Thursday, August 31, 2006

was walking down a road in homer alaska, realizing that i might be about as far from home as i was ever going to get. homer is on the kenai peninsula, way out there; i couldn't very well go to the islands, as you couldn't hitchhike there, and i didn't have the money for the boats; and, going way inland was also risky, as i couldn't get stranded too far from roads. so i was considering turning back. some people in a religious place were hoeing some land not too far from the road. my pack was broken and i was trying to figure out how to fix it without much money. earn some, maybe. hoeing didn't look too productive. the area gave me the feeling of being surrounded by lots of water- the deep blue sea peeked over the edges of buildings off at the edges of my vision.

a guy in an old truck with a camper on the back came by and offered me a job overnight on a fishing boat. said he'd pay me $50, all I had to do was haul in the nets for a few hours in the middle of the night. i agreed. we drove up the road a ways, then rolled down into the town of ninilchik, with its onion-dome church, and small harbor.

the boat was small, maybe 30 feet, and i got sick almost immediately after embarking. no problem, he said, just throw up over the edge, then go below and rest, i'll call you when i need you. the guy was perfectly content to not say any more than he had to. perfectly nice guy, but could lived a whole life without company, probably. i was still sick, though, and wasn't much of a conversationalist.

he did get me up at about 3 am to haul in nets and we did. huge four and five foot salmon all over them. all i did really was hold onto the nets at one side of the boat while he hauled them in at the other. now i was awake, feeling better. the fish we kept at the side of the boat; he didn't really haul them in. my fascination was tempered by fear of leaning over too far and falling in with them. it seemed like the bay was very cold, very dark. it was august but that was fall in alaska- a touch of cool in the air, a little darkness coming back to the sky.

we hooked up with a bigger boat where he unloaded the fish and got paid. in this boat i ate a steaming bowl of salmon soup- fresh, delicious, i can still taste it now. a small porthole now looked out at the dark bay as i ate. he paid me all $50- i said, i only worked about an hour, are you sure you want to do this? he said, you were there when i needed you. and it took you all night to be there, just for that hour. he was grateful, in a kind of taciturn, vermont kind of way.

dropped me off back in ninilchik, where i saw, as he was driving away, a bumper sticker on his camper that said, kill a winnebago for jesus. not sure what he meant- maybe he was anti-tourist. he did ok by me, though- i was determined to fix my pack, and get back on the road. the only other things i remember about the peninsula were a real live glacier, coming down onto the road, and a crow's nest bar, with business cards from every corner of te world- but i didn't carry those, and, couldn't even imagine what i'd put on one, if i could.
was late at the pool today, in the bowels of pulliam, home of the clocktower, and, in the locker room, looked up to see the clock permanently stuck at noon. this is ironic because the clocktower itself always appears at noon, on all siuc logos and the new stationary, symbol of siuc. high noon in carbondale, i like to call that logo, though there's no showdown with anyone that i know of. the clock outside my office is stuck at five o'clock (this is more like it), but, in my classroom is a square-shaped hole where a clock should be but isn't. talk about symbolism. In my office is a very pretty little clock that is not stuck at all, but keeps going around at its own rate, miles from correct, apparently getting stuck sometimes when I'm not watching. A very nice watch that I had in my pocket shattered and now I don't trust it much though it may be ok. The computers are usually a little off but I do notice them, especially if I'm on one; more often, I'll just try to grab a passing glance at something or somebody's wrist while teaching, get some idea, some clue of how much of life is actually passing right under my nose. it's the high noon of life...did anyone set the alarm?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

i was heading west out of new orleans, glad to be out of the south, although overall i had had a good time. it was not like they said it would be up north- in fact, people were real nice, especially in the countryside, and out on the road, though the cities had been a touch hostile to travellers, especially kids, vagabonds, or yankees, or some combination of those, like i was. but out under the open sky, getting more open as we went, i saw texas ahead and further beyond, california.

i thought of the first texan i'd met, e.l.g., up in new hampshire, driving a van and talking about how confining the small towns and states in the north were, compared to his home, a sprawling ranch in big bend country out on the south edge of texas, down on the mexican border. his partner, a coloradan, agreed, especially about how you could cross a dozen states without taking your foot off the pedal up there in new england, whereas out west, you'd have days of driving all in one state or two, out under the open sky. the stories of big bend had gotten me thinking, now that i was here- of veering down south a ways, toward the open desert, toward the canyonlands, and seeing a little of texas and maybe the mexican border.

outside of port arthur a guy gave me a ride in a van with a guitar in back. he expected me to recognize port arthur as the home of janis joplin, which i didn't. he kind of expected me to remember, also, a famous remark janis had made at a public place, a concert or reunion or something, in san francisco in 1969 or sometime before she'd died. this was maybe 1974, but i didn't remember much, on account of being only 19, and not really having been much hooked into the media, except maybe the radio, as a young teenager, though i definitely knew who janis joplin was. he was really nice about it, but the gist of it was this: she had said, all my friends back in port arthur are being plumbers and such, and i just couldn't take that. he was a plumber (said so on his van, too)- and had been a personal friend of janis joplin in high school. so he'd taken that remark personally. it was like her telling him, from way across the country, what are you going to do, be a plumber the rest of your life? hang around in that small town doing nothing? and he'd responded, basically, by grabbing his guitar and heading for austin, music capital of the state.

texas followed the pattern of the rest of the south- houston was sprawling, huge, unpalatable, compared to the open country. we just sailed right through it, all hundred or two hundred miles of it. but he broke down in sealy, just on the other side of houston. the seed had been planted, though, and i looked a little at the map in the sealy gas station, as they told him what was wrong with his van. one could do what one wanted. there was nothing stopping me from veering south, seeing a little more on my way out west. i could put a foot in mexico, maybe even stay there a day or two. why not?

at the border- i was in brownsville, but i can't for the life of me remember why- i had to wait for the visa, and i remember reading 'on the road' entirely through, at the library or somewhere, as i waited. that small book captured a little of what i'd gone through, but nothing of what was ahead - i was adjusting to the idea, really, of another country. luckily, this border town was a place where the idea of another country was really a pretty everyday idea. i met another traveller who couldn't get his head around the idea of hitchhiking- he was going to take the bus, and go to saltillo, an old mountain town, scenic, historic, outside of monterrey, which we had to go through in order to get there. i did this with him, when the visa finally came through, and it was good. but the cities were making me feel that same old feeling again. that longing to talk to people, under the open sky, without the hustle and bustle of people coming and going and blowing smoke all over the place. i said goodbye to the other traveller and set out on the open road again.

my first ride was from an old truck whose driver invited me to climb up on top of the bed, where another rider sat, a mexican who knew no english, i assumed. my spanish, i found out, was also quite poor, in spite of four years of it in high school. we were on a garlic truck- thousands of heads of garlic, and a fragrant smell of the whole huge pile of it below us. the garlic made its sounds as we bounced around on top of the truck, going down the highway. the sun, i knew, was going to burn me up here. but i talked to the guy, practiced my spanish, tried to figure out where we were going. he offered me a cigarette which i declined. this was a mistake, for cultural reasons, maybe. i couldn't smoke. i didn't know the word for 'allergic' to cigarettes in spanish. i tried to explain it the best i could. that apparently wasn't very good. it was awkward, but he seemed to understand, finally, that i wasn't trying to be unfriendly.

the truck went quite a ways, and then dropped me off. somehow i was finding that being in another country was even more liberating than being free in one's own. the sun was going down gently with a wide sunset in the west, open desert, nobody around. i saw some scrub trees, some wasteland, and rolled out a sleeping bag in a low spot, under the stars, out of the way, where i couldn't possibly bother anyone, kind of like i would have done in the states, but at least up there, i knew how to talk my way out of it if i was wrong about not bothering anyone. it did occur to me that, if i bothered someone, i might be in hot water, but, i figured that near a road, it was pretty clear i was just passing through, so what mattered was the total damage i did to the surroundings, which was, as usual, almost nothing. i was just a guy sleeping on the sandy wash, slept hard, had a number of dreams too.

but woke up to a rattling sound- i was right in the path of a rattlesnake, and his tail was up and rattling. he was not happy about my choice of location, i guess. the strange thing was, as woozy as i was from a hard sleep, unfamiliar surroundings and all, i really didn't have much trouble with the rattler. i just kind of looked at him, and got out of the way, and he went along on his way. i guess he just wanted me to know, i shouldn't be making a permanent encampment there. but of course, i had no intention of doing that. the morning sun was rising bright and early- little did i know it, but i had ten, eleven hours of desert in front of me, and the days would get hotter as i got further into it. one would eventually live for those evenings, the cool nights and early mornings, when it was possible to think clearly, to communicate - in whatever form - and to enjoy being alive. and i felt that, if i could explain that to a rattlesnake, i could explain it to anybody.
another name for a hundred percent humidity is rain- another name for allergies is august, and another name for "welcome to missouri" is "fireworks"...another name for music is celtic fiddling, but i can't practice, because i broke a string in the heat & humidity, and have to go get another one. borrowed a cell phone the other day, and realized that, yes, now i can walk across campus and look at least a little like everyone else. never mind the thirty year age difference...or the fact that the cell phone went off and apparently i didn't even know it. the rain drenches everything, kind of rare for this time of year- though the humidity is not, and the heat in general is extreme beyond the point of endurance, at least for a heat wimp like me. i remember that in the north, the worst time for cabin fever was in march, where the sixth or seventh month of staying inside got to people, and the four walls would come crashing in and break up their marriages if nothing, it's the end of august, and it's only been three or four months of intolerable, repressive, stay-indoors, readjust-your-internal-thermostat-every-time-you-step-outside, roll-down-your-windows-&-blast-the-aircon-at-the-same-time, where-is-minnesota-when-you-need-it kind of sauna hot tub, and my fiddle, for one, couldn't take another minute of it. and they start playing football in this stuff....drenched with sweat from my bicycle runs, i may be feeling it more than most- and, getting into shape does help it, a little, but, finally, in a place where summer has turned so difficult, so long, so unpleasant, that hope by the a/c duct, i'd like to forget that there ever was summer, much less one that i used to like, or even look forward to...i say, bring on the fall. and the winter too. they're so mild, so peaceful, and you can get on the roof.

Friday, August 25, 2006

living on the west side brings me a whole new set of challenges, especially with the bike ride, which is a steady uphill from sunset boulevard (real name: sunset drive)...emerald and a long freeman hill. some choices having to do with sidewalk vs. street - both being treacherous - and the real choice maybe being another route. actually took a spill one day - but survived probably due to the swimming - and maybe the helmet.

one wild little creek crosses my path - little crab orchard creek - and this morning a deer came out to watch me wheel by. some creatures find it frightening that a person can approach so quickly with so little sound. fortunately my brakes are louder than a horn - so i use them for that purpose.

things are hopping in carbondale - 20,000 new students, and all they bring - and the touch of fall is nice- cooler fresher air is coming. pretty soon it'll be october, and the trains will have to slow down to avoid the ones -drunken students that is- that fall through the cracks. or tracks, as the case may be. I myself hope to be healthier - having survived the wretched, steamy summer, i can now enjoy the place for a while.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

now that i have sent a son off to school, i'm looking at the new students differently- even remembering my first year at school- when i tried my best, i really did, to get into college, but the city of boston and the approaching fall in new england distracted me. i'd head out traveling on weekends, come back to a dorm that was wallowing in drugs and craziness, and try to study some more. this was 1972. things got worse when spiro agnew came to town. nixon would have, but i think he was afraid of what would happen. as it was, it was pretty severe. thousands of people filled up commonwealth avenue- street, sidewalk, on the window ledges, climbing up on the trolley shelters, tripping on the empty tracks. the street lights continued to bathe red, yellow, and green light on the teeming masses, also flashing walk-don't walk, eerily, without meaning. i asked somebody what we were waiting for, what was going to happen. as i recall i had just come back from somewhere and was somewhat unprepared. nobody seemed to know. but they were united in their general opposition to the war (vietnam) and the general idea that if nixon did show up, they would give him a piece of their mind.

finally i made my way back to the dorm- my floor had a number of people who were pretty much always there, always doing drugs, playing music, making the carpet soggy. generally i found it difficult and just went off hitchhiking, camping, to maine or canada or somewhere on weekends. but on this particular night it was crazier than usual, of course, and there was no music. some veteran had joined the crowd, and, in a haze of drugs, began telling stories of killing people in vietnam. true stories, true murder stories. indiscriminately, women, children, whoever was there. i don't remember the details except that it was horrifying. he told it with an intentness- as if information yearns to be free, as if somebody had to know this, and this group of people sharing drugs and sitting around in a haze was as good as any. he remembered every detail. he got wound up. he made sure we heard it. made sure i heard it too. then he left, disappeared in the crowd out on comm. ave.

my friends went back to their usual, eventually. more so, maybe. i'm not sure how much a part of that demonstration they really were, anyway- i also was kind of on the fringe. that spring i'd gotten a low draft number in the lottery, but they cancelled the draft right around then- gave up, said they were getting out of vietnam anyway. i remember not believing them. on the canadian border i'd maintain that i was just a student, travelling. actually i was just travelling- though i had no intention of moving up there- just wanted to keep moving, so that, for a while at least, the cold boot of reality wouldn't catch up to me...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

eyes wide open

coming to Carbondale Sept. 2

picture from afsc-
american friends service committee

Thursday, August 17, 2006

several weeks without e-mail, dsl, ability to log on from home...has left me out of touch with the blog-world and grateful not to get pinged (or whatever)...which would require me to reveal what is in my closet...not tellin'...or, actually, i'd have to admit that it's changing a lot.

the move required many trips in a '68 ford truck, windows open, in the blazing heat, past university farms, and brought fond memories of my grandfather, who thought heaven was a farm show on a hot august day, talking hybrid seeds, fertilizer and automatic feeders with iowa farmers. when it smelled like farms do, he'd point out that that was the smell of growth and nutrients. this, while driving past fields of high corn with hybrid signs in front. growing up in pittsburgh pa my dad would say that the foul smell of the then-busy steel mills was the smell of progress. on my own, living in iowa, i lived downwind of cedar rapids, way out in the country, and had to drive in the middle of the night, all one winter, with the smell of corn being cooked down into corn sweetener my only companion. but that smell was good and rich. the smell of life going on.

desoto lowland turtle nowhere to be seen, it was so hot, it even made the dump lady suspicious. finally cleaned out the old house and sold it. moved from west park lane on the south side to south lark lane on the west side. our new digs are much more to my wife's liking, and of course the kids are almost immediately adjusted, climbing up the furniture, reaching for the doorknobs, finding the pathways. i'm still trying to catch up on my sleep...

took a short family vacation to paducah kentucky, which in our family we call paducah paducah. the high point there was the the quilt museum, which showed off the fact that a number of american visionaries have been busy realizing various visions with cloth...a wonderful place. kind of like the the museum of the american visionary in baltimore which i also highly recommend. sometimes it's good to step out of your ordinary life and see things a different way...

in other ways paducah was less of a vacation than we'd wanted (were planning to go to hot springs) but good enough in that it's difficult traveling with young ones, older ones, all kinds of ones, and a '68 truck on top of it since we don't all fit in a car. kentucky is at least another world, another accent, another wal-mart. a blinding storm on the o-river-bridge, couldn't tell the sky from the gray murky water, a visit to dolly's in vienna (not on web), paducah street fair, and the high point of that, believe it or not, was another elvis kind of guy, had a good voice, blow-dried hair, drinking problem, was a kind of sincere elvis imitator. but the heck of it was, he was good.

then a trip out to take justin to college in lawrence. this trip traversed the state of missouri, right through columbia, around kansas city, where it flattens out a bit and sneaks into lawrence, a pretty town with a pretty campus. and home on the same night, a few more bugs on the windshield, but safe and sound. kansas is dry and sunny, cooler than here, and it's closer to a city, and that city is kansas city, which in my book is nicer than the lou. he says the dorm life is very social, you can get lost in it, and i warned him that i knew many people who have done just that, and i think that in some strange way, all of us college teachers have, basically, still, just decided to hang around and enjoy that atmosphere of academic inquiry, youth and optimism, pursuit of truth, pursuit of whatever, savoring that lost feeling of youth, a little too long, even to the point of wondering if there is another reality. i mean, i'm getting paid for it and all, but sometimes i wish i were in an environment where everyone was not between eighteen and twenty-two. like maybe paducah?

enough for now..i'll try to catch up, see what's on the web, contribute something to the picture. when one is actually out there, i guess one does not need the web so much...and even has trouble getting at it...and life is full of the fragrances of the region...but now, at home, i look to my friends to satisfy my traveling spirit. will wash the bugs of missouri off the windshield, get the bicycle ride through the west side down to a science (it's slightly longer, more gentle hills, some interesting variant routes)- and start a new year, this one #13...

not that i'm down on it, or even regretful. life has been good to me. the job is totally different than it was a year or so ago, carbondale is still good to me. a hometown without mountains, without a river, without the sea, without a capital building. only a train, a midnight train, the c=n from canada, the city of new orleans, a call in the night. it's a one-horse town, but at least that horse is sustaining me, and i lay out this prayer: that my children, carrying forward whatever i have left unsaid, are yet and still carrying forward not anger and frustration, but tracks on the prairie- a mark on the world, a small patch that's better now than it was before. may the stars keep shining on it, and bring the spirits home, at least once in a while, maybe thanksgiving.