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.