Oct 14, 2011

Let the Fireworks Begin

We've yet to experience our first frost which is somewhat unusual and something I hope Al Gore doesn't hear about. But, one of the many vine maples [Acer circinatum] I started from seeds or cuttings many years ago has responded to whatever primeval genetic code orchestrates such things and dyed the top of its canopy Sedona red. Almost makes me want to go into the woods at midnight and perform some ancient Druid dance to hurry the mercury down. We have two other large maples whose leave are only able to produce varying shades of yellow, but we do have five Japanese maple [Acer palmatum], and while small, all under ten feet, their amazingly varied foliage turn half a dozen shades of red, bronze, copper, gold, and a few tints that aren't recognized nor produceable on an artist's pallet. Then there is the incendiary Euonymus alata 'compactus', variety "Chicago Fire". Although in a shady location it too has begun to take on its brilliant crimson fall color.

And so many others who grace our gardens with their temporary farewells, The ancient birch, perhaps the first tree I planted 37 years ago, the leaves of which, while only turning a somewhat uniform yellow are so dense and intense that when light is behind them the tree appears festooned with freshly minted doubloons, but without the portrait of Ferdinand and Isabella. But the treasure chest has not been opened this year, we need the nip of frost to snap the lock.

Most of the Hosta raised from seed earlier in the year (I mentioned them in May) have developed into nice little plants, and, not having decided where to plant them, and, realizing they would not survive the winter in their four inch pots I planted them in three rows in an 'out-of-the-way spot until next spring. When you can't prune a shrub or a rose or a tree without wondering if you might turn the trimmings into additional plants, and you never cease to marvel at the potential hidden in every perennial or annual seed pod, well, you end up with considerably more plants than anyone, other than a commercial nursery, can use. The fifty or so day lilies started from seed last year should begin to flower next year and although I don't expect any surprises, just like buying a lottery ticket, one can always hope that among the new blooms one of them proves to be unique, so different in fact that daylilyomania might sweep the land as did tulipomania Europe in the 1600's and I can at last afford a copy of Hortus Veitchii.

Oct 13, 2011

The Maxfield Parish Effect

It begins, or becomes noticeable, around seven pm. The rounded hills running along the east side of the valley are suddenly awash in an ethereal, lilac light not present most of the year. I can only liken it to the quality found in many of Maxfield Parish’s paintings. Perhaps it’s due in part to our location at 45.516976 N latitude, and at this time of year sunlight must pass through miles of ozone, soot, pollen, sloughed off skin cells from a few billion people, carbon-based energy fumes, a myriad frantic insects in either a mating euphoria or lingering death buzz, water vapor from the transpiration from a land turned green by summer sun, the belched gas from herds of countless bovines busily chewing their cud, and who knows what other collections and amalgamations of aerial rubbish are suspended in the air this time of year. Whatever the cause the result is mesmerizing. The unworldly pastel glow suffuses everything with what seems like a physical harmony, work and play both cease. There is a sense that one could reach out and embrace the light as one might a friend. It doesn’t last long, a couple of weeks in late August or early September, and the effect lasts just the time it takes for the shadow of the western hills to climb and darken those to the east. By October we are preparing the cave for winter, hoping that perhaps this year we might have sunshine to brighten the snow occasionally. We read and make long lists from nursery catalogues, mumble incoherently about spring, and wonder if we should buy a Maxfield Parish calendar next year.

Oct 11, 2011


This is my first opportunity to write since May – that’s the Prospero magic a garden can cast over your life.

After what can only be described as a miserable summer (for us spring never ended) fall has arrived. Steady cold rain shuffled with a dark cloud deck heavy with showers, wind, and the scent of snow, presupposing, I suppose, a dreary, if not a loosing hand. Still, we work/play almost every day in the garden, lately in what we call our Conifer Garden, adding new evergreens and understory plants (we try to plant those listed as zone 4 or lower, but sometimes add a particularly desirable plant or two, or three, only rated zone 5/6) as often as our meager income allows. It is sometimes disconcerting to realize the trees you are planting today will not reach a reasonable or appreciable size until long after you yourself are providing nutrients for their growth. Even worse is thinking about those who may live here twenty years from now, people (?) who will simply call in the logger and the backhoe and carve out a place to park their 1200 square foot recreational vehicle (?) wondering all the time what kind of ‘fruitcake’ planted all the firewood.

OK, this is not our garden, yet. Butchart Garden, BC, Canada

Anyway, this morning the rain was continuous and filled my rubber boots so I spent the afternoon listening to Bob Dylan, sipping a glass or two of $3.00 Pinot Grigio, and working with the many cuttings I have taken over the past few months, [I couldn’t help noticing cuttings taken from a Meidiland rose on 8.3.11 had already sent roots through the bottom of their pots. Up to now only Darlow’s Enigma as been so accommodating] I did manage to heel-in several dozen potted plants and collect too much seed from too many plants before my fingers stiffened from the cold. Too many books to read, too much music, too many ragged poems to write. Never enough books to read, and never enough music or poems to bathe in.

This is part of our embryonic conifer garden.

My head is too filled with words and thoughts after a five-month hiatus, what a hodgepodge.

Appropriately Dylan is singing “Restless Farewell” at this moment, so, if not farewell, goodnight.

May 6, 2011

Fooling the Frogs

Fooling the Frogs

We, that is my wife, the garden manager, and myself, the horticultural dreamer, spent yesterday, the third ‘nice’ day of the year, browsing a couple of plant nurseries. We made a day of it, [that means stopping for a cup of tea and a scone or bagel at some remote café (this time on Sauvie Island)], as all the ‘real’ nurseries are at least 70 miles distant, and so our visits become mini vacations of a sort.
Of course today the temperature dropped ten degrees and the sky looks like the belly of a pregnant Humpbacked Whale (this weather may become the norm for those of us residing in the northwest). That we also live in a frost pocket on the north side of a glaciated peak does not particularly encourage gardening even in good weather, but we persist, as at least one of us seems quite mad at times.
On a typical day I spend 8 -12 hours struggling/dancing, cursing/singing, planting/weeding, gazing at, marveling at the vortex of life exploding from the earth beneath me, mixing soils for transplants, concocting liquid, organic diets for marginal plants in the infirmary, or those I have recently exposed to the vagaries of our rugged climate. This grubbing in the earth produces, for me, accompanied by a glass of wine or two, true bliss.
Today I transplanted 9 dozen Hosta seedlings and innumerable lettuce, chard, heuchara, various herbs, and many other plants grown from seed or disturbed by our new plantings, and all to the music of the spheres.
So what about the frogs?
Yes, I’d almost forgotten, the frogs. Well, when making potting mix [peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, compost and other materials] in the wheelbarrow, the tip of the trowel/soil scoop I use, scraping against the steel apparently produces a frequency that excites a frog’s libido. The faster I scratch the tip of the trowel against the bed of the wheelbarrow the more the frogs croak. I am getting to the point where I can almost conduct them like an orchestra. These are Pacific Tree Frogs, about 1½ inches long, who make their home in a small pond outside the potting shed. I'm sure they are becoming quite frustrated by now, and growing hoarse.

Though small, their ‘ribbit’ can be heard for several hundred feet, especially at night. I wonder what a chorus of Bullfrogs would sound like?

May 3, 2011


March ?, 1966 — November 28, 2011

This is the last picture I took of 'Zeek', our beloved cat of over fifteen years. Without going into the details of her last days let me simply say she was a simple cat without ego or pretensions, she never wrote a book, made a movie, or resolved more than six or seven diplomatic crises. But she proved her worth, no matter what scale you chose, more times than I can remember. At the end: no quivering lip, no sad mewing, no plaintive pleading, only a quiet stoicism worthy of Socrates.

Why did you call her "Zeek", you might ask? Well, less than two days after she was born [there were four embryonic kittens in the litter] her mother was killed. I found them under my work bench, birthed in a box filled with nuts and bolts. They were so small an eye dropper was too big to feed them and I used a toothpick to drip milk into their mouths until an eye dropper designed for a doll became useable. Gradually I added bread, mashed tuna and ground meat to the solution and two of them thrived, the other two died the day after I found them. "Ginger", her brother, was killed by a passing automobile a few days after we had him neutered, on my late October birthday. "Zeek" lived on. We always enjoyed reading the various Dr. Seuss books to our children when they were young and 'The Cat in the Hat' was a favorite. In the book the Cat takes off his (or her) hat only to uncover another, smaller cat, who also takes off his (or her) hat, until we reach the tiniest cat of all, little cat "Z". Hence "Zeek", who began life as the smallest of cats, and died bigger than I can ever hope to be.

Bon voyage Zeek, get in touch if you get a chance.

[Though obviously not about a cat I recommend a reading of 'The House Dog's Grave' by Robinson Jeffers, for what might be an animals perseptive.]

Apr 29, 2011

The Scent of Green

Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation... tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego. His anxiety subsides. His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a gray vegetation.

~Jean Arp

"Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises."

~Pedro Calderon de la Barca

I like to think of spring as being something subtle, a seasonal change that comes upon us silently and by degrees, not with a sudden flash that excites the retinas, welcome though it may very well be, but, when you venture into a temperate zone only once or twice a month, change can seem abrupt this time of year. A week or so ago, when I last ventured into the relative warmth of a lower elevation, the majority of trees and shrubs were leafless, only brown and grey stems in a landscape of native firs and pines with their limited green hues, but yesterday! I felt like Dorothy (OK, maybe Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, or Scarecrow) waking up in a field of glorious green. And what a diversity of greens! The light clear green of absinthe, a denser, sour-apple green, and piquant lime green, all making broad, painterly brush-strokes against the viridian, almost blue-green background. But it was the lighter shades that attracted and held my attention, and I marveled again/still at the process of photosynthesis and the gift of chlorophyll. I was suddenly back in college botany, and the 'Krebs Citric Acid Cycle' momentarily filled whatever brain cells were simply idling, though I could recall little of the process. Strange the things we retain in our fleshly filing cabinet. A few days of warmth and sunshine and we'll be floating in foliage of every shade of green, right here. Already Hostas are breaking ground. Is it any wonder we are awed by Spring?

Apr 9, 2011

Messing With One's Future

There is nothing - absolutely nothing -

half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

Water Rat - The Wind in the Willows

It’s still very hard for me to believe that in 1960, when I was seventeen, and my best friend, David C. about the same, we could, and did wander down to Balboa, California and into a yacht broker’s office to be treated as if we were scions of Rockefeller or Carnegie. We mentioned we were interested in purchasing a sloop, ketch, or other sea-worthy vessel of around thirty feet and without hesitation the gentleman gave us the addresses, the slip numbers, of several boats he thought might interest us. And so we simply walked on board the boats on our list without the slightest interference. I'm sure this would be impossible today. We explored all the nooks and crannies of the various vessels at leisure, striking what we imaged were nautical poses for each other. One beautiful craft I remember reminded me of a scaled-down galleon, complete with poop deck, and most likely a pirate flag in one of the locked chests. I was in love and ready to cast off the hawsers immediately and sail for Treasure Island with Robert Newton, after all I was a Hawkins. One we were intrigued with was a large Chinese Junk. And another, had we followed our hearts and not our narrow socially obedient minds, might have changed the course of our lives forever. It was a sloop provisioned for several weeks at sea; the cabin table overflowing with sea charts held down by a cup half filled with cold coffee. It was evident someone lived aboard. A silver key was in the ignition. Though we didn't know the difference between a spinnaker and a jib we thought that if the boat were under mechanical power it would be the equivalent of driving a car, and once outside the harbor we could raise the mainsail and learn how to handle the rigging at our convenience. What did we know? Visions of Bora Bora, Tahiti, Fiji, even Catalina Island danced in our heads. I wonder sometimes, where would I be today if one of us had found the nerve to turn the key.

The Most Recent Strange Peregrination of F. S. Whinkla

. . . being an honest recollection of events as they occurred on the last leg of his return journey to Kleadrap from Dallas, Texas after wandering several months in and around the Orient.

[My planned planting of peas, even the snow peas, and Fava beans was once again cancelled due to frigid, wet weather. As a result I thought I should take advantage of the forced ennui and transcribe another page or two of Whinkla's Dallas/Kleadrap journal. I also turned the day into what the haiku poets of old Japan might refer to as 'a snow-viewing day', though I wrote only a few feeble haiku to commemorate the event.]

Part V

Larry, when I left the house a few hours earlier I remember descending a flight of stone steps. I remembered because of the carved marble lions, but when I went back to fill my water bottles I could not for the life of me find those ‘Lions of Judah’, nor the stairs, instead, I passed a large, harp-like sculpture that reminded me of Barbara Hepworth, and then, almost by accident, discovered steps that went down, down instead of up. And flanking those stairs were two beautiful alabaster urns overflowing with last years nasturtiums and trailing verbena, black and crisp from their winter ordeal. The bas relief carvings covering their sides were as beautiful as anything by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and I could feel, without touching, the twining grape vines, hear panpipes, and the unrestrained laughter of fauns, maenads, a satyr (perhaps Ampelos), and what looked like Bacchus holding aloft a thyrsus. Trapped in stone they danced round and around beneath the gnarled branches of an ancient olive grove. I thought the very presence of the urns an invitation, and at least the stairs would take me into the house. At the bottom of the steps was a wooden door, also carved, but in the poor light I could only determine, with my fingers, that the design seemed abstract. I needed water, and abandoning all hope, slipped inside where I found myself in a marble-floored foyer. A hallway, opposite the doorway, seemed to stretch several times the width or length of the house, as I remembered it from the outside. Tealight candles, held in glass dishes, burned in the foyer and at intervals along the hall, and as I could see they had been recently lit assumed someone must be nearby. I called out, but getting no answer began to walk along the hall, looking for someone who might direct me to the kitchen, or a bathroom. I can hear you thinking Larry, and you’re right, I was rather distressed, but perhaps that’s too strong a word, concerned might be more appropriate, or troubled, but it was disconcerting that the only person I had seen since my arrival had been Mr. Lucien Tu Fu Smith.

I started walking down the hallway and couldn’t help notice the wooden floor was covered with Berber carpets, not the cheap, modern, mass produced abominations but traditional, hand-made rugs, probably from Morocco judging by the colourful designs and the distinctive knotting. Recognizing a good carpet is one of the things I learned from my father at an early age. As the doorways on both sides of the hall seemed alike I finally picked one at random, number seven on the left as I recall, and knocked. There was no answer, which didn't surprise me, so I tried the doorknob and found the door unlocked. On the other side I encountered a narrow spiral of descending wooden stairs, and having few choices decided to continue The stairwell, which made two complete, counter-clockwise circles, was lighted every eight to ten feet with raku-glazed sconces, and I noticed some of them used those new energy saving bulbs which somehow reassured me. At the bottom another short hallway ended in two identical doors. Well, I thought, another choice. I opened the door on the right, hoping it was right, and entered what must have been a library. It was a big room filled from floor to ceiling with wonderful wooden bookcases overflowing with books. The room must have been thirty feet long, fifteen feet wide, and at least fifteen feet in height. There were two groups of five leather-covered chairs, each group surrounding a central table. Several floor lamps, only one of which was turned on, were scattered around the room. The comforting smell of leather, lanolin, and printers ink gave the room an ambiance that was quite welcoming. I walked to the nearest bookshelf on my right and scanned the titles. My god, I thought, I must be dreaming. I ran my nervous hands over what appeared to be complete runs of Paideuma, Deus Loci, Nexus, the D. H. Lawrence Review, Under the Sign of Pisces/Café in Space, the James Joyce Quarterly, and many other literary journals I had only imagined existed in university libraries. Then I found an entire shelf of Goethe, including what looked like the 1829 edition of Essai sur la Métamorphose des Plantes! I didn’t dare touch it. I had bought a reprint of this book when I was fourteen. Suddenly I was in my boyhood bedroom with the book cradles in my hands, dreading my mother’s call to dinner. Then I passed shelf after shelf of modern novels, and more books of poetry than anyone could hope to read. Then an entire section on Astronomy, one on Architecture, then philosophy, and several feet of mythology, Abyssinian to Zaire, then, surprisingly, two or three shelves of erotica and a shelf on boat building. Larry, I don’t think there was a discipline or genre of art or literature not represented. But I was after water and needed to find the kitchen, or a bathroom. And while I was standing, dumfounded in the library, I realized again I had not seen or heard another living thing since entering the house. I considered shouting as loud as I could to see if anyone would respond, but the library forbade it. I moved further into the room along the shelves, trying to ignore the titles reaching out to me, and discovered at the opposite end of the room a door not like others I had passed. This one was less than five feet tall and covered in copper and what might have been silver, or platinum, or, at this point, mithril. I was growing tired, and my thirst had passed the point of being simply an inconvenience. I ducked my head and passed through the door. I wasn’t surprised to be greeted on the other side by another flight of descending stairs, however, these turned in a clockwise direction and were unlit. I felt my way down a dozen or so risers to a stone-lined room lit only by the accidental light that had managed to follow me. There appeared to be only one exit, a door even lower than the one before. I found the doorknob, turned it, ducked, and stepped to the other side. A blaze of light left me stumbling blindly into the room.

To be continued

Apr 7, 2011

Always Time for Tea

Tea House Five Years Ago

Buddha, Five Years Ago

Despite yesterday being the coldest April 6th on record for Portland, Oregon, and our own temperatures here in Parkdale consistently under-doing our own documented lows, I took afternoon tea in my unheated garden tea-house. The small building is sited in what I refer to as the ‘Buddha Garden’, a Japanese inspired garden area that began when I hauled a small, several hundred pound stone Buddha home from an import store in California. The carved rock traveled the thousand-mile journey to Oregon strapped in the back seat of our Honda Accord, where he stoically observed the passing landscape without audible comment. (The back seat however lost all internal consistency and composure) Once home I hauled the squat, gray statue to a location southwest of the house and the Oriental Garden gradually evolved around him.

I intended to say something about Japanese scrolls, but now I see it is time for morning tea. Please excuse me for a while.

Mar 25, 2011

No Lizards Outside the Gates of Eden

One of my favorite blogs is: “Old Fools Journal”, and out of curiosity, or some primal urge to scourge myself like Los Penitentes, I decided to Google ‘Bayou Blue’, his home town, not to dream but to get a feel for where he lives. Just as I expected he lives near a lot of water. I’m sure it is not the water we have here in the dismal, dark, mouldy, mossy, acidic northwest, but a vigorous, warm, exciting, living kind of water, filled with life, good and bad, the amniotic liquid we spent the first few months of our short lives dreaming in. And seeing so much water on the map, and what looked like a lot of sparsely or uninhabited swampy land I was transported back to my early teenage years in El Monte, California, where I collected, studied, bought, sold, traded and talked snakes, lizards, turtles and other reptilian wonders with youthful dedication. What a treasure house I thought. It’s impossible now of course, and perhaps rightly so, but in those days, the fifties, I could buy, sell and trade these magnificent creatures with little or no government or environmental criticism or interference. I would exchange printing (my father owned a print shop where I realize now I caused more grief than happiness) for reptiles. I would print, at my father’s expense, even occasionally, on the difficult jobs, getting him to do the printing for me, the business cards, letterheads, envelopes and brochures that were required, and then, exchange those products for leaf-nosed, shovel-nosed, glossy, and various rattlesnakes. And the lizards: Collared, Leopard, Chuckwalla, Skink, Spiny, Iguana, Fringe-toed, Whip-tailed, and the Horned. I treated them all with the deference I would have accorded a brother. At times I would trade these desert specimens for more exotic specimens like Gray, Red and Yellow Rat snakes, various water snakes, hognose snakes, racers, coachwhips, king and, my favorite, the Indigo snake, all from the southeast. I even hatched snake eggs in my bedroom, which, despite my concerted effort at force-feeding with milk-soaked ground beef, or bread, never survived for more than a few weeks. I took no more snake eggs in trade. Perhaps it is good that in the thirty-seven years we have lived here I have never seen a lizard anywhere near. Or are the lizards trying to tell me something?

Mar 21, 2011

The Most Recent Strange Peregrination of F. S. Whinkla

. . . being an honest recollection of events as they occurred on the last leg of his return journey to Kleadrap from Dallas, Texas after wandering several months in and around the Orient.

Part IV

I drove, rather dreamily, to the grove of cottonwoods and made camp, and as rain seemed unlikely simply unrolled a small tarp and fluffed-up my down-filled mummy bag. Then, after urinating in the dry wash, spelling my name, except for the last “la”, I built a small ring of stones and gathered enough twigs and small branches for an evening fire. It was quiet, very quiet, as I boiled the last of my water, on the two-burner propane stove I had bought in Dallas, for tea. I poured the heated water over the dark Camellia sinensis leaves, leaned my back against the thick, deeply fissured bark of one of the larger Poplars and opened ‘The Old Coyote of Big Sur’, a book about Jamie de Angulo, and began to read.

I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I remember was darkness, an empty tea cup, a closed book in my lap, and the distant lament, or exaltation, of a coyote somewhere high in the surrounding hills, and even though it must have been later than five in the afternoon I was immediately reminded of Lorca’s “Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías”, but don’t ask me why, I do not want to think about it.

Larry, when I opened my eyes a warm wind washing down the canyon had picked up the golden cottonwood leaves and set them dancing in a dozen dervish-like spiraling cones. I suddenly felt the essence of Σαλωμη (why did Whinkla use the Greek for Salome?) before me and hoped I was not to become a surrogate ‘John the Baptist’. The trees swayed in the quarter-moon moonlight and I thought they might be singing, singing or chanting, like a disciple of Pope Gregory the 1st. Conversely I felt I might just as easily encounter an aroused Oberon or Puck prancing along the bed of the stream, I sensed something magical afoot, but when I stood and stretched my limbs the colourful whirlwinds melted into the sand and the breeze died like a dying man’s last breath.

I walked over to the Odyssey, refilled my glass with Cabernet, and decided to light a fire and broil an Esposito’s cheese and parsley sausage or two for dinner. It was then I realized I had no water to cook the pasta I wanted and would have to return to the house to fill my bottles.

The moon and the milky way provided enough light so that I could clearly see the darker, geometric outline of the building, so, leaving my wine glass next to the unlit pyramid of twigs next to the fire ring I took two empty gallon plastic jugs and walked toward the house.

To be continued

A (questionable) Gentle Madness

Ahh, in the mail today, another book. Glancing at my “to read” shelf I notice it has grown to three, three foot planks, that’s nine feet of books, books on or about virtually every person or subject a human, or non-human being could imagine. Who could be interested in so many diverse things? Only someone who wrote a high school essay titled: “On the Distinguishing Characteristics Between Mysticeti and Odontoceti Whales”, and another on the relevance of Ezra Pound and the structure of modern poetry, that’s who. The "why" of all this I have never been able to fathom. And this latest book, “A Gentle Madness”, to be invited into the house with all the pomp accorded royalty, or a new hybrid Azalea, I had read several years ago, most likely when it was published in 1995, but I wanted to read it again, and have the soft textured pages in my library where I could glance at the spine and touch it with the whorled, worn tips of my fingers whenever I felt like doing so. Try that with a Kindle or a NOOK!

But none of this is what I intended to say. What I wanted to do was complete my transcription of F. S. Whinkla’s diary/letter concerning his return from Texas after several months abroad. If I didn’t know him so well I’d think my leg was being pulled.

Mar 14, 2011

Twiddling my Thumbs, and Toes

Having nothing useful to do while waiting for something to happen

Last night I sat at the kitchen counter reminiscing with a bottle of Merlot from the Napa Valley and a finger worn copy of ‘The Climber’s Guide to the Sierra Nevada’, held open by an empty bottle of James Busby Pinot Grigio. As I read, my stiff, arthritic fingers unconsciously searched for small handholds on granite peaks, mountains I had not climbed when I was able. I felt for any irregularity in the crystalline igneous surface that might provide purchase for the edge of my vibram-soled boots, any defect in the Formica counter that could promise promise. I was making little progress and closed the book. I thought of going to bed and attempting to enter my past via a dihedral on the north ridge of Mount Cotter, or forget the high hills entirely and go for a stroll among the booksellers beside the Seine, or I could do as I had been doing for the past several weeks: sit quietly, do nothing, and wait for spring.

Something was bothering me; had been troubling me a very long time. What it was I could not ascertain, just a general feeling of lassitude, uncertainty and doubt. I realized the few things I had managed to accomplish lately had been done simply to fill the empty hours between sunrise and sunset, or sunset and sunrise. Perhaps what I felt was guilt? But about what? I did have a list of projects I wanted to begin, or finish, and yet somehow couldn’t find enough enthusiasm to even think about. It was true, many of my projects, the mosaics and sculptures especially, required warmer weather, and many of the others would be difficult to execute huddled around the heating stove, but not all. Perhaps I had too many things I wanted to do and could therefore not concentrate on any one for any length of time. And at my age I was constantly reminded of how limited that time might be.

I opened a bottle of Cabernet, slipped on my down parka and wandered out to the back porch. As I expected there was not a star visible and cold water dripped from the eaves. The only bright spot was the long sweep of snow reflecting light from an upstairs window. In defiance I created a night sky worthy of Van Gogh's 'Starry Night', but without the cypress or church steeple, and filled my glass. But, after a few minutes of transcendental bliss, I felt the wolverine of uneasiness gnawing away at my tranquility. I decided I had to do something, but what?

Then I remembered, as if I had ever forgotten, I still had Whinkla’s recent notes to transcribe. And then I suddenly recognized the underlying source of my guilt! Whinkla! I remembered that under my bed there were several cardboard boxes filled with his letters, manuscripts, and journals. There was 'Blimp', the handwritten manuscript I’ve safegaurded for several years, a document I had once started to transcribe/type for him, but given my human limitations, abandoned, feeling guilty of course. And Whinkla told me he has an even larger collection, a trilogy he refers to as the Malador manuscript he would like me to look at. I think I might have typed some of those pages into the computer earlier, but I can’t be sure. I’m not sure of anything anymore.

I refilled my glass and promised myself I would finish up this last unfinished business with Whinkla and then tell him I simply did not have time anymore to be his secretary, editor, guardian of his manuscripts, psychiatrist, clearing house, answering service or anything else, he would simply have to fend for himself. That’s what I decided, last night.

Feb 5, 2011

The Most Recent Strange Peregrination of F. S. Whinkla

. . . being an honest recollection of events as they occurred on the last leg of his return journey to Kleadrap from Dallas, Texas after wandering several months in and around the Orient.

Part III

I don’t know what I expected to find, but the room I entered might have been the lobby of almost any non-commercial motel or bed and breakfast in the western U.S., except for the flowers. Most prominently placed, on a black lacquered shelf opposite the entrance, was a large, dark, copper-hued raku vase holding three pink peonies, a lobed philodendron leaf, and a gnarled piece of light brown driftwood, all delicately placed. Someone was adept at ichibana. An oval coffee table and several leather chairs took up much of the floor space. To the right, behind the front door, a short counter extended from the wall and beyond that, partially hidden by a cabinet, I could see the whirling glow of a computer screen. A small fire of piñon logs burned gently in a corner fireplace, and just for a moment Larry I imagined I might be in New Mexico. To the left of the mantelshelf hung what looked to me like a Cezanne, a giclée print I imagine. Two corner windows were curtained with heavy cinnabar-coloured drapes, tied back with black velvet cords. I called out “Hello.”

At the end of the counter was a beautiful potted Melicytus ramiflorus tree in full bloom. The yellow-green flowers growing on the naked twigs exuded a pleasant, intoxicating fragrance. How did I know it was a Mahoe tree Larry, well, to tell the truth, in case you think me more a horticulturist than I am, there was a very informative metal tag attached to the white-barked trunk. The shrub is native to New Zealand by the way.

As no one had appeared I called again, this time louder. After a few seconds I heard the faint sound of music, Vivaldi I think, coming from behind a curtained doorway at the back of the room, and then an elderly man bounded out to greet me. I say bounded, but danced would also be an apt choice of words. “My goodness,” he said, hurrying toward me and offering his right hand, “I was being charmed by a Bach cantata and didn’t hear you come in. Now, how may I help you?”

“Well, I’m not sure.” I said. “I stopped at a store in town and the clerk must have thought I was looking for a place to stay because he gave me directions to what he thought was a Bed and Breakfast somewhere up this road.”

“Ah Brian, where would we be without his kind assistance?” he sighed, rolling his bright blue eyes toward the ceiling, “But yes, and no. Yes, I suppose this is what people call a Bed and Breakfast, but No, I’m afraid we’re booked solid for the next several weeks. I’m sorry.”

“I understand,” I said, “I hadn’t thought of looking for a place to stay before I stopped at the market, it’s only mid afternoon. I have no idea why I drove up here. Another time perhaps.”

“I’m sure you’d enjoy yourself here,” he said. “By the way, I’m Lucien, Lucien Tu Fu Smith.”

I was about to respond but he quickly continued.

“My father was rather enamored of Chinese and Japanese poets as you may have guessed. And with a surname like Smith, well, you have the yin and yang of things.

“Whinkla,” I said, “F. S. Whinkla, and the F and S are just that, the letters F and S.” I shook his hand a second time and tried not to stare but he somehow commanded my attention. He was sixtyish, not heavy, but showing unmistakable signs of a portliness to come, about my height, five ten or so. He had white hair that fell a little below his shoulders. It was thicker than mine, and I remember his eyebrows were somewhat darker, and very bushy. His mouth seemed small, but that might have been a result of his Hemingway-like beard. His hands felt rough, but his fingers were long and slender, somewhat delicate looking. His voice was very pleasant, deep, measured, resonant, yet clear. I could imagine him reading Dylan Thomas aloud to himself as he wandered the fields and hills”.

“Tell you what,” he said, guiding me by the elbow toward an adjacent room, “there isn’t a motel or hotel within fifty miles. You seem like a decent chap, and if you want to stay the night there’s a small bunkhouse beyond that grove of cottonwoods” He indicated the trees which were about a hundred yards, clustered around the mouth of an arroyo. “We tell the government we’re a working ranch so we maintain a few outbuilding and half a dozen pieces of machinery none of us know how to operate, just in case. You’re welcome to spend the night there, no charge. But you may find the accommodations a little rustic.”

“Rustic,” I said, perhaps a little too quickly, “you’ve no idea the places I’ve slept the past several months. I appreciate your offer but if I could just unroll my sleeping bag out in the open that will be accommodation enough.”

“Well, there it is then,” he said, pointing to the horizon. “four hundred plus acres of calcified earth to chose from. But, if you change your mind, the bunkhouse is unlocked.”

We both stood staring out the window for a few moments and I became aware of how quiet it was. I thought I could hear the faint, high-pitched sound of a violin, but it could just as easily have been the silence ringing in my ears.

“This is the common room,” he said, walking over to a refrigerator, “we keep this ice box filled with bottles of our well water, juices, whatever’s in season, yogurt, milk, even a variety of beer if the guests have been generous, and sometimes, if you get here before I do, a bottle or two of wine. Of course there’s coffee, cocoa, and a variety of teas. Help yourself. If you feel like leaving a little something there’s a piggy bank on the counter next to the toaster. There’s a microwave and small gas stove. Pots, pans, plates, and all the other culinary apparatus you’re likely to need are in the cupboards and drawers. There’s a sink to wash up in if you decide to cook. I serve a hearty breakfast for our guests, but if you’re only going to be with us one night you’re welcome to join us tomorrow, anytime after sunrise.

I was overwhelmed Larry, I didn’t know what to say. “I’ll be glad to pay for breakfast,” I muttered, “and I should probably pay for camping in your field.”

He fluttered his bird-like hands. “No, no, I consider you my personal guest.” he said, “You can park your car in the barn if you like. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be off.”

I thanked him again, and after another look around left by a side door. After descending what seemed like a long flight of dark stone steps, guarded at the bottom by two white marble lions, I wandered back to my car. I felt a little confused, apprehensive even, though I couldn’t identify a cause.

Larry, I apologize for taking so long to explain what happened on my drive home from Dallas, I thought I could sketch an outline in a couple of pages, but even leaving out most of the details I see this taking far too long, and I haven’t even gotten to the heart of things. I’ll try to make the rest of this as short as possible.

to be continued

Jan 1, 2011

The Most Recent Strange Peregrination of F. S. Whinkla

. . . being an honest recollection of events as they occurred on the last leg of his return journey to Kleadrap from Dallas, Texas after wandering several months in and around the Orient.

Part II

I drove west over broken asphalt into the arid foothills of the Rocky Mountains for at least fifteen minutes without passing even one metal, wood, or cardboard sign that indicated a bed and breakfast was anywhere nearby. Then, surprisingly, I topped a rise in the road and found myself in front of a large log building that might have been a hunting lodge flown in from the shores of Great Slave Lake, or the dream home of a defrocked Prairie School architect who had suddenly discovered the Yukon, or even an American version of a monastic Tibetan ashram.

I have to admit the building was impressive. There was even what looked like a Gothic stone turret on the northeast corner topped by a dome of glass or plastic that might have housed an astronomical observatory, and yet the structure seemed quite at home, even comfortable, nestled between two arms of rolling, low ochre hills that descended from a slightly higher henna-coloured ridge. In the distance a craggy, piebald mountain and attendant lesser peaks added a Chinese scroll-like feeling to the panorama framing the house.

I didn’t see any other vehicles so I parked in what looked like the front of the building and sat quietly for a minute or two. I think I was hoping to hear a voice, the mechanical sound of a tractor or the bark of a dog, the crowing of a rooster, but the only sound I heard was surrealistic silence. I turned off the ignition, got out of the Odyssey, and climbed a short flight of steps to what appeared to be the front door.

The wooden porch was wide; probably fifteen feet, and chairs of various size and design were gathered in several cliques, as if conversing amongst themselves. I noticed two tables had chessboard inlays, and one a stone or glass mosaic for ‘Go’.

I stood in front of the door and told myself I was being ridiculous, that it was too early to stop for the night and a good motel was probably less than an hour away. But Larry, I tell you, I felt compelled to knock on the door rather than return to my car.

I rapped lightly on the door. No answer. I knocked again, harder. Still no answer. I tried the handle and of course the door was unlocked, so I went inside.

to be continued