Monday, December 17, 2007

Clean Slate

It was wet, then cold last night... a two hen night here in the little Ark.

By this morning, the roosters on Davey's deck rail had sleet underwear and overcoats of snow .
Snow over the cracked-corn and gravel in the driveway; snow over the frozen ditch- mud and compost pile.
Chickens didn't go to ground until after I had trampled and planted the snow with sunflower seeds, and a flurry of Bluejays had blown in from Ohio to eat the sunflower seeds. Now the chickens have moved around to the south side of the house, and another screen of snow descends on the bird tracks. Snow blank as my magic slate or the top of this blog each day. So I start the whole thing all over again on top of the ghost marks of all the other days.

Oh well - if I was actually trying to tell my own history here, I could begin anywhere, because I don't remember anybody or much of anything from before I arrived among the Warrens in Natural Bridge. I must have been six or eight years old then, but still don't even know that.
And then I no more remember that whole first year among the Warrens than I would remember anything then if I had just been born that day when Davey looked out the back window and saw me standing in the tulips next to his dog binker.

I only know what I have been told, and I don't always believe that.
According to David, I looked like I was standing in a hole. That's his little joke on my shortness. Or maybe he thought I had dug may way up from China was just pausing to decide whether to get out or turn around and go back.
Davey would have been in favor then of me turning around and going back to China.
As Davey eyed me from the window, Moma Dothad just gone out to meet Daddy Erine who was just getting home from work.. He saw me in the garden with Binker the dog, before he even saw Mama Dot. Together they came overand asked me if I was lost, and id I had a name or parents, to all of which I said nothing. They say I just stared at Davey in the window, and the story is that he tried to hold the door shut when they brought me in.
It was no use. They were doomed to accomodate me in their home for years to come......until I began to wander and went off to Florida with Aunt Sammy some eight years later..
They might have been free of me sooner. if they had ever found out where I came from, but they never did find out, or if they did t (or knew all along) they kept it a secret.
And I really don't care, I don't think I ever cared to know who I came from; and after all these years, I am heartily bored with the mystery of who my parents were.

They are gone and whited out, left me here to go talk to the roosters who are under the South side of the house. They should stay right there tonight too, because it is going to snow again and blow down from the North, but they prefer to roost on the deck rail by the door to Davey's kitchen, where he will probably be making and sercving them pancakes in the morning.
I warned him about keeping all those roosters. I made fun of him cooking for the chickens, but I carry his pancakes in my shirt for chicken control, and have eaten a few myself.
It may have been the smell of cooking that had me standing in the garden that day back in Natural Bridge. Chicken Divan and Date Nut Cookies come to mind.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Roof Hugger

Of the several small talents that come with having about the same bodily proportions as a raccoon, my climbing ability has served me best, and has taken me to the most beautiful and unlikely places: most unfamously (and since Alan Pike died, it no longer needs to be a secret) to the top of the Cornell clock tower with a pumpkin. But Pike, not me, should get ultimate credit for that. Somebody could write a Phd thesis about Pike.

It was the trees themselves which first inspired me to climb. I distinctly remember Grandfather Failing pointing at the
pines as they agitated in the wind over the camp at Lake Bonaparte and telling me that the trees waving around like that, caused the wind.
Maybe it was only something I told myself, or something the trees told me, anyway I believed.
But as to why.....considering that to just stand on the ground and look up at the flailing tops of those trees could cause me to shiver with fear..... why I would want to actually go up there, I really can't say.

We boys did some limb-to-limb climbing in the younger pines down by the garage and I was at a disadvantage there because of the long interval between the branch whorls, though I managed by rocking the limbs and springing off them to get up in the trees about as well as my brothers, who tired that only once. David's fall was stopped by the next set of branches, but he stopped climbing anything at all for many years after that.
I could get right up to the top branches of those garage pines. but it was hard to even get started climbing the bigger trees behind the house because they had no low branches. One of them biggest stood only a few feet from the back of the house, its rough trunk limbless to above the eves
I often watched from the bedroom window as raccoons with claws on their hands and on their handy feet, heaved themselves up the trunk and disappeared way up where the pine diverged into the sky.
It seemed to me that to run up a tree like a coon would be almost as good as flying. Back in Natural Bridge, I had already tried and failed at flying, with both cape and wings,
It did not escape me now that I already had certain raccoon characteristics. In fact, I had Daveys abandoned coonskin hat, with tail. All I lacked were the claws.

On second thought, there were some sort-of claws sort of available.
At that age my common-law brother David had a fascination with Indian armaments and war crafts He was always making bows and arrows out of saplings and green shoots from the gorge out back, and the bows were usually good for one day of shooting at tombstones and puff balls before the arrows were lost and the green wood lost its spring.
Soon after getting for Christmas a ten dollar baby jig saw meant for cutting puzzles out of balsa board, he had painfully sawed and roughly whiittled a bow from a pine shelf-board that didn't have anything sitting on it, and most recently he had sawed and whittled a bunch of bear claws. out of cedar shingles, He had hardened and blackened each one over a candle, then shined them up with candle wax and had strung a few necklaces; but there were plenty claws left over for several bears, so I took enough to stick out through all the toe holes I made in a pair of sneakers and out through the holes I had punched through some mitt ends with a ski pole.
I went to the big tree nearest the house out back and leapt onto the tree. Six feet up, the softwood sneaker claws broke and the mitts pulled off as I slid, then fell down.
Not a bad fall.I hadn't got as high as the bedroom window, but David heard my scratching down the tree, saw what seemed to be his claws ruined, and before I could even get the sneakers off, he pissed in my bed, which was handy there in the room with him, but hurt him more than me, because my bed was under his, and I usually spent the night in the bathtub anyway.
So I spent the night in the bathtub.

But by the next morning David was done being pissy, so we went down cellar
and, working together on a pair of someone's antique looking baseball cleats, drove roofing nails outward through the arches. Which we would hear about later.
Then we slit a pair of leaf raking gloves up the back so we could pepper the palms with more roofing nails.
David and I always got on better during those basement projects than on any of our adventures in the wide open spaces, often with some artifact of our basement design that failed in actual use and alienated us so much that he more than once came home alone, having forgotten that I had set off with him.
How do you forget your own brother?
Well the ready answer is that I am not his real brother (unless of course I am) but for what it was worth (it was my primary education) I entrusted myself to my multiply distracted brother, like I entrusted myself to the tossing trees: I was a fool kid believer, and I once in a while regretted an instance where I was my brothers fool, but I always escaped death.

David had a plan.
He cut loose a skein of kite string, brought down a clothes line, and brought out his new made bow. We went out back and around the fence to the parking lot of the next property where we could lay the string in loops the arrow could pick up, and he could be far enough back to angle his shot over the ridge. The pine board bow now had an actual bought string instead of a raw hide lace, and he had wrapped its ends with thread to match the paint rings on the new bought arrow.

He tied one end of the rope to the kite string, and the other end of the kite string to his new arrow.
Then he had me run back around t he fence and to the other side of the house so I could make sure no one (except maybe me) got hit by or stole, the arrow.

I ran; he shot the arrow, with string attached, over the house, and those bad things didn't happen. But I forgot to bring the arrow back around and David had to run back and get it.
Back under the big tree, I put on the hobnailed cleats and David belted the gloves at my wrists with skate- laces which weren't needed on Valerie's skates because it was summer. He tied the other end of the clothes line to my belt, and told me to start climbing when he tugged on the rope.
Then he went up stairs and grabbed the string from the opposite dormer window and pulled the rope over until it was taut, which was my signal to climb.
The steel finger nails and foot claws worked pretty well, but it seemed like his tugging on the rope was tending more to tear me off the tree than help me stay on it. However, I was launched, there was no turning back, and I moved up. If I was not exactly running in typical coon spirals, it was at least an effective, straight sort of scrabbling.
As soon as I got as far as the first limbs above the eve, David's tugging was tending all the more to pull me off the tree so I pulled my belt off.
I don't know what he thought when the rope went slack, but I proceeded limb to limb, up and up to where the big old pine top flared out like seven winds.

There I stopped. I squatted on the weathered remains of an old crow's nest. I was really really gone, far up, far out, and in deep.

Suddenly the wind came up.
Or else suddenly I noticed the wind.
Whichever..... I was carried even further away by the wild rush of it and I told myself afterwards that It was better than flying, and I sure didn't hear David when he leaned out the window and called my name, but not so loud as to risk calling anyone else's attention to us.

So his next idea was to run down stairs and outside, put a sock ball on an arrow, and shoot at me to get my attention, or to kill me off..... but he could hardly see me and he couldn't even get the sock-balled arrows much higher than the first limbs. So he tried without the socks. And I am damn lucky he broke the bow.... although I didn't even know it was happening.

I had been far away, but after a while my attention dropped to the horizon, and then to the town below, and the buildings around me, then I was running my eyes all over the roof below me and noticed the coon-size entry hole in the bedroom dormer.
And it was easy to see how they got there. I went out on the big limb over back dormer, the green bough bent but did not break, and it it set me nicely on the main roof ridge.

I straddled the ridge and sat for a while, watching people and cars on Osmun place.
Then a crow flew down from somewhere and sat on the man ridge not six feet from me and, very distinctly, said "Clara," then flew off.
I never found out who Clara was or heard from that crow again, though I have heard from a great many. But it doesn't seem to have been an omen, or any kind of message, just another of those meaningless things that makes the truth stranger than fiction

The slate roof was steeply pitched and slick footing, and the first tile I stepped on broke off.
And I have broken a lot of slates since. right then I sat on the ridge and I took off my spiked shoes and socks, put the gloves in them and set them,on the ridge.
And then I found it easy enough to move up the valley and along the ridge on all fours.....but as I moved to the South end of the house on the main ridge, I head a scritching noise and looked behind me in time to see my climbing gear descending.

About then the dinner bell rang and, I could smell hamburger meat loaf. It wasn't just an association: on the roof, you can always smell what is cooking before even the cook does..
I think David was going to just go down to dinner and say nothing, but I was pretty hungry myself and I was not going to try hugging my way back down the tree, so I went over to the the Northeast dormer and crawled in the coon entrance.
Although the smell of them was thick as soup, It September then and out of season for the coons to be there and I was able to move through into the main attic, but I think I loosened the plaster board celing some walking on the vermiculite insulation instead of the tops of the ceiling joists .

I had a hard time finding the hatch cover in that dark and I had to leave it ajar and drop seven feet to the floor, along with a peck vermiculite. Everybody was downstairs and didn't here me land or didn't think it was unusual, but David saw me come down the stairs, as he was coming out of the bath room but he didn't say anything about our adventure until he found the insulation on the floor when we went up to play ping pong. And then he got mad again, so I didn't tell him about the raccoon door , to say nothing about the wayward wind, or the one word crow. At least I was alive and he didn't pee on my bed.
With him standing on a chair and me on his shoulders, we got the hatch cover back in place, then we swept up and flushed the vermiculite down the toilet. Which is a whole other story.

I found my way eventually to many other roofs, and made there what little money I needed for twenty years and more. Being short, I was not just safer and more mobile up there than your ordinary ground-level carpenter, but also could drive nails without bending or kneeling, which has been the ruin of many misplaced ground workers.
I could get to, work on, and move around most roofs without scaffolding and, if I had to (and once I did) I could carry a bundle of shingles up the outside of a stone chimney.
I was pretty good, but still, I have to admit that from that first step from tree to roof at Edgewood Place, I was continually just plain lucky I didn't fall and die or worse.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Little Nose Johnson Memorial

Little-Nose Johnson always traveled and parked his trailer with the giant Royal Coachman fly mounted on the back side.
But at night, he put it away in a shoe box with his prized foot-long African porcupine quills, and the foot-long fly rods he made from turkey tail feathers.
I more or less inherited the trailer, but I had no place for it, so now it is permanentlty out back on my brother's place as the Little Nose Johnson Family Museum. It is not open to the public, except here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Practical Body

There are disadvantages to having legs no longer than a turkey does - like me. But have you ever seen a turkey run?
I don't mean one of those poor white, breast-enhancement victims who can't even copulate without a saddle and a wrangler.
I mean a wild, bronze-'back, native American turkey, as in the song:

"Another man done gone,
like a turkey through the corn".

Wild turkeys can fly, but with those legs they generally don't need to.
The turkeys on our hill roost at night high up in the pines, make just one long flight a day down to the water, and then spend the rest of the day walking and feeding up the hill.
That is the turkey way.
I have often lived that life myself, more or less, and anyway I've got that dark brontasaural leg-meat. Short and Springy are my two legs.
I am especially well proportioned for up or down hill runs, for scooting over rough or broken ground, and through Alders, Brambles, and Buckthorns.

Yeah, but beyond pedestrian activities, my unusual proportions have been a big natural advantage in about everything I have chosen to do: which does not include pushing your normal height wheelbarrow, but does include writing with this here laptop computer. I can sit on the floor of my little house with the clam shell open on my shins and adjust the screen-angle with my feet, like I just did. Or I can stand with it open on the feed bowl and rock around it typing like Jerry Lee Lewis, like I am doing now.
This thing is my best toy or tool since my Magic Slate . I am glad that we left it open under a leaking skylight so that my brother had to get a new one, and fix this one up for me.
Years ago, in the seventies, I taught myself to type using four finger (six if you count the thumbs) pecking and punching a manual acoustic Remington office machine abandoned by the Cornell English Department when they went electric. It was in Alan Pike's Goldwyn Smith Hall office way upstairs in the garret. That's where l wrote the Little book of Wise Cracks which I xeroxed, and sold on the street. It was all short and to the point, not that many words, and not much typing really. Now, if I type for hours at a time with this computer on my lap ( no matter how well proportionally I am suited to it) I get stiff as yesterdays deceased, even if I am sitting straight. I don't see how all those big-leg professional writers and typers in offices
can endure to lay it down all day like factory chickens. Writing couldn't be a very healthful profession. I would rather be roofing.

Rusty Hen is in with me just now, and has taken an interest in my key-board pecking behavior, which is just about the same action that I use to get the chicks to eat whatever.
Now she is pecking at the quotation marks and, of course, only producing a comma on screen.
I think I'll discourage her from writing and trying to make sense in such a complicated and indirect way.

We communicate very well by being more direct: Right now, she is curious about my activity but she has let me know that she is primarily here to ask if I have any pancakes on me.
David makes pancakes most every day and the chickens get most of them.
The economy of this really makes very little sense to one who has lived on the edge, but beyond that consideration, he always includes at least one egg per batch of pancake batter, and that is just plain taboo.
I have told David that there are very good health and Superstition reasons he shouldn't feed chickens their own eggs.

But I just work here .
I started this post to be about the advantages of my unique body type, and I see that I haven't gotten down the list to what are really my main practical abilities.
But right now the Penny Lane thinks that she is stuck on the wrong side of the road so I need to close the clam shell, go outside, and crow her across.

William D. B.Warren

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Little House on Runners

The Cornell University Physical Anthropologist, Dr. Phillip Merman, who studied me in the nineteen fifties, recorded my body temperature as once staying for six hours at sixty degrees, without obvious brain damage. I don't hold with the syndrome he identified for my condition (and put his name on) but I am sure the temperature record was accurate. I wouldn't know about the brain damage.

Even nowdays I am often down around seventy two degrees at night, but as I have gotten older, my metabolism has become less tolerant and flexible. It has been years since I actually lived with beavers, or in dugouts, or estivated anywhere for any length of time. To keep my temperature up, I need something like a house.
So this Spring, I made the little house you see here. It is a little less than eight feet long.
I built it on runners so it can be moved, and I left enough room between the bottom of the runners and the floor of the house, so I can fit some standard foam floatation billets in there and raft it away.
I used materials my brother David had left over from building his chicken house . It is fairly lightweight, because the walls and roof are without joists, studs, or rafters: just two-inch thick rigid insulating foam, wrapped once around with discarded window screening, mortared once to embed the screen, then parged again, and finished with crushed oyster shells thrown at the wet mortar. David's chickens wouldn't eat the oyster shells he was told to buy for them, but they love styrofoam and had been eating the pieces stowed under the deck, like it was pop corn.
I enter my house through the roof, as the two slopes of the gable roof are on rubber hinges. As you see it in the photo, one slope is propped up with ski poles.
I made a small door at floor level so that I can sweep my litter out (and my house chickens can enter in cold weather) plus there is a small trap door in the floor so I can just roll over and piss out - my greatest invention. For windows I used Rubbermaid food-storage containers.

I am comfortable here and limber enough to type, even without the chicken heat. I just like to have them around. On a three hen night, even in very cold weather, I usually have to prop the roof up some. Other times, the one four inch vent through which I also bring the extension cord, is enough.
So this is where I write the blog and keep me and my handmedown IBook dry and charged.
As a matter of fact, the white heat of that last long posting about Aunt Sammy kept me warm through a day and a night, but I got cramps in my neck and back. That too is age related no doubt, but I was writing too much at a time and , worse than that, I was twisting to work on the IBook which I had set beside me because I had a hen on my lap.
Rusty, who looks a little like the deceased Miss Kitty, laid two of her usual chocolate brown eggs in my lap during our one long sitting.
I think we will skip a day or two now.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Leaving Aunt Sammy

I don't remember much of my bewildered journey back up North from Aunt Sammy's little house on Rooster Hammock .... so long ago... but I remember the night and day of leaving Aunt Sammy's all the time.

Our special hen Miss Kitty and her six or eight current rooster mates, including the big Jerk Sylvester, always roosted for the night on the open ceiling-joists of the porch. Their rooster chorus always began soon after the deepest dark before dawn and they always continued crowing at full volume for several hours before they came down. Aunt Sammy would wake up with the roosters, and she would stay perched in her loft , talking back to the roosters, talking at me, who only listened, talking to the night, which didn't.
I needed to be out and gone before the roosters woke Aunt Sammy.
I was a child well acquainted with the night, but early- rising does not come naturally to a twelve or fifteen year old, even to an abnormally feral one like me. So I had planned on using the trick Doc Howe taught me:
To make sure we were out on the Lake at dawn, Doc always prescribed a double whiskey at midnight for himself; and for me, a pint of Lake Bonaparte water at my bed-time. Doc said this water-method was a traditional warrior and horse-thieving trick which he learned while fishing Wind River, Wyoming, with an Indian guide.
For months, Sammy and I had not been off her island hummock (which they call a "hammock" down there) except fishing or chasing chickens. I hadn't seen Doc and Lillian for two years, even though they wintered in Florida. I Liked the swamp and the little house the mists moved through; I liked the chickens, the animal solitude, and I liked Aunt Sammy well enough. But it was just impossible to be alone with her. Despite her thing for chickens and island living, she was too much of a people person for me. She had been a whole lot more than an Aunt to me, but I had to go . And I had to sneak away when I went. Because this was going to break her heart again; and because I have always been a sneak.

The last time I came in the house that night, I drank four or five dippers full from the rain barrel to set my body clock.
Before I climbed into bed, I pulled the drawer out from under my pallet and, into the many pockets of my duck canvas overalls there, I put my harmonica, , three of Sammy's Chesterfields wrapped in a burdock leaf, a fist-full of match books, a bag of peanuts, my comb, my chewing stick, and the eighteen quarters which Mr. LaRoy had "secretly" given me for college.
I climbed aboard the featherbed with my clothes on , which was part of the plan, but usual anyway.

Before long, the pits and crotch of my clothing felt clammy yellow. I tried to suck up and shrink from my clothes - breathing out more than I breathed in. Finally I managed to sleep, or to pass out. For a while.

Not for long I guess. because Sammy was still mumbling when I came around again..
I stiffened and strangled myself some more, until she finally fell silent.

The night inside and out had gone from dirt-black to soot-black. Then it got dark as my own insides. I knew by that, and by the rising algae smell of mist just beginning to ghost between the open window-slats, that the roosters would start to crow soon.

I swung off the bed , dragged the clothes drawer from under it , and put on two more shirts over the one I had slept in, then a second pair of pants . And then my pre-loaded, canvas duck over-shorts.
From the bottom of the drawer, I took a piece of clothes line I had tied a slip knot in, and I put it on my pillow with some spit and and a gob of hair from my comb . Then I took three quarters from the bandanna in my pocket and strewed them carefully on the floor, as spilled by the intruder who had strangled me for the money. I was pretty sure Sammy knew all about the secret quarters.
So far, so good. Then I bent over in all those pants to pull my shoes on.... and I wet my pants.
Not bad though. I was a little kid who knew that shit can happen, and that was not shit. Anyway, there could be no re-dressing now. No changing the plan. I was leaving now.

The suitcases were in the loft with Sammy , and besides, being severely short as I am, I would have to carry a suitcase on my head in order not to drag it along the ground. And murder victims don't pack a suitcase.

Instead, I planned to take her guitar case for my Leg Extenders and stuff, leaving her the red guitar, and the impression that someone had taken my body away in the guitar case.

In that tight little house, I could find anything without any light at all.
I felt my way to the Arm chair and brought Sammy's guitar case over to my bed, and opened it . Lifting out the guitar, my hands could just about feel the red. "Annie Oakley", Sammy called her guitar. I would miss Annie as might Miss Kitty, the dogs Hank and Snow, or anything about Aunt Sammy herself.
I took Annie back to the chair and set her carefully upright. As I drew back in the dark, my thumb nail grazed the steel brass-wound G string . A small, blue note rose up and faded out the window.

I opened the case on my bed and put in several wads of socks and underwear from my drawer. Then the set of leg extensions Doc Howe had made for me. I closed the case, eased the snaps down. Looking about the still dark room, I saw or imagined the first red glow the guitar in the chair.

You can probably see that my plan for leaving Aunt Sammy was based on Huck Finn's escape from the cabin in which his criminally stinking-drunk Pap had locked him; but with Aunt Sammy I didn't really need to saw a hole in the side of the house, and anyway, we already had a regular pet door for the dogs and Miss Kitty Hen. I used it regularly myself. The problem part of my escape plan was in just how I would lay down a false blood-trail, like Huck did with the pig blood.
We had no pigs I could kill.
But there was Sylvester: the the big, mean, main rooster. He was friendly enough much of the time, but he would sometimes attack my shoes with wings, beak, and spurs, and, worse than that, he kept trying to take me from behind, to get my neck in his beak and hump me like chicken butt. He more or less managed to do that more than once, but I would never again be screwed by a rooster.

I planned to pull Sylvester off his perch and finally wring his neck, then slit his throat and put him into the bottom of a feed bag with the guitar case. And I would drag a bloody trail to the secret raft I had had made from captured lumber and some inflated plastic bread wrappers I had pilfered from the huge and still accumulating supply of those Mr. LaRoy brought for Sammy to twist into hats.

I pushed the guitar case through the pet door, and then followed it.

Sylvester always roosted there next to Miss Kitty . I had left a flour barrel under his spot. I mounted the barrel and reached up, but his space was empty. Somehow, I don't know how, I had telegraphed my plan to him. One thing he was not, was stupid.
So I felt around for the next rooster, got a bird by the head so it couldn't squawk, brought it down to break its neck and knew immediately by the size and sweet bread smell, that it was no rooster at all, but the fragrant Miss Kitty.
I kept the squeeze on her squawk and whispered to her..... sweet kitty kitty kitty. She was very used to being handled by and she quieted quickly.
Then I opened up the guitar case, put her in the nest of socks, and eased it shut on her. That had not been part of any plan, as was very little of what has followed. .

A rooster flapped. The daily noise was beginning to begin.

I ran to the bullrushes where I had hiden raft.
The bread-wrapper floats had leaked , despite the rubber bands. The raft barely floated , even without me.
I pissed on it, long and hard.

Before I was done, all the roosters on the Island were crowing.
So I took Sammy's John Boat. But Mr. LaRoy would come by within a few days, with more groceries, egg money, and bread wrappers for hats.

I have never been too good at telling left from right, east from west, or at distinguishing landscapes or letters from their mirror versions. The long story of my journey to the North Country is lost, but the short story is that I only knew I needed to more or less follow the coast to get to the North Country, , but, beginning at the narrow neck of Florida, I mistakenly started up the left coast.

Many a time along the way we got a ride because Miss Kitty was sitting on my shoulder (who wouldn't stop for a musical Gnome with an orange chicken?) When people discovered after picking us up that I didn't have a guitar, they would always go soft when I pulled out and played the harmonica and Miss Kitty "sang" along - even though I only played a scramble of You Are My Sunshine and Irene Good Night , and Kitty was mostly just chuckling along. But we must have been charming beyond words. Anyway, our pitiful act put wheels under us, and often enough, Miss Kitty provided breakfast.

After months of hard traveling, and frequent lay-overs, Miss Kitty and I eventually made it all the way to Lake Bonaparte. Miss Kitty eventually died in 1958 while crossing a street in Ithaca.
I buried her in the East Hill Cemetery where we had been living at the time.

W.B.W. Dabone

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Aunt Sammy's Farm

For most of two years when I was around twelve or fifteen, I lived with Aunt Sammy , in her little house on stilts in the Florida swamp. The famous writer of "The Yearling", Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who was friends with Sammy since the "Aunt Sammy" radio days, had found the property for her. I met Rawlings only once, when she visited Loon Island, not long before she died in 1953. She had loved the house, though she had never used it. It was especially for Sammy and me. And the Roosters: "The Boys".

The house was just one room and not that big, but it was tightly built as any John Boat and not what you would call a "shack", having belonged to a moonshiner who got rich running a still there.
The big old still- stove, minus copper coils, sat almost in the center of the room , taking up at least a third of the floor space. Against one wall was the one table on which Aunt Sammy prepared and served meals.
We had three chairs - one for me, one for Sammy, and one for her Guitar or a guest. Sammy slept in the loft at the high end of the room, there with her books and photo albums clothing, and suitcases. She and Mr. LaRoy had put together a bed for me against the south wall, using an an old door mounted on stove- wood chunks, and covered with a feather tick mattress from our chickens.

When we had a guest for dinner, the guest got the third chair, but Sammy's said the guest had to hold the guitar and either sing or talk.
Mostly the guest had to listen more than talk, and usually the guest was Mr. LaRoy.

Mr. LaRoy came at least once a week to buy eggs and to milk the roosters. He was Chinese Cajun, something, so I don't know if LaRoy was really his name, or just the way it sounded when he said it.. Mr LaRoy couldn't sing or play the guitar, but he would pluck a string occasionally and tell about New Orleans, and the islands he had visited in his Merchant Marine days.
Sammy always cooked a lot, even when there were no guests, and she talked as she cooked, even if I was out with the chickens or on the water, like she was still doing her Aunt Sammy broadcasts for home-makers. The chickens ate very well from our leftovers, and the yolks of Rooster Hammock eggs were yellow as an oranges.

Sammy kept way more roosters than hens, and they were silent only during the darkest three or four hours of night, Sammy called them all her Lost Boys, and she also called them her Flowers. They weren't exactly boys or flowers - more like warriors and fruits - but they were very good guards for the hens. We didn't loose many hens, except to our own roosters. There were all sorts among the roosters, including the silent and the shy, but because of the meanest, I had to carry a cane all the time and sometimes had to fight my way into the hen house to collect eggs. One Rooster, Sylvester, was both the meanest and the friendliest. A friend I could do without.

Although I could kick any cornered rooster right over the hen house, it was hard for me, with legs not much longer than roosters have, to chase one down.
But when Mr. LaRoy appeared, the roosters just crouched and closed their eyes. They knew they were screwed. I don't know how he did it. Acting, I guess.
Occasionally Mr. LaRoy brought another rooster, a culled broiler or a finished fighting cock he had rescued.
He offered to pay Sammy very well for Rooster milk, but she said she didn't want to hear any more on the subject,; all she wanted was to calm the boys down some. So instead of paying, Mr LeRoy would just bring our supplies plus extra things as presents when he came by - sweet potatoes, ginger root, or lamb's feet maybe, and always the quarter he slipped me on the sly for my college education.
Mr. LaRoy's milkings would generally calm the roosters only for two or three hours, but the groceries he brought made it unnecessary for us to leave Rooster Hammock at all.
But for my own self, I really had to go.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Red Hand and the Magic Slate

On a windy April day six years ago, I was paddling along the flow between Lake Bonaparte and Mud lake when I saw two crows flying eraticaly over the swamp and fighting over (or maybe struggling together to carry) what I recognized as a human hand .
The wierd thing - as if that's not weird enough - is that the hand itself was trying to get away; and succeeded at one point: fell into the cattails; and then the crows snatched it up again and flew on, rising and dipping over the outlet.

I might have concluded that I was only mistaking a fisticlump of fish entrails for a flailing hand, but I knew better. I knew exactly what hand it was,......though I hadn't even thought of the Red Hand for many years; had rather put it out of my mind.
Taken way aback, I stopped paddling and let the canoe drift, until the wind had pushed it into the alders of the far shore.

It was the Red Hand: the hand that years and years ago, when I was more or less a boy and still new in the Warren household, had taken over my Magic Slate.

In my first years with the Warrens, I didn't speak at all, except to myself and then there were no distinct words - only what seemed to others to be the off -key melodies of pretend sentences and paragraphs. I just didn't get the idea of human speech, and the family assumed I never would. Actually, that is about right. This here is only an imitation of speech.

But I was an intent listener to all talk. When there was conversation, I would sit on the floor near by, drawing blocky shapes on newsprint as if I were transcribing something. Sometimes though, I would give it up and start to bang my head on the floor - probably in frustration. As a result of the head-banging, my forehead often had a couple of red swellings like incipient horns. So I am told. I don't remember that, but I know the feeling, and my forehead does seem to me to have distinct corners now.
Eventually I would make more progress with the writing than with the talking. Maybe because I never have been a people person. I really don't particularly like people persons either..
I was brought to the table for meals, but usually finished quickly and slipped to the floor. I always preferred to be out of or below the general line of sight. I stayed under the table with the dog Binker (unless she had not already been banished to the kitchen for farting) and I was tolerated there as long as I stayed off the family feet and until, as often happened, my head-banging became interruptive and threatened to do me harm..

Then Daddy Warren would take me up to the bathroom, strip off my clothes and put me in the tub. He usually added a few rubber toys and on the stool beside the tub, my more-or-less waterproof, Magic Slate - the waxed cardboard with a pressure sensitive coating which took an impression when I marked on it with a wooden stylus. When the sheet was full of my markings and I wanted to continue, or when I was done and wanted the record erased, I pulled up the plastic sheet, which left a clean slate. I loved that part of it. The tool suited my natural reticence. Or un-natural reticence. You could say that I was freakishly shy.

In my first years with the Warrens I spent half my nights in the tub, and the other half in the bed Grandfather Failing made for me, which trundled under David's in the day time.
When I was not marking on it I kept the Magic Slate under my little bed , and I never, ever, left any of my private marking for anyone else to see; but one morning I pulled the Magic Slate from under the bed and saw writing on it. Not mine: it was in longhand. Although I had was starting to puzzle-out comic book script, I could not even begin to read longhand. But David could. I gave it to him and he read it to me.
"The Autobiography of the Red Hand." I remember that was the first time I ever heard that word, "Autobiography." But even now I can hear Davey saying it: "Audobography" he said, as if he had never seen or heard the word himself.

The hand, according to itself, had once been that of an Irish chieftan .
The Irishman had been captain of a boat in a race from one island to another, and as they came near the fiinish, his boat was about to lose the race.
So he chopped off his left hand and threw it to the shore .
Thehe hand arrived ahead of all other boats and hands aboard, so it won the race for its boat, then fell into the sea .
That was it. End of page.
I didn't like it. I didn't want it in my slate. I pulled the cover sheet.

But the next morning I brought the Magic Slate out from under my bed, and it was again covered in script. This time the script was smaller.
I was not happy about this, but again, I gave the slate to Davey for him to read aloud.
On that page, the Hand began an independent life, scuttling across the ocean floor like a human crab.
Davey wanted to show this to Mama Dot, but I reached over pulled the sheet to restore the blank slate. Then I took it back and tried to tear the thing into pieces but couldn't, so I rolled it as much as possible and did my best to flush it down the toilet. That didn't work either, but Davey mopped up the spill with our bath towel and put the tortured slate into the waste basket.
After that disturbing experience, I didn't write another thing for thirty years. Didn't say much either.
Mostly, I only composed sentences and paragraphs in my head, and repeated them to myself alone.
And now I write, I blog, on this reconditioned, early-model Clamshell Ibook laptop computer which used to be Davey's before the skylight leaked on it.
The way I write on the Clamshell is also a little like my Magic Slate writing: I start all over again every day at the top.
So I am not going to pursue the Red Hand story. Enough about the Hand already.

Tomorrow is another day.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Huckleberry Me

I don't remember anything about my life before age eight or ten when
I showed up in the Warren's back yard , having apparently followed the dog home.
When I try to remember a time before that, I eventually find myself
drifting along through mists with the sense someone unseen beside me
and the voices of distant people floating in and out of my hearing until
suddenly the raft hits the shore and there he is: dirty, stinking Pap. Whether he is a dream, a memory, or a story , I shiver with fear and revulsion,.
No doubt this is mostly a memory of Mother Warren reading Huckleberry Finn
to David and me. She must have read it to us three or four times before we were left to our own reading, and then long before I actually taught myself to read (uncle Scrooge Comics) I pretended to read Huck Fin to myself. It was assumed that I would never learn to read, and even that, though I listened intently, I did not really comprehend.
I suppose there may be a real stinking Pap in my background, but I also suppose he is long dead and rotted away. And anyway I am not interested in my biological parents, even though others have put a lot of effort into following me backwards to that end. I have had fathers and mothers enough since the ones who abandoned me..
What always interested me more was the river in the mists which the attempt to remember conjured up, the invisible person beside me, and the river which connected all things and carried the distant voices and music as well as me and the invisible person beside me.
The sense of all that was always with me, or available, and literally so at times like Saturday summer nights at Lake Bonaparte when the lake was still and from Loon Island I could hear the roller skates on the basement floor of Priests' store coming across the water as if ghosts skated on water.... and floating over the water or eminating from its tightly stretched surface is the music : always "Irene Good Night", which was popular that summer when I more or less disappeared, floating over the lake like the music.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Big Little Brother

It is traditional knowledge of North American tribes (and the recent discovery of American paleontologists) that beavers of the Pleistocene Era could weigh four hundred pounds and more.
The hundred foot high beaver dams and linking impoundments created by these giants created a North West passage virtually without carries , except around the dams, extending from the Hudson to the Yukon. Niagra Falls was underwater and the Great Lakes were just one big long flow.

A person then could make a boat of the pelt from a single four hundred pound beaver, and, according to Little-Nose Johnson, there were some native people of that era who did this. They were a nomadic northern tribe, or disassociation of tribes, which compeated in killing the great beavers to cover coracles and canoes with the skins . In these boats the early raiders traversed the North American continent for South East to North West, hunting beaver and the peoples who lived in association with them.
This was an easy living for the predatory nomads, and in that time before the
powerful Iroquois confederacy, there was no organized resistance from the people, but as the largest beavers were culled for boats, the beavers evolved to be smaller until they were only about big enough for hat making, and nomads turned their attention to the forest buffalo, which themselves would eventually be chased by the Ojibwa out of the forest onto the plains to be hunted down by Buffalo Bill on a train. As everybody knows.

While the beaver bodies gradually downsized through the generations, so did the people who lived with them. This change was the origin of the small, " yellow people": The Adirondacks or Bark Eaters who lived (not eating much bark of any sort) not only in the Adirondack Mountains, but as far south as the gorges of the Finger lakes, until they were scattered by the proto Algonquins, who themselves were driven out by the Iroquois. And the little yellow people are assumed to no longer exist. Although LiIttle-Nose Johnson. assured me otherwise.

Whatever has become of the Bark Eaters., in their Great days and even in their diminished state , the people of the beaver didn't just live in the beavers' neighborhood, but sometimes inhabited the same lodges at the same time. There was not much in the arrangement for the beavers, but a lot for the humans: free housing with heat, land clearing , fertilization, and irrigation.
The Great beaver lodges were as large on the outside, if not the inside, as a modern two -story house or a Mandan dome lodge. Typically, the beavers would move up or down the watershed when an impoundment was ten or fifteen years old and they had consumed all the aspen wood within the flooded area. The yellow people would then breach the dam, inhabit the lodges, and farm the richly silted and stoneless flood plain using tools made, without any alteration, from the four inch wide chisel-bladed gnawing teeth of the Great Beavers.
Although it endured for ages, retreating and advancing with the global glaciers, the material culture of the beaver people was so exclusively based on the beavers
that there is very little direct evidence of those people today. Even I, who had actually lived among beavers, and had even raised crops (mostly potatoes) in their meadows and on the old mounds of their lodges , had never imagined that it had once been a way of life for a whole society. But this I know now, because Little-Nose Johnson told me all about it in his truck heading for Ithaca that day back in nineteen seventy something before science had even discovered the Great Beavers themselves.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

James Little-Nose Johnson

Thanks to James Little-Nose Johnson, I am one lucky drunk who lay down in the snow beside the road but didn't die, so it is a bitter damn shame that he himself died and froze beside the road a few years later, when he had stopped to pick up a road-kill porcupine, and was himself the victim of a hit and run driver.

He did have a little nose, and he joked that he had a little Johnson too, , but he was well over six feet tall, and Little-Nose was a family name. He told me he was a part-time lineman for Niagra-Mohawk, and a part time Indian : an Algonquin from North Ontario. He was also a mostly home-schooled anthropologist and a full time student of the animal kingdom, especially of beavers and porcupines, and was always on the look-out for porcupine quills . He he lived in a small mobile trailer which is now my main residence.
He was, routinely assigned to a relief crews restoring power after storm damage throughout the state, and he generally parked his trailer at K.O.A. camp grounds and on reservations, if he was working near one. . He always made himself doubly welcome on the reservations with a gift of porcupine quills from the North Country, since most reservations
then still had at least a few quill artists, and most are not within the boreal forest where porcupines can range feeding on spruce buds. He found plenty of prickly road-kill during his regular course of work, but he also made late night patrols in order to find fresh
kill before it had been thorughly mashed by traffic, or before other seekers had picked the corpse clean. Early winter was good for road- quilling, because of the small scale migrations of porcupines converging on certain talus caves where dozens will sometimes winter together, somehow compounding their body heat without impaling one another.
The area surrounding Lake Bonaparte has several such communal denning places: notably the Devil's Crack, which is not far from the place L.J. found me stuck to the shoulder of the road that night, like a porky which had already been dequilled by a passer by.

William (dabone) Warren

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Snow Angel

Every winter in the Rural North Country a few peoples die after lying down in a comfortable looking snow bank when staggering home from some bar. You only need to be well toasted or already half frozen for a bank of snow to look like a feather bed.

I left the LaParr's Bar in Harrisville at closing time one November night in the mid seventies and started walking toward Lake Bonaparete on the North Shore Road.. This was already years after the period when I had actually lived with the beavers, but for the night, I was on my way to an abandoned beaver lodge on Green Pond outlet in the Bonaparte Cave St. Forest. I was only using it occasionally - mostly during the summer. In Ithaca I had a set up in the East Hill Cemetery and several pads and canned-food caches in furnace rooms and attics around Collegetown.. I was intending to hitch down to Ithaca again soon.
Ordinarily, in my right mind, and even in deep winter, I would have made a quick snow-cave in the plowed bank, then backed in with large garbage bags over my clothing., But I was more than ordinarily drunk and there was only an inch of snow. I I don't really remember laying down , but the shoulder of the road must have looked like a feather mattress to me.

Little Johnson said later that when he found me, I was spread eagled on the road shoulder and my body heat had melted the snow for several inches around my face and then refroze, so that he actually had to use is skinning knife to get me up.
I owe my life to him and to a capacity I have always had and don't myself understand for enduring a lowered body temperature,
When I came around that time, I was in a sleeping bag with Johnson's dog at his camp on the Oswega tchie. I was there for three days.
During that time and our drive back to Ithaca, which overshot his home goal by about sixty miles, he told me more about beavers and their amazing communal history with the early people than I had ever suspected, or could have discovered in twenty more years living with beavers myself.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dog's Plot

The evidence is all around us, here in the Finger Lakes.
For many years science assumed that these lakes were dug by the global glaciers , which certainly did scour and trench this region. But sicence knows that glacial valleys are U shaped and that glaciers can gouge no deeper than sea level, whereas recent remote sensing techniques
have revealed the finger Lakes bedrock bottoms, under the sediment of ten thousand years,
to be V rather than U shaped, and well below sea level. Though there are alternate explanations of these facts, the truth is clear and simple.: Dog did it.

Before Man God, back before dinosaurs and chickens, even before dirt and fungi, long before the uncontrolled proliferation of words, and before Man turned the Word of Dog around, there was one Word and the Word was Dog. It was a one Dog World

For many Dog Years, Dog ruled this whole Earth ball all alone.
Dog was so big that Dog contained all of life except the Fungi, and he ate them.
Dog was so big that he could run all away around Earth in an afternoon and, arriving at the place he started, would eat some mushrooms and lay down exhausted , though Dog's mind ran on in darkness.

Each morning Dog stretched, shook off sleep, then looked around and saw that all was good; but Dog wanted more.
Maybe Dog wanted family. He had no way of knowing, because he had no word for family, and because there had never been a family of any sort to value , to say nothing about the Cat Family, the Family of Man, or the Bush family, the Binladen family, the Obama family, or yours, or mine.

Everyday, without conscious intentions, Dog haphazardly produced piles, and cairns, and unique figurines consisting of his own good poop, which in those times was more like bread dough than like the degraded poop of today, which is put into plastic bags and sent away to be burried with radioactive waste and disposable diapers in somebody else's back yard.

Sometimes one of Dog's dough piles might seem to resemble a turtle, a bear, or a star-nosed mole, but they were all unrecognized and accidental, because Dog had no ideas, or models, and also because Dog had no hands for detailed molding.
Occasionally Dog's works seemed to him to be strange and threatening beings in themselves and he barked at them, but they only slumped and fell over.

But Dog had an infinity of time, and in a world of infinite accidents, every thing eventually happens into being,
One day during the Early Dog period, , Dog faintly recognized something like his own reflection in one of the polymorphus poopings, so Dog nosed it about a bit to make it more closely resemble Dog's self.
Great though Dog was, Dog was only a dog and without hands, so the poop Dog prodded into more finished shape still only had two legs that were long enough to touch the ground, and the front feet waved vainly in the air.
It was not all that good, and clearly not what Dog was created to do, so Dog turned to digging holes as a creative outlet. Maybe Dog was looking that way for Dog's self or the Dog family, but Dog didn't find it, and about the only result of all this digging was the holes which have become the Finger Lakes, The Great Lakes, The Ural Sea, Lakes Titicaca, Tanganika, and other large bodies of water.

In the meantime, however, the Dog-made poor imitation of Dog, standing on its hind feet with its short- faced, weak- nosed, poorly- eared head in the air, proceeded with touchy feely fingers to make more two-legged somethings like itself, which as soon as you can imagine it, became a crowd, took up sticks, beat Dog into submission and then turned Dog's name around. It is a shame, but that is what we have come to.

I am not saying that I am the return of Dog ; the accident of my birth into this body with the proportions of a Dachshund, is just that -an accident- but with the unique body comes a certain knowledge and perspective, and that is what I offer here.

William ( Dabone) Warren