December 27, 2011

Barbara will have surgery on the thirtieth.  Needs an artery in her neck unblocked of plaque.  She’s not being very brave about it.  We try not to bring it up at all.

* * * *

December 26, 2011

An affluent Christmas.  Like everybody, we’re spending money we don’t have on stylish black boxes with demonic inner embers, with power-cords that will bring more of the audiovisual into our lives, phantom-power pilot-lights marring the darkness of the midnight while we sleep.  The persuasive BOOM (triumphant boom) of THX Dolby.  THX Dolby doesn’t make the cliché any more tolerable, it just makes the cliché loud, booming, swirling, bristling, inexorable.

* * * *

Kant, the cosmological argument is just another ontological argument but in disguise.)

* * * *

December 22, 2011

Hunter is home from college for ten days.  It’s good to hear the deep voice in the house, a pacific voice. In rooms where I’m not present, a deep voice.

* * * *

9:30 in the morning, frost on fenceposts and garden tools.

Brett makes an appearance outside the kitchen door in the cold morning light barefoot, with last night’s tablecloth on her forearm.  She gives it a big shake, the whole banner of it, and goes back inside.

Slam of screen door.

Soon to appear: the finches and sparrows.

* * * *

A Tuesday.  Few days till Christmas.

Spent another entire day not working.  Always a dizzy condition.

In the morning, finished a computer-recording of a version of “Shendandoah” (to be my homemade X-mas present).  Which after three days’ work disappoints me summarily, and I’m going to have to re-do it.

Then cleared the far deep-woods meadow of  Scotch broom, pulling seedlings up by their roots.  (Member of the pea family.  Cousin to the wild sweet pea I love to munch.  In italian “La Ginestra.”  Meaning “the broom.”  Invasive plant here.  The Plantagenets’ family crest bore an image of a sprig of this stuff, because “planta genista” was its emblematic flower.)

Then the blackberry.  Back-breakingly on knees under the fig trees, dug and extirpated almost all blackberry vines, by their ancient roots – really venerable underground woody wrists, hard fists, witchy long dusty fingers.

Tilapia w/ chile-lime butter.  Asparagus.

Hard freeze expected tonight.  Went out and flushed irrigation to empty it and not freeze pipes.  The firehose explosion of muddy water thundering from the old rusty, seldom-opened hydrant into the ravine.

* * * *

December 11, 2011

Sunday morrning.

Barbara is in the corner of the kitchen, next to the heater, inching through on the entire Sunday paper, not saying much.  All around her, noisily, three 12-yr-old boys frolic and punch and quarrel, post-sleepover, crowding around the “ipad,” Dash dominant, tapping and stroking the little pane.  Buttermilk pancakes are made, syrup poured, then the boys including all housepets are sent outside. I’m not writing today, I’m responding to interview questions on Internet, then fooling around with home-made music, recording a version of an old public-domain tune.  On Brett’s ipod down in the kitchen, while Barbara reads the paper, the “folk music” stack is playing Tim Buckley, Judy Collins Leo Kottke’s Tacoma album.  Later today, as it’s warm and sunny, Brett will be out with loppers and shears.

2:00 – afternoon – Dash, very grown up with $10 in his pocket and knowledge of a crepe place to spend it at, needs a ride to town, where (with my cell phone in pocket), he is to meet a certain “Chiara.”  I drop him off, but he insists on being let out three blocks too soon.  Then with wings on his fleet he runs at top speed, sweatshirt-hood flying, down Spring Street.  I linger in the intersection to watch him, flying down out of sight.

4:30– Give up my Sunday music-making and set out with two mousetraps (brand name VICTOR, printed on wood in red and blue ink dyes, the flat cedar wafer that is to be the mouse’s last touch of material Earth and spiritual threshing-floor.)

Brett is working on her huge quilt in the cottage.

Barbara with the newspaper by lamplight.  She complains that (according to the newspaper) the director of the San Francisco zoo outfits herself in clothing of wild-animal prints.  This is in poor taste.

Very dim at 4:30 in the woods’ edge. Baiting my traps with peanut butter and oatmeal, in the potting shed where there’s a big woodrat nest, and in my trailer in the woods.

* * * *

December 5, 2011

12:16.  The silence of the whole house, midday, weekday.

A creak in the 150-yr-old floorboards.

Brett: “Louis, I’m going for a walk with Toby.”

Me: “Oh.  Okay.”

The floorboard creaks travel away again.

* * * *

December 3, 2011

In the depth of the night, sparkling frost on grass.  How glamorous is death.

Dash is away at a friend’s house for a sleep-over.

Barbara and Brett are in the cottage watching, on television, “Anything With English Accents.”

Happiness of seeing the big Angel book come into perspective.

The merry clothesline all day, scalloped at the top rim, bouncing in gusts.  All afternoon, while the denim dried toasty, last night’s ice stayed intact on the shadowed bricks of the patio.

Dinner of polenta, pork loin with sauce of last year’s little plums from the freezer.

(This year, through my own negligent inattention, all the little Italian prune plums were taken by The Bear before I could get to them.)

(The Bear’s pie-sized shit in the woods beyond the chestnut trees is mostly the pits of my plums.)

Sour local wine, from big vats on Zion.

* * * *

December 3, 2011

Up early.  Coffee brewed.  Heat started.  Softly on the radio: NPR’s well-regulated, easy ironies and poignancies — and the valve of intervening segue music.  Saturday morning.

Dash went to a party last night (at a girl’s house!) and was delivered here after my own bedtime, by some mom or dad.  And this morning I can hear him singing to himself while he lies in bed.  He still has a girlish fluting voice.  And he is exploring this melody only by guesses, before he’s even lifted his head from the pillow.

* * * *

December 2, 2011

“Crazy pretty” —— Today is the kind of sunny, windy day that will, in the sensitive, bring on migraines or epileptic seizures.  The trees churn/shimmer.  This American language: Our weekly cleaning “lady” – (really a girl, not a lady; herself a poet and blogger) – pauses with lunch-spoon halfway to mouth, standing and looking out the small pantry window, out to where the low winter sun makes tinsel of the grass, and she says, “I’n it crazy pretty out?”

* * * *

November 30, 2011

Big winds are predicted for tonight, and we’ve brought in or lashed down everything loose.  Consequence of atmospheric turbulence, the internet  connection is spotty and I can’t bring emails up to see what agreement my agent Joy in New York is reaching with my editor Jack in Berkeley.

* * * *

A great novel I’m finally getting around to: John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.”  It has an artless ineptitude which is part of its good effect.  A clear surface, through which to see deep.

Myself, I don’t do that.  For better or worse, I tend to let it be a hard glittering surface.

* * * *

Insomnia, I love it, I alone high up, hours of ultra-alertness,

and the inevitable nearness-of-god monkeyshines, always unfailingly interesting.

Thinking of my great good fortune in Brett, beside me.

* * * *


November 27, 2011

Sales of Radiance are VERY disappointing.  The offers for Innocence will be humbling.

But a letter from New York is in the mail pile.  Sharon Olds is so crazy about Radiance she sent a three-page, handwritten fan letter.  If one or two fond close readers are out there in the gloaming, that is reward enough.

Home now, for one full day, Sunday.  The weather tender and warm.

A soup including chestnuts from under the tree at the edge of the woods, plus Thanksgiving’s old roasted vegetables.

* * * *

[It’s later that same night.  I’m making beef stock.  Brett, in putting Dashiell to bed, has fallen asleep, and all lites are low, and I’ve got our local small-town radio station on.  The Sunday-Nite literary show is broadcasting a “staged reading” of a conversation-scene from the last (the posthumous! the thousand-page!) David Foster Wallace novel.  Three actor-voices bicker about consumerism, existentialism, American political parties, Romanticism, communism, post-modernism, late-stage capitalism.  Braiding so rapidly, –ism upon –ism, the spine of the conversation is lost.  It’s a kalaedoscope of Wallace’s opinion and knowledge.  (Onion, bay leaf, bones of rib roast, some semi-slimy parsley, old shriveled carrots.)

Then, because I need a sprig of fresh thyme I have to desert the lucha libre of Mr. Wallace’s philosophical characters – (and right at the late-stage-capitalism part!) – to go outside by the back mudroom door, and in starlight find the thyme.  It’s cold outside.  On my knees on the bricks: spongy moss presses dew into the denim, my not-so-young patellae.  Totally silent.  Neither the smell of my soup-pot nor the rattle of the radio is out here.

* * * *

Thanksgiving in Squaw Valley.  No snow.  Warm sun on decks.

On “Black Friday” I climb alone above all the waterfalls in canyon, where nothing moves, no animals, no sounds.  Cold air sinking along creek bed.

* * * *

Consequence of scientists’ new Multiverse* Theory:

(*that there isn’t just a single universe; that ours is one of a billion trillion potential universes that have existed, from a billion trillion Big Bangs foaming up through eternity, all generated randomly.)

Scientists suggest that the “miraculous” existence of our unique, improbable universe is explained by trial-and error, in the Lawrence-Welk-bubble-machine profusion of “Big Bangs” in eternity: an inexhastible variety of universes is always spewing forth into time-space; so eventually one of these random-trial universes would have contained, accidentally, a lucky bit of carbon and a few other ingredients (the right kind of gravity, the perfect proton mass, etc.) to come up with a livable planet, in what we feel to be a logical, geometric space, stable space.

The further, interesting possibility is of a RADICAL anthropic theory: that I alone, personally, am the existential focus, among billions of dismissed universes and merely heuristic universes.  I’m in the only possible universe: the one containing ME.  Call this “Anthropic Solipsism”:

It’s natural and inevitable that I should exist, because this is the universe “I” happen to exist in, and be conscious of.  All those billions of “possible” universes, no matter how outlandish, were also “INEVITABLE” universes.  (It’s an axiom of multiverse thinking that anything possible is inevitable, in the logarithm of infinite trial-and-error.)  In this particular universe, “I’ myself am, like God, the sine qua non.

Such an Anthropic Solipsism is a cousin to the “atman” of Hindu thinking, the Self who is the entire Web of Indra stretched glittering through eternity.  Also it’s cousin to Niezsche’s “Eternal Return.”  (Nietzsche: he was ahead of all this.)

Two difficulties of this Anthropic Solipsism are (1) the autonomy and the consequentiality of the sensed world, and (2) the stubborn, and fascinating, problem of the existence of others.  Are those pedestrians on Columbus Avenue just spear-cariiers in my own personal opera?  Figments of my imagination?  No, they evidently have autonomy.  And consequentiality.  In the summary above, the pronoun you could be substituted for every I.

(This is assuming I have a reader out there in the Internet’s cold starry spaces.  A you who is more than “me.”)  (I have a faith that there’s “Something Besides Myself,” which is the faith that leads to all others.)

* * * *

Nov. 20. Ranch harvest party.  The day is blustery and cold in North Marin, and the long table is merry.  That every instant of life is woven of “Dissatisfaction” is the Buddhist principle of Dukkha.  It’s even here at the banquet table.

The Aryans who invented the word Dukkha were a nomadic people, arriving in history on ox-drawn carts, and their word -kha was the name for the axle-hole in their cart.  A good  (su-) axle-hole gave you a smooth ride; a badly shaped (du-) axle-hole gave you a bumpy ride.

[so: sukkha is contentment and a comfy ride, dukkha its opposite]

A “kha” was just an empty space, or socket or hole.  [The crucial ingredient, if you’re inventing a wheel.]  Later in Sanskrit, “kha” meant not just hole but the entire “sky,” “space,” “heavens,” this vast socket we’re vouchsafed.

* * * *

Driving home from the harvest party.

On Highway 49 is a sign of the season: “DRIVE-THRU NATIVITY” placard (with arrow) at the roadside.

* * * *

Wed, November 16, 2011

11:07 AM – I’m working and Brett calls, “Louis?  It’s a gorgeous beautiful day out there.  And they’re predicting snow is coming, and I wonder if we shouldn’t spend a couple of hours in the garden, getting everything ready for winter.”

So it does turn out, and so the entire afternoon goes, with Barbara set up in the sun in a canvas chair outside our deer-fencing, the pick-up truck parked beside us with its dashboard radio keeping us informed, I wearing the same thermal underwear I slept in last night, the cats capering, the shadows growing long over the meadow, both of us slipping and sliding on the slick of fallen tomatoes and rotten pumpkin guts in the mud, hacking at vines and stalks and dragging them to the compost heap, or to the edge of the woods if they’re weedy/seedy.  Tonight, now, the candles are blown out; all are in bed; dinner was calamari with capers and lemon, and the recycling is out on the road, and the animals are all in.

* * * *

November 15, 2011

Cavendish leaves a return message on phone machine, regarding Thanksgiving invitation:  Yes, he does have other invitations for that day, but he would gladly prefer ours, and to spend the day with us, because we are his “home team.”

* * * *

Dash and Mortality:

Dash in the past year has seen his dog die in an accident and be gently laid down on the grass outside the backdoor; his cat Scout vanish as coyote-snack; his other cat JuiceBag disappear as either coyote- or bobcat-snack; his Uncle Tad vanish while in the far-away state of New York, swept away by this thing called Heart Attack; his grandfather Oakley die in a long hushed process of deterioration offstage.

At the dinner table tonight, an anecdote from 1975 was being told, involving the death of a seven-year-old boy.  I was watching Dashiell’s eyes shine in the candlelight as he listened.

The speaker remembered the news of the death arriving, how she was playing with her friends in the alley when she heard the news, “But I was young and I didn’t know what death is.”

The only question Dash asked was, “How old were you then?”

Oh, eleven or something.

Kids of course encounter death right away, in their earliest stories and rhymes most colorfully. Dash, everybody knows what death is, no matter how young they are.  But also, nobody knows what it is, no matter how old they are.

* * * *

Death has been so much my study; so much my special friend; so much my specialty, my medicine, my bailiwick, my sweaty pillow, my rehearsal.  It’s interesting that “the actual thing” can’t be anticipated, even by somebody who thinks he’s the most diligent philosopher.  It’s an absolute incalculable.

* * * *

November 11, 2011

Dash, class clown.

His new thing is to go around the playground “asking for sugar.”  He comes up to people with open arms, and pleads, “Gimmeh some sugah, Pawmpkin,” in a moaning whimper.

Some do give him a hug.  Most, he complains, squeal, “Ick. Get away from me.”

* * * *

November 6, 2011

The economy:

Cinder-block hut behind the Chevron station, the spot where the old video-rental place failed, a new “Oriental Health Massage” has opened and turned on its little magenta-neon OPEN sign.

In a town where Caucasian college-grad masseuses want eighty or ninety dollars for a massage, this place is offering – for $19.99 – an hour full-body massage with foot-soak and shiatsu “reflexology.”

This isn’t the naughty kind.  Seems legit.  They’ll drive out-of-business the locals. Redecoration of the video store has been minimal.  They’ve put in a black carpet and painted the room black, but it’s just an old video store, with perforated acoustic-tile ceiling.  Paper screens are the only partitions separating customers.  For atmosphere (since it is necessary constantly to play Pachelbel’s Canon in G, as performed on a Mellotron synthesizer) they’ve set up a boombox on a black vinyl barstool.  I, as is routine, worried about the devoted masseuse.  No English is spoken.  Absolutely none.  You can tip enormously, you can bow in a slight reference to the “Namaste” of Asian custom. Before you escape.

* * * *

November 4, 2011

Bright sunshine after a rainy night. The annual ring of chantarelles encircles the birch tree, and will take all week to expand in a ripple over the meadow. The maple tree by the pump house is on fire.

Brett and I are to meet with a notary public in town this afternoon, where we will sign our “Last Will and Testament,” and our “Living Will and Living Trust,” with Cavendish and Liz as witnesses.

The house is overrun by 11-yr-old boys today.  They’ve been eating pizza, all four of them in the mud room; then they adjourned to Dash’s computer to Google things; now are back in the mudroom doing exercises.  The YouTube page up on Dash’s computer is:


* * * *

October 31, 2011

Back in Nevada City.

Cold night.

Today, a county-dump trip:

Put up upstairs storm windows, light pilot in living-room stove, cover swamp-cooler with canvas, caulk leaks in tin porch-roof.

* * * *

October 30, 2011

In Squaw:

1 – Frame for second-bedroom bed;

2 – Floor-cleats to hold washing-machine in place, keep it from creeping in spin cycle;

3 – Bedstead for rock-room bed;

4 – Get clear caulk;

Push old mattress off the deck onto steep slope and watch it (all in slo-mo!) miraculously leap and leap downhill, on its corners, all the way to the lower road, a gymnast’s handsprings and round-offs.

Visit Alpine, to consider it as site for writers conference.

* * * *

October 25, 2011

Sharp frost.  Taking screens out of upstairs windows, lowering sashes that have been up all summer.

In the garden, an abundance of tomatoes.

All four big golden pumpkins have had voles delving in them.  Total loss.

Eggplants, peppers, cucumbers are still producing.

And late handfuls of yellow summer-squash, small as ping-pong balls, which might be tender, or sweet (or both — or neither).

(Running a kitchen out of a garden turns out to ask a lot of flexibility and resourcefulness in the plan of cooking.)

The Ag-Industrial complex — whose triumph my mother’s generation is guilty of acceding to, grateful for TV dinners and Tang — really did change our souls.  Today many lack the heritage to make a real meal. (As I do.  I’ll be cutting open those mystery squash while the oil is already sizzling in the pan, prepared for the possibility of disappointing my family once again.)

* * * *

October 25, 2011

Working indoors today.  Laptop on a desk, upstairs in the vacant east bedroom.

–Intensifying the little “oedipal” section in “Assistant,” perhaps overly.

–email from my agent: Farrar Strauss has passed on “Innocence” and I’m relieved, oddly

— flurry of emails regarding posthumous celebrity of Don Carpenter (Don would spit at it)

— Brett has been on a long, long phone conversation downstairs.

— She comes up, still talking on phone, and puts an envelope beside me, an automobile-insurance-bill envelope, with the following written vertically in ballpoint pen (and giving me a look, she leaves the room):




(found by the

Truckee River)

in her beautiful handwriting. The message lies there beside my laptop.  How I cherish handwriting.  What do we have left, of each other – what do we leave behind on earth – besides our handwriting.  Yes, there’s the “content” of our messages, which perhaps might seem less perishable and more consequential.  Content does seem to matter.  Obviously.  But there’s the lasting beauty of the medium itself, inscription.  The quick ballpoint pear-shapes and cherry-shapes, efficient little stems and pistils and thorns, as a schoolgirl was trained in the California public school system in the late sixties. There’s our immortality.

* * * *

October 23, 2011

Four-thirty AM, in my trailer under the trees.  Moonless night.  I pause in typing. The mountains all around are amazingly still.  They’ve always been, without my noticing.

No wind.  Laptop screen goes dim from inactivity, my hands floating in ready-to-seize poise above plastic keyboard.  I sitting up straight on my squishy rubber beachball spine-saving seat.

Sometimes in my head the hectic roar of work ceases.  I’m at peace.  Moreover, it was always peace.  I realize that everything – including myself, and even including all the violence – is exactly where it ought to be, doing exactly what it should, from the Microwave Background on in.

There are times when could think I’m in the very Cloud of Unknowing, but also, sometimes it’s just tinnitus.

* * * *

San Francisco, October 20, 2011

$40/night.  North Beach Hotel, bathroom-down-the-hall, on Stockton above a massage parlor and a “Mailboxes Etc.” Michael and Ayelet offered a bed for the night in Berkeley, but I’m stubborn about this.

Elaborate bedbug prophylaxis isn’t possible.  And I’m not going to try helpfully mentioning the bathroom water problem at the front desk, because it’s not the kind of place where you offer constructive criticism.  Those people at the front desk, they surely know all about it anyway.

They gave me a back-side room, so it’s quiet.  By lamplight I’m in bed (there’s no other fixture besides a bed in the room) reading Malamud’s “The Assistant,” propped up against my pancake-stingy pillow.  This particular paperback edition is fifty years old (SIGNET Books, 50¢, “. . . Good Reading for the Millions!”), and its binding liberates each page I turn.  The golden binding-glue, fragile as the lacquer holding dead insects together, releases each page as I turn it.  So Malamud’s story of Jews and the old racism of old New York seems an experience I can only have once, and never go back and repeat.  Little harvest of loose pages on the bedside floor.

* * * *

San Francisco

Another morning at Macondray Lane, hauling out very old construction debris, which I extract from the eternally shady slot between the two buildings.  This rottenness in earth smells great, smells like ancient SFO.

Packing the bed of Tad’s truck, building a tall rick of rotten wood, lashing it down when the pile is complete.  Lashing it fast for the gales of Interstate-80.

Soon, my salade a truite fumé for lunch at the corner patisserie, big double-capp for the road.

(Tour guide leads a gaggle of auslanders along Macondray Lane, dispensing literary misinformation.  “So this is the actual house.  Can’t you just imagine Miss Madrigal living here?”  I hold my tongue, haul my loads of garbage, say excuse me as I pass.)

* * * *

The Round Table lunch.  What had once been a pageant at Trader Vic’s (in the opulent secret back room, a-glitter like a museum with trophies and weaponry and shrunken heads, with an actual “round table”) has now dwindled to a side table at Capp’s Corner.  The camaraderie of people who never did go into it for the glory.  Or maybe once did, of course, but are long past that now.

* * * *

October 17, 2011

Kitchen.  Nevada City.

In late October there comes an afternoon shadow when the cricket starts singing at midday in the glade, because he has discovered a twilight and coolness.

But it’s still summer here in the upper sun.

Screen door.

Brett. With laptop at the kitchen table.

I have shown up to help her write an email persuading the Squaw ski-corp people that (like those in Aspen, Sun Valley, Park City) our little art gang ought to be viewed as a cultural asset.  Like a precious mineral deposit there for exploitation.  Like natural-gas deposits they could frack.  Or like the wildflowers, a tourist attraction.

Phone rings.  It’s Kait Klaussen!  Brett gets out of her bad-posture writing slouch.  With phone on shoulder, pours herself some white wine, drops in an ice cube, and, with phone, goes to the living room.

The little white dog, who had been sleeping at her feet under the kitchen table, reckons up the change of afternoon venue, and he bestirs himself to follow her into the living room.  Drops down at her feet.

* * * *

Uganda now, too:

President Obama today [10-17-11] orders 100 special-ops troops into Uganda, to help quench the “Lord’s Resistance Army.”

(Who, until now, really cared about the outrages of the “Lord’s Resistance Army”?)

Well, drivers of automobiles, think about this: Geologists have discovered that 2.5 to 6 billion barrels of oil lie under Lake Albert, half in Ugandan territory.  This is the biggest such discovery in two decades in sub-Saharan Africa.  It will not appear in your evening news show.

So it is.  We’re now committed to Uganda.  To “Uganda’s welfare.”  In June we also promised drone aircraft to Uganda, so that assassinations may happen in the hi-tech manner without the presence of a human being.  All as part of a new $45 million military aid package.

If you’re cold in the evening, put on a sweater.  Don’t crank the heat while going around in a T-shirt.  This is very basic.

* * * *

October 13, 2011

No work yesterday.  Rather spent day alone in Squaw Valley in winterizing chores.

Left Nevada City in the AM before light.

Came back home by nightfall, unpacked myself from pick-up cab, taking pleasure in aches and pains well-earned.

Take-out Chinese food for dinner.

So, for breakfast this morning, mu-shu pork cold from a white carton, standing on dewy lawn.

Nice adjective:

Brett, in nightgown at the foot of the stairs, explaining why she, too, wants to go up to Squaw soon, “I just have all these little diggly projects I’m not handling,” while the tips of her fingers nibble each other.


* * * *

October Sixth, 2011

Dark days of constant rain.  This is just about the season when the salmon will be thrashing uphill in the Yuba, and I think of these days as salmon days, because even up here in the breathable troposphere, everything is cold and wet and churned-up turbid.  The females will be bashing their noses against the cobbles at the riverbottom making nests for their eggs.  I’ve watched this.  They succeed in making shallow trenches, at the cost of a lot of nose-skin shredding.

* * * *

October 3, 2011

Northern Pacific storm system.  Today dawned clear, but with a saturating humidity.  All is drenched.  Direct sunshine may never dry the dew.  Distances are misty.

Midday, serious dimness closes in.

Walked the whole irrigation line in the silence of overcast afternoon inspecting for swampy patches, stopping to listen for air-leaks’ sucking underground.  All is quiet.

Came home with one little forest artifact.  A raccoon mandible (the rest of its old dry carcass lay at a distance).  Had been attacked and dined on by some coyote or bobcat.  The jewel-like tiny incisors and canines and molars, still set firm in bone, polished to purity by the ecosystem’s cruelty and greed.

* * * *

October 3, 2011

Another Hortatory Sermon like the clothesline thing:

This is about “biodiesel” (i.e., actual vegetable oil) (not that Iowa “ethanol”):

A regular old Mercedes-Benz 240D or old Volkswagen diesel can burn 100% Biodiesel.  (Or, if you like, any admixture with gas-station fossil-diesel.)

Such an old car can be had for 2 thousand bucks on the Internet.  Look on CraigsList. And go back to the days of no-airconditioning, when you sweated a little.

We’re the problem.  We’re it.  We’re the beast.  We think we’re not ’cause we voted for Obama.  Or we think we’re “recycling” our “Fiji Water” bottles.  We think we’re green

What good will be all your rueful, wise insights into the usual evening news report, if those insights are to have no consequences?  Try something.  Do something.  One-by-one change our poisonous little lives.  Or our poisonous “magnificent” lives.  We think we’re not the problem maybe ‘cause we attend to liberal news outlets.

  1. A) The old diesel engines don’t require conversion.  Just pour in the biodiesel.  Mix it in with the regular gas-station “fossil-diesel,” if you like.
  2. B) Biodiesel is made from any old (otherwise discarded) vegetable matter, agricultural waste.  Soybean, sunflower, canola, non-food grade nuts or seeds, waste cooking oil.
  3. C) Biodiesel is biodegradable. (If theExxon Valdez had spilled biodiesel, there’d have never been any problem, on that day in Prince William Sound.)
  4. D) We don’t have to use up important food-crops for its manufacture, like corn.  (In this way, it’s unlike so-called “ethanol,” whose production is causing starvation worldwide while profiting Iowa farmers and causing additional environmental wreckage).
  5. E) Burning vegetable oil, Americans won’t have to systematically kill people and squash beautiful ancient cultures in far-off countries, just for the wherewithal for an errand to the store. There might have been no need for “Shock and Awe” over the ancient city of Baghdad.
  6. F) Vegetable oil burns 78% cleaner than regular fossil diesel (EPA figures).  The smoke that does come out of a diesel tailpipe is “attached carbon” (sequestered carbon).  It’s soot, not carbon monoxide, and it settles to earth.
  7. G) Biodiesel has higher lubricity, making for longer engine life.  (Also, better gas-mileage, and competitve prices per-gallon.)
  8. H) A Mercedes-Benz is a famously unkillable, dependable ride, and also a famously swanky ride.  Some models require ascot.

Cost of an old CraigsList Mercedes:                            $2400

Cost of cosmetic upholstery renovations:              $  320

Cost of minor bodywork:                                          $  160

Cost of complete brakes overhaul:                            $  500

Cost of complete wheelbase overhaul:              $1800

* * * *

October 1, 2011

I’m still working in the trailer in the woods.  Despite charnel-house smell of some dead mammal under the floor. Space heater for only a couple of early-morning hours.  Bright cool quick days of October!  The temps are down, and shoals of scalloped clouds in morning are attacking the (fingernail-paring) moon over the big madrone tree.

Mudroom door is now so heavily shellacked with coats of “Man O’ War Marine Varnish,” it will look like a cinnamon-sticky-bun for years.  For dinner tonight, linguini with clams.  (One of Oakley’s old favorites, and so we’re all soft-hearted about it.)  Seasoned with ground-up red peppercorns from Tracy’s Arizona bush.

Deep twilight.  Amy Goodman’s radio show in the kitchen.  The little white dog, Frightener of Bears, sits up in Sphinx position keeping an eye on the uneventful meadow outside in the gloaming.

* * * *

September 30, 2011

Next week, rain system coming in.

Temperatures to fall and stay there.

The tomatoes are looking great in this morning’s blazing warmth.

Nine-in-the-morning.  The hour when some things are just commencing.  And when other things have been hard at it for a long time already.  I come around the corner and the almost-empty clothesline is swaying, trembling, Brett disappearing into the backdoor, shoulder mounded with dry sheets.

(Question.  Don’t kittens get bee-stings?  Mornings in the clover, they pounce and bat.)

* * * *

September 24, 2011

Setback.  Sales of “Radiance” have been low.  So while “Innocence” will be published, it will have no hardcover edition.  Goes straight to paperback.  However, “Radiance” will have a paper edition of its own.  So I’ll get my wish: Uniform editions of that pair of metaphysical efforts, Radiance and Innocence, so consonant, assonant, in their innards.

A first autumn coldfront from the Gulf of Alaska makes Sierra weekend cool and sprinkly.  I pull in lawn furniture, decide to return 4X8 lattice to Ridge Feed for refund, pessimistic of the book business, harvest all the apples from that one veg-garden appletree, to keep them from tempting the bear.

(In moving firewood, I used my new tractor-cart with trailer hitch.  The right wheel fell off after fifty feet.  Literally fell off.  It’s new.  From Sears.  I transported the wood instead with Tad’s dependable truck.)

* * * *

September 23, 2011

Irrigation conduit repaired.  Two long afternoons of digging and tree-root-chopping in the woods across the road and uphill.  Big roots were the cause of the break.  In ninety-degree heat I’m wearing the tall sweaty boots because I’m afraid of rattlesnakes.

(Not without cause.  I see them sometimes.  Muscular-looking diamondbacks, in these mountains.  That they’re “just as afraid of me as I am of them” is a truism, and unhelpful.)

I had not been looking forward to the uphill hike, packing in the tools of excavation.  But with Tad’s truck I was able to come close via fire-road, by just barely squeezing under a fallen pine that lay over (above) the road.  Tad’s radio-antenna flexed backward under the tree trunk and sprung back up free.

Manzanita scratches the side-panels, but what’s a truck for?

* * *

September 22, 2011

No work this morning.  Or at all today.  Rather manual labor.

1) redwood lattice for the doors of the old Merrill woodshed;

2) irrigation line. (Deep in the woods, uphill toward ditch, the forest floor is making a gurgling soda-straw-sucking sound, about eight inches underfoot); for this I’ll have to pack tools in, as the fire road is half-mile distant;

3) sun-damaged mudroom door: quart Marine Teak Oil

4) Brett’s Toyota, to Foothill Small Car for oil and lube

* * * *

[RE: bearshit.  Again I’ll never be a Real Mountain Man, because a Real Mountain Man would have stuck his finger into the heap to see how warm it was.]

* * * *

September 20, 2011

Fine day.  Run through goat-escape chapter all morning, swim in river alone, play guitar (loud), pesto-and-butternut squash.

* * * *

My little dobro concerts in the evenings, which for me are just practice, or something to do while dinner cooks, are for Barbara hugely sentimental.  She loves that droopy sound.  Sits out on the brick verandah with moist eye, great sighs, cheered and talkative.

Her favorites:

“Battle Hymn of the Republic”

“Downtown” (a la Petula Clark but very droopy and slo-mo)


“Stand By Your Man” (Miss Wynette)

* * * *


  1. A) Long hot days in the foothills.  Mornings are cool.

I’m about two miles out from home and I come across a small bearshit in the middle of the road, very fresh, still wet, surely less than an hour old – which I realize I’d been smelling as I approached – and furthermore that it smelled sweet, like, say, a pie had been left out in the long heat of day.  Hot fruit-sugars in sun.  Half-digested seeds and pits, cherry-stones with red flesh, the little wet heap in my path would be frankly appetizing, if I were some creature much lower on the food chain.  It smells like breakfast.  But I walk on.  Not feeling experimental.

  1. B) The older I get.  Greeting a stranger’s newborn baby (as in a Starbucks in San Rafael this week) is a topmost peak life experience, wherein boundaries of self dissolve – (under the pram sunshade the little grouchy Churchill-face wadded deep in the depths) – Greeting a baby is an experience that, for sheer purity of exaltation, is getting to be way up there among or above the top two or three, way above skiing the Prospector run as a fifteen-year-old in Park City in the sixties, or getting book notices, or playing covers in a bar-band to make the kids dance.  The inner storm of joy: Whence comes this fantastic “empathy”?  I am evidently a separate person from that baby in Starbucks; a separate bag-of-skin, with a different fate;  moreover, as a consistent, definable “person,” I am a separate political and legal entity and biological competitor here, so why am I so delighted with strangers’ babies, or the yumminess of bearshit?  Why take any interest, at all, in loss of “self”-boundaries?  The phenomenon “empathy” feels like not only an evolutionary accident/strategy, but rather “empathy” feels central, dominant, originary.  It’s a huge learning tool, for one thing.  Empathy would evolve, in a species, with some survival-advantage pay-off in natural selection, socially.  But also, in the case of this “spiritual” creature “man” (i.e., evolved with the new ability to see itself seeing itself; and to see how it sees itself seeing itself), empathy opens a window back to ontology.  We envision “the love that moves the sun and other stars.”  It puts a spring in your step that you may feel you were meant to have.  For no particular reason.

* * * *

September 15, 2011

By a little Googling, I see I did lift the word “Sorge” from the Blockhead Meatphysician.  An unconscious theft.  A print was left in a student’s memory decades ago, now at last filled with mineral matter.

[However, I think I’m spreading the concept “Sorge” around in ways the Meatphysician never intended.]

* * * *

September 11, 2011

Visit to Mill Valley.  Ghosts of dead friends wherever I go these days.  I treat myself to opulent breakfast at the still-central bookstore The Depot.  Pretty moms accumulate at a table on the patio, parking their empty strollers outside as they’ve just dropped kids off at daycare.  Or their luxury cars at curb.  The talk, at their table, is of how Burning Man was this year.


* * * *

September 4, 2011

Hot days in the Sierra foothills.  A long string of days in the nineties.  People are staying inside in their dim back rooms.

Only the sound of Rainbird sprinklers in the meadows, insects in the hollyhock spires.  Brett, who during June and July sat at her computer under fluorescent lights in Squaw’s windowless rooms, is out in the vegetable garden barefoot in the last strike of afternoon sun.  I sent her out to get summer squash for soup, but she’s been out there for half an hour, plucking and pruning and watering and tying up messy vines.  Tomato plants rage around her as tall as her head.  Corn stalks way taller.  Slap of hose-water on dirt, and bare feet.

* * * *

Sept. 1

Artichokes fail.  They are inexplicably stunted and fruitless.

Asparagus, in raised beds, has a strong foothold and is at last flourishing.

Corn (from commercial nursery seedlings) has done well in raised beds, as if pests don’t think to look, up there.

Unhappy event: It turns out that the leaves of the butternut squash (big as dinnerplates, spiky with bristles) are suddenly delicious to the grazing deer at night.  Never again plant squash outside the fence.

* * * *

August 25, 2011

Back home in the foothills.  Again in the grip of wetter thicker air.  The woods – its paths – are tinseled with morning cobwebs.  The overgrown tall meadows are so busy with bees – the humble little brown European honeybee – it makes a roar in the morning.  If you stare at the grass and let your eyes glaze, the grass everywhere is glittering with bees.  Get the mower going.  Mow the meadows, murder the standing Queen Anne’s Lace and lupine and Shasta daisies and orchidaceous sweet-pea blossoms.  But refrain from mowing the west meadow, to leave something for the bees.

Going back into a rewrite of my end-of-the-world novel is such a scary prospect.  I’ve headed instead into “Cleaning My Studio” for a day.  An entire afternoon.  Clearing wood-rat nests out of drawers, etc.

Curious: the rodent and I have coexisted peacefully over the years (with the qualification that he keeps dying and being replaced by another, while I persist as, apparently, the same organism each day).  And in my sweeping and Chlorox-swabbing, I notice that, as in other years, he has worked hard, lovingly, to cache all the brite green pellets of poison.  The D-Con, from Ridge Feed and Supply, which has reliably brought about the death of generations of his family, has been carefully saved in various favorite niches and grooves of the studio.

Getting a NY Times review used to be such a big deal.  All the clippings needed to be archived.  Where they could turn yellow and brown under plasticene.  This summer I found it irksome just dragging myself out to the 7-Eleven at the highway to buy the Sunday Times where my own book was noticed.  Waste of automobile fuel.  Waste of my time.

* * * *

Free Will vs. Determinism:

This apparent dilemma is just the whorl you get stuck in when you’re asking a badly framed question.

Free will and determinism coexist.  But at different levels of nature’s organization.

Analogy: On a subatomic level there is no “time,” while larger-scale events do take place in entropic “time.”

* * * *

August 21, 2011

Alone by myself in Squaw.  I’m the last one to go.

The valley feels empty.  Living on fridge leftovers.  Taking a last pass at the sister-novel to “Radiance.”  Tomorrow I’ll convert it to a pdf, put it in an email, and click “send.”

Minor repairs and deck-staining.  Broken drawer.  Broken cabinet door.  The window-blinds mechanism remains unfixed, waiting for parts.  The “saddle-valve” has a slow-drip leak under the house.  The missing cover to swamp cooler finally turns up.  Me and one dobro, in the evenings.  Dinner alone at PlumpJack reading Flannery O’Connor’s “The Habit of Being.”

Under the Annex deck: Happy to see the same old jigsaw-puzzle piece as in other years.  It’s still down there where every September I store the old boards that have held down the summertime bamboo shade material.  It’s impossible to tell, anymore, what drama this puzzle piece completes.  The laminated cardboard has been swollen in the Sierra winters and the spring rains and thaws, and then during the summers popped unlaminated, so now in the flinty dust under the deck it stands like a little precariously-stacked petit four.  Since about 1998, a child’s jigsaw puzzle somewhere has lacked a piece.

* * * *

August 13, 2011

The Truckee River sparkles cruelly.  Cloudless sky all summer.  Go off alone and sit on a boulder.  It’s easy to be charitable toward the frail, in society, when they present themselves in the standard cliché form of the poor or the downtrodden.  It’s harder to empathize when human frailty manifests itself as Lady Gaga or Donald Trump, Narcissism Victorious, The Latest Thing.  This is the patience that is asked of a worker in actual literature.  So I’m sitting on this boulder and a small bird, with his own worries and fears and hopes and his own particular anxieties, alights on a dry creosote bush, twenty feet away (possibly a mountain chickadee but with peculiar yellow markings).  As close as I come to saluting this bird is just to keep an eye on him.

* * * *

July 27, 2011

Two new kittens play on the carpet, yet unnamed, and too identically marked to tell apart.

Nobody is here, in this week of lull.  Just Brett and me.  Hunter and Zoey in Nevada City, Tonkovich/Alvarez in Point Reyes, Dash on a long sleep-over.

The bear somehow gained entrance and came into the kitchen last night.  While Brett and I slept, he got muffins, a bag of dry catfood, and a big can of wet dogfood (which, by the tooth-and-claw method, he popped and peeled, leaving the open steel scroll on the deck).

Overturned wicker chair.

It was the brave little white fluffy dog who became aware of him and chased him out of the living room, making the Ursine Mass leave so fast, his weight in getting traction (just getting a move-on) displaced the wall-to-wall carpet.

* * * *

July 24 ——– My annual deep, three-day flu.  A day in bed.  Too dizzy even to read.  There’s a certain stage in a feverish illness where you get so low, you scrape with basic moral and spiritual deficiency: From the perspective of the damp pillow, all my life can look mistaken, futile, and short.  Which it is, of course.

Dash, in putting himself to bed at night, says he has piled all his “favorite things” in one big heap beside his pillow.  So when he wakes up, it will all be before him.  That was his expression: “It will all be before me.”

* * * *

July 20, 2011

Cavendish is up in Squaw to hang lights for poets’ performance space.

And Cavendish rescues me again.  Old Mercedes diesel has an aging starter-motor – engine won’t turn over – and Cavendish finds a particularly heavy wrench to bang on the metal cylinder bolted to the bottom of the engine.  This, the starter motor, is merely stuck at a point in its cycle and needs a clang.

(Remoinds me of how he showed me, on a day when I was earsplittingly using an electric saw to cut corrugated steel for my woodshed, how a true Mountain Man knows the secret of slicing steel, easy as butter and just as quiet: by drawing a wire through it.)

* * * *

July 20, 2011

For Theological and Ontological Questions obviously, basically, one needs a criterion of “truth.”

What is the essential “truthiness” of something that makes it “true”?

The most conventional theory of truth is the Correspondence Theory (that a true statement “corresponds to” a state of affairs in the world)

About this, Wittgenstein said something interesting.  He said it amounts to “a picture theory of meaning” – that is, statements can be judged true or false depending on whether they match a “picture” representing that reality.

Therefore, if we say that the statement “God exists” is true if and only if God exists, then we’re saying that we have a “picture” of a state of affairs in the world, to which we compare the statement. But in the case of things unpicturable – quarks, for example, and “me” for example – the Truth Criterion breaks down.

* * * *

July 18

Poets in the valley.  Galway couldn’t make it and I really fear we’ve had our last go-round with him.  David Lukas, shouldering his telescope on tripod.  Western Tanagers.  David (as if shamanistically) attracts fly-over of the golden eagle that lives remote in the crags of Granite Chief.  Big eight-foot wingspan circles over us with never a flap of wings, closer than anyone has ever seen him.

* * * *

July 5, 2011

Back in Squaw Valley.  Back on the novel.

Touring new premises of ski resort, trying to imagine workshop spaces, disliking the rumble of the building’s kitchen exhaust fans.

The same old welcome-letter for participants needs to be vetted.

Purchase lumber and hardware for repair of Annex cupboards.

* * * *

July 1, 2011

Today in a mall in the midwest, in Iowa.

I observe a red-haired girl, no doubt a co-ed here at big state school, a typical Iowa Artemis, personifying vitality and beauty and grace, as she crosses the air-conditioned enclosed “food court.”

Since, lately, I’ve been pondering those abortion criteria of Peter Singer’s, I find I’m asking myself why this girl’s life is valuable, or worth preserving, and why I might think so. Why mightn’t she have been efficiently aborted, leaving more resources for the rest of us. (These days, since I’ve published a novel involving abortion, it seems I need to have opinions in this impossible matter.)  I think that the first consideration is: I find I oddly “empathize” with this girl.

– At what moment a fetus becomes “human”

– At what moment a brain-dead old man ceases to be “human”

– At what moment my paranoid-schizophrenic psychopath friend goes beyond the pale and no longer merits treatment as a “human”

Here is the moment: We enter into “humanity” at the moment we enter into “Care”.  Care is my banner concept, to enwrap also the “empathy” I feel for the girl.  A massing cloud of Care is humanity; humanity isn’t merely the citizenry of bodies, standing around at 98.6 degrees.  The phenomenon of consciousness is a largely social organism (bodies/language in communication), rather than an individual solitary flickering.  But, more preciesely, Care is the social organism.  This thing “Care” is what we take on, when we live in spirit – slip slowly into it as embryos, slip away from it as octagenarians, in our wheelchairs in the sun.

In response to Singer:

Humanness is not “consciousness” – nor is it or “autonomy”  or “rationality” or any of those desiderata Mr. Singer names.  Rather, Care is the distinction we humans have. And we have it together. We have it only in concert.  We participate in it.  Our bodies participate, via the media of language and society.  I mean this word Care in the tone-of-voice of those earnest theologians of the sixties.  (Tillich-Buber-Eliade fashion, with their Heideggerian mother-tongue.)

So I’m coming to abortion.  This human characteristic Care – membership in it – is a humanness that accrues over time, even long after birth.  Initially, in the years from our first diploid conception to the onset of the age of reason, we possess this capacity “Care” in solitude, almost in solipsism, rather than in community – it feels to us, at first, only that something matters, i.e., something must be cared about. Then in fuller maturity, Care becomes extended as a social phenomenon through language and custom.  I propose Care as a serviceable word for this spiritual humanness because, in its connotations, it combines “worry” (care), “giving a damn” (caring), “responsibility” (care for), a certain “fretfulness” ( plural cares), and “love and desire.”  These are all what we have for each other.  They are the radiant nimbus around the red-haired big-boned girl striding center-stage on the mall, because she’s desirable and lovable while also of course troublesome.

In this abortion/antiabortion debate, the biggest stumbling block (the mistake enshrouding the whole debate in darkness and confusion) is the universal misconception that we are supposed to acquire a “self” when we’re born.  This is construed as a legal and political entity, this self.  And a metaphysical entity.  The self is the most popular, most conventional illusion.  As we gradually enter into “Care,” we in fact enter selflessness. We lose our isolate unhappy specious “self” in Care, when we care.  Care is what I share with the red-haired girl, in the cumulate cloud.  It’s the reason she wasn’t aborted, for one thing.

* * * *

[In keeping with nineteen-sixties theology – I found myself crossing from the mall onto the Big State college campus with the old German word rattlling around in my head “Sorgfáltig.”  Derives from “Sorge.”  If you’re sorgfáltig you’re “careful.”)  (A good thing to be.]

Sounds like a Heidegger Noun.  And I guess, that’s precisely thew sloppiness with which I would mean it.

* * * *

In cosmology, too: before the beginning of time, before time-space, before the possibility of possiblity, Something seems to have “cared.”

* * * *

June 26, 2011

Little two-year-old bear, cinnamon-colored, haggard after winter, comes out of the uphill wilderness onto the road, and Tracy phones me down in the Annex to warn me.  Nico and Aleksandra chase it downhill past the Annex; then we all gather on the Annex deck, like a reviewing stand, to watch it as it rambles around below us on the hill, lifting swarms of scolding jays wherever it goes, sniffing at a garage doorway, then climbing back up the hill, to the east of the house.  Nico throws rocks, but bear is groggily imperturbable/nonchalant.  A neighbor down the road is warned, and he comes out to bellow at it, and it shies further up the mountainside, behind Kevin’s house, then behind the Sproehnles’.  Sproehnle, on his deck with garden hose, is glad to greet it, because he happens to have a gun, “loaded for quail,” which means just little stinging beads, and he goes inside for it.  He comes back out and shoots either the bear or the treetrunk beside it, sending it scampering galumphing up the slope.

* * * *

June 26, 2011

Dashiell’s entry into summer camp.

Tomorrow I fly to Iowa City, book-peddling.

Towel on the deck railing.  Wind in the pine mountains.  Jigsaw puzzle on the coffee table.

* * * *

June 25, 2011

The “essential characteristics of personhood”  (Princeton Philosopher Peter Singer’s criteria, for sorting which people society ought to euthanize, abort, execute, or eugenically cull) are Rationality, Autonomy, and Self-consciousness.

OK. So, if something is to be a “person,” it must be (a) rational, (b) autonomous, and 9 © conscious of “itself.”

Of Singer’s three human characteristics, the first two – “rationality” and “autonomy” – are skills that can sometimes seem to slip away from even the most alert of us.  (Or, as concepts, crumble completely under the pressure of a close look.)  “Rationality” and “autonomy,” after all, might be illusions, fomented by society, abetted by shared language-conventions (illusions with practical consequences and reasons for being).  Really, some of us are not rational, or autonomous, maybe not ever, not for an instant.  (I include my sovereign self, in that aspersion.)

The third “human” quality – self-consciousness – is perhaps the one characteristic we might feel assured we possess unfailingly and fundamentally.  But under a long close examination, even “self”-consciousness can be, in fact, chimerical.

Tonight, on another of my long luminous sleepless nights, I can hear two things as I lie here: my own heartbeat and the waterfall in the canyon a half-mile away.

Of the two of us, the waterfall will have the greater longevity.  Long after I’m gone, it will be admirable just in the way it is today.  Likewise, in the beauty competition, a thoughtful primate loses out to a waterfall. I’m not as unfailingly wonderful. Well, I may be an unaesthetic and a more rickety thing, comparatively, but I am supposed to be a more subtle spectacle than a waterfall.  I have virtues less visible.  Than a waterfall’s.

Nevertheless sometimes one would rather be a waterfall, objectively.  If it were a clean trade.

(Not that one would want to hasten the day.  For, of course, that is what’s in store anyway.)


February 5, 2011

Two more afternoons pruning.  Dash and his mother go to a movie.

Finally the old pruning-hook of George Merrill’s breaks and can’t be fixed.  Resort to the newer one.  But keep the old one for parts.



* * * *



Feb. 2.  Cold. Clear, dry days, perfect for fruit-tree pruning.  Low sun of winter flickering in the pine branches.

Pruned apples severely.  Maybe I’ll regret it but I remember the advice of the Anderson Valley apple man in the San Francisco Ferry-Building market: a real fruitgrower prunes with a chainsaw only.

All afternoon, on the truck-dashboard radio (parked beside me), all the news is from Egypt – of riots, euphoria, revolution.  The perpetual betrayal of the poor seems essential to the cosmic drama.  As if the poor themselves colluded, in their own vindictive satisfaction-by-betrayal.

I’m hacking at branches, not bothering to preserve nodes and buds providentially.  Let this tree have a whole new life in April.  Meanwhile the two housecats – really the same cat in two incarnations leading Schrodinger-parallel virtual lives, Bag-Juice and Aplomb – follow me with friendly vigilance.  Get underfoot.  Tangle in my ladder-footing.  Recline in the meadow exactly where branches will crash down.  Bag-Juice is the kind of obese housecat who, when he drapes himself over a sawbuck, engulfs the entire thing.

* * * *

Something essentially American: homemade engineering skills.

It’s a homesteader thing: I can set out on an afternoon construction project without any kind of plan or blueprint or even a specific thought or vision in my head, yet, and just start banging things together.

I begin by simply dragging the old scrap-metal sheets out from behind the shed.  So I learn as I go along — about materials’ tensile strength, load distribution, bending moments, stress points, etc.  This kind of luxury is available in the American economy.  The guy on his acre.

(and without a single trip into town for hardware!)

* * * *

“Position and momentum do not commute”:

This (the predicament of a subatomic particle) seems to sum up the predicament of Time Itself.

Position and momentum do not commute.

* * * *

January 29, 2011

No work on novel again today.

Fixed the stove’s clogged propane orifice.

Fixed Dashiell’s shorted-out bedside lamp.

(Oil-based primer) painted window-glazing putty (pantry south window).

Wrote sketch of novel for publicity.

Walked the length of the irrigation, checking for wintertime problems.

Watched another exciting episode of Quantum Mechanics.

Framework for raised garden bed.

* * * *

January 23, 2011

Barbara: It’s still going on, the process of her getting younger every day, at eighty-seven.

On her own, she walks across to our place from her cottage in the morning to get coffee.  She makes dry remarks about the television news.  She doesn’t lie in bed all morning any more but gets up earlier and earlier.  Eats big meals.  Yesterday she seriously wanted to plan a trip to Greece.

* * * *

January, 2011

More fine weather. Still trying not to write, not anything serious. Watched another classroom lecture of Susskind’s quantum mechanics. Worked further on raised planting beds.  Took a shot at proofreading the Squaw brochure for Brett.  Chelsea the beautiful au pair comes “back home” for dinner.  Her same old funky car w/bumperstickers.

* * * *

Jan. 23


First of all, didn’t write.

– 1) -The good coffee and empty stomach.  The dark before the dawn

– 2) -Watched ninety more minutes of Susskind’s YouTube explanations of quantum physics.  Wonderful.  He skates back and forth before the Stanford chalkboard, happy and scowling.

– 3) – Started Cheap Meat in the pantry slow-cooker thing.

– 4) – Went to church.  The guest sermon was delivered by the departing Junior Warden of the church, whose name is Rich.  (I think a Warden in a church is the fellow who patches the leaky roof, replaces the defective toilet-flushing mechanism, gets keys duped.)  His sermon was anecdotal, sentimental, and in the end hortatory.  As usual I sneaked out.

– 5) -Ran two miles.  (No twinge of angina during the entire run.  I’m fine.)

– 6) -At the top of the meadow, I did some more sawing of old corrugated iron’s rusty panels, for raised garden beds.  Miserable work.  A special metal-cutting blade is necessary for the Skilsaw.  Sparks fly.  Excruciating, ringing screech.

I don’t want to incur hearing damage, so I went looking for cotton to stuff my ears.

No cotton.  None to be found anywhere.  Shall I destroy 40 Q-Tips to harvest enough cotton?  No, I find Brett’s Tampax supply, of course, and disembowel one of its fluff.  Also headphones.  On my headphones as I work, I’ve got Joanna Newsom’s pixilated sing-songs, performed on her big harp.

* * * *

Jan. 12, 2011

Idaho-Maryland Road for fill-up of biodiesel refined in Reno.  Muddy Mercedes jalopy, with empty winebottles clinking in the trunk because the next stop is East Main St., where three tall metal vats are in a storefront.

* * * *

Extravagant trip.  Great dinner at Macondray Lane: Glen and Alice walked over from Pacific Heights; Jason and Patricia from Sausalito; and Andrew and Lisa had driven all the way up from LA, bringing Louis to play with Dash.  Andrew and Lisa and Brett and I shopped at the Ferry building for salmon beforehand.  Drinks on the roof, looking out at Alcatraz.  This is all good luck.

* * * *

Now that we’ve bought a generator, one thing I’ll miss about power-outages is the squalor.  Candlelight’s perils and pandaemonium.  People wearing the same pajamas for work or play or sleep, with different costumes pulled over.  The parka I’m cooking in might be the parka I slept in.  And sleep in again tonight.

Advantages of such an “upgrade”: the Community of Writers won’t come to a halt.  And I’ll be recharging my computer and working.  All this is good.  Electricity is good..  But I’ll miss the backwardness of those quiet days.  The sabbath.  The boredom and thwartedness.

* * * *

To buy a gas-powered electric generator is to join the country bourgeoisie.  This whole neighborhood under a snowfall., in an outage, used to be silent, dark-at-night, bright-in-the-day.  To leave your hectic polluted kitchen and step outside, into the cold, was to enter sacred space.

Nowadays, whenever PG&E fails, the canyons and meadows all around can sound like a Hollywood movie location with generators roaring at various distances. Well, now the Joneses, on their property, have joined the general din.  But still plenty of hold-outs are out there in the hills all around, and I’m oddly grateful to them.

* * * *

Jan. 4, 2011.

Chest pains continue.  Sharp sun of January morning.

Deciding I ought to stop ignoring chest pains and ask doctor about them.  It’s probably stupid to do otherwise.  I take the midday trip (without mentioning it to anyone) to the Miner’s Family Health Clinic.  Stethescope.  Tapping at breastbone and shoulderblades.  Then lie down on the table on the starchy paper, get pasted with electrodes for a little EKG.  It’s a little toy EKG, just for this rural hospital, wheeled in on a busboy’s cart.  Nurse tapes me up and makes me remove all metal, including my wedding band – which literally hasn’t been off my finger since June 25, 1987.  It’s not that I’m all that uxorious, it’s just that over the years my knucklebone has widened or something.

To get it off, soap and a little skin abrasion were necessary, and I set the golden band on the blue formica, with its suds.  The nurse smiled.

Then, “back up on the table,” I have to lie under the electric tentacles barechested, and I am asked to be totally still for a minute.  In the corner of the ceiling, the acoustic tiles have circles of brown stain from an old roof leak.  The news, in the end, is that my heartbeat is regular, invincible, slower-beating than most, because I get so much cardiovascular exercise, so I am to be sent away into the world again.  But that moment of lying down barechested without a wedding ring, it was an interesting ceremony of betrothal.  On the way home, I stopped at the grocery store looking for some outlandish treat for myself, something really de luxe, but my imagination failed me and I got an Odwalla drink (Mango Tango) and a locally manufactured whole-wheat bagel called “Great Grains,” that has an elusive sweetness.  Also paper lunchbags for Dash’s lunches, waxed-paper sandwich envelopes, Barbara’s favorite bran muffins, the usual jug of Woodbridge, and and stopped next door where the local syrah is decanted from big vats.

* * * *

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fool is in the house of mirth.  A dinner of herbs and love therewith.  Than a stalled ox and strife therewith.

* * * *

June 21, 2011

Brett has gone back down to Nevada City for the day.

Here, Dash and I hike as high as the third waterfall.  Higher than this, deep snows would stop us.

We sit in the cataract-mist and share our candy bars, then go back down.

All night in the dark, the roar of the melt comes from the canyon, remarkable volume of snowmelt, a constant freight-train of water plunging over cliffs in that delicate meeting of slopes where bare aspens’ distorted knees and elbows are just beginning to stretch themselves after snow crush.

* * * *

First week in Squaw:

Three cords firewood ($800 from Bushwhackers, free delivery)

Shade-structures over both decks

Oakley’s front gate, with cowbells, can be repaired for another year (sagging toward parallelogram)

Steel doors on both bear-proof garbage houses must be bent back into shape, as they won’t close properly

Install Brett’s office in Olympic House

Summer’s provisions at the Truckee Safeway: two shopping-carts-full

Unproductive mornings, picking at Response-to-Hawking essay, unwilling to reenter the novel

(Bit of good news: Newsweek and the Times will notice “Radiance”)

* * * *

June 12, 2011

Arrive in Squaw.

Bear damage in the Annex:

1) Shattered double-pane in door to deck;

2) Cabinet-fronts torn off neatly.  Looks easy to nail back up;

3) The expensive flip-top trash can still works fine.  But he

seems to have sat on it, or stepped on it, while living here, as the cylinder is

flattened in the middle, but I’m able to pop it out fat again and tap it into its old shape, so the pedal-operated flip-top mechanism works again.

* * * *

June 11, 2011

From earliest youth, a love of the desolate, the insensate, the dilapidated, the dust.

Because intimacy always characterizes eternity.  So it can be seen right here, in gutter litter, rainbleached-dry cigarette butts and oakleaf veins, total asperity.  Or in some common thing like a lost gum wrapper in the dirt — this was at a becalmed Sunday-afternoon construction site — a sawed-off 2×4 leaving its print, in baked-white mud that no one, not anyone, has ever turned his regard to.  Nor ever will!  Such a sight is of course equal to a Himalyan peak.

Nor, even, am “I” present to regard such a 2-by-4.  Nobody is here to see it, such is the moonscape.

Thoreau it was who noticed the prefix “crab-” (in crabapple) (and I, too, in crabgrass, suburbanly) and who wished for such wildness in himself, crabbedness’s sturdy adaptive qualities.  To be crabbed.

Blackberries conquering a fence.

“Poverty” is the aesthetic.  Really “poverty” is an elegance, ecologically.  Leanness and brokenheartedness and good-humor.  A hut, but tidily swept.  (While not neglecting beauty.)

For instance garlic and rosemary are easy.  They thrive on neglect.

The word Simplicity would be the Marketing-Angle “branding” of such an asperity, supposing any Martha Stewarts of the future were to try to interest women (or other of our aesthetic arbiters such as women) in, say, flattening an old tin soupcan to nail over a hole in the floorboards.  Let people think of it as “zen” if they like.  It’s coming anyway: a general peace-and-quiet and maybe even crabbedness.

* * * *

June 10, 2011

1) More soil shoveling.  Another cubic yard is heaped in the pickup.

2) Dash helps spackle the woodbox fascia.  Does a good job.

3) Mesh (galvanized gopher-wire) floor of second raised bed, stapled down with bent-over nails.

4) Brett’s trip to Squaw, to do battle with the CEO of the ski corp.

5) Fettucini.  Canned tomatoes, basil (wilted and singed and holey), a head of the volunteer garlic.  And salad of wild sweet-pea tops?  (Abundant in west meadow.)


At dinner (w/ Sands and Tracy) we talk of Brett’s meeting with the ski corporation.  They’re so big-time now, maybe in Brett’s fantasy a public relations firm would take us on.  “These are the kind of people,” the CEO says, “who can get ‘Sixty Minutes’ here to do a story on us.’”  Barbara, pulling despondently at her artichoke’s leaf, says, “We’ll have to wash our hair then.”

* * * *

June 8, 2011

Finish Stephen Hawking essay draft

Attend Dashiell’s fifth-grade “graduation ceremony”

Fill corrugated-iron troughs with commercial soil

Brett’s Toyota is flushed and drained of transmission fluid.

More of filling troughs with soil






Butternut squash



Hunter and Zoey are in SF.  And Barbara and Tracy are at Sands’s for dinner.  So it’s just me and Dash and Brett in the kitchen eating ground-turkey burgers and broccoli.  Dash is upset, and inconsolable, over the misplacement of a pair of black denim pants.

* * * *

June 6, 2011

Another wintry day in Nevada City.  Rain and wind.  Hunter and Zoey are stuck in Squaw Valley, on the eastern side, as the summit has snowed.  Tracy is to arrive tonight by car.  Her long journey through Nevada in Oakley’s old Subaru wagon.  I will make thin soup of yams, scallions, salmon, snow peas. Have some soba noodles.

* * * *

June 5, 2011

Mt. Shasta.  Heel blister.  2500-foot climb in sun and rain.

Too cold to sleep, in high desert, at lava beds

Coffee recipe of Gerald: dump grounds into boiling water; then, exactly at the moment of return-to-boil, pour a cup of cold water on, and the grounds all magically sink to the bottom.  Coffee to be ladled.

High winds and petroglyphs.

* * * *

Back home.  It’s looking like actual fallowness might be in store for our gardens this year.

Weeds poke through the mesh floors of my fresh-built long corrugated troughs as they haven’t been filled with soil.  (Rainy cold long spring.  Distractions of “Radiance” publication and travel.  Onset of Community-of-Writers difficulties.)

The row of onions from last year keeps thriving.

* * * *

“For heaven ghostly is as nigh down as up, and up as down; behind as before, before as behind, on one side as the other.  Insomuch, that whoso had a true desire for to be at heaven, then that same time he were in heaven ghostly.  For the high and the next way thither is run by desires, and not by paces of feet.”

— The Cloud of Unknowing

* * * *

“Nowhere bodily, is everywhere ghostly.”

— The Cloud of Unknowing

* * * *

May 30, 2011

Now comes summer, sunlight to look forward to, peaks still sunny at 9:30 PM, the visits of many friends, the perpetual fiesta at Squaw, guitars unpacked.

But I think when I’m “old and grey and nodding by the fire,” the deepest times will have been the wintertime kitchen dinners when it was “just us.”  Just Barbara and Dash and Brett and me, and not much to say.  Homework involving Egyptians or planets or long division.  Kitchen doors closed keeping the heat in.

* * * *

Great to have Hunter home.  His only evidence is the closed bedroom door and the occasional sound of his car.  But still.  (New graduate-school plans: comp lit.)

* * * *

May 28, 2011

This rainy cold wet spring is going on so long, the Famous Clothesline is much underused.  All morning, wasted BTUs of heat rise in clouds from the dryer vent.  I can’t find a dry period to prime-and-paint the mud room woodbox.

* * * *

May 28, 2011

Sartre’s big existential formula defining man: “there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept, and . . . . this being is man.”  So, in Sartre, the human entity is stung into “freedom” and “responsibility,” suddenly towering god-like and mushroom-cloud-like.

Conversely, the religionist turns Sartre’s assertion inside out: “god,” precisely, is the existence preceding essence.

That the two points of view are identical is, unfortunately, visible only to the invisible.

* * * *

May 28, 2011

To be on Mount Shasta again after all these years.  Thirty years ago, alone, it was where I went after New York, in disappointment, I would say in despair, in futility of love, in self-pity, and, too, in vocational certainty that the book business would have no interest in the things that mattered to me.

In those days you could fly coast-to-coast for $80.  I woke up sleeping on the warm dust, in full sun under the blue skies of the high Cascade Range, with a cow standing directly over me, chewing its cud.  String of drool.  Lucky not to have been stepped on.  I actually had a New York bagel in my pocket on those high pastures, one of the Canarsie bagels from along Flatbush Avenue, the old kind, very small, chewy, the kind that surely don’t exist any more, having been crowded out by the swollen puffy light bagels that have, in thirty years, filled up the open spaces between New York City and the Cascade Range.

* * * *

May 28, 2011

Sands is here for dinner.  Chicken soup, sweet potato, asparagus.

Dash’s friend Joe stays for a “sleep-over,” and they insist on erecting the pop-up tent in the far meadow to sleep outside.  The pantry-drawers’ supply of D batteries is plundered, so the boys can reproduce their form of civilization, out in that wilderness.  The older brother opines that they won’t last till ten o’clock, and by ten o’clock they’ve come shivering inside.  The following morning, when the sun is just coming up, they appear from the playroom in pajamas and go back outside, scamper in dawn light, down to resume the camp-out, yanking their pajama-legs up high to keep them out of the heavy sopping dew in the grass.

* * * *

[I used to pity people who ate together without conversing, at a corner restaurant table, say.

I supposed that an endless stream of wit and information was the desirable norm.  I resolved that I would never be that habituated, that senile, that destitute of entertainment, no matter how old or how married I might be.  I supposed that people eating together without talking were impoverished of the spirit.]

* * * *

May 24, 2011


Sitting at her place at the kitchen table, in the warm corner with wineglass and pills dabbing at (minuscule, or imaginary) tabletop crumbs.  NPR is blathering along, and I’m stirring the pot on the stove, and Dash is dribbling a little rubber ball around the floor.  Brett has disappeared into the bathroom and Barbara pipes up convivially, “Any word from Brett?”

* * * * * * * *

May 21, San Francisco

The Purple Onion is in happy disarray.

After the MacDowell party, a girl with a new book coming out, the bartender keeps pumping fist and saying “You like-a pawnkin’?” and leering.  Which turns out to be pumpkin, with fettuccini and olive oil and pecorino.

* * * *

May 19, 2011

The entire day mowing meadows.

* * * *

Mother’s Day

Back from SF great radio appearance.  The mower is still broken.  The engine roars, but tractor won’t get in gear.  Nowadays Pearson Small Engine is charging $50 to send out a trailer for pickup-and-return.  So for the first time in many decades the equipment on this place will be disloyal to Pearson Small Engine.  An enterprising guy named Don makes house calls — will drive out in his truck, spread his tools, work in the shade of the pear tree.

Dim cool day.  A sign of spring: manila envelopes accumulating in heaps, submissions from ambitious writers.  All must be “processed” and sent on.

Will recommence work on mud-room woodbox.

Skipped church, kept home by Mother’s Day, the series of Mother’s Day Breakfasts (first here in the big house, then in the cottage) and general accidie.  Melancholy, (post-publicity?) while I work outside, cloying remorse and futility/mortality intimations are the gifts of the day.

* * * *

Because it’s Mother’s Day and we have extra mothers here, we get a call from beloved village poet laureate, who lacks a mother to telephone.

She has had two occasions for getting in touch lately: to borrow Tad’s Truck (which will always be “Tad’s Truck”), a perpetual entitlement of hers because she and Tad were sweethearts once, and lived in a barn-red house on Nursery Lane, and they even planned on getting married, briefly, so whenever she needs to make a dump run or a greenhouse errand, she’ll always have use of the truck; and to talk to Barbara, to have a mom for a day.

* * * *

Guitar lesson with Dash.  A hendrix-like riff in major pentatonic scale.  Which he takes to.

* * * * * * * *

May 5.

Back from L.A. publicity trip.  A pleasure to have soluble problems, here on a few acres.  The meadows are all unmowed, the mud-room woodshed is only half-built, just as I left it, and the swamp-cooler is colonized by paper wasps.  The mower, too, is colonized by paper wasps.  Then, moreover, the mower’s transmission gives out altogether, halfway through the job; so there it stands tonight, tractor stuck in the front lawn in the dark.

I wasn’t liking mowing the meadows, slaughtering buoyant levitating choruses of blue daisies and soapwort and Johnnie Jump-up and meadow-bell.  Queen Anne’s lace under the dogwood.  I also wasn’t liking making the little furry bright-eyed creatures zig-zag in the path of my tractor, driven from their established homes where I was slicing away the grasses’ tallest forests.

Dragged the tractor up on slope, to examine its underside, and was eventually rewarded with confirmation of my own incompetence.  Went inside.  Phoned “Pearson Small Engine,” in Grass Valley, and made an appointment for trailer pick-up and mechanical overhaul, then gave up on all problem-solving pretensions and put on sneakers and (wearing an ipod that filled my ears with Alan Watts disquisition on Buddhism) went running through the roads of the doomed new subdivision in the old Erikson Lumber woods.

* * * *

Easter Sunday

Bears in the Annex. Two, this time.

It’s raining and I don’t want to make the trip up there, where snow will be falling at the summit.  A neighbor has chased them out and secured the doors, but of course, now they know where the food is and they may be back this very night.

* * * *

Barbara’s Progress

No more sleeping-in all morning (a tendency I understood as a sign of depression).

She gets up early, dresses herself, uses her walker to come over to the big house, enterprising and girlish wanting coffee and bringing her own cup.

She goes everywhere with us, to every social occasion and entertainment.

[If we’d had our canoe trip on the Little River in Mendocino, she would have ridden in the canoe with us.  So would’ve the little white dog.

Morning pills, evening pills.  She’s reading the Jennifer Egan book.

* * * *

April 20, 2011

Brett is in San Francisco.

Intermittent rain.  I have to keep stopping work, tarping things over, building the woodshed between little rains.  Unplug drill and saw.  Till showers blow over.  Come inside and kill twenty minutes maybe playing a guitar, poorly, or bringing up email to check on my burgeoning celebrity.

With return of warmer weather, Cavendish ends his tenancy here in Dashiell’s playroom.

Return of warm weather also brings big ursines to Cavendish’s (as he calls it) Woodland Redoubt.  Starting in springtime, there, he has to keep a heavy chain belted around the fridge, as bear deterrent.  Also, starting in springtime, he has to plug it in.  (He has electricity, from dormant construction site over the hill.)

* * * *

April 17, 2011

Fine weather.

Built footing and floor of new woodbox outside mud room

(This particular piece of plywood, for floor, has served as lid for Hunter’s sandbox (in the nineties), then tabletop for writing workshop and a platform covering parking-place mud,

today perhaps reaching its final resting place)

(or who knows, this Recession may triumph, and 30 peaceful years from now, this shed will be disassembled, and its members have further uses)

pandora.com radio plays “The James McMurtry Station” all afternoon.  Alison Krauss sings “I need you at the dimming of the day,” and all the sunny afternoon I hammer and saw and I dwell on all the ways I’ve been inexcusably remiss, over the years.

Women lie out on the little lawn in the sun, on dragged-out couch cushions.

Liz and Jackson stay for dinner of sausage and polenta.

I notice that Brett directed the two hired hands to fill in the old Toaster Graveyard in west meadow.

I’m going to miss the glimpse of chrome in that hole, from the days of manufacture

when Chrome Was Still Chrome.

* * * *

April fourteenth.

The P.O. to get Barbara’s taxes off.  The bank.  School for Dashiell.

Sad errand: at the Wells Fargo Bank, I deposited a check for $93.90, royalties from amazon.com, made out to Oakley Hall III, deposited it into Tad’s “Special Needs Trust” account.

Tad must have spent forty years writing every morning, or pretending to.  At last this year we got a “novel” edited and published.  A month after his death I’m depositing the first remittance from amazon.com

He was alive to see the book itself, its glossy cover, its blurbs.  Dozens of boxes of them.  Now all stacked up in his NY apartment, in towers around the couch and kitchen, where now Hadiya is their only broker.

* * * *

April 12, 2011

Weather is fine but Cavendish is back anyway, sleeping on the couch in the playroom.  (He had to do his taxes — it’s tax-time — and so, needed a place to stay for a while.)

Dash solicits Uncle Cavendish for a commitment of fifty-cents-a-lap in his school’s fundraising jog-a-thon.

* * * *

April 2, 2011

Spring.  Overcast day without precipitation.

On the woodpile, a colander full of wooden clothespins.

Wasps in the mailbox, as in other Springtimes.

Taking down storm windows.

* * * *

April First, 2011

The thing to remember when I’m blue:

Dash and I were in the pick-up, pop music on the dashboard radio, on some errand, the truck-bed full behind us, and Dash said, “I know what let’s do.”


* * * *

March 31, 2011

Found 150 old rusty iron balusters, cheap, in Black Bart’s rear wilderness of junk.  Most are plain posts with wrought iron twist, a few with ornate foliate treble-clef added.  Will bring to SFO to create balustrade on roof of Macondray, where presently everyone drinks and cavorts with no railing.

* * * *

Everyone was sleepless last night. Brett in particular worries about the financial insolvency of Squaw Valley.

* * * *

March 30, 2011

A fifty-foot accumulation of snow above Donner Pass.

Surely, at 6200 ft. it won’t be so deep, but we are warned by email bulletin that roofs need shoveling, or older cabins will collapse.

Here at home in the foothills, I’m the Responsible party, but I’d rather be reading Roger Penrose by the stove’s warmth, and I’m betting on the coming thaw, to save me the trip up there.

* * * *

March 28, 2011

Peach blossoms in abundance.  And snow.

Ground-cover seeding.  The raked-off sweet-pea vines make a great kind of “straw” for hiding the seeds from the thrushes and robins who will peck the seeds up.

* * * *

March 27, 2011

Silly Sunday afternoon. I come inside and deplete what’s left of the day watching Susskind’s Qu-Phys lectures while drinking the sauvignon blanc left over from Tad’s memortial service, getting a bit smashed, in fact, trying to focus.  (Brett, all the while, is spending the Sunday in Barbara’s cottage planning in detail a visit to Spain we can’t possibly afford.)

* * * *

Thinking of Tad and his exit.  Makes me think of me.

The old expression There, but for the grace of God, go I doesn’t apply, as much as “There go I.”

Because I was almost of that generation.  And of those aspirations.  Tad was three years younger than I in history.  Big difference, in 3 yrs.  He was given a particular epoch. ( I think of Jim Morrison and all those romantics.)  I, younger in history, envying all that, just barely escaped the romanticism.  All my foolishness has gone unpunished, my skating on precipices, it was just-plain-stupidity, it wasn’t in some way ennobling.  Also, there’s one blessing I’ve had.  I never was very interested in being myself.  “Being oneself,” “expressing oneself” — those things have always been for so many of my confreres an imperative.  My own writing has nothing to do with self-expression.  These are probably my first foray into “self-expression,” these dead-end diary entries, in an Internet cul-de-sac.  Each its own little dud.  Exactly how I like ’em.  Me, I always wanted to be everything else.  Everybody else.  And still do.  Which is to say I think I dodged a certain narcissism.  I think it’s empathy.  Thus I perhaps — pretty ambitious here — had already started living in death, and without caring.  The decades of expecting-no-consequence.  Which most would think of as despair.  Every writer always knows, if only subconsciously, that writing is death.  I embraced it instinctively from the start, packaging up my personal little coffins for padded-mailer envelopes, industriously, happily.  I can only hope (more pious sentiment!) to learn to love death the more, making the butter on my toast sweeter. Having a “self” and “expressing” it seems such a mug’s game.

* * * *

March 24, 2011

It’s bitter cold while the wet sleet is driving sideways.  Then at last the storm-front low pressure arrives, and suddenly, when the fat snowflakes are falling straight down, it’s balmy, it’s warm, and you can open your jacket, it’s terrifically silent.

* * * *

March 20.

Tad’s memorial this weekend.  Plenty of family has arrived, plus the Old Guard of Squaw Valley, plus Bill is bringing up a DVD of amusing outtakes from the documentary.

This house is full like a hotel. Crepes have been promised to all, this morning.  (Last night until two in the AM, the old minivan sat in the driveway thumping with gangsta rap, three reunited friends inside the smoke-filled car.)

The whole weekend, a festive atmosphere. Wicked stories of Tad are unearthed, enormities and betrayals yet unguessed. This is what happens when we die, the worst gossip about us has been aching to come out. The weather is tempestuous and the windows this morning are jolly steamed up.

* * * *

March 13, 2011

Sunday morning, rain coming in, thrushes in the grass.

Rather than episcopal church, I’m staying in and watching more of Leonard Susskind’s many hours of lectures at Stanford.  The YouTube display page has a “like/dislike” button below the video window, and invariably the dialogue captions have an entry: “37 christians don’t like this.”

* * * *

March 9, 2011

Snowshoeing over Donner Pass with Dash.  Leaving the sound of I-80 behind after clearing just one ridge.  Going cross-country, the creeks lie at the bottom of twenty-foot-deep soft crevasses in the snow, with weirdly sculpted cornices, treacherous-looking: don’t get too close: at the bottom, twenty feet down, narrow cold black water flows calmly.

Up in a meadow, digging snow caves.

* * * *

Dash, at school, has been assigned to condense a scene from the “mystery novel” he has chosen as his reading.  Everybody is doing a mystery novel.  Conformity rules in all “creativity,” as in his age-group, everybody is still trying to be pretty much the same paper snowflake.  (True non-conformity or innovation or “individuality,” which people pretend they want, if it ever comes along later in life, is in fact something of a horror.)  He chose Agatha Christie, and now reads his transcription of her prose to us, by candlelight, proudly.  It’s painful, his own writing used to be so good as a littler child, deep and true in its insights and freely nightmarish in its plots and ideas.  Now, age 11, he treasures as sophisticated all Agatha Christie’s cliches.  It’s hard to see him reduce himself, so hopefully, so much in good faith to adopt the standards of mediocrity.

* * * *

March 1

Post-storm clean-up.  PG&E trucks and AT&T cherry-pickers all over town.  “Indian Billy,” Billy Kelly, was found dead of exposure under the Broad Street Bridge.  Grandson of Maidu chief.  Rumor was, the police had confiscated his sleeping bag and tarp.  The parson this Sunday will sermonize on the irony of Indian Billy’s dying a hundred feet from the church’s cornerstone and threshold where the porchlamp glows 24-hrs-day, lying down the little slope with the candybar litter and the Highway 49 noise.

Here outside town, two oaks lie across the road, trunks big-around as garbage cans, and in the sunny dirty thaw, unfamiliar cheap pick-ups appear at the roadside with chainsaws, people you never see in town (the social-class system of rural places is so mysterious), gleaners, sawing them up for firewood.  Often a woman (here’s a telling difference in domesticity) sits in the passenger seat while the man cuts and stows wood in the truck bed.  (Brett says, ‘Should we tell Anna, they’re her trees, after all’  But of course no.) The fact is, it’s environmentally sound and frugal, and I ought to be out there doing the same thing, and indeed resolve in future to go for more windfalls.

* * * *

February 27, 2011

Barbara tonight was about to throw away (!) the aluminum-foil swatches I keep re-using to bake potatoes in.  No more boasting about her wise habits of the Depression-era ranch.  Like a pair of Flannery O-Conner characters, I and an octogenarian can compete in parsimony.  (Who will be the one to quench the candleflames at meal’s end?)

* * * *

February 25, 2011

Two feet of snow so far.  More coming tonight.  Electrical power is out far and wide, and it’s a lucky thing Cavendish is staying in the back room, as he is more experienced than I with electric generators.

On its maiden voyage the new generator, bearing the brand-name “Champion,” roars like a pedal-to-the-floor NASCAR engine but remains stationary, parked under the porch roof.

* * * *

Motor-oil stains on the front porch beside the welcome mat: country people.

(The front door is of course the one nobody ever uses.)

* * * *

Feb. 23

Down in SFO, in North Beach.

Six AM, the only convenient “grand old” espresso place that’s open is Caffe Roma.

I’m the only customer.  At this hour they’re still laying out the heavy rubber floor-mat, moving sweet rolls from delivery-box to counter display.

I pay for my double-capp with a credit card, and the guy runs the card and comes back with a pen and VISA receipt saying, “You wouldn’t by any chance be Louis B Jones the author?  Who wrote Particles and Luck?”

That was fifteen years ago.  He says, “I loved that book.  I was just lately thinking I should read it again.  That part where the two guys are frying frozen hamburger over a campfire?”  A six-am coffee-shop baristo is exactly my ideal reader.  He tells his partner, “See, Tony?  All the celebs come in here.”  Then later, after I’m in my corner, “Hey, Tony.  Did you ever read a book?  Like a novel or whatever?”

I couldn’t be happier.

* * * *

February 17, 2011

Snow on the old 55-gal drum in the far west meadow.

Snow on the ladders under the pear tree.  Snow on the compost heap.

In the cottage, the old lady is sleeping late this morning.  Her son is dead.  Probably in sleep she’s forgotten that.

Anyway, she will have mostly forgotten it when she’s awake, too – w/bran muffin and OJ and the San Francisco Chronicle.

* * * *

How “the World” Works:

Cruelty is supremacy.  Pick somebody to piss on and you’ll be all right.  This rule holds everywhere.  Simply betray/ignore the guileless.

The easiest and most profitable to betray, and the closest-at-hand, are your children of course.  Then, defenseless innocence in general.  Biggest bang for your buck there, right at hand, right at home.  (And of course remotest impoverished.  Whom you’ll never have to meet up with.)

But that’s only the low-hanging fruit.  Move on to degrade culture, moral taste, the language, “the commons” wherever it remains intact.  (Those are all, simply, other forms of defenseless innocence.)  For exoneration, cite the demands of your talent, ambition.  Forgive yourself but ruefully.

(Most repugnant: I myself have done it, surely, on some scale, whether in the Central School playground or in some later bigger arena.  Winning power and comfort by arrogance, you don’t really realize you’re doing it at the time.  This is why “the world” is poison.  If you stand far from the abbatoir you’ll find yourself less esteemed.  Implicated as one is, in the American global politique, there’s no washing oneself clean at the river.)

* * * *

Tad’s interesting half-life.  It was lived out somehow in secret.  And with a Kabuki-theater-spectacle guardedness.  How generous he was, letting me replace him in the role of “son,” in a family fascinated with celebrity.  I the lower-class kid, the bad-luck kid, the survivor, the practical one, enemy of charisma or charm, cheapskate.  Well, I would have to do.  He once the crown prince.  (I think he really was escaping that responsibility all his life, from early on, by taking several leaps, in the last one half-succeeding.) (They say he was found on the floor with a smile on his face.)

* * * *

February 16, 2011

The weather has turned bad.  Cavendish has moved back in again.

* * * *

Went around the west meadow-edge this morning in the rain and pulled out dozens of little new cedar saplings.  They’re weeds, and in this wet weather they come out of the soaked earth easily, roots and all.  I’m catching them when they’re still less than hip-high.

(I want to keep that messy, isolated little meadow clear, as an open domain for the wild sweet-pea.)

* * * *

My trailer in the woods is far from the possibility of any wireless internet, and I can regularly go to great lakes of solitude and reading and thinking.  Back up at the cottage, the constant ding of emails’ arrival, the various phones with their various clangs and ring-tone marimbas and text-message beeps.  (My mind perhaps works in an outdated way because I’m in a backward rural place.)

* * * *

February 14, 2011

Thinking of Tad.  The merciful coroner says it was a massive heart attack and “he was dead before he hit the floor.”  The other standard jesting remark is that such a manner of death is “the Irishman’s Dream.”  Well, it’s reported, also, that he was found with a faint smile on his face.  That latter report I actually do believe.  A coroner, kindly old pro, is the less plausible while the finder of the body had neither the motive nor the readiness to make up a fib about a post-mortem smile.

I tend to think Tad wasn’t “dead when he hit the floor” but got some minutes or hours of consciousness.  Lying on the boards alone.  Ear to the hardwood boards, the old actor, felled.  Coffee spilled.  Hours or days till Hadiya is due to come back.  The sounds coming through the floor from the laundromat below, of pop songs on the radio, big dryers tumbling, voices in tones of the ethnicities of the neighborhood, maybe Hmong moms down there folding clothes, and children playing, maybe sounds of Spanish to scold them, all audible through the floor.  The doctrine of the Tibetan Buddhists would have the soul lingering for hours or even days, still to be spoken to, still listening inside the corpse.  After bodily death there must be some interval of mental activity – enough seratonin in the synapses, enough cellular respiration – so that brain-death doesn’t happen exactly at the moment a heart stops beating or a finger stops twitching.  Not at all.  Tad, there, would have had some moments of contemplation after he’d been betrayed finally by his body and become “disembodied,” the body a dependable but tired old asset (“Brother Ass,” a certain Franciscan monk called it), the body a medium of self-assertion that was with Tad always, even when he was an actor on bright-lit stages of his own set-design and carpentry and lighting, even in dreams – arms and legs and volition – even in the womb before birth, his “body” was the medium of his “existence.”  So in whatever nirvana there was for him — or rather bardo? — in that time lying on the floor after the departure of the sensible body, lacking that referential frame anymore, he must have had some summary thoughts.  And so the smile.  It’s the forgiveness part, surely.

Lazy bum, cholesterol-clogged.  Cigarettes and cheeseburgers, self-aggrandizing bullshit stories, botched paint-jobs and joinery, cold coffee in moldy cups, manuscripts on foolscap in heaps.  Unfailingly kind, selfless sometimes, handsome still despite everything, liar, laborer in others’ worlds, depender upon women.  Secret pilgrim in this congelation of love.  His bodily ashes will probably be scattered in Lexington, site of his old theater company, site of the legends about himself he kept inflating and enhancing and repeating, near the very bridge indeed, basically the place where he once tried to die.  Since 1978, the extra thirty years he got were pure gravy, and he knew it.

* * * *

February 13, 2011

A quiet day of sadness, as mixed news comes in from the world.

— Michelle’s wonderful book (at an obscure publishing house) will get the front page of the Sunday Times book review next week.  So says my agent.  I phoned her and left a congrats message on her tape.

— I went down to the cottage to bring Brett these great tidings, and she said, “Bad news.  Oh, Honey.”  And she said, of her brother, “Tad just died.”  Barbara could be heard in the bedroom talking on the phone to Sands, learning of the death of her oldest child.

Me, I’m gathering stones here today.  It’s time to repair the potholes in the driveway.  They’ve been getting away from me.  The lore of fixing potholes in a gravel road prescribes laying in big two-inch broken rocks first, then filling in with half-inch roadbed gravel.  (Which I happen to have a, dwindling, supply of.)  On this day of muffled weather, the women staying indoors, I’m navigating these quiet acres with a wheelbarrow, looking for rocks, tossing them in.  Clanks of stone on wheelbarrow’s steel wall.  Tall pines on a windless day.  Brett, in the cottage, with her many phone calls.

* * * *

February 12, 2011

The Problem of Other “Selves”:

If mysticism leads to solilpsism, then what are these other apparent consciousnesses experiencing?  All these people on streetcars or sidewalks, people in the crosswalk as I wait at a red stoplight.  What is their ontological status.

Well, the problem is not a problem.  Such a paradox is not a problem in this (anthropic) universe, where the truth is, I don’t have a “self,” nor do they, either.  Selves are constructions of society and language, organs of biological evolution, with no other ontological status.

* * * *

February 8, 2011

At last:

Finally filled the car’s gas tank with vegetable-oil ($3.45/gal) from the big polystyrene vat, on Idaho-Maryland Road behind the alternative energy place.

I bought only half a tank.  Tank was already half-full with ordinary gas-station diesel.  Starting gradually on this.  Want to see how the engine behaves.

The experiment is: that’s vegetable oil.  So will these cold mornings make it congeal.  Nightly low temperatures of thirty degrees.  Will the fuel in the engine behave like olive oil in the fridge?

As of today, have set a jar on the roof of the old woodbox outside the kitchen window, containing a few ounces of this biodiesel (which I siphoned from my tank).  In the mornings I can check it to see if it’s congealing.

* * * *

The Big Bang started right here by my kitchen door 14B yrs ago – (though that’s something you can say wherever you are, even if you’re way out around Alpha Centauri; because everything is the center.  My back yard and Alpha Centauri were once the same place.  They’re both still the Navel.)

It was fourteen billion years ago but the Big Bang can still be observed in the sky.  It’s always right up there.  It keeps expanding in a fiery outermost shell around the visible universe.  So the actual, ancient Bang, Itself, is still hanging out there, ablaze (having cooled, no longer 3000º), at a distance of fourteen billion light years in every direction there’s a background glow behind the stars.  The light it sends back is orange in color, but it gets stretched, as it takes the 14B-light-year journey back to the future (i.e., to us).  Therefore the light arrives here in the longer microwave range.  Astronomers say it’s about as dim as moonglow, everywhere behind the stars, evenly distributed.  If our eyes’ retinas were attuned to take in those wavelengths (rather than just the “visible range” between infrared and ultraviolet), we would SEE the dawn moment of Creation glowing always in the night, an eternal present.  Not a recorded image of it, but the immediate thing itself happening before our eyes, if seeing is believing.  We might cast shadows on our sidewalks and in our backyards, struck by the ancient light of Creation.  In fact, we do cast such shadows.  But without seeing them.

* * * *

Mythological notion is that a “divinity” must come first: that somebody or something had to be there to pronounce a necessary shazzam!

Rather, the primordial idea of “Love” precedes the (perhaps latterly necessary) picture of a divinity.

“Love = Choice” (Divine will)

That is, an existential Choice must be a positive choice.  A negative choice is annihilating.  Even before some mythological “god” is conceived, there exists Love, an axiom.  Like the theorem side-squared + side-squared = hypotenuse-squared, or even 1+1=2, or even 1=1.  Love pre-exists its instantiation in matter.  Oddball idea rather than a coherent proposition, tho’ feels syllogistic.

* * * *

6mg of energy-tingles in 260 billion cubic miles of empty space.

This is the force that is driving the universe to spread, actually accelerating it, esp. at the outer edges.  So-called “dark energy.”  Impulse behind the Hubble-constant inflation.

One butterfly-wing’s worth of energy per Grand Canyon.

It isn’t much but it adds up, over the billions of light-years.