partyOct. 2009.

Brett and Barbara in SFO for the week.

Dash and I here live as bachelors and struggle along just fine. Came home today from school pickup, w/backpack, w/bags of groceries. The usual. The cat was on the table eating remains of eggs, the cold front was arriving from the south, the wheelchair had rolled down the meadow slope to get stuck in the blackberry brambles, the groceries stayed standing in bags all over the kitchen floor, un-put-away, to be dodged around, because the present urgency was to get a fire built in the mud room stove, to warm the place up for the boy to tackle his backlog of homework and clarinet practice.

Tearing apart old paper shopping bags for tinder, I discovered two documents in the bottom of one bag, about to go in the crackling stove:

“WITNESSETH:” was the banner on the top paragraph; and the next paragraph began “Section One: Definitions” – (of “owner,” of “copyright,” etc).

Complete with notary-public stamps, they were the release-of-rights agreement for a Kansas City production of Tad’s play. Could these be the only copies? About to be fed to the stove fire? Poor Tad, now in New York, with us as the only executors of, for example, this last play he wrote before the accident.

* * * *

This summer in Squaw, many visits from a particular bear. He got into the house a couple of times and needed to be chased away with shouts and missiles. Somewhat smaller than a SmartCar, cuddly-looking, with fur so deep you could plunge your hands in up to the wrist – he was a fellow it would be wonderful to sleep alongside, if not for the obvious drawbacks. We chased him out of the house but all summer he was insistent: he would leave, only to come back some other night. The general theory grew that he must be getting old and unable to fend for himself, increasingly dependent on humans for what he could cadge or take. He had no shyness about coming into the house with people present or no. (Dana and Sands sitting around. Cosmo-drinks in stemmed glasses. Bill Frisell on the stereo. Enter bear.) On these occasions he was always easy to scare away, shambling down the hill. When I followed and threw stones to make him feel unwelcome, he might pick up the pace and hustle a little, checking back over his shoulder. Then a few days later, forgetting his lesson, he would show up again. Sands left a chocolate bar out in a bedroom, which must have smelled good, because it invited another trespass. Sometimes when chased away, he wouldn’t leave altogether but would hide under the deck whimpering, sulkily, or would climb a nearby pine tree (those lipstick-sized claws digging into pine bark supporting all that weight). For the duration of the summer he became almost, dangerously, pet-like. At least in his own mind. At this point I think Fish and Game has shot him.

* * * *


On Main Street in Grass Valley I pass by a pile of rubble, thousands of ancient bricks, scarred and scorched and pink, from some old knocked-down chimney.

I want some of those, to pave walkways around here. Bricks have a tenderness when they’re a century old. So I go investigating. Hop the fence.

The defunct used-car lot, on which the pile of rubble stands, has a sign reading: “Madonna Motors IS open for business. Ask at our office across the street.”

I cross the street. It’s an empty storefront, an old steel desk on a showroom floor. A sign taped to that window reads: “For inquiries about Madonna Motors, ask for Bob in the Kwickie Print Shop next door.”

Next door, the Kwickie Print shop is turning into a coffee-shop-cum-thrift-store. Nobody there has heard of a “Bob.”

My interest in a pile of rubble is thwarted.
Such is the economy. (My foray into it.)

* * * *

Back at home, the mailbox contains a letter from our paperboy informing us that the San Francisco Chronicle will no longer be delivering on this route. (The old Chron itself has been growing skinnier by the week, w/dwindling advertisement and readership.) He’s sorry. There just aren’t enough customers out this far to warrant a whole route. He’s going to have to revise his career plans himself, the note ends.

Inside, I get the Mexican crema started in the kitchen and lift the laptop lid and open my email: the column is headed by junkmail-spam announcements from facebook.com, linkedin.com, classmates.com, “LOUIS, SOMEONE IS THINKING OF YOU.” “LOUIS, YOU’RE TURNING HEADS!”

* * * *

[with “Huck Finn” exception, as noted:]

To enlarge on earlier reckless remarks, that Samuel Clemens is a children’s-writer because he had no sense of real “evil,” (*) just cartoons of it to flatter our own sensation of our own moral ennoblement:
Turn to Henry James. He “got” evil. It’s quite scary. Real evil, moving in the world. Evil moving in people’s drawing rooms, and people’s marriages, not “Nazis” or “Serial Killers” or “KuKlux Klansmen,” or any other such inventions we can pretend are not ourselves. James displays evil to make blood run cold. [How a father, a widely admired great man, can systematically destroy his own daughter over the years with his kingly sarcasm (“Washington Square”). Or Madame Merle and Gilbert Osmond manipulating a young woman (“Portrait”).] No writer describes evil as knowingly as James. Must have been a cold-blooded man. Or a broken-hearted man.

*(because a fiction artist must imagine a world with something “wrong” in it; that’s the hardest thing: What’s Wrong — and how the author invents it something will define the moral force-of-gravity on his planet)

* * * *


Tolstoy’s peculiar character-introduction technique:

The main characters in Anna Karenina each make their debuts twice. Not with a ‘bump,’ but with a ‘bu-bump.’

With Levin and later with Anna, there’s a glimpse first (in some minor character’s POV), then subsequently a regular, full character introduction. This recurs, too, when at last Levin and Anna meet up: in Levin’s POV, there’s first a view of Anna’s portrait in oil, then the entry of the woman herself.

The technique, maybe, gives bulk to major characters: a shadow implying inertial mass.

* * * *

Back in North Beach alone today. Always happy here. WashBag. City Lights Books. Tosca. Park bench in Washington Square, by the pissoir, the bums under the swingset, the old Chinese ladies doing their limp tai chi. The double-capp at Mario’s Cigar Store. It makes me think gratefully of Kerouac and the Beats. None of them was “a good writer,” and in fact, I’d never read them before coming here, yet they are the reason I came to San Francisco. They discovered and advertised an opening. They were only a rumor to me for years and continue to disappoint me (with some very spiky! exceptions) whenever I look into their pages. The truth is, in the case of someone like Kerouac, to “write” very “well” would have been a betrayal of his ethic, or aesthetic. He wasn’t about “good writing.” His page-persona is of such a sweet person, vulnerability and mysticism shine through. In the end, I couldn’t use him, not as a model or teacher, but I guess I could see in him a San Francisco, and he certainly was an open heart.  Here I am in the city he built.

* * * *

Winter nights. In the hour of clarity, 3:30 am, I consider the idea of “objectivity.”

Coffee is brewed, boots laced-up, jacket zipped-up, and the murmur of NPR is shut off, the kitchen lamp doused – so the whole house is dark again, and, flashlight in hand, I cross meadows on a moonless morning, to get to the trailer. I seldom use flashlight, in fact, as my feet know the way. Even the insulated boots, in treading the blind abyss that is the mossy lane under the cherry trees, thru their soles know the nudge of the one granite rock that sticks up from the soil and in summer is a danger to the mower’s blades.

So, in contemplating the stars (that most objective datum! stars’ positions!), at that hour, one decides that one’s experience of objective reality is mediated by one’s body, this body of mine invisible and afloat in meadows on worn dirt paths in the dark. Something as objective as a nearby visible star’s “location” in the sky – or the “temperature” of this home planet, or the “size” of the Planck quantum – all these observations are mediated by the body’s mysterious retina, the flesh, the habit of having a “hand,” a hand that invents a ruler and puts notch-marks on it – or a “foot” that knows the path – or an “eye” that absorbs certain wavelengths and excludes others, this body that is the natural fruit, like a pear or a blackberry, of these rounded rocks that whirl in the cold dark.

* * * *

Getting the trailer warmed up takes forever. On my laptop, the nice “touch-to-click” function (and “stroke-to-drag”) doesn’t work in the trackpad’s ordinarily sensuous little rectangle. Either it’s my own finger-numbness or it’s the platinum surface: we’re both cold. The spark won’t pass.

* * * *

To live as if already dead:

Overcoming death (one way or another, by hook or by crook) is the raison d’etre of religions and certain philosophies, and even medical science at its remotest end-point. We are supposed to believe that nonexistence is a threat.

To this (in fact factitious) fear, the practical answer is: What makes you think the very next instant of “life” is so cozy or so comprehensible? Is it your habituation to the sensation that this second was preceded by a different second, and will be succeeded by yet another second? What makes you believe “you” are “alive”? Plainly, you’re already at this moment firewalking, an act requiring an ecstatic state of belief.

I hear from the X-ian pulpit, and I read in the Dhammapada, that living as if “you” don’t exist is liberation. (It’s an attitude that will lead straight to the humility-and-compassion schtick, of course, and its fundamental practicality.) But “living as if already dead” is what the happiest and most unpretentious among us already do, naturally, without fuss or self-consciousness. Even without doctrine. It may be what you and I already do. Maybe you’re doing it now!

* * * *

Bad year for pears. Excellent year for apples. And Italian plums at woods’ edge were abundant. I got to them in time. With visiting nephew Justin I garnered a bucketful, for freezing, later to appear as sauce for pork roasts.

The only pear tree to come through for us, this barren year, will be the little Asian pear in the shade of the oaks. They’re small but I think will ripen all right.

* * * *

Oct 10, 2009, drizzle arrives.

Reluctant to enter into the excavation project to hunt down clog in underground PVC irrigation pipe. It’s just me and my shovel out there, and it’s raining. And hernias are a regular aggravation of the family hero, earned in ecstatic afternoons over years clearing brush, getting out stumps, bringing firewood uphill. I’ve had three surgeries so far, and the stitches never hold. Country doctors can be a bit on the incompetent side, I fear. Standards of goods and services are generally lower out here, something a cosseted urbanite can’t help but notice; and indeed it’s a fitting-and-proper aspect of country life; like not getting the perfect cappuccino, and likewise when it comes to medical care, the human livestock must be patient and forbearing. My particular man (athletic Scot, healthy head of hair like a Ronald-Reagan plasticene mask, with hands that, in a handshake, are small and elfin and strong; his huge Harley-Davidson parked outside the office-clinic), on our first surgical outing, was dismissive of the new-fangled mesh implants, indeed contemptuous of all that, trusting his own handiwork in needle-and-thread. Then, a few years later, after his stitchery failed, he had taken a course and learned all about mesh. So the second surgery on that side involved mesh. Now the mesh is failing. Fourth hernia surgery, $2000 a pop. I’ve always had a love of hard physical work, sweat, the happiness of exhaustion. Can’t keep from it. It’s therapy and it’s piety. (Maybe it’s Protestant nirvana, work!) But these hernias are a constant check, and I suppose I must learn new techniques of using leverage, carts, inclined planes, all the simple machines, etc., cleverly to evade exertion.

Right now, anyway, it’s raining; there’s no question of going out with a spade this afternoon.

* * * *

Henry James’s prose style:

He repeats words and phrases, making a constant jingle-jangle in the prose. A little phrase ending one sentence will be tucked somewhere into the beginning of the next sentence. The effect is of chiming: a tiny, tinkling, incessant chiming. He does this constantly. His prose is a blizzard of repeated phrases, making a cloud or echo chamber.

It has an effect which I hereby designate by the name “sfumato” (after the Renaissance painters’ – esp. DaVinci’s – brush technique of blending borders, with feathering strokes which make the edge of the Virgin’s rosy cheek melt, at its limit, into the grey stones in the distance behind her: a brush technique art historians call sfumato.) (Sfumato means smoked-looking, or misted-over.) James’s prose, from this blurring of edges, this mistiness, gets the same high gloss and classical inevitability as a Florentine masterpiece. The music of the medium itself – words – is the surface one is in contact with, not so much the fleshy characters.

* * * *

One begins to see how, living here without a job but yet constantly busy with the emergencies of parsimony, a country man begins to live “outside the economy.” Which (in certain conversations) is “radical,” “ethical,” “idealistic.” It happens just naturally, without any intention to defect or rebel. Years ago, in defense of capitalism, I had an announced contempt of those back-to-the-land types who wanted to make their own granola and split their own stovewood to heat their own greasy hottubs. “There’s a reason for the economy, and for a marketplace of skills and goods,” I would say. “Let them try cobbling their own shoes. Manufacturing their own stereos to play Jimi Hendrix on. Let them see how efficient that is.”
(My father used to say, “The only lasting thing you learn at school is How To Learn.”)

* * * *

This morning, mowing, I came upon an immense poop on the west meadow, obviously fresh from last night, and obviously composed of local apples. My apples. It lay in my path, so I got off the tractor because I didn’t want to tear into it with all three whirling blades in the mower deck, went for a shovel to move it, carried it to the ravine where the sea of blackberries accepts all.

Bears must have terrifically inefficient bowels, or a perpetual diarrhea, as the fruits and berries in their chyme are hardly digested, still as crisp as they might show up in a morning bowl with yogurt, but mounded in the grass in the morning. Often one finds pools of bearshit right beneath the peartree, where he stands up tall to dine. (Once I found a pool of shit with a bright Baby Ruth wrapper embedded intact.)

* * * *

  1. Huge success with pumpkins and acorn squash this year (at least until the drip irrigation failed and the squash got dessicated). Butternut squash as usual is our staple. Many varieties of tomatoes, beans of the haricot vert type, leeks, onions, squash vines and melon vines swerving all over the enclosed dirt floor. When we planted the fenced-in plot last spring, we crowded in way too much stuff, way too close together, but it’s working out fine. (At the time, we predicted a “demolition derby” in there by harvest-time.) But they haven’t gotten in each other’s way. The Lesson: Squeeze in everything you want. Don’t heed the warnings on the package about spacing.

* * * *

[The Iowa farmer: an instance of the banality of evil.]

Food riots in India. In Mexico, Iowa corn (govt-subsidized) can be bought more cheaply than the corn grown right there on neighbors’ milpa.

The news on the radio is that, if you filled an SUV with one tank of “ethanol,” you’d be burning up an amount of corn that might have kept one human being alive for two weeks. That’s one tankful. I have actually, for some while, been turning down invitations requiring a drive to SF, partly out of my increasing love of uneventfulness, but also because I’m being transformed into a Jain Buddhist who even wonders whether, say, staging a writers’ conference every year in Squaw can be done in good conscience (as we put hundreds of people on transcontinental planeflights). So little does one wish to disturb the world. So much of the book-business’s so-called content is (courtesy Ecclesiastes) “vanity.” “Sense of sin” expands like neutron bomb shock wave.

Banality of evil, “Author” driving to town for gala luncheon.

* * * *

Judging by the pawprints on the full-length mirror, it was apparently a very small (even a baby) bear that got himself stuck in Barbara’s bathroom and, at last in desperation, trashed the wooden door to free himself.

* * * *

Barbara, with her teacup and saucer, revolves in the doorway.

“Where are you going mom?” says Brett.

“I’m going back to my reading.”

“That’s the living room, mom. It’s cold in there. You were reading in the mudroom, remember? We’ve got the stove going in the mudroom, it’s nice and warm.”

Barbara is laden with many heavy old silver chains and amulets and medallions, as, in the barbaric way of women, she remembers every day to bedeck herself with booty. She doesn’t remember anymore the little house in Del Mar or Casa Raab in Mexico, or even the house in SF, or many of her own photographs, or the many picnics of life, Europe in the sixties, the laughter on the deck, her childhood on a California ranch in the Depression with a horse of her own named Bummer, her benign rulership of many long dinner tables, her recipes. Brett and I remember it all for her and keep telling her.

* * * *

October 12. The season’s first good California rain. Such weather systems are more interesting to watch from these elevations. For the day preceding, canyons fill with an air that is mistier, more isolating. Sound doesn’t seem to travel so far. Yesterday was a muffled lonely day of climbing ladders, pulling detritus out of gutters, putting up storm windows, covering woodpiles, bringing in tools, making a last harvest of tomatoes, filling the bathtubs with potable water. On the National Weather Service website, we watch the radar animations’ whirling dragons with pleasure.

This morning, the storm is loud on the roof. It’s a roof whose shingles I put on myself last summer during several days of intense heat, bloody knuckles, tired ankles, the camaraderie of Mike and Bruce up there. Which today gives me pleasure in hearing rain.

But inside the house, everything is uprooted. Dash was sent home from school because he has head lice – or, strictly speaking, one head louse – so he’s moping around here in the dejection of the unclean/ostracized. He was the first child to be discovered, with his one louse, so he has had the added shame of thinking he was “Patient Zero.” – until it was learned that several of the kids who went on the camping trip to Jughandle State Park were later sent home with lice of their own. Inside house, the windows are steamed up from laundry. Bedding is stripped and piled in tripping heaps in the mud room. Carpets and pillows have been plastic-bagged and removed to the garage, and the washing machine is running constantly, all because of one louse. We own some new bottled poisons as well as a set of cleverly designed fine combs. Dash has sat on a stool to receive a very close haircut, and now his scalp is covered in olive oil, which must remain for eight hours. His hat, which he will wear all day today in despondency, is a clear-plastic bag with the upside-down banner “IGA Fresh: Five Servings Daily!”

* * * *

Weird inspiration. A defunct old trailer worked fine for a studio. Couldn’t another – (even more dilapidated! to be had for free!) – serve as a chicken coop, secure against coyotes?

* * * *

Wednesday, Oct. 2009. Tonight’s foil bag of Just-Add-Water, Just-Add-Ground-Beef chili will be sweetened with the four peppers, last shrub standing in the garden.

* * * *

The minister of the Nevada City white-clapboard Episcopal church (a cosmopolitan man, I sometimes have lunch with him) is I hope not offended when he sees me on Sundays slipping out the door, halfway through the service. It’s been happening almost every Sunday when I’m able to attend at all. From the rear pew, I’m able to exit behind the backs of all the parishioners, unoffending, unseen. (Except by him of course. He “sees all” because he’s, like God, enthroned back-to-the-wall.)

The readings, some hymns, the smart sermon. But after that point, when it comes to the recitation of the creed and the Eucharistic ceremony, I have to sneak out to the sunny sidewalks, the fallen leaves of maples, the pace of Sabbath automobile traffic, my own happy loneliness in apostasy.

Reasons for truancy. Elements of X-ianity are idolatrous, of course. It’s what Jews would have objected to in early X-ianity. Idolatry seems to have set in early, in the first century, that time of Jesus-sightings like Elvis-sightings. I’m hardly an exacting theologian, and sometimes I’ve stuck around for the ingestion of blood and flesh including the declarations of my own sanctity, tho’ sanctity fit me baggily.

The alienating thing about “idolatry,” in principle, is that it puts an image – a statue – between man and the divine. And all the while, I know I belong out on the sunny sidewalks where my car is parked with its wheels curbed on the hill in case the brake should fail, and errands lie ahead of me, to the hardware store for a bottle of septic-tank treatment and to the grocery store for some kind of dinner meat.

* * * *

[That particular Episcopal church does seem to have theologians in its pews, and captious ones. There’s one guy who can be heard inserting loudly, “…and the son,” at a certain point during each general mumbling of the Nicene Creed, because he never got over the filioque controversy of the Ninth Century.]

* * * *

Typical Cavendish: kicked out by the last woman, he’s living this winter out in his trailer in the deep canyon, where he has no heat or plumbing but he does have high-speed internet. Watches “Law and Order” episodes and Ken Burns documentaries. Reads New Yorkers.

* * *

Inguinal hernia gets worse by the month, what with bear repairs, Annex maintenance in Squaw, hauling guitar amp or wine crate, hoisting sleeping kids, uprooting old Scotch broom, chopping firewood, shoveling snow.

But really, honestly, would I rather be, say, riding up the Champs Elysee in a red top-down sportscar? (I’d only be looking for the first parking place.)

* * * *

The “sweet-pea”-vs-“vetch” controversy.
The tender herb vying for sunlight at the margins everywhere has a sky-blue miniature orchidaceous bloom that lasts thru much of the early summer and keeps reappearing till fall, larger than the usual wildflower blossom. Brett would like it all to be mowed down. According to her, it outcompetes and smothers the nicer groundcovers. She also says it’s a fire hazard in the fall, when it dries out. She prefers to call it “vetch,” a monosyllable that sounds like regurgitation. I prefer to call it “wild sweet pea,” as it was called by old George and Ginny when they passed the place on to us. Also, I like it. I like to see it standing.

I seem to have won, in this eco-aesthetic quarrel, because now our friend Henrik Bull brings us news that it’s edible. You can pull the top fronds off and stand there gobbling them like a deer or a horse. It actually is sweet. You could make a salad. Henrik and his wife discovered this because, where they live in Berkeley, they observed immigrant Vietnamese women harvesting these greens from the median strips of boulevards.

* * * *

Nov. 3, 2009. An unseasonably warm day. Replacing rotten clapboard on the north side, I pull out boards and they’re all held in with square nails. The whole central house is built with square nails.

I’ve saved them, in a heavy pocketful all day. They’ve ended up in the Mason jar in the pine breakfront. But what to do with them? They’re not significantly rusty. Doesn’t feel right throwing them out, nor leaving them idle as quaint antiques in a jar, because some fellow made them, one-by-one with hammer and tongs, on an anvil while they glowed red, then dropped each in the cold water bucket to sizzle and temper. These few immortals are some of the elect.

* * * *

November: Pockets of parka sticky inside from tomatoes that popped in there when I harvested handfuls in the dark, needing them for a soup a month ago.

* * * *

Troublesome bear population at higher elevations. Had to run up to Squaw Valley. The upper cabin had been colonized by bears, who gained entrance simply by clawing through the exterior wood siding. Strong, shy creatures: when they want to look in the fridge, they tear the door off its hinges, but yet they can be chased out by a human shouting insults.

They had obviously been living there for a period of some days. All was squashed out on the carpets and licked up: lemonade frozen-concentrate, large Stouffer’s lasagna, bag of IKEA Swedish meatballs, steel cans of tomatoes torn open by tooth and claw.

Stayed up there for a week doing clean-up and repairs. Lacking a laptop or radio reception, I worked in the silence of swelling and subsiding canyon winds.

(Tribute to William Gaines. Lacking a proper T-square up there, while doing the rude carpenty I used an old MAD Magazine to mark two-by material for ninety-degree cuts, and it works very well.)

* * * *

November 6, 2009. Drizzle all day. The old wooden bench swing, suspended from the Atlas cedar’s lowest branch, has at last rotted to the point that its back is sagging off, like a fishjaw hanging open, decayed. At this point Hunter is a freshman at school back east, and Dash is nine.

* * * *

Cavendish this fall has started living in the woods in the river canyon, ten miles out, in a trailer with no running water and no heat. He’s been showering here at our place, whenever he’s got a date in town or something, and it’s always a pleasure to see him, his inborn elegance, his scrappy, tall Toyota pick-up. The crunch of gravel under tires outside, arriving just at the moment we’ve already lit dinner candles (add a can of diced tomatoes to the sauce), then the way he customarily sits inside the cab organizing things, flipping through things, before getting out. Cavendish’s problem is, women keep kicking him out. Latest was Marian, star of the Sam Sheperd “Fool for Love” in the black-box theatre. Before that it was Sands (Cordelia in “Lear,” one of the sisters in “Lughnasa,” Gertrude in “Hamlet”).

Having showered, he departs in fine dress (he seems to shop at the best haberdasheries in SFO). He has been very gallant about taking Barbara out to dinner, her squire, at Citronee or New Moon, ordering the good wine. He’s probably going to have to sell another piece of property to support this improvident lifestyle, if indeed he’s got any left.

He’s been taking UPS and FedEx deliveries here at our address, of equipment for his theatrical productions. “Follow spots,” “gels,” “floods,” all this stuff arrives here under our porch roof.

Came by tonight, to take Barbara to a closing night of a musical comedy at the Miner’s Foundry. Both dressed “to the nines.” Paused for a bowl of chili before leaving. He says there are still coffee-can lights he put up in 1975, hanging now in the scaffolding of the Miner’s Foundry theatre (his own spray-painted-black “MJB” cans) from “MacBeth” of thirty years ago.

Sands worries about him, as now winter is coming and his trailer in the woods has no heat or water. She’s Back East at a teaching job and can only worry from a distance, remonstrate with him by email.

* * * *

November 11, 2009 –

Twilight. A big mother bear and two good-sized adolescent cubs spent some time lolling around at the edge of the meadow. I ought to have thrown stones and berated them but, loving them too much, I just let them be, and summoned Brett and Barbara from the blue light of their Masterpiece Theatre murder-mystery, to come to the window to see them. Barbara has reached an age of feeling imperiled much of the time and doesn’t like seeing such wildlife so near.

(It occurs to me, only now, that Dash and his little friend had gone out with trowels and had been digging up rusty old ranch implements from that antique barn foundation. He’d come inside just fifteen minutes before the bears’ appearance.)

The bear family becomes aware they’re being watched and shambles away into the woods, the steep rocky ravine to the east, their home, headed downhill. Then, a half-hour later, in the twilight of ten-minutes-to-five, I’m back at my desk and hear a rifle-shot from my neighbor’s dim property.

It seems to me a single rifle-shot means that the man missed. And that they ran away. I haven’t really made the acquaintance of this neighbor (an odd but fitting circumstance, in these country distances. I know only that he owns a lot of heavy equipment because the beep-beep-beep of a tractor’s reverse-gear warning can be heard at all hours, coming through the woods). Maybe a single shot was just intended to scare the bears away. Not to hurt anybody. It sounded like a small-caliber shell that would only wound a bear. You’d need several .22 shots to bring one down.

Five minutes later. Another single shot.

* * * *

Nov. 12, 2009
Brett went out to the cottage tonight to find Barbara standing in her bedroom with the door closed, looking embarrassed, the dog standing beside her. “Toby and I are hiding,” she said. (Toby is the dog.) “There are all those people out there. I just don’t know how to help them.”

She’d been watching one of her regular favorite shows, the Jim Lehrer News Hour, and must have dozed. When she woke she believed her cottage rooms were thronged with refugees of the Afghan war, who were looking for work in this country. She said they all had wonderful skills and professions back home in Kandahar and Kabul, they were doctors and plumbers and teachers, but now in this country the government wasn’t allowing them to take jobs. A particular dignified man she’d spoken with – (they got acquainted while they both were waiting in line for the bathroom, she said) – had been a diplomat, and owned a little villa-like place in Kandahar.

At last not knowing how to help all the imaginary refugees, she’d closed herself up in the bedroom, and just left them out there to talk among themselves and, no doubt, help themselves to her cupboards, she said, because they certainly must be hungry.

* * * *

Poor Dash, the point where he stopped seeming so brave, in the project of scaring bears out of the Squaw house, was not when I told him to stay back in the cab of the truck (I had the headlights shining on the front door), but rather when I turned around and came back to the truck, telling him, “Here, you’d better keep the cell phone with you, too.”

I should have put it a different way, because obviously that was when he started to think this wasn’t such a fun adventure anymore. He said, “Dad?” to detain me, standing at the open truck-door, but then couldn’t think of anything further to say, as a reason for keeping me.

* * * *