Thursday, May 28, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
memorial day weekend, and time to reflect a little, also one of the few summertime opportunities to really enjoy the pleasant weather, before it gets just too hot & humid to really stand around out there. our friends had a huge hickory that damaged their porch and roof and still stood right outside the house; we speculated about whether someone would come along soliciting good furniture-wood or what should be extraordinary opportunity in terms of good craft-wood; to our knowledge, nobody had come along at all for any of it. tell me again what you know of brownsville? i asked. has an old house on it, vacant. that land was sold recently, he said, six huge parcels, all to the same owner, probably going to be used for hunting rights. think anyone would mind if a person went poking around down there? Oh, yeah, probably.
The paved road wandered back toward brownsville and we played african music as usual, and enjoyed the green grasses and forests. in the worthen cemetery people cleared brush, as people have been doing in this area for weeks now, but memorial day being a time to take care of the cemeteries, brush off the dust, and mow the lawns, i'm sure they were preparing. it's an unwritten book, i thought, though supposedly somebody already wrote a book about the place, and the evidence they found one way or the other about how they had forges there and did metalworking. moved the county seat to murphysboro, apparently, because it was prone to flooding, as much of the valleys are. if someone wrote that book, i haven't seen it, but the whole project has to go on the shelf anyway, because i'm way too busy. at work, people are busy putting a new roof on a flat building, and making all kinds of noise; one day, came back from coffee and saw a prehistoric kind of lizard fellow, disoriented out on the breezeway bricks; i pointed him out to a student, but then let him go, since his life was already turned upside down. similarly, driving to work on sunset boulevard, er, sunset drive, we drove right over a large turtle, also disoriented, realized too late that the street he was crossing was a little too busy for his general rate. we stopped, came back, and idled in a driveway while we saved its life, and the owner of the driveway came out to see why we were there.
freedom, i think, starts with life, and the opportunity to move on; the lizard found his spot in the weeds, and the turtle went off down toward the little creek that cuts under sunset there by the green earth wetlands. john a logan and his buddies are long gone, so are the brothers and thousands of people who died fighting the civil war, which ravaged the area and rewrote the landscape in such a way that it'll never be the same. perhaps some things are best left untouched, as is the civil war graveyard out on the dog improvement lands, that we used to pass when we walked our dogs around the ponds there, and which nobody really took much care of, but everyone knew it was there, and was important. they finally fenced the place off, because it became famous, and blogs like this certainly don't help, so i'll put my two cents in here, if you're still reading this far. have respect; don't tip over the gravestones, hold the memory still and precious, and let things go their way, not upsetting the balance or making things go extinct that shouldn't have to. it's what's precious about the midwest really, that it can be, at the same time, center of the universe of a few thousand years ago, richest & most fertile & most beautiful of river valleys, land of lincoln and land of obama, yet at the same time, a place where a single gravel road to history lies unmarked, unobstructed, the hills full of arrowheads and all kinds of archaeology, yet at the same time, used only to shoot deer by locals in a single week in november, locals who both paid for the right and duly respect, in their own way, the importance of the territory, and pretty much left alone the rest of the time.
a book, i'd say, if not a couple of short stories at least.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
Sunday, May 17, 2009
the break flew by so fast, i almost forgot to notice a few things: that our house was surprisingly unscathed, though the one we used to live in was battered; that kids don't mind a week without movies, half as much as parents mind a week of no movies for kids; that the weather, overall, has been stunningly nice, a good time to be without power, or to be outside working. for this area, a livable may is a godsend; sometimes it's all over and too steamy already by now. and finally, the people in the area are virtually shouting at their families around the land, hoping the world will notice the huge trees fallen all over our lives, leaving us anguished and destitute. but, almost nobody died; no wonder the world didn't turn its head. and, there have been derechos before; did we think we were the only ones? pines fell, because they have shallow roots and the ground was wet. oaks fell, because they're hard and don't give, they either crack, or don't. houses can take a whacking if they're well built, but a lot of them aren't, and at least a dozen are done for, finished. start over. flatten it, make a field; let some new trees grow. by fall you'll miss the shade.
and that was the most agonizing, to me. the trees were my allies, my friends; i knew them even if i didn't know their names. some people just figured, while they're at it, take them all out, and they did. but this, to me, compounds the whole air-con, steamy-unlivable dilemma; we crank the air-con, global warming makes it worse, things spiral downward. the only solution is to move north.
break is over. back to work. i'm off to dominican republic in what, a couple of weeks?
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
so some have had enough of this inland hurricane stuff, but i'm still wondering, what was it? how could a hurricane have come across kansas, of all places? did it come from the sea? if not, how did it get that hurricane characteristic: wide, wet, powerful? i saved a gif that shows it crossing the plains, dumping on carbondale; i've found nothing written about it bouncing off the river, or picking up its water there or anywhere. it was generally agreed that carterville got the worst of it; that's a town to the east of here, fairly new in its development, but, over in murphysboro today, someone said that goreham and jacob, down by the river, got it the worst. those river towns, on the bottoms, so to speak, always get the worst of tornados too, and especially floods; they are prone to all kinds of disasters, and i'm sure they're a little weary of the whole thing by now.
nevertheless, precious little is written about this inland hurricane, except that it's generally agreed that that is what it was; i see nobody trying to explain it, or tell us where it came from or why. it clearly was not in the pattern of your usual storm, though some tornados came along with it, it seemed; it was preceded, by one day, by a hail-storm that damaged a few cars; it was followed by the usual calm weather, clear blue sky, and then finally, today, muggy heavy thickness that turned into a tornado watch. watch, i can do, that just means it's possible. it's always possible; anything is possible.
in the spirit of reliving it, processing it, making peace with the cold reality of it, i've done several things. one, copy four different photo albums onto my facebook; i'll probably have more, as more town residents get power and upload. two, copy the gif below, so as to relive the moment itself. three, make pop art, i think if you can scroll down, you'll see it; this comes from samah, who took the photos, then left town i guess; smart thing to do. we, on the other hand, left right away, then came back, to pick up some of the experience, i guess.
maybe it's not such a big deal. you just have to live in a small town such as this to know, when brush piles line the walks, and block your vision to the porches and yards of the houses, that's a big deal. when you have hundreds of visitors in day-glow vests and big muscles, that's kinda big too, though they'll be gone soon enough, and that will be just as well. i don't like it when the ratio of men to women goes above 4 or 5 to one; too much like alaska, or prison, or football. our town is mellow, a little sunny at the moment; but, i think they'll see that, and only move here if they're really attracted. in the end, it's not much. just a green and hilly place, not far from the river, where the power of the weather passes through once in a while. chou
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
aside from that, i don't mind life around a quiet house, full of outside air, though i must say, the more time goes along, the better i hear the generators that power up all across town and stay up, gas engines running everywhere. and probably to do not much more than watch television and keep a beer cool, though i can't speak for everyone. there is a lot of inefficient energy consumption: people making coffee with barbeque grills, etc.; it seems like more power being used than if they just turned on the darn system. but with poles down like toothpicks all over the countryside, i can't blame them for being cautious. they do the best they can.
i ask everyone about the "inland hurricane"...one guy, as close as possible to my own viewpoint, said, i'd look it up on the web, but i can't; power's out. i myself just came in to work tonight at ten or so to do facebook and e-mail (had maybe 130 unread)- and ended up making the inland hurricane pop art below, but not looking it up. maybe later. the storm apparently bounced off the mississippi river, and it was a hurricane, the best they can figure; at any rate, it tore a swath through this area and we'll have a lot less shade this summer. one problem was, ground was so wet from the rains, it couldn't hold onto the trees. another problem was, the trees were so big from growing, they caught a little too much of the wind. more on this later, if i can read about it.
spend the days taking the kids out to the park where we play a lot, and watch big guys chainsaw trees and feed them into a grinder. wouldn't mind cleaning up a few of the trees in my own yard, but i've barely started; the neighbors have walls of tree & brush up against the road, which makes you feel like you're driving through a tunnel at times. if the city doesn't pick it up, it could be a problem- and the city has a lot of other stuff on its mind. it's a different kind of town. power guys all over the place, in bright plastic vests.
to talk to someone, you often have to find them; we talk to the neighbors most (for a change) since we see them a lot. other people, we kind of lose touch with. days of facebook have gone by, but it's mostly banal quizzes but a few photo albums of the hurricane. quick i made pop art out of one; couldn't help it. i should be taking my own photos, but, i've been feeling disconnected from the power source, and way behind in my work. i need to be preparing for dominican republic. i'm way behind. i'll be up here, working on it, i think: that's my new mission. among other things, i have to get started.
among other things i want to point out, is scotland pop art...the first picture in there, not pop, is my aunt who funded the expedition; the photographer is probably my cousin stu, who went and toured the place with her and assorted other relatives including his wife and his brother. they saw ayrshire and various other places; this was about a year ago; they brought back fantastic photos and the whole thing has been on my mind ever since. i listen to scottish music quite a bit, so now i have to figure out how to put it all together, and produce a movie or something...
as for the inland hurricane, i'm still stewing on it. it's got to be a part of the landscape for a while, maybe i'll document a little better, and get something going.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
it's not that we're so connected to the media, though here in a hotel in paducah kentucky we're watching a lot of television; television is something we don't have in our regular day-to-day life. it's more that, to really camp, it takes a lot of energy, and we were exhausted on friday evening as we often are, and simply weren't up to it. our family needed a little vacation anyway, so we came down here, to the closest place to get supplies anyway; we holed up in a favorite motel w/hot tub, and here we are. unexpectedly one of the few townsfolk with internet.
we can say: it was quite a storm; big trees are down everywhere, and i wouldn't be surprised if lack of power caused considerable hardship to all kinds of people. you're lucky, the weather's on your side in this one, said the lady at wal-mart, who herself had lived without power for over ten days "back in the ice storm"...and she was right; half the people in there had done it at some time or another, and it happened in st. louis in january or something, when they needed to burn down garages to keep warm. neighborhoods bond; people cook together; everyone camps and gets by, stingy with cell-phone minutes and eager for any source of supplies. siuc was in a jam with its graduations; thousands of people were in town for the weekend; all the motels were full already; the local ones, for the most part, as out of power as everyone else. some people have found generators, including the hospital and one of the biggest restaurants. everyone else is grilling in the back yard. the weather is unpredictably gorgeous.
here in paducah, life goes on as usual, although at the walmart i stood with a group of southern illinoisans as i bought the last of the battery-lanterns from the camping department. in this cell-phone age i'm sure this one will be well-documented; i've already seen cars smashed, buildings with trees smashing the roof, etc. an insurance man's nightmare. twitter and the wireless media didn't play much of a role; nobody has it, or tunes in much even when there is power. the local media outlets, however, were ineffective when they didn't have power to run their operations; one couldn't find out much, power or not, from anyone, for quite some time.
the scariest moment for me was when, driving down giant city road to get our puppy, a line of cars coming the other way came under a low power line. we'd seen low power lines all over the city; some blocked roads, others were driven over by both cars and trucks and in fact, as i realized later, probably the main generators were already down and they weren't truly as dangerous as one would expect. but i didn't know this at the time, and an oncoming large truck tripped one, leaving an exposed power cable to fly right toward my windshield and open window. like most drivers though i kept my wits about me, and didn't wash into the waterlogged ditches out of fear or sudden swerving avoidance impulse. i also saw a few trees come down, i was there when it washed through. our house, our people, our crowd, all seem to be ok, miraculously. we don't expect school or daycares to open any time soon, but we can handle it; we've gotten supplies, and one way or another, we'll make it through. the graduation day inland hurricane- we survived it. how about you?
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
but back to my point- i'm now aware of a different kind of thing, since my daily newspaper is facebook, instead of the tired old post-dispatch, which is shrinking into oblivion but still had a good editorial on jack kemp. now, i'm much more immersed in my friends: who's leaving, who's upset, who's worried about the future, etc. and, i'm intrigued by the way they communicate it: how often, what kind of language, what song lyrics, what quizzes they take, etc. i don't take any of the quizzes myself- don't hardly participate at all- but as a rag, something to read once a day, to take my mind off of other stuff, nothing beats it. certain people who i really like, for example, are in my life every day, and that i think is an improvement. as opposed to, say, bush, or chavez, or those chinese in tibet, or whoever that guy in england is. these guys, why did i ever read about them in the first place?
now, i'm not sure, still, whether this was a good move or not, in terms of my life and what i know about the world around me. i found out tonight about maine- realized later that i inferred everything i knew- at no point had i ever gone to google news, or any other news, and really learned what really happened; in fact, i still don't know. and i could go a couple more days, too, before i even find out, what with the vagaries of newspaper arrival and my actual chances of seeing such news in said paper. but is this bad? in its place, i'm kind of vicariously experiencing all these people, on the edge, plane tickets in hand, leaving the usa for good, probably forever, knowing they'll miss the place, wondering what awaits. or people who, graduating or heading off into summer, are trying to figure out life from that angle. and it comes out in their "statuses" which are brief and attract comments, if they're done right. you can practically watch the comments roll in.
saw a mouse today, trapped on a brand-new concrete stairwell, where he'd figured he could make for the weeds nearby, but instead found himself climbing one stair after another, trying to make that exit. and he had the utter panic, you could sense it, of a mouse who knew he'd been spotted. construction (this stairway was brand new) had thrown his world into turmoil, no doubt. he was a baby. but i wasn't going to hurt him; why should i reach my hand down there and mix in? i let him go his way, brushed him off, more or less.
a couple of days earlier, there had been a neon salamander, about a foot long, on a university building near the japanese garden. this same garden has a mulberry tree that's due to blossom out in about june, i can hardly wait, but this salamander, this gecko or whatever, neon colored, was clearly unaware of how bright he was, how much he glowed in the sunlight on the side of this building. i've lived around here a while, so i wasn't surprised; i've seen lots of neon-colored salamanders (they aren't salamanders, someone once told me, they're something else, but i can't remember what exactly)...but i'd never seen one this big.
i bring this up because, walking along, with a huge box of toefl supplies, having given a gruesome toefl, gruesome to my friends at least, there was a beautiful songbird, dead on the walk. a soft, neonish, blue glowing color, small, who knows what it died from, perhaps a natural death. the thing about these songbirds is, they're small; there are lots of truly beautiful ones; they're endangered, rare, you don't see them much, because they're always in flight, and they're so small, they just give you a glimpse, an angle, at any given time. usually you're lucky to catch even just a glimpse of their radiant colors. the birds are more colorful here than they are down south, my colleague told me; she's from louisiana, and said, even the cardinals have more color up here. why would that be, i wondered, and didn't have an answer, surely it's not the snow; but i knew about songbirds- they like the shawnee, the contiguous forest; they like it when they can go miles & miles, and have a soft hardwood forest all around them to keep the predators at bay. our own little woods, behind our office building, is not even a few acres, clearly not enough; but, then, if a predator had killed this one, it surely didn't show, as it sat there dead, in full splendor, quite gorgeous, resting in peace on the sidewalk.
then, one last story. on the way to work, dropped off the seven-year-old at his school, at a place where a sign says "parent drop-off"...this sign would probably not seem totally ironic to you, if you haven't seen the movie "Nemo" a couple thousand hundred times. but whenever i remind this little fellow of what a scary place the "drop-off" is in the movie nemo, he gets mad at me, so i've taken to not bringing up the subject, but just smiling to myself when we get there. well, today it was raining, a good hard steady drizzle, and he gets out of the car, not twelve feet from the entrance of the gym, and, as usual, he's slightly dissheveled, collar up, pack askew, though today the pack was on his head for part of this time. and then lo and behold, he leans over, and saves a worm from certain death out there in the center of the sidewalk. picks it up and throws it off in the grass where it at least has a chance. and even kind of washes his hands in the grass.
it restores my faith in humanity; it reminds me of what's really important; it warms my heart. southern illinois, with its songbirds and neon salamanders, is in the end, home, to him, and to all my kids; they don't mind the steam, the variation, the downpours, all that's just like normal. we're trying to figure out a place to go, later in the summer; we have a window of like five days, and no money to spend, so it might not be too far away. and come august, all the good places sound kind of steamy: memphis, smoky mtns., mammoth cave kentucky, hot springs; only chicago sounds breezy & cool, but chicago is not even getting out of the state. and this is a state which, blago & all, ya gotta get out of it once in a while. so we're sitting on a kind of threshold of an imagination, saying, well, what can ya do, in limited time, that even the young ones would like? and i remember, way back in my childhood, an adventure that really really touched me, i don't know why, i still don't, really. some friends of ours used to drive down from pittsburgh pennsylvania, down to west virginia to go camping, and we'd occasionally go with them, and this one particular time, they said, follow us, we're going to a place called sinks of gandhi. well, all these years i thought they were named after the mahatma, but it turns out this particular cave is on private land which is traversed by something called gandy creek, which may or may not be named after the mahatma, west virginia being what it is. so, it's known as the sinks of gandy, really, and, having a map and computer nearby, i looked it up and lo and behold, it exists, it wasn't a dream. this place is like many other caves; it has salamanders, and you can shine your flashlight on them, and you can get down in the mud and scoot along in the dark, if you're really adventurous, and your mom doesn't get mad about the resulting laundry crisis. but the best thing of all is that, unlike your commercial places, with vendors hawking and people sticking garish bumper stickers on cars, this place is totally non-commercial, just a hole in a hillside, and lots of people know about it, but nobody fences it off or makes you sign a release. you just go in, go as far as you can, and then, usually, give up & go back. and spend a pleasant summer afternoon in the shade, and the cool mud of an underground stream.
i woke myself up from that daydream when the map showed me, it would be more than fourteen hours by car with young children, to go to that one; it wouldn't work, this year, though i highly recommend it if anyone is anywhere near randolph county west virginia. there surely are some places like it, in the ozarks, near here, or not too far, but i don't know them; can't even imagine where to look, or how. and, some people are eager to put their two-cents worth in, about what exactly entails a good family vacation, how do i know? we've had a few, but missed it altogether last year, and, though we have a van, my wife for one does not look forward to long cross-country trips out to the dry mountains, or out to anyplace, ten long summer hours in a single car with kids- that's a vacation? better to stay nearby, and get at least some rest, a motel with a nice hot tub. now my attitude was the opposite; i'd go ten, twelve hours gladly, northern minnesota, sault ste. marie, colorado, anywhere to get away from the sultry dry summer humidity, which is barely the middle of southern illinois summer, though i saw the point about the young children in an enclosed car-space, which brought on the daydream. my point is, it's odd how different ideas about 'vacation' can be. and what might be pleasurable to the kids, i can barely imagine. i do want to say, we work together ok, what we come up with, in the end, will be not minnesota, not twelve hours, and not next door either, but something that will hopefully have something for each of us, and hopefully not be cancelled by the unfortunate poor-schedule woes of the academic family, one of whom (myself) basically teaches all summer, almost no break at all.
it was long ago, way back in that same childhood, when, in the back of a station wagon, we were crossing the i-states, and, in the middle of illinois, which coming from certain angles, can be quite long, we saw a tornado way off in the distance. The only one i've ever seen, too; it was quite a sight. i remember more for what it did to my dad & his driving, but, it was memorable in its own right too. in those days we'd go visit two sets of grandparents in iowa; being august, it was often well over 90 there or maybe even over 100; yet each set of grandparents, in their own way, had mastered the heat, and we kids did the same. at one house we'd run down a long driveway and play in a culvert way down at the bottom; it was cool, and had a little stream trickling through it. at the other, we'd sit by a fan, and let my grandfather shuffle cards in our hair, or take us down by the lake with the swans, and walk around in the shade. the long drives across the i-states i barely remember, except for that one tornado incident; of course, we weren't strapped in, but station wagons were smaller than vans and there wasn't much space either. we'd make faces at drivers behind us, i remember, and i became an avid license-plate watcher, learned how to value a hawaii, or a rhode island, over, say, a michigan, which was much closer. even now, i teach my kids the alphabet game, the missouri cow game, and of course we know a few songs, like bingo. but, i ramble too much. like i said, we'll work it out; come august, we'll go somewhere, even if it's only paducah. better yet, we'll get better at seeing the stuff around us, so that we can enjoy every little angle of it.
one last story: a few nights ago, coming home from band practice, on a windy two-lane, way out in the country, with a grassy field down below on the side, a rabbit caught my headlights in the curve, got scared, bounded off; the headlights caught him again, as the curve kept curving. now he was terrified, and his huge jumps started going at angles; he'd bound way up one way, then a different direction, as if to throw off the predator, or the gun, whatever. it was a kind of wild, angular set of hops, and i had to keep my eyes on the road, of course, it being late at night, and the road narrow, and the price of inattention as steep as the shoulder was narrow. i'd put out my vibe: i mean you no harm; i have no gun; relax. i'm not about to hurt a bun-rab, late at night. kind of like the japanese garden, with its little meditative house, welcoming, shaded, simple, and beautiful, yet full of bees, big, ugly mean ones. you can put out the vibe: i won't hurt you, you don't need to sting me. but that's work, and not only that, but it's not very relaxing, even if you succeed. better, if you want to relax, to just stick your feet in the pond, and watch the tadpoles get stirred up and scamper off toward the goldfish. of course, the parents don't like that, but hey, it's all in the way you look at it, what's a boring old tree today, will tomorrow be so full of purple juicy mulberries that even the goldfish love, and will give you the rich tart sweet nectar of summers past, free as a kid, crickets at night to both keep you awake, and give you the kind of sleep where your spirit doesn't have to go travelling, it can just be free, right where it is.
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
ran through the paper while things were still a little too busy around here, and saw a story about nepal that i would have read, had i had more than a minute, but didn't. i did, however, between finals that i was writing, around midnight, go into facebook, where some friend pointed out a supreme court case involving janet jackson, and another pointed out a jell-o wrestling fundraiser and burning man, both way out west, that i would never have known about if i hadn't checked in there. facebook gives me a closer look at an interesting collection of friends, quite a few of them, and to some degree knowing which ones are leaving town, and when, and who has broken up with their boyfriend, is more relevant than knowing about some heinous crime in west county (st. louis)- more useful too. but there's a certain tradeoff involved; the paper, we probably will stop, as it's gotten so shallow and i can no longer even read the comics, the print is so small. and do i have time to check the news on google or cnn? i doubt it.
a puppy and a kitty have made life a lot more lively around here; just now the puppy noticed that i was up at 6 am and couldn't contain herself any longer; she demanded some attention in a shrill voice that would wake up the dead, but not kids. lately i've taken to sleeping upstairs, in a cavernous unfinished addition, in which a hard bed is lifted up under an open window that is in the trees, so that the starry night, or the rain, whatever, is right above my head; this gives me a heavenly sleep although my wife, who has booted me out temporarily due to my snoring, is left downstairs with the animals and whoever wakes up suddenly. at about 5 am a hallelujiah chorus of birds erupt in the trees as if they want to welcome the new babies and encourage them to hatch out of their eggs, down in the alcove there; they clearly own the tops of the trees, and announce the new day to anyone who will listen. the streets are silent; one truck came by, perhaps to pick up yard refuse, but with a chorus of birds between me and him, i couldn't say that it exactly disturbed me. what i would say is that i could use this early morning time, from 5 to 6, to blog, or maybe do something else, if i were at least a slight bit organized. as it is, i find myself ruminating on the things of life that you'd like to think about, if you ever had time.
back on facebook i conquer siam and china from my grown children; playing risk is a good way to keep up with them and check in with them every day, though it's a little competitive, and of course i don't like being clobbered as i was in chess the other day by my seven-year-old. my father stopped playing chess when that happened to him (at the hands of my brother), but now i understand a little better how he felt, since it could happen to me now, on any given evening, and the seven-year-old has an insatiable appetite for winning the hard checkmate. i'm off to give an early final this morning, so i'm a little out of the usual routine, but ordinarily our evenings consist of him wanting to play a game and me trying to figure out how to squirm out of it, knowing that, even if i win, there is very little joy in watching a competitive young child get even more determined. at the door, the cat watches intently and threatens to spring out every time someone opens it; she knows there is a bird and her young directly outside; she can smell it, i'm sure. she's an indoor cat; she won't go out there, if we can help it; but if it were up to her, she'd be there in a heartbeat. the young boys wake up, wanting their breakfast; quickly, and with the sounds of life in a crescendo, the day begins.