December 30, 2014
Pre-dawn airport run.
A well-learned Life Rule: After dropping off somebody you love at an airport, a shapeless formless dim day will ensue.
Wonderful how the NY Times is so skimpy today and all this week.
(Everything the skimpiness means about where people’s attention is, during the darkest, shortest days. Everybody’s on sabbatical, and this is the thing about a Sabbath: a true “Sabbath” — in its loneliness/boringness, its excruciating unproductiveness — a Sabbath brings you back down to your worst, and least elements.)
Cold and windy and sunny all afternoon. Hard freeze tonight. Have covered all freshwater spigots, have altogether drained the irrigation system, brought in all remaining cauliflower and broccoli.
Driving home from airport, my sentimentality:
At the cross where two great freeways meet (I-5 running Canada-to-Mexico, I-80 crossing east-west btw NYC and SF), I take the exit, and then pass under the big green sign: it indicates that the rightward ramp will set me on the road to “San Francisco,” the leftward ramp will point me up into the mountains. I’d just been talking (I felt unpersuasively) to Hunter about how wonderful is city life, its density, in a place like DC, where for example just the view out the bus window is full of variety, complexity. Driving back alone, on the radio: the mayor of Casselton, North Dakota (pop. 2300), is saying he doesn’t want his town to be famous for last year’s disastrous train wreck. He wants his town to be known for “a great school system and fertile soil.” I think about that — fertile soil and good schools — and actually get a tear in my eye.
* * * *
What a “sabbath” accomplishes: it imparts a bit of the wisdom that (Simone Weil says) you get when you’re truly “afflicted”:
“I may lose at any moment, through the play of circumstances over which I have no control, anything whatsoever that I possess, including those things that are so intimately mine that I consider them as being myself.”
You’re always at risk of losing not only your nice gadgets or your excellent guitar: any minute you could lose the ability to play the guitar, your eyesight, your sanity, your personable good looks, your motility, your capacity to communicate what you want. A total orthodox-style sabbath gives an instructive glimpse, of these subtractions. Weil would say it’s the beginning of compassion.
* * * *
December 28, 2014
Sizing up painting of buildings here. Always a big messy undertaking, but I’ve always liked the work, makes me tired like no other work.
Dinner of lamb stew with lemon rinds and Maggie’s dried figs.
Letter from Bobbie thanking me for the comfort my “letter of condolence” furnished, and it’s interesting: I find the widow’s gratitude to be a comfort. Hadn’t realized I’d needed comfort.
Long, long late-night kitchen-table conversation with Hunter. Mostly about how atrocious yet inevitable The Capitalist System is. (Hunter sees only the atrocities and is not at all mellow about the “inevitability” part.)
* * * *
December 26, 2014
Write “In Memoriam” piece for the Omnium Gatherum.
Exertion-free sedentary day.
Music down the road at Luke and Amy’s – banjo, mandolin, dobro, Fargo accordion.
Cold snap arrives.
* * * *
December 25, 2014
Now on Christmas morning it’s “the kids” who are the last out of bed; the parents and aunts who’ve had to be patient (coffee, NPR, email, pajamas). At last awake, the groggy ones sidetracked by coffee while we prod them, herd them, nag them.
A not-very-extravagant Christmas, practical inexpensive gifts. A kind of logical outcome is that, minus the spectacle of shiny treasure, the rest of the day doesn’t wind up melancholy and obscurely sore. (as in some years)
Brett’s gift from the boys is a performance of (her favorite) The Pixies’ tune “Here Comes Your Man.” Hunter on piano, Nico drums, Dash on glockenspiel doing the spritely riff. Song (short because only one half-verse is familiar) is performed several times consecutively. Over and over, getting it a little better each time.
This is a day of bright sun, cut short by the south-of-meadow pines.
All others take a long walk through the woods to Hirschman Pond, while I stay home and split firewood in the sun, also minding the napping Barbara.
Roast leg of lamb, then lots of song in the mudroom.
(How musical is the mathematical structure of nature. All afternoon a firewood-splitting man sees it, in how the cedar grain breaks into its combs and harps. Also, the pitch of each marimba-clank of every bar of firewood landing on the pile.)
* * * *
December 23, 2014
Nice storm coming in, promises to be blustery and dark and wet and short-lived.
Not cold enough for snow.
Sweater-vest for Brett. Stomp-box guitar effect for Dash. Boots for Hunter. Teacup for Barbara.
I’m cute: I was walking up Broad Street this morning carrying the sort of bag that is identifiably from a boutique (brown paper string-handled, odd-dimensioned and awarded a decorative sticker). And Gretchen Weaver happens to go by in her wifely minivan car, which has slowed – the better to appreciate the uxorious magnanimous sight of me. With obviously that appraisal, Gretchen grinning fondly from behind fogged-up side-window.
* * * *
December 22, 2014
Cut Christmas tree with Dash and Hunter.
Risotto at Sands’s.
Jupiter lights the sky, brighter than Sirius or than any other star, magnificent. Coyote howls on the ridge.
* * * *
December 21, 2014
Dec 21 is supposedly the darkest, longest night of the year. Some want a Saturnalia, or fantastic or even lewd party. Some expect a mysterious astrological transit between epochs. Women I know complain if they’re spending the long cold night abed alone. Me: Dull with my own repletion, I’ve come home after winey dinner at Sands’s with all the sisters and both my boys and the fireside, and the stars have come out, and I have to put all the hens to bed. One dying hen tonight (she’s been on the way out for a while) couldn’t climb to the roost, and lies with labored breathing, in the cedar shavings on the floor under the ramp. Slow heave of the feathers, which she may once have been vain of. (Hens of course have vanity, it’s most of what they’ve got in their worldly estate: vanity.) All the rest of her sisters above on racks. This longest, darkest night, it’s her job to die, which she might accomplish this night. I used to (and certain farm-folk would insist it’s the better thing to do) execute a sick hen. The point is, my heart is really with her tonight rather than any others, rather than the revelers in town seeking Saturnalia, or even the lonely women, because I’ve spent that night in the same expectation as hers. And then, moreover, finally have my expectation rewarded. In a way, it’s mortals’ greatest night, the last. It’s something I have in common with lowly barnyard animals. In fact, precisely this is the night’s great redressal: that even the simplest animal has her ruling claim to this night.
* * * *
December 20, 2014
Nice car-ride with Hunter, to Sacramento. We’re going to Dashiell’s “gig,” in a real club, roomful of black T-shirts advertising fiendish-looking bands.
After the show: a Dairy Queen on Saturday night, 11:00, in Sacramento, California, crowded, a scene of neighborhood amity.
Two Bacon Cheeseburgers.
* * * *
December 19, 2014
Hunter to arrive today.
Dosed all hens with Sulmet.
Rain goes on.
Sands and Hunter for chili in Barbara’s cottage.
* * * *
December 18, 2014
I can see that for forty years I’ve been doing the same things and holding the same beliefs, and probably even repeating the same things, all these years. (Environmentalism, ontology, taking fiction to be the more accurate truth, music), I observe my life to be a long straight line, no swerves, and I wonder if this is a virtue. I have to make it so, because it’s in my nature, fidelity. Or more basic than fidelity, constancy, because somebody has to make the world a warmer place, not a more capricious place. Or so I may justify my own nature.
* * * *
Another hour in the sun between rains I split more cedar and let the chickens roam around and peck. The whole dirt lane under cherries is moss. Variety of mushrooms.
Under my feet is the first, the original civilization (and still the fundamental civilization): Rhizomes, bacteria, fungus’s communicative powders and yeasts, all in mycorrhizal mat, symbiotic (mutualistic) collaborations of white intelligent threads with lacy-woven cake of ultra-fine tickling mycelia, doing plant-roots the favor of protecting them from pathogens, seeking their own food for themselves, the whole network of chemical information, an underground civilization that communicates over distances and sends up weird-looking trees and mushrooms recruiting above-ground its cattle, or slaves, large-scale importers of foodstuff to the underground mycorrhizae. Maybe we mammals above-ground, too, are providing for this below. (Always chanterelles by the birches, always morels in the vicinity of madrones, dung bells around anyplace an animal has crapped.) When dark had come completely, I stowed my axe and came inside and opened up my computer. It’s been a big day in the stock market: Google stock has upticked, and this is the Dow Jones Newswire headline: “Google is Now Bigger than Russia’s Entire Market.”
Partly a fluke of the ruble’s being temporarily depressed. But still, I think of those dark onion-dome villages, oxcarts in snow, cities, vast daffodil-yellow cathedrals, potatoes, birch forests, steppes. “Google,” which exists only in pixils, is bigger than Mother Russia.
* * * *
December 16, 2014
Sunshine and wind.
NASA avers that the presence of a little trace methane on Mars indicates “there might once have been” life.
Well, there’s a lot of hopeful thinking about this. There are a million motives for thinking/hoping that we’re not the only ones in the universe. (There are very serious motives. It gets eschataological, if you follow it down.) I continue to believe that the nearest intelligence (which is what we’re really wishing for, not just a colony of slimes, or some viruses) will have existed only in entire other Hubble spaces from ours. Uncontactable, and effectively non-existent. It’s just statistically too improbable.
These hopes for “other lives” don’t change our existential mystery. The existential mystery is of course the gut motive for space exploration, for the rover “Curiosity” and for “Mariner.” The motive isn’t capitalism, out there. That’s not the real motive. They’ll say it is . . . We’re at base a bunch of curious adventurous kids. Still, finding and even fraternizing with an extra-planetary race won’t answer the big questions. (The motto “Everybody already knows everything” applies.)
* * * *
Late afternoon mid-December (5 o’clock?). I’ve accomplished some winter-garden work during this break in the drenching rains. Tender saturation has overtaken everything (tree-bark and swampy soil, mossy stone wall, emerald scum on the lost badminton shuttlecock, the suck of turf on the lifting boot heel), and at the bottom of the meadow in the depths of the forest-edge I’m swinging an axe for an hour over cedar rounds. Never the need for a wedge with these. An axe alone will part the thickest cedar. An hour or so of this will be enough (while the fact is, I’m posted here only as chicken-guardian, against bobcats), and there will be other hours, over time, to create 2016’s firewood supply. Come the cold weeks, this big supply will dwindle fast to nothing. Also it feels great. The exercise, after a sedentary week indoors, is like Olympic swimming for the shoulders, arm sockets, as, in the axe-swing cycle I grow very tall, trapeze-catching tall, before bringing down the axe. Opening the standing log. I could do this all night. The world in a December five-o’clock grows so dim – I can still see my targets, the circular bright log-ends I set up on the chopping block as victims – but soon the only light in the whole world is the littered rectangles of gold, spilt all around the chopping block. Somehow the exposed woodgrain has absorbed the lost light of sky in order to reradiate it. The earth under my feet is vanishing, the whole great sky has vanished. But I can orient myself on the ground by the glowing flags of woodgrain scattered like manuscript pages all around, the only light sources.
* * * *
December 13, 2014
Saturday. Started clear, sunny, then turned cold and overcast.
Broccoli is coming in strong. Also broccolini and cauliflower.
Topped a few broccolini for dinner tonight, stems vulnerable and soft.
* * * *
Interesting, maybe it’s a fortunate “male psychology” quirk. I have found in a moment of “extremis” – when everything looks like despair and failure and lovelessness – if I grope for some mental image to try to remind myself life can be desirable and sweet again, it’s the woodpile outside at the foot of the meadow I see. That’s what saved me. It’s all the rounds of cedar needing splitting. That woodpile seemed like a reason for living, an island of light. Something I can do. * * * * Back from San Francisco.
In such a trip, I hate the expense of gasoline: 13 gal. of the fragrant essence. (I had to take the truck rather than the vegetable-burner.)
The city is beautiful, it always was, still is, but it’s good to drive back uphill through the light rain, come back to this life we’ve needed some years to relearn, like Ewoks on this improbable planet in a forest environment rooted in carboniferous loam, beneath the big wooden dendrite shapes (hundred-feet-tall and taller), where we actually eat things we walk out the backdoor and break from their stems. Bring inside and sauté.
There’s been great news this week – the International Energy Agency forecasts that, next year, world demand for oil will fall by 900,000 barrels a day.
So the foolish stock market is crashing. Panic and despair. Combined drop of 500 points in three days.
Those guys (who really think they want a 30-room Connecticut house; there really are such people) have refused for forty years to see the solar panels and windmills they could have gotten rich on. It’s a cultural divide. They want to live big, and you can’t exactly blame them, they’ve never seen/loved anything.
* * * * December 10, 2014
Barometric gradients are tight across the great valley and 60-mph winds are expected. 110-mph gusts over passes. Marvelous monster-storm is coming. It’s everybody’s favorite small-talk topic. NOAA radar shows whirling spiked beast in the Pacific grinding in this direction, and I’ve been cleaning gutters (up on the roof there standing up getting a nice view of the bleak sky) as winds are kicking up, and I’m pulling stuff inside sheds, getting out the generator and testing it.
Much of the afternoon: total battening-down of poultry quarters, in consultation with Brett. The practical pleasures of just consulting. Out there in the bluster.
Satisfaction of closing hook-and-eye latches on outbuildings.
Meager dinner of frail cauliflower from the garden, leftover pork-roast’s desiccated splinters, a squash, sautéed with adobo, all tucked into tortilla. The beginnings of squalls on the roofs. Outside, the characteristic ocean sound from the tall pines on high ridges. I really might not go to SF tomorrow.
After dinner, I ‘check out” Dash and Brett on the operations of the generator, just in case:
- fuel supply “ON”
- power switch “ON”
- choke “on,” then (having pulled the starter cord) “off”
All this in the dodgy light of an iPhone sequin, (somehow the pantry flashlight has gone missing)
* * * *
December 9, 2014
My new motto: “Arise and Perish” – good thing to christen a novel, a rock band’s mid-career album, a sailboat, country estate, pennant on the family crest, thoroughbred racehorse, etc.
News arrives via BBC that, in south amer somewhere today, the “oldest tree in the world” was cut down, accidentally. There, that tree hath arisen and perished, here at the peak of our Kali Yuga aeon.
* * * *
Barbara has been experiencing very itchy hives, and I handed across to her the tube of Benadryl cream and left the room. (Hoping only that she wouldn’t get it mixed up with the cortisone cream in a similar tube.) Later in the day, Brett says she’s finds the lady has been applying her Sensodyne toothpaste generously all over.
When the allergist’s apptmt is made, Jolena the nurse contributes the following, “Oh, toothpaste, of course. My parents were Hungarian immigrants. They used to do the exact same thing.”
* * * * December 8, 2014
Tag-line of an editorial in the NY Times this morning cites the following. It is apparently (I didn’t click through to read the editorial itself) – an illustration of modern philosophy’s absurdity:
Most people think that philosophy tries to answer the Big Questions.
“How do you know you believe you are wearing socks?” doesn’t sound like one of them.
God-help-me, though, I think it’s an urgent, wonderful question. I think it goes straight to the crucial hanging-by-a-thread suspensefulness of minute-by-minute life. Of course it’s a question for neuropsychologists. But the reasonneuropsychologists or anybody might care about it is the root philosophical issue. And the rather dire metaphysical issue, How do we live in the world? What is this tiny pilot behind my eyes at a control-panel? What are these weird goggles the pilot seems to be looking through — and are the shapes appearing in those goggles representations of anything? (Physiologists’ word “proprioception” doesn’t explain how you know you’re wearing socks. It’s just a word. Inventing a new word doesn’t dispel a mystery.)
Because obviously, what if the old unlettered Buddhists were right? They might (tho’ lacking tomography, lacking EKGs; unskilled in brain surgery, phrenology; unhelped by Freud or B.F. Skinner) have been waiting at the finish line all along:
“Conscious thoughts simply arise and perish with no thinker behind them.”
The complete Dharma would add: Not only does this supposed consciousness have no “self,” but the objects of consciousness (tables and chairs and trees and clouds) have no “selves” either.
I’m afraid such a summary makes a point so obvious as to be empty, to be irrelevant, i.e., irrelevant to the fraught scientific controversy. (The scientific controversy has its own sure path to negotiate, beyond any help from alien scriptures’ old platitudes.)
* * * *
(No, the Times editorial is by Qassim Cassam, philosopher at English university. Good of the NYTimes editors, occasionally to be serious and adventuresome.)
* * * *
December 7, 2014
These crucial “few decades” in climate evolution – (this period when the carbon-balance will go past equilibrium and doom the Earth) – JUST HAPPEN to be the same few decades the fossil-fuel folks and their stockholders are counting on. To eke out of the diminishing resource the last (the exponentially leveraged) profit. Sad situation. Sad for them as well as us. That they’ll never get their thirty-room house in Connecticut will be the least of their worries.
* * * *
December 6, 2014
That same pair of thrushes has come back, and they’re pecking in the same section of the meadow as in other winters. The whole expanse of wilderness, from here to the Northwest Territories, has a kind of small-town quality. These two birds have been up in the forests of (I imagine) British Columbia, and a couple of weeks ago they agreed (nonverbally) to head for that same California meadow they’d foraged on in other years, the one with the two easy-to-avoid housecats and the dog and the two big oaks, quails in the blackberries, the skinny hare that crosses diagonally at twilight.
Wonderful overcast all day, gloomy churchyard light. Slept late, worked only a couple of hours.
Improving bird-netting on barley-fodder, to stop theft of sprouts by every sparrow and wren around here, as if this were becoming a famous bird-feeding station in the county. Enclosed all sprouting shelves in my own handmade box of gopherwire mesh.
Late afternoon. In the steady rain picking up oak deadfall.
* * * *
December 4, 2014
Drab wintry day.
Hammered at last chapter of “Things,” acc. to the usual procedure of simplifying, then discovering complexities, then beating complexities back to simplicity.
A day of suspense watching the markets, as this is when the portfolio fills, upon transfer, and one hopes for a down market.
Finished reading Andrew’s novel. Will move on to Richard’s.
Soup of leeks and potatoes, but added tough chard from the garden (chopped) and ham (diced) leftover from thanksgiving.
Last chapter of ‘things” will continue to bother me.
* * * *
December 2, 2014
Last night was Dashiell’s punk concert at the Stonehouse. His was the opening band. Half the audience was Moms and Dads, standing far from the mosh pit. It was just a 2-person mosh pit. Guitarist (slight, undersized boy paralyzed with stagefright) had a jacket with BLACK FLAG emblazoned. I wanted to tell him that his own band tonight, of 14-yr-old three-chorders, is much better than legendary Black Flag was, in performance. The next band’s drummer, setting up his kit, wore a rotten T-shirt with FUCK chalked onto the front, DESTROY chalked onto the back, while Dash (who had homework yet to do, and this was a school night, so it was a lucky thing his was the opening band) packed his gear away in a basket, along with (at bottom of basket) his large, spilling collection of old “Magic: the Gathering” cards – for example “Vulshok Sorcerer,” pictured as a kind of voluptuous S&M dominatrix but Celtic, outfitted in leather halters-and-cups-and straps. Her legend: “Vulshok Sorcerers train by leaping into electrified stormclouds. Dead or alive, they come back down with smiles on their faces.” * * * *
New photographs in the astrophysics world, published in the NY Times:
The Planck Satellite telescope (launched by European Space Agency) has been focusing on a distant spot in space, far back in Time.
It’s looking at an area 14B light-years distant – (edge of visible universe, birth of visible timespace) – where it has photographed the swirls of ionized dust at a rather primordial time of Univ. infancy, a time when all of space was about the temperature of the sun. (The universe was a bud, then, 380,000 yrs old. Which isn’t much.) (That timespan on earth goes back to one of our “ice ages.” So 380,000 yrs isn’t much.)
It’s a wonderful image, from Planck. It’s the universe at its moment of clearing up and becoming visible, the moment when space became “transparent” to electromagnetic radiation (light). All twirling ripples. The colors that the scientists have chosen to define that time’s characteristics are warm and coral-like – ultramarine and tropical turquoise (in the “cool” color zone), and (in the “warm” color zone) strands of yellow-orange and saffron intensifying to threads of deep iodine. These are the balmiest-possible colors they could possible have chosen (colors from snorkeling in Caribbean bays), to create a picture of that abstract kiln back in a time when hyper-heated plasma constituted the entire world. The colors aren’t necessarily such a fantasy, though. In fact, if your “eyes” had been there to “see,” they might indeed have seen such beauty (presuming such “eyes” were attuned to detect radiation like that).
(“Why is anything here” — easy and unavoidable answer to that question is the “anthropic” answer: Everything’s here because “WE” are here).
But the really super-duper mystery isn’t merely that we exist, or that the universe exists: the kicker is that we understand the universe. The universe is intelligible. That was a totally uncalled-for addition: that the little human mass of gray matter we’ve evolved (brain, gooey) can, for instance, write Euclid’s geometry and then apply it to the swing of comets. We on this little planet can look back in time and measure “wavelengths” and “temperatures” that we ourselvesdefined and calibrated. We ourselves wrote out the rules of arithmetic for manipulating those measurements. It’s an intelligible universe. Who decreed that? (Was it us?) Well, it’s an interesting notion. The unasked-for intelligibility of reality goes to the anthropic story of genesis: this universe of ours exists because it’s cognizable. And, necessarily, thisuniverse exists because we evolved to recognize it.
This reverses the cause-result nexus, as if in a kind of time-reversal : (NOT “we are here because the universe was here for us to evolve in,” BUT “the universe has evolved here because we’re here understanding it.”) Especially when you consider that the little “edge-of-universe” event, which we focus our telescopes on, is transpiring at the Beginning of Time. At the same moment, anybody out there at the edge who may have evolved, if they focus on this galaxy of ours, will be seeing not us, but the inchoate dust and congealing stellar matter that would someday be “us.”
(The “cause-result nexus” itself is less necessary than it was in earlier, more limited views of the universe.) * * * * In the same newspaper is this editorial observation, about our planet’s climate change: If we don’t pass peak carbon emissions within fifteen years Earth will become “uncomfortable.” And if we don’t get past peak emissions within fifty years Earth will become “uninhabitable.”
The mark of progress here is that the New York Times thinks it’s “news,” and fit to print. It’s nice to see the slowest (i.e., “most practical,” and you might say “most venal”) institutions of our society at last wake up, and you might say, grow up.
* * * *
December 1, 2014
Rainy day, and acc. to the NWS, many rainy days are stacked up ahead.
Settle Barb’s finances. (Decision: to put her shrinking nest egg into the care of money manager, pay the management fee, rather than run it myself. It’s all very interesting and in a few weeks of study I’ve won and lost a fortune in imaginary money, but it’s just inefficient, for me to be running it.)
In Squaw, call plumber, exterminator, Pomin’s, gas inspection.
My new motto:
“EVERYBODY KNOWS EVERYTHING.”
It’s merely necessary to pretend otherwise (for one’s own deception/beguilement. And for others’).
(The motto effects as a remedy against indecision or any hesitancy. An enjoinment to self-reliance.)
It’s a rainy Monday morning, Dash and Brett have left for school-bus deposit, and the two cats are settling in for the long haul – one sleeping tight, on a fallen bath towel, the other watching through a window – and I’m beside the mud room stove again, for long morning of work.
* * * *
November 28, 2014
Up late last night, playing guitar and drinking with Chris.
Early return to NC, as the snowstorm coming in will shut down the pass. * * * * November 26, 2014
Arrived in Squaw alone, early. Others to come.
Everything is in good order. No tinder for a fire. Not anywhere in the house, no old newspaper, nor even cardboard box. (I always think of burning torn-out pages from novels off the shelf. The question would be: which?) But the new-year’s phonebooks are there, lying on the doormat. Phonebook pages go up in a flash and a poof, but suffice.
Chris and Claudia for salmon soup, night before Thanksgiving.
The turkey is brined (my own clumps of sage and thyme. And for juniper-berries, Dash is sent up onto the roof, with flashlight, to harvest only the black ones, never the green ones – Claudia’s instructions).
Three dogs are friends here. Romp around. Sleep separately, in separate corners. Dogs really love being dogs, the responsibilities they have, as well as the diversions.
* * * *
November 26, 2014
To Squaw today, for Thanksgiving.
Bit of epistemological thinking:
That we live in a rainbow made of “particles-and-forces” is conventional. But it may be more strictly accurate to say we live in a rainbow made of language.
To attempt even the most basic, clear characterization of “time” involves a metaphor. We say it’s “a flow,” or “it passes.” These are only metaphors. Metaphor alone is the thing making Time intelligible, or even sensible. This though we stand always in Time’s midst, and can’t have presence without it. We live inside a metaphor – inside our conception of time – as if time essentially consists in “our conception” of it.
Extend this subjective-center view to other categories of experience (“space” is a metaphor, the “cause-result nexus” is a metaphor).
However, “the number system” seems perhaps not to be a metaphor in the same sense. The number system doesn’t “stand in place of” some other “thing.” Numbers have a different ontological status, of some sort. They are something. Something rather autonomous. They exist free of perception. * * * * November 22, 2014
Nice hard rain this morning. Slow start getting to work.
(Pleasant distraction: I’ve agreed to write words for Mark Vance’s choral work a capella for twenty voices, male and female: must be about a red pickup.)
Dash and friends, this AM, must be driven (by Brett) thru rain to the downtown Grass Valley movie house, for another “simulcast” of an opera from the Met. They have to get there at ten AM (because matinee curtain in NYC is 1:00).
I check on Barbara in her cottage midmorning, and she’s already awake and panicky and disoriented, but like a mare easily gentled. Even quickly ashamed of having been scared. Repentant, guilty-feeling. I promise her a poached egg and turn on the lights, and I’m able to produce a cheery anecdote she’ll recognize familiar ingredients in: her grandson Dash has been taken to the opera, it’s Bizet’s Carmen, remember how Oakley liked Carmen, and all morning Dash and his sleepover friend have been going around in anticipation humming that sexy “Habanera” aria tune.
This actually makes Barb laugh. Rare event. Then, sitting in nightgown, waiting for her poached egg to appear before her, hairbrush on her knee, she’s looking out the window quietly humming that sinuous, lascivious melody for a prima donna. * * * *
November 20, 2014
Long phone call with my brother, Iowa City neurologist:
“I tell my students: here’s a patient who can write but he can’t read. And they’re not awed! For them, it’s ‘Oh, that’s interesting, will this be on the test?’ Like they’re getting it down in their notes, ‘Can write but can’t read,” without thinking what that’s like.
“I try to tell them they have to stop and be dumbfounded. This patient is a person who can write something perfectly well, and then he can’t read what he’s just written. You have to imagine that! I tell them, ‘I want you to go home now and think about that and come back tomorrow completely awed by it.’ I mean what’s it like in there?”
What’s it like in here is a question for all, not just one neurologically damaged patient. We’ve all got the same apparatus – same as that guy whose apparatus happens to malfunction. * * * * Thinking of the ill-fatedness of my endeavors in life: How is it that I can mix “highest-ambitions-unremitting-work” (starting at 3am every morning for decades) with a happy indifference to the failure of my plans (not to mention the practical penalties and privations thereof)?
I remember being ten or twelve years old, walking with my mother in Evanston being taken to some appointment, and my mother’s telling me, “Louis, you know you’re extremely intelligent, you’ll always be intelligent, but you’ll never be ‘smart.’” This with a little fond satisfaction.
She didn’t know the half of it. Of course I’ve always known it about myself. I even knew then, at that age, exactly what she meant, and I admired her for seeing it. (It was always a lucky circumstance in my growing up, having a perspicacious, sly mom.) But it’s not as if I’d ever want to change my disposition. Watching “the wicked prosper” never provokes actual envy (not in me, nor really in anybody frankly). And in my own case, I grew up seeing plenty of unhappy prosperity. And in Calif have lived with plenty of it. * * * *
The Four Characteristics, a jest of mine that definitely did not amuse anybody at the Spirit Rock Zen Center:
* * * * November 18, 2014
Good long rain is promised by the NWS. Snow over the passes rules out a trip to Reno for their literary confab.
An afternoon built partly around laundry, of all things. Keeping perfectly halal practices of Environmentalism around here. Had to resort to the propane-powered dryer in the end, if only for a few minutes, because a clothesline on a gloomy, cold day is so slow.
Tad’s pickup has been stuck at the foot of the meadow. Today it was towed away to Plaza Tire and Automotive.
Rise in temperature in advance of the front: the midnight air feels almost steamy. Tomorrow will be the cold plunge. * * * * November 17, 2014
Truckee-Tahoe Foundation comes through with a little money.
Whole afternoon cleaning up yesterday’s slash from cedars, but the rounds are still lying in the forest, too heavy to deal with. Maybe – in fact definitely – I’ll split them down there. Use tractor cart for their transport.
For my birthday: a shirt, a pair of socks, a pocket stargazer’s guide. The three of us around the candle.
* * * *
November 15, 2014
’Bye, Dana. Rental car, down the road, turn left at the highway, then right on 49.
Work today: A rather routine day effortlessly burbling up a scene (Episcopal church evacuation) in “Things.” Effortlessness makes a man think he must be stupidly missing something.
Saturday afternoon project: bringing down the two biggest cedars of the whole grove I’ve been pulling down. (Having taken the trouble to sharpen the chain on the workbench with proper file – so my efficiency goes way up.) They’re lying out there now in the starlight and the damp, felled and cut-up but not cleaned up.
Late-afternoon Saturday study: I’m starting to think this project of valuing stocks for day trading is just too esoteric. Waste of time? I really don’t want anything to be a waste of time. I’m sure that’s one outcome to avoid.
Sauteed lentils-&-kale on pasta.
Brett and Dash have gone out to a movie (animated feature), leaving me here with my contemplations
* * * *
November 14, 2014
Dana visits from CO.
Brings negatives of great baby pictures of Brett.
Back to clearing cedars from south meadow. I’m going to have way too much firewood next year. But the cords have been going fast lately, and the clearing has to be done, as the cedars are poking into the 150-foot canopy of oaks. I’m taking out a whole habitat.
* * * *
November 13, 2014
Spent the entire day hardly getting out of the creased big leather chair in the mud room. Work, work, work, all the nest-egg-preservation, learning about financial crap, writing a summary of Squaw Future for Brett and the Board, plus the fundraising email letter, and a mostly damaging (afternoon-consuming!) stab at “Things” (cutting out an entire scene), one thing after another, until deep in the dusk, the stove had gone cold, colder, and I’m still in the same chair. Pesto for dinner. Outside, drizzle all day long. * * * *
November 12, 2014
Faint but warm sunshine.
Rake out all chicken premises.
At work, another morning removing the most amazing incompetences and misdirections embedded in “Things.” Only a manuscript that had spent so much time mutating into entirely new shapes could end up with so many glaring vestigial problems the author couldn’t see.
Dinner of black cod packed six days in miso, sugar, mirin.
* * * *
November 11, 2014
Thinking of my mother (mentioned “dozing in her wheelchair”) and the impossibility of ever again seeing her.
The sad thing about even the closest such relationship is: what strangers all people always remain, to each other.
What a closed book, to me, my mother always was.
Starting in Iowa in 1923, a girl on a farm, and traveling for ninety-one years on the Midwestern map in loose scribble-pattern (Milwaukee, Chicago, Madison, Iowa City, Evanston, Burlington), she had a life: the full story; the entire five-act opera with a cast of thousands and Dolby SurroundSound, a story so deep and dark and rich, she herself could never get below the surface of it. (Try though she might.) * * * * November 10, 2014
Turning summer garden under.
Strewn out on the meadow, carnage of tomato vines. And cucumber and zucchini vines.
Will plant cabbage, kale, garlic, onions. * * * * November 9, 2014
Sunday. Brett to SF for the day, for Squaw meeting. * * * *
November 8, 2014
All our worries:
- Brett is worried about the future of Squaw, her own waste-of-life caretaking of mom
- Me, I’m worried about the book business and my own fate in it
- The dog is worried about the cats’ wanton frolicking
Dashiell is worried about Ebola coming here
* * * *
The red sweater Galway wore under his jacket, in the rich gloom of the Century Club. That color was from Caravaggio. It welcomed the whole world.
* * * *
November 7, 2014
Restart barley fodder operation with improved larger trays. Move entire, enlarged operation out of garage. * * * * November 6, 2014
Strange how I’m not extraordinarily aggrieved about Galway’s death. It occurs to me maybe it’s because a real poet’s whole life is all about his death; and his presence is all about his absence; a poet has already, always been a tombstone which anyway is how we got to know him in the first place. Such is his ministry, if he’s really a poet. That’s what writing is: absence. And a poet is a “writer” par excellence.
More cutting back the old cedar grove beyond the oaks. Near mishap today: a small (sixteen-inch?) tree falls wrong: the felling cut bites my saw to clamp down on it, and then the whole tall mass starts tipping toward me, fast.
(The problem was: as I was making the felling cut, on the far side my blade was, unbeknownst, nibbling into the directional notch.)
Having a hard time writing a letter of condolence to Bobbie Kinnell, whom I do grieve for, whom I remember as a most sparkling girl. (In her long-billed cap.)
Brett brings home nursery starts for cabbage, kale.
Every morning, I’m ironing out “Things.” Discovering my stupidities. Wherever a narrative is not working it’s because I was inattentive to character. Always character.
* * * * November 2, 2014, Sunday
After good long rain: Sunny day.
All tomatoes have been stunned by two days’ cold and will stay small and green and never mature. The little maple over the path to the chicken coop is red/yellow/peachy. Tad’s truck is still parked down by the woods. Halloween colors: umber, persimmon, shit, sparrow.
This afternoon, driving down Highway 20 to Rough&Ready, it’s all beautiful. The curve in the road ahead of me is the same curve that’s always been ahead of me, all my life – on the way to summer camp in Wisconsin with dad at the wheel, on the way out to the Pacific via Lucas Valley Road, escaping down the coast highway with Hobbs and Birnbaum in Birnbaum’s convertible, rounding the bend toward Squaw Valley in a VW Squareback, in a borrowed car going up Monadnock’s curving road, or over the Alleghenies toward Canarsie. It’s all, always, the same road. And beauty is always the same pain.
In ‘beauty,” though, these days, this is a sensation rather new: I find that “Pleasure” hasn’t been on the menu for a long time. This stage of life seems to have set in prematurely with me. “Pleasure” is unappetizing, candy, indigestible. North of Rough&Ready, there’s a little open pasture where a calf is suckling, burrowing under the arch of its mother. In this, there’s “beauty,” but no pleasure in the sense I once understood it. Now I see pain in it all; the pain pokes through more and more visibly as the beauty sharpens; so there’s, instead, a kind of larger architectonic pleasure in participating in the general grief. Or say not pleasure but “satisfaction.” There’s a satisfaction just in being at my post now, insomniac, keeping the vigil, from here on out. I can see, clearly, the zero-sum game ahead of us all, and I have to kind of like and admire the elegance of the whole lay-out. Knowing we have nothing to lose makes me brave and somewhat imperturbable. The deluded greedy calf. The sign on the Rough&Ready feed store: “PIGS $120 EA.” The boy practicing his lay-ups on a hoop nailed to a driveway oak. Poor guy. * * * *
November 1, 2014
Interesting contemplation of a very simple Fundamental, which persists all around us:
One phenomenon I’ve seen firsthand – (that is, I’ve been literally in the room for it) – is that a child’s flesh is the mother’s flesh, which then separates, physically and a bit messily. Plenty of us have been in the room for that.
Now my own mother died earlier this year. For six months now, my own flesh has been getting along all right. I’ve been surviving freely alone, on a luckily still-habitable planet, without a glimpse of my physical fleshly origin (back there in the Iowa convalescent home, dozing in a wheelchair in hot sunshine on linoleum, her oil-crayons scattered out before her on the Strathmore pad). Nor is there any possibility of such a glimpse of her, ever again, time being irreversible.
I’ve fathered two boys, though – which does admit me into the chain of human physicality, in this cold cosmos. But it admits me in only partially, because only as a spectator: a male. This is the palpable condition: Women remain a part of the vine. Their flesh, literally, physically, is continuous. Men are spurs taking off from that vine – with maybe an fair chance of culminating in a berry or fruit of some sort; or else (as with many guys) just ending in thin air. A male doesn’t “bear fruit,” in the sense of physically swelling up with a new, separate (separable) human.
So maybe it’s an existentially determining condition. It’s a condition like “being two-legged,” or “being three-dimensional rather than two-dimensional,” or “having ocular light-sensitive tissue that discerns remote objects through reflected/absorbed electromagnetic energy.” (I guess Kantian philosophy might loosely call these determiners categories, ontologically.)
It is definitely an existential, palpable background feeling: the yeast that is life, it dies with a man. So, man “looks upon” woman. Always has. (Indeed the “male gaze,” according to recent feminist doctrine, is the basic obnoxiousness.) The whole setup makes maleness a spiritual and (I have to wonder) forlorn condition.
* * * *
October 30, 2014
Up early, tho’ little accomplishment. By eight am I’d quit and come in the house, to spend the rest of the day wrangling with financial folk at 800 numbers. (I’ve had to move old Barbara’s nest egg to a new place.) Hunting up old records. Faxing things. Inventing “User IDs” and “Passwords.” Discovering dates of birth (1923), and mothers’ maiden names (Johnson). So, getting and spending, we lay waste our days. (courtesy W. Wordsworth) Well, getting and spending are necessary, and even kind of fun – that is how I would advise a Romantic poet.
(But I must admit, an entire day of this scheming is a poor investment.)
3:00 to 4:00, Dash and I play tennis. Lackadaisically, distractedly. Agree to quit early. Corn dog and root beer at the IGA.
The dark, short days are definitely here, and tomorrow we’ll be attacked by the first decent Pacific storm of the season (8-10 inches over the summit). Prevailing east wind has this evening swung around to the south (storm recipe). My love of inclemency is mammalian-deep, and I seem to have spent the last few days garnering wealth – starting a heap of unsplit cedar rounds in the far meadow for future firewood, mixing and mastering the homemade song that will be my Xmas card, investing Barbara’s small hoard. Got the Crock Pot going (Swiss steak), woodpiles tarped against strong winds, all the Adirondack chairs withdrawn, stowed away, and to top it off, tonight I’ve got a sure sense of the onset of a cold: rheum, ache. Here I sit. Ten pm. Mud room. Scarred leather armchair by stove. No sound yet of rain on roof. * * * * October 29, 2014
Return to serious grant-writing efforts.
Brett in Sacramento today, to strategize Squaw financing with Jim and Carlin.
News of Galway’s death does arrive.
The day is lost somewhat to sadness. To disorientation.
Taking over Barbara’s nest egg, time on the phone with brokers. Online “entering data into fields.”
Finished with brief “Downtown” recording, and liking it – but not a whole lot. * * * * October 27, 2014
More days of clearing woods. Brett helps dragging slash out to meadow. The dog follows her back and forth, every trip, with inexhaustible curiosity and optimism, tail up.
(For some reason I think of the local Indian people here, the Maidu. They would have had dogs, and those dogs would have behaved in exactly the same way, cheerily.)
Sunday night, a movie by myself in town.
In the theatre on the main street, the projection-screen, because it’s draped like a bedsheet, has a wrinkle. So every camera-pan puts a wave in the landscape. And the Texas horizon (skimming in a windshield) flows through a warp.
(But the movie is great, Linklater’s “Boyhood.”)
* * * *
October 25, 2014
Long work-morning again.
Decent bit of rain.
Pabby is in the cottage another day.
Brett returns from Squaw, and dinner is pesto and medallion squash.
After dinner, a little concert in town, Jamie Bellizzi (solo) plays Bach, Fernando Sor, Francisco Tarrega. After concert, outside, rain has stopped and streets shine. * * * * October 24, 2014
Brett to Truckee for grant proposal, then she’ll stay in Squaw overnight.
Tree cutting afternoon.
My efficiency: In ninety minutes I am able to take down one big cedar, entirely limbed and bucked (half-cord yield of unsplit firewood).
Glad to have Pabby on the premises. Somebody on the property when chain-sawing
Because it’s not the big felling “crash” itself that’s so tricky, it’s after. Working on a down tree, delimbing it, the log may roll either direction, the chainsaw held up high at face-level – because sometimes the whole tree trunk is levitating, cushioned bouncily on its branches; heavy limbs squashed under pressure can spring out with the force of a beartrap, a decapitating force – so I really have to pick where to stand, where to dodge, whether to undercut, which direction I’ll ditch.
(I always think of Cavendish in these exploits. He’s my “Iron John,” the mountain man who was my first model of comportment in these generous mountains.)
Dash and I here alone tonight: watching a movie, sausage/onions, polenta, then devising a dessert together: old ginger cake (Claudia’s) with fresh cream-cheese frosting. * * * * October 23, 2014
It’s been a week of hauling all the garbage and recycling into the mud room during the nights, to bamboozle the bear (or at least disappoint him).
Watching mortgage rates fluctuate, because I’ve been putting off the refinancing. I’m such a high roller.
A small rain coming in today.
I spend only a couple of hours outside hauling accumulated slash from tree cutting.
The “violins” midi on that “Downtown” rendition.
* * * *
October 22, 2014
Re-sketched “Things” sex scene. Remembered the infant sleeping in the corner. Somehow I can get through many drafts, perfecting a scene’s characterization, tightening plot pins, answering or deepening questions – all the while forgetting I’d put a baby in the room. Turns out the baby was the fix, for the scene.
After work: a few revisions to Irvine Foundation letter, then more of cutting cedars beyond the oaks, then into town, groceries, bank. * * * *
October 21, 2014
Slept in late.
Still on “Things.” I admit to myself I’m dissatisfied with the sex scene. Sex scenes are by nature minefields of cliché and misconstruction and shallow spectacle. Oops, maybe that’s what sex is.
Always, I rejoice at any discovery of my own flaws, I rejoice and am fortified.
Anyway, left the situation alone till tomorrow.
Another afternoon cutting cedars, edge of s. meadow.
Again then, the invaluable hour, before dinner, of the cappuccino-plus-required-reading.
Mushrooms everywhere. A great year for mushrooms. The truffles in the front yard turn out to be true “truffles,” but a non-valuable kind, and also a non-tasty kind. According to local mycologist.
Today, two pieces of news arrived from Vermont, in this sequence:
- Galway is giving a sizable gift of $$ to Squaw;
Galway is on Hospice.
* * * * October 21, 201
Saw the bear. 10:15 pm.
Happened to be idly internet-cruising in the mud room at this late hour – heard a bang in the garage.
He (she?) is cinnamon-colored, really immense, maybe the biggest I’ve seen, and timorous. He went scrambling away when I shouted at him “Begone!” (Squaw Valley bears are more blasé than these.) (Squaw Valley bears don’t scramble.)
Interesting: the silence: A bear can get his whole quarter-ton (?) bulk moving at top speed in an instant, yet stay totally soundless.
(Even a puppy’s paws on the meadow make a thump. Even the feet of a sprinting hen land with a pitty-pat. Not a bear. No sound from a 400-lb bear.)
(I can hope that tonight I gave him a bad experience and he won’t be back.) * * * * October 20, 2014, Monday
Chainsaw to SPD saw shop.
Burnett and Mimi visit. Long winey lunch in town at Lefty’s.
At the saw shop, rather than pay for resharpening I bought a 12-dollar file and resolved to learn how to do it myself.
Got it all sharpened nicely, then the rain really hit.
* * * *
October 19, 2014
Bear broke into the garage last night, got the chicken feed.
Considerable splintering-damage to doorframe and door panels.
No writing today, Sunday. Instead, autumn chores: Draining and covering evap. coolers, gearing up to fell the whole grove of thriving cedars off the south meadow, raking vetch off west meadow, misc. deskwork revising grant-seeking letter to Baker Street Foundation, writing overdue recommendation letters, book-blurbs. And, now, some post-bear repairs.
(It may be time to call Fish-&-Wildlife. It would mean curtains for the bear. The contract trapper from Auburn is the bear’s Grim Reaper.)
Stupid costly inattention of mine: chainsaw strikes rock, while taking out cedar stump, and all my plans are foiled. The chain will have to go to the saw shop.
Tamara McKinney visits. Talk of Squaw real-estate machinat
Dinner in the cottage. Pinto beans and rice, and the tortilla-borne “Last Zucchinis Of The Season.”
* * * *
Still back on “All Things.”
Cleaned chimney pipe, mud room. (Negligible creosote buildup. Just as in previous years.)
Cavendish’s gift of kindling has lasted a long time: nicely milled quarter-round fir, kiln-dried and matchstick-explosive, 3am in the holy obscurity of the woodstove’s womb.
End of this Saturday: tennis court, hit for an hour with Dash. We’re both pretty good!
For dinner, Pabby is with Barbara in her cottage.
Here in the Big House we have cheap pork and potatoes, Pabby’s chard.
* * * *
October 17, 2014
Temperatures, in this fall-equinox season: Midnight it’s weirdly summery-damp, balmy. Then around dawn, the pressure of hard frost will have come down.
So, working in the mudroom I haven’t started the stove yet at 3 am. Then as the hours go along and the room gets colder, it gets to be time to start a fire but I haven’t done it yet, stuck in my chair, where just staying motionless conserves my envelope of heat, and at some point in the silence, a loud BONG comes from the two-ton upright piano beside me.
Goes on resonating forever. All 88 piano-strings clanging together, such a wall of sound is a very black sound.
* * * *
October 16, 2014
Home again, having visited Chris and Claudia and Matt and Mireya in Fairfax.
Also the wonderful new Exploratorium. * * * * October 14, 2014 San Francisco. Rain is expected, but the day dawns clear.
Coffee at Trieste. The same old Board of Directors is there, occupying the long row of center tables. (Their groggy warm, intermittent badinage. Pushing around the NY Times and the SF Chronicle. The slightly shamefaced way they, one by one, get up and push their chair in and begin their day elsewhere.)
Out on Columbus.
Pound of coffee beans at Roma. And a latte to bring home to Brett.
In the freshening air, direct sun is coming down the street. The city bus goes by (it’s the dread 30 Stockton), stuffed with morning-commute people, it’s all elbows and shoulders inside, thru plate-glass windows, it’s definitely not “fresh air” in there, standing-room-only – it looks hectic as Picasso’s Guernica inside. But a very dull Guernica, in bus-fluorescent dim twilight, so it’s really a whole different world: very slow: it’s the aquarium of restaurant lobsters sleepily bumping each other. Me, I’m the guy they glimpse outside looking unkempt in leather jacket. They’re glad they’re not me. They wouldn’t trade places with me for a million bucks. I don’t feel any special privilege, being out here in the fresh air. What they get, today, is what they love: the carrel, or cubicle, or cash-register, the gossip, the power they wield, as well as the justice they dispense, and their own justification, the wisdom they can exercise, all their siblings in the office with them (while the door to the corner office, “Dad’s,” stays shut). * * * * October 13, 2014
Leave for SF.
Arrive North Beach. Night. A mediocre “noodle house” has been installed in the premises of the old Amante on Green Street. It’s “trendy.”
We bear off our carry-out dinner, in foil containers bring it home. It’s warm out. Fine chaotic streets at night, Grant-and-Green, Columbus-and-Union, the trick-or-treat feeling of a crowded glamorous city.
* * * *
October 12, 2014
Sunday morning in this small town. Clear and very quiet.
A rock band will be rehearsing in the garage today. Parents have dropped off all the musicians (it’s a power-trio), and when I come up from work in the trailer, I find an empty paper sack on the kitchen table, with this receipt from the IGA grocer in town lying at the bottom of the sack: SPD MARKET 10/12/14 8:59am CINDY
RASPBERRY CHIA $3.29 F
SINGLE CRV $0.05 TF
BAKERY $1.89 F
BAKERY $0.89 F
BAKERY $0.99 F
CREAM CHEESE $0.49 F
CREAM CHEESE $0.49 F
CREAM CHEESE $0.49 F
BAKERY $1.09 F
BAKERY $1.09 F
BAKERY $1.09 F
KOMBUCHA $3.39 TF
SINGLE CRV $0.05 F
ORGAIN PROTEIN $3.19 F
8.5% TAX $ 0.29
VISA $18.77 Pleasure in inspecting this, every detail, including the “Cindy.” Back to work in the trailer. October sun is thin but very warm.
Gretchen Bond’s daughter wants to get married in our meadow next June under the two big oak trees. They all come to scope the place out, fiance and fiancee and mom. Stand around in the very center of the meadow, under open sky, talking of the great sacramental day.
Real culinary triumph which nobody remarks on: pork tenderloin with sauce of our pears in brandy. The medallion squash from the garden, sautéed, thyme and sage. Things don’t get better than this.
* * * *
October 11, 2014
Huge wood rat, in my studio, is making thrashing sounds in the cabinet, where it’s caught in a heavy-duty trap I set, but not dying.
Question of ethics and personal fortitude: whether to somehow get the fellow outside on the open ground and put a stop to its misery.
(In the end, I do. Actually tearful and vaguely prayerful, talking to the little cutie the whole time. Bright little eyes.)
* * * *
October 11, 2014
Miscellaneous reflection about women. How it is they can descend so easily to humble and even saintly service, chores, compassion, unlike males who are often paralyzed by the hang-up of staying cool and keeping status (“status” being practical “uselessness”).
It would be because women will already have tasted complete and absolute power in ways a male never will. A girl or woman will have seen herself accede effortlessly to rulership over a man’s soul (for thus are men constituted). So, for a woman, who’s been there – (been there in spades) – the mirage of keeping status/being cool has not so much mysterious fascination.
* * * *
October 9, 2014
Horticulturist from the Ridge comes visiting. We’ve got these unidentifiable tough heirloom wild-ish pears, so the local Institute is looking into them. Along for the ride in his battered Subaru: his seven-week-old daughter and his wife (“brought along my lady”).
He says the pear tree is perfect for grafting scions, as they’re called.
He’ll be back in January. Gave him a cardboard file-box of ripe ones. The box had typing-paper taped to the side marked “BOB POEMS.” * * * *
October 8, 2014
3:55 am. Near-total eclipse of the moon. I’m of course awake for it.
I ordinarily only see the phenomenon of “shadows” in my own immediate neighborhood: the swing of a bird’s wingspan on the meadow, the mailbox and its post lying slain on the road pavement, the pool under the pickup truck where the dog likes to lie. The shadow of my own home-planet tonight, out there, is merely predictably round – doesn’t show much character at first – (not in the way I can glimpse my personal shadow on the road and detect my own doom in a typical slouch, or in a typical optimistic goof, the hunchback cunning dwarf down there I never pay any mind to) – until, near climax, around the epoch where the moon is shadowed totally, turning brown-red, it starts showing some human emotion. It’s aboriginal —total eclipse is such a menstrual filth color, it’s the unmistakable sunset of mortal “sin” cast by the typical smog of this damp, young planet, the planet where soil evolved. The only planet we know of where “moral responsibility” has evolved, in all the galaxies, all else glittering with sterility. * * * * October 4, 2014
Cat sleeping on my lap. 3 am. Tinkering with synth strings on Downtown rather than getting to work.
People I conversed happily with at great length, on days when the sun shone, now they’re up in Valhalla – Matt Krim (on vinyl swivel-chairs at Formica countertop in 1971, beside the sliding iron-framed door where California’s improbably warm air sighed), Don Carpenter in The Depot, my father of course, who had all the time in the world, Paul Davis, Oakley on the deck, Mitch Faber swinging his brilliant Stratocaster Wed nights at The Nevada Club then ordering up the double-bourbon, Kathi Goldmark.
“The dead” – and “death” – it used to be gruesome, imagined in Halloween shadows. “The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out / The worms play pinochle in your snout.” Now, as I get the privilege of going deeper, farther, getting the entire E-Ticket ride, death is looking more like Valhalla: a perpetual existence in an extra-temporal summary, death a summary that is present to me at every moment of my apparent “living” “consciousness.” Morally, I already exist outside time. But just not yet in a literal sense.
Clean entire chicken premises.
Hook up the midi keyboard to get the strings right on “Downtown.”
Of all things: Planning the afternoon of this Saturday around a storewide 20%-off one-day sale at B&C Hardware. * * * * October 3, 2014
October now: there’ll be no more working in the trailer, where an electric space heater will be necessary after this point (1500 watts). In the mud room I get the woodstove going, four AM.
Have laid aside both versions of “Assistant” – to revisit instead “All Things.”
Recorded, in morning hours, a very gloomy version of Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” draggy tempo heroin-slow. Solo dobro, primitive.
Big salad success with local stuff: sliced pears (perfect) and beet greens. * * * * October 2, 2014
Another string of sunny hot days. Tomatoes keep producing.
Afternoon: I’m on a 2-mile run, and three different Department-of-Forestry planes pass overhead, heading out over the river toward the San Juan Ridge. (Two are the CDF bombers, engines making the laboring roar of being laden with a ton of flame retardant.)
(Those planes are 1962 manufacture. Half-century old! I think of my 35-yr-old car as a peculiar inconvenience. Imagine how those pilots must feel.)
Then nothing comes of it. No smoke to the north, when I reach a promontory along the road to Katrina’s house. No “fire news” on the local internet.
* * * * October 1, 2014
What we are looking at, when we meet a human being face-to-face (bank teller, cheery FedEx courier, suave bartender, cool efficient secretary):
- We’re looking at the radiant inevitability of Self, or Brahman(acc. Webster’s 3rd, Brahman is “the ultimate reality underlying all phenomena”);
- An immediate economic threat in the form of a competitor for resources; also, sexual possibility, and economic opportunity: an associate in the age-old social contract, a partner in the evolutionary project, with whom moral hopes are shared. I suppose many of the most important elements of the association go back as far as when we were running in the same pack, or abiding in the same pod.
It was the Hindu saint Sri Ramana Maharshi who, when asked by supplicants Who will I be in my next life, and who was I in my past life? would respond:
“Well, who are you? First tell me that. Who am I talking to?”
This is a universe that (starting with rocks, carbon, silica, etc.) naturally and inevitably fruits, like a pear or apple tree, with “consciousness.”
* * * *
September 26, 2014
Brett to go so SF today for “Booktoberfest.” Just Barbara and me here.
More good rain showers. * * * *
September 25, 2014
Good solid rain, then clearing.
No more of El Dorado County’s wildfire smoke.
* * * *
September 24, 2014
Limited work in morningtime.
First pass at pears. Three boxes.
Pears are less abundant than last year but large. There’s some borer that has colonized, leaving a syrupy pinhole, so about a quarter of these pears won’t ripen correctly. Possible climate-change knock-on here: The higher average daily heat may favor this grub, and it’s a sign: the delicacy of climate equilibrium. Nature is so full of opportunists – (the plant and animal kingdoms are made up entirely of opportunists, all the super-successful competitors, from pinetree sprouts to e. coli, from crabgrass to Lady Gaga) – and local organisms adapt to a half-degree rise in average temperature with an instant migration – and in a single season could throw a whole ecosystem into some fresh arrangement.
Cease with the little barley-fodder operation, waiting for cooler days.
Smoked salmon (green peas sautéed w/shallots) on fettuccine. * * * * September 23, 2014
Squaw continues with this grant-writing effort. All Laura Cerrutti’s hard work. “Uploading” budgets. “Statements of Intention.”
It seems to me that foundations – (going through their annual cycle of giving, like great oak trees leafing out, then turning golden, dropping their leaves, waiting then for next spring’s bud-popping event) – will already have already pretty much settled on how their money will be spent. If you have to knock on a door and ask and explain yourself at length, you’re already a latecomer. If there’s anybody out there who does want to support what you’re up to, they’ve already, long ago, noticed you, or even already written a check.
* * * *
September 22, 2014
“Tough beans”: that used to be an expression that meant ‘a dose of bad luck sometimes is inevitable.’ It was something of a rebuke when I was young. Tough bananas seemed like my generation’s clever, newer version of it, beans the more archaic version (and kind of mysterious!); I never wondered specifically about the expression’s origin. It seemed so ill-logical I just supposed it was meant to beabsurd: Tough Beans.
But so much of colloquialism originates in the agricultural life, and in ten-thousand-year-old familiarity. Now that beans grown in our own fenced-in soil are a regular basis for our diet – and now that, as chef de la cuisine, I often have to watch as plates of beans are set before the choosy 14-yr-old and the easily wounded 92-yr-old when the candles are lit and napkins unfolded – I see it’s a hard home-truth: nature sometimes serves up what we find hard to like. Sometimes there comes a handful of beans (these colder nights, the stalks thinning and paling) that no manner of boiling or braising or soaking will fix. But they’re what we’ve got. Brett and I have been spending the week unsuccessfully figuring ways to keep the Squaw Valley workshops solvent, and unsuccessfully applying for a second mortgage for this place, and this evening, tonight, we’re the two at the table who are happy to pick through our beans gratefully and shrewdly, masticating for the sweet pith, discarding husks, coming across a really great one now and then.
* * * *
September 20, 2014
Warm, cloudy Saturday.
Brett establishes sugar snap peas, cauliflower, onions, kale, chard, Brussels sprouts, ever more asparagus, broccoli, lettuce.
I’m extracting all digression from The Assistant.
Money-begging letter for the Osher Foundation gets its final grooming, and Tahoe-Truckee Foundation application gets started.
Fretting over refinancing the mortgage. We’re going to be entering “negative cash flow” here chez nous.
Anyway, pears are ready for harvest – (seems early?) – and tomatoes and squash produce in excess.
Dash is such a socially forward new freshman, he goes to a “Homecoming Dance,” weird native custom. Though he’ll be acquainted with nobody there. Ticket twenty dollars. In the harsh-lit-gym. There’ll be a DJ. Gamely, he chooses his clothes, accedes to his mother’s advice about dressing more formally. Together they Google images of Homecoming Dance outfits, and at last she drives over, drops him off at curb.
Later, mid-dance, Brett and I are here at home watching TV, and Brett texts Dash: How is it?
Response: “There are 8 people here.”
* * * *
September 18, 2014
A little light rain.
* * * *
September 17, 2014
Dash rises early alone, showers fast, makes a breakfast of granola and milk, and insists on walking, in the dark, the mile to the bus pick-up. It’s what his brother used to do. He says he wants to see the sun come up on Hirschman Pond. Age 14. * * * * September 15, 2014
A couple of yards of soil in truck for raised beds.
Smoky air all morning, from wildfire south of Grass Valley.
* * * *
September 3, 2014
Douse barley fodder on racks.
Rank smell of germination (maybe whiskey smells so? fermenting barley-mash?) in the garage under the solar-power inverters.
* * * *
September 3, 2014
This “diary” as thin-spread as intergalactic dust in the Internet – sometimes trivial, banal, inconsequential, sometimes hoping to be veritable eclogues – Such a literary form seems, in the new Internet civilization, as temporary as smoke signals but, also, permanent as a petroglyph. From now on, everybody gets his own petroglyph, his own roadside stele for any wayfarer a billion hears hence to pause and make out the inscription on.
Actually, I think it is a happy, utopian outcome. Though I grew up in a world where the only form of immortality was a hardcover sewn-binding deckle-edge hardcover book, attainable by only a very few, now anybody with a “device” can add his personal wisp to the cosmic mist of opinions. Which is fine!
It also implies a code of individual responsibility, an integrity, because every remark will be so infinitely consequential, rippling out in the polity of the shared future. I actually think of Teilhard de Chardin.
* * * *
Thinking of that farmer I met in Iowa, Clem, age 96, who was talking about commodities markets. The farmers in the 30s and 40s and 50s (his day) didn’t need the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, they made their own market in grain futures on Fridays, standing around in the shade of the big elevators, laying bets on September wheat or spring hog. It’s how old Clem made some of his considerable fortune.
* * * *
August 28, 2014
Done with another run-through of Immanence, emphasizing more unmistakably the narrator’s fatuousness, embedding the gold metaphor.
Finished with one editing job; take a first stab at another.
Eva here for Squaw work.
Sliced up the felled oak from cleared Erikson property: it amounts to one cartload.
Orzo and summer squash.
* * * *
August 27, 2014
Dinner is cooking. I’m standing in the old gate under the mulberry. At far end of meadow in the tall weeds, a coyote trots into view and stops. Between him and me, a handful of chickens are pecking in the meadow. They’re at a distance from me of about twenty yards. The coyote sees me on my far side, his prey between us – and for while he gauges his chances: he’s thinking about it – we’re both aware of each other, and oddly respect each other, though at this moment I’m sure he despises me a whole lot more, even, than I him. (Possibly whole lot more.) He turns and melts away.
* * * *
Thinking of that coyote and whether he “despises” me, as I said.
It’s possible that he kind of likes me too. Admires me. I’m sure that I, for my part, admire him. While he’s my enemy, on this acre of ground, I can see that he’s beautiful and valorous; and he might have his own grudging grants of admiration.
The field mouse that lives in fear of me in my trailer in the woods: he must see me as interesting, possibly admirable, at least godlike (while of course terrifying and horrible and regrettable).
Whether animals have “consciousness” or “emotions” is an open question among neuroscientists, philosophers, animal ethologists. Whether animals have “spiritual” elements in their makeup is an even farther-out consideration. But I believe it’s, at least, possible that the caritas of all created beings might extend even to the predator-prey gaze, or the competitor-across-the-open-meadow gaze. Caritas being fundamental to every grain and tremor.
(That is, the bear “kind of likes” the sparrow who pecks in the turf at a distance. The grazing old buck is “kind of happy to see” the squirrel hopping up a treetrunk.)
* * * *
“Caritas” = “Sorge” – They both mean love with connotations of worry. “Care” is a good translation.
* * * *
August 26, 2014
Little reverie about physics bumps into the funny notion that “location” is an illusion:
In standard geometry, one “point” seems to exist at a distance from another “point.” That is, space seems to intervene, stably, between the two points.
But for a photon departing Remotest Galaxy and arriving Here, the journey happens timelessly, instantly, so “departure” and “arrival” for that photon are the same instant, the same event. (Photons, at lightspeed, travel without time-passage.)
In this sense, Remotest Galaxy and Here are immediately adjacent. (At least for the lightbeam.)
Therefore, the lightbeam distorts geometry (makes space a kind of lens, shortening distances), and the Remotest Galaxy kisses Here. Or the lightbeam establishes a hyphen between “Remotest There” and “Here”.
So. Suppose you set it up as an axiom: that at the speed of light, there’s no “distance” between any “here” and any“there.” How, then, does one imagine real space? How does one map such a spacetime’s geometry? Or pull its drawstrings together, to make these hyphens?
Maybe, for a lightbeam, somehow all “locations” are simultaneous and co-incident.
In any case, evidently it’s not possible for us to imagine “real space.” Nevertheless, when we lift our eyes and look at a star (exposing retina to that twinkle), we’re seeing directly into that actual kaleidoscopic fiasco. We’re having the immediate experience, whatever it is.
* * * *
August 15, 2014
Jordan and Kara come for dinner. Like old times, as if we weren’t drawn in all directions by duties.
Bowls of chili outside, then we drag over the old terra cotta Mexican chimenea, to try actually lighting a fire in it. It’s fine – a bit of a rocket engine with three pieces of oak blazing inside – but then one learns that, maybe, it really should have just a few hot coals shoveled in, because the back side has developed a crevice, top-to-bottom vertically – and the belly (lower portion) is also crumbling, with lava radiance beaming orange thru the cracks, and we hose the thing down, as it falls apart.
* * * * June 25, 2014
Interesting: my inability (when, say, visiting a church) to cross myself.
Simply to touch forehead, breastbone, shoulder, shoulder. It should be easy.
Why isn’t it meaningless? And light, and easy, and no-problem?
Because if I did it, I would be desecrating something I hold sacred.
It isn’t “myself” that is sovereign, as if this were a matter of stiff-necked pride. (In fact I’m embarrassed, not proud, of this unsociable inability.) Instead, it’s a sovereignty of reason I must protect. Of which I’m a humble part.
* * * *
June 19, 2014
How ethics may be ascribed, in their origins, to the Anthropic Principle:
That the ethical imperatives arose from natural selection in evolution. Thus, “the unique witness of Existence” is one that evolved values. * * * *
June 17, 2014
Letter of Hope, to Hunter:
The world seems unfair and mysteriously locked-up. But:
- Put your shoulder to the wheel, and you’ll end up with responsibilities/rewards.
Be a champion. Not in the sense of a gloating guy brandishing his trophy. Rather the “champion” who is simply a hard-working defender. Like that sprinkler-head in the bottom of the meadow. Other sprinkler-heads clog and get weak. This one sprinkler-head keeps on crazily not stopping, bang-bang-bang-bang. Be like that.
* * * *
June 8, 2014
Two kinds of “Sorge,” of two very different orders of magnitude:
- the solicitude that is shared naturally among all creatures;
- the ostensible “cosmological Original Motive” of a sole creator god.
Those two forms of love ought to be reconcilable (or even the one be subsumed into the other). But there’s no clear reasoning in such a reconciliation.
The first kind of “love” is in all likelihood an accident/artifact of biological evolution. Unrelated to any supposed creator god.
So these seem to be two very different kinds of “love,” and to suggest that they are related is to hope for a teleological – and anthropic – basis for all things.
* * * *
June 8, 2014
Me, up here alone. On a quick trip in pickup.
The Truckee “self-storage” facility’s long alleys are vacantly sunlit.
Rows of roll-up doors.
The pleasure of acquainting myself with Andre and Kasha, visiting Poles. Learning of Poles’ universal penchant for home-curing their own meats, and historical deep mistrust of Russians.
With Aleksandra’s and Nico’s help, empty storage box.
Build bookstore premises, alone in Olympic House building, a Sunday Morning. Security-guard Jose still works there, on some “emeritus” basis, and it’s a pleasure to greet him. Each sizing up how much the other has aged, clasping handshake.
* * * *
June 7, 2014
“The Assistant” now exists in two complete forms: one with the historical framework, the other just a simple tale.
Happy to see my Henry James essay appear in The Threepenny.
* * * * Tad’s truck is being smogged and I’m waiting out the hour in Eric’s used book store, a cappuccino, reading.
Old disheveled man (long white beard, white hair worn long in ponytail, grimy athletic shoes, slept-in khakis) shambles in and searches bookshelves in the far corner, talking to himself, fists on hips: “Don’t tell me someone bought it!” Then he finds what he’s looking for, it’s tucked in sideways on a shelf, Mein Kampf, in a newish-looking paperback edition. Carries it to his armchair to curl up with it for a little while. Soon, his tea in paper cup is all sipped down to nothing, and he replaces the book on the shelf, screwing it into place just as he’d found it, and wanders away again, out the door into the sun. * * * *
May 25, 2014
The puppy is parading around with his rubber bone in his teeth, brandishing it at everyone in sheer pride. Brett has been observing that he can’t take a drink from his water dish: he tries, but the bone is in the way. It’s been going on all this afternoon. At last she confiscates the bone, and he drinks deeply for a long time, finally getting what he needed (deprived of what he’d wanted). * * * *
May 13, 2014
“The Assistant” all morning.
Toyota’s smog certification.
* * * *
paralyzing sadness. Can hardly move
* * * *
May 11, 2014
Mother’s Day – and B. and I go for little lunch on Bistro patio, then coffee down the street, and a tour of town’s sidewalks, dog on leash.
(She’s done with the marathon of Squaw admissions, deserves a vacation, gets herself a massage.)
In all AM hours, I’m back into The Assistant. Treating it again as straight narration.
* * * * Interesting, and kind of scary, what inestimable presences “human persons” are: Back home in Nevada City, in supermarket, I see them pushing grocery carts and avoiding crashes, evaluating artichokes, hefting melons, evading each other’s direct glance. (They’re shy, for profound reasons.) Human beings’ learning-and-adaptive skills are mysteries: these mysteries blaze more deeply than the sun. The unidentifiable thing “consciousness” extends into the whole ecosystem, wherever humans are.
Biologists, using laser tomography, have analyzed and modeled the simple flatworm brain. They have identified the 26 neurons in the worm and have actually built a complete working model of the worm’s nervous system, all its connections, but they just can’t get the model to “behave” like a worm. Let alone, to “learn.”
Whereas, if you lash a tool to an amputee’s stump, he learns to use it, even with finesse. Or put a “sonar echo-location” interface on a blind man: he learns to “see” with it.
It’s our assumptions that are the best thing about us, and the wisest thing.
* * * *
May 8, 2014
San Francisco. Day dawns clear, w/sun beaming along Union St. – then fogs over fast and turns cold. Coffee at the Trieste again. Again, all those middle-aged and elderly regulars are as familiar to me as if we’d all been in kindergarten together and we’d learned each other’s foibles there decades ago – and tics and sorenesses and foolish abundances and impetuous warmths. They, anyway, all seem to know each other like that. Reading newspapers side by side
Rest of the morning back at Macondray. Lots of cellphone negotiation over Squaw. An hour on the phone with Lisa horse-trading.
Party for Zyzzyva. Sam Barry harmonica, go out to noodle house with Glen D Gold, walk home alone in aerosol rain: it’s the cinematic noir San Francisco, Chinatown is deserted, cages pulled over storefronts, and I’m the Caucasian guy alone on the street, including brimmed hat and shiny pave. Foghorns.
* * * *
May 7, 2014
North Beach morning. Six in the morning, at the Trieste. Paul has glasses lined up on the counter. Slamming out the lattes and capps. He was a kid doing this exactsame thing thirty years ago. Still does it with élan. Fresh croissants haven’t arrived. So I take a stale-yesterday’s. Then the guy arrives with his flat cartons of flimsy pink cardboard string-tied. The juke box begins the day with Perry Como (“You’ll Never Walk Alone”), then Franco Corelli singing an aria from an Italian opera, then “I Did It My Way.” Tying his apron over his tummy is Tony, thirty-something but still a child – at home no doubt he’s still one of the putti in his large tumultuous family, even with blue beard-stubble. Using tongs he is moving fresh croissants up to the display, carefully, not dropping any, getting it right.
Move to Roma. The owner throws aside rag, comes out from behind the counter, settles down with his large, sleek young pal who owns all the parking lots in North Beach, and who says the strip-tease and porn clubs on Broadway are trying to make the neighborhood more family-friendly, buying up real estate to somehow accomplish that mixed-up goal.
Every human being I pass on Grant and Columbus and Union seems to have a bright inner warmth they’re muffling. The country-singer on the radio interview yesterday said, “You know what death is? Death is just ‘Howdy, Everybody!’”
* * * *
Polk Street in San Francisco: All the young wife/girlfriend beauties, at late-morning when they don’t have to be at work anywhere. Their yoga-pants hinds, their dogs on leashes. Do women (as is often said) really dress for each other, rather than for men? So the message to their sisters is, “I have more power than you”?
Well, I might like to think I’m above all that – that out in the country, I lead a life aloof from this carnival of envy/avarice/insult/temptation/competition. But then I see the wren at the curb hopping. And think of the finches and grosbeaks in my own meadow back home. Hopping and pecking, flipping away when another bird arrives. They’re just as deeply stuck in the envy/avarice/temptation/insult/competition. Sin seems to be the very center of the divine plan. Sin not just a necessary element, it’s the Whole Entire Enchilada.
* * * *
May 6, 2014
Don Carpenter celebration. All the great and the good, the bright-eyed, the tired, the wise, the fond. Stackable chairs in rows, at the Book Club of California downtown.
Brautigan’s daughter Ianthe:
As a little tow-headed child on Haight Street (1967: the Summer of Love), she had been given a tall ice cream cone. And on the sidewalk, a stoned raggedy hippie said, “Hey, little girl, can I have your ice cream cone?” And she handed it across whole.
It’s 45 years later, and the woman still remembers that. She feels a little ripped-off, and actually she feels increasingly angry at that hippie, as the years go on, that asshole.
* * * *
May 5, 2014
Tomorrow to SF.
Today, no work. Slept in.
Mowing meadows and starting irrigation.
Last pass at the elegy for Don.
* * * *
May 1, 2014
To Berkeley, Zellerbach Hall for Salonen concert. (Also Beethoven’s Fifth.)
Taking Dash and his two friends on a tour of the campus.
I think they were impressed with the look of a liberal education, lawns and stoas.
We spend a fine sunny day on the streets of Berkeley, merry as a Monkees TV-show-montage frolic, as if my mother hadn’t just died.
Led my three boys to People’s Park, trying to explain the history, the idealism. How once a generation believed that war could stop, and money needn’t rule; and so those hippies seceded from the Union.
A shirtless groundskeeper in People’s Park was hanging his head mournfully, using a rake that had about three prongs left, where once there had been fifty prongs, in the task of very slowly knocking bits of leaf-and-twig into a long-handled dustpan.
Telegraph Ave is the same as it ever was. Café Med is still there, still exactly unchanged, the exact same dead flies on the window sills, napkins in the chrome dispenser, all preserved intact under the pyroclastic ash blast (i.e., the sixties). The coffee is still great. Best in the world. The pleasure of sitting with my 14-yr-old son at the same window-table where Carol, the old African sage of the Avenue, once predicted my future.
* * * *
April 30, 2014
Mother died this morning. Rob calls to provide the bedside story, and to speak of the cremation arrangements; asks me to write the obituary. Which I proceed to do a bad useless job of.
Mowed big south meadow. Drove mower deep into the rough, trying to win back ground from blackberries and wild sweet peas. Over the years I realize, we’ve lost six or eight feet at every margin of that meadow.
Email: Handled the cremation authorization: print out, sign, scan, and return-email.
Six pm is the hour of long shadows on the meadow: roast in oven – I can look out the rear window and see the Rainbird irrigation spurting and spurting, turning and turning, and look out the front window, to see Dash is standing out on the roadside where the cell reception is good, having an endless, exciting phone conversation. It is undoubtedly with a girl. He’s smiling broadly, as he never does. Shrugging and gesturing, none of the usual dark reserve. Doors of his soul are being opened
Moreover the Dow today reached a new record, 16,580. So long, mom.
* * * *
April 29, 2014
A pass at Don Carpenter’s’s elegy, rather than my own work.
Meet Swedish journalist in town at his hotel. Turns out I’m not to be part of his California book, it’s just that he read me and wanted to “Meet the Author.” Which is nice. We had beer at Cooper’s. Traveling with his publisher, who is quiet.
Rob phones, with news of mother’s fast decline.
* * * *
April 28, 2014
Back to Assistant, the dilemma there again: two books, one better and more difficult, the other more purely fun.
Clog in irrigation run-off is averted after hours and days of screwing around with it. Still it’s miraculous. In the hole-in-the-ground at roadside, the PVC outlet-pipe sings, “Bloop-bloop.” Water sparkles in its arc.
Re-master “Noel” removing bassiness.
All the while, the horse in the pasture behind me is galloping hard in long ellipses. Something’s got into him.
Fluttering in the turf under the picnic table: an old-fashioned Rolodex card, bleached by plenty of weather: it’s for “Ethan Canin” when he was in SF.
* * * *
April 26, 2014
First draft of Don Carpenter elegy.
Manure for all fruit trees.
Done with Squaw reading.
Move to trailer to begin siege of The Assistant, version I’m calling “eviscerated.”
Sausage and potato-leek for tonight. Beef stew for tomorrow.
* * * *
April 24, 2014
Hike to weir. Nevada Irrigation District has installed new metal box.
Clog persists in run-off line.
* * * *
April 23, 2014
Skies fair, breezy, getting unseasonably summery-hot.
As literature is futile, I find myself looking at lush tuft of new April bluestem tallgrass, broad-bladed and soft and green, and I think: A tuft of grass is something that is really an unmitigated success. That’s something you can get right. Just being a tuft of grass would be a proper devotion if actual life were arranged so that “not failing” were always the desirable outcome.
Loading pickup for trip to county dump – old office chair, disintegrating plastic, rotten boards. Fairport Convention on the radio.
Indoors, the kitchen phone rings, and Brett answers.
“Hello Mrs. Jones, you might remember me, this is Sean, and last fall I sold you some magnets and pendants.”
“They had the Squaw Valley logo printed on them.”
“I don’t remember any such purchase. I’m sure I’m not a customer. This is a home you’ve called.”
“No, you’re the customer. Remember all the merchandise said ‘Squaw Valley Cemetery.’ Printed in gold embossed.”
“There’s no “Squaw Valley Cemetery.’”
“Shit, I read this all fuckin’ wrong,” Sean says and hangs up fast. * * * * April 22, 2014
Home again in little mountains. No writing work. Dash stays home from school with a virus.
Rob calls from Iowa, with news of mother’s health bump. Reported to be minor. To be treated with an antacid.
Bring all old slash to roadside chipping heap.
Along east woods behind cottage, fell small cedars, buck and clean up. Half-cord firewood.
Limb dead branches.
Hauling wood: The wheel falls off the cart again. This time it’s the other wheel.
* * * *
April 21, 2014
Long talk with Joy. Crossroads for book. I could go to smaller-house publications, either with conventional narrative (all narrative intrusions excised) or with the more complicated version.
Once-in-a-lifetime pleasure of a walk with Dash: down Jones Street to Bay, out Bay to Embarcadero, visit to Exploratorium for an hour and a half, then up Broadway (sleazy as ever). Toward the end of the walk, Dash’s cough is coming back, and he’ll really have to rest. Brett, all the while, is gardening on the roof with Nico.
* * * *
April 20, 2014
Sunday. Easter in SF. Lots of breakfasts, involving various smoked meats.
Walk on Baker Beach in sun and wind, with Nico and Ola.
The dog orbits and capers and digs.
Picnicking, more breakfast.
Being by the ocean. All these years. My lifespan. The ocean always cancels all accounts. Arraigns all intentions. I’ve been here a lot – Big Sur, Newport Beach, Stinson, Inverness, Bolinas – over the years. Still, a hands-in-pockets guy. As in that photo of me at seixteen, Big Sur, setting out for Alaska.
For dinner, on rooftop Nico roasts over coals some kind of Armenian confection of ground-lamb packed around little swords.
* * * *
April 19, 2014
Leave for sf. Galvanized drinking-trough lashed to top of little car.
* * * *
April 18, 2014
The two re-sharpened “narrative intrusion” chapters go to Joy.
Morning drive to Pearsons Small Engine, for mower parts. I’m so competent! The mower works! And the bad tufts can be mown down before SF trip.
Visit of Saharan Tuareg band to town, with J. Weil and C. Kiefer.
Tomorrow to San Francisco, with not a care in the world.
* * * *
April 16, 2014
The notion that “It doesn’t much matter whether you only witness a December moon from the back stoop, or travel to Athens to see the Parthenon in person. What matters is how you take it.”
Does this imply “It doesn’t much matter whether, in your lifespan, you see only the chute for aborted fetuses” — ?
* * * *
April 12, 2014
Finish all window reglazing.
In midst of quick improvement of “Assistant,” post rejection. Retrenchment strategy: more specificity in the theological playing-around.
Drop off one of the two galvanized drinking troughs at Luke-‘n’-Maggie’s, for transport to Macondray.
Pesto and roast asparagus, and I smoked a couple trout.
After dinner, outside it’s silent, a bandage to the soul. Under nearly full moon, the dust-gravel driveway is milky.
Arcturus coming up, thru eastern pines. Arcturus is 37 lightyears away. So I’m seeing it as it was 37 years ago.
Thirty-seven years ago (while Arcturus kept burning faithfully) here on Earth, it was 1977, and I was 23 years old, deeply disappointed, lost and alone in California.
That star is still shining. Here I am to see it.
* * * *
April 9, 2014
More Squaw work, none of my own.
Diesel to garage for valve adjustment.
My mechanic’s description of my car: “That is a piece of shit.”
* * * *
April 8, 2014
No work today.
Tad’s truck gets two new tires (rear).
At Ridge Feed: two galvanized feed troughs; 60 lb. chicken feed, fodder, bale straw.
Back home, more reglazing cracked windows. Took down storm windows from upper story.
Spent unwonted hour at “the dog park” standing around. Good stories from Kent Crockett about what a jerk Brautigan was.
Very heartening letter from Joy.
* * * *
The different pleasures:
After their café gig, Luke parts ways from Maggie.
She wanted to go after-partying with a bunch of people at Matteo’s Pub, where there was another band playing; she would have walked in there with her entourage, loaded with instrument cases, and a general toast would welcome her.
Luke, gloating: “I went home and had a single-malt Scotch with the dogs.”
* * * *
In Condon Park with Brett:
Out from the direction of the deeper woods, a 20-something guy, dusty, carrying his bedroll/sleeping-bag, coasting on his skateboard – he has obviously just wakened up, in the dust.
Skateboard underfoot, bedroll on shoulder.
I remark, with facetious admiration: “There ya go. Livin’ the dream.”
Brett agrees, “Nobody’s going to get him to modify his view of things,”
The arrested-development theme (the Heroic Baby Theme) is a little close-to-home, for a writer who (Don’s favorite Hollywood expression) “can’t get arrested.”
* * * *
April 6, 2014
Sunny Sunday. Warm dry spell setting in again.
(something I saw in Asian Art Museum, SF): —–
“The moon is in a high place, all levels are quiet
The monk’s heart holds half a Buddhist verse
Ten thousand destinies are empty”
* * * *
April 5, 2014
In wee hours of night: long email to Dan and Joy about the status of “The Assistant.”
Nine AM to Grass Valley, to the Del Oro theater for simulcast of NY Met’s “La Boheme.”
Party at McKeans’. Fine piano/sax/trombone of Ludi Hinrichs and Randy, all evening. A privilege to be in the midst of.
It’s only nine o’clock pm, but already in the sky above the east pines is Arcturus, precursor to Scorpio and the summer sky, entry to all those summers on the Annex deck.
* * * *
April 3, 2014
Finished up Immanence draft.
Taxes to accountant: in the accountant’s conference room annually, always a quiet, valedictory 20 minutes, always a bowl of hard candies in center of her shining conference table.
Manuscript of “Immanence” to Joy, by email.
Carried the hen on a shovel and buried her under the pines.
The news from Joy is that “The Assistant” is now being rejected all over New York.
Paused by frontage road, for a meditative minute behind the windshield, quiet with engine killed, across the road is an old freeway-side cemetery.
And I see the big cement monolith of drawers they call a columbarium. But why is that word such a sweet word: because the Latin root columba (for dove) rustles a little bit with the beat of wings, ah, wings. And, too, a dovecote’s implied sodality. * * * * April 2, 2014
I’ve been reading Don’s posthumous novel, and it’s full of life. San Francisco and Portland bohemians in the late fifties and early sixties. It’s pressurized by Don’s ambition and jealousy and resentment, all forms of passionate love.
I still have a typescript of this same novel in my trunk, now 20 or 25 years later. I did nothing to help him with it at the time.
I’m reminded of how generous he was, and what a model. Don was an arhat. The austerity of his life was a dedication. In the years since, I find I’ve come to inhabit that same skinny carcass, somewhat. The simplicity of the apartment above the Depot in Mill Valley. The dish rack, the teaspoon, the tight-made-up bed (cot), Korean-War-army-style. The nickel-plated Glock 9-mm in the desk drawer, located precisely under the plane of his morning’s work. Which he said he was going to use “when the time comes.” That made perfect sense at that moment, and still does.
What we had in common. The two of us a pair of ill-raised, lucky boys, who however loved something.
* * * *
April 2, 2014
Badly-slept, skated through last section of Immanence, making superficial (and regrettable) changes, (to be rescinded tomorrow before sending to NY). Napped. Read a bit for Squaw.
Got out axe and shovel and gloves and began half-hour-long ordeal of merely circling around the project of killing the ailing buff cochin I’m fond of. Got as far as looping the thong around her neck on the block, then lost heart, a sudden cloud passes over the sun on an April morning, I loosen the noose. So instead, I’m going to let her sufferfor another day.
My guitar student. The school pickup. The bank-and-grocery trip.
* * * *
April 1, 2014
Stalks of asparagus poke thru the snow. This year we’re such half-assed inattentive homesteaders, we actually hadn’t watched the asparagus and some of it has already bolted.
Must next year enlarge asparagus beds, even five- or tenfold. And keep a better eye on it.
* * * *
March 31, 2014
Already now, some oaks have put out leaves, and the snow is fat and wet – therefore one expects downed PG&E lines and power failures.
Dinner in the cottage.
* * * *
News from NOAA: During this last week of March, the levels of carbon in atmosphere exceded 400 ppm. Moreover, this happened two months earlier than last year.
It’s all too easy for me to complain about others’ luxurious waste of resources, spreading of environmental death. It’s easy for me to be kosher, I’m here on these acres, where all my joy is. It isn’t necessary for me to get in a car and go somewhere, to have what I love. (Some people need to go to New York or Los Angeles to get to what they love.) This obscure place is like my bride. Not many people have this. I sit here and decree “The New Shabbiness.”
Is it possible for a greater number of people to devise a life somehow for themselves that doesn’t involve so much expenditure? That’s what a working economy ought to do. Our economy presently is set up to encourage expenditure. The new economic model will be different.
FUNCTION OF AN ECONOMY:
The function of an economy is to provide “happiness” (the greatest for the greatest number, acc. John Stuart Mill). An economy’s proper function is not to foment a widespread unhappiness that will generate economic activity. Commercial economy at present makes a project of arousing unthought-of desires and envy. If we lived in a world where people trusted their own hearts, maybe there would be less flying to Vegas. I only suggest this because “Vegas” can’t be supported anymore by the water table, or by the whole ecosystem, or (a stretch, here) by our plundering third-world societies for their resources.
(That is: Somewhere there’s a young woman dressed in modest, becoming chadhor driving an ox-cart filled with organic food that was grown to travel no more than twenty miles to be consumed. She can’t anymore support a Las Vegas.)
* * * *
The radio news (this news is at least a year old, actually) is that a certain flatworm seems to be immortal. It regenerates tissue with the DNA intact. Head regenerates. Tail regenerates. Whatever. So the same flatworm has existed for millennia. If there were such a thing as an immortal worm, what wisdom could it win by its perpetual consciousness? Well, these are flatworms under discussion, and their supreme wisdom might involve warmth and moisture. That would be the culmination of their wisdom. Of course homo sapiens, if he were immortal, would have far higher insights, nobler insights, wouldn’t he?
* * * *
March 30, 2014
Sunshine after an excellent rain.
Don’s novel comes in the mail, published twenty years posthumously.
I see from Wikipedia that he was born in 1931, so if he were alive for its publication today, he would be in his eighties. He was always so bedazzled by celebrity, subscribing to Variety and reading every issue closely – I don’t think the publication of this novel would have satisfied him.
* * * *
March 29, 2014
To Marin for board meeting.
Good big rain.
Upon return, Cavendish and Sands for dinner in the cottage. Tomato-basil pasta. * * * *
George Eliot: “Chance has an empire which reduces choice to a fool’s illusion.”
* * * *
March 27, 2014
Another sabbath from writing.
Record acoustic guitar part for Know-Well, with fine old parlor guitar of Barbara’s.
Fish (“Orange Roughy”) braised in leeks.
* * * *
With pieces of the dishwasher mechanism spread out around me, I spend another rainy afternoon on the kitchen floor, in position of the prone-with-rifle marksman from my old miniature army-guy set.
This goes on all afternoon, because the dishwasher’s food chopper mechanism must be disassembled/reassembled. And I think of my father, an excellent specimen of a man of his period, who in the 1940s and 50s wore an ascot, smoked a pipe, immigrant/businessman in Chicago, stood erect, always hired others to repair things, or else just bought new. Old Buddhist doctrine lists (not five) six “senses” keeping us in touch with the real world:
* * * *
George Eliot: She’s so great with the eternal male-female fiasco:
“He held it one of the prettiest attitudes of the feminine mind to adore a man’s pre-eminence without too precise a knowledge of what it consisted in.”
That sentence is an awfully tidy knot.
(I wade through her pages annoyed by her “too-much-explanation” kind of narration, then she starts hitting her pace, throwing out things like that.)
* * * *
March 24, 2014
8:53 am. Monday. School day. Two puppies played in the meadow in great scrambling orbits.
About the most banal, close-focus things, I’m thrilled-and-glad all the time (raindrop of Northern California rain landing in a mug of coffee-with-milk; hook latch of shed dropping into eye-screw; cigarette smell in saloon doorway on Broad Street; pothole in gravel driveway filled with oatmeal-water reflecting canvas sky): sometimes it’s really, every minute, as if I’d just gotten off a plane that had nearly crashed, or I’d survived intergalactic time travel or a near-fatal illness, or come off the gangplank of an oceangoing ship. That everything is pretty much ok is an unbelievably lucky outcome.
* * * *
March 23, 2014
No writing. A typical sleepless night. All my doubts.
Watched an old Susskind video supposedly explaining the Higgs.
Went to church, first time in months.
On kitchen table: this year’s school phone list, with a very old spot of pancake syrup: that sticky freckle collects the finest lone fibers in the household. The butter stands out all day, and the cats lick it into dwindling pyramidal shapes.
* * * *
March 21, 2014
Doctor visit: clean bill of health.
Chorizo soup. Put in lots of kale.
* * * *
March 20, 2014
The singularity of a lifespan – all the missed chances – I think those must be griefs and sorrows for everybody. Even the most envied, adulated person in the world, a topmost movie-actor or a Supreme Court justice or a wealthy inventor or a mother of good children. They ALL lie awake thinking: “I should have done grad-school differently, I should have gone to India, I should have proposed marriage. I should have moved to NYC, I never did spend winters harvesting sap and making maple syrup, I ought to have been an aquatic ecologist, a surgeon, a seminary student, I shouldn’t have declined a certain invitation.”
* * * *
March 18, 2014
Gravity waves detected. Front-page story in NY Times: read the pretty-good article closely, slowly, and with great pleasure, sitting in Mendocino Café in the sun, with the dog at my feet, immediate Pacific breeze flipping newspaper pages. Happy day on a happy day.
* * * *
March 16, 2014
Stay away from Immanence. Tomorrow to Mendocino.
Muck out chicken run.
Second treatment of antibiotics for all chickens.
Spend most of afternoon recording harmonica and dobro parts.
* * * *
March 15, 2014
This oddly structured Immanence keeps inviting changes in texture. It’s a quilt.
Lacking conventional anecdotal setup-and-payoff structure, it could keep evolving endlessly.
Afternoon: fix kitchen-range burner, then continue clearing brush in the east woods below cottage.
Neighbors have rented a big chipper. And I have been building a pile of slash by the road now as big as a small ranch-house. So Luke going by on his motorcycle U-turns and comes back, to suggest chipper sharing.
March 14, 2014
Antibiotics for all chickens. (sulfadimethoxone)
More pushing-back of east woods, limbing and felling cedars.
* * * *
March 13, 2014
Six o’clock in the morning, it’s still dark, and Scorpio is above the south pines! Apparently summer is coming.
* * * *
March 9, 2014
Sunday. Will recommence work on Immanence.
Rain coming in again. The Northern Sierra and Cascades are getting it (which need it).
A troubling internet-glitch: I keep trying to open something called Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, to get to a page called “Solipsism and the Problem of Other Minds.” But every time I try, I get the blocking notice saying “That Page is Inaccessible.”
* * * *
Sometimes (in her moments of better lucidity) we can provoke Barbara to reminiscences. Recent recoveries:
- When she was a girl on a Sacramento ranch, she had a pony of her own, a small gelding; this would have been the mid-1930s; the pony’s name was Bummer;
- In high school she was a yell leader. “Yell leading” was what cheerleading was called then in California; and she was really good at it; she was the captain of the yell team;
- Under the influence of a racy, sophisticated friend, she learned to remodel an ordinary brassiere by sewing fabric over the cups – and the same fabric over the straps to form “spaghetti straps” – and thus to fashion bikini tops to wear to parties (this in the fifties, when she was a grad-student wife in Iowa) (no doubt she and her friend were distracting as they wished to be, bringing St. Tropez to Iowa City.)
* * * *
March 8, 2014
Sunny Saturday morning.
At 8:30 am, I’m the only car coming down Broad Street – to take Dash to his river-trip drop-off – also, then, I’ll stop at drug store, and go to hospital lab for routine “panel” of blood indicators (for this, I’m fasting; not even allowed coffee. so I’m very pure).
I’m never in town at this hour. It certainly looks like Saturday morning. The town’s main street has one couple afoot, touristy-looking. Not a single parking meter is at work, all curbs empty. An awning is being unfurled by the National Hotel. The other sign of life is at Java John’s where the girl in the denim apron is hoicking folding chairs out onto the sidewalk in the sun and a little café table too. Long shadows. Edward Hopper of course. Damp air makes sunshine gauzy, ginger ale. Swing up Pine Street. Cross bridge. I’m filled with sadness for all the Saturdays I’ll never get back — reminded of riding in my father’s car to Boy Scout obligations; or seeking my friends when dew was still on lawns; or later in life, driving to the hardware store first thing, list in pocket. Plenty of Saturdays.
* * * *
Appreciation: Cavendish’s last visit here for dinner, he showed up with a bottle of wine and two cardboard boxes of choice kindling (narrow hardwood mill-ends from cabinetry), which lagniappe he treated like a compensation for his visit, though he’s always welcome. (The old excuse was needing to use our printer. Now, it turns out that the printer in his trailer, which the bear stepped on, has a crushed paper-feeder assembly but still works.)
I hadn’t realized at the time what an appreciable gift is good kindling. In all these cold weeks, I don’t go out to split uncooperative cedar with an axe, I stay indoors and very slowly deplete these two boxes.
* * * *
March 7, 2014
No rain for the next two days.
Sulfur-spray all pears in blossom.
Suit up (gas-mask-and-all) for thorough spray of diazinon: foundations of all buildings. I’m using up the last few historical ounces in this old bottle of a banned poison, which we inherited with the place — bottles of heavy opaque amber-brown glass, the paper labels’ glue so stale they’re flagging off.
Fresh feed and scratch and fodder.
Dash has stayed home from school today feeling punk – under a blanket in mud room binge-watching cute TV comedies.
* * * *
March 5, 2014
Depressing day. Useless.
Read Max Tegmark, and can’t understand his “time” notions. Keep re-reading it.
“Infinities” are made out to be such a threat (to infinite-expansion model of cosmos), but I don’t understand: aren’t infinite and infinitesimal quantities exactly what integral and differential calculus address? And handle nicely? (Leibniz and Gauss and Newton have long since been here before us.) His whole discussion seems staged for drama and self-dramatization.
Recorded electric guitar part for “Noel.” Don’t like it. Will scratch it.
* * * *
Nobody among these popular physicists/philosophers knows of their antecedents, or can acknowledge who long ago already had these “new” ideas: Nietzsche, for the Eternal Return that, now, they’re calling “the multiverse.”
(Of course, said Nietzsche, if there is such a thing as the infinite, and if we’re to take it for its literal meaning, then there have already been an infinite number of iterations of this very moment, and this earth. And I will infinitely recur. And infinitely have already recurred. That was in the 1880s).
Or Max Tegmark’s apparent innocence of Parmenides’ doctrine. M. Tegmark thinks he invented the idea that the logos, if perfect as premised, must be eternal and unchanging, and that change and motion are illusions: enchantments only upon us creatures who live in “time and space.” This is Parmenides verbatim. And a modern philosopher ought to at least tip his hat, once. It’s an academic courtesy.
* * * *
March 3, 1014
Hunter writes (uses email, actually) to say that, for the first time ever, he’s starting to feel financially secure, so he’s going to make pasta.
(Wants my recipe for a smoked-salmon-and-peas pasta.)
* * * *
February 26, 2014
No work today. Steady, quiet rain.
Got up early and spent the morning putting really high-flown guitar tracks on “Noel,” as well as lengthening the whole recording by 64 bars. Then the program crashes and I lost all the work. Noon, and nothing to show. On a day I’d only meant to fritter doing pleasurable things.
* * * *
February 25, 2014
No writing. Up at five helping Dash with math and doing Squaw work.
Worked on “Noel.” Guitar track and harmonica track. Both satisfactory.
A bit of Squaw work; then all the afternoon clearing forest to the north by the road.
Taking out cedars I freed up a very old apple tree of George Merrill’s. The conifer forest had engulfed it, but now it will start producing.
Good big rain coming in. Brett accomplished a lot of housekeeping for the chickens, and I’ve saved, in the mining car, a good cubic yard of manure.
(Dinner of pork tenderloin with a sauce made from Maggie’n’Luke’s plums, preserved.)
* * * *
I’m forcing myself not to think about “Immanence,” but the of-course-crucial first line keeps bobbing up.
The first lines of a novel – how arbitrant and determinant! –
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you:
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.
(the Dhammapada (its first lines!)
A novel (its first line) does have the job of introducing an impurity,
and the whole swaying creaking dung-loaded oxcart follows.
* * * *
February 24, 2014
Up very early. Read Max Tegmark. Listened with great pleasure a a long piece of Georg Friederich Haas’s in the mud room.
More pear pruning. More Squaw work on the Kindle.
Finished major pear pruning.
Pleasure of the afternoon is a familiar experience: in the shady kitchen my eyes are blinded by the outside sun, and I eat canned soup, peruse a Harper’s magazine.
* * *
February 23, 2014
Laid down backing tracks for “Noel.”
Lots of Squaw work (on a Kindle).
Began pear pruning.
Party at old Indian Flat house.
‘S war schwer Deutsch zu sprechen.
* * * *
February 20, 2014
Get to end of “scouring draft” of Immanence.
Agree to film option for Ordinary Money, extremely small bucks but nice folks.
Laura Cerutti here for confab. Sandwiches on bricks.
An experiment proving the existence of “subconscious motives” is thru post-hypnotic suggestion. Tell a subject that, when he wakes up, he’ll have a compulsion to give away money, open a window. Upon waking, he accomplishes these things, BUT he will have rational explanations: that man over there looks needy; it’s stuffy in this room; etc.
* * * *
February 19, 2014
Joy calls. Will start selling Assistant more widely in NY. (Having spoken to Jack. Who is very flexible and forgiving of a writer’s vagaries.)
Dinner of trout I’ve smoked here, garlic/olio spaghetti, kale/ginger.
* * * *
February 14, 2014
Sunshine, thin and damp.
Split oak and cleared brush.
(A school holiday, Dash and his friend spent the afternoon making a go-cart, using the old hand-cart for a chassis, dismantling skateboards for trucks.)
* * * *
February 16, 2014
Sunshine and warmth.
Immanence most the day.
* * * *
February 13, 2014
Dinner at Sands’s with Dianne Federly.
A dozen wild turkeys, walking at the roadside on Ridge Road.
* * * *
February 11, 2014
Very difficult staying away from Immanence. Forced hiatus.
Frittering the mornings.
Afternoon, I mixed the 2-stroke fuel and went down through the woods (carrying also the Mason jar of precisely the refill I’d need) and got into carving up the big oak trunk sections, left by PG&E last year: easement below south woods. Spent a backbreaking great afternoon, figuring it out, levering the big cylinders with a galv.-iron pipe, taking some (unavoidable) chances with how the heavy log might sag when cut – ending up with oak rounds too big to move: will bring the wagon down there somehow, maybe tomorrow if it doesn’t rain. I cut them thinnish, tho’, for easier splitting, as this oak is like granite.
So, later, when we have to go to the regional high school for a “presentation,” I’m so desolated by the Authority of Mediocrity which I remember as high school, I sit there during the Welcome Video thinking for consolation of the great hours of my morning in that backbreaking work, with chainsaw screaming, a métier wherein I’m an artist, and that’s something they can’t take away from me, those principals and assistant principals and teachers, the whole world of competitive cliche: we’re in for four years of watching Dash ride that carwash tractor-belt. I’ll sleep soundly tonight, and sleep with moral comfort, because I got a start on creating a good oak cord today.\
Rain coming in. Will have to get the wagon hooked up and the oak moved in a good hurry.
* * * *
February 10, 2014
My short education in my septic tank’s secret routine work (this morning) makes me think of all the “culture” I live in, and profit by. The word culture, it turns out, comprises all my favorite things, the biota in my bowel, Bach-Plato-art, etc., music, mathematics, God, Parthenon, etc, the dirt underfoot, of course, and its bacterial recipe, the cheese in the fridge, the wine in the rack behind the stove, the bread in the breadbox, all culture.
(Reviewing that list. It’s possible God and math have to be excluded from the culture category. An exclusion controversial. If culture consists in “raw” elements untainted by metabolic processes.)
One could very well live on only seeds and grapejuice and milk. But life is kinder with bread/wine/cheese.
* * * *
February 10, 2014
Morning sun. Mist on meadows. A day of no work.
Septic tank is to be pumped, 9am.
Two septic pumper guys are friendly, informative and even avid on subjects like a tank’s sludge-scum ratio.
Another young “edge-of-universe” galaxy has been found (by Hubble/Spitzer telescopes): it’s only 650 million years post-Big Bang. Red shift of 5. At that age, infancy, the typical galaxy (this newfound speck) is still miniscule and a prolific fountain of fresh stars. (It’s ten times smaller than this old Milky Way, and thirty times more productive of stars. “Ah, youth.”)
Last night late, after movie at Nevada Theater, the center of town is quiet, raining hard, looks deserted. The plush, dingy bar of the National Hotel was empty, lonely bartender greets us on springy toes.
The rain is loud outside. The back-bar possessed an open, okay wine, and I sat with pal while he complained of book business. His audiobook had been released – they didn’t recruit him to be the reader for it, or even contact him about it – and he dug it up on his iPhone, tapping at iTunes, to play it for me, wanting my definite judgment that the professional reader did sound gay.
* * * *
If the outer edges of visible universe, in all directions, exist at T=ZERO on the universe’s timeline; and if, the closer in you come to central-observer Earth, the further-along events in time are, (until you get to OURcentral old fossil, here, shabby, wet, homey, dirty, even stinky); then the universe from our POV is time-structured in the shape of a trampoline, soft in the middle, taut and new near the rim. Untried near the rim. Full-of-possibility near the rim.
Determinism: The picture does argue for a deterministic view of the timeflow from past to future: the future exists right here in the form of “us,” us here, having evolved consciousness from these rocks. (Esp. because that remote edge-of-universe sees us as in our fresh debut, looking small and hard; and sees itself as the aging soft center.)
* * * *
February 9, 2014
Movie in town, Italian, Fellini-like.
George comes by with cookies for Barbara. Recites Robbie Burns’s lament for a deceased lamb.
* * * *
February 7, 2014
Rain: six inches in a weekend.
* * * *
February 5, 2014
Slow, quiet, sad day.
Snow looking to come in all day, but not arriving. Everything outside is the grey-dusted color of winter-interstate-highway asphalt. The cold really locks down hard in late afternoon, in town.
At home, run all the space heaters at top setting, snack on toast spread w/jam of last summer’s pears.
* * * *
February 4. 2014
The septic tank that isn’t working is the new one, not the old one.
The old one (the ancient one) faithfully as ever is doing its thankless job.
Baited mousetrap in chicken run.
Brett in Squaw all day to look at Sierra College campus, lunch with Joanne.
All morning on “Immanence,” most importantly taking out deflating explanations.
But the workday was cut short (or shot-holes-in) by care of the unhappy new dog.
* * * *
February 3, 2014
Sunshine is back.
Tunneling rodents are getting the chicken feed, and the older septic tank appears to be leaking.
Finished “The Assistant” for Joy’s sales efforts in NY. Sent it off. Fwshhh.
Long conversation with Herb Gold in SF, so deaf and opinionated and impervious, in his nineties sharp-witted, sitting at home on Broadway, answering the phone. He taught in Iowa in ’57, and I got all his great gossip (gossip whose freshness expiration-date is fifty-seven years past, but is all perfectly intact) corroborating my “Assistant” narration.
Tad’s pick-up to the garage, for oil-and-lube. I next door, for hour in bookstore.
Pork roast braised Azerbaijani is a disappointment.
* * * *
February 2, 2014
Seeing the new-rescued dog get accustomed to the idea that it isn’t a betraying dream to live in a house where love fails not. (Gradually ceasing to flinch when petted. Coming to sleep in deeper repose.) Seeing that’s the adaptation I made twenty-five years ago.
* * * *
February 1, 2014
Saturday cold and clear, morning.
Dashiell’s concert today: song for soprano and piano.
(renewed delight in rediscovery of Middlemarch. Sometimes she does take risks, if gentle ones, surprising sexual subtext, explicitly anatomical, she’s such a racy dame, it’s really almost like potty-humor she’s having such fun with it.)
* * * *
January 29, 2014
Rain comes in, not with the sudden breeze-churning or then fat drops. Rather the classic Pacific storm-system, a heavy mist during the morning condenses to aerosol sweeping, all soundless, and at last the sound of the eaves’ drip on the tin porchroof begins, and by noon it will be raging. Right now, a plain grey bird perches on bare twig of mulberry, just looking around himself, looking left, looking right, not going anywhere.
Facing some central, foundational wonkiness now suddenly, in the Immanence ms. Which until this point had been breezy.
I almost congratulate myself on reaching the perspective that, on such a morning, I might just as tolerably be in Sierra Nevada Hospital in pain staring at ceiling, as here staring at these pixels. Of course, not true.But a bracing thought.
* * * *
At last, a little rain is predicted.
In all my reading, I’m unreasonably implacable. Having thrown Cheever book across the room, and picked up Eliot for relief, I find now can’t take her either. It’s her intrusive author-judgments and little homilies, quaint and of course “acerbic.” Nothing wrong with acerbic. I could take them if they were acerbic, but they’re not. They’re cookie-cutter acerbic, all about silly females and fatuous provincial types.
* * * *
January 28, 2014
Must open all four lids on septic tanks, as I’m suspecting leaks.
Cavendish to borrow truck.
Chipotle soup. Then meeting at co-op housing about highschool choices for Dash.
* * * *
January 27, 2014
Discovery that Hunter and all his grad-school-bound friends, last summer, burned up much of the good oak firewood I felled and split, at such cost of effort, so they could have picturesque summer bonfires here.
Tonight, I actually despair of reading the last ten pages of a fellow-writer’s novel (it’s almost never that I don’t dutifully finish) – Cheever’s Wapshot thing – as so meretricious and bad-values-infused, so damaging of human nature, so flippant and superficial, that since an old copy of “Middlemarch” has turned up in Hunter’s bookshelf, I’ll go back to rereading that lady’s sharp pick-offs.
* * * *
January 27, 2014
A small rain is predicted for later this week.
(Local fields that had produced avg. 500 pounds of fodder per acre have this year produced 40 pounds per acre. Typical of the kinds of very consequential damage a drought will do, to everybody’s economy down the line.)
* * * *
January 25, 2014
Drought goes on.
“Immanence” all day.
Dinner of a chicken that was old, tough, fat, led a life of idleness, a life over-prolonged in the barnyard.
Then, watching a “Masterpiece Theatre” in Barbara’s cottage. How strictly efficient is dramatic narrative. (You have to be a habitual TV-watcher in order to, habitually, forgive it its stylized limitations.) (But of course the same is true of the novel, opera, oil painting.) Every scene is maybe eighteen seconds (moving among all the subplots), and that 18-second bit churns through dire life-changing events, among 2-D characters, narrative like a handjob. Even British storytelling: infected by the Hollywood “on-the-nose” economy of scene.
Outside, in the meadow, the stars are advancing toward their spring display, Sirius well above the horizon.
* * * *
Wittgenstein (his translator’s weird punctuation intact):
5.6 The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.
5.61 Logic fills the world: the limits of the world are also its limits.
We cannot therefore say in logic: This and this there is in the world, and that there is not. For that would apparently presuppose that we exclude certain possibilities, and this cannot be the case since otherwise logic must get outside the limits of the world: that is, if it could consider these limits from the other side also.
What we cannot think, that we cannot think: we cannot therefore say what we cannot think.
5.62 This remark provides a key to the question, to what extent solipsism is a truth. In fact what solipsism means, is quite correct, only it cannot be said, but it shows itself. That the world is my world, shows itself in the fact that the limits of the language (the language which I understand) mean the limits of the world.
* * * *
January 20, 2014
Hot dry weather continues.
School holiday (MLK day).
Dashiell’s friends are making music in the mud room.
The irrigation system, which I hiked today, is non-functional in three places:
- At the ditch, steel screen filter of the weir has finally rusted to loose scabs and swatches, letting all things flow through.
- At the Y-split uphill on Spencers’ easement, the run-off still has no screen.
- Below there, the run-off pipe is still clogged.
Got the second of the three remedied today. Also repaired broken wire on hen-house gate electricity.
New Sequoia book: I realize old Edgar has an inveterate selfishness: self-aggrandizement.
(Seems I can construct malicious/mischievous characters best by recourse to personal experience. I have to think of uncharitable and unfair analyses I once made, of actual acquaintances in my life. Putting “bad motives” into action (which is obligation of storyteller) runs athwart a regular habitual benignity in human nature.)
* * * *
January 18, 2014
Brett brings home an unfortunate puppy from Elk Grove.
Me: working all morning nicely on the new Sequoia book.
After that, it’s me and Barbara and the dobro, all afternoon.
* * * *
January 17, 2014
Joy is emailing in the middle of the night, and then phoning at six AM, with lots of praise for The Assistant.
* * * *
January 17, 2014
Pleasures of having animals.
On a very tiny scale, I’ve got livestock here, and last night, coming up from putting the hens away safe from coyotes, I got a sense of what farmers have always enjoyed:
In a world of atrocities (race wars, class exploitation, genteel rape and other kinds, even insults on the gradeschool playgrounds), I’ve created a space where justice and peace rule. At this point, I’m an experienced little chicken-rancher, and things don’t go wrong. I’ve got it down. “Peace” and “justice” are so rare (so non-existent) they seem like mythological concepts sometimes.
But here I’ve got some happy animals, and I can see that every farmer for thousands of years – old guy in Iowa, or an old guy in Bavaria, or in the Roman provinces or in some Russian shtetl – has had this satisfaction, even if unconscious, a slightly but distinctly moral pleasure.
* * * *
Certainly plenty of religious meditations are for the superstitious and the credulous. Such folk get their thrills and consolations. However, some few want to explore such notions (eschatological notions, soteriological notions) who are not interested in those thrills and consolations. Such a more rational seeker needs (besides plenty of stamina) two important knacks: the “negative capability” praised by Keats – that is, the ability to entertain in the mind two opposed ideas simultaneously without flipping an “on/off” switch on one or on the other (i.e., an ability to keep holding that toggle firmly in the middle position). And secondly, similarly, a tremendous tolerance of uncertainty, tolerance of undecidability, equal to an Einstein’s.
Such strengths of mind – (really tensile strengths: adaptability and humor and empathy) – can look like weaknesses; they can look like equivocation and wishy-washyness. So the conversation about fundamental matters is always at risk of a kind of anomie. Of limp, affable anomie. What inquirer, out there, can be both tender and incisive?
* * * *
January 14, 2014
The NY Times mentions today (re: climate change):
Anybody buying a home along the Virginia shore these days will have to bear in mind that sea level will have risen one foot by the time their 30-yr mortgages are getting paid off.
So here it is, the long-predicted wave. Those improvident, those indulgent, those “non-smart” people back there, the only way to communicate with them is to grab them by the Economic Considerations. The metaphor, there, to be explicit, is to “gonads,” what get grabbed. Some people have only economic considerations for gonads.
I continue to feel that there’s a regional East-Coast/West-Coast opposition going on. I’ve been out here for years wearing layered-up sweaters in my own living room (as have plenty of my fellow citizens), installing me-sufficient solar panels, etc, while in “The East” people have been scoffing as if such measures are sissy.
Could it be true – as “back east” culture is portrayed in movies – that they all think they want to be Captains of Industry back there? Blazing penthouses and fuel-wasteful cars and a private jet are what people WANT? Foreign wars of Insult and puppet dictators, to pay for it all? Such delusions – delusions of the non-smart – are something the wiser will be paying for.
* * * *
January 12, 2014
Bit of work on “Tamalpais/Sequoia Novel”
Barbara’s birthday party.
Dash starts out his afternoon at a “band rehearsal” at a friend’s house, but concludes it in cross-county hike bushwhacking with his keyboard friend and his bass-playing friend, high-spirited, going on after dark, and after dinnertime, getting far out of cellphone range, until coalition of parents have to intercept the adventurers at a highway crossing, sore and rosy and hungry in the dark.
* * * *
January 11, 2014
* * * *
January 9, 2014
Torturous depression of inactivity.
Fiddling with ”Immanence.”
Idea for Tamalpais novel. But don’t want to touch it.
Clear duff thatch under pines out front.
Hens roam and peck all afternoon.
Brett rids herself of little white dog –a friend will take it. It is cold in old house.
Smoke four big trout (burning applewood chips I happen to have, because I took out the tree by the garden).
(reading old minor Cheever. He was really such a tawdry writer. No values. All display. All aiming-to-charm. Occasional brilliance.)
* * * *
January 8, 2014
Up with fiction that risks showing the heart of hope, but unsentimentally.
Up with fiction that esteems the reader and doesn’t engage in tricks.
* * * *
January 8, 2014
Dead stop after work on “Immanence.”
Nothing to say. The cupboard is empty.
My car continues to make ominous noise. Today: the trip to the mechanic in his desolate gulch by the cement plant.
The irrigation is still entirely dry, due to maintenance work in tributary canals at upper elevations. But even if it were flowing, the mystery clog of last fall remains a problem unsolved.
* * * *
January 4, 2014
Approved Threepenny’s proofs of the short “magic” piece.
Brett goes dog-hunting.
Split the rest of the cedar.
Topped up the transmission fluid in the Benz at last. Not such a big ordeal.
* * * *
January 3, 2014
Awake at three.
Threepenny at last sends copyedited draft of James review.
Hood up on Benz: Proper German transmission fluid, but I have no proper funnel.
Dash to guitar lesson.
Old Wolf stove is lowered by block-and-tackle from pickup bed to the turf before the potting-shed bay. Mounted on Oakley’s old red bricks. One day it will warm a cottage.
I get the revised James review in the mail.
Barbecued Ribs! (The lure to keep Dash home, sociable, and nourished.) Butternut squash. Kale.
Another Netflix movie, of the Noah Baumbach school of NYC cinema.
* * * *
January 1, 2014
New Years Day.
Up early, write briefly (Immanence).
Drive to Squaw, 8am, carrying new kitchen range, Italian, of steely brushed-chrome, swaddled in endlessly-wound bandages of stretchy Saran Wrap. (Sun in my eyes, uphill and eastward.)
Complain to anyone who will listen, about wastefulness of this purchase. Our grandparents would have fixed the old stove. They wouldn’t have bought something shiny-and-(predictably)-shoddy. The old restaurant-grade Wolf stove is indestructible.
Install the shiny new one in a single afternoon, with help from Dirk.
The take-out sushi/sashimi from Truckee Safeway is better – better by far! – than most sushi bars’ over-complicated sloppy victuals.
Drive back downhill, with the sooty old Wolf stove on the pickup bed. Which is so great, I will build a cottage around it someday.
(Sun in my eyes, downhill, westward.)