounds too much like a pseudo-intellectual in a suit playing hipper-than-thou games with easy targets. His film, Religulous, bored me out of my mind, him talking in a smug tone of voice like a sassy nine year old about subjects he way too obviously knew nothing about. He talked down to everybody he interviewed, some of them I knew on sight had a hell of a lot more on the ball than he did. I'm with him on much of what he thinks, objecting to his disrespect for the people he talks down to like a prosecutor. All I felt his boring talk with the people he interviewed did was show them what an arrogant American looks like up close. His uninformed generalizations about Islam have bored me to the limit. He doesn't make me laugh anymore. Today I skipped over him. I like Louis Black sometimes, but his high blood-pressure rant grows wearisome too. Grew weary of Rachel Maddow's edge-of-her-seat hysteria. The subjects she covers are, indeed, to be hysterical about. But I don't want to go there. Every day something comes forward to be hysterical about. Somehow we stumble our way through everyday life where none of the frantic events of the moment matter at all. 



What does it matter that on the far side of the globe a family and guests at a wedding party are blown to stinking chunks of meat, collateral damage from a drone strike? They got him. It matters, but it's not mine. It's theirs. This is what I have to tell myself. It's theirs, not mine. What does it matter when a dozen people get blown up someplace else while I roll a ball back and forth across the floor with a two year old? Those people have kids they rolled a ball with too. How do we live in this world with new Xtreme atrocities every day in our heads? I'm in process of letting go of attention to the falsehoods told on any news station. The news amounts to no more than distraction. The pipeline. I can't stop it. Fracking. I can't stop it. If I were to try to organize a large enough mass of people to make a difference politically, we would be infiltrated by the FBI, set up and arrested on terrorist charges. I like staying at home where the donkeys roam and the clouds crawl over the mountains. I went out an hour before dark to take the donkeys some of the grain they especially like. I did not want to force them across the creek or entice them. I wanted them to cross it with full attention, not distracted by something to eat. I'm in no hurry. They have found a V corner where one fence meets another at an angle. Christmas tree growers made a big pile of dead trees the other side of the fence in the corner. It makes a shelter for the donkeys. Trees overhead, rhododendron and the brush pile make a windbreak for them. If they want to stay on that side of the creek awhile, I'm ok with it. They really don't want to stay. By evening they were restless wanting back to their meadow. I put the grain down for them, walked between them without touching either one. It makes them uneasy to have me, or the other, close while eating, especially sweet grain. Neither one of them showed any reflex. I want them to experience me nearby while they eat, to show them I am not wanting to take it. I don't give it to them to turn around and take it. I don't eat donkey food. Too much fiber. I took it for another measure of the trust between us. I could walk them back the way they went. They would follow me to the gate and walk through. It wouldn't even require carrots. Now I know how to move them from one meadow to the other. If they don't want to cross the creek, they don't want to cross the creek is all I know to make of it.          

leaf prints in the road


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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SERVING THE MASTER

anish kapoor

It seems like every day I see an ad someplace on facebook appealing to the white-headed to live longer, somebody has a secret to tell about living a long time. I've seen inside enough nursing homes to get the understanding long life is not necessarily desirable. I've seen enough that if Social Services commits me to one, I'll quit taking medications and/or starve myself to death. They let you do that. I call a nursing home a lumberyard, the place they stack inert boards. In the past I swore I could never live in a trailer. By this time in the life, I could live happily in one. Simple maintenance. Everything I'd need in a pod. Only problem, they're tornado targets. It was arrogance that said I couldn't live in one. Low status. Not that my status is above a trailer. It never has been. There was a time I didn't want it to show so much. Had to come down from city mind. It took a long time. I sound like Jr in his decline saying, "I aint goin to no nursin home. I'll kill myself first." I said, "No you won't. They'll drive up in an ambulance, take you out of bed, strap you down and drive you to the nursing home. You won't have a chance to kill yourself." I'm the same. If SS set out to put me in one, I couldn't stop them. Let me have my laptop and wifi. I could write a nursing home chronicle and call it Grumpy Old Bastard. Of course, it's probably not allowed. Television only. I could have friends bring me books. No, I'd be too far gone for books. Maybe the Carl children's books, pictures without words, Carl the black and tan rottweiler baby-sits baby while mama goes out shopping. Dog and baby have adventures. Baby rides Carl's back to the park. They go through the refrigerator and have snacks. Mama comes home, Carl and baby are back in place, Carl had cleaned up their mess, baby and Carl are happy to see her. She thanks good-dog Carl for keeping her baby safe. No words. You make up your own words. I could enjoy that kind of nursing home reading. In art class where we would cut out flowers from construction paper, I'd be unable to cut the paper. I'd have a sheet of orange paper and think it's beautiful as it is. I can't cut it and can't improve it. My contribution on the walls would be a sheet of orange paper, or turquoise, or yellow, whichever was put before me. I'm afraid the activities director would lose patience. 

anish kapoor

The time Jr was elder-napped and put in the nursing home for physical therapy, I went to see him every day to keep him aware he was not abandoned. His mind was feeble. I didn't want him to worry that he'd been sent off to die. During his first week, activities director, Ms New Age feel-good all the time, so happy she's dancing on air, came to the room wanting him to go to art class where they cut out flowers with construction paper. She said he'll love it. I told her he won't love it. She knew he would. I told her I know the man. He will not love it. He will not do it. He has not lost his wits and his wits have no place for cutting flowers out of construction paper. This is a mountain man. Give him a gun and a target and watch him go. You can talk to him all you want, but he won't do it. One day Wayne Henderson played in the entertainment room. I told him about it, suggested I wheel him there to see Wayne. He and Wayne made music together years before. No. "I'm not like them people." He meant he did not want Wayne to see him in a wheelchair among a bunch of old people bent over in wheelchairs. It shamed him. He wasn't that bad off and he knew it. I knew it. I did not push him beyond his decision. I understood by knowing him. He lost so much mind over the two months he was incarcerated, entering the doorway at home, he said, "Is this where I live?" He stood leaning on the walker, looked around and said, "This ain't bad. I like it." He wanted to die at home and I wanted it for him. In my way of seeing, he was too honorable a man to cast into the human landfill. In my mind's eye, it was the same as piles of dead Jews from concentration camp photographs. The old people in the place didn't make me feel as bad as the people working there did. Deceptive and indifferent on all levels from room service to management. They was just doin their jobs. My sense of it was, not hardly. They counted the minutes from the time they went on shift to the time they left. I could not let Jr lie in the bed looking at the ceiling any longer than the first minute I could get him out. 

anish kapoor

His roommate was a sad old thing nobody came to visit, incapable of taking care of himself, but had his wits about him. He hated it in there. He occupied the tv with round the clock auction channels. Jr was not interested in anything on the television. It was merely a flickering light and noise to him. I took a xerox of a Flatt & Scruggs photograph with Art Wooten, Jr's fiddler friend, and taped it to the bathroom door opposite his pillow. The bathroom door was his view. I thought the picture might be a catalyst for memories of the music, playing Foggy Mountain Breakdown on bluegrass banjo, and making music with Art Wooten playing fiddle in his band, The Green Mountain Boys. Art was Jr's favorite fiddler to pick banjo with. They were in the same league, their music flowed, they played mountain bluegrass at weekend dances. They liked playing for dancers. The dancers became part of the music. It beat the hell out of looking at a dreary old bathroom door all day. This morning on NPR I heard somebody talking about geriatrics. He said only seventeen percent of Americans die in their own beds. I was surprised at the small number. The nursing home was, indeed, Jr's destiny had I not stepped in. I moved in to take care of him because he wanted to die in his home, and I could not watch the only wise man I've ever known waste away in the lumberyard waiting to die. I wanted him to have a life, encouraged his friends to drop in and visit. I'm happy to say he left this world from his own bed asleep. A little after seven in the morning I heard from the next room his death rattle. It sounded like a straw pulling on the last of milk shake. I recognized it, though it was the only one I'd heard. I wanted him to go in peace. I wanted to keep my energy quiet and let him proceed. I wanted to get a Tibetan shaman to come in and do prayer over him for a few days. This isn't Tibet. We do things the American way. I went back to sleep to get out of his way and not distract his spirit. I woke after a couple hours. I wanted to give the spirit plenty of time to leave the body. I went into the room and sat in his wheelchair beside the bed and prayed while he was exiting the body. I said, Go, don't look back. There's nothing back here for you, your body's give out, it can't go no more. Go forward. 

anish kapoor

I dreaded making the phone call to hospice. I wanted to sit with him all day, but knew it was a dramatic fantasy. I sat with him for an hour or so, him still and permanently asleep. I wanted him to have some time. I supposed three hours was plenty. Called the hospice number. The Sunday nurse on duty, one I didn't know, came right away. I thought about staying with her and watching the procedure, but a moment came right away I realized  did not want to see it. I left the room and just a few feet into the next room I turned around for a last look. She had just picked him up from the bed in the diaper he was sleeping in, his head hanging back. I saw the Pieta. I looked away moved to the core and never looked again until the rescue squad or whatever it was backed the big truck up to the door. Three of them got out with a gurney that goes up and down, this way and that. They picked him up and strapped him onto it like lumber. I thought, Oh Lord, where is the respect? We think we're so much better than the old way, but in the old way they knew about respect. I was idealizing, not allowing that these are people at work doing what they do. They were good at it. They left, the nurse left, and there I stood on the floor gaping about in an empty house. That's it, cat shit. I was convinced God sent me to Jr for a teacher, I served him the same as serving the Master. I received him as such and he turned out to be a great teacher. He didn't know it. I learned by paying attention to him, listening to memories from his life over five years. I suspected a possibility of wisdom in him for some time and then saw it. It wasn't wisdom like he had the answers to cosmic questions. It was in his humility, his patience, his attention in the present moment, his peace with his neighbors and everyone around him. I asked him one day who he looked up to. He said, "I look up to everybody." At first I took it for a figure of speech. Knowing him for several years I saw he meant it as he said it. He did look up to everybody. It doesn't mean he looked up from a pit. He looked up to everyone with respect, basic human respect, received them for who they were devoid of judgment.  

anish kapoor himself


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