Amazing Lows

lunar eclipse

I can remember my bike chain slipping off and, after putting it back on, there was a bit a grease and sand on my fingers and hands I could just not get completely off. And I’d continue biking another eight or nine miles uphill to where the bees were buzzing in their hive. There were two plates of glass between which they had built their comb, and I read a sign as a kid on the outside of the display that told observers that bees can sense danger. From that moment on when I have been afraid I turned it around so I would not get stung, a sort of push-away feeling when I felt the danger of bees and other things. I’d felt a little low as well about the gritty, black grease that was still almost smeared off my hand, but that’s just the way it went. It could not be gotten off; that’s all.

And, I think, as the deer pull at the cucumber vines that have grown to the top of my fence; or when the cat plops on the shiny wood floor a dead bird—worst of all a bluebird; or when the birch trees I planted with my son die off after a few years, these are just the way things go. It is somehow better to feel the ever-fading day all the day than to believe or wish to believe in some hand-picked diamond that you’d really have to be crazy to think would sparkle on forever. Things don’t. You can look at Monet’s haystacks and see that all the beauty and joy in the world was always fading away at every moment. It cannot be really disappointing that way—momentary highs are not sought, breakneck speeds on the highway are not driven again, even something as simple as a daily perfect cup of coffee isn’t brewed time after time.

All exists as if it were flight upon a dragonfly’s wing. It views the water over which it flies, hovers there, and, as if thoughtlessly, curves in design and then flies off elsewhere. And with its big-eyed vision-trackers, its primordial form, its shape and its purpose, they appear almost demonic. But this backwards flying mini-phallus is only another of the many nearly comic earthly reminders that we and it and all of what is this life here are just temporary lookers-on, be it over the river, near the pond, in the mountains, through the woods, beneath the late afternoon, tomato-ripening sun.

This Graceful Suspension Of The World

keys and lock

He had a secret wife once whose marriage to they nobody told. Even when her family all journeyed on a five-day ocean cruise together to celebrate her maternal grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary, the husband in name, he stayed at home. That’s how secret she was. Once, another time, she had returned from taking exams upstate. And the exam she took was computerized (not on paper), and while she took it, it learned her learning rate. It gave her very quickly, she told him afterwards, more and more difficult problems to solve, and each ‘one more’ difficult problem submitted on the screen to her, she got right. The testing program recalculated itself, and, with the secret wife’s having rapidly solved correctly such difficult problems as which the program could ever propose, it released her from the testing grounds in twenty minutes with an “800”—a perfect score. Almost ninety minutes had been shaved off her testing time, her sitting time, her being there. That’s how time and testing and the algorithms had worked.

The spatial reasoning his brilliant secret wife could perform with ease at astronomical rates of speed is not the way, in general, anything else works in life. The massive hero Ajax, for instance, that great, lumbering Greek warrior, battles and battles everyday, fighting off the Trojans. And before he rejoins the battle, Achilles sulks in his tent for months, unable to convince Agamemnon to give him back Briseis, his war booty, in all that time. And who can really tell how long, how many decades and years of accident and misfortune, how much lasting grief it will take and all the many dead there will be when spacecraft really do fly and land to colonize the desiccated, lifeless planet Mars.

Today an argument could verily be made that the man who’d had that secret wife long ago, far away, is one day close to his death. His wits are down. His love forsakes him. His cat is gone. His cupboard in nearly bare. His pile of winter wood is wet. For him, all the world’s diseases and sicknesses and misfortunes have fled buzzing like flies into the air. The only saving grace the world has ever known, however, is not “hope”—that miscreant’s negative creed of dissatisfaction, of being against the way reality actually is—but “anticipation”—which, though syllabically awkward, is the better translation of the Greek word “elpis,” of what actually remained in Pandora’s opened picnic basket. It means to simply wait for, and to be able to wait for, the next thing to come. And that, the love-broken man knew, trembling in fear asleep and living in a perfect equation of anxiety awake, by the multitudes of stars which over the span of all eternity shall have opened their eyes at night and closed them during the day, was all there ever was.

Wild Turkey Gypsy Fall Off Point

wild turkey feather

The first time I passed the wild turkey feather lying on the ground I had wanted to pick it up. Its tell-tale stripes, its white and brown bands, make them easy to tell apart from any other. Any little kid would, and so would I. Now I have passed this same soft feather many times since then, and it has lain there all the while. It looks bedraggled now, having gone through dozens of rains. I myself grew old. The darkness of night had passed over me and my hair woke up gray. Seasons, too, went by and more creases formed along my face. Somewhere, far beyond these forests I have wandered all my life, I remember the stilly murmur of the distant Sea still murmurs there, and I am even a little bit older this dark new morning.

One, Two Buckled, My Shoe

two white metal chairs

He had had one hundred thoughts in one hundred and one days. That meant that there were one hundred thoughts less, or properly speaking ‘fewer’ to have. Those days and those thoughts were gone. With regard to such counting, whether forwards or backwards, brave and young Stephen Dedalus claimed that he was lucky to stumble upon a good thought once in a fortnight, or every two weeks. Likewise, in Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, there’s no six piece thin affair but a gigantic orchestral hullabaloo about every fortnight, too. Again, then, with regard to the former, that doesn’t seem to be a whole lot, in truth, especially in the age of adolescence, that newfangled notion that is time’s comfortable muskeg people get stuck in between childhood and being grown up today—ever since the average human lifespan became rather ridiculously long, attenuated to the slow decline of sloping downward into a near horizontal buzz along the manmade asymptote of near nothingness for decades of palliative discomfort and some peculiar kind of peering out somewhere. As to the latter, having a festive lawn party under a tent with a couple hundred uninvited guest who come in from nowhere, that seems to be obscene in its frequency, as was the intent of Fitzgerald to display and Mr. Gatsby to purposefully have, to drag in the diamond dregs so as to perchance collect his lost pearl Daisy, if not purloin her. As for the ticket-taker whose story begins this lacklustre note, he had taken to mind once as a child that numbers themselves worked like this: you start with 1; you double that and get 2; and after that (3) you’ve got many. And, while he also, with his little handheld penlight ushered others into the movie theater velvet quietly to their seats when they arrived a bit late for the show, and was very helpful to them, he kept, like a bushy-haired, gray-tailed autumnal squirrel losing more than half its acorns due to luck, fortuity, and nature’s misfortune, his remaining day’s comments mostly to himself.

Man With Underground Tools

tools

He had crawled on his belly in the dirty gravel below the joists with an air filter mask strapped to his head all morning long. He had a spray bottle of poison, a little flashlight, a long-handled hammer, and a steel chisel. These were to chip out spots where ants had eaten into the wood, and to poison any he saw. Down there below the house in the crawl space, he closed the vents by hand and stuffed the closed vent openings in the foundation with leftover pink fiberglass wads of wool that were lying on the ground since he’d pulled the wool out last spring. The whole job was dirty and hard and he had done it ever since he was a very young man for nearly thirty years. He hit his head against the same pipes he always hit his head against. It hurt the same way it always felt stupid to get hurt. He sprayed the poison along the cinderblock joints the same way he always did, lots of squirts to be sure, twice a year, spring and fall. For extra, he’d brought along a staple gun this time and stapled up some of the falling paper he’d noticed had fallen that he’d tacked years back below the rolls of insulation stuffed between the joists. It was a dirty job. It was a dirty and gritty job.

When he closed the vents underneath the house, it grew darker and darker. The only light was his little flashlight. Its batteries were pretty bad to begin with and the glow from it just grew worse and yellow. He turned off, while he was down there, the underground water line with a twist to the handle inside that fed the line to the outside garden faucet. It was a dirty job. But if he didn’t do it, the outside pipe would freeze, and he’d have to replace the outside pipe, the outside faucet, and the outside fittings. He’d have to remember when he got out of the crawl space to open the outside faucet now that it was turned off from underneath. Otherwise, the water already in the pipe would freeze during winter, and when it did that, trapped at both ends of the line, it would expand and bust open the whole brass apparatus, and he’d have to replace everything just the same as if he had never turned it off from underneath to begin with. That had happened once or twice, and that was an all around mess and a waste of time.

Once he got outside off his belly, he unclipped, and then ripped off the dirty mask that had covered his nose and mouth and through which he been breathing in and out with labored filtered breaths air the whole time. Once he had smelled the fresh smell of autumn again, he realized that he had left his good, long-handled hammer next to the three joists where he was hacking away the pulpy wood to stop the carpenter ants’ damage in the dark. That hammer, even though it was his good solid one, could stay where it was. What did it matter? He had his short, light, cheap hammer if he really needed it. His good hammer could stay in the gravel until spring.

Backyard Gardening At Home

weathered barn

Even the blackened green leaves were picked. I had left them crumpled on their stalks last week, dismayed. Again, half the basil I had left to wither. That was years since I’d made such a lapse. But many plants in a brighter, sunnier patch were fine and rich and quickly plucked. These leaves filled my large yellow glass bowls, and I tipped them into my kitchen sink. Last evening I had returned since I heard the night would be even colder. A small stack of some wood I had left unchopped for a friend to practice on I’d promised to save it for to split last year still stands a year later. And soon I’ll be splitting another cord myself. In pesto, there really is no great difference between the batches I’ve found in taste, unless the one that’s made from autumn’s leaves is a bit more grassy and slightly bitter. Aside from cobwebs growing on the plants, it really would be rather wasteful not to use them all. And, besides, I am the only one looking on the basil growing now. With olive oil and garlic and sea salt and finely chopped hot cayenne peppers grown from my garden, too, plus pine nuts and a touch of parsley, it’s very, very tasty. And how sweet the smell when all the garden plucking is on my fingertips. Still, when I make it all, I’ll separate the neglected leaves from the fresher ones, and be myself comparing the two, eating from carefully enough labeled containers marked with scribbled-upon masking tape taped to the lids, when I thaw the many portions I will have again from the freezer for meals and company when I have some all winter long until next summer comes.

Fallen Autumn Beauty

fallen autumn bird

Time ago it was he had said to his father, “You fail me yet again.” And the father looked around at all the leaves of all the basil plants, all of them a foot taller than his son was then, all having blackened overnight. He had meant to let them grow. He had meant to let them reach their fullest height. He had meant to harvest the leaves when they were at their plentiest. He had done this before. He had done this before that. The point was in planting the basil, and so much of it, to make homemade pesto. But the putting off of collecting the leaves until October allowed the chill of one night alone to ruin the crop, and the boy just pointed out as a boy will do his dashed hopes in his father, a man he so deeply believed in. Since then, the father never failed once to harvest the basil when the leaves were ripe. The yearly stores of pesto, which the two ate fresh, and which in small plastic containers the father froze, they enjoyed over the years, summer after summer. These yearly gardening successes continued. Many other things were allowed to wither. Many other things blackened, some of them overnight, some of them over an entire season, some of them took years of time. When the father himself had been very young he traveled the world and took with him a handful of paperback books, one of them belonging to his own father. He kept close to himself this line inscribed upon his heart from one—“More mischief comes into the world through misunderstanding and neglect, rather than malice or wickedness; the latter two, at any rate, are rarer.” I can’t today say a thing about the ashes of the living, but I know a thing or two about blackened leaves of the dead. And if there is a remaining sorrow in my bones, that grief must be for a little bit of green innocence my wishes for the future had left behind there.