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.