Nov. 18, 2018
No wind. Sunny silence in mountains all around. Getting out of a chore, I tell Brett I’ve got to go back in my trailer and “make tracks.” Unproductive morning so far, I got roped into helping remove hardware from mobile office for Brett, and having got thoroughly sidetracked, I told her I’ve got a two-o’clock appointment and, before then, I want to go back to work and “make tracks.”
Make tracks is exactly what happens. By the end of a good morning you’ve got a few pages. You generated them trancelike by pressing forward. And looking forward is only one half of the experience. The other half is looking back to see what tracks you’ve made.
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November 9, 2018
Vis a vis the world’s environmental plight, I think my sons’ generation — Hunter’s and Dashiell’s — will just have to take an interest in the project of hardship. They’ll need to be ethically equipped — and I think they are — to live in a world of slim chances and disappointed plans, possibly grotesque unfairness. Being smart and wise, win the prize Voltaire recommends at the end of Candide, “cultivating their own gardens.”
Fires again in the west today. Near here, whole towns in conflagration. This antique ranch of ours is not long for this world, tinder, all made of boards. The real disease the West has is a phenomenon called “evapotranspiration.” Which is this: the Sierra Nevada bristles with tall fir and cedar and pine, all over its slopes, and each tree is a straw: ground moisture goes up its trunk, and the leaves breathe. “Evaporation” happens in plants’ respiration. Now, for every degree of global warming, the soil bank dries up faster, exponentially. This is how the desert will be made here, as the soils’ perennial water deposit dries. The process will be climaxed in various places by wildfires that finish off the old tall dark lively forests. What then takes over is chaparral.
Hypocrite that I am, I myself thought it up, that the one Golden Rule of virtue for an environmentalist is to live as much as possible as if in abject, subsistence-level poverty, holes in elbows, unwashed old car, beans for dinner. I and all my liberal friends seem almost as problematic as the truculent climate deniers. Nobody’s changing. Everybody likes his job, his house, his shopping routine, his car, even his commute, hopping on a plane, air conditioning, keeping up with the standard that is considered normal. People don’t like to perspire apparently. Nor ever want a sweater to wreck the ensemble they’ve decided on. If people wanted to think about the future, they might try staying home, not going anywhere, and beginning rudely to experiment with what they can provide for themselves. Our supply chains are going to have to shorten. The really absurd thing is, true misery is the adaptation that will befall. This adaptation will possibly mostly be gradual. Or, in some places, come with a whump.
In general, my sons will live on in the direction of the 21st century. I won’t be here. They’ll get through it, even with happiness, if they can practice a vigorous optimism and take a creative interest in the problems of privation, even catastrophe, or at least hard knocks, and also justice in a competitive world where maybe all bets will be off.
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Oct 14 – Everyone has gone to Santa Cruz for a “strategizing retreat” and I can, in three days of solitude, read through the whole ms of “Strategic Metals” (presently so-called).
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Before she commits suicide by diving under train, Anna Karenina throws her handbag aside, and V. Nabokov wants to know, “What was in that handbag?”
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Tremendous fruiting of chestnuts. While pears have been a no-show this year, chestnuts are abundant and will become the new staple food for a while. I’ve never preserved chestnuts but there must be a way.
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Oct. 12, 2018
This diary has dwindled to dribs and drabs. I suppose I’m busy and distracted, or just finding the topic of myself unworthy or maybe the more convinced of my own inconsequentiality. So. Here is another resolve to be more faithful
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Happy, dinnertime listening to the radio as I cook, because the world seems to be taking an interest in the environment. Human beings are perhaps redeemable.
Some years ago I realized that my assumptions about life are bleak: (A) this planet, if we’re honest and serious about this, hosts the only place for intelligent life in the knowable universe; we’re not going anywhere; (B) here, various extinctions and holocausts are coming on so fast, they could start to hit even in my children’s lifetime; and (C) the existence of God (for me, anyway, living as I do in the open jaws of Pascal’s Wager)… Let’s just say “God” would be an entity with no inclination to intervene. (If these were the steps in a syllogism, the last would be: unpopulated earth.)
But this week the panicky – panicky! – report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has sounded the correct note. Smart people are being allowed on the radio, and on tv infotainment shows, to talk about it, and to speak plainly. It’s very lonely here for many years being the only worried one. I should say in fact, it’s been lonely being the only one in despair. When you’re actually in despair, you don’t know it, or say it. It’s serious, and not a matter for conversation. Even less a matter for “literature.” True despair is only for the canceled.
I have to give a reading in SF next week and will, again, read my “clothesline” piece.
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Interesting factoid: Mayans invented “zero,” too, independently, all on their own. (Just like the Arabs, who maybe got it from India?).
I realize “zero” is a tool and an artificial contrivance. Somehow the cardinal numbers were already there as preexistent facts discovered by us. But zero is different; it’s man-made. It’s a gadget, human-fashioned, with uses — like any pry-bar or wheel. Zero’s nothingness isn’t something we see. Or experience. We had to invent a certain “nothingness” – or invent, at least, a little oval to hermetically contain a safe dose of nothingness, to serve as a tool in our thinking. In our thinking about the unthinkable. (But then, come to think of it, everything is unthinkable.)
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Again today, the chance to stop and be patient behind a halted school bus: the flipped-out “STOP” shingle, the many blinking taillights. Always a privilege. Kids (of every age, here in rural districts) will swarm out (or trickle out). Sit back, put it in neutral, put your rush aside, as if you happened to be present for the Northern Lights, the opportunity to be patient with schoolchildren, it almost somehow absolves/saves me. The good effects a writer has in the world (if any) are going to be remote. At least this is a happy chance to do a certain specific job, just sit here, and do the job well, while the children get conducted off the bus and across the road (in middle of road stands the phlegmatic pear-shaped guy with his red STOP lollipop) and get themselves across the street and into the safe channels.
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Hunter and Lindsey arrive from Wash DC. Take up residence in cottage.
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It seems to me I wasn’t hearing the rumble of bees this spring – not in the cherries, not in the pears or apples, not out in the meadows’ clover. Lots of blossoms, but no bee-hum. Now it’s beginning to look – at least in the case of the pears – that there are no fruit. The wild plums are fruiting, but so far, on pear branches, no little green peas sprout.
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April 28, 2018
In SF, on errands, I’m on Polk Street, where two really tormented-looking, tired, butchered old trees, planted in sidewalk, are condemned by the city. Botched haircuts, dead stumps, lopsidedly groping, ending in failed sprigs, both are tacked with posters: “TREE TO BE REMOVED.” The fine print on the poster: the San Francisco Bureau of Urban Forestry has checked every box in the long list of potential reasons for removal. (“Poor Structure,” “Species Vulnerability,” “Superannuation,” “Detritus Litter.” Every box is checked.) Some inspector really must have disliked this tree, and, in the blank space for additional comments, has has taken the trouble to hand-write: “Wrong Tree, Wrong Place.”
So I walk off thinking about the logic of wrong-plus-wrong. And of the possibility of two wrongs’ adding up to a right.
Surely the “right-tree/wrong-place” situation calls for a tree’s death; surely the “wrong-tree/right-place” combination calls for death; but shouldn’t there be a vast wonderful forest for the “wrong trees” to be in “wrong places” and live in harmony? That particular forest sounds like a polyculture, and fertile, and genetically diverse. If there ever did exist such a forest, it’s where I personally would want to move in. Build my cabin there. (That forest sounds a little like San Francisco, where I did build my cabin.)
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BIODIESEL IS BACK, locally.
This means a lot. This is a local occasion for global jubilation. I again have a backdoor connection to 100% biodiesel from agricultural waste. $4.21/gal. What a bargain. I have so many reasons to be wringing the old rag that is my heart. Now I’ve got one less.
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Note to Bob and Brenda:
You folks are aware, we’re building a Tiny House on wheels. (Are you aware of the Tiny House gambit? For our Squaw bookstore?)
So I thought you’d like this. We need to insure the thing, once it’s built. First thing I thought of, I called the old local State Farm guy who insures our house here. Described this thing (it’s on wheels, will be towed, etc.) and was put on hold, to be passed along to the in-house Authority on unusual insurance questions.
This woman turned out to be a Not-Good-Listener (one of those people perhaps neurologically predisposed to impatience). I described it but she wouldn’t let me get very far. “Well,” she said, “would members of the public enter? Other than writers and poets?”
Well, yes. Possibly, yes, we’d want to attract people. It’ll be the office and bookstore. It’s supposed to look “gypsy-caravan,” while creating work space for us. The ski resort has been less hospitable to us in recent years, than it used to be, and doesn’t want to rent us so much space. . .
“And this is just three weeks in the summer?”
Yes, the rest of the time it would be here on our property in Nevada City. Where, again, it would be our office.
“Well, if people are just going to write poems in there, I don’t know if it’s the kind of thing we can underwrite. If you were a legitimate business . . .”
I decided I hadn’t been clear (or she’d grown impatient enough to be deaf) so I tried to sound business-like. “Oh, it’s a business. We’ve got a board of directors — and a four-hundred-thousand-dollar budget (I think I may have exaggerated, because I was starting to feel insulted/belittled). We’ve been doing this for decades. People come from far and wide, from all over the world. And pay tuition. It’s more like a ‘school’ business model.”
She pondered for a while.
“Well, will you sit inside this? And write poetry?”
I thought. “Possibly. That happens. It’s an office,” and I said so. “Though I personally probably wouldn’t. But yes, that happens.”
She was finished with me now and put the conversation away, “I’m sorry. If there’s poetry involved, we can’t insure it.”
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Wonderful remark of John Paul II: That in the Genesis Creation story, there’s a line implying a certain metaphysic — (he’s talking about the “and-He-saw-that-it-was-good” line. It certainly was a strange and wonderful interesting idea to have popped up ex nihilo: that anything was QUOTE “good” UNQUOTE.)
Pope’s words (https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/jp2tb2.htm):
“ens et bonum convertuntur” [being and the good are convertible]. Undoubtedly, all this also has a significance for theology, and especially for the theology of the body.”
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Hard times now: saying goodbye to Barbara Hall, who was such a good light in my life personally. In everybody’s life everywhere.
All the warmth and sparkle were gone long ago, but still they’re what lasts.
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Crossing the border at Nogales. I know I’m back getting back near the USA, because when I search my phone for something beginning with “f,r,a,…,” one of the first auto-fill options is this urgency: “FRAPPUCCINOS NEAR ME.”
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