Sunday, August 24, 2008

Rewriting the Past

This one's very tangled but not very green. Though I'm furious, what can I write about Bush's attempt to gut the Endangered Species Act before finally FINALLY leaving office that isn't being written by thousands of others?

Here's an animal tale, at least. Remember Solo, the research bear who died after being moved by the DNR? Here's the tale of a fellow research bear; this one survived a 60 mph crash with a Toyota. Personally, I'm afraid the pink ribbons might make these bears more of a target for a lot of hunters (Blogger needs a "dripping with contempt" button). The researcher, by the way, puts radio collars on these bears without shooting or tranquilizing them. Maybe that should be the new standard for wildlife research--if the conscious animals are willing to let you put a collar on them, fine. If not, just leave them the fuck alone.

As I work on thinning accumulated inventories before a move that I currently think won't happen til spring (I can see the rolling eyes of those who've been hearing me talk about leaving town for years), I inevitably spend a lot of time thinking about my past. Considering whether to keep once loved music, books, and movies, as well as some now extinct recorded formats, has led me to listening to many hours of music I haven't heard in years, and this morning I decided to reread my once favorite fiction.

On two recent midweek (emptier buses) mornings I've filled my bags with as many books as I can carry for a sales trip to Saint Paul and twice I haven't forced myself out to the bus on those mornings, primarily because of the changed Greyhound schedule which makes for a very long day. If the trips were going to make me rich I'd be more inspired, but they'll be break-even days at best. At this point I'll wait until the Republicans have come and gone.

Along with nature, writing has been my other great joy in life and contemplating whether to keep a boxful of old journals from 1989 (I wish I had started about 15 years earlier but my more adventurous teens and twenties are represented only by some poems and stray pages) to the present has brought back memories of more creative days, classes and teachers, and the shaved head of a female writing partner. Every day then involved filling a few pages instead of the few lines I write now. An old project involved indexing the journals and I find that I did that for the first three and a half.

I used to spend a lot of time doing the type of writing exercises in Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. These began with a word or topic and a time limit, and required only that the pen keep moving without stopping or editing--in essence stream of consciousness attempts to try to avoid self judgement during the initial creativity. My setting for doing these at home usually involved instrumental music, candlelight, cigarette smoke, and a glass of Laphroaig (which I haven't had in years but now find myself craving). If I find something interesting in the journals, I might post it; for now, just because they were available on a disc, here for your possible amusement and because I have nothing else to post, are a few very short exercises I did for an online group about ten years ago.

*******************************************

The minstrel in the gallery moved slowly among the paintings. Bosch,

Dali, all the horrors appeared on the walls. He hummed softly to

himself as he watched the beheaded apostle, with the eyes that stayed

on you as you moved back and forth. He pulled out his small notebook;

jotted down a few ideas. Gaudy shades of red mingled with the

prevailing black of his world, the shadows turning the entire room

into a place of further mystery. From beyond the barred windows, the

haunting sound of an owl reached his ears. He moved from corner to

corner, lighting the candles which provided the only light in this

room. He pulled the dark green armchair closer to the window, looking

out at the steeple reaching up against the black clouds. Thoughts of

his past and his freedom plagued him at this hour of dusk. This

artwork he had gathered here, the memories they stirred, the same old

thoughts in a slightly different form, the meaning he still sought.

The bottle of scotch called to him. He raised his glass to the silent

screamer, a smile of wry amusement and loss upon his face.


*******************************************************

It's already Monday? I can't believe it. I just met her Saturday night

at this bar, you know the one on the corner across from the Texaco

station?


Yeah, Jimmie's, that's the one. So anyway, I'm just sitting there

minding my own business, nursing a brewski, thinking about that

asshole at work Friday, still can't get that jerk out of my mind,

feeling pissed off, when she walks in to this dump and I think what

the hell is this? You know Jimmies's, you don't see classy broads in

that place but there she was and she's looking around the place, half

the guys in the place staring at her, the rest of em too busy watching

the Knicks, shooting their cueballs up their asses, right?


Anyways, she sees me looking and she's heading my way and I'm thinking

Christ what's this all about? She sits down on the stool next to me

cool as can be and me I can feel the sweat drippin down my sides but

I'm kinda checkin her out in the mirror and man, she looks good. Had

that kinda curly brown hair I always go for, you know?


So anyways she says to Tommy, he's working that night, right, she says

what's the best wine you have here and Tommy, what a card, he tells

her she better just get something else and I can't help it I kinda

snort a little beer out my nose, right?


So she turns and looks at me and I just stare right back at her,

figuring what the hell she already thinks I'm a jerk so what the fuck

right? Then she says, now are you ready for this, Mac, she says you

gotta problem? with this real Brooklyn accent and I'm thinking whoa

now who is this cuz I sure wasn't expecting that voice to come out of

that face.


No, she didn't sound like that when she asked about the wine, see,

that's what I'm tellin ya.


******************************************

I wake in the night, The North calling to me, wind whistling through

the balsam firs. Here I roll across the bed, to where the sheet is a

little cooler, not heated by my sweaty body. Here coyotes, seeking to

extend their range, have begun to attack the surplus of young children

and household pets. There a wolf pack begins to run a moose. I hear

their voices, the excited yips as the hunt begins. I light a cigarette

and pace the apartment restlessly, caged in these walls, this city of

concrete and glass. The tall pyramids of the firs with their long

erect cones outlined in the moonlight bathing the cabin. In the summer

a pair of bald eagles often circle this lake. Perhaps the Lights will

appear tonight and make me forget who I've left behind. I strap on my

snowshoes and go out to wait.


******************************************************

Sublime?? You thought that was sublime? I thought it was ridiculous. I

should have known--everything you see that most people wouldn't like,

you think it's the pinnacle of art. Me, I'm more of a populist myself.

There wasn't even a plot or a hero or...What? Oh, a heroine, fine. It

was what? A feminist polemic against the tyrannical oppressiveness of

the patriarchy? Oh, OK. If you say so.


No, I'm not humoring you. Well, yeah, OK, I guess I am. No, now don't

get pissed off. No, I don't want to tell you what to feel. Yes, sure

you can feel whatever you want. Oh now I'm humoring you again. What do

you want me to do? No, I think that's anatomically impossible, baby.

Oops, I shouldn't have called you baby, should I? C'mere, will ya?


What, you're sleeping on the couch? Oh, *I'm* sleeping on the couch.

Look, it was just a movie, let's not fight about it. Well, yeah, I

guess it is too late for that, isn't it? I'm sorry, I just don't have

your fine taste in cinema.


Well, yeah, I guess that was kinda sarcastic, wasn't it? I should have

been ironic instead, right? I guess I screwed up again, yep, it's all

my fault, you're right. Damn, there I go again.


Tell you what, I think I'm just gonna go take a walk. I'll see you

later. Unless you want to go down by the river and watch the moon for

awhile.


******************************************************

An old car, maybe a Model T, hurtling along a narrow road through

hilly hickory oak forest. It's cold for this time of year, with an

early snow making the woods glow brightly. Loss of control, plunging

down the hillside. Repeat frequently.

---

She sat at the formica table drinking her coffee, trying to wake up.

The cats leaned against her legs as they passed back and forth,

meowing for their breakfast. It's Tuesday, one of her favorite TV

nights. She wrote herself a note to stop at the market on the way home

for more ice cream and chips.


Anything special coming up at work today, she wondered. No, more of

the same, typing, filing, answering the phone. Maybe she'd see that

UPS driver she liked to talk with.


Then, the long ride home on the subway, the press of so many bodies.

She hated that. Such a relief to get back to her apartment and lock

the door. Feed the cats, open a new bag of chips, watch the TV (it was

a good night), then sleep. She liked that. She doesn't dream anymore

when she sleeps or maybe she just doesn't remember. Awake, she

struggles to ignore her dreams of falling...


*********************************************************

The Eggs File


I pushed the fried egg around in the bacon grease and looked around

the diner again, searching in vain for my contact, the person whose

late night phone call had brought me here. The old metal stool creaked

as I turned. It scared me.


I always used to eat my eggs hard-boiled. That's how this all began.

With a hard-boiled egg. I bit into it and in horror spewed it out of

my mouth and across my office where it landed with a splat on my

poster of a porno star. For it was not an egg yolk I had bitten into

but something grotesque. Some creature. With four legs and a thick

body. Very small of course, hard to recognize.


At first I thought it was aliens as any reasonable person would. I

started looking at chickens very closely, trying to find a way to tell

the Earth chickens from the imposters. But I couldn't do it. They were

damn good with their disguise.


Then one day it hit me and I wondered how I could have been so stupid.

Of course! They weren't aliens; it was a government conspiracy. As

part of the never-ending conglomeration of everything, the FDA had

found a way to put little tiny pigs into eggs. Bacon and eggs in one

neat package. But what havoc would this wreak upon the American hog

farmer?


I slid my index finger along my nose and the waitress came over.

"Skully," I said, "you've got to start eating more--you're getting too

thin." And I proceeded to tell her the story of the bacon & eggs

massacree in four part harmony. She poured me another cup of coffee

and said the cab would be here soon.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Which Came First, the Human or the Misanthropy?

I spent the entire day yesterday reducing inventories of my stuff and in the process played a couple Utah Phillips cds. It was intended as just one of many quick samples ... keep this or sell it, but Utah commanded your attention and made you think and feel. I mentioned him a couple months ago after he died and I'll get back to him in a few paragraphs.

One thing people like me get told a lot is how much we hate people. You deep ecologists don't think humans occupy a special exalted place above all other life, and want billions of people to die. Or, why don't you silly animal lovers do something important? People are starving to death ... why don't you care about them?

Those people are starving to death in part because there are too many people on the planet, and in part because of choices. Usually not because of their own choices (they just happened to get born there) or because I care about an animal, but because of the choices of corporations, and governments, and individuals with McMansions, dozens of vehicles, and all sorts of other stuff and money they don't need. Recently I read about a guy combining two Boston buildings into a $23 million mansion a few blocks from where I worked for ten years.

Complain about something like that and you get called a commie. You're jealous, they worked hard for what they have, you wish you had it. I assure you, it's not envy, it's flat out disgust with both the individual and the nation which allows such behavior. And since those are the type of people who are considered successes in this culture, yes, it's true that I hate a lot of people and much of the civilization which surrounds me ... not because they're people but because of their choices, values, and actions. Heck, I often write about those feelings here; I'm certainly not going to deny them.

But it's also true that there are many people for whom I have great respect and admiration. I write about many of them here also: volunteers who risk their lives on Sea Shepherd's ships to try to save the lives of other beings, people who dedicate their lives to operating animal sanctuaries or get up frequently during the night to feed an orphaned bird, anyone who removes animals from a place of torture and finds a safe place for them, Henry David Thoreau for dozens of reasons. More animal lovers and misanthropists, you say, of course you like them.

Remember Utah? Let's get back to Utah, whose concerts I attended, who I talked with once after we'd both watched a street performer in Harvard Square. Scroll down here and read his obituary -- there's a man I admired who spent his life helping other people. Or there is Kip Tiernan, who I met when she was doing a public fast at Arlington Street Church, and is another person who helps people. These people, and those they help, are the type of people I respect. The suburbanites who complain about the homeless downtown -- those are the type of people I despise.

Walking Through Your Town in the Snow--U. Utah Phillips
I'm walking through your town in the snow.
I'm walking through your town in the snow.
I've got no place to go --
All the trains are running slow,
And I'm walking through your town in the snow.

It's getting late and all the bars are closed.
It's getting late and all the bars are closed.

I'm so cold I can't think --
I could really use a drink,
And I'm walking through your town in the snow.


Don't these little winter towns all look the same?
Don't these little winter towns all look the same
?
How the prairies winds they blow
When the mission doors are closed.
Now I'm walking through your town in the snow

I carry my home on my back.
I carry my home on my back
.
But the police only frown,
Every time I lay it down
And I'm walking through your town in the snow


There's some fellows jungled up by the yard.
There's some fellows jungled up by the yard
.
They're cooking up down there,
But I've nothing left to share,
And I'm walking through your town in the snow.


Maybe I can rustle up a job,
Maybe I can rustle up a job,
But there's nothing I can do,
My best working days are through,
And I'm walking through your town in the snow.


I don't ever think I'll find a way back home.
I don't ever think I'll find a way back home
.
I can see my golden years
Shining through these frozen tears,
I'm walking through your town in the snow.


I'm walking through your town in the snow.
I'm walking through your town in the snow.

I've got no place to go --
All the trains are running slow,
And I'm walking through your town in the snow.

I'm walking through your town in the snow.
(wind blows)

--from the excellent cd Loafer's Glory

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Feral Cats and Banded Birds

Yes, two days after I wrote that I wouldn't be here as much, I'm back.

I had to share this article (highlights follow) about a feral cat colony near condos in Franklin, MA, the town where my father lives. Plans were underway to trap and kill all the cats because they left footprints on cars, but those plans are now on hold after a deluge of complaints.

Admittedly, humans feeding the cats caused the population to get so large in the first place, but they've apparently all been fixed and immunized. An 81 year old woman with lung cancer walks into the woods twice a day to feed the cats. Sincere bravos for her.

But let's face it, you know by now that it's my disgust with humans that really gets me going, so here's the villain of this piece. A condo board member said they've been waiting for the woman to die before killing the cats but got pissed off when they learned a replacement has been found to continue feeding the cats. "Enough is enough," she said. "I'm a human being. I live here."

Let me also pass on the 2008 banding report (a pdf file) from the folks who band the peregrine falcons I write about, as well as many other raptors in the upper Midwest. I don't completely agree with everything they do, but there are a lot of great photos, natural history, weather reports, and adventures mixed in there. The report on the nest site I follow is on page 16.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

History, Natural and Otherwise

The spiders who had been creating lovely webs outside my bedroom window have moved on and been replaced by some non-orbweaver webs. Before they left, I did get to see the female (much larger and less interesting in appearance) once and one day of a very successful web which caught three small blue dragonflies.

The beautifully colored rabbit who had been using the brush pile before I found him dead on a nearby sidewalk has been replaced by a less attractive rabbit. Glad to see the space being put to use. Yesterday, a few feet from the brush, two squirrels were maneuvering along the thin branches
of the small trees (elders, I think) eating the not yet ripe berries.

Farther afield from my window, many of the northeastern bats who have managed to survive the white nose fungus are being left with damaged wings, making for a doubly deadly problem.

Another great benefit of globalization--an infestation of Asian longhorned beetles has been discovered in central Massachusetts. In the three previously discovered infestations in Brooklyn, Chicago, and New Jersey, over 40,000 trees have been removed. The beetles will destroy a wide variety of trees including maple, birch, willow, ash, and sycamore. Add these to the woolly adelgids destroying my favorite stand of hemlocks in Boston's Arnold Arboretum, and the emerald ash borers headed my way after being discovered this summer in both Wisconsin and the western part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Lord knows what will come back from the Olympics.

I continue my multi-year project of thinning my book and music collections and plan a trip to the big city this week to sell some books. Since I began this project, I've gone from having overflow piles on the floor to empty space on all bookcases and music shelves. I find a cd I haven't listened to in years; sometimes I dump it immediately, sometimes I sample and get suckered into keeping it for now because it was very important to me years ago. I still have close to two hundred unread books and am reading a lot of first chapters to determine if I want to keep the books. In the process, I'm rearranging by subject which helps find redundant books ... do I really need four guides to tracking when I very rarely track? No, I think these two will cover everything. I've even made a few cuts to my Thoreau collection and now only have four editions of Walden, not counting the like-named cat.

It's now a few weeks past the July Thoreau-related date I had in mind for ending this blog because I continue to delay my expected moving date for the sake of that cat and because staying here is the cheapest and easiest option. This is also quite possibly the last time I'll be able to live under the conditions I prefer. In other words, no big incentive to leave other than the grass is always greener idea which got me stuck here in the first place. Today, I'm thinking that I will remain here until at least late-October, but I do need to concentrate more on what I need to get done in order to leave so I don't think I'll be writing very frequently. What I have been writing is largely memoirish which I don't like putting on here anyway, and with working titles such as Alien Nation and The Long Goodbye, you probably wouldn't like reading them either. Until next time...