Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Now that I have come out about my teen age years of secret breast feeding, I have to admit that my reputation as a former feral child has been a little overblown. And I should say also - though I quit the tit many years ago - that my subsequent years of hunting and gathering were made a little easier by somewhat unnatural practices such as occasional refrigerator burglary, the gathering of road kill, the use of Rapid Grow fertilizer on wild plants, and also by selling woodland foods which are worth more for money, than for nourishment. Especially mushrooms, and particularly Morels, which were fantastically plentiful in the sixties and seventies when they thrived on the elms then conspicuously dying in the Ithaca area . I sold to a few hip local restaurants and distributed more to a couple of Cornell students from the N.Y.C. area, who paid for trips home by taking them to the restaurants down there. For a time, that trade enabled me to go to the movies, drink in bars, and take women out to dinner, or buy them groceries, even though I may have been living in a brush pile or a dug-out at the time.
Nourishing or not, I have a taste for Morels myself; but it is a little conflicted by an identification I feel with them. It is a delicious fact that mushrooms have a meaty texture and flavor, and it is a biological fact that they actually exist somewhere between the plant and animal kingdoms, so it should be no surprise that in addition to their gastronomical qualities, they have the beginnings of such qualities of intelligence as secretiveness, elusiveness, self-interest, and humor.
You laugh? You should. Right now, there are serious people with grants, working to combine the genes of mushrooms with those of the musk rat, or the chicken, in an attempt to develop meat that doesn't care what happens to it and has no legal advocates.
Oh, but they do care.
From a lifetime of hunting them, during which they have often made a fool of me, I know a thing or two about the sentient life of mushrooms. At other times, when not being fooled with, I have made a real killing on them..... and felt real remorse. Morels live on the dead, but they do not kill, and they are vegetarians.
And like the rest of us, they need not just food, but moisture. Not only is there a shortage of dead elms hereabouts now days, but we have had several years in a row of drought - at least during April, when the Morels are preparing to fruit. We have had some hard rains now and then, but mostly too much in too short a time.
Today though, we are having the first real rainy day I can remember for a couple of years.
I can sit here quietly and feel the turgor pressure building in all the erect plants and the fungal mycillia darting in the soil, the nodes forming close to the surface, swelling and yearning to be individual morels, distinct from the matted masses.
Within weeks or days, when the Lilacs are blooming, the fiddleheads unfurling, the May apples beginning to flower, I will walk out to some ash woods, or old orchard, or sandy stream side , sweeping the ground ahead with my eyes until I see in the periphery of my vision ( or think I might see) a lone morel. Or maybe it will be a smell, or maybe just a vibration from the ground, or an intuition, or nothing but a hope.....and I will sit down right there, being careful not to look directly at what I might have seen from the corner of my eye, sit down and go about having a smoke, pretending to look only for my fixings, or matches, only idly looking about, not really looking, not focusing, trying to think about a distant subject.....until they begin to pop up around me, and then, before they can grow thrrugh me, or run off or wither, I will rise and begin to harvest, carefully and humanely cutting them off at ground level, stopping after I pick each one to thank it, asking forgiveness. and I will be carrying them off in a net bag, so as to scatter spores everywhere.
Magical superstition you say? Hokum pokus? Unscientific fancy? Oh sure, I agree. But it is my method, not my religion. And it works.
Let their be morels.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
I know it seems like I jump around quite a bit here, a lot like a weasel who is all war dance and no attack. O.K., alright, I admit it.
Early on in this blog, I went to writing about Aunt Sammy and got as far as telling how I left her place in Florida to return to the North, but I never got to the end of that trip; and there are somethings....something in particular........ I left out, and might better have said at the beginning, except that it is pretty damn personal and private. It makes me a little uncomfortable to speak of it even after all these years, but I am not exactly speaking to anyone as I sit here in or on my ark, and I promise to get to the matter in this entry. Please pardon my hops, dodges, and digressions; they must be in my nature.
My hen Miss Kitty always stayed quiet when she was in the guitar case, and I was wasted after weeks of digressive hitch-hiking out West, so after we finally got on the bus east, we both slept most of the way from Iowa to the Adirondacks.
I couldn't have told you whether it took a day or a week.
As a matter of fact I couldn't even have said what month it was. I had never been to Lake Bonaparte except in the summer, so, like a three year old, I more or less believed that it was always summer at lake Bonaparte. After all, it was always summer in Florida.
So it was another rude awakening when the bus driver put me off in Harrisville where frost- crabbed maple leaves scuttled down the street and sailed down the Oswegatchie River.
I walked all five miles to the lake and not a single car passed me going in either direction. Hardly anybody actually lived year round at lake Bonaparte in those days, the Summer people had gone home, and the hunters weren't yet in the woods.
The swim raft had been pulled up onto the neck of beach that connects the Loon Island to the mainland, and I found that the boats were hoisted in the boat house.
In summer the canoe would have been pulled up on shore by the dock, and I had intended to paddle across to Priest's Marina where Doc and Lillian parked their trailer, but the canoe was not there. It would be on saw horses up at the main camp. I supposed I could drag it down the path easily enough, though it would be hard to get it back up.
As I headed up the path , two grouse exploded out of the leaves right in front of the little log sleeping cabin half way to the big camp.
I stopped where the grouse had flushed, and I stared in the cabin window.
I remembered standiing in that same spot some eight years before when I saw Aunt Sammy wave and then motion me toward the door on the lake side of the cabin.
I had hardly thought of her since leaving Florida. That was not because I had been unattached to her. In fact, I had left Rooster Hammock because of the soft prison which my attachment to her had become.
And here I was back where it had started. The thing I had left behind. The thing I have never mentioned to anyone. Our innocent secret. This bush I am weaseling around.
I had been snorkeling off the boathouse and was headed up the path for lunch. I was probably still wearing my swim fins, as usual, though I don't remember that detail.
I never made it up to camp for lunch that day, nor would I be missed: often enough I got my lunch from the lake bottom. Clams, cattail hearts, and crayfish tails, and stuff I had taken from the kitchen and squriled away in the boat house.
Maybe my lips were blue like Sammy said, as she opened the screen door and let me in. Probabally not. She always thought I was cold.
She toweled me off, calling me her poor little fish.
Then, all of a sudden, she held me to her, and I could feel her sobbing.
She lert up a little and said she was sorry and she asked if I was alright. I said it I was alright and patted her head, but obviously she was not quite alright herself.
It took a while with me patting her hair for the tears to stop, and then she asked if I remembered.
Remember your mother, she said.
It was very long ago. Many years she said , that I lived inside her, long after she had known my father. Many months and years even, I lived and swam like a tiny fish in her, until finally I found the heart of her, settled there, and began to grow.
I grew in her for many years while she never knew it. Until one day as she took a bath, out of her swam this small boy fish . She got out of the tub and held this thing that would be me until she was sure I was dead, but still she couldn't let me go, so she put me in a cake box and put the box in the refrigerator.
Everyday she took the cake box out of the refrigerator and opened it to look at this cold hard thing that would be me, until one day it seemed like I moved. She could hardly believe I had moved or that I lived, but she held me to her again, as she was holding me now, held me until I squirmed and squeaked like a mouse and her milk began to flow, she said, and as she told me, I could feel that her blouse was wet, and I could smell her milk.
Then and there and back when I was little more than a fish, she fed me from one breast and then the other, and though I almost remembered, even then I didn't really believe her story. Yet I'm sure she did believe it herself, and I can't deny the miracle of her milk.
There you have it. I spilt the milk.
I have never told anyone about this because I have no complaint to make, and while Aunt Sammy lived, it was our secret, but now Sammy is long gone and I myself have grown old and shameless.
Our secret sessions continued that summer and each summer and then steadily for the year I lived with her after wandering away from the Warrens so often.
I neither believed nor disbelieved what she told me; her breasts were the facts. She was as much my mother as any woman could ever be. One thing for sure is that without Aunt Sammy feeding me, I would not have survived as indepedantly on mostly foraged food, as the Warrens and others believed I did.
But on my return that fall day, the cabin was empty and I was truly on my own, in a place Summer had left.
An East wind had come up, with a white chop that would make it hard for me to get across the open water to Priest's Marina, but I finally realized that Doc and Lillian would be gone for the season down to St. Petersburg.
What I didn't know at that time was that even that summer, due to a falling out between Doc and the Priests which I never understood and which probably also involved Aunt Sammy and her taking me to Florida , they had not parked their trailer at Priest's that season, but rather on the other side of the bay at the new Marina.
Right then, I was hungry as a weasel, and Miss Kitty would be too.
I went on up the path, got the hidden key and let myself into camp,
The fridge was unplugged and propped open, the towel drawers inverted so the mice wouldn't nest in them, and all the canned goods removed from the shelves. There was only sugar and rice in jars.
I made a fire in the wood stove and put some rice on with spring water from the jerry can.
I dug some worms for Miss Kitty and then went to the boat house and scooped a can of bats from behind the cork floats in the boat house where they huddle in cold weather. I would have prefered frogs with my rice, but they were down in the mud in that season. I don't eat bats anymore at all, and not many frogs either. I have become too soft hearted.
I slept on the floor in front of the fire place with Miss Kitty roosting on the mantle beside the stuffed owl, and the next morning, I walked out to the highway, headed downstate to Ithaca, the breast of the Finger Lakes.
I was sitting with a smoke on top of the Ark , watching the buds of the horse chestnut pop open yesterday morning, when a weasel came out of a hole in the trunk, ran out on a limb, and disappeared.
The chestnut tree is thriving in its limbs, but it is hollow and colonized by a flock of starlings, which raise their young there. Right now they are hauling out some of the old nests parts and bringing in new material, including a lot of chicken feathers. This year there is also competition from a pair of gray squirreles which haven't ordinarily been seen much up here because the nut trees are further down the hill, but they have been encouraged by the sunflower seeds and corn scratch which Davey spreads around for the chickens. This also draws the mice which also are drawn by the heated house itself, into which they like to move in the winter.
I suppose that when I saw him, the weasel had been prospecting for eggs to suck. He could be anywhere now, he could be in the tree, in the ark, or in my pants. You don't see them much because they are faster than the eye, but they are everywhere around here, and are not only the t the most numerous predator on this old farm, but the greatest threat to chickens and the most viscous, unsporting predator. Weasels are are less sporting than the worst of humans, more pugnacious even than roosters, and probably more numerous than anything but the mice on which they mostly live. It is specifically the Least Weasel, I am referring to here, as it predominates here and in most of the world, being most effective because it is no larger than a large penis, and so can go anywhere a mouse can go.
This feral farm now produces mostly foreign invasive ornamentals, sumac, grass ,and seeds. The livestock are mice, and the chief reapers of the realm are the weasels.
It is an old hill top farmstead with a limited water supply. The original hand dug wells, which are six feet wide and twelve feet deep, only hold water in the bottom six feet, which were chipped into the saturated shale . At some point a a six by twelve basement cistern was added to collect and hold rainwater from the roof, but when there was no rain for more than a few weeks, or less, depending on usage, there could never been enough water from all that for more than a small family, a cow, a pig, and some chickens.
But there is enough moisture in the grass for mice to thrive without another water source, and plenty water in a juicy mouse for the weasels.
The chickens do chase down and kill some of the mice, and the weasels seem to hunt chickens only occasionally and for sport, but the weasels actually persue mice right into the walls of the house, chase down the tunnels through the fiberglass and do more than Davey's tin cat life traps, to keep the place mouse free, as it is at the moment.
If I can work out a way to ship weasels as mouse control agents, I thinks, we may be able to get an Ebay sustainable farm going here, but despite all the time I have spent living out doors, and the lack of reports of weasel attacks on humans, the least weasel is the animal I am most afraid of.
Friday, April 18, 2008
I heard a big ruckus this morning and stuck my head out of the ark in time to see the neighbor's young hound running off with one of our Dominiker roosters in his mouth.
A few minutes later, when I was at the door telling Davey what had happened, Matt the neighbor called.
He said his dog had dropped the rooster and the bird had gone off into the unmowed field of the next property down the hill. Matt went looking for the bird, but saw only a few feathers, and no rooster.
I myself saw most of the tail feathers on our driveway.
The tail is now in a vase on Davey's table, and I didn't much expect to see the rest of the rooster again , but he was back here this evening,
Now the other roosters are chasing him around, because a rooster without his tail looks like a hen from some other tribe, and gets punked.
They are quite the jerks these roosters, but I can't be so critical of the neighbor's dog. He is a bird dog after all, and made a good soft-mouth retrieve....otherwise the bird would not have been able to walk home and run from his persecutors.
Some of this Shit is happening because suddenly it is summer - eighty degrees when it hasn't been seventy before now .
Turkeys are flying over the road.
A mated pair of pheasants and a pair of mallards are feeding with the roosters. Local kids on four-wheelers are tearing up and down the border lane along of the state land, rutting in the mud.
Everything is breaking out of its borders.
The hens will want to be coming out again soon; and then all Hell will break loose.
Davey went to town two days ago and came back with thirty fruit trees with bare-roots wrapped in plastic, their tops already greening.
He put them into the empty trailer until he can get the time to plant them, and if that doesn't happen very soon, they will grow out the windows, then die.
Friday, April 11, 2008
About as soon as I finished the last batch of blog entries and handed the Ibook to Davey for editing and uploading, I caught this god awful flu (probably from him) and was totally out of it for two or three weeks; I don't even know.
When I didn't appear every day, Davey assumed that I had just gone into the sort hibernation I am infamous for, but it was something more like a coma.
Except for the dreams.
I was lost in some global city , not knowing the globe I was on, the language of the place, the way home, the car I had been driving, or where I had left it.
I didn't know even where the guitar case with the leg stilts and other stuff was, or where was Miss Kitty, who has been dead for forty years . It was my basic dream of trying to wake, from which I have never found my way out except by realizing in the dream that it was a dream, then giving up the geographic problem and rising to the surface.
But my brain was cooked, and I had forgotten all that.
Lucid dreaming - dreaming conscious of itself as dreaming, is a skill I half learned from the Carlos Casteneda book Pike sent up to me during my year of books, when I was living in the library attic.. It did take some time and intense concentration, but it was simple enough a process:
You start out by studying your hand: I would look at and draw my hand on fly leaves of library books several times a day. There are probably hundreds of books with my hand in them, still in the library system. Since the books were never checked out, the ubiquitous hand must still be a mystry there.
When still alert, and before burrowing into the insulation each night, I sat with eyes closed and concentrated on calling up the image of my hand, so the after image would be available in sleep.
In those attic nights, once I had called up the image during sleep, I was in control of the dream, and I could not only find my way about in dreams clearheadedly, and in an awareness that it was a dream, but the dream was lucid: meaning that it was not just as vivid as regular life experience, but more so, maybe like experience under the influence of L.S.D. , of which I know nothing personally, and with the important difference , that I had control. For Carlos Casteneda , and for me too, since one can choose to do anything at all, the immediate project was to to fly around, and view distant places.
I read by day and I flew by night. I flew and flew. It was great fun, to say the least - better than now days navigating Google Earth on the computer.
For a while, the heightened reality of those experiences was sufficient in itself, but called for more personal power than I often had, to escape back into my real body, to wake, and act in the real world as life demands.
More often than not, before I had the wisdom to return to my attic, my consciousness and control slipped, and I got into dull scrapes and a low awareness from which I was not able to wake myself until my body became so agitated it woke me itself.
In the end I had to come back from each dream flight to exactly where I had started, and I could never return with the roll of quarters I spotted on the floor of the movie theater ( I often chose to go to movies in my dreams,because they were more vivid there than in the theater) and I had no effect on the places or people I visited.
But it seems to me now that learning tthe skill of waking from the dream, was the worthy goal - a skill with applications in the waking world.
Like I said, I was never a black belt at this, and in my recent flu delerium, it wasn't working at all.
I was so dehydrated and brain starved that I might never have surfaced had not Davey (who had been taking his own sweet time with the posting and editing) not finally put the IBook back into the Ark with me, plugged it in and left the door flap open, either because it was warming up a little, or he just forgot.....so some yellow light got in and that brought me a little closer to consciousness that day.
And even then I might still be under , if I had not been jarred and alarmed in the middle of the night by the sound of three roosters, one after the other, hitting the deck, then their squawking and, a minute later, the dogs barking as Davey let them out to chase off the coyote, the fox, the coon , the dog , the owl, or the Windigo that had pulled three of the six roosters off the deck rail by Davey's kitchen door.
But the disturbance so far only derailed dreaming and I was not completely moved to wake until the sun rose.
The four roosters on the deck were crying, which sounds more like the pack howl of the local coyotes, than the rooster's usual group crowing, singing, or alarms.
I rolled over, sat up, and took a swig off the water bottle, then remembered the shock in the night and, after another few slugs of water, managed to haul myself out.
I staggered around, a featherless biped - except I suppose, for a few Rusty feathers among the wood shavings stuck to my my long Johns.
I found a dark swath off feathers on the deck, and then enough feathers between Davey's and the chicken house to stuff a pillow, and a long pile of feathers toward the end of the driveway that I thought at first it was a whole dead rooster ; but it was only feathers.
One rooster was back up on the rail but minus tail feathers, and one was walking around on the ground, obviously stunned but not missing so many feathers, and one Partridge Rock, the one which was lowest in the uptown rooster hierarchry and so had been on the outside of the line up, I could not find.
What I did find that raw morning was the most awful March uglies: snow gone, ground surface thawed and oozing, but no greening up or new growth to cover again the several small farm implement dumps around the place, A littering of of blown feed sacks, and plastic tumble bags, bombing patterns of dog shit, fallen garden tools, as if Davey had had thrown them down and run into the house for the winter when the cold suddenly snapped months ago. And old boiler tank , partly burried in the long mound bulldozed in back when the farm house brunt back in the forties, , now thust further out of the ground by frost heaves.
Broken glass, especially bottle bottoms , which had been evil handedly pushed up from their scattered burial sites and left with sharp jags up to gash dog feet and people sneakers. I turned them over and stomped them down..
And then, thrust up near the old barn foundation, I found an old hand gun so rusted, and encrusted with mineral concretions that it is hard to tell if it had been a toy or the real thing. I picked it up n before a calcerous hand could reach out of the ground and pull it back in.
I checked the hen house, which I had not entered in how ever long it had been I was unconscious.
Davy had at least been letting the main flock of roosters out to roam and had taken over feeding the hens each day, but the hen house was, and still is, a mess.
Besides pulling the feathers off each others backs, the hens have eaten most of the curtians, the tarp that was over the open cell foam board that went half way up the walls, much of the foam board its self, the quilted aluminum and plastic space blanket stuff Davey had put over the foam board in the entry way, and in one spot had eaten right through the inner foam and then through the outer foam to the stucco itself, and soon enough would have broken through to the outside, even though they still, with the temperatures in the forties, will only dart out and then back in when I open the door for them. The hens radio was on; the robot weather man was a day behind, but the up to date news confirmed that the world beyond my borders was also a horrible mess.
I went to tell Davey what I found ....and found him still in bed, asleep with the news on the radio. Looked like petrified shit. He seems to have the flu himself.
Balls of dog hair and dust as big as puppies lagged in every corner and under every chair.
Piles of clothing on the bench, clean laundry in the hamper bag, piles of dishes on every surface in the kitchen, the smell of rotting mice from the tin mouse trap
I told him what all I had seen. I showed him the stone gun and left it on the table, He rolled it over and he said he would photograph it later.
I drank and half slept and staggered about for several days and am still just getting my strength and appetite back.
To my surprise, the missing rooster reappeared , though the others chase him like a stranger and he stays in the Ark with me at night.
And the Speckled Sussex Gus (whose spectacular tail I had featured on the Roostosterone Shampoo label) managed to be mostly upright and walking about, but he was having fits during which he would flop around like a fish on the bottom of a boat, and even when he acted more or less normally, the others kept chasing him away.
Last night I saw him running along the road from North to South, and he kept on going when I called so he could have been five miles down the road by morning.
He must have changed directions , because today the neighbor came over to say the rooster was by his house, sitting under his propane tank, so I went over to collect the bird and found only three piles of feathers, just about enough to cover a rooster, but no rooster. I have no idea what might have done that.
Davey photographed the gun, as you see, but now he says it has disappeared.
It must be somewhere..... or maybe not.
It is hard to see the likelihood of any connection between the disappeared stone gun and the raid on the roosters, but maybe there is.
I can suppose the gun must be somewhere , like they say...... but maybe it isn't. Oh, did I say that already?
I need to trot into the woods for a while and clear my head. Still not quite awake.