Friday, April 29, 2011

sun came out bright like nothing had ever happened, blue sky and every living thing looking healthy like there's nothing better than five solid days of rain and a few tornado warnings to make a plant feel alive. the mowing trucks got right to work; they drag around the riding mowers on pickups and try to do fifteen or twenty lawns while the sun is still up, but they have to get out and walk around first to see the wet spots that might stick the mower in the mud or ruin the blades. they want it to be dry enough to cut, but they're willing to get started when it's almost dry, or close enough, and just go around a few patches of wet saw-grass.

i myself got involved in gardening, planting leeks even while i already had onions, planting more and more until the fragrance will be overpowering. the onions take to the lousy clay soil pretty well and hopefully the leeks will too, and eventually i'll know the difference between the two, and maybe plant some garlic. if i were to specialize in any vegetable these would be the ones, but i can't tell you why, maybe it's because they ward off the vampires, or make good fresh omelettes. they're talking about making chickens legal in town, so if i get some, get fresh eggs, have an endless supply of leeks and onions, all i need is a goat to make milk and cheese, and i'm on my way. lately i've become nervous about the depression, no jobs, no money, no retirement fund, no social security, blah blah, so rather than sit around and stew about it, what can i do but maybe write a novel, play some music, or plant a few more vegetables. get that old survival mentality going and the garden tools dirty.

but the day was so nice, the sky so blue, that we ended up playing whiffle ball, hitting it out to the soft low saw-grass parts, and tearing around chasing each other, and then we made a fire and tried to roast marshmallows that were basically stuck together because they were leftover from so many camping trips ago. the thing about marshmallows, they never go bad, so you can't throw them away, but once they're stuck together they're like pure soggy cotton candy...ah well you can't worry too much about that. i got so much smoke in my shirt that i'm still coughing a little, but i don't want to change the shirt, on the contrary i want the smell to last at least until i can make another fire.

outside, i hear friday night heating up: cars going too fast and making too much noise, an occasional ambulance. the heck of it is, this is only a window. more storms are coming. we, having planted and set up a drain system, hopefully to let excess water go downhill, are exhausted, and will probably go to bed early. the fresh air is like that; it's good for you, and we hope the children also will sleep in a little, and give us some rest.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

i was surprised to be at a retirement party the other evening when a tornado siren went off and people didn't go directly to the shelter; usually they waste no time and go straight to one even if it is a dank and mildewy place. after all a tornado in 1925 wiped out a couple of nearby towns and nearly everyone was related to someone in at least one of the towns; from then on they developed the art of tornado warnings, giving them, responding to them immediately, practicing them every tuesday, folks warning each other and being generous with the information.

they say this is the worst season since 1974, with hundreds of tornadoes in southern states like arkansas and north carolina, but in 1974 i was traveling and was actually in mexico in tornado season, or maybe out in california, and don't remember much of it...i do however think about a train trip i took with the boys one time, the big ones who were little at the time, because it started in poplar bluff which is now on the brink of flood disaster, and spent a good amount of time in arkansas, stranded. that train trip was in a bad winter; poplar bluff was more or less empty, but it's the nearest town, maybe forty miles away, where you can get the st louis-san antonio train to cut down southwest instead of going straight south. we got stranded by an ice storm, somewhere north of little rock, and we were playing cards with a presidential deck, it had a president on each one, when some arkansas kid pointed out to his mom that one card had pray-ezi-dayent dyick-hayed on it. she was embarrassed and told him to be quiet, but i appreciated the souvenir of the place and have heard it in my ear ever since.

now what this has to do with a tornado is this: the shelter is a small, enclosed place, white, where you sit with your family or whoever is close or there, and you're kind of suspended in time; you wait for the tornado to pass, and it seems that at the same time you are acutely aware of your exact geography, and where a tornado is, and how far it is from where you are, you are at the same time nowhere, suspended in space, kind of out there, under the earth, yet nowhere at all. the ice storm was like that. ice hung on the trees. the train stopped and the conductor wouldn't say when it would start again. we played cards with a kind of suspended-in-time like glee. actually we were lucky to have a seat in the club car; lots of people, now, wanted in.

down in the shelter, which we have become quite familiar with, it's a bit mildewy and hurts our lungs, but the radio works and we hear the names of all the nearby towns, and slowly become more familiar with the ones in missouri since the vast majority of tornadoes, the one in 1925 included, come up through the bootheel and ruin all those towns before they even get to us. lately arkansas has taken a huge hit and i wonder what's going on that so many of them are staying down there...alabama? north carolina? when i was a kid it would be places like grand island nebraska, or sioux city or someplace like that that was always getting hit. tuscaloosa? one reason they are so destructive is that peoplen in the south, i suspect, don't even have basements, don't have a sense of when to head to the local elementary school where there is often a brick cafeteria or old basement that you can huddle in. they're just not used to it.

in san antonio in the middle of the night i woke up and the train was rattling; they were taking our car, and putting it on the westbound train. out the window was a huge mission which i mistook for the alamo (which I now know is actually quite small; i didn't know that at the time). this place certainly looked like the alamo to me, though of course, it was huge. what did i know? the smallest kid woke up, awaken by the massive shakes of the train, and i showed it to him and told him to remember the alamo. again suspended in time, the light of the mission bathing the train, we sat wondering what would happen next; the older brother never awoke. both boys are now out there; we have to hope they'll find shelter when the worst of tornadoes come through. murphysboro, the town six miles away that was devastated by the '25 quake, is now under a few feet of water; roads are going under; the water is rising, and people are getting nervous. the last time it was this wet a bad wind knocked down thousands of trees most of which haven't even been cleaned up yet. with the ground this wet there's nothing to hold them; especially the pines and the huge hard oaks are the most vulnerable but anything can fall, and if it can fall, it can fall right on you, or at least on your house or car. can and will. my wife is getting more and more taken by pictures of tuscaloosa, pictures of some ravaged place in north carolina or arkansas, some story about a guy out there camping. there for the grace of god, say i, but i keep my head down; i'm not camping; i'm hanging at the work building, which is square, angular, solid, cement, not going anywhere. it's where i was in the 2009 straight-wind tornado, when we saw huge trees fall all over campus and over the area, and when we lost power for what, about a week.

the reason i like the train story is that we were stranded for a while, suspended, with ice hanging from the trees, an endless succession of president cards hitting the table with little stories accompanying them, kind of a history lesson just by virtue of portraits of old white men on cards like the six of diamonds. also in san antonio, the train was suspended, going back and forth, crashing in front, crashing to the back, we in the car sleeping, each boy taking up two seats but me on the floor as the car shook violently. later, the wide open dusty plains of west texas spread out on both sides of the train as we headed west; the sun came out, and dusty little towns would come and go as the train sailed through them; finally, we crossed a huge wide river valley, and far below the bridge the tiny san juan snaked through dry cactus country south to the rio grande; the president cards were even then still coming, and the boys were beginning to wonder if they would ever get "there"...i remember very little about the other travelers on the train, except for the little boy in arkansas, who had gotten off in little rock or some such place and was long gone. i remember the wide-open, reddish sandy san juan valley as just for a minute or two the train shot across it. i remember mountains shooting out of the sand and jutting up into the sky as we got toward el paso, which as i now say, is spanish for 'it happened,' as opposed to spanish for 'the pass' as in the mountain pass. could be spanish for both, or neither, i suppose.

cairo is a large town down on the confluence of the ohio and mississippi, now being evacuated, voluntarily, whatever that means, as is murphysboro, six miles up from here. the rising water has hit the river towns worst as the rivers are swollen to bursting and those folks are counting these few dry has been dry now for about ten a blessing, may it stretch out wide into another day, and give that water a chance to head downriver. poplar bluff is perched on the brink of disaster as some levee on the black river is 'compromised' - also being evacuated. our eyes are pinned to the computer which is our main source of news though we've found now through facebook that my one good friend in tuscaloosa is ok, as is what other friends i have scattered around alabama; they're trying to make sure all their relatives are ok, of course, but most people, one or two links away from us, seem to be ok. my wife, who has put much of her life, sweat and blood, into this large rambling house and elaborate stone gardens around it, is more aware than anyone that a big storm could wipe the whole thing out in a minute. i myself feel oddly detached from the material plane although it's also my money, my credit, my blood tied up in the thing. somehow i think, i would grab for the instruments, or one of them at least, if it all came tumbling down; the president deck is still around, but now it's missing a few, and it's got that worn feel where they don't come sliding off each other so easily, and a lot of them are faded. i don't know why the storms are staying in the south these days, but as long as they keep coming from the west i'll be at least used to them, willing to go to a shelter for an hour or two, ears to the radio, hoping everyone is ok out there. you hear these ambulences in a small town like this, and half the time, your worries that it might be someone you know are well founded, because as it happens, you know quite a few people out there, and the only thing that saves you from knowing too much, is not quite having enough time to sit and listen to people talk about it. there was a quake here in the early 1800's, biggest in north america, felt all the way in washington dc, made the river flow backward for five days, and wiped out hundreds of homes, but only french fur traders and scattered native american villages were in the area and folks barely even documented it, mostly just picked up and took their canoe full of stuff up the river once again. sometimes these events make the river actually change its course, and that's a big deal of course because the river these days anyway is actually the state line, so any new coure for the river actually rewrites the map, or makes some remote county totally cut off from the rest of its state by a raging river. you can look at this awesome huge volume of water whipping down and emptying out in the lowlands; but the best thing is to get back up on a high hill for a while and hope the sun comes back out. we are, after all, just travelers in this world, and i think you don't really want to settle, some place where a big pile of water might just wash you right down the valley. not that i really know the meaning of the word 'settle'...right now, i'm feeling really lucky: a family around me, everyone sleeping or settling; no rain in the forecast for tonight, and the possibility that some or all of the standing water will find some place to go. trouble is coming, but that's distant- like maybe in a day or two. a lot of water can get on down the valley in that time, and i hope it will. we've been feeling a bit adrift.

Monday, April 25, 2011

a turbulent tornado season, with storms passing through the area constantly, spawning little tornadoes here and there in particular one that leveled our favorite airport in st. louis, stranding several friends and inconveniencing hundreds. perhaps most rattled are our students, most of whom come from saudi arabia and don't really know a crack of thunder from an earthquake; they are surprised i think that life goes on even with massive flooding, soggy roads, endless warnings, and their exit valve shut down. from in our shelter tonight i found a lady on the radio over on the missouri side talking about a roof of a house blown off, in a town called sedgewickville, but i don't really know this town; if it's on the other side of the river, it might as well be on mars. all in all though that's only about thirty miles away so it was basically one manifestation of the general pattern of large ugly storm systems moving through the area, making lots of noise and rain, dumping its stuff all over the place, and making travel hazardous on various roads here and there. perhaps the biggest danger is the mississippi itself, steadily rising and taking everything with it, that flowed down river rom up here where it's been washed down for what, six or seven straight days.

the boys as usual have a great time in the shelter; they take their games; they like the up-close feeling of having parents in their faces and being able to be just about as bad as they want and what will happen, we send them to their room? i don't think so. tonight a son, nineteen, happened to be with us and brought his guitar down; this shelter is barely big enough for four or six but held the guitar just fine and then i played with this radio in the background until i got the woman with the roof in sedgewickville. my wife came home from teaching a long class in which she took the class into an auditorium, one which already held another class; there was a warning in progress, and some people like my wife stay totally up on them and go where it's necessary. we have some confusion at those times when we don't hear an actual siren (as was true in this one) and I think in cases like that lots of people go on with their lives not even aware of the warning. i think also, that the roof in sedgewickville was enough for them to call a warning for our county, and tell everyone to run for cover just to be safe. even if they didn't actually blow the siren.

so as you can see, a lot of disruption; the people who are really paying attention are getting quite upset and a small population has its eyes fixed on the radar screen with its various colors and its amorphous red-and-yellow storm blob passing over the river and across our way endangering all the counties in the southern quarter of the state. my wife doesn't sleep well on nights like these. she gets the texts where they tell you about the warnings so that even if power goes out, we know what is going on; but, worse, the map shows one system after another roaring through the area for maybe a few more days.

beside me now a text has come in saying that our town has a flood warning; this is not surprising since it's a small town easily overwhelmed by the rain; its sewers fill up and the low spots get water high enough you wouldn't want to drive through. nights like this i stay home and listen to the thunder; we're out of the two-percent milk we use for most things but I don't want to go out and instead will stay home and maybe we'll just finish up the whole milk we generally use for coffee. i sent my son on his way telling him to drive the higher roads where the floods might rise beside him but won't cover the roads; my hope is i don't have a kid out there somewhere with a car in a big puddle, water rising around it, unable to move. he says the road to the college is real dicey these days; a little more water, and a lot of these places will just become impassable. wait it out; it's got to go down; the lush grasses are getting high, but it's been over a week since anyone could get out and cut them; things are looking a little wild and wooly, as if nature is a wild raging bull that won't settle for kind words and a pat on the back. the thunder, now, has finally moved off to the northeast; the warnings and watches eased up; we're not in the clear yet, but will be soon, so it's time to get some sleep, quick while i can. more later.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

after a bit of a drought in story-writing, due partly to being so busy, here's a new one.


Hope you enjoy it! Comments welcome.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

i've come to love illinois in spite of the absolute turbulence of its weather and some of its more stifling aspects which include long summers, lack of anything to see, and general isolation and backwaterishness which is of course alleviated by the computer and getting out of here regularly. i live in a kind of way-southern part of the state, old hilly coal-mining country, the earliest part of the state to be settled but one that has no more, and basically no different, settlers than it originally had, old mountain people come up from kentucky because they could finally stick a shovel in slightly looser clay.

a little ways over to the east is interstate 57, a road that runs the length of the state until it gets to the 95th street bus station terminus in the busy south side and gets sucked into the dan ryan and the city's massive interstate system; from chicago, it starts with a 'memphis' sign that made me call it 'memphis road' for a while, and heads south through kankakee, champaign and effingham following roughly the path of the 'city of new orleans' train. illinois gets steadily more rural, more southern, more hilly, more wooded as you go, until deep in the south, six hours from the city, you cut off and head over to our house. the first time i did it, i was shocked that there was so much of the state that i'd never heard of; i'd never even heard of effingham or mt. vernon, let alone the smaller ones like salem, peota or benton. now i feel kind of like a farmer though in that i know the route well enough to begin seeing new things on it along with the usual, or noticing the slight changes in season due to southward other words what was once an incredibly boring trip through flat nowheresville cornfields has now begun to have detail, and history, and landmarks at every curve. one time we stopped at a tiny place called 'leverett' that was basically an enormous seven-silo structure and an old brick grocery store, separated by a huge train that wouldn't move in the hot hot summer sun; we peered through its cars but decided not to climb through them because that would be dangerous...this place, as it turns out, is important in the train world, because, being near champaign and all, it's where a big east-west line hits the city of new orleans line and some trains get stranded a bit while they shift cars, or move them around, or whatever. for us it's kind of like a halfway point, champaign itself is, and is also a place we look up to as a slightly larger, busier, hipper, version of our own nowheresville college town, but leverett, the town itself, is but an intersection with a train stuck in it, way out there in the land of the endless horizon, with champaign only slightly beyond that horizon.

storms passed through last night and the family spent a while in a tiny storm shelter out behind our house; when the warning was over we put the kids to bed but another warning followed and out we went. we were all a little ragged in the morning and i couldn't even see the tree damage as we drove around town because i was busy grading midterms in the car; i had to do this because i hadn't done it at night. as it is, one lives for the day when the route to school is slightly different from yesterday; a fallen tree here, a branch there, some big old stick in the road or huge puddle. apparently a brand new police building got its roof blown off but that was the big news; aside from a few houses or trailers most people came out all right. a few days back we had a concert/benefit and it was windy and cool, as it often is this time of year, but we were lucky, because if it was the day before, it would have been tornadoing, or if it were last night, for example. it's a gamble, this time of year, because any given day can be tornadoish or at least a storm passing through to spank you.

down in the shelter the boys play their video games tucked into a sleeping bag, both on my lap, while my wife operates the weather radio which is full of geographical names of rural illinois; i know most of these and interpret the chances of the center of a storm smacking us. the point is, when the siren goes off, we go down there, just in case; storms have been getting bigger, worse, and more southernly as time goes by, hitting places like north carolina more, and nebraska for example less. my poor students are scared out of their bloody wits. but they were happy that i graded their midterms in a hurry, and was generous.

reason i mention this is, more storm are coming tomorrow, or so they say. but tomorrow is a special day. a traveler on the path, sees this country, this countryside, people scraping to get by, digging in the clay or bringing forth some kind of tomato in the sandy river-bottom silt; it's a pretty country, but lots of trees are down and the grass is growing now like there's no tomorrow, flying from the gate and daring the old mower-boys to come 'round and keep up with it. all the ketchup bottles at the concert, mustard and relish too, had on their white tops a fifty-seven etched white on white; this i pointed out, was in commemoration, like the signs up and down the memphis-chicago road; tomorrow is my birthday. i'll be fifty-seven.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

photo by Rick Droit

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

playing shryock is about as good as it gets for a folk musician in southern illinois; it's a fine old brick auditorium on the siu campus that houses concerts from the best, although the orchestra plays there regularly of course, and it reminded me, while i was there today at noon, of my orchestra days, dressed like a penguin in a tuxedo, and dragging a cello around. every time i mention my cello the orchestra people beg me to get it out; they're kind of thin on cellos around here and i would almost certainly land on that shryock wooden-floor stage at least a few times a year, if i were to get it out and practice. once i was moving it and found that a mouse had had babies in it, but they didn't really destroy it so much as just make it stink for a while and make a very messy urban-removal project.

i got to perform on the fiddle, at noon, to an auditorium of 2nd through 7th graders and their teachers, from all over southern illinois, who were on campus for what's called arts and education day. or maybe it's arts IN education. in any case there are whole roving bands o young children and their teachers, wandering out amongst the sculpture gardens, and only a number of them converge for our particular show; we don't even get them all; and some of them are tired, and not much in the mood for music. nevertheless the accoustics are awesome; the architecture divine; there was a backstage dressing room, and lots of wires and stage props and that kind of stuff. my bandmate got nervous and didn't let me get a word in edgewise; she plowed right through the material and did a good job. I played well except for a single solo which i blew rather spectacularly for some odd reason; maybe it all overwhelmed me or something. aside from that, i was ok.

when i got out to the van, where i took the fiddle, this was about 12:30, there was a camel out in the parking lot, with a guy dressed in red and white stripes somewhat like thing one or thing 2. i have no idea where this camel came from though the circus supposedly has come to town, maybe that had something to do with it.

it's a busy time at work; there's a search for director, search for faculty (3 or 4), search for dean, other searches; we're teaching twenty hours but supposed to go home on Fri. afternoon as we aren't paid; we have meetings and coordinating duties and lots of this stuff is spilling over into evenings though i often just back out after a point; people are often too rushed to say hello though one person did ok when i told her about shryock, but began doubting me when i got to the part about the camel and thing two. i open the email to send myself a quiz i have made; it's now ten thirty at night and i still have a righteous pile of grading; the e-mail is full of conversations that are many e-mails long and must be laboriously followed. of course we should have a meeting, but who has time? of course we must do this but if we can live without, why not. i haven't even read the files.

i want to tell the kids about a guy who once came into my classroom with a cello. the minute i heard it i wanted to play the cello. i spent all my paper route money on a cello, a french one that is slightly too small for me, but which had a sweet sound. i then inherited a cello from my grandfather and foolishly sold it since i already had one. it was difficult at the time to move two cellos around; difficult even to move one, and i had kittens once, one of which fell from a high shelf and scratched the cello all the way down. which taught me, if anything, to keep it wrapped up. too bad, that made it easier, ironically, for the mouse. once the soundpost was broken i left it wrapped up; how do you fix a soundpost? let it be known that i will not only fix mine, but find that other cello that is out there in cello-world, probably not being played.

i end up not telling the kids about my inspiration; they are not especially inspired, though you never know, maybe one of them is. and then, i'm discredited of course by a lousy solo, so i might as well keep my mouth shut. but i do tell the teachers they're lucky. they watch whole batches of 10-year-olds and life doesn't get much better than that. a friend is there to take pictures and these i will post: panoramas of me playing southern illinois' best venue.

whole stands of dogwoods hide behind woods blooming in green but with pink, purple, all kinds of other colors in the distance. the dogwoods are having a fantastic year and the white blossoms set the table for the other stuff; it's really quite spectacular. there's fresh cool air and we tear around from here to there picking up kids, going to soccer practice, etc. sometimes i walk home, especially if i've missed my swim, this is good, i breathe the air, and get to see some of this stuff. the classes go by at breakneck speed. i'm behind; i need a vocabulary list, an exam study guide, an exam, surveys, and to get a huge stack graded by friday. there will be some stiff coffee in the morning.

maybe i ought to shut up about the camel. i'm sure someone was cleaning up after him but it might not have been thing two, who was dressed to entertain for some reason but whose truck was taking up a half dozen parking places. fortunately i wasn't going anywhere. in fact the van was hot so i wanted to wait a minute, doors open, before i even put the fiddle in it. don't tell them about the camel, and even skip the part about shryock. i've missed a few search committees. the ironic thing about the search committees is, they have all these meetings in order to invite people here, and then, people choose not to come here, maybe they know about the illinois budget situation. maybe they want to work friday afternoons, or get paid full time for a full time job. maybe a place like fairbanks or southern georgia looks better to them.

the botched solo, ironically, is on "all god's critters got a place in the choir," a perennial favorite by bill staines which we have a running argument about: are we crossing the line between church and state? surely the orchestras play the holy stuff here all the time and nobody says anything, or, they say all kinds of stuff but i'm too busy to hear it. in any case we never know if we'll get away with it or not, putting god in there, but i think in this case god reached back and yanked on my bow and pulled me out of my pleasurable daydream right in the middle of my solo. once you get derailed like that it's a heck of a thing trying to get back on track but by the end of the show nobody even remembered the disaster, or appeared to, except me and, you know what, i'd be better off if i just shut up about it. so consider it finished. pictures coming.

Friday, April 08, 2011

virtually every tree and flower is in bloom, making a stunning show and driving allergenic people inward toward their comfort zones. some people are driven by the beautiful weather to drive fast, or drive crazy, or shout out on campus; one gets the impression that the semester, if not the year, or perhaps the college career, is just about over. this is a college town, and it will be graduation soon, but in the meantime, the weather is breaking, the work is getting more intense, time is running out, and the sap is running in the bushes.

when i was traveling once i happened into a college town and had been encouraged by a friend to look her up when i was there. when i found her she immediately announced that she was leaving town, with me, on the following day, for good. she was sick of the town anyway, there was nothing in it for her, her boyfriend was treating her poorly, and since i was just drifting that looked good to her, though i was going nowhere in particular. southwest, maybe, into the folds of the clinch mountain where i lived once, and where the weather is always moderated by the mountain hollows and the fog rises from the valleys. tne boyfriend confronted me as if i were stealing his girl, which i guess i was, but i had no special intention that way and told him so; i was just traveling and she'd taken it upon herself to up and go with me. it turned his world upside down, i'd guess, but i hadn't really seen that coming. i've lost track of both of them somehow; she moved off to the netherlands for many years i think, and never really was my girlfriend, even then.

back then the expression "out there" had several meanings. if you stopped, and had a job, and a home, even temporarily, you were not "out there," but plenty of other people were, and once you came unhinged from that gig or that spot or wherever you were, then you were "out there" again, and that was a feeling of seeing every fork in the road as a life-changing experience; it was a pair of green signs, but it was everything, or nothing. you'd think the goal would be to find a place to land, make some money, set up a life for oneself, and sure, people would talk about the best place to live, or a place where someone knew someone, or where there was work available. but some people weren't happy even when they found that, and would rather be out there anyway. once you landed, all nature of problems would come crashing in, not the least of which was, having a general lack of money, it would be difficult getting truly established without some expense.

nowadays i come home from a job where i'm literally teaching, grading, frantically running around all day, and being addicted to the bog i log on and play a few games with a random bunch of highly literate wordmakers like pseudonym, jack grace, Jerseygirl, oniondip, and a few others. team join me is a constant competitor but they put their name in all caps and people do join them and they often win, rounds at a time. i know nothing of these people except what they reveal through their names, though i have a general sense that they're better than i am, consistently. tonight i got off the bog, took a shower, and went off and played a gig with a friend who came up from texas to perform at a coffee shop; it was a difficult gig, if only because my wife was sick, stepdaughter in the hospital (with a problem that's better now), and little lad, now six-yr.-old, at my knees. the music was hot though. i get extraordinarily shy now, onstage, whereas in those days i would do virtually anything onstage and had no skill. in the same way i'm extraordinarily glad to be home, on a quiet street, windows open, spring raging outside, while all those people, out there, get drunk, drive too fast, whatever. i'm a homebody. with family sick, in bed, coughing, or worried about people, i'd rather be on the bog, working out my passions, putting letters in order, as if i'm sweeping up some mess one of my students made by scattering errant letters all over a tile floor.

on this particular night my sister slips in on the bog for a single game, and, voila, we happen to win that game together by a single point, though i alone place only fiftieth, and she doesn't get any higher than thirtieth. for some reason we have complemented each other so that, between us, we beat everyone, but, she disappears immediately, probably to answer some phone call or go play a gig herself somewhere in the metropolitan new york area. it's good to connect with my sister though she often reminds me that getting better at the bog is generally a bad sign, not a good, as she too suffers from this kind of addiction. she is as i write arranging to aunt up my older sons who badly need to get out of this small one-horse town and go to the big city, where she will show them around and teach them a little how to cook; i've given up on that. the boys are, in their own way, out there, in the sense that they are no longer in the comfort of a safe warm house, provided for and easy at night, like their younger brothers.

i'd also, in those days, use the expression "out there" to refer to a mental state that was so different from that of most people, that it was almost incomprehensible. i have now come to have a deep fear of this sense of falling off the edge, though tonight, on stage, i had a foot more or less on the edge of the little metal stage and couldn't seem to move it back onto more stable ground; i enjoyed what it did to my balance and my fiddling and kind of played with the shifting sense of balance; it improved my fiddling by actually giving me a way to rock on the edge of my foot. a folkie, former musician of the community, had apparently died today, leaving my partner in mourning; she played some sad songs but also "life goes on" which is basically hopeful, and remembered this guy, who i couldn't seem to recall though i've been here almost fifteen years. i was never really a bedrock anchor member of the folk music community, though folks down at that coffee shop are beginning to know me now, and it's an honor to play, even once a year, at that venue, though this year i'm also playing the best auditorium in town, this wednesday, just by chance, to a dozen or more roving groups of third and fourth-graders from all over southern illinois. in these gigs, like i say, i'm quite shy, gladly giving over the stage to my more gregarious partners and playing backup but very melodious fiddle and getting slowly but steadily better at it. my friend, tonight, from deadwood texas or some such place, made a comment about missing home while he was traveling, but yet the minute he got home, needing to be on the road again. i on the other hand spent so much time on the road that now i just fantasize about it; its images follow me around as i drive through town; the feeling of van as mobile world, leaf in a spring breeze, is a shadow around every corner; odd images pop up partly as a result of the fact that, in going to new orleans recently, i opened a very old and slightly untidy drawer in the memory file. reminds me that this time of year, and this is virtually all i know of astrology, we go relentlessly through the time of the traveler, the pioneer; until we reach the cusp, and there we are at the time of the settler, the homebody. and right there at that cusp is my birthday, right there on that edge, though i'm slightly over the edge on the side of the settler. having made my stand, carved out my clearing in the trees, i sit here, axe in hand, and all i want to do is bog. that, and go to bed after a long night.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Monday, April 04, 2011

addiction to the bog in full swing, i come home from a busy day, five classes and a meeting, dinner with all four boys, and play a bog or two while the little guys do d-s or i-carly and unload a little. i get tenth in one game which is unusual for me; i'm usually lucky to get about half in a field of about sixty or seventy of a busy evening, playing against the usual suspects: oniondip, team axolotl, etc. these guys are way addicted. i'm just a small-time chump. but there are things i could be doing instead; some are even worthwhile.

planted a garden over the weekend, tomatoes, peppers, basil, and marigolds, but a huge wind came through, and then today it stormed a lot and got colder. on the one hand i was glad to get it in before the rain; on the other, i was worried that spindly tomato plants would just buckle right over and die in the steep wind. people were reminded of may 8th and got a little nervous (our storm was may 8, that might have been 2009) and some folks lost more trees. as far as i know the tomato plants survived this one. it is, as we speak, about thirty-eight, but i'm hanging tough and not covering them; that would probably be harder for them to survive in its own way, since i'm clumsy at making a decent tent structure.

everyone is watching the big basketball game i'm sure, but i'm a little jagged from the day, the bog helps a little, but most of all waves of exhaustion come over me and i'm surprised i can do anything even walk around. it's not that the garden was so tough, it's more that i just get tired with a frantic schedule and then i get stubborn, stubbornly unable to keep up a frantic pace. i want to do it at my own rate. i want to write a story or a book. but i want to have enough time, time to plan it out and do it right. time to develop a character.

this one is about the marigolds. i bought them as a superstition; i'd heard that they keep bugs out of a garden, and are used as natural insecticides. i'm not sure which bugs so really i bought them more as a guess, or a tip of the hat to natural things. let the flowers grow around the edges. it may or may not protect the big stuff, but it'll look good. my mom liked that idea. she said, you can't kill 'em. she liked hearing about the garden, and me getting out there in an illinois backyard and turning the earth. at our house, it was mostly clay. but i dumped some sacked-up garden soil in there and off i go; i'm going to have some vegetables.

a daily swim keeps my mind clear, well actually it fills it with chlorine and pool-water but that's better than most of what keeps getting shoved in there, and helf the time if i can't quite hear everything, i haven't lost all that much. it makes me much more tired at night but i settle into a deep restful sleep though my wife complains about the snoring. my hair has grown a little long around the shoulders because i have such trouble making apppointments and am just about unwilling to just go marching into the nearest place, which i could do. the long scraggly hair is more the true me, stubborn, resistant, uncompliant, but it gets too hot in the summer and i have no patience, and besides, i don't really believe in the symbolic value of it, having believed all along, it's just hair, and it doesn't mean a whole lot, and if the old guys in the community can't handle it, it's their problem. so far they seem to be ok with it. the police chief next door is seeing the world with different glasses, he's glad to be alive, and seems to be ok with having neighbors that ask about him and care about him as he gets better from an operation. it will be too hot soon, that's the way april is. april rocks though, some pictures are coming, and once birthday season comes rushing down the japanese-garden waterfall of time, there will be no stopping it, blossoms all over the place, and the birds will be out, waiting for a single worm to show its face in that garden.

the blustery weather rules: cold front, warm front, high wind, drizzle, but i'm so busy, i can barely notice, much less get my bicycle out. wars, and unrest, people dying, where, libya, ivory coast, afghanistan, you name it, seems like a lot of turmoil in the world, and even here at home, people are jumpy, the wind is blowing, and a cold ugly looking thing is developing over the western horizon. spring, though, is god's promise. it will be nice, at least for a week or two. and that, my friends, is the birthday season.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

april rocks, and pictures will follow soon, but the problem is, pictures are best done at my work computer, and these days we are leaving work at friday noon due to fuloughs: no pay, so we make a point out of getting out of there when we're not being paid. the ironic thing is, we're still teaching twenty hours; i could at least hang around and make some pictures, but i don't.

spring is in the air; bradford pears, the whites, the pinks, the yellows and the salmon bushes are all abloom. spent the day turning the earth so i could plant tomatoes, peppers, and a few marigolds around the edges, but in between, i played velcro-mit catch with one boy and talked about arm-fart championships with another. Being five and nine, they find it difficult sometimes to relate to an oldtimer like me, and i'm sure it's boring having me on them all the time, about legos on the floor, or messy room, or whatever, but such is life around here as spring pops out and people and cats are flying in and out of doors. though there's still a touch of cool in the air, you can tell spring is here to stay, and it's time to get out and do some landscaping.

the winds of change are in the air all over town. neighbors have a house for sale; they're leaving town. farmer's market is open again; the rural king was full of fruit trees and every other living thing that people were hauling off to plant for the season. finally we bought tons of flowers and tomatoes and peppers for the garden, and brought them home and dug and hauled dirt a little more. in the evening we went to a quaker potluck where the children were unhappy with the vegetarian-style cooking, but went off to play a kind of mario while we sat around and discussed the life of the meeting. the life of the meeting was good: i was there; they are my best friends; i always feel comfortable with that crowd, and i found nothing wrong with the food. my back was a little sore from all the digging. my wife spoke up and said, we'd been married almost ten years, and it was all in the care of this very same meeting. a-men, i thought. to have a nice crowd like that, good people, good food, and outside the house, a multitude of stars - but, we went home early, and put the kids to bed, and here i am. the night settles early, and i'm on my way to bed, but i'm happy. might be because i left work so early on friday. pictures coming...