Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bonaparte's Victrola

Call me Boney if you want to......Bonaparte is my middle name, Boney I am; and I'm the one who retrieved Bonaparte's victrola.

When I was what passed for a human child, but before it seemed to the family that I would comprehend historical explanations, I understood the Lake Bonapate name to mean "bones-apart", and imagined the lake bottom littered with the bones of long-ago drowning victims. Actually, this wasn't far from the truth, in view of the soapified corpses discovered by Davey's grandfather Failing, and which Davey so eloquently wrote about, substituting my experience for his.

Never mind that for now; the lake was named after Bonaparte the man - not Napoleaon, but his older brother Joseph, a restless romantic who came and built a series of residences, but didn't stay around long enough to litter the lake bottom with his bones.
Stay with me now as I go back in time, across the sea, and through the net of truth and illusions to the wonderful land of Wiki. We will be back soon and get down to the victrola....

Installed by Napolean as King of Spain, Joseph had kindly put an end to the Spanish Inquisition, but being a foreigner in Spain, he was poorly appreciated for that, and when he and the rest of his family were routed , he left his castle in Spain, but took a good many of the crown jewels, buried half of them in Switzerland, and, traveling as the Commte de Suvilliers, took the rest of the jewels with him to Philadelphia, where he had a friend in Ben Franklin.

He lived there for a short time, but Ben Franklin was mostly in Paris and probably wasn't that close a friend anyway, besides which Philadelphia was all taken up, and practically old world already: too international and dangerous for a Bonaparte at the time. So Joseph went to Point Breeze, New Jersey where there was a little more room yet and the wind presumably blew free.
There he developed an estate with an artificial lake, a cottage for his daughter, an underground escape route to the river, and everything else that might make him comfortable........ except that it was, after all, just a suburban estate, not his own nation state, or even a castle in Spain.
The French emigerees around him owned a lot of land in North Western New York State, which was quite wild yet because the Adirondack mountains blocked the westward movement of settlers, so Joseph sent his assistant back to Switzerland for the other half of the crown jewels, with which he bought a Luxombourg sized chunk of the Adirondack foothills, sight unseen, most of the present day town of Diana, in Lewis County
He built a house in the village of Natural Bridge, just about in what would later be the back yard of the house where I myself first appeared to the world of Warrens.
Joseph stayed at Natural Bridge long enough to lay out the streets, and build a rail way to the center of his the head of the lake he called Diana and which we of course call Bonaparte,.
There he built a courtly hunting lodge he called "The Hermitage", where it is unlikely that he was ever alone.
The hunting was fine, the music and the company was good,.....he had brought in a gondala or two and plenty of friends, but man does not live on meat and music and embezled jewlery alone. There has to be some kind of enterprise, with an agricultural base. The long term plan for nation building, was to find a fertile tableland, which would serve as his bread basket.
He proceeded to the outlet of the lake to the site still called by his vlllage name Alpina, though there is nothing Alpine about it. He sawed lumber and got a good start on yet another house......but he never occupied the house, of which not a board remains, and the thirty acres he cleared there have been taken over by pine and oak .... because when he finally got around to scoiuting about for a suitable table land to plow and crop, it very quickly became clear that in this land of swamps, bare-back ridges, and thin, acid soil, there was no such thing as tillable tableland.
Oh, easy to say, he should have looked first before he built thrice. But anyway, the mosquitoes, the black flies, and the no-see-ums were god awful, so he he retreated to New Jersey, and eventually to Naples where he had some claim on being king.

I believe he is buried there, all in one piece, though I never heard how the king thing worked out, but by the time I was maybe twelve or fourteen I was aware of the colorful elemets of the Bonaparte legend, which are probably the purely mythical ones : the sheet metal bullet proofing of the house in Natural Bridge and the escape tunnel to the caverns (why not....he had one at Point Breeze) , the lost lovers and hidden remnants of the Spanish treasure in Bonaperate Cave, the musical gondola expeditions.

Or maybe they were real gondala expeditions, floating music across the still waters, in which case there were no doubt real musicians.
But I imagined the gondolas, not with poles but with oars, because the poles would have needed to be twenty to sixty feet long in most of the lake, and not with two or three or four fiddling and fluting musicians at the bow, but with a big horned, anachronistic victrola, and the reason for that was that I found it.

It was one of those cold wet summers we get, or used to get, when somebody complains about the weather and then people say, yeah well, this is the Adirondacks, that is what it is supposed to be like in the Adirondacks,
When it wasn't raining, the mists and fog were so thick the lake just seemed to be rolling into the air, so water and air were becoming one. Anything you said, any noise you made, went swimming through the air, and sometimes got lost before it made it to the other end of the boat.
But the mists were no problem for the mosquitoes and black flies which could fly between the drops and through your button holes or up your nose, or for the naturally fly- repellant type like myself, or for obsessed fishermen like brother Davey and his friend Wally Harrington who was up at the island for a week that summer.

They were determined , no matter what the weather, to go out at dawn down the flooded outlet halfway to the dam at Alpina, to fish in Mud Lake, a shallow-water, deep-mud wide place in the flow where large mouth bass fed near the shore line at dawn and dusk.
The boys could have gone out at any time between six a.m. and noon that day and it would have seemed like dawn for all one could tell by the light. I would say it was about eight oclock already when they left. I was in the boat house when they were getting it together.

I very seldom slept indoors at the lake. There was an old wall tent set up in front of the camp where I had some comic books and a sleeping bag, but more often I stayed in the little wave cave down by the pump house, or in the prow of the plywood runabout where I kept a few blankets and my swim fins. I liked to sleep there with my face half an inch from the water.
I didn't show myself when the boys were rigging up, and loading into the fishing boat, but I could hear them debating the pros and cons of borrowing the new- fangled spinning rod up on pegs there, with the spider- like reel and gossimer line . It belonged to Davey's new brother in law, who had brought it back from his G.I. service in Germany. The pro's one..... Wally's uncle had a similiar rig and Wally said he had learned how to handle it.

They went off into the mists.
And were back in about an hour.... looking for me.
They had anchored in the deepest part of Mud Lake, not very deep in water, but deep in mud, from the false bottom on down.
In his entusiasm and the fog of fishing, Wally had overlooked a loose reel- to- rod connection and had cast the reel right off the rod into the lake......

They had tried to pull it up by the line, .but the line had not been tied to the spool. So now they wanted me to dive for it, being as I am, like they say, a regular fish. This is what I was good for, and there I was sitting in the runabout when they returned, so I agreed to it.
I had the fins right there. Davey went to camp and got some cookies, and then we went right back out.

We anchored where the reel was cast off and I dove.
I poked around but I found no sign or feel of the reel. It was a pretty dense object and was obviously deep in the mud. It still is.
I widened my search circle and felt around some more.
Every once in a while a bullhead would shoot out of the mud in front of my face.
Then I found....felt a handle.... a crank handle. If it were the handle of a spinning reel, the reel would be large enough to rig on a flag pole.
I couldn't do more than just budge it by myself, but I went up and got the other end of the anchor rope....there being plenty rope, since we were in only ten feet of water there. I dove, tied it to the crank, and the boys hauled, trailing clouds of mud, to the already know what.
Davey knew what it was, and said it as the thing lay on the bottom of the boat, mud slowly flowing from the horn: Bonaparte's Victrola.
It was a portable with a case about the size of a bread box, but the sound horn was big enough to cover a watermellon.

With that, Davey and Wally forgot all about the spinning reel. If you want to go looking, it is probably still there, right at the outlet of Mud lake.

Back at the island, the boys took the gramaphone to the pump house work shop. I tagged along uninvited and watched as they struggled to get the crank working, but it had been under for a good long time, if not since the time of Joseph and the gondolas, and it would not turn.
So then they took the whole thing apart. They got the horn seperated from the box and took turns blowing on it, which Walley could not do with anything but a windy effect, but Davey could, because he had taken a month of trumpet lessons before one day hiding in a closet and refusing to go.
After passing it back and forth a few times, the boys went up to get more cookies and a proper breakrfast, leaving me with the horn.

I took it to the wave cave there in front of the pump house, and blew my heart out.
At first it was just wind, then rain....... then thunder, and very soon I was as proficient with it as I would ever be, blasting out notes which dropped to the lake surface and, despite fog and mists, bowled across the lake and bounced back off the granite hills, rebounded all over the lake and back to me over and over again...... until I dropped the horn, exhausted, and the essential me seemed to peal through the air with the sound. And maybe I did, but when I returned to my body my shorts, which had already been wet anyway, were wet and warm.

And that was the beginning and the high point of my barbaric musical career, rolling over the water and reverberating in the Rhinoceros hills. I returned to the cave and blew it often the rest of the summer. Always removing my shorts first.
My cave music created some amusement and curiosity on the island and around the bay, so I had to bring the horn out and show it off, but I would not let it out of my hands. Little Boy Blue, Moma Dot called me then. Then I returned the horn to the cave.

I kept it there in the cave until the end of summer when it was time to return to Ithaca and I tried to bring it with me, but there just wasn't room with the kids and dog and Davey's budgie , so Father Warren brought it back to the island and put it in the pump house.
It was not there when we returned the next summer .
All I have now is this harmonica which can easily be replaced if lost or clogged, and, in fact it has been replaced many times, but hardly ever does it get me more than a few feet off the ground and the sound of it has never made anybody wet their pants.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Death and the Dominikers

A dead Dominker rooster in the back yard yesterday morning. Looks like he was killed by a few strokes to the neck with a fairly dull tool , so it was either done by the other roosters, or by a hateful little man with a tiny machete. Not me. I have a normal machete, but when I kill a chicken, I do it by hand, with a flick of the wrist.
I informed Davey, and he put the bird out on the range for the vultures. Yesterday he paid nine dollars for a barbecued chicken from the fire department. That is a lot to pay, but he says its for protection and that he can't afford his own chickens. This is a person with a B.A. in philosophy .
The dead Dominiker was one of two banished roosters. One lost his tail and all his confidence when he was carried off in the mouth of the neighbor's dog.
He showed up back here the next day. but the others wouldn't accept him without his tail.
He went under the house, and had not come out since, until the lowest ranking rooster of the uptown, outside bunch chased him out yesterday. I thought it might be just as well at the time that he be outed.
The second outcast Dominiker was plucked of his tail feathers and driven out of the chicken house by his roost mates a few months ago.. He hung back by the lower pond where the pheasant couple are nesting. . I would go out there with corn for him and the pheasants and he always came out talking to me. But now that I have let the hens out some, he had been closing in on the hen house. Yesterday there was no sight or sound of either bird.
Usually the pheasant cock is out there crowing and beating his wings in response to the roosters, but today there is no sound of him either, nor of the mallard pair.
Also Deerdra the dog has been holed up under the house where the traumatized Dominker had been staying. No need to look at chicken entrails or the weather map to see that the critters are expecting thunderstorms.
Too bad about the low status of Dominikers. After the South American Aracunas, they are the original American chickens and they do well on the range, despite the boggle of weasels who live here and the coyotes who are always sneaking around intimidating the dogs with their huge furry scat piles. The worst enemy of roosters is all other roosters, especially roosters of a different feather. There is one Dominker cock left in the lower flock and also two Dominiker hens, both of them up here in the Ark for their own protection, and because I like their company even if I don't need the warmth any more. They are the best smelling hens. Like bread in the oven.
Roosters can smell a hen as far away as they can sense a thunder storm, and they won't be ranging far until later on when the hens are out and around. At this time of year the roosters are so horny that they watch me like hawks to see when I am going to the hen house. They mob the door before the hens can get out, and if I let them in, the hens won't come off their perches. They were o.k. together until the hens retired for the winter and I had to separate them. Now they are like fundamentalist adolescents who all want the same thirty virgins, here and now.
Standing at the door with the hose turned on them, I can keep the cocks back ten or fifteen yards so the hens can graze between the hen house and their pond.....not much range......but it is increasing.
One of the Dominiker hens I am keeping in the Ark has gone broody and won't come off her nest, gets all bristly when I suggest it....but the eggs under her are not fertile. Her sister Olive, who is lame, asks to get out and will sometimes hop out on her own if I leave the roof up a bit, and she even offers herself to a rooster or two, but this brings on all the roosters, even the ones from down below, so I carry her through the orchard and on down the hedge row beyond the range of the roosters and sit down near a pheasant wallow, where she dusts her feathers then grazes around with the dogs, while I play the harmonica, or chew on grass myself. Not both, because I have screwed up too many harmonicas getting food in the reeds. Olive and the dogs both eat grass, but the dogs don't eat bugs and worms like she does. It is not true that dogs eat grass only if they are sick. It's part of a healthy diet, and sometimes bugs to but not worms. I don't see why, as the dogs are certainly carnivors and, if you haven't tried bugs or worms, they are are very good food, al dente or not.
Incidentally both the chickens and the dogs love spaghetti, though i don't know that it does them much good. Its the vermicelli effect I guess, but strangely enough you can't force it on the bass in Davey's ponds. They spit out the spaghetti like a lady spiting a worm and won't be fooled again. There is probably some accounting for taste, but don't ask me. Nutritional value might have something to do with it sometimes.
The hens love clover, particularly the white sweet clover which is a foot and a half high now and will be six feet high when it flowers. Seeing as the hens get out so little yet, I harvest it to scatter in the hen house. The plants are still quite tender. It makes their egg yolks almost orange. Davey contributes grated carrots.
Too bad about the murdered Dominiker, but this morning I heard a crowing from under the house and went to see that the rooster from down under has again been saved from the jaws of death.
Now there are twelve hens and fifteen roosters. Still too many roosters. Iit might be just as well if a bunch of them marched off to see the world and fight the war against the foreign invading coyotes. But the coyotes here, except for being creepy and scaring the shit out of the dogs, have been well behaved so far. That isn't to be expected, seeing as they have been snatching children in California

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dog's Plot Farm

This Dog's Plot is the four acre remnant of an eighteenth century homestead which probably never should have been plowed. There is just not enough soil or water on this glacier-scraped hill-top, although the four to six inches of clay-based top-soil we do have is very rich, and after a heavy rain, the water stays on top, so it is too wet..... until it is too dry.
No doubt the Cayugas came up the hill to pick black berries which still grow here without encouragement, but a mile down hill, close to the lake where the soil is deeper, the drainage better, the winds softer, and Spring arrives a week earlier, they raised their traditional corn, beans, and squash, and also a wide variety of European vegetable crops and orchard fruits introduced to them by the French Jesuits who had a mission at the north end of the lake for at least a hundred years before the British American intrusion.
Due to their ambivilance about the British American conflict, General Sullivan torched the Cayuga village, uprooted their plantings, destroyed their stored grain, and cut down their orchards except that a few fruit trees were overlooked, notablly the pears, which escaped iinto the woods and spread uphill.
With the Indians gone, the land hereabourts was divided up among the Revolutionary War generals, most of whom re- divided their portions and sold plots to homesteaders.
The Indian way had been to burn off an area to let in the light and liberate the soil, which they mounded and cropped for seven years or so, then they moved to a different spot, leaving the exhausted fields to regenerate.
But there were too many white homesteaders on land for that kind of a rotation. And the whites didn't just kill the trees to let in light; they burnt them down to charcoal and potash, selling the potash as fertilizer down the the stream of settlement to homesteads which had done the same thing seven years earlier, where they were now plowing tired soil.
After the burning and selling down river, the typical homesteader spent much of the following year, and years on end, pulling stumps and dragging off rocks and stones, which had been dropped by the glacier and which the deep frosts heave to the surface every winter. If the whiteskins had started a new rotation and moved every seven years, they would always be pulling stumps and moving stones.
They were probably always pulling stumps and moving stones for a while each year anyway.
They still are.

Some of those glacial erratic stones were as large as the horses and oxen used to move them. Rocks and boulders not sledged to the hedge rows, or just too big to move, were used for the house foundations and to line hand dug wells, which, in the case of the two original wells at Dog's Plot here, were six foot wide cisterns chipped into the shale, which occurs around two to six feet down. This is a hard way to go for water, but if there is already someone living owning the spring down the hill, and you are reluctant to kill him or move on, down is the way you go.

The one remaining cistern type well here holds between six and twelve feet of water except in the driest periods. The shale is generally saturated with water up to a few feet of its top layer, even in summer, but releases its moisture to the cisterns very slowly, so the dug-well homesteaders never could have had enough water to provide for more than the family and a a very few cows or hogs. Forget about regular baths and showers. Even the more modern, drilled well here, which is a hundred feet deep, runs dry in about forty five minutes of pumping and takes three hours to recharge.

This is the Northeast, where rainfall is plentiful, except when it is not. If the clay soil of glacier-scraped plots like this one is not too wet to plow in Spring, it is likely to be cement by July.
For a time, there were enough people on the hill that there was a school across the road from here, but the original homesteaders sold out early in the nineteenth century to a family of Morgans from Conneticuit with enough money to buy most of the rest of the hill right down to the lake on one side and the creek on the other.
Some of this was well drained and close to water, but not their hill top home site. To catch rainwater from the roof, the family added a cistern in the basement , which probably provided enough for all the coffee they could drink and for shared baths. The Morgans eventually moved down the hill into town.
In 1826 the whole three hundred acres was put up for sale by the estate of Jeddadiah Morgan, who had found a better living as a Senator. But the land went back to small parcels and hardscrabble attempts at farming. Everything I know about this, I learned on the internet yesterday.
By the nineteen seventies the current resident male was running a repair shop in the barn and dumping waste oil in the barn well. I learned that from a neighbor. As he recalls, around nineteen seventy six the farm house burned down. For a while after that the barn well was resorted to in season by migrant laborers who walked over from working the bean fields south of here, then they gave up on the beans.
A good long fallow period followed.

The state bought up most of the hlll for park land, left the wooded area as was, planted much of the cleared land with red pine, and began stocking the open areas with Asian, ring-necked pheasants. The pheasants flourished there and on other abandoned farmland until coyotes got wind of them, and found their way East form the Rockies. Some of the hill became cattle range, some hay meadow. The roadside areas were divided into four acre residental plots, which were occasionally mowed to keep them salable. Mostly people were not buying.

In the early nineties, a young real estate agent bought Dog's Plot for his mother-in-law and built a twenty foot square art studio for her, partly on posts, partly supported by and cantilevered over the empty basement foundation of the old main house.

Later, Davey's Natural Bone Builders contracted to build a deck onto the studio.
But before the deck got a rail, the mother-in-law left the area and put the place up for sale.
Davey's daughter, who had been employed to work on the deck bought the property and Davey helped her to reactivate the drilled well and install a modern, raised bed septic system.

Davey had always wanted a fish farm. So while Spuds Excavating was at the site, he took the liberty of directing Spud to gouge out a series of three house-sized holes in the shale, just down the slight slope from the barn well. Always something of a finger farmer, he had some of the top soil from the pond sites dumped into one of the empty foundations for a walled garden. Spud heaped pond shale over the remains of the old burnt house which had been bulldozed a few yards to the rear of the foundation, and then spread more top soil over the surface, so the south face of it could be planted.
Now Davey had his own little gorge, a range of small hills, including one long Finger Lake, and a terminal moraine with glacial erratics. Or his daughter did. Anyway, Davey had always been a miniaturist and a finger farmer.
And as a few years passed he moved more and more of his stuff to the site, including a couple of trailers, until finally his daughter moved down the hill to town where she would have more room.

Davey gets points for the excavated pond idea, seeing as it worked, despite the fact that the county soil scientist said he could not expect to make any ponds because there is not enough soil depth and clay to excavate and line a hole for catching and holding ground water. The ponds he got, quarrried ten feet deep into the saturated shale, held water just as did the cistern wells.
Spuds uncapped the barn well and Davey pumped it l dry then brought me out here for a couple of days to climb down and bale out the petroleum muck and fill spackle buckets for him to haul up household trash from the bottom of it all: everything but large kitchen appliances and identifiable, human body parts.
Then he flushed the stinking socket using a hose from the household supply.

The pond water was orange at first, and after some months, slowly turned green.
He gave the ponds a year to fill and clear some and then put a pump in each and began pumping water up to the well so that it spouted into basin below the well, and flowed from there through the miniature gorge, and through cattail marsh, the ponds, and and in brook he could dam in order to irrigate the adjacent ground, where he mounded and acidified the soil to plant blue berries.
After a season of intense algae blooms in the over-rich ponds, he added lake weed and minnows.
Then he added crayfish which mulitiplied like locusts and ate all the pond weed.
Then he added bass which ate all the crayfish.

And unfortunately, though his pumping and little dams could raise the moisture content of the soil, this would have drained the ponds and killed the bass during drought when there was only three or feet of water, and anyway, the three, twelve hundred watt pumps necessary to keep the brook flowing constantly , trippled the electric bill.

After last years drought only the recent generations of the bass survived anyway ..... and the one to three year old bass ate all the minnows which were crowded in the few tubs worth of water with them.
Now it's a bass eat bass world in there. Probably sustainable as long as we do not eat bass too. Where are the subsidies for little farmers like Davey who really need them?
This system also produces bull frogs, green frogs, leopard frogs, and spring peepers. Snakes eat the frogs, and the dogs and the roosters kill, but do not eat the snakes, though snake is some of the best meat out there and it has, at times, been the only meat in my diet. I'd wrap the snake around a stick and turn it over a small fire.
After paying a lot to raise frogs for snakes, Davey spent hundreds of dollars to buy bare-root fruit trees which he planted everywhere within reach of his three joined lengths of hoses, and some well beyond the hoses reach.
During the long dry summer he chose to start the orcharding project, a third of the trees died and the rest barely grew, despite his pumping the well dry twice a day trying to irrigate them.
And then he brought on the chickens.

He had always wanted to keep birds. First it was going to be pheasants here.. The pheasants which exist for short periods on the state land bordering Dog's Plot are raised to tender adolesence in in such close quarters that they have to be fitted with blinders so they don't peck one another. Looking like Elton John, they eat from feeders rather than foraging free. What do they know about living off the land?
These institutional birds are trucked out here and released on the range two weeks before the hunting season, so it is no wonder that they do not survive the coyotes and hunters to live another year and maybe breed.
Davey had managed to bring a few through the winter by scattering sunflower seed on the pond banks. He thought he could do better than the state to educate the birds for outdoor life, and was thinking that he might get some chicks and start his orphanage, but then it occured to him that he didn't really want to raise pheasants for other people to shoot .....the way he was raising frogs for snakes.

So then he started thinking about chickens - chickens of a hardy independenat breed. Chickens that would range free, feed themselves, weed the garden, eat harmful insects, sing the sunrise, cuddle with the grandchildren, then go forth, have chicks, and prosper, while he lays back and sucks eggs.

But did he call for me then? Did he ask advice from me, who has lived intimately with chickens and knows them as well as he knows the back of his brother or the head of his gland? No he did not.

He ordered thirty straignt-run, tuti-fruiti chickens, figuring that the approximately fifteen roosters this ought to bring, would protect and lead the flock out on the range.
He built a fancy chicken house with a cupola. The cupola alone, took him a month to make.
When the chicks came, the chicken house was not ready, so he brooded them in his own house past the stage when they were hopping out of the kiddie pool lined with wood shavings.
The cleanliness of the household, and his general housekeeping standards declined during the chicken occupation and have not improved much, long after the chickens moved out, but at least it acclimated the chckens to the dogs and visa versa , so that the dogs now consider the grown chickens to be their own annoying siblings, to be tolerated and ignored, unless they are found already murdered, in which case they can be eaten on the spot.
The chickens themselves began to eat the styrofoam pannels of their own house as soon as they were put into it, and when they ranged outside, they ate the tomatoes, the pumpkins, and the blue berry bushes.
Or maybe it was the rabbits that ate the blueberry bushes. There are a lot more rabbits on the range now that there is so much free sunflower seed and corn from the chicken-scratch Davey scatters around. Also a pair of Mallards, a pair of pheasants, and a large community of mice.
If rats appear, I'm leaving.

It wasn't until the chickens began eating their house , and the coon or its distant cousin walked in and slaughtered half a dozen of chickens, that Davey came looking for me.
At the time I was l ranging around Ithaca, staying some of the time in Coy Glen, some in Bridge House, and some of the time in Dieterich's barn, reading the family books Davey has stored there. I was living comfortablly and withoiut benefit of Davey or chickens,
But he caught up with me one day at Dietrich;s, and begged. I was not particularly sympathetic I suppose - i like my isolation - but I like and can deal with chickens, so I agreed to help him out.
However- short of the testosterone solution, which no longer interests me - I don't see a way to sustain a poultry operation where you don't eat the roosters.

Actually, it is probably with Davey's orchard business plan that I have been most useful and that he has the best chance of being productive..
Most of these four acres have not been mowed for years, except for the front yard and the loop which Davey has grubbed out and scythed through the back acres.
What comes up there is, like every where around here, mostly foreign invasive species, many of which escaped from suburban gardens, to which they were introduced as ornamentals by plant nurseries: Buckthorn, Asian honeysuckle, silky dogwood..... and so on.

The real standouts, in the hedge rows and the open on this property, are dozens of pear trees, mostly an inch or two thick in the trunk at this point, and up to fifteen feet tall.
Pears, as I have pointed out already, are also not native here. Their ancestors were introduced to the Indians by the Jesuits, along with cheriries, apples, peaches., and vegetable crops. Sullivan's army tried, but did not destroy all the fruit trees....the first white settlers lived off the remnants of them. Descended from those, there are a few volunteer apples in the woods, but many more volunteer pears..... all over this hill. Pears are o.k. with clay, and with soil that can be either saturated or in draught.

Down through the generations on this landscape, the pears have reverted to wild and varrying forms which mostly have thorns and smaller fruit, as well as better and better adaptations to the climate and soil. Most people, including Davey, until I pointed them out, take the pear trees for apples or hawthorns, or are just unaware of them.

Davey, I said, you have dozens of wild pear trees back here, so why diig and feed hundred dollar holes for thirty dollar trees which you might spend two years irrigating without sucess trying to get a root system established, when you could just graft onto the wild trees that are already going strrong. so that you can have mature trees producing really good pears before your old age is completely over? Huh?

He didn't have much to say to that, but he ordered scions of half a dozen pear varieties, and this Spring ( a little too early) he cut a few dozen wild pear trees back to tall stumps, and cleft grafted the cuttings onto them.
It looks like a few of them are taking.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Question For Science

Wait a minute. I may be stupid, and I'm a total freshman in science, but maybe someone out there can help me understand this:

As I have noted before, Chicken science tells us that the new world was discovered and populated by Asian chickens before it was seen by European men.
The chickens were found by Europeans to be living with the Aracuna Indians in Chile.
It is also in Chile that the oldest evidence of New World humans occupation has been found: not much evidence of not many people in the most recent case: the foot prints of half a dozen short-term-stay huts, and remains of some sushi-like sea weed preparation, dating back about fourteen thousand opposed to the eleven thousand year old remains which until recently were the oldest. That was also in South America. Nine thousand years is about the best we can do in North America.

It is generally accepted that these earliest Americans came on foot via the Siberian land bridge, surviving on the wide variety of foods to be found in the coastal region.
It is reasonable to conclude, as spokes-scientists are presently concluding, that there are so few traces of the coastal migrants, because the sea levels are a couple of hundred feet higher now than they were at the time of the migration, so that the old coastal route is now miles out and under water on the continental shelf.

The bothersome questions I have are these:

A.) Why does the earliest sign of human habitation appear at the southern extreme of the migration?

B.) Did these ancient migrants carry their chickens, or did they make them walk?

C.) If the chickens didn't just drift here from the East on floating islands, but came across the Pacific in boats,why didn't the humans come that way too? They could have come together.

D.) Or if the humans brought the chickens by boat, was it for the purpose of trading them for sushi....or did they come to stay?

You know what I mean?

Friday, May 9, 2008

The East Hill Kids Cemetery Club

Deer, raccoons, and even turkeys, misled into Ithaca by the three gorges which converge at the head of Cayuga Lake, sometimes wander the streets like Cornell and Ithaca College freshmen just off the bus from New York City. Or like me, had I not hidden inside about as soon as I arrived as a half wild boy striaght from Lake Bonaparte and the village of Natural Bridge, where the back yards are a sand pine wilderness.
For at least a year after we moved, the only place in Ithaca that I felt comfortable was in the bath tub at Edgewood Place. I spent more time there each day than kids now days spend watching television. I suppose it put me in mind of Lake Bonaparte, where I had been allowed to swim most of every day during the summer we lingered up north while our move to Ithaca was delayed because of my untimely arrival in the garden. As far as anybody knew, I had not even lived in a house or among people before I had been brought home by the Warren's dog.

I was excused from attending school in Ithaca, not on account of my physical differentness, or because of my reluctance to leave the bath tub, but because I didn't speak a word. Even though I sometimes stared into books for long periods, like a cat at a mouse hole, it was not clear that I could be taught to read.
In fact, even though I do learn, in my slow and unsure way, it really never has been possible to deliberately teach me.

I responded to most instruction by banging my head on the floor. They put Daddy Ernie's old college football helmet on me and I would allow that, but it only allowed me to keep on beating my head on the floor. These episodes usually ended with me being put into the bath tub. Now days I might be called autistic, but "retarded" was the word I heard whispered, and I was retarded for sure, but what got most attention, was the mystery of my origins and the anomolies of my physiology - particularly my often lower than normal body temperature, slow heart-beat, and interrupted breathing.

Mama Dot was always bundling me up because I was cold to the touch, but the breathing thing didn't cause all that much concern until Davey came into the bathroom one day to use the toilet while I was in the tub.
l was lying on the bottom and looking up through six inches of occasional practice of mine which required that I hyperventilate and then fully exhale, so that I didn't float. That might not make other people feel snug, exactly, but I was like the bug in a rug. I was only dimly aware of anything when on the bottom of the tub, and would not remember the particular day now, but when Davey was done on the toilet, he came and stood over me for a while to see if I would come up.
I was well enough aware of him through the thick lens of water, and a little annoyed, so I looked through him.
After another few minutes, he got my tooth brush and dropped into the tub. It just brushed the side of my face, and slid off.
But I didn't react, so Davey went and told his mother.
Mama Dot rushed upstairs and pulled me out, spluttering in protest.
She bundled me in towels, and later took me to Doctor Macaully, a stout smoker who recommended plenty of exercise and fresh air .

Brothers Herb and Davey had bicycles, but my attenuated legs made a bike out of the question, so, to get me out of the house, I was given roller skates.
The skates were just the right thing for me then, but at first I would only use them inside. That was hard on the floors and also on my own body because I banged into everything, so From then on, I was made to wear the tantrum helmet for general protection most all the time that I wasn't in the tub , and I was forbidden to skate indoors, except on the rugs or in the play room with rubber bands on the wheels.
The security of the football helmet and my mastery of the skates finally got me to go out on among the houses, and to stay for hours.
On the half circle of Edgewood Place drive, my step brothers and the neighborhood boys played polo riding their bicycles and using broken mallets from the Cornell Polo barns.
On skates, I was more manuverable than the boys on bikes, and I learned to improve my chances of scoring even more by going out of bounds, hiding in the privet hedge, and butting bikes.
It was in the heat of those competitions that I also learned to speak..... or at least to swear, My first words - "sit ou fucko." ( shit you fucker ) were adopted vrebatim by the other boys, and used long after I moved on to stronger stuff and better diction.
Off skates, but still wearing the old leather helmet, I began to go behind the house where I cut saplings for bows and arrows and into the gorge itself, where I built many a dam that went out in the next rain storm.
Later I was allowed to join in the football games on the American Legion lawn where I performed better than average, being the only boy in a helmet and always unafraid to get banged around, or dog-piled five boys deep. Also, I was able to scramble over, or even to be more or less hurled over, a pile up of boys at the goal line.
From there. it was across the gorge to to join in the war games and other boyhood flirtations with death, in that ideal theatre, the East Hill Cemetery.
On a series of easily excavated natural terraces of glacial till, it has many wooded nooks and borders, a miniature gorge running through it, and,
on a rise at dead center, where there is a pair of civil war cannons in front of a ten foot pedestal which in those days supported a life-sized, green brass Civil War soldier holding a real musket, much like the famlily relic which had come with us from Natural Bridge.
The rugged slopes made the cemetery a fine e place for sledding - all the more exciting because of the death threatening tombstones - and it was the perfect set for our war games, sometimes waged with squirt guns, sometimes with bee bee guns, and often including that Warren family civil war relic musket smuggled from the master bedroom closet and fired with a wad of caps under the hammer to match the fire power of the cannons, into the mouths of which we dropped firecrackers Lee Klair brought home from his family's church expeditions through the South..

The few neighbors never complained about the small wars going on in the cemetery, and It seemed like nobody was ever there but us kids, occasional night visitors who left their underwear behind, Veterans on flag day, and the dead, who are always with us.
The mysteries of the dead, were the basis of the East Hill Kids Cemetery Club - the morbid brain child of Davey's school chum David Merkie. David Merkie's own interest in death might have been festered by what appeared to be his affliction with what is now known as Rapid Early Aging Disease....but it could not have been exactly that, because he reappeared in Ithaca after many years absence, and not only was he not dead, but he didn't look any older than he did back in cemetery days.

The East Hill Kids Cemetery Club didn't have meetings and it didn't have any activities other than the war games and the cultivation of superstitions, such as the one that if you saw your name on a tombstone, you were doomed to die - as if we were not all doomed to die. The club's only mission was the infliction of horror, and its only rites were those of initiation and exclusion .
The basic rite of exclusion was a walk through the mausoleum rows during which the would-be member was lead close by one of those turf-roofed cripts which had an uncapped vent pipe at the top.
If one of us was up there and hollered down the vent, his voice would be distorted and multiplied by echos to sound like the ravings of the undead. if you knew it was Davey or Merkie hollering down the vent pipe, it was still good for some adrenal amusement, but if you didn't know, you did not stick around.
It didn't work on me.
For one thing, I recognized the voice of Merkie, and besides, I was not afraid of the dead.
I don't know if maybe my brother Davey actually wanted me in the club on the family plan or something, but David Merkie did not, so when the walk-by didn't drive me off, he put up another obstacle. I think it was his own on-the-spot improvisation.
He said that if I wanted to join, I had to go into one of the mausoleums by myself at midnight and bring out a dead man's finger bone to prove it.
One of the mausoleum doors had been jimmied at some point and was then locked only by a chain which allowed you to open the door wide enough that if you threw in a match, which Merkie did for me, you could see the coffins in their cubbies. One of the coffin lids had been pried off. I saw that by the match light, and I can see it now. The chain was loose enough that one of us kids could still worm into there.

It may not have been actually midnight, but when the whole family at Edgewood Place was asleep, I put on my helmet, took a flashlight from the kitchen, then went out and across the invisible gorge to the cemetery.
I never switched the flash light on. Maybe I would have been frightened if I had. I could see well enough outside anyway, and I had the fresh memory of what I had seen by the flaring of the flare of David Merkie's match.
I slipped in and made way remembered my way to the open coffin, reached in and pulled out what might have been at first most of a skeletel finger, but which by the time I got back to the house, and put it in the bathroom sink, was one small bone quite loose inside a gold ring which was set with a ruby.
I stared at it there in the sink for a long time, then I wrapped the ring and bone in some toilet paper, put them back into my pocket, and lay down in the dry tub with my clothes on to sleep.
I was still awake when Davey came into the bathroom the next morning.
After he had peed and splashed his face, I handed him the toilet paper wad with the ring and bone in it.
He unwadded the paper........ Jeepers Creepers! Jeepers Creepers, he kept saying. Jeepers Creepers.
He pushed the ring back at me, wadded the bone back up in the toilet paper, and dropped it into the toilet, which he had neglected to flush. He flushed it. Jeepers creepers. I think he still uses that antique expression.
He didn't say anything else, but he brought me out when the boys came by after school on the way to the cemetery.

I showed the ruby ring, and after a few seconds ..... without a Jeepers or a creepers...... David Merkie snatched tit out of my hand.

He said that without the bone, it was no good for proof that I had gone into the cript at midnight. And besides, it was bad luck to have a dead man's ring.
I think he was impressed anyway. I was for sure weirder than even David Merkie. That displeased him I guess, but They let me tag along as usual.
On our way across the Stewart Avenue bridge, David Merkie made a show of throwing the ring off, but I'm pretty sure it was just a stone or a coin he threw. Even if it was the ring, he or one of us could have gone down there anytime and retrieved it. We often waded around under the bridge to pick up the pennies and dimes students threw off there for luck.

As it happens, there really was bad luck for the cemetery club, which rappidly declined after that, partly because of me, I guess, but anyhow, time rapidly did its work on us. Lee Klair died in a an accident on one of the church trips, actually in Death Valley California, and the others moved on to Junior High school and girls. Not me. Girls never cared for me like some women did later, and I myself never thought much about girls until after my late weaning.

I was the only remaining kid in the cememtery club....though not the only one to tell the tale. Davey fictionalized it , leaving me out of the story entirely, putting himself in the mausoleum at midnight. He published it in the free weekly Grapevine newspaper back in the seventies, as a result of which someone cut the chain on the mausoleum and removed the remaining bones. The police were called, and the mausoleum was permanently sealed, so that I was never able to retrieve some books I had been keeping in there at the time.

I had lived in the cemetery for a while before that.
The little gorge in the center of the cemetery - much like the main three in Ithaca, but on a raccoon scale - opens in a high falls behind the mausoleums, with a little coon trail entering above the falls. Back in there are several over- hanging slate ledges under which the snakes winter and one of which was high and dry enough that I could sit back under it. I kept it dug back some and made an inconspicuous little wall in front of it. There I often sat, thrilled to be alive. That was before I actually lived there.

When I came down to Ithaca after my year in Florida and my round-about trip back to the North, I went straight to the little cemetery gorge.
I put my hen Miss Kitty down to drink from the trickle at the bottom of the little gorge, and I began to pull up stones to improve the old shelter, which didn't seem to have been desecrated by kids or used by the coons.
The improved shelter was made all the neater by me using several fragments of broken tomb stones which had tumbled, or been artlessly discarded into the gully,
One of the stones I found was a piece about a foot square, but not actually so square so you would think that it was anything but natural, except that there was this letter B. on it.
I didn'[t use it in the construction, but I put it inside. I decided the B was for Bonaparte And I decided that Bonaparte was my middle name, and the stone could be my tomb stone. Not that I want a tomb, but I will always be ready to die.
But Jesus Creeping Christ, don't go looking for my tomb stone! I took it with me when I moved on, and I may take it with me when I die. Maybe I will take it to the bottom of Lake Bonaparte.
Also, don't go looking for the brass soldier and the musket. The musket was stolen years ago.
Later, someone climbed up and put a dixie cup in his one of his hands, and that lasted for quite a while, then someone, probably someone with a pick-up truck, pulled the soldier off the pedestal and dragged it around the cemetery a bit. Maybe it was some kind of stupid protest. Now there is a little pyramid of three cannon balls on the pedestal. Probably bowling balls.
And I don't know where the brass soldier is now. Maybe in the mausoleum. R.I.P. Sit Ou Fucko. People are weird.