Saturday, August 28, 2010

the late-night milk run is pretty common around here, what with a house of four boys besides myself, two grown, if we don't get a gallon a day we fall behind pretty quickly. and that's not to mention toothpaste and all the other stuff we can run out of. i used to go towards town, to a busy store, but one night that store was having a confrontation, police involved, and i kind of soured on it, and started going out the other way, outside of town a couple of miles, to the new walmart. now that place is at an odd location, but to get there you go through this rural but crowded neighborhood where there are lots of houses, way overgrown trees, and the road curves around an old cemetery.

i have to watch my driving right at that cemetery, because people come flying down that road, and i'm always wanting to crane my neck to see what the gravestones say. they say there used to be a town out there somewhere, and the electric car line that went from carbondale to murphysboro actually stopped there, and i heard someone say once that the they thought the town was called murdale. this could be possible since the west-side shopping strip-mall is still called murdale, and so is the power company, or maybe water, for that area. but i see no sign of electric car line out there; i've found very little to verify whatever i heard so long ago. i've taken to slowing down out there, just so i see mroe, but slowing down is a good idea anyway since there are lots of deer, and i want to live longer.

it was a gorgeous day, cool in the morning, but sunny and hot in the day, and very clear and fresh; farmers' market was full of fresh and colorful fruit & vegetables including some wild-colored plum that i'd never seen; i bought lots of stuff but failed to buy any plums, and now i regret it. i also played a gig, folkstravaganza! XI, though i may have that name wrong, this would have been friday night, and so i've been a bit tired this weekend, trying to recover from a huge start-of-semester rush. at the gig, the local folk coffeehouse, we were called (by someone) the "local yokel" talent but i guess that's really pretty true; most of us are just playing the area, as we always do; my partner plays every song she's written all year, and this is good; she writes a lot, and people come to hear them. the rest of the day we stay home and avoid the crowds. at night, it rains and turns steamy, so we avoid our run; it's so bad, it's back to summer again, and the steam rises up where there is grass and even near the graveyard. you could call it 110% humidity; it's a front, where the dry western fall air has been pushed aside by whatever steamy gulf current that replaced it; it's so steamy here, i'll probably put everything aside, go to bed, and hope it's a little cooler when i wake up. but, i kind of like the feeling- being on the cusp of steamy summer/nice fall; on the cusp of new term/old term, and out on the wild roads where the trees are overgrown, and only cemetery seems ok with the enormous mystery of it all. or maybe everyone knows, and i just talk with the wrong people. in any case, it's summer again; it's due to be hot for a while, and stay that way no doubt, and we might as well get used to it, again. best way to deal with this stuff is go to bed early, get some sleep, wake up early enough to run while the fog is still sitting, lifting off the soccer fields, before it's burned off by the clear fall sun. somewhere out there in the ocean, it's hurricane season, and i'm glad i'm not experiencing it; instead, little frogs jump across the road because the small shower has steamed up the place and they can't tell the road from anything else out there. i'll go around them if i can; i can only imagine what they were thinking.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

on the north side of town, maybe thirteen years ago, a dad piles his two boys in the back of a thirty-year-old plymouth belvedere and tries to get them to put their seat belts on for the long ride up the hill, maybe six miles, to the school. dad is steeped in feeling sorry for himself because the marriage fell apart in violence and anger, but the boys even less understand what has happened, why they are always together but their parents aren't; why, now, the younger one has to go to the same school the older one goes to. the ten-year-old steels himself for his day; he tries to get ready for a world which doesn't know or care what has happened to his family, and he tries to figure out how to protect his little brother from it.

the belvedere has no tape player but a small kid-size tape player plays richard thompson's "beeswing" - a sad song by an old british rocker about lost love, a song like many that is played so often that now it can't be played without recalling that specific era in one's life; the hill is long, and the road winds up it so narrowly that concentration is necessary to avoid going off the road in what is best described as a barely-running boat. fall approaches and leaves change; it gets colder, there's a routine, and the ten-year-old stays true, masters the environment, keeps it together, protects his little brother; he takes responsibility quickly; he's a model kid. the car breaks down and is replaced by an old honda with already more than 200 000 miles on it; its tape player breaks one day in the middle of the song; end of an era, end of a richard thompson tape, end of a tape player. one day, at school, dropping off the boys, dad says to them, be good but not too good. it's an old expression that means, behave, don't bring the weight of the system down on you, but don't lose your spirit. don't let the system rob your very soul. the older boy looks back at him totally befuddled. it has never occurred to him, to be not too good. he can't imagine what this could mean.

years later the same hill looks a little different, but it's fall again and the song still seems to echo around the curves of the old winding road up the hill. traffic is thinner; the car runs better. the same burdens of life's cruelty, pulling at us, reminding us of the wounds of those days and the burden of keeping it together for the sake of others, not letting it get to you. you cannot let depression convince you, that it's not worth another trip up the hill, to face another day, to keep your spirit strong against all odds. you cannot imagine that, after all those years of being true, being strong, standing by those who love you, that we would not stay true to you now at a time you need it the most, know it or not. you may have forgotten richard thompson; the long days at the school and its after-school program; the gently falling leaves on the winding road; the deer, crossing the road, daring the car, or the ones coming the other direction, with its apparent defiance. you may have come to wonder if all those years, hard study, being good, doing what's right, have come to this? and if so, how does one pull oneself up?

the deer darts off to the side, through the woods, in bounds that are long and heavy, but barely seem to touch the leaves on the forest floor. drivers concentrate on the road, trying to stay between painted lines and not lose everything dear to them; to keep control, and make it to the other side of town. fall brings cooler weather, and of course ghe possibility of ice on the steep grades. steady at the wheel! you have come this far; we are with you; you may not remember the time, or the song, or the circumstance, but you stayed true, you did well, you've made me proud. what family there is, remains true to you , and will be here for you forever.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

it's cooler here, a welcome relief from the searing heat of earlier in the summer, when you couldn't go out without the help of air-conditioning, and things wilted left and right out on the lawn. now, i go out in the morning, and i can sit on the stoop with my son, and wait for the bus, and it's cool enough to breathe in the morning air; at night, i can look at the full moon, pause as i get the mail, notice for a minute, that i can actually stand out there comfortably. this is how summer should be; but, here, it's fall, with new students everywhere, and a new term starting. people are flooding the offices on campus; people get lost in various buildings trying to get their semester started in the right classes. the optimism, the sudden high tides in a town that has been sleepy all summer, is a jolt to those of us who have basically been working all summer, and are now more flooded than ever, so busy we can hardly prepare our own classes. but the comfortable weather means i am riding my bike to school, and enjoying it, and swimming also, so it's a time of unusual good health, though i'm not, say, writing much, or reading the news, or doing any pop art.

got into a discussion on the haiku list, where i finally asked them, how come all these haiku experts almost universally reject the 5-7-5 standard format of haiku, while the whole rest of the world virtually defines haiku by that standard format? They have their good reasons, and they shared them. i'm kind of stuck on the poetry collection, but i showed it to the list, and got some good feedback. basically to me, maintaining 5-7-5 at least allows a large body of poetry to be consistent, true to itself, like a song; this is lost by the freer verses i so often see on the list, which of course belong to no larger work, generally. again, we had discussion about various issues that concern me, but one is that i don't feel i can quote people here or elsewhere, to talk about the issues they bring up; it's a private kind of list. their poetry also, i'd sometimes like to grab & just keep, but i do most of my ruminating right here in front of everyone, so that would amount to republishing, which isn't quite cricket. it was even pointed out that linking to others' pictures, as i do, is a bit rude, though i can and will fix that; it was never intended to be anything but temporary. they were, as a group, unmoved by the idea of including links in poetry; it didn't stir them much.

family pictures are coming forth, mostly on facebook; many have my children, and grandchild, in various poses worth saving in one form or another. they will appear here, if i ever get organized. we posed, we smiled, we had our present faces, looking at the cameras. we came, conquered; we posed, we uploaded. i'm still basically exhausted, from a busy, hectic trip; fortunately everything went well; we all came back with a story, and, as the new and quick traffic squeals at every corner, i at least have a calm feeling, a memory, an image of cacti, blossoming in the dry sun, and the morning air in the high mountain desert. i brought just a touch of that fresh dry sun back with me; it seems that, in the mornings now, there's just a bit of dew that forms, when fall is coming for sure, the world turns just a little; the days get shorter, and everyone knows, things are changing. finally.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

my favorite part of a trip to new mexico, specifically las cruces, is the part where highway ten coming out of el paso climbs up a hill on the banks of the rio grande, and looks out across the river at juarez, most dangerous city in the americas or so they say. when i took the shuttle one time the driver regaled me with stories of mass murders and such that happened in juarez, and my parents verified that this is a place i would not want to take my four boys to, just to visit, as it is notorious for its danger and unpredictability, kidnappings and such, and on and on. yet if one lands in el paso and goes to las cruces, there is no other way to take one's children to mexico, short of las palomas, a small town more than seventy miles the other direction; maybe i could go some other way? i don't think so. i have an impulse to at least show the boys mexico, at least in some way, to tell them a bit about what it was like for me, over thirty years ago, when i just up and crossed the border and ended up spending a month or two hitchhiking all the way down to guatemala and part of the way back; it's a long story, which is documented elsewhere on this blog, but you have to look for it. in any case i give up on that; there's no time to go exploring, or driving out on wild new mexico roads, so we have to settle for looking across the valley at the hilly terrain of juarez, with its brightly painted houses and somewhat earthy, dim streetlights. it's clearly another country, different in every way from el paso, but we can't see it too well, and can only imagine what it's really like. el paso itself, it is generally agreed, is free of the sense of danger that juarez carries; the newspapers in the airport, one in english and one in spanish, show that very clearly, as the spanish one, presumably printed in juarez, speaks of crimes committed against even the governors and power-brokers of the place, who are in a battle for life to not let the drug cartels run the state, or at least to not bow to their pressure. i mull over a question that has been on my mind, as an anglo who obviously hasn't crossed the border in many years. to me, "el paso" refers to a mountain pass; the mountains, high, dry and clear, have a break here and it's clear that at one time, on horseback, one would value this opportunity to cross through them to get to the wide expanses of american desert to the north. but english has a habit of routinely omitting accent marks, so "el paso" could also be read as el pasO, stress on the o, which would mean "it happened," but the accent mark would be lost by generations of american typewriters which routinely omitted accents and such things as enyes, causing all kinds of confusion in other situations. so how could we know that it wasn't el pasO? we couldn't. or at least, we could indulge in the fantasy that something important happened here.

in new mexico, i'm often given my new granddaughter to hold and to love; this is a joy, except that the four boys (the uncles' club) use the opportunity to mob us and get all in her face, because they adore her also, as uncles should, and need the joy of a five-month-old, just as i do, to wash away the stresses of their lives and experience the pure boundless emotion of life as a young baby. in fact, it is so difficult to hold her, and protect her from this mobbing, that eventually i set her on her tummy, and get down on the floor as well, to see what she's doing as she kicks her legs, waves her arms, or puts her hands on the floor, in order to push herself up, in the first acts of learning to crawl, which we can see she is contemplating, though she's nowhere near actually being mobile. she can roll over; she can cry; she can laugh; she can show emotion with her voice; but, she can't just crawl over to her mom yet, or crawl out the door and down the hall. little do her parents know, that this is the golden age, when one can set her down, and leave her there, and enjoy her for a few minutes, before one becomes an eternal chasing machine, constantly preventing her from knocking over plants or sticking her hand in dogs' mouths. i can see, from the floor, at her own level, her process of learning, practicing, kicking, getting ready for the great mobility. she is very expressive and willing to show me all her tricks. she readily acceps the fact that she has a whole passel of uncles and a grandpa she hardly knows; she is aware that as relatives all of these people are crazy about her, and she tries to humor us as much as she is able.

high in the organ mountains, a group of go for a short walk up against a high rock wall that overlooks the huge mesilla valley, going all the way across that same rio grande and out to the western desert beyond. here, we find a cave that has clearly been occupied for centuries; though it is now clear of most of its markings, or any evidence that it has been occupied in the last hundred years or so, how could it not have been, for the five or six hundred before that? this high, dry desert with its shortage of places to take refuge from the sun, make such a wide, cool, mountainous cave, with a good lookout of the entire valley, extremely valuable to any of the native peoples that have been wandering this high chihuahua desert for the most recent millenia. the other question would be, what kinds of animals would one find, still hanging around in these locales? not sure; i'm not from around here. just passing through, i said to a tarantula on the path, not knowing how poisonous he was, not wanting to find out really, and especially, not wanting any of my young boys to impulsively reach out and mess with his life. later on the walk, the youngest got a cactus thorn, somehow, stuck in his finger, even as he was riding on my shoulder, and didn't even have the opportunity to pick it up off a cactus; maybe it had been on my shirt? in any case it scared him, and he cried until a ranger came along and found tweezers and a bandaid, later, in the shade of the ranger's cabin, protected a little from the high desert. it reminded me, somehow, of my first night in mexico, maybe thirty five years ago; i found myself in a desert, with a sleeping bag and blanket, middle of the night, warm air, dry, nobody around, and laid out the bag on the sand and slept like a baby. woke up in the morning to find out i was in the path of a large rattler who was letting me know quite loudly that i was disrupting his usual routine. i got up and rolled up that bag in record time; i had never heard a rattler, but still got the message quite clearly. one must respect the dangers of the desert, especially when one doesn't know much about them.

snakes here in the low country tend not to be poisonous, though we often don't know for sure, and the ones that come right out of the rivers when you paddle canoes down them, are often some of the more dangerous ones, at least the ones that can cause you the most grrief and suffering. we have rattlers, but we rarely see them; the others, like black snakes, etc., very rarely put people in hospitals. there's an art to grabbing a stick, getting a snake all interested in it, and diverting him so that you can continue your walk wherever you're going, without an expensive detour to an emergency room, but we rarely even hear about this unfortunate kind of outcome. we are more likely to have our household pets snatched up by outlaw wolves, foxes and bobcats that are coming out of the nearby wooded forests that come up against our houses.

we have a one-eyed cat; it was mauled as a baby, and has a scrunched-up face, sinus problems, but loves people and will sometimes eye you from the floor, sneezing, and then leap, in my case almost six feet, to land on your shoulder in order to be held. this will occasionally startle visitors to the house, who don't quite yet know the subtle clues that the cat will provide before such a jump; its claws are out, and if you react too suddenly or wildly you can get hurt, or lose a shirt. it's quite a sudden thing, but of course she means no harm, only wants to be held, wants to sniffle in your arms for a while, and is unfazed by the pure enormity of a five to six-foot leap. the other cat wouldn't dream of such a thing.

in new mexico they have this huge blue sky, clear and dry, high mountain-desert sky, but this time of year huge colorful and dramatic clouds pass through; the sun often hits them and makes all kinds of colors. these clouds change quickly, and pass through, evolving and changing as they go, but they rarely make rain; although they call it 'monsoon' season; it's very rare that it does anything more than sprinkle. still, you never know; one night it rained kind of hard, and there were puddles everywhere and it was a lot cooler. and this happened to be the night before we went up the mountain. it just so happened, that it actually had rained that night. and that was one reason i was a little vigilant. i figured, if it rained, especially here, in this dry, cactus-filled sandy kind of place, then it's obvious that anything can happen...

back home again, i miss the granddaughter; i'm left with the pictures of me holding her, the evidence that i was there, that i saw what i did. i read the news, about lindsey lohan or america's obsession with some golf star or television personality, and it doesn't do it for me; i want somehow to lift myself out of this tepid cesspool, and look back at the world of lights, from a distant exotic mountainside, even a cave from centuries past. it would be irresponsible, yes, to simply take the kids across the bridge to juarez and say, well, this is what i did back when i was young. one doesn't step on a snake, just because it's there, or because you want it to die before you do. my students all believe that the entire country is a wild jungle, with untamed wasps, bees, spiders, snakes, rabbits and squirrels all waiting to bite and kill them with one false move; they are partly right, in that anything can be dangerous if you don't know how to let it go its own way and leave you alone. you can come upon a squirrel so suddenly that it falls into the garbage can it's pillaging, and at that point it's scared and trapped, and well awre that its only real defense is its teeth and the possibility that it has rabies. let it go; tip over the can and clean up the french fries later; don't let the disrupted animals of this world destroy what little good true sleep we all are entitled to. which reminds me, one more time, of the baby. she's right there, at ground level. she knows how she feels. she needs our constant attention. she is afraid of nothing, yet. but she lives her life to the absolute fullest; she experiences everything, and, if we give her a chance, she will wear herself out so completely and thoroughly, that she will give each of us an entire night's sleep, at some point, if not tonight. be patient, and be vigilant; protect her; teach her the ways of getting by in this world. it's a big place, once you get to crawling around in it, and you can never quite predict what you might find in your path someday.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

broke my reading glasses on the first flight; i took it as a sign and decided not to read or do the computer for a while. we were after all going way out west, to phoenix then back to el paso, from there by rent-a-car along ten, across the river from juarez, most dangerous city in the americas, and to the far tip of texas where it turns into new mexico, and up into las cruces for a family reunion. there were eighteen at the reunion altogether, including my father, who is getting older and not in excellent health; my mom, however, is doing much better, and i met my new granddaughter for the first time; this was wonderful.

new mexico was dry and beautiful; hot during the day, warm at night, lots of wondrous clouds that rarely rained though one night they apparently opened up pretty well, and the following day it was actually cool. 'monsoon' season they call it, though it's mostly a tease, with all these beautiful clouds and nothing to show for it. the four boys and i stuck to the outdoor pool a lot though we visited a lot with the relatives and also had an excursion. my sister gave a concert with two band members; this was excellent, especially a song she sang herself, little moses.

high in the organ mountains, we went for a short walk, the day after it rained, when it was unexpectedly cool. it reminded me of vacations to minnesota when we'd drive north and north and it would be very hot still, til we'd get far enough north and it would be cool for maybe one day, and that would have to do, because then we'd have to head back south. this was similar. one breath of cool mountain air, way above the mesilla valley, a sunrise lighting up the valley, a small snake and baby tarantula on the path; lots of cacti blooming due to the rain and that fresh high mountain smell. on this day we saw the real new mexico, the high mountain desert and an old cave that had to be the best of all living spaces, for maybe a couple thousand years, until they invented houses. my dad, who loved hiking in the mountains, could not come on this trip; also, though he loves his family so much, we made such a racket when we were all together, that he could only take us in small doses. i and my four boys were a huge pandemonium all by ourselves; when we were all swimming, it was mass chaos. high on the mountain, we had maybe twelve of us; the granddaughter also hadn't gone; but the five-year-old suddenly started wailing uncontrollably, up on my shoulders, and it turned out he had a cactus prickle in his finger, which i couldn't see, because i didn't have my glasses. he was alright, as it turned out; eventually, in the visitors center, we found both tweezers and a bandaid, and he was fine; i'd had to believe him that he was in pain, because i sure couldn't see a thing. we warned him to watch out for the rocks, where the rattlers were; it was an unusual environment.

on the way home the plane stopped in houston, and was full on the houston-to-st. louis run, but we were worn out, and just rested a bit. finally we all had to drive, down through the villes and back home; near elkville a lone fox on the road watched us, as if perhaps we'd brought him something. it's summer; it's night; it's warm out, and down here, it's humid too, enough to make you want to crawl out of your skin and cool off. there are better ways to do it though; one must be patient, and wait for the best moment to swim.

there's no moral lesson here. i scratch out a few days off of work, all i get all summer; i force the family into operating in that little window in august where i actually could take four to five days; we spend one each way getting there; it's wonderful seeing everyone, especially the granddaughter, and we do some cool stuff, enough for the kids to call it vacation and have a blast. we see the parents getting older on the one hand, and still try to contain the boundless energy of the youngest, tearing around, running and jumping in the pool, or on the hotel beds. red and green chiles, old native american buskers in mesilla with the smell of roasted chiles; we come home, and life is steamy and green, and it's back to the grind, back to the frantic pace of a new school year. what can i say? texas in the rear view mirror - this is what they call 'happiness' in new mexico, though it's easy enough to confuse it with all that other stuff.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

at a very busy corner in town, by the rebuilt burger-king and the old hollywoods, a suitcase fell out of an open trailer and fell right into the road, not directly in front of me, but a lane or two over. i honked and the car pulled over; somebody would have to retrieve it from a very busy road. cars were beginning to swerve around it; it was a little chaotic. i had takeout food in the van so i didn't stop. how different it is, i thought, when the suitcase flies open and the clothes go blowing in the wind. or when it's a piano.

a heat wave came through, and it was over a hundred for several days, but finally rained this morning, the rain steaming up the place and watering the parched browned-out grass. it allowed me to test out two ideas: one, it's not the heat, it's the humidity; our perception of "terrible" or "uncomfortable" should be based on the humidity alone, really, if you ask me. i rode a bike home in the 100+, but it wasn't really that bad, as even at that time, there was a little breeze, and sun had baked out all the humidity. this morning, on the other hand, after the cool shower, it was up near 100%- though it was cooler, it was like swimming. you couldn't distinguish the water from the air. i got a ride to work; there's no sense riding a bike through a puddle.

on the fiddle i'm trying to learn ashokan farewell; this is a song that has come to represent the civil war, apparently, due to a television series a few years back. the series may be forgotten, but the song is not; people still drag it out as a revived oldie. but the you-tube that has the best version of it is quite grisly. don't know if these pictures are from the television series or not; but, i can tell you that this was a pretty harsh war. now here's the question. i live in an area that is technically in the north, but had a lot of southern sympathizers; it was settled almost entirely by southerners, and border staters; almost everyone came from down there. even our most famous favorite son was a southerner who apparently sold out to the highest bidder (the north) there was a lot of hard feelings, a lot of divided families; a lot of brothers who shot at brothers, etc. is this a song i should bring out? is this a memory i want to cultivate? i already have abe on my license plate. does this get under people's skin or what? i know that a lot of people like to dress up and simulate the thing, but really i just want to play the song; i'm not really sure i want to dredge all that stuff up, or whether it is better in general to let it rest.

so i got this idea to find all the versions of it on youtube, and there really are quite a few of them, some done on the banjo, some on the mandolin or pennywhistle, some by beautiful 'celtic ladies' or by other stars. no reason i have to look at grisly pictures every time i want to hear the song, is there? and the totality of your experience, if you do this, is to get a very diverse crowd of interpretations of it, even diverse spellings of the title, but also diverse settings, some people did it in a church, or a living room with a moving clock in the background, or somewhere in front of their cell-phone. and some are quite good, very in tune, good harmony, lots of things to consider. so it's the luck of this song, to resurface at a time when the common people are recording themselves and putting this stuff all over the web. it's my luck too, because i find it best to hear lots of versions, before settling on my own style. before making my own movie, as it were.

there was a guy here in this town; i didn't know him, but he was well-loved, a nice old guy, playing the fiddle down at the unitarian one day, and played this song, then died. i heard the story, as it happened fairly recently, and everyone knew him, except maybe me, but i wondered a little about why things turn out the way they do, and actually, truth be told, this is my motivation for learning the song. not necessarily to remember a guy that i didn't really know, or to remember a war that is probably better forgotten - i'm not sure, exactly, what i'd like to remember. maybe that, as a musician, it's my job to take those cultural things, and point out what's important, lay them in front of people (above all, remember the tune)...and then say, well, you can take it as meaning whatever you want; the civil war was one of the worst & hardest wars ever fought in these parts, brother killing brother, lots of betrayal and hard feeling, and if this song represents all that stuff to you, ok. it's just a song, and a very beautiful one at that. it's a song that a lot of fiddlers have set their talents to; it's not easy to play, i'd guess. i'll give it a shot, and let you know how it turns out.

the rain has turned much of the sizzling sidewalk into steam; the air is a bit fresher, though definitely like a sauna. there's a feeling of fall around though- steamy, yes, but a few leaves are falling in the distance; the trees have given up and are beginning to let go of the outermost leaves. traffic has changed; people have arrived who definitely weren't here a week or so ago. next thing you know, they'll paint the dawg paws out on the roads again, to let the students know what roads go to the university. the world will turn, just a bit, but southern illinois, as a region, won't change all that much. the bugs will kind of move over, to where the standing water is; it may not rain again until november, and by that time, it'll be a bit cooler.