New Verse: March 2017

Meta-Foray* at Character’s Corner

March 7, 2017

The basket that she puts before me

Gives off memory of county fairs.

Deep fried things all smell the same no matter where you are.

“What are we drinking?” she inquires.

“An IPA on tap,” I say.

Our beers are named for rivers and for fish.

They taste of Douglas Fir and goodness

And of all the life that comes from forest floors.

“Des Chutes?” she asks.

I pass as one of them,

In cap, and fries with catsup, and a pint to cheer

On such a rainy day.

I listen as the people tell their tales.

*Thanks to Robin Wall Kimmerer for the term.

The Geese

March 2, 2017

Early, just before dawn?

Hard to tell in that deep dense winter sky.

Still winter for this year it stretches on in grey and variations on that theme.

That it was early,

I was certain.

Bare trees’ black, outlines of their leafless selves just visible.

And far beyond them

I heard geese.

Hard to guess if they were heading south or north or anywhere at all.

I saw no shadows—nothing of their shapes.

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All The Dogs Died and The People Got Old

All the Dogs Died and the People Got Old

The Ash tree had never looked so grand. It was a burning bush of red-orange, a color that glowed, seemingly from an inner source though it was clearly the rising sun behind it that caused it to shimmer with light. Sylvia looked at it for a long time. Then she looked at the yellowing big leaves of the maple and then out at the ripples on the bay water. The chum were already beginning their journey to the spawning grounds. The sky was clear today and the sun rose from behind a bank of ragged trees and a dark, but cloudless horizon. October. It wouldn’t be cloudless for many more days. It was already prudent, she thought, to wear a sweater or even a jacket when walking outside.
She studied everything this morning, tried to commit it all to memory. How many more Octobers would she see, she wondered. Not many. Remember this one. Remember each burnished leaf. Remember this brilliant, light morning and the quank quank of the distance ducks calling for one another. I’m here. I exist. I must have this to remember, she thought.
Sylvia was the kind of woman who had no waistline but was not given to fat. She didn’t care about either the waist or the fat. She cared about being strong and capable and able to clean the gutters and the beach stairs.
The raccoons had been defecating on the beach stairs. Again. They were a nuisance. Their families had multiplied and their visits had become frequent now that all the dogs were dead. Sylvia’s dog, a fearless, kinky haired dachshund that lived to a grumpy, incontinent fifteen years, had kept wild animals at bay for its entire life. Not one raccoon or deer dared creep up the gentle incline to the garden much less come into the yard. They all fled at the sound of one cranky yip from the little beast.
Now, with the helpful and companionable dog gone, it was up to Sylvia to develop strategies that might thwart both the generations of raccoon and deer to come far into the foreseeable future, as well as the rascally present ones. The goal with respect to raccoon was to prevent them from dropping their toxic shit in places where she or her guests might walk. The deer, of course, were to be thwarted in their attempt to eat all the fruit she attempted to grow.
Sylvia’s face had begun to shatter and crack like a too far gone dried apple or a left outside all winter pumpkin squash. She blamed the demise of her blameless forehead and soft cheeks, in part, on the bother caused by raccoons. She found herself  this morning wondering if they’d been back to the steps after her last cleaning, just a few days ago. She felt the deep creases between her eyes folding into themselves as she frowned with the anticipation of her irritation and displeasure. She felt the pathways that traveled a worn trek from the corners of her mouth to where her jaw line used to be deepen as she perseverated. Raccoons are aging me, she thought.
No one else had a dog either. Well, there was one. It was not much of a dog and was not even allowed outside. But it could be heard, often, and during prolonged periods of its owners’ absences. It was reported by other neighbors, who had caught sight of it lunging at them from behind glass, to be small and pathetically lonely. It would make a breakfast snack for a coyote, but that would be about all.
The aptly named Old Hefty had died two years ago. That was Sylvia’s closet neighbor’s dog. He was a frightening, mammoth black lab who had been observed tearing raccoons into small pieces, albeit one at a time. Hefty had been wrapped in an eponymous black plastic trash bag and laid solemnly into a deep grave into which flowers were scattered. Most of the neighbors came and stood with more respect than they showed each other most of the time. Hefty had nearly knocked out the raccoon population. The only time there were no raccoons around at all was when the distemper virus took hold. Not one live animal was seen for a year or two. Hefty and the other dogs became as dreary as sloths and loathed their luckless, empty lives.

The only person left from from the old neighborhood and the early days was Simone. Sylvia and Simone had shared the same long, rutted driveway, for almost fifty years but they’d never been in each others’ houses. They spoke or waved when they passed on the drive. They saw each other when they went out to help the men buck up trees that fell over the driveway in the winter. They sat opposite each other in neighborhood meetings when the community well had to be improved or the driveway needed to be graded. Neither of them spoke in these meetings. These gatherings were not galas. They were mostly about money and how much each household would need to pitch in to solve this or that problem. The men sometimes debated and even shouted over each other but whether or not Simone and Sylvia spoke, the outcome would be the same. At least that’s what they believed. An occasional smirk passed between them as they listened to the men rage.
Sometimes a new neighbor would ambitiously mount a workshop on septic tank maintenance and suggest people bring a potluck dish to share after each had learned to de-lid their tanks and check the level of the sludge. Sometimes a guest from the county attended and handed out leaflets. It was all boring, but Sylvia and Simone grudged through it. But never got to know much about each other.
Sometimes a neighbor would invite them to a birthday party. They’d both go, Simone with her husband when he was still around. They were alway polite.
Sylvia decided many years ago that they had nothing in common, she and Simone, so if she talked at these gatherings, it was with the new people, the younger people, who slowly replaced all of her old friends and neighbors.
Now it was only Simone left from the old days. And the new people. Simone was the one who knew what it used to be like. Who had known all the dogs. Who remembered the ice storms and the power outages and the big snows and the high tides that carried one neighbor’s wood stash out to sea and the time the driveway turned into a syrupy slurry for five days the the Thanksgivings when they had to sled their turkeys from the main road if they were to have anything to roast.
Simone lived alone since her vintage spouse had left her for a Korean woman he met at the PX. This new woman reminded him of a girlfriend he’d had while he was in the service.
This new woman worked in a massage parlor, completely legit and catering primarily to Asian and Caucasian women. The Asian women liked to rub their calves and thighs raw between repeated dips in a hot, viscous pool housed in a long cement trough. The almost liquid resembled soup and smelled of woody herbs and the stuff of cow pastures and soy bean fields. Small twigs floated here and there. The Asian women were interested in smooth, sensual bodies. They worked hard to maintaining the allure of supple, ripple free skin and tight twats, willing to steam and manipulate for as long as it took. These bodies would be a delight for others. The Caucasian women, on the other hand, preferred to be rubbed raw by someone other than themselves but only if also covered with cucumbers or buttered with honey before or after the peelings or, preferably, both before and after. The Caucasian women were interested in the immediate pleasure of being palpated and not in stage setting their bodies for someone else.
Simone’s husband’s girlfriend delighted in the ritual exfoliation of these naked pale-skinned bodies while gossiping in a loud voice with the masseuse at the next table over the vegetable laden breasts and sugared thighs of clients. The clients, who understood not a word, sunk deeply into rarely otherwise achieved deep dreams and erotic fantasies.
Simone’s husband’s girlfriend was rough with the women and they loved it. Her tips were handsome and she had many repeat customers.
The girlfriend, in fact, not a girl at all but a woman in her fifties, had a small flat near the Army base and only a mile or two from the PX. It was decorated with Japanese screens, the only thing she could find that reminded her slightly of home, and cloisonné pots and dolls from around the world. She was very, very tidy. The husband and the girlfriend began to meet there each time the husband made a trip to the PX for groceries. Now he lived there. It was, he found, nice to eat regularly and to have a masseuse in the house.
Simone, kept in the dark both literally and figuratively, was surprised but not disappointed when he packed his bag to leave. She had been preparing to face the future, grim as the prospects were, with a man who did little other than drink and watch television news 24 hours a day when not occupied with noisy naps and massive bowls of macaroni and cheese from a box.

The stairs to up to Simone’s house were made of bare but treated six by twos. Each step had a heavy veneering of moss and mildew. They’d be a terror to negotiate when the rains came and slicked the coating.
Simone had heard Sylvia’s footsteps and opened a door that, near its bottom, still bore the muddy scratch marks made by Simone’s former dog in its desperate hope to be let inside. She sometimes confused the sounds the dog made at the door with her husband’s scuffling about. His scratches, however, were usually made in a desperate hope to get out.
Simone grinned a heavily lipsticked smile of welcome as she opened the door to Sylvia. “Well hello, neighbor,” she said. “What you doing girl?” Simone’s spiked, sparse hair was a deep shade of burgundy and her cheek rouge matched.
Simone had always been small. Now her stove pipe calves and thighs, elements of limbs that attached to her torso some where up under an enthusiastically large tent of a denim shirt embroidered with flowers, seemed too thin to support any weight let alone propel a body. Her pant legs were straight up and down, the circumference of the ankle the same as the circumference at that top of the thigh and that was the approximate circumference of an average size biscuit cutter.
Simone’s nails were too long to be functional. And they were sharp. Sylvia thought of all the things she could not do if she had such nails: pick up a dropped coin, type a letter, manage a pinch of salt. She wondered if Simone’s lengthy nails were glued over or on top of some average, sensible ones or if she had actually grown these daggers and if so, how? They were painted, each one, with the images of a green and blue Sea Hawk. Sylvia’s own buffed ovals seemed underdressed in Simone’s company.
That same blue and green image was on a beach towel tacked on to the wall over one of the Lazy Boy chairs in the room. There was a tiger striped cat on the arm of that same chair. His possum sized body was centered on yet another Sea Hawk towel, this one serving as a kind of drool rag. Long strings of this hung trembling from the cat’s lower jaw. They seemed caught in time and space, a slow motion, miniature waterfall.
On the wall behind the second Lazy Boy, beside which was a table with a half empty bottle of Coke and a full ashtray, both on an off-white, crocheted dolly, was an unidentifiable animal’s pelt. Peering out from deep brown fur were two glass eyes and a dark, seemingly leather, nose. The eyes were peering down in the direction of the Lazy Boy below them.
The floor boards, made of a narrow grained pine, were nearly but not quite covered by a tatty Kilim, torn here and there no doubt by the cat in his younger, pounce driven days. Or maybe by a predecessor cat.
There was a smell of burnt coffee in the room, a hint of wood smoke, and just a passing, ghostly whiff of cat urine.
“Take a load off,” Simone said and made a flourishing gesture toward the Lazy Boy below the pelt. “How about some coffee.”
Well, I’m here now, thought Sylvia. “I’d love some,” she said and fell into the Lazy Boy. Her feet did not nearly reach the floor. She felt trapped by the oversized chair. Child like. She tried to feel at ease.
The kitchen was separated from the living room by an imposing oak counter that served as a divider. It was something that might have prevented a prisoner from storming a judge on his bench, now it simply drew a line between guest versus host, or it did at this point. Simone could see Sylvia hovering over the stove. The two talked while Simone set to brewing the coffee in an antique percolator. At least Sylvia thought of it as antique. She had an espresso machine, all chrome and dials, and such, in her kitchen and had considered switching to a single serving pot, one of the new ones that allowed a person to make all kinds of hot drinks, one at a time..
“No thanks. I like mine black. Maybe just a pinch of sugar if you have it.”
“Do you want me to do the pinching?” Simone said. And then winked and laughed.
Sylvia didn’t quite get the joke. And when she did she knew she blushed.

As the two old women sat and talked together Sylvia looked more closely at Simone than she ever had. She was not the kind of woman who couldn’t or wouldn’t look you in the eye. She was a straight forward, no nonsense kind of woman who was in fact interested in people and enjoyed observing them just as she herself enjoyed observing the sea or the sky.
Simone she noted had lovely lips, the lower one still full and both upper and lower pink and even, though age had surrounded them with heavy creases that arced from their corners to her chin. Two other deep lines made their way from the edge of her nostrils below the cheek bone and caused the bit of flesh above them to accentuate a slightly rosy though somewhat sunken cheek. Her eyes were rimmed with pinkish flesh and there was only the hint of eyelash or even an eye brow. Of course. She must have been a redhead or very fair when she was younger. There were hints of a deep bittersweet left in the mostly grey though it was difficult to see for the green scarf she had wound around her head. Her lids, her eyelids were lovely. They were the kind of eyelids seen in classic paintings, clearly, fully present, unlike her own hooded Celtic ones that sometimes actually obscured the printed page and caused her to strain to keep the curtain from coming down altogether. Simone’s lids were smooth and there was nothing under the eyes that suggested the dreaded swelling in the morning that Sylvia experienced after just a glass of wine or a bit too much salt with dinner the night before. True, there were hundreds of minute lines there on Simone’s face. But they were attractive in their way. She did not have furrows between her eyebrows but lines on the forehead so many and so even that they could have served as a staff for a series of musical notes. She chuckled as she imagined painting in a G, and A, and F and maybe a Bb. Or perhaps, she thought, a tattooed note here and there.
Simone’s neck was lean and the jawline soft but still defined. It was a nice neck.
Simone was, all in all, pleasant to behold.
“How about another coffee, Hon? Or would you rather have a drink. It’s after 3 I think. My Dad always said you aren’t a drunk if you don’t start in till after 3.”

“Maybe a glass of white wine if you have it.”
“I must have some around here somewhere.”
Simone got up and went back into the poorly lit kitchen area. She put finger to lip and stood staring as if at wondering if the bottle of detergent on her sink might be the wine in disguise, and then suddenly dove under the sink. Or at least appeared to from where Sylvia sat. There was the noise of glass and metal bumping and grating. Sylvia wondered how Simone might be protecting her nails during this search.
After a bit more rattling about, up she rose, like Venus, clutching a bottle against her breast with her right arm, her scarf gone, and her hair falling like coils of rope all around and in her face. There was something funny and triumphant in the way she angled herself across the formica counter top divider toward Sylvia and then raised the bottle above her head.
“I knew it was back in there! Now to find a corkscrew. No, wait a minute, its a twist top. That makes it easy.”
Simone opened a cabinet to the left of the sink and grabbed a couple of logo tumblers. One was from a 1983 oyster festival and the other was from a logging show held in the next county ten years ago. Of course the wine would be hot. It had been, obviously, living under the sink next to the hot water pipe Sylvia supposed. Yet, it was maybe a red. Still, probably very old and cheap. But what the hell. If she wanted to have company, she had to over look little things like that.
A tumbler full was thrust into her hand. She took a sip. It was warm. And it was sweet. She glanced at the label on the bottle Simone had placed on the floor next to her chair. Moscato. Sylvia never drank Moscato. Loathed it. Usually drank red wine, deep, heavy, almost syrupy red wine. Usually from a bottle she’d purchased after a tasting at a smart wine bar or during a visit to a winery. If she drank anything else, it was a gin or vodka martini but only upscale brands of gin and vodka. She associated Moscato with people who drank to get drunk. Or with her ex sister in law.
Still. Here she was. Getting to know her neighbor.


Simone adjusted the damper on her wood stove. It wasn’t really obvious that there was a fire in it, but when the door was opened, she could see a glow. Simone threw in a small log. Just enough to keep a little heat in the house.
Then she fell into her own lounger. Simone pulled at the glass the way a beer drinker might pull at a mug of brew. Then her lips formed a crenellated pucker just visible over the rim of the glass. The lips mimicked the scalloped edges of the painting of the oyster shell on the glass. Tiny channels had darted the flesh around her mouth and the dabs of color from her lips had found their way into them. Sylvia, who rarely wore lipstick, thought, “This could be avoided with the use of lip liner.” Then laughed out loud at herself. Sylvia ignored her. She didn’t realize that she wasn’t giving Simone the credit she deserved. Sylvia did not use such a products but knew about it and how to use it from her careful readings of glamour magazines while she sat mindlessly waiting for her hair appointments.
“TOO SWEET!“ Simone announced abruptly from the depths of the faux leather chair. “This is some junk he left.”
There was a sudden accompanying movement. The ginger cat was awakened by the shout, lept, and found purchase on the knee of Sylvia’s denim trousers. She felt the stinging prickle of tenfold untrimmed claws. From the knee, the cat moved quickly up and crumpled itself into Sylvia’s lap and began to wheeze and hum. Sylvia imagined it might be pleasant to pet the cat’s head, but an audible grumbled reproach caused her to think better before the hand made a landing. The cat resumed its hum and began to drool.
“Wine’s not really my drink,” Simone continued. “I’m a scotch woman.”
“Oh.” Said Sylvia. She could think of nothing else to say.
“Want one?”
Anything to avoid the Moscato.
Simone took Sylvia’s glass and hers to the sink and ran them both under water to rinse any trace of the wine away. She found the scotch easily, up in the cupboard above the stove. It was a brand Sylvia did not recognize. Simone poured a couple of inches into each tumbler. No ice. No water.
It was getting warm, even cosy, in the room. The cat dribbled. Sylvia kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet up under her thighs and settled more deeply into the Lazy Boy.
The women drank.
What to do about the raccoons could wait for another day.

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Saturday March 12, 2016

Much thanks to Marilyn Frasca for her journal workshop today.



Push deep into your soul

Don’t hold back

Breathe into that space you’ve made

And see what happens.


Bound by my diary

and the illusion of a blank future

I decide to rip the book’s spine

And scatter loosened pages

to the wind.




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Spoil and Gob: The Remainders of Life March 2016

Spoil and Gob: The Remainders of Lifehebble-homes                        The author with her father and mother as they inspect a model of the house he later built.


by LLyn De Danaan

It could begin with fear of the Internal Revenue Service. That’s how hanging on to things started for my father. He kept all the bills and receipts and delivery notices and cancelled checks for a house he built in the early 1950s. He lived in dread of an audit. True, these piles of papers, held together by gummy rubber bands, long past their use by dates, represented the history of a worthy endeavor. My father did not go to the South Pole, but he made for us a home. Here is the evidence of the concrete he ordered for the foundation and of the purchase of a small cast iron solder pot. Here is a bill stamped paid from a quarry where he handpicked the stones for the fireplace and chimney he built. And more. The asphalt tiles for the flooring, the tabs for the roof, the lumber for the studs, the yards of wiring and gallons of paint. A large panel of glass for the “picture window” that was a must in all suburban 1950s houses. It’s all there. I can reconstruct the stages in building the house in my mind as I read through these. I can visualize his line levels and saws, his shovels and trowels. The retractable cloth tape measure and folding carpenter’s rule. His heavy hammers and the manual hand drill with its interlocking cog wheels. With those tools and all those receipts, I could order all the same materials he used and build a replica of our house on my own land.
My father packed these and other papers in heavy cardboard cartons and moved them all over the United States with him and my mother. They left, the papers, Beavercreek, Ohio and found a home in a storage container in Sacramento. They rode a U-Haul truck back to Wellston, Ohio. They hitched a ride on a moving van to Olympia, Washington. The original house itself had long since been sold and the IRS, presumably, had long since lost interest in it. Or how much the cost of the nails and staples that held it, if not my family, together. Still, the papers, the proof of the enterprise and its cost, lived on.
And those were not the only papers that gathered dust and mold and lay yellowing, if not decaying, in boxes. There were letters sent from the South Pacific to his parents and my mother during World War II, correspondence with the Canadian Air Force (he had been rejected by the United States Army Air Corps—too old and bad teeth I believe), Army discharge papers, divorce and remarriage certificates (my parents’ bad spell), and, yes, more, carefully labeled and bound materials for the IRS.
My father was a life long employee of the United States Government. He was a rule abiding man who, as he made his way home from “the base” each day, passed through a gate arched by a sign that read, “What you see, what you hear, when you leave, leave it here.” He took no part in politics of any kind. He seemed to have over interpreted the Hatch Act, a bit of 1939 legislation that dictates the degree to which Federal Employees can be involved in the democratic process. My mother, meanwhile, ran for office and campaigned vigorously for Democrats. My father remained silent on such matters.
He was, in fact, timid in many ways. His matte black lunch bucket certainly drew no attention. His work overalls hid anything that might have individualized him. A nice man, “well thought of,” who did not smoke or drink (a concession to my Baptist mother and grandmother), had little or no ambition to be other than he was, make more money, or buy better cars. He did not pursue higher education though he could have (the G.I. Bill), and was content, it seemed, to slump into the cushions of my mother’s maple Ethan Allen colonial themed furniture with the Dayton Daily News after a work day. We ate dinner, served on her Russell Wright cobalt blue cutlery (the glaze of which may or may not have been slowly poisoning us) set formally on her Ethan Allen maple table (Refinished periodically by my father and polished by my mother after each use. ) around 5:30, soon after his predictable return.
There was with him, however, some underlying fear of and disdain for the government. He seemed to be a man who “lay low.” He wouldn’t fly, at least not after WWII. He did not enjoy driving, at least not when I knew him.

The asphalt tile on the floors of each room of the house was also killing us. The popular tile was made of asbestos fibers that sometimes comprised over 70 percent of the thin, brittle squares. Laid for a floor, they created a cold and hard surface that caused anything dropped to shatter. (My mother’s marble coffee table was shattered, but that was by a bowling ball which my father let loose while practicing in the living room one evening.)
The tile in our living room was a dark green shot with off white. Mother must have disliked it because she covered it with a fairly thin red medium-shag carpet. This carpet was vacuumed everyday when she returned from work even before she removed and hung her coat. This manic vacuuming was, I presume, done to enliven the rug’s limp, lusterless nap. In the front door, open the closet, drag out the vacuum, freshen the rug, return vacuum to closet, take off coat, plump furniture cushions, generally “straighten things.” A typical 1950s home? No footprints on the carpet and no fingerprints on the furniture. No body impressions. A place for everything and everything in its place. No trace of human activity. Or crab grass. It was one of my regular household chores to make rounds with a metal digger and root out starts of plants certain to spoil the golf course look of our “lawn.”
The “picture window”, a typical a feature of “ranch style” houses, was enormous and from it we had a view of the scraggly sugar maples planted in our front yard, and, across Hanes Road and a field of red sorrel, bittersweet, golden rod and Queen Anne’s lace, a forest of beech and ash and hawthorne and elm in which, now and then, roamed a herd of hapless Guenseys. These were probably Mrs. Johnnnes’ errant cows. They had the highest butterfat content in the county and were the pride of Mrs. Johannes whose other claim to fame was that she regularly forgot to remove the rollers from her hair.
Mother often reminded us that unlike tasteless women in the other ranch style houses, the likes of which abounded in Beavercreek, she had not placed a large table lamp in the middle of HER window. She was one who did not like to “follow the crowd.” (I was advised to be similarly unconventional in thought and behavior.) The mullionless oversized pane, she believed, was meant to provide access to the outdoors without actually having to be outdoors. Mother, in her dark moods, preferred the curtains to be drawn closed.
At the level of this long window sill and outdoors was a stone planter box filled with unruly phitzer junipers, a nonnative popular landscaping shrub of the period. Mother did not do flowers. We had, probably my father and I, planted long rows of multiflora roses to demark the boundaries of our half-acre lot. These grew quickly and produced beautiful though small white blooms. The multiflora formed a “living fence” and is now considered one of the peskiest invasives in Ohio. I pray that the intruders did not get their first footholds on our property.

My father’s fear of the government may have been as much a fear of men in uniform as anything else. He had, after being turned down by the Air Corps and Navy, managed to get into the Army. He was committed to being part of the American fighting force. Even though he had a new baby (me) and was the only male support of my mother and grandmother, he persevered. He was 30 years old with a great mop of dark hair and, if pictures tell the story, a certain swagger. He had been a football star and in a small town like Wellston, that gave him a certain cachet. After high school he went to Oklahoma for flight training and came back home as a daredevil of a pilot who owned his own biplane and a colorful guy who rode a motorcycle and had actually been out of the county. Today, he’d be the kind of fellow who would have a lot of friends on Facebook and would post pictures of himself riding into the wind with a white silk scarf flowing behind. He’d brag about a trout he’d caught or show us pictures of his girlfriends. That is, before his marriage to his real “catch,” the glam, redhead Doris, whom he had followed home after she paid a utility bill in his father’s appliance shop. What happened to that dashing spirit? My theory is that he initially chaffed against being told what to do by some fellow with Sergeant stripes or by an officer who was five years younger than he. Then he learned to take a deep breath and do what he was told. Something tamed him. Maybe it was his desperate, apparently nearly suicidal need to marry my mother. There was hell to pay and there were rules to live by. Just like in the Army.
Once coming across the Canadian border back into the United States, he was nearly frozen with terror when he was, inevitably and not surprisingly, asked if he had purchased anything while in Canada. The border guard, fully decked out in his border guard best, leaned menacingly into the driver side car window. My father began a recital that included recollections of every meal he had consumed, each piece of fruit he’d eaten, the chewing gum packet he’d bought at a news stand, a newspaper. I believe he surrendered an apricot. The border guard was quickly bored and flagged us on. My father, his brow dripping with sweat, seemed triumphant and righteous. The rest of the family were mortified with embarrassment.
Yes. It might have been uniforms. Or my mother. Or perhaps he really had done something terribly wrong. Perhaps he had to hang on to proofs of his labors, his existence, his movements. Perhaps he was in a witness protection program.
It was his sister Susan who saved and, more than that, cherished the clippings and photographs that told the story of a family of Irish and Scots-Irish predecessors. My father’s father and grandfather look dour in portraits. Dour or maybe hard and perhaps slightly paranoid. All but Will and Uncle Charlie who are reputed to have been a “bit off.” Still, such mementos did not seem to interest my father. He did make a drawing, once, of the family farm on which he lived when he was a boy. And recorded a lengthy description of how to make a kite, something he did regularly with his mother, the apparent genius and inventor in the family, and brother.

What was left to whom was a discussion I overheard often as a child. Wellston, Ohio, it seemed, was rife with battles for the remainders of lives, those vases and crystal glasses and silver tea services that filled grand Victorian houses all up and down the tree lined main street of town. I was, it seemed, related in some distant way, to almost all of those householders. When the wakes were over, the bodies removed from the parlors to the cemetery, and the last tea sandwiches consumed, bits and pieces of a legacy were found to have gone home with the guests or even preceded them out the door. At least that’s how it seemed to me. I listened through grates and at doors to stories of Aunt Minnie’s vaseline glass and Aunt Lulu’s gold rimmed dinner plates. Gone with the crystal and the cutlery. The stories were similar: some relative would have beaten the others to the house after the death of the loved one and taken something she (or he) had been eyeing for years. Relatives who lived out of town were out of luck. Relatives who cared for the dear one at the time of death got the best of everything. And who could fault a caregiver? Well, one could suspect that the caregiving was double-edged, that is, perhaps done with a hope for material gain. From the plush backseat of our Plymouth or the depths of my out- of- the- way bedroom with Jenny Lind walnut spool bed, I listened to speculation regarding the sincerity of distant cousins or great great aunts, all of whom seemed gushily loving to me. They held me close to their cushy perfumed breasts and required that I kiss their powdered cheeks. They could not be two-faced, could they? And anyway, who, I wondered, would sacrifice “the best years of her life” for a piece of bone china. Hard for a child to fathom.
But, yes, remainders were hotly contested but the heat was under the breath, whispered and indirect and the contest might go on for years. Again, under the breath or from across any room the suspect dared to enter.
My grandmothers did not, so far as I know, play the game. One was relatively poor and seemed not to mind, at least in the eyes of a child. The other got rid of nearly everything she had owned when she “set up housekeeping” and after her husband died. Even his law books were gone and the only things left to remind her of her only son, Ralph, who died in a plane crash, a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, were his hat, his Sam Browne belt, and a tinted portrait of his agreeable, smiling face. No letters, no memorabilia. It is as if she had purged herself of all of it in order to live. Of her life, I have boxes of costume jewelry, a few hat pins, and a one or two hats. Nothing more.
Photographs. Yes, boxes and albums full of photographs. Because in our family looking through photograph albums was a regular happy pastime. The pages were made of a course black paper. Photos were held to the pages by little black sticky corners. Each was identified by neat notations made with white ink. I loved sitting with “Nan” and mother looking at these images of my antique relatives and my young mother and father and me, a nude baby on a sheep skin or pinafored and imprisoned in an elegant red leather cushioned high chair or oaken play pen placed in a sleepy summer lawn. And these remain, though cannibalised through the years in order to create other albums.


Remainders of a life. What is it we save and why? What burdens do we place on those left behind when they are left to sort and toss and make the trips to thrift shops with clothing we ourselves have not worn in years? Will the things upon which we place such value mean anything to those we’ve left behind?
Some of my mother’s maple furniture went to my brother and sister in law with my blessings. I wanted nothing. The maple is still quite serviceable as is the silver cutlery mother kept in a velvet coffin-like box and used only on special occasion. The silver tea set made its way, I am glad to know, to my eldest niece. My father’s receipts, well, I believe they are long gone. I hope. Some were eaten by a dog I had when they were stored in my Olympia Decatur Street garage. He was a living shredder and did away with small piles of papers my father had stored there without my permission. I didn’t care.
But the albums. The photographs. I have boxes and boxes of them, the remains of several lives. These I cannot toss. These I cannot burn. I mean, always, to take a few days to sort them, repackage them, put them into labeled files or envelopes. For whom? I have no direct descendants. No one sits and looks through albums with me. But I hold on to these images, just as my father held on to the receipts from the house he built.
The remainders are, after all, evidence, like the drawings in caves of Sulawesi or Chauvet, that we once walked this earth and did something of value.

*Spoil and gob are terms used in association with abandoned coal mines. In the early 1900s, my family were associated with mining in southeastern Ohio and West Virginia. Reclamation projects, especially of old strip mines, often reference the spoil tips and gob piles left over from years of pretty questionable practices.

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A Note on the Passing of Rudy Martin March 2016

My Snowman’s Burning Down

Rudy Martin, Willie Parsons, and I were deans together at The Evergreen State College in the early to mid 1970s. Rudy had been one of the 18  planners and schemers who worked together for a year before the college opened. He had as much of a stake in the place as anyone and as 50 or so teaching staff with our own passions and quirks, came on board in 1971, faculty meetings became, well, interesting. So much was unformed, nascent, and possible. So much had been unforeseen. Our own hopes, many fired by the idealism of the 1960s, began to mold the still pliable institution into new forms. We were all over the place. The lacunae in the original plan allowed for off campus reservation based programming to gain a foothold. Mary Hillaire*, said, “you say you are an experimental college? Let’s see how experimental you are.” Maxine Mimms began meeting students around her kitchen table in Tacoma. We had a farm. We had students on individual contracts with journals and backpacks hoofing it all over the globe! Dogs were running through the halls. Some, faculty not dogs, already wanted to tear down the narrative evaluation system and go to grades. Rudy stayed the course. He and colleague, David Marr, wrote a critical memo called, “Help! My Snowman’s Burning Down.” (after the 1965 film) Marr and Martin. The M and M Manifesto. The piece helped set the agenda for a critical look at our work. And then we were co-deans. We were charged, if only in our own minds, to bring some order to this chaos. And we three, Parsons and Martin and (then) Patterson, were under enormous pressure. Two African American men and one white woman, all relatively young, as deans? This was unheard of in 1973. The expectations and the scrutiny were equally daunting. And this still young, college, bombarded by negative press almost daily, was, in many ways, ours to bottle feed and nuture. We had to wipe its bottom but we had to keep it free…to let it take its first steps…to see what it would become. Rudy was part of all that. And so much more.

He is to be thanked for his fierceness and dedication to teaching because without both we would not have had our Evergreen. Thanks, Rudy.

*Mary Hillaire (Lummi) was a first year faculty at Evergreen. Her vision initiated the long, successful relationship Evergreen has had with Native American tribes and people.

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Sleep, Putter, Die March 6, 2016


LLyn De Danaan
March 6, 2016

I’ve been floundering around, as in writhing in my own existential quasi-despair, for some time, and the recent death of a close friend finally did me in. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t experienced the death of a friend before. A few years ago, a woman my age and of my acquaintance, was found dead. It was sudden, no known disease, no warning. Women much younger than I or near my age have died of hideous cancers, ovarian among them. They endured illnesses, many unsuccessful treatments that prolonged lives or perhaps the agonies. Men I cared for have passed on of complications: diabetes, heart disease, and, yes, cancer. I have a cabinet full of memorial programs. I keep them. Near the little basket that once held my mother’s ashes. A few grey particles are still embedded in the twines of sweet grass and bear grass and sift themselves through into a fine powder offering to all the other dear ones kept close to me on that oaken, glass fronted shelf. The shelf, or rather the bookcase it is part of, is itself a memorial to my Aunt Dorothy. I was given it by her, though I think it may have been part of the furniture in my grandfather Zora’s law office.

It is not as if I pay much attention to that shelf and its contents. But I do pass it each day. And last October, I made an altar for Dios de los Muertos and placed all of those programs, face forward, on the altar. I wanted to remember my friends. But now I believe I was tempting the fates.

I had not until this past month lost anyone who was so inextricably part of my life, someone who had been with me on some of the most significant adventures of my robust younger life. This was a different kind of loss. This was the loss of a comrade, a fellow traveler, a confidant and a chunk of myself.

I managed to limp through the planning of an afternoon of tributes, the writing of an obituary. I managed to compose my own tribute and to stand and read it to the friends and family. I managed to make a public appearance, and to visit friends in Portland.

I’ve stopped looking at photographs of my friend. Although I’ll never know if her life passed before her eyes before she died, I know that mine has. There we were at 25, at 30, at 40. Here we are living in Portland. Here we are in San Francisco. And each photograph has a backstory and its own clothing and its shoes and its own setting. Reviewing them is like reading a hundred short stories or watching a 50 act play with superb costuming and intricately painted realistic backdrops. It was exhausting. And how many times I exclaimed aloud, Who is that? when I saw myself. Memories were alive with color and with dialogue. Hairstyles and bodies, like flip card animation, changed quickly: short long curly straight big small straight stooped.

I put the albums away. I told myself I was ready to get on with my life.

But my life still felt and still feels hollow in some new way. I’ve always had periods that might be called slumps or even minor depressions. These used to worry me because my mother was bipolar and I had some deep, long term depressions in the 1970s and even a couple in the 1980s. But the past 20 years or so have been happy, almost deliriously happy, with only short lived downs. I have come to recognize these and know that I just have to wait them out. They are short term breaks from my usual highly productive, generally positive and optimistic self. During these few days or even weeks, I can focus on physical tasks. I may not have terrific ideas for stories, but I can edit. I may not have sudden inspirations for new garden structures, but I can weed. I don’t shut down and I don’t feel bored.

Something about this loss, this friend’s departure, has made me feel the inevitability of death. Not simply my death, but the death of my friends, the death of dreams, the death of the world we knew and hoped for, the death of our planet. It is as if my ticket is already stamped, the show is over, and the credits are running. It is time to get up and leave but I’m going to wait until I see who wrote the music and who catered the crew. Damn it, I’m going to see it through.

I go to bed too early and stay in bed too late. And in between, I don’t sleep well. I am hot, then cold. The covers tangle around my legs. The top sheet tries to strangle me. The cat, somewhere in the vast outdoors, screams at 2 a.m., pursued, perhaps, by the neighbor feline or a raccoon or a ghost. I leap out of the bed and pound vigorously on windows. I switch lights on and off hoping to scare monsters away. Because, I think, maybe it is I who is screaming. I turn on my bedside lamp and read for a while. I have to pee. I make my way down the familiar stairs and into the bathroom. I think may as well get up. I read a bit more. Then fall asleep and wake an hour later, groggy and unrested.

When I am finally really awake, I think, almost always, of my friend. The one I used to call with news. But there is no news and no one to call. It seems pointless to start anything that might take years of commitment. As a friend once said, “Don’t plant anything that requires 10 or more years before it bears fruit.” There is so little time left. I try to talk myself out of this thought. I remind myself that I could live another, oh, 17 years. Seventeen years? Then I wonder if my money will last that long. I count it. Divide by 17. I wonder how I will fare in those years? I wonder if I will stay in my house and continue muttering to my coffee and monitoring my diet and forcing myself to exercise every day. Again I wonder, what is the point?

While I putter around doing my laundry, organizing bookshelves, dusting lampshades, and scrubbing the shower stall, I give myself pep talks. Just think, one such speech begins, some of the presidential candidates are nearly your age. You don’t think they are giving it up. I read obituaries to cheer myself. Just look at that. Everyone who died this week was nearly 90 or beyond 90. See? You have a long way to go.

That thought is counter productive in someways. It would be a thrilling thought if I could be interested in something. But to imagine another 20 years of feeling like THIS without an exit strategy is hellish. And my pressing fear is that as I grow older, there will be more and more losses and more and more lengthy periods of trying to recover.


When I was still in high school, a car in which several Girl Scouts and their leaders were packed, was crushed by a train at a crossing near my school. Things like that happened in those days. Even my mother and I had been hit by a train once. We didn’t have adequately marked crossings or, more often, the crossings weren’t marked at all. You might start across the track and suddenly there was the engine baring down on you. That happened with mother. She slammed on the brakes and stalled the engine. Our car was sent careening off the tracks and left hung up on the edge of a deep escarpment. This crossing, near the school, was one of those bad ones.

Everyone in that car died. One of them, Anne North, was a young friend of mine. I was a junior leader in 4-H and she admired me. I liked her, though because of the age difference, we didn’t become close. Over her open casket, her mother told me that I had an obligation to live the best life I could because Anne would not have the opportunity to live at all. I had to sort of, I think she said, live for myself and for Anne.

So as I dawdle around the house aimlessly rearranging pillows, carrying the garbage up the hill, and vacuuming the same rug twice in the same day, I wonder if I need to think about that again. My friend is gone. I’m here. Do I have an obligation to her? Do I have a responsibility to life that is different from the one I had two months ago? Or will I simply bow and submit to the increasingly unreasonable demands of an aging body and sleep, putter and wait for death.

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2016 Speaking Engagements (as of March 3, 2016)

Elma, Washington April 12

Chehalis, Washington April 12

Ephrata, Washington April 26

Moses Lake, Washington April 27

Leavenworth, Washington April 28

Bainbridge Island, Washington April 30

Port Townsend, Washington May 6

Gig Harbor, Washington July 7

All of these events are open to the public and sponsored by Humanities Washington.


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Karen Maria James: a very personal tribute to a life well led

Camp Karen and LLyn et alKaren Maria James: a very personal tribute to a life well led
By LLyn De Danaan February 27, 2016


We always said we’d grow old together. We did…we just didn’t notice.
For we whose glory days were arguably the 1960s, becoming old seems an illusion.
We were stardust, we were golden, we are billion year old carbon……….but time comes when you have to get yourself back to the garden.

I wasn’t ready for her to return that day, this year. Why didn’t I know? Why wasn’t I there?
Because in the mythology of today’s world of “50 is the new 30 ,” we were still only late middle age.  Weren’t we? I denied entrance to the harbingers who said otherwise. I was still out there flying…..on the road again….out of reach. And now I’m left behind. My memories have been on full dress parade.

She was the sunshine of our lives… her caring self, always ready for a little adventure.
When I asked Karen to take a road trip with me, to deliver my mother’s ashes to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico, she didn’t hesitate. We visited her friend in Taos Pueblo for guidance. We went to the mountains, above the high village of Truchas, past the studios of the Cordova weavers, beyond the paddock of painted ponies and of goats, above where the owls were calling, above where the water flows from the high peaks to the Rio Grande and then to the gulf and all around the world. We are stardust.We were on the journey already. The magical mystery tour was already taking us away.

We returned to Washington, the car vibrating with song: I Heard it on the Grapevine. Marvin Gay. Stories she’d never told, the glories and pains of our lives. Hours on the highway allows for that. Once, she imagined she saw her brother’s face in the clouds. Like Thelma and Louise we could dream alternative lives while driving free and out of time, hurtling through deserts at 75 miles per hour. We walked and rode through Cornwall, watched the dolphins play near Land’s End and visited her ancestral farms. Cornwall was soon after 9/11 and we wondered if the anthrax scare would keep us in Britain forever. We spent some days in Leamington Spa to visit an eccentric friend of her Dad. It was all fodder for an imagined future we laughed about.

It was not so farfetched. In Cornwall, an ancient historian who was Victorian in dress and manner fell in love with her. Everybody did.

A woman in Uzbekistan ran across the plaza in Tashkent and asked her to please come home with her…she would make her a dinner and sew her a dress. It was like that. People felt her spirit.

We watched the first walk on the moon in 1968. From the deck of her parents’ Hood Canal cabin we gazed at passing satellites, still in their first decade of circling the earth. Incredible to us, these stars with such grave intention moving above us. We suffered the 1968 murder of Martin Luther King and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. We marched in the streets of Seattle during Vietnam.

And we grieved when her brother Evan, a Vietnam veteran, died.

We marked each of these heart wrenching moments with tears but never abandoned hope. They were all times for rededication of our life work.

We travelled to Camp Grisdale, in the mountains, with her Dad. It was the last of the old logging camps. We watched the men in tin-pants take down surviving giants of the forest and joined the fallers in lunches of T-bone steaks .

We lived in farm labor camps and went to Delano to join Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Viva la Huelga, we sang. Long live the strike. Sam Martinez, Tomas Villanueva and others in United Farmworkers helped us forge a perspective on our work and how anthropology was nothing if not political. We worked with her beloved, Subiyay, Bruce Miller, to document the basketry art of Mrs. Pulsifer and Emily Miller. Once we uprooted an entire Oregon Grape and presented it to her to peel for her yellow dye. Bruce brandished it like a first kill offering. “You only need a little bit,” she said as she chuckled at our trophy. We fetched bucket after bucket of the wrong mud for the black dye. Mrs. Pulsifer was patient. We were humble beginners in this work of life. Yes, we all got it wrong sometimes. But we learned. And that is part of the being human.

And there was fun, abundant fun. We saw Hair in San Francisco. We flung our own hair at Eagles Auditorium in the sweet glow of watery light shows and. pulsing strobes. The Doors, Cream, Pink Floyd. Country Joe and the Fish. University AVE, Helix magazine with its psychedelic rainbow covers, all part of the fabric of our lives. I was there when Dex and Karen married and with the McCulloch family for exhilarating after hour repasts of pizza and song. She was dedicated to family: to her Aunt (Täti) and Uncle Hugh, just a short Boston Whaler trip across the canal and famous for their sauna and Russian music and vodka; to her cousin Alice, their daughter, for whom she cared through catastrophic illnesses; to the James family….the annual picnic, the newsletter and those encyclopedias brought all the way from Cornwall.

And then there were the births of her adored sons and grandchildren…and her hopes for their lives and wish that they would appreciate the treasured objects, like her grandmother’s needlework, with which she surrounded herself, she, the self anointed curator of the family legacy.

Karen… human kindness over flowing…so present in all her work and relationships….and a passion for justice and for her dear dear friends.

I was numb when I heard Karen was gone…she didn’t warn us…or did she? When I talked to her sons, one said, I swear she left us messages in between the pages of her inevitable, ever present stacks of papers. I didn’t doubt it. When I walked in Olympia for the first time after she had left us, the Olympic Mountains were as clear as I’d ever seen them from the boardwalk along Budd Inlet. I had walked that walk for fifty years but I saw for the first time, from there, the Traveller….a formation that is visible when the snow lays itself between and below the crevices and declivities that make that feature stand out. The Traveller. I saw her cloak, her staff, her hat and realized that our dear traveller was on her way and would always greet us and the crows and the dog friends and all the humans and other creatures who ever knew her from high on those beloved mountains, the mountains she gazed at all her life.

But even that assurance does not relieve the pain, does not sew the rent in the fabric of our lives, does assuage the feelings we will have when we miss her at the table, on the boat or on the telephone…we will feel it….at unexpected moments…again and again and that’s just how it will be…

Human kindness overflowing
….I think it’s going to rain today

We didn’t go back to the garden together….but today we celebrate her journey….and know that she is teaching us, showing us and always will be.
One year when I was away A giant cedar tree that had stood for over 100 years near where my house is fell. There must have been a tremendous silence when it settled. I mourned that tree. It was a tree that I looked at everyday. It was a cradle for birds and a home for lichen and moss and generations of squirrels. It overlooked the bay and reached for the sky. But when I came home, everything was different with that tree gone. There was a emptiness and confusion among the creatures. But where roots had been I dug in rich, loamy soil and planted a garden and now the open sky lets the sun shine on the garden and it is nourished. Deer come and help themselves, and the raccoons and the crows…the crows now perch with eagle and heron atop a nearby madonna and call out and fuss and live out their lives with memories of the old cedar. I like to think they tell their children…I like to think they pass her story on and honor her and thank her for the sheltering strength of her life, for the garden that grows where her feet once stood.

Across the Bay at sunrise I often see Mt. Rainier where another friend was killed in an avalanche. And in my yard are plants that honor other beloveds. They bloom in their season and remind me of them and of the fragility of life. All is impermanent means more and more.

I will plant something for Karen…something that reminds me of her smile…something that a cat would like to wind itself around to listen for her call….or a dog to pounce from……

**Songs quoted: Woodstock, Joanie Mitchell. 1970; The Sunshine of My Life, Stevie Wonder, 1973; The Magical Mystery Tour, McCartney and Lennon, 1967; I Think its Going to Rain Today, Randy Newman, 1968; Huelga Song from Viva La Causa, 1966 and !Huelga en General, 1973.

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The Glorious Pain in the Ass of Travel: February 2016

From 30,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean

No doubt I have been inordinately influenced by my recent reading of Geoff Dyer whose discourse on D.H. Lawrence’ travels and his own have made me reconsider and reflect upon my own unsettled nature and need to occasionally wander no matter how uncomfortable the whole enterprise may be.

I have spent days of my life preparing for this present five hour flight to and 10 day stay in Honolulu. Istopped buying fresh food days ago so nothing would go to waste while I was gone. I stopped cooking at least three days back so I wouldn’t have so much to wash up. I laundered sheets for the house sitter and changed my own so I would have a clean bed to which to return. I laid out clothes and saw immediately that my shorts were laughably boxy and much too large for my present body. And my tee shirts were spotted with paint and bleach blobs. And that my only sun dress, blue, and something a friend advised me to take knowing full well I don’t wear such things, was just plain odd. It looked good just once on a patio on the deck of a fancy hotel somewhere in southern Croatia….on the coast, of course. I posed against an array of outrageously large yachts. I looked good.
It was a multi-star hotel in which I was an imposter. So I vamped around the cocktail lounge in this blue sundress wearing oversized dark glasses and lots of makeup. I was attempting to disguise myself as a rich European. I was helplessly and obviously a poor excuse for an American. We were so out of place that my friend and I snuck into the breakfast room without paying and allowed young staff to bring us coffee and croissants in exchange for extravagant tips and a chance to practice English.
I still have the sundress but not the more glamorous gown I borrowed from a friend while in Huahine. Now THAT was a successful costume. I look busty and attractive in pictures taken as I called out like a siren to Greek sailors from my long ago past. That ship had sailed and that dress was a friend’s and she has, alas or fortunately, given it away.

So I’m stuck with the tee shirts, ugly shorts, and a flock of light weight harem style style pants from Forever 21. I am not Forever 21 so they fit me oddly…loose where they should cling and tight where they should flop.

Because preparation for flight is so unsettling, especially the bit about dressing for scanners, I now wear loose slip on shoes and no jewelry when I prepare for the airport ordeal. Everyone else on flights now dress like hobos or charwomen so what matter. I still make an effort, as my grandmother’s voice demands, but no one cares or looks or appreciates. I am small and polite and always try to “put my best foot forward” to represent, I suppose, breeding and taste. To assert that it is not all dead. To model some personal fantasy about decorum and glamour. Or just to be ready to be an ambassador of past America…an America long gone. I dodge into airport bathrooms to recheck my lipstick and fluff my hair. I am somebody, I tell myself. I have the credentials.
My great uncle flew the Pacific in a Pan Am China Clipper. I have his original certificate of flight attesting to the fact that he had crossed the equator. This was a big thing in his day. Sailors were paddled and dunked by King Neptune when their ships crossed that imaginary line. And my uncle was proud enough of this accomplishment to keep the proof.
My first flight to Hawaii was in 1962. I think that was on a Pan Am, too. I was on my way to Peace Corps training on the Big Island. And was with some dozen or so volunteers with whom I had rendezvoused in San Francisco. I wore a pleated skirt suit, blue and white and white pumps, all very appropriate for a middle-aged woman diplomat. I was, however, 19. I had a pair of Dior sunglasses I had found somewhere. Narrow lenses, black frames. The kind a French airline hostess might wear. And a nice haircut. In short, I was going for glamour even then, ready for an adventure that would buy me two years on the island of Borneo in a thatched government house surrounded by slit trenches in which hid Malay soldiers, Gurkhas, and Royal Marines all clutching Sten guns and long knives. I survived by reading a truckload of novels provided by the United States government and by listening to the early Beatles on a Phillips battery operated phonograph. I made barely adequate covers for my hideous Sarawak Government issue chairs and couches on a hand crank sewing machine. I traded my pleated skirt for big khaki jungle shorts, sarongs, and cheongsams. I wore army issue deep green jungle boots instead of high heels.
But the flight. The flight was divine. I felt like a movie star. Deborah Kerr. I was going to THE EAST on an aircraft whose staff served me Bloody Marys (the celery the best part) without asking for an ID and placed a plumeria lei around my neck. Only two years out of high school and I was on my way and could even smoke on the airplane if I chose to. No mother to avoid.
Today the pilot promises a wonderful flight. Babies whimper and play with tablets and pads. People sneeze and cough. There is barely enough room for my small body in the seat, let alone for anyone larger. There may be a snack available for sale…$8 for something called a cheese tray. I’m not certain for it is almost impossible to hear announcements. Some people cleverly have carried hamburgers and fries aboard…and the smell of the old grease nearly gags me.
Like Dyer, I am one of those who can barely wait for a trip to end even as I begin it. I count the days till I can be home again. I count my money too.
Like Dyer, I avoid my writing even though I call myself a writer. I fuss about my garden and wash my windows and flit from story to story as I struggle to produce an “antholooy” of “good” work. I anticipate the next trip only to know that it too will be just another opportunity to avoid important tasks and to count the days til I go home, to obsess about my money, to check for messages from friends who are always somewhere else.
I think all this counting of days started during the time I was in Borneo. I swore I wouldn’t quit . But how the gruesome months crawled by. The floods, the border war, the heat. When I returned to the scene of my imprisonment twenty years later, I burst into the teats. The oppressive humidity and heat and charm lacking village nearly smothered me and I wondered how “she” …my disassociated young self…could have lasted.
I could not bring myself at 20 (when I could have shopped at Forever 21) to say “this is hell.” I, therefore, missed a whole developmental period of my life by living isolated in this unforgiving, irredeemable, world of spirits and snakes, pepper and pineapple, bomohs and adat. How I sometimes writhed in a kind of confused late adolescent agony …stretched out on my rattan mats….while listening to Johnny Cash on the Phillips.
There were spiders as big as a dinner plate in my shower. And yet, I didn’t scream and demand to be put on the first plane back to the states.
Instead I became Nurse Nelly, a South Pacific heroine. I washed my hair, mounted my English bicycle, and rode forth to do my duty. Did I imagine a French planter might save me? Neither he nor she did. Instead I met Buntys and other other arrogant, racists English colonials and sweet talking Sarawakian politicians who wanted to take me as a second wife. And I learned to be alone and suffering and that that would have to do. I counted the days, the months and waited to return to the states…where I fared not much better as it turned out.

I didn’t have a home then. Now I do and I know better.


The inevitable carts filled with bottles and cans and tiny packets of nuts and dry as dust pretzels make their way down the aisles so narrow one must hope that the urge to use the toilet stalls does not hit. People are nice. The stewards are all American, fresh, mostly smiling, younger than those on many of my recent flights. They exude competence. I’d trust them to shove me down a slide into the ocean or lead me out of a smokey plane or navigate down a mountain. I think they are sensible even though I usually think of myself as the most sensible and reliable person in any crowd. “Self Reliance.” I read Thoreau and Emerson and Dickens before my trip to Borneo and I think about how those books influenced my “solid citizen” self—the one who was a great success living alone in Sarawak. Go to the woods. Yes. I smoked a lot and drank a lot. But I survived and did my job. I think about the influence my Baptist grandmother had…and the song, I would be True; nine years in 4-H clubs. “I pledge my hands, heart and whatnots for my club, my community and my country.” Who would not have fallen for the challenge, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” after those years of indoctrination. The competitions at the fair and at camp only fed the fervor to do right. How I longed to beat out Sara Starbuck of Bellbrook, Ohio for Camp Spirit and be surrounded by candle bearing junior campers during that last sacred ceremonial night of camp. We sang“Follow the Gleam”. We sang as if we too were crusaders. And in a way we were.
It all wove itself into the fiber of my already prepped genetic predisposition for adventure and heroics inherited from North European and Central Asian and Neanderthal hunters and early agriculturalists.
I’ve been hit by a flying ice cube and showered by a bottle of seltzer. No damage. Remember, I am nice so I smile at the stewards and try to look pleasant and harmless.
After all, I’ve survived much worse…flights that seemed doomed or on airlines barely held together in Sarawak, in China, in Mongolia.
But the maddest trip by far was one I took just a few years ago. We flew, a group of friends and I, from Seattle to some place in Turkey. Then we switched to Uzbek airlines for a ride to Tashkent. One friend lost or forgot or misplaced her carry on bag in that Turkish airport. She realized very quickly that it was gone but though we retraced our steps, it was never found. I had a spare camera, one I always brought along in those days. But that didn’t make up for whatever else was in the bag.
We arrived at the Tashkent Airport, exhausted from more than 24 hours en route and stood in a mob for perhaps two hours. After the flight time, who was counting? I might just as well have been stoned the way I felt…and would gladly have been if it wouldn’t have landed me in a jail. For the rest of my life. Though t=a prison might have been more accommodating than the airport. We had our visas but because there were no discernible lines in which to cue, it didn’t matter. I feared that all my medications would be confiscated and so had hidden extras (another jail-able offense no doubt) deep in the linings of my bags and had brought actual written prescriptions from my doctors. This was all a needless worry. Nobody really looked at anything.
When we were finally cleared for entry, we went to luggage claim and the real fun began. What passed for checked baggage in Turkey were very large packages swathed in sheets of plastic and bound up with at least ten rolls each of cello tape. They bulged at the edges and through the seams between tape and all resembled bales of cotton. One after another came tumbling through the chutes onto the moving pathways where dozens of Uzbeks crowded forward to snatch and tug and heave them off the carousel. (An apt name for the circus that was being performed before it.) Scissor and knives appeared and the tape and packing was removed and scattered about the floor. Appliances emerged from the bundles and towels and blenders and fans and air cons. A gang of short American women, not so spry as once they were, would not have a chance of collecting suitcases . At least not until the cello tape and assorted merchandise (brought in from Turkey being unavailable in Uzbekistan) had at least settled on the floor like the carnage after a battle.
It didn’t matter that we had to wait because our luggage didn’t appear. Well, mine did. But no one else’s. We waited for two or three more flights to arrive from Turkey. No suitcases. They did not make their way to us for five or six days. Our guide made calls, sent emails, inquired at various airport offices. But it was really a matter of waiting and hoping.
We shared clothes, at least with roommates. We wore the same thing for days. We washed out underwear. I say we because I felt that I had to seem deprived and joined the others in their impoverished state so though I wore clean underwear I did not lord about in crisp clean trousers and blouses. For the general good.
Bad luck was visited upon me at about the time the found suitcases arrived. We were out touring some dreadful park—one in which there was, as I recall, a notable architectural feature. (And there really were, all about the country, masterpieces of silk roads buildings and mosaics). Suddenly, my bowels warning..and I began to drip sweat and knew I had to find a latrine though I was wildly disoriented and desperately ill. I set off on my own realizing that only rudimentary French would get me past rows of vendors and park officials and to a toilette.
I paid a fee for use of the latrine and for a bit of paper. I ran to the end squat (and I’m a very good and practiced squatter) and let loose with the most most despicable pile of deep brown gravy consistency poo I had almost every seen. That it came out of my body horrified me. I wiped with that ineffective scrap of tissue I’d paid good money for and found a water hose with which to attempt a clean up but still…I left a mess on the floor and wondered about how much was on my clothes and shoes..
I started through the gate to find my group in what was now a clearly altered state. But no…I had to dash back. This time the attendant took pity and didn’t charge me. A slightly larger scrap of paper was given.
I finally felt well enough to find the group. My friends were huddled close into some crafts stall happily buying buying and chatting chatting. Meanwhile, I was certain I was dying. “I’m going back to the van,” I said. I’m not certain anyone noticed or heard.
Of course I went far past it but some Uzbek women saw me, associated me with the van, and led me there. I sat hallucinating, certain I was dying, willing my sphincter to behave to avoid an accident for perhaps an hour before my guide and friends returned.
I spent a couple of days in bed on a diet of dry white rice and tea. I continued that diet for several more days.
By contrast, when one of my friends contracted what was arguably the same disease, a doctor sat by her bed and she was rehydrated with an IV.
This my friends is what you get when you are reputed to be a survivor. I would have been better treated if I had relapsed in a puddle of my own shit and admitted that I just couldn’t handle one more moment of being strong.
Of course, there is always the problem of illness when traveling. Last year, I had bronchitis for at least two weeks on an otherwise wonderful Sicilian trip. In the Yucatan a few years ago I visited Chan Kom, the subject of Robert Redfield’s famous “Village That Chose Progress.” I happily drank from a gourd full of maize beer that was being passed around. Yes, I came home, barely, with shigella.
But in Borneo, when I was young and strong, I stayed healthy. I mourned my life, gritted my teeth, waited for the invasion but I did not get sick. Except for dengue fever.
Oh well.

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POWER: second draft August 17, 2015


LLyn De Danaan

August 17, 2015

About 5600 Words

They are foxed and grimy, so much so that they stick to my hands. Their creases and bent corners make them nearly impossible to shuffle. I manage. With my eyes closed, I slip my
fingers into the middle of the pile, and pull the Knight of Cups. Nothing
surprising. The Knight slides out every morning except during the month
of August. A familiar visitor now, I’d miss him if someone else were to show

He is dressed in not so shiny armor, erect and peering at the golden goblet in
his hand. There is a hint of a smirk on his face. The horse is not sleek but
stout and thick legged like an Irish Cob or Gypsy Tracker. One leg is lifted as
if in mid-stride. Together, horse and rider present an elegant duo, capable and
handsome. Getting the same card everyday isn’t a magic trick. I know the feel
of this deck so well I can be fairly certain I’ll draw the reading I want.

Today, however, the card is reversed. An upside down Knight of Cups represents a person
who has trouble discerning truth from lies. I can’t think who’d be lying to me.
Dogs and cats and turtles don’t lie. I’m not gullible so even if someone tried
to keep something from me, I’d see through the smokescreen. I wouldn’t be
easily taken in.

Most days I draw the card right side up. It means change is coming. When isn’t

I’m always preparing. I exercise my body so I’ll be fit no matter what. I keep
myself organized so I’ll know where everything is when it’s needed.

I stay busy, but am never mindlessly occupied. I choose activities that enhance my independence and chances of survival and over time I have created an autopoietic system. I possess what’s
required to live comfortably and all the elements in my environment cooperate in
recreating themselves and maintaining a happy equilibrium.

Brightly colored images of flowers and trees and sinuous vines and fairy tale
villages adorn both the interior and exterior of my house. The eastern wall,
the most expansive unbroken surface in the house, depicts the village and surrounding landscape of Saint-Marc de Cournoyer in Quebec. Only I would know that. There are seldom visitors so the mural is there to please me.

The wizened, weather worn boards of the building soaked up paint so quickly I
had to apply several coats and sometimes altered the images as I worked. Thus
the walls are as pentimenti. Some clever psychiatrist could peel back the
layers and read my changing moods.

Even the spigots, useless to me after the well was exhausted, and the sinks and
work benches and chairs and tables are painted. My ceramic pots, made from the
argillaceous earth from exposed banks on the nearest purple grey massif, are
glazed to resemble the work of the potters in Faenza. Some of the clay veins I
dig are micaceous and the vessels I build and fire glitter in the sun without
further treatment. To enhance the sparkle, I coat them with bright white quartz gathered from arroyos that criss-cross the flatlands below the mountains. I grind the
quartz to a fine powder, apply that to the pots, then heat them in the
kiln until the pulverized crystal vitrifies. Many of my first pots were meant
to contain and store water, but now they are offered for sale or filled with
long stemmed dried weeds the color of scorched tree bark and set about the
house as decoration. My handmade mugs and dinner plates are painted with care and style so when I dine, I see something exquisite. I take care in preparing my food and it
is attractive in its own right, of course. But the thing upon which it is
placed and from which it is eaten is handsome as well.

What’s it like living here? It’s rather like passing the days on a carefully
contrived stage set for a play called something like, “Eccentric Desert
Rat: The Life of Bonny Bloom.” The production would star me, of course,
dressed in blue jeans, faded and ripped at the knee and butt, and sporting a
red-brown cracking face with hound dog jowls and topped off with a pile of frowzy
grey hair.

After tinkering with the deck and thinking a bit about my card, I swallow my
daily immunity boosting Lion’s Mane and Turkey Tail capsules (produced from my coddled
and productive mushroom farm fruiting out of sight in a darkened shed off
the back door) and then use an eye dropper to drizzle water into the tiny pots
of Eucalyptus standing at attention, a platoon of tin soldiers, on a
windowsill. The trees sprout from the seeds I extracted from of the blackened pods I harvested
and dried long ago. The pods hold their seeds deep in the cavities of their dark five pointed stars.

One day, I’ll walk out of my door and into a sweet smelling
forest full of birds and mosses and the long absent moldy odor of damp leaves
and rotting bark. I’ve already planted some seventy trees outside.
They are of different ages and heights and claim most of my mornings as I
deliver scant but sufficient water to each. It keeps them alive and growing

I am careful with water. As I said, the well gave out in a sudden sputter of
grit and mud that exploded from the kitchen tap. I knew this was coming. The
closest town added thirty or forty houses a decade ago and each of these sunk
wells into the aquifer. That and twelve years of almost no rain drained it dry.
I haul my water from this ragged settlement in five-gallon carboys once a month. A local co-op
tanks it from a distant reservoir and offers it for $10 a quart.

Water is my greatest expense. I can’t live without it so I scrape for money.

Town is fifteen miles to the east and I am perpetually concerned for the life
of my chattering, droopy and sun faded Ford Pinto, fearing it might not make
it there and back. The car’s original finish was a bright bronze. It’s a
pebbled grey and brown now. The tires are devoid of tread and the windshield is
so pitted that if I didn’t know my way blindfolded, I’d be soon lost. I’ve
thought about knocking the sand blasted glass out altogether. But the dust would come straight at me and I’d really end up sightless.

The dust storms have also scrubbed all the enameled letters and numbers from the front license
plate, though no law enforcement has been seen in this region for a decade so I
don’t care. The brakes, thankfully, are responsive, at least on the flatland,
and I budget for oil and grease and belts. Of course, I do all the maintenance
myself. Still, gas costs real money, when it is available, and water is
expensive so when I take the empty carboys for water, I bring a stack or box of
paintings and pots I can live without to sell on consignment at Polly’s store.
She sells groceries and camping gear and socks and ball caps and even toys. She
has one wall devoted to displaying the work of local artists. I count on tourists or wanderers passing through town, chancing on Polly’s and going down the row where the matches and
mops and candles are, seeing my work on the wall above the shelving, and liking
something well enough to want to take it home. Otherwise I can’t afford gas or
water or corn meal or flour or canned goods or anything else.

It’s all okay, as my friend Chandler used to say. I’m never short of what I
require and never go wanting. So much so that I often find I’ve put too much in
the cook pot or on my plate. No leftover is tossed. I keep a compost bin
a-brewing and use the soil I produce to dig in under the Eucalyptus trees and
mix into the soil in the roof garden raised beds. A fair amount of moisture
accumulates up there. The dew of the morning condenses on to sizeable sheets of
black plastic that line a dozen large, lipped pans. I bottle the dew-drop water
before the sun hits the roof. I have enough, over a few days, to water the
chard and spinach. The plants love the sun, though I protect them from the
intense noon heat with immense panels of scrap cardboard stapled onto a lathe
framework. The frames are hinged and can easily cover the two deep, about six
by ten feet boxes. These are planted with greens that I harvest and replant
throughout the year. I mulch them well with shredded newspaper and just about
anything else I can find so that their roots stay warm on freezing nights and
moisture is preserved.

I eat well. Wild foods complement my diet. Prickly pear is delicious. I gather
eggs from wild birds; I take only a few and never more than one from a nest.

I don’t keep animals for food but have two half-wild dun colored dogs named
Flee and Erica and a jumbo tiger striped mouser named Mr. Sandy Paws. They’ve
been with me as long as I’ve been here, them or predecessor four-leggeds, and
they are good companions. I don’t feel alone with them here because they are
exquisite listeners and don’t demand much from me. My favorite pal, though, is
my turtle Saint Jerome, named after the hermit mystic who lived in the
wilderness. There is a reproduction of da Vinci’s painting of the saint with
his companion lion on Jerome’s private box. Beautiful though it is, Jerome
eschews his lair during the day. He is a social beast. He goes to the box to
sleep or when the cat gets too playful. Jerome eats lettuce from my garden for
dinner. I tried kale and chard but he turned up his nose…well really his
whole face… at the slight bitterness of them. He actually spit the kale
across the room.

The work. The work! I had to attend to the work everyday. For so many years, my
work was my painting. That was all. That was enough. Sometimes I could find
discarded siding or rafters or paneling in dumpsters in town, all free for the
taking. I hauled my finds back with the carboys and made things of them. I
constructed fences and walkways. All painted. I built a little shower and a
latrine. I found scrap metal, old propane tanks, fenders, bumpers. I pounded
and welded them together, then painted them and made fabulous beings to guard
my house. And I made things to sell.

But then they came.

They swarmed like termites. Not angry, just born anew and looking for a
foothold. I was more isolated than I had been in some ways because I didn’t venture far
afield with them about. I missed my regular climbs for clay and rock herbs and
flowers. I missed my midnight strolls to watch the meteor showers or listen to
coyote pups. It was a hard time for me.

When it began, I was vexed and bothered by the passing parades of fanatics and
vulgar people, pathetic rabble with pet monkeys and filthy children all
shouting slogans, waving banners, and driving coughing, oil spewing trucks and
campers along the road in front of my house. True, there are not so many now as
there were during the height of the movement. In fact, there are only a few who
come by to lay flowers by one of the towers or take photographs. I don’t want
to see them or for them to see me and try to talk with me. But I can go out again. And my nights aren’t interrupted by noise from their encampment.

Movement people, at the beginning of their insanity, came as regularly as the tides. They seemed to float on a river of uninterrupted laughs and banter and often stopped to beg for
water or to use the outhouse. Or just to sit for a while. I must have been on
the maps they sent out to would-be pilgrims. I spent more time picking up gum wrappers and
cigarette butts than painting. And I was distracted by my own curiosity about them.

Before the people came the giants. Pylons. Towers. They popped up like skeletal
mutated cacti all around me. They were composed of steel latticework and
supported miles and miles of power lines that transmitted electricity. The
suspended cables were made of some kind of aluminium alloy. The shimmering
wires buzzed and crackled and birds, the innocents and the unknowing, flew into
and under and around them and died. I found crows with their beaks burned off
and pigeons missing wings. I noticed whole colonies of beetles and ants
carrying grain-sized eggs on the move in an effort to escape them. That must
have been fifteen years ago. The beetles and many other animals have been gone
for a long time.

The structures stood over the land, great pairs of boney long legged structures
as far as I could see. My site line was broken by hills and dips, but if I looked closely, I could see tips of them rising ever further. Some of the towers were at least 1000 feet tall,
defoliated crosses, axes of a doomed world, trees of no life. Their extended
arms were hung at each end with beaded porcelain or glass disks, dangling
whorish earrings, and through these passed the strands of wire that carried the
power. The discs reflected the rays of the sun and coruscated nearly blinding
flashes of light lashed across the desert.

My dogs and cat and even Jerome seemed to have trouble sleeping after the
towers came.

The pylons were built to relay power generated from the turbines of a new dam
built on the other side of the mountain to the east. It was an untimely,
ill-managed project. It was to serve a million greedy households, the papers
said, to run their blenders and air conditioners and up to date dryers and hot
water heaters. Just three or four years after the transmission towers were
built, the talk was that the river was way below level from the drought and the
power wouldn’t last much longer. The lake that was formed behind the dam had
dropped to 42 percent of its capacity. Snow and rainfall had been abnormally
low for years.

For now, the pylons were above and beside my bungalow and me and there was
nothing left to do but paint them.

I started on a leg of the nearest one and worked my way up it with greens and
blues and every shade of red …up one leg…higher and higher…I strapped myself
on to the metal struts and carried paint in small buckets that hung from a belt
around my middle. I climbed every day and had finished four towers.

Then, one day, sometime before the Movement, maybe five years ago, a battery of
trucks and earthmoving equipment and cranes and tankers came out here and men
and women in snappy bright yellow uniforms and hard hats climbed down and began
to plunge a sharp auger deep into the earth. It hammered and drilled at the
same time so that the earth shook with each of the machine’s violent lunges.
The workers often withdrew and examined the bit on the tip of the thrusting
rod. I was told that the tip was made of diamonds. After a careful, close
inspection, the workers usually replaced the old tip with a sharper and
brighter thing and readied it to thrust again. They poured water from a large
tanker into the hole to cool the bit as it thrust and whirred and cut through
million year old rock. I wondered if it would ever stop. Through the days and
nights the machine thudded and thumped and made its way into my dreams, if I
ever actually slept.

Workers set up portable lamps so that the site was brilliantly lit even at
midnight and the few rabbits and deer and antelope still around stayed away,
frightened by the light and activity. No I could not avoid the sound or escape
the glare and neither could my dogs or cat. Or Jerome. I hung all my sheets on
my cabin windows and then finally the blankets but still it was as if the sun had
risen on us all night long. Finally, I nailed boards from my scrap pile across
all the windows.

After several weeks, I watched the workers inject something into the holes.
Deliveries of boulder sized dumpling-like shrink-wrapped packages stacked and secured
on flatbed trucks came racing to the site. I tried one night to get close
enough to see what it was. I couldn’t read the neatly printed Chinese
characters on the labels. The workers tore into the packages and dumped the
contents into the holes they’d dug. The earth trembled as the substance created
cracks and fissures deep in the ancient rock and exposed crude oil deposits,
the leavings of plants and animals and all the creatures and beings that once
walked the earth. Another army of quick moving laborers sucked it up with pumps
and pipes like arteries carried it far away, life support for dying cities,
transfusions for a hopeless world. The towers were left standing but they were
only carrying a small amount of the energy, the little the dam’s turbines could
still produce

The trucks were moving out one day as I was making my regular drive to town to
get water. I got the carboys filled and began a slow drive down the few blocks toward Polly’s with a few pots and paintings to put on consignment. Along the way I noticed a crowd
gathered around a man standing on top of the cab of a 1983 rusty, pea green,
Dodge pickup. The bed of the pickup was fitted up with two large speakers and a
generator. A line ran from the generator to a microphone in the man’s hand. He
looked like an old time preacher man in his cheap off the rack grey suit,
maroon tie, and black felt fedora. I slowed to a stop, then parked by the curb
and got out to see what was going on. As I listened the man claimed he was a
retired physicist and MIT professor and had a message. He said he had found God
and that, “God is all around us and in us and moving through the cables
and wires and phone lines and out of the ground and in the lightening and just
really everywhere.” He said that, “We have been so intent on making
God knowable that we have missed the obvious. God is energy, power, and all
that animates each and every thing in our world. It is an act of worship to
turn on an electric lamp. It is the great pylons and towers that carry his being
that we should be worshiping,” that and, “the sun and the plugs and
sockets and fuse boxes that bring God into our homes.” He said physicists
had, “known all this for some time. We don’t know anything about much more
than 5% of our universe. The rest of it is energy, that is, God. It fills
everything. There is no void, only God and a little bit of matter,” he
said. “God,” he said, “causes the universe to expand and fly
apart. This God bends light and zaps x-ray signals from star to star and galaxy
to galaxy just for fun.” “This same God,” he said, “can be
made to work on our behalf if only we believe and grasp this truth.”

“Throw away your testaments, your bibles. These were written by people
who did not understand the message of the burning bush. These books are

The banner that flew from the truck’s bed fluttered. It was printed on plastic
and rigged upright on a two by two. The background of the flag was midnight
blue and across the face of it was a bright, fluorescent streak of lightening
against a muted rendition of the Andromeda galaxy. The physicist’s props and his patter
moved the worn and weary who stood around stolidly though pelted regularly by swirling dust
devils from the desert that moved up and down the streets as dense and
frightening as a swarm of bees looking for their queen.

“We must,” he shouted in a rapid rhythmic cadence so that the last
word in each sentence was held for a beat or two, “study the words of
Teilhard de Chardin who said that the universe is ripening within itself the
fruit of a certain consciousness. That consciousness is the possibility that
God and power have a will and intention that can be called upon to shape our
world and us as it chooses. With our human concentration and meditation we
can break through to this God and all its energy and that God can become
manifest around us.”

“Eckhart, the mystic, told us this,” he said. “‘The shell must
be cracked,'” he told the crowd as he lowered his voice. Each word was
drawn out. He returned to the former rhythm then. “In joining the flow of
the energy, we can break through,” he said. “We have made a terrible
mistake in thinking to electrocute murderers is to punish them. These
people,” he said, “have gone straight to God and are with God. It is
we who deserve such deaths, not the evil among us.”

“Some have always known this secret, this great truth, he declared.
Michangelo knew. He put it into his Sistine Chapel painting of the creation of
Adam. That spark, that fiery glint of life that is shown passing from God’s
finger to Adam that was the secret made manifest. The Masons among the early
leaders of the United States knew and put the floating eye of energy above the
pyramid on our dollar bill. It’s been known by the few. Now we all know.”
The preacher physicist climbed down from the truck, jumped up into the cab,
turned the key, flattened the gas pedal against the floor, and sped in the
direction of the next town. He was traveling alone and no one had caught his
name if he had said it.

People drifted away and talked among themselves in excited clusters. But just
as I turned to get back to my business, there was a loud eerie cry and
something like the odor of outdoor grilling was in the air. Ribs or T-bones. It
had been a long time, but I recognized the stench of flesh. I nearly gagged. I
looked back.

The same group of lost souls I’d seen around the pickup was gathering around a
tall tapered octagonal pillar, taller than any building in the town. It was
slender pole and there were a row of them, placed about a block apart one from
the other. At the top of each were two cross pieces each with four or five
glass insulators that caught the sunlight and held high voltage transmission
wires in place. A little further down the pole were the step down transformer
buckets that looked very much like a couple of rusty pressure cookers. Single strands of wire tautly to service lines that led to streetlights and businesses along the street.

A man had climbed up the pillar beyond the transformers and up to the high
voltage wires. He had made it to the highest wire, the one with the most
power running through it. In the early days of television, guys putting up
their own TV antennas were often electrocuted when their antennas toppled over
on to these high voltage wires. They were accidentally electrocuted. But this
man’s death was no accident. He was in his early 40s I guessed. He had a
scruffy thin black beard and wore a ball cap with a green and blue hawk icon on
the front of it. He was dressed in a white v-necked tee shirt and a pair of
jeans. His scuffed and grubby red wing work boots and socks were on the ground
below, blasted off his feet. He knew what he was doing because he had to
somehow have touched two opposing wires. He was still up there, grinning, hands
blacked and crisp, arms spread eagle against the top cross piece, legs dangling
below, supported by a couple of guy wires. He was smiling.

Below him, a woman stood crying and yelling, “Praise God, the power and
the glory.”

“Praise God, the all powerful.” The whole bunch that had been
listening to the physicist was gathered round now and laying hands on her and
one another. They could feel a tingle moving from hand to hand, they said.

Their eyes were closed and they swayed slightly to some silent rhythm.

I got in the Pinto and floored it. I drove out of town and home without taking time to drop off paintings or collect cash from last month’s sale.

I couldn’t stay away forever. I wondered what happened next and needed to get
some cash and other supplies, so I drove back in a couple of months. There were
stacks of newsletters called “The Current” on the counters of stores
I visited. I leafed through one. “The Current” was peppered with
stories of people finding God by touching open light sockets or dumping
“hot” radios into bathtubs while sitting in the water. It was the
most bizarre thing I’d ever heard of. There were posters glued to the cement
power poles in town that read, “You’ll get the shock of your life when you
find God.” I didn’t know whether to take this seriously. I avoided
speaking to anyone on the streets. I took my work to Polly. She suggested that
I begin bringing in paintings of the giant poles. People were looking for
symbols of energy for their homes. Polly was ever the one to see an opportunity
to make a buck.

“The tourism is bound to increase. We’ve had some national attention
because the movement started here,” she said.

“The movement?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “That preacher there,” she tapped a photograph on the cover of “The
Current,” with the long nail of her right hand index finger. It had been enameled with a shiny replica of power pole, “That preacher,” she said, “has been offered a national television show. It’s called ‘Power and Glory’. He’s on once a week. And it all started here.”

I couldn’t get home fast enough.
One morning when I stepped outside my house, there was a very small Asian man
using a rag to wipe the dust off the fenders and hood of his newish black
Accord. The chrome on the bumpers was already spotless, so shiny his smooth,
smiling face was reflected from the front one when he leaned over the hood to
wipe the license tag. I don’t know how long he’d been there. He was five feet
one or two at the most and wore a light-weight barong tagalog shirt and a straw
hat with a snap-brim. He wadded the cloth up into a ball, opened the trunk of
the car, and tossed it in when he saw me. “Do you know where the gathering
is to be?” he asked me. Of course I didn’t. I didn’t know there was a
gathering. “Never mind,” he said, “I’ll find it.”

During the day, dozens of vehicles passed my house. There were Airstreams and
tear-drops and food trucks and cars that were barely running. They coughed and
spluttered and left dark oil stains on the roadway. Large metal canisters of
gas or water or both were strapped to their tops along with extra tires. I saw
a couple of model-T trucks with the hoods removed and engines and radiators
exposed. Then there were the RVs as big as Greyhound buses with solar panels
and TV antennas and pop out porches and poodle dogs peering out windows.

By the evening, the traffic thinned out and I leashed the dogs and gingerly walked down
the road so I could see where they had all been heading. I reached the
outskirts of a large encampment in about twenty minutes.

There were drummers in the middle of several concentric rings of people seated
in folding chairs. Some were people were dancing around but most just sat and
stared up at the towers. Or at the sky. I had a couple of brief conversations
and was told that they were all looking for a sign. This was the center of the
Movement because it was from these posts that the electricity that joined the
first believer to the power of God had come. Someone produced a map of the grid
to show me. Sure enough. The tower they were under held a line that looped over
the desert and a few hills and headed directly toward the town.

What I didn’t realize was that many people had already begun their fast. They
were preparing to climb the towers within the week, sometimes several at a
time, and wanted to be “pure” when they touched God. Meanwhile,
vendors set up to sell tee-shirts with “End of Time” slogans and the
lightening image against a black background. There were ball caps and flags and
books and brochures and palm readers and dog toys and cat beds, all with the
same logo or with a picture of Michelangelo’s creation of Adam. The hottest
seller showed the logo’s lightening strike as a representation of the spark of
life that jumped from God’s finger to Adam’s.

There were photographs being taken of the towers themselves, many with devotees
of the new religion posed against the lattice and, incidentally, my paintings.

Of course if you preferred, there were vendors available to take photographs
for a price and print them right on the spot. You could buy a button with a
picture of yourself touching a tower strut and the statement “I touched
God” printed over it.

You could buy a chit to use the portable toilets and other chits for jugs of
water available courtesy of the local Rotary Club. The county Democrats were
selling hamburgers. Some said the smell of meat was in poor taste. The Demos
switched to veggie burgers by the next morning.

One night, The drums and chanting did not stop at the usual time and around one in the morning I heard some whistles and booms. I scraped a chair across the floor to my porch, and sat out
to see the fireworks show. People applauded and cheered. Then the drums began
again. I got back to sleep around 3.

This was the morning, they had told me, that people would begin the climb. So I
made a cup of coffee and sipped it as I watched the sunrise beyond the eastern
mountains and strolled to the site. I had become a little blasé about all of this. From what I could gather from the chatter, not all were aiming for the tops of the towers and the high voltage. Some
planned simply to tie themselves to the crossbars and stay there facing the
blazing sun until they died. But the main show, of course, would be the people
who made it all the way and joined hands with the source, the manifestation of
God on earth.

The climbs happened daily after that. The encampment became semi-permanent for some. Because we were at the peak of a sunspot cycle, odd disturbances to the geomagnetic field on earth caused the power grid to fluctuate and sometimes one had to hang on to the wires for a few
minutes before being electrocuted. Northern lights could be seen even at our
latitude. Lightening storms were frequent, especially in the distint mountains.
Everything was taken as a sign. And still there was no rain and the river and
dammed lake levels dropped lower.

Nobody much cared because the whole world had gone to hell. I was fine. But rumor
was that there were actually wars being fought over water. I was told that
several small Pacific Island nations had moved to the Northwest and established
colonies in the national forests. Nobody could stop them. Nobody was bothered by much of anything anymore. Somebody passing by one day reported that humans had abandoned the whole of North Africa and Greenland, and Finland, though without machinery or power,
were growing orchards full of peaches and apricots. Somebody said Alaska native
peoples had started vineyards.

One day, a climber touched a wire, hung on. Time passed and nothing
happened. Not even a little shock. Another followed her up and tried. Nothing.
The people below were alarmed. Rumors started. “We’ve been
abandoned,” they said, as one after another people climbed and lived.

Slowly, they all packed up their tents and campers and moved out.

A few come by still on their way to lay flowers or take photographs. All the
charred body bits and picked, dried bones were long since collected by
entrepreneurs who placed them in tiny beribboned reliquaries and sold them as
one might sell the remains of a saint.


I am happy and living pretty much the way I was before the towers and the
believers came. The people digging had already gone by the end of the Movement frenzy. That digging and drilling had been a last ditch effort to produce power for the cities. They mucked up the land but though it was desecrated, I’m doing my best to restore it. I want the birds to return, the beetles to come back, the ants
to bring their eggs home. I want to hear the crickets and the coyotes and the
ravens. I will do what I can. Someday the rain will return and it will find a
place free of hurt, a place prepared to accept it. I fill the holes, I bless
the scars, and I speak to every sign of life. Jerome is with me when I do this
work. Jerome is always with me.


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