Saturday March 12, 2016

Much thanks to Marilyn Frasca for her journal workshop today.

 

Fracking

Push deep into your soul

Don’t hold back

Breathe into that space you’ve made

And see what happens.

Bored

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

SLEEP, PUTTER, DIE

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……
Something.

**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 turned..no 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

POWER

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
up.

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
it?

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
slowly.

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
distractions.”

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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Daemon: First Complete Draft

 

Daemon

 

June 21, 2015

 

Short Fiction

LLyn De Danaan

About 6884 words

 

You must visit the beach at dawn, at the moment when the sun is rising over the horizon east of the city. First look beyond the sculpted lobes of land that dip into the sea like great dark toes. Let your eyes travel far past the giant kelp beds.  There will be a glow, sometimes nearly red. In their own time, never in ahurry, a host of colors, like those that rise from sunset fields of wheat or a chiseled slice of purple porphyry, will slash through pigeon grey, seemingly impenetrable, slabs of distant fog. Above, the carulean sky will brighten to almost white asnight turns to day and the first curve of the sun’s sphere thrusts its way upward. Look back at your feet and along the beach. If you pick the rightmorning, the night time’s high tide will have receded a few feet, enough, and on the great flat plane of thick sandy expanse, amid mats of dark green seaweed scattered like witches’ hair, you will see bright sparkling places. These are the shells of what Artistotle has called mollusca. He called all those creatures devoid of blood molluscs and is quite specific as to the use they make of their feet and tubes and what they experience of sex. That does not concern us. What does concern us is the way in which they shimmer in the early morning sun. You have to look. You have to be in the right place.

When you are, you will see an otherwise dark place alive with pricks of light. You will see what was invisible made visible by its reflection.

Of course this is easy for me to observe being a life long inhabitant of Syracuse, descendent of the original colonists, and living near enough to the sea.

You can do it too. Look down at a streambed where it flows to the ocean. Observe the muddy tide flat carefully. On a sunny day it too will be alive with glittering, moving objects. Those are the backs of tiny crabs. We call this hard plate the crab’s shield and it is made of thin boney substance. While alive and wet, the shields twinkle like stars when rays of sun pullulate and refract as they hit the shields and thus betray the location of the scuttering creatures. This phenomenon is easily seen where the Ciane and the secretive Anapo meet the Ionian Sea.

To behold the glistening mollusc shells at daybreak and the wet crab shields in the early morning sunlight is to observe stars in the night sky. That is, it is much the same.

It is true of all things: the longer one looks, the longer one stands still and observes, the more of each one will see. Look across a meadow in the morning dew and there will be the reticulated strands of spider webs, catching the light and therefore visible if only for a little while.

All is revealed by reflection. “We reflect that which we perceive,” someone said. This isdifficult to accomplish even if true. We must have a shiny, prepared surface to properly reflect. It must be kept clean and scoured bright with study and by listening to thosewiser than we. It must be dipped and redipped in beneke, varnished with oil and copal, made bright. This is the work of the philosopher and poet and these ideas are much more than metaphor.

This phenomenon of being still and allowing nature to be revealed to you by reflected light is called enlightenment, which is, the state of receiving light shed by the natural world.

Though enlightenment as defined here refers to the natural world, some of us have come to understand it as true for what happens to the brain at rest. You see, sometimes, if one allows a quiet and contemplative hour or two in one’s day, it is possible to see little spots of light inside one’s thoughts.

It happened to me recently. I was sitting on my own, a half empty cup of ambrosial Malvasia wine imported from Crete in my hand. I was in a kind of reverie though perched uncomfortably on one of the higher rows, at least 60 steps from the stage of the theatre, its entrance easily reached by a short walk from my home. Though the acoustics were perfect and I had brought cushions and robes to pad my seat, my back ached and I had trouble concentrating on the performance. It was not as if I didn’t know the play. It was another of Aeschylus’, whom it is rumored is even now visiting Hieron’s court, and featured Xerxes and the defeat of the Persians I suppose I was discommoded in sufficient measure that my mind took in the pain of Xerxes defeat differently from other nights. As I thought about his hubris (and Aeschylus didn’t have to hit me on the head with his point) I began to think about the daemon.

It must have been Xerxes’ daemon who engineered his penchant for arrogance. No one would be born with such pomposity. The daemon must be inserted or injected or somehow manufactured during one’s early years. Or, alternatively, it is something that one grows into that has been there all along. Some say the daemon is a personal guardian a kind of conductor or spirit or familiar who dwells with one throughout one’s lifetime, rather like a companion animal. Some say it can be good or evil. As much as I’ve heard, I’ve not been told of anyone actually seeing a daemon. If such a thing exists, surely it must be able to manifest. And if it can manifest, why not able to converse with it? Why not able to negotiate or strike deals? Why allow such a thing to determine one’s fate without a debate?

It seemed to me the play would end differently if Xerxes could have paid heed to his weakness, summoned his daemon, and requested a change in his calamitous attraction for acting the superior man, an attraction that led certainly to his downfall. So much of history could be rewritten if there were no tragic heroes but only heroes who had recognized a daemon busy misdirecting him and determined to chide the daemon until, thoroughly embarrassed and defeated, the daemon became a force only for good in the hero’s life.

The lights in my mind were alive with the energy of a thousand oil lamps. I could hardly stay through the inevitable end of the play. Indeed, what intelligent adult could not have foreseen the denouement? Even if one had not seen it. Because Aeschylus was said to be preparing for the premiere of a new play next month. I would go and hope to present my theory of the daemon to him. I would have four weeks to try to speak with my own daemon in order to bolster my view with experience and observation and urge him to include this new view in his next production. It add to my reputation if he would do so.

I began the next day with a trip to the hot-air bath. I asked for my body to rubbed with olive oil. After, I draped my most delicate woolen chiton around me, fastened with a simple corded gurdle, slung my cloak over one shoulder, and set out, following the river Ciane, and traveled through the walls of the city toward a straggling olive grove nearly. The grove was unattended and dry weeds and their seedheads reigned supreme and play host to wary hares and many colored lizards and spiral horned goats whose widely purported relationship to what I call the many chambered nautilus shell is being studied by my friend Ammonius of Syracuse. He has found many shapes encased in stone and very like the goat horn in the rocky cliffs along the shore. He purports in recent papers that they these ancient beings gave rise to goats. Upon closer examination, they resemble more the shells we find along the beach than horns I think. They are most like those serving as homes to living things. Still, I think this resemblance between two things does not mean without doubt the two are related or spring from the same parents. It would be like saying the serpent lying on the path with tail in mouth is cousin to the circle of the sun. Or the wooden wheel on a donkey cart is nephew of the moon. It clearly isn’t so.

I found a fully leafed olive tree, abundant shade beneath its laden limbs, and settled under it to fast from daily chores and eat simply and live in thought and hope until I met my daemon. A legion of ducks flew over my head as I watched the morning sun rise high above me. I removed my gilet and pulled all the fabric of my cloak above my knees and rested my head against the pack of food and drink I had with me.

My eyes were closed and nothing there was to trouble or nag at me. I wondered should I call out to it? Or beg? Should I chant or sing? Recite poetry? What might bring my hidden companion forth? Were there magic words? Or spells to cast? Will I know it when I see it? Or will it appear in disguise? Is it here now laughing at me? If it can enter a tree or a turtle, as some say it can, it surely can enter me. But the question is this: is it willing to reveal itself to me?

My eyelids snapped open again as four astonishing birds flew overhead. They were shaped like small coracles and held their wings tight against their broad breasts as they glided in a tight formation as in a dance or military maneuver. They began to flap vigourously as I watched and headed out to sea…to fish I thought.

Or could they have been the one I seek? No one said the daemon was a solitary thing but only that it is a singularity, sui generis to each person. Perhaps it is a group of inseverable minigods, each unique and each reporting to a demiurge. I closed my eyes again and tried to contemplate my daemon by listing in my mind my most salient gifts and proclivities. It would be these the daemon would foster. Curiosity, persistence, fastidious as to appearance, moderate in all things of the flesh, and affable. These are all present and characteristic of my self. But what of my dreams, my goals, the things I avoid or will not face?

During most of the next day I looked everywhere around me for signs. The dark green limbs of my olive tree, like fingers of a stiff hand, pointed at varying angles to clouds or passing birds. One limb sported half a dozen directive tips and I followed each one to a point above. Another led the eye straight to the earth below. I searched about that mark and traced my finger all around it for signs of cracks or fissures. Nothing definitive. I read my bowel movements carefully for some say naturally eliminated substances can tell us much. Mine were of a good color, smooth, and firm. I plucked at my head and tugged at my beard to read the roots of hairs. All good. Nails on my hands and feet were smooth and unbroken. I scratched my arms and watched the blood rise.

I learned nothing except that I am healthy and unexceptional. No daemon came rushing from any orifice as I had almost half expected and surely wished.

The victuals I had brought with me were gone now so I made wide circuits around and out from my tree to gather wild plums or herbs and fill my flask with water from the middle of the flowing river.

……

 

After five days without wine I realized that I had been too enamoured of my goal, too set upon a result. I had been filled with so much expectation that my heart did not allow the room a daemon might require. I felt a frisson of fear. I remembered the poet, “If you continue trying to attain what cannot be attained, you will be destroyed.” Still, I carried on.

I began to breathe differently and to strive to abandon wanting and the hope of result and to instead think of other things. I imagined that not thinking of my daemon would fool it into materializing. I sat silently marveling at the loveliness of the world. This was not easy. My mind frequently returned to wondering if I could fool the daemon thusly.

But even one thought such as this returned me to the longing. I tried to shut out such thoughts. Eyes could not resist a peek now and again. I thought perhaps the daemon was standing right before me and I would miss it. Eventually, I overcame all and simply satbreathing, sometimes sleeping, and occasionally reaching for a sip of water orgoing off to forage. I had overcome most desire, but not my body’s needs. Thus I carried on for another three or four days. By now I wasn’t sure how long I’d been under my olive tree.

Another day was gone. Now mornings slipped into afternoons without fanfare. I slept and dreamed and ate less than ever. Bees were fleeting summons to look up or out. Light breezes reminded me of the not too distant sea.

Then one morning, from out the languid river edge just where waters stood nearly immobile except for eddies that moved about the deep and encouraged jade green bile and sinewy plants to rise up to the surface came a portentous stirring; out of this place of bulging frog eyes and snarly weeds and waving flags of papira, there was a longing. The drier stems of the papira sounded crisp as they were broken and parted as an invisible force forged through them. The green stuff, still wet and oozing, seemed to make an unsteady journey toward me, sliming the dry grass on the bank and on. I watchedwith amazement but not a little fear.

There was no form to this green breath that caused the grass to shudder…and none above it. But there was absence of form, a void that had no shape except that inscribed by the almost indiscernible difference in my perception of the sharpness of the horizon just above the green and all the plants and trees encompassed by it.

I tried to look away for there was no content there to see. Could it be illusion? a dream?–the product of my weakening state?

But still something came.

And now I could smell the brine of salt soaked plants and sullen fresh and almost sweet waters of the river.

“This cannot be,” my mind nearly screamed.

“I invite you to put all questions aside,” a voice answered. Was it mine? It was a rasping sound, deep and detached from the cavity in which my tongue rolled between my jaw bones.

“This cannot be it,” I said aloud, and forced my lips and teeth to make the words. The colors of my known world smeared and scraped across my inner eye and a curtain seemed to drop. All the blood drained from my body. But not before I saw the sun glance off its still wet and shiny shield, the segmented arms, the boney outer skeleton and the capacious claws.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Journey

Journey: First complete draft

LLyn De Danaan

About 4100 words

May 31, 2015

It had become a test of my spiritual strength to sleep through the night. It required fortitude just to close my eyes. Each night, during my light and forced slumbers, a familiar sequence of images entered my dreams. There was, inevitably, a set of stairs writhing
slowly upward from a groyne that held the sea back from the friable bank above.
The stairs, made of rough-hewn logs flat on the top but rounded at the
bottom, were set into long notched timbers and these timbers laid against the
bank at a steep angle, not far off straight up and down. My task, never varying,
was to climb those stairs.

At the base of the stairs, an menacing apparition in human form  placed a
heavy pack upon my back. It seemed to be filled with stone or rock for it was
not only weighty and cumbersome but was dense and hard and the one in figure’s gnarled hands and fingers snugged the pack’s straps so that they cut into the flesh of my shoulders. That person, if person it could be called,  loaded me as one might load  a donkey and urged me on by gesture and without speaking. She or he had a light rod in hand and whipped the calves of my legs until I began to ascend.

Every step brought fresh pain. I longed for an anodyne. It crossed my sleeping mind that
I might topple backwards and fall to the beach. That would, at the least, perhaps, end my journey and my dreams. Or perhaps leave me broken but alive and in a new kind of hell.

The will to survive whole always won out. I tightened my arms around the timbers and held fiercely. I feared what might be above. What new horror might I meet? But I didn’t get that far for I woke usually just five or six steps below the edge of the bank’s top. And I knew with certainty that I would have to begin the journey again the next night. I did what I could to put off sleeping I so detested the dream and the unremitting distress and extramundane misery it visited on me. The coming of dark brought with it a frisson of fear and knowledge that in time I would be forced to lay my head upon  the rough bag filled with straw that served as pillow.

Still this pain and fear seemed to me to be beyond caring. For I witnessed, daily, the savagery of my associates. I watched the sackcloth covered monks tearing the flesh away from recent corpses to retrieve the bones They pulled and picked in much the same way as I remove a breast bone from a roasted chicken in order dry it, snap it, and learn my
fate. The monks rattled and threw marked rib bones to learn their own futures,
the rattle always accompanied by their crusty cackles and exclamations of
delight.

These monks, in the days of Cavallini, once allowed the corpse to dry before the harvest. This was our order’s golden era. This was before the monks or their minions were seen scudding down the lanes of the city, horrid, dripping parcels in their arms. These were the
days of old when their robes were clean and they did their work on floors tiled with
periwinkle blue Bukharan mosaics laid by craftsmen from the Silk Roads. The monks, kneeling or seated on simple pine benches that raised them a few inches from the polished floors, engaged in their dismembering and dejointing silently and in prayer and in belief that they ennobled themselves and the dead and honored God in the heavens.

The bones in those days were exhumed from ancient graves and had been deprived by time and worms and beetles of all flesh. They were lifted from graves with tenderness, then
cleaned and polished with a fine grit, and became almost as beautiful and lustrous as ivory
Most were pale as bleached parchment when ready for their installations.

We learned from the study of these bones the physical, corporal consequences of a lifetime of deprivation, hard work, and worry. Whole skeletons were knobbed and cracked and knuckled and ribbed according to their age and worldly occupations. Their skulls were lined and creased and knurled and ruched like maps of distant planets or the moon. Slender finger bones recalled their purposes for they were shaped or formed to pluck or plait, to stitch or scribe, to harvest or sew, or even touch in love. Jaws as deep as animal
troughs or wagon shafts seemed unbreakable as bronzes and just as finely
sculpted. Scapulas were as wistfully beautiful as fine porcelain dishes and as
slippery as newly iced pavement. They reflected light as if glazed. Teeth there were to yank from loose sockets and to string. Each specimen glowed with youthful gleam or glowered, stained and cracked with age. Each surface told a story: some of years of gritty dining, some of gnawing on a gristled stew.

There was no horror then and no message but that of plain mortality and the passing folly of our temporal earthly lives. To drill and thread was joyful and like a maker of the dry stone walls of our fields there was pleasure in finding a perfect place for each fragment. This was something of a pleasing art.

And did we in our secret thoughts alone sometimes restore in dreams the flesh, the smile, the nipple or the foot and stir in sleep? Of course.

A youngish monk, still fresh of face and nimble as a grasshopper, fell madly in love with a particularly well-turned humerus one day. He hid it in his robes, fitted it carefully next to his own long arm, and took it to his corner bed. The shame when he was found fondling
it in the night brought new and closer scrutiny to our days.

But no more did we have the old bones. We were digging newer graves and bringing forth fewer and still green corpses, some with only slight decay.

The monks worked on the bodies incessantly and with great concentration broken only by the order’s dictated hours of prayer or communal meals. They separated bones from muscles and tendons in an almost fever. They couldn’t wait to dry them and form them into arches and flowerets for their elaborate tableaux and the plates and
saucers for their afternoon tea. But even this was long ago. The moon was closer to the earth then, so Calveni says, and Eco’s roses bloomed in winter not in spring.

I was forced to watch this daily ripping of the dead. Yet still a youth, I was in charge of pressing live blooms from the gardens that were then strung into elaborate festoons that hung between the scapulas and clavicles or decorated friezes on the walls.

As alive as we were, some thought us not. Our faces were as dry as dust and etiolated from all the time we spent within our caves. No light crept in except that of oil lamps. Some older monks, well into their nineties, even took their meals inside those caves. I and a few others had a daily walk in the garden where the roses grew. We ate our victuals and sometimes had a gratefully numbing jug of wine and bits of bread while out. Those brief exposures were not sufficient to give color to our skin.

A wolf dwelt with us. White as snow that she-wolf was. We called her Cressius for she came to us as a pup by one of our order in the high hills of central Crete. There she was placed inside a wooden crate, and shipped to us aboard a grand armoured trireme along with elephants and camels and a host of other beasts from colonies in Northern Africa. Cressius emerged unbeaten yet not a little seasick. Thus she was tamed by gentle hands that fed and comforted her until she quite recovered. Cressius was a special friend to
me and it was Cressius who received scraps of dinner from my plate.

Cressius and I were doomed to slumber with our atavistic urges growing each day. They came upon us, like my dream of climbing, from nowhere. We shared them with our
grunts and whines and often found our limbs entwined when morning came. I do
not say when daylight came because dawn was not a thing we often witnessed. Oh
now and then we might be sent to harvest olives or to purchase goats. But many
plants were grown in our gardens by the youngest of the novices and there they
tended small herds and made our cheese and baked our bread. We had a lottery
inside the caves to see whose turn it was to venture afield for supplies. And
often the distance to be traveled required we stay over night at some small
outlier colony of our order. Those trips were eagerly awaited though as monks or other holy persons we should not long or dream or even think about that outside world or morning light.

Cressius was always permitted to travel with me. Though desexed in many ways by clothing and dress, the monks thought me a helpless maid and would not be sent alone on lonely roads. Cressius was a friend and a protectoress. No one dared approach or stalk me with Cressius by my side. And in the moonlight or even under stars she shone, her fur a rippling lantern to mark my path and warn all others away. Oh, but we wanted more trips
from the cave for what we saw and heard and smelled and touched on these too
infrequent quests for olives and such held wonder.

I had been orphaned. Well, not really orphaned for my parents, or rather those whose lust conceived me and out of whose bodies I was composed, deposited me on the threshold of the monastery. I had no choice in my education, vocation, or service.
But I could not become a monk for I was a female child. The monks dressed me
in sackcloth and asked for several nuns from the order, those who provided for the domestic needs of the brothers,  to take me to their dwellings. I stayed with them until I’d learned all that they taught, then they allowed me, always draped and always returning to the nuns’ cave to sleep, to work first in the gardens and then to assist the nuns who worked with the flowers and brought refreshment to those who tore at flesh and fashioned murals with the bones.

Cressius was my only real companion for the novices and young acolytes closer to my age lived inside buildings outside the cave and studied and worked at other, cleaner, tasks.  I don’t know why. I suppose the shame of my birth did not give me the rights that other younger persons whose relations had wealth and had purchased a berth for their offspring, one from each of the high families, so that a famous monk or priest or even cardinal might be attached and beholden to them. I was more a servant and my works beseemed that
status. I could be called upon by any of of the others on any pretense. I was kept
busy scuttering here and there when not drying roses. For that reason sleep was
important. I could not go without it for long.

Cressius and I had a particularly  tenebrous corner for our own. Someone years ago had chiseled a tiny shelf in the rock and on that ledge I had a pair of goat skins and a fleece from a large sheep. I had a few private possessions, all small things I had found and coveted. One was a shell shaped like eternity. Another was a stick I’d found and fashioned into a cross with a bit of flint I’d sharpened. Once on one of our peregrinations to the
outside, I’d found a small bell. It had been snagged from the neck and collar
of a sheep, surely, for it was hanging unnoticed in a bramble. Though it was
tiny, it made a sweet sound and I kept it under the skins and listened to its
song in secret and in the silence of the deep night. It was something I called
mine, as close and dear to me as my own toes and fingertips.

Life in the caves and among these peculiar artisans was bearable while they were still digging up old corpses to harvest the bones for their creations. But, as I’ve said, even in my lifetime, these old graves grew scarce. And by the time I was nearly ten, the recently dead were being dug up and flayed and disassembled. The monks became surly and now they reeked of death, of rotten flesh, and we all had nightmares. A cruel corner was turned one day when there were no corpses at all within the confines of the monastery. It was then our cave became no longer a place of bone cleaning but an abattoir.

The monk Jeremy was sent out the first night. His mission was presumably secret but not really a mystery to the rest of us. He had been instructed to kill, to murder, and to retrieve a fresh body. Oh yes, theological grounds were laid for this twisted work.

Some cited the deplorable state of the church and the need to rid it of the heretics. Christ used a whip, they said, God sent plagues on Egypt and tortured Job and came close to requiring that Abraham kill his son. The whole world was destroyed by floods and a promise had been made that there would be “fire next time.” Did not St. Augustine speak of torture and of the uselessness of the good for nothings? The sword would be an instrument by which to purge the world of evil. Heresy, they said, is worse than murder. And heresy can be understood to mean any action that is non conformist or contrary to the
teachings of the church. Thus the monks spoke with themselves. Thus they taught
each other. Thus they determined to rid the world of those whom they believed
resisted the teachings of the Christ and the will of God. Thus they went into
the streets to slit throats and gather raw material for their labors.

And it was shortly thereafter the abbot decided that it was foolish to waste the
flesh. We were now to remove skins whole, or as whole as possible, dry it, and
stuff it. Now entire mannequins could be posed amidst the bone and dry rose passageways and next to stacks of skulls and be caused, by careful manipulation and rearticulation of hands and arms, to contemplate a knee or rib or any other bone or kneel before
a ulna or caress an ankle.

Perhaps we all went a little mad. We (I count myself complicit here) constructed scenes or tableaux that depicted chapters of the Bible. Jesus, a baker as a living being, turned water, poured from a bone cup into wine; Martha, in the body of a weaver, approached an empty tomb made of grinning jaws. Before long, the monks devised a way to animate these scenes with string and lighting. It was a Grand-Guinol long before the name was known or such a theater of horror was founded.

In these tableaux, a prostitute in life became the Virgin Mary posed with newly dead child and near a Joseph who in life had been a real carpenter. But this mattered little for no one except we who lived within the walls of the monastery or  in the cave and and worked with the sad, cold, and stiffened bodies brought to us knew. And it was a craven work,
a work that despite the words our elders spoke to us seemed sure to damn us
all.

We were more silent, more afraid, more sickened as we stripped and cut and snipped and violated. No one was happy in this work and none felt blessed or called to it. Oh, one or two seemed made for it. And sadly, by this time, I too was made to help. I cannot speak of it without I taste the bile in my mouth and feel my jaws begin to cramp and eyes begin to sting. I clung to Cressius in the night and begged to go forth for the gathering of grapes and bounty of the fields.

It had been months of this apocalyptic travesty before my name was drawn. Cressius and I spent the night restless for the morning and the journey. A small pack was made ready and directions were given by the abbot. I was to travel to our order’s house not 40 miles south, a journey of some days. There would spend the night whilst barley bread and new wine would be loaded on the cart I had with me for the trip back.

I knew there would be no trip back. Cressius and I walked slowly out the large wooden doors that led to the world beyond the monastery. When it closed behind us, we breathed an air we had not breathed in months. Although it was still the dusty dry air of the city, it was fresh as spring water to us. We listened for the birds, all of which had fled even our gardens now and never entered our caves. We listened for the rustle of the leaves and
looked for bees and crickets in the grass and flowers. Soon we were out of the
gates of the city and its ancient stones and were beyond the sight and calling
of its muddled citizenry and their suspicious gossip.

I knew this road from many journeys.

I abandoned the cart and little beast after many miles. I trod along the far edge of the roadway then, when no one was in sight before or behind, I skipped lightly across the verge and over a hillock and, with Cressius leaping joyous as a youngster behind, snapping at butterflies and nuzzling deep into the chopped grasses at the scent of vole, made my way across the fields. My cloche betrayed my order and thus I tore it from my shoulders. I shred and hid it best I could lest it become a clue to my escape route. My rough under shirt and pantaloons were all I needed for the day was warm. I’d saved some crusts and bits of bean and cheese from dinners and had tucked them in a pouch. So now, just now, I could
walk without a fear of hunger. The monks would not miss me until some days
when I would be expected back. Thus, I had time to travel far.
But where and how would I survive?

I rehearsed my story, my new biography. And in my head I listed to my satisfaction all my skills: I could read and write; I was young and strong; I was handy with a myriad of tools. I learned quickly and spoke easily with animals who seemed to settle comfortably with me as a friend. I could apply to be a farm hand or a clerk or tutor or the assistant to any of those.

My biography would be this: I was the daughter of a merchant who had employed a tutor for me in my home. I’d been well treated but was orphaned when disease had struck my village, a small one in the north. His brother had stolen my father’s wealth and I was put out without consideration for my well being. And now I wandered seeking employment where I could. I expected nothing more of life.

And this was who I was. I called myself Alma and my wolf would be known as Zanna for her large ripping teeth.

Night fell but not before we had come upon a small pool of water from a recent rain. I shared the last bit of bread with Zanna and tried with it to teach her to answer to this new name. I bathed as best I could and drank. We slept as usual, me smothered in Zanna’s fur, her right forelimb cleaving me to her as if to bond us as one forever. On this night I did not have the dream.

……….

I awoke to the heat of the sun for there was no shade tree
where we took our rest but only tender tall grasses that flourished near the spring.

We had no food and seemed to be ready to be food ourselves. A hawk dove down toward us and came so close its knobbly legs and huge, sharp talons were within seconds of a strike. I waved my hands toward it and heard more than saw its gigantic wings beating at the air as it rose to circle from a distance.

The sun shone through its feathers so the its wing bones, its radius
and ulna and carpus and metacarpus and the digits were clearly visible. So familiar. So like a human arm, I thought. So beautifully formed. As dizzy from hunger as I was, I found myself overwhelmed by the symmetry and precision of those wings and for a moment found myself with the hawk, on the hawk, circling over my own body. Zanna did not move through any of this until the sun hit her furred head and troubled at her eyes. She rose and
stretched and went straight to the pool for a long sloppy drink.

We began to walk again, heading, I hoped for a village or town. Somewhere I could seek work and friendship. I tried to attend to the wanderings of my mind and to shake off the sometimes shivers of horrors when I had sudden recollections of the horror of the past few months. My life so far seemed to be a concatenation of events that needed sorting in order
to make sense. Other times I seemed to myself to have been on a perfect and
willed trajectory. Where would it lead?

The day was suffused with a golden, dusty glow and the fields around me were parched and stubbled. Dark green poplars showed themselves faintly on the distant horizon however, and it was toward that horizon that I traced my route and
pulled myself and my companion in a desperate bid for freedom.

At last, before nightfall, I entered a knotty, dark copse that I took to be a wetland surrounding the rows of poplars and leading to a town. The shrubs and trees were small and cowered densely over a thicket of wild berry vines. I saw no path and wrenched and tore my way in the direction of the larger grove ahead. My clothing was ripped, sleeves and pants, and my hands and arms and legs around the ankles were nearly shredded and bleeding from berry vine and thistle scratches. Cressius slunk lowto the ground, beneath the growth,  behind me.

Just as I could see the first of the poplars an easy march away, an elderly monk with a long staff came down through a clearing and stopped in his tracks when he saw me. I did likewise. He was bare headed but wore a sackcloth robe cinched round the waist with a hemp rope from which hung a large wooden cross. His otherwise naked scalp sprouted fluff without design. More grew out from and around his overlarge ears. His nose too was oversized and his nostrils like two immense caverns. His eyes were bright and eager.

“Ah. I see. A lost soul.”

He said.

“I am, indeed. Lost. Whether a soul or not is for God to
say.” And I began to recite my story, the tragedy of my village, my hope to
find employment and all the rest.

The monk stood watching me, listening attentively, and then
said, “Follow now. I will see that you are cared for.”

I had little reason not to follow. The trajectory, I thought. This is another step in my ordained path. Here was, it seemed, a good Christian man who offered aid. Perhaps God had sent him to me. Zanna and I were weak and I stumbled now and then but kept the man in sight as he nearly leapt up the hillside, through the poplars, and through a lively and brilliant green glade within which birds sang and chirruped seemingly from every surrounding tree branch. He traveled on both I and wolf panted to keep up.

Soon a large brick building with a crenulated wall around it
rose into view. It was alone, that is, isolated amidst the surrounding forest. No other
clearing or settlement could be seen.

We approached it by way of an elaborate, staired barbican made of chiseled
grey stone blocks. The monk knocked with fierce force on an oaken door that was set
steadfastly between the stones of a grand arch. When it was opened, it was clear
that the interior was protected from intruders by both an inner and outer door.
I was led through each and each was closed firmly and locked behind me. Zanna
began to whine. No doubt she was hungry and a little wary of a place she did
not know.

A moment, the monk said, and disappeared into a dark interior
space apparently deep within the building judging by the time he was gone. When
he returned, he had another with him. This fellow had a younger bounce to his
walk though his head was hooded like a falcon’s. But even though he was shadowed by the
hood he could be seen to have a lean, saturnine face.

Then he saw me and his broad lipped mouth broke into a
crooked toothed smile and his dour appearance cracked into one of pleasure.

“Yes yes, brother,” he said to the older monk while eyeing me and following the line of my cheek with one stained and ragged finger,
“she’ll do nicely for a new Mary. A lovely jaw bone indeed.”

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