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