Thursday, February 26, 2009

Note from the Editor

I am William's editor, not his rewrite man, and I try to stay back in the shadows of his blog as much as possible, but a week or ten days ago ago he stopped showing up in the mornings to hand in the frozen chicken water for me to thaw, and stopped sneaking in at night while I am asleep to make a mess of the kitchen with his hobo cooking hobby, so I had to take over all the chicken duties, and I filled out his blog with more pictures than usual, plus I included some video fluff, (of which he probably will not approve) and this editorial intrusion became necessary.
At first I thought maybe he had just moved on....without the Ark he has been threatening to pull out of here and sail, pole, or haul up the canal system to the the Great Lakes and beyond.

I might well have known how unlikely it was he would take off in the weather we were having but, to tell the truth, I didn't give it a lot of thought while I was struggling with the chores he had left to me in the awful weather we had been having.
You know about it, more or less. For much of the winter, despite global warming, we had the typical, deep, still, winter cold, and even when there was a blizzard, the snow somehow softened the effect.
In early Feburary we had a January thaw and it was even warm enough, at least in the sun, that the hens were tricked out of their house and made it all the way around the pond, but in recent weeks a terrible, wet wind has been a terrible wind coming off the lake.,
Even if you are in this general area and think you know what I am talking don't. What we have here is exaggerated by the Pumpkin Hill Effect.
This is not at all the steepest, the highest, or the pointiest hill in the region, but it is isolated from other hills that might provide a wind break, has a lot of open state land and cattle range here at the top, and it rises at the widest part of the lake, so that when the wind comes up on us from its usual direction: from the West and across the lake (nd it is worse when it is from the North West) it gains a lot of momenteum as it sweeps across the lake, and , when it hits the foot of the hill and pushes up, it is compressed and speeded up even more under the weight of the air above it, so that it i blows tailers off their pads, berries off the Buckthorn trees, and feathers off chickens.
It wasn't even colder than twenty of so during most of this recent weather , but the forty perccent humidity then makes it even more chilling. It is a wind viscious and penetrating enough to drive a shadow underground. Or, as it happened, William into his peculiar type of estivation.

But then the weather changed: the wind blew away with the clouds, and, though it has still been plenty cold enough if you are in the the sun, which is so much closer now, it like spring time in the Rockies. And whether or not it was the change in the weather that caused him to appear, I found William yesterday morning.
Since the Ark had become a little to busy for him in that small space being used as a safe house for the hens He had been staying in the Chicken house cupboard, a la Charles Manson, and when he abandoned that, I hadn't looked any further.

When I went to scatter some chicken scratch and gather eggs the morning after the weather had turned around, the hens came jumping d wining into the sun as soon as I opened their door.
But as I was reaching into one of the nesting boxes, I saw William's shoe sticking out from the shavings under the shelf. i Maybe it had been sticking out all along and I hadn't noticed it. Maybe he had rolled over as the changing weather stirred him from his stupor. It was shocking at first but as always, he wasn't dead, just very slow.

The air temperature in the shade must have been barely more than freezing, but in the air itself but any bare skin felt like it was glowing with it's own heat.
I put William on the mound of peat moss among the blue berry bushes where the chickens like to dust. An hour later he had limbered up enough to roll over on his own... two of the hens were sitting on him and the rooster Long Fellow was trying to untie his shoes. I left him for the chickens to brood over for a while. Today he is up and around....somewhere around here.
I suppose he will take up flock duties again, and no doubt,
he will resume his blog posts, in which case I will I will return to clearing them up, if not quite cleaning them up, for public consumption.
but I suspect that there will be further need for the occasional editorial intrusion.

Fish Hits Window

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Glacier Stops Here

Maybe the pre- Iroquoian natives of the Finger Lakes area didn't actually halt the advance of the continental glacier by building a huge bonfire in front of it, but after gouging out forty mile long Cayuga lake and pushing up a range of hills at the south end, the glacier stopped here.
As the glacier retreated, three streams descending from the uplands cut deep gorges which converged at the head of the lake, where Ithaca is now, and it was their potential for powering mills which brought the first white settlement here. Over the years the wealth of the gorges made this place a haven, not just for urban refugees and perenial students in academic withdrawal, but also for runaways, transients, and...trailing down through the green ways which parrallel the gorges.... for deer, racoons, foxes, coyotes, and other critters come in from the wild.....critters like me.

Six Mile Creek drains the City watershed, and at times of year when it has not been entirely diverted to showers, lawns, and carwashes, descends right at the city center.
About a quarter of a mile up through that gorge, still well within the city limits, there is a falls below which the gorge opens in an amphitheatre wide enough that it often hosts a small overwintering herd of deer or a flock of turkeys . Right up into the nineteen hundreds a small group of Indians wintered there. In the nineteen seventies there were still a few hippie types, like Randy the drop-out psychiatrist, who had rough shelters there below the falls.
After my bad luck in the cemetery, I felt l the need of a little more security than that spot. There were plenty of possibilites further up the watershed, and it was easy to move up and down the creek s along the abandoned railroad right-of-way.

In a little hollow of a sub-gorge above the upper reservoir, which had not yet become a well known skinny-dipping resort, I found the remains of an old sweat lodge or kids fort that had seen any use for a few years, so I set up there, figuring I could improve on it, or build something with a lower profile in the Spring. With my strap-on bouncer legs, I could get to town in under half an hour and I liked to have them on when in town so I could keep my head up where the other heads are. But if I was just moving around the woods or the creek I generally left them in the shelter So, as you probably guessed, or already know, I returned from foraging one evening, and the legs were gone.

Anyone who has ever been burglarized knows that the shock and outrage of that violation ... even if it is only your high school ring we are talking about... is way out of proportion to the value of the goods.
So now imagine what it is like to have your fucking legs stolen.
I myself can't see what use who ever took them would have for my legs, but if I found him with them, I would use them to stomp him into the ground .
Anyway, I left that ruined haven and headed back to town, looking for a place other than the cemetery to store my skull.
And then, not ten minutes after set foot on the street, I was hit and knocked down by a guy on bicycle. No bones were broken, but I was going to be mighty lame for many months, and mighty, ,mighty pissed, because.... and you're not going to believe this, but I'm pretty sure...... it was my own damn, three speed, Raleigh low bar.
Who gets run over by his own bike? At least it wasn't using my own legs.....or maybe so, but that, I hope to God Dog, is always going to be the low point in my life.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fuckedy, Fuckedy, FuckFuck Rabbits

It must cost my inflationary brother Davey at least a dollar a piece to produce eggs, what with the Wings of Life Salad he makes for the chickens every morning, and then the free choice, cage free, free range feeding on chicken scratch he spreads all over the grounds. Other critters get most of it.
For some reason, the Canada Geese who stay on the never frozen Cayuga Lake through the winter and fly over us on the way to and from the corn fields a every morning and evening, do not stop by for the easy pickings, but gypsy crows flock around the chicken house every day; blue jays, chickadees, juncos, cardinals, and mourning doves swarm the driveway,while a colony of mice lives in his truck and roasts sunflower seeds on the engine block.
Although the skunks who were living in the chicken house and on chicken rations, seem to have moved on and the rats who have besieged the local feed store have not smuggled themselves here in the layer ration yet, newly arrived chipmunks are homesteading in the compost pit , and the squirrels , which weren't here before the chickens, because there are no nut trees, are now set up along side the starlings in the hollow Chestnut that leans over the house, and are already ub their squirrelly mating mode, racing around unnecessarily, burning calories..
But the worst.... and the most.... are the rabbits.

When Davey comes in the driveway after dark, I can usually see by the truck head lights, eight or ten rabbits scattering from around the feed bin right in front of the house.
Davey had covered his trees two feet up the trunk with plastic spiral wrap to keep the mice and voles from girdling them, and after the deer came along and nibbled down the tops of the shorter trees, and just broke the tops off taller ones to get at the tender parts, he put elevated cages around the tops.
It was a wise move when he took my advice and bought scion wood to graft onto the dozens of wild pears already established without his interference out back, but he grafted too low, and so e learned that he had to cage the grafts too, o else r graft eight feet above the ground.
Then winter came and, as has not happened before recently, it came with snow.
The snow got so deep and developed such a supportive crust that Davey was delighted to ski merrily around on it, while the rabbits, elevated and supported by the same rust, were able to get up above the spiral wrap and girdle several of his planted pear trees. And they did. Not just girdled, but removed all the bark from trunk and branches two feet above the snow.
It could have been prevented, and it could have been stopped once it started.... It didn't happen in one night, and I warned him about it. But Davey so got out on his skis and looked a just one Bon Rouge pear tree, gnawed naked from knee to nipple......and he just sort of doubled over and got sick on the snow, then stood up and skiied off yelling fuckedy, fuckedy, fuck.

With steely discipline he could use to great advantage as a writer, Davey put the matter out of his mind for a week or so, with the result that the rabbits got most of the rest of pear trees he had planted.... while Davey fiddled with Facebook skied loop-de-loops out back.

Then a little thaw dampened his winter sport enthusiasm and he turned his attention entirely to staring into his computer for a few days..... until I had a few words with him.
Davey I said, for Christ sake, a month ago you spent fifty dollars to order a few sticks of pear scion wood from Maine, in order to graft onto the wild trees out back. Right?
So damn it all, before it's too late....lop the tops off those girdled trees, cut the shoots into a couple hundred dollars worth of scion wood sticks, store them in the fridge with those you ordered, and then in April or May, graft them onto more of those wild trees out back, for Christ sake.
You'll have several times more bearing trees than you expected you were going to, plus, if you're lucky..., and you always have been, you dumb fuck....the planted trees will come back from buds inside the spiral wrap, or you can even cleft graft onto the stumps, and someday you'll have so many damn pears the extras will be fermenting on the ground and the roosters'll be getting drunk on them, chasing rabbits, and setting eggs.
To that, " Oh", was all he said.


He showed no other reaction for several days, just came out once in a while to save me from carrying his old dog Deerdra up and down the porch steps.

Then a couple of days ago I saw him go out with his pruners and some big baggies. He stopped at each tree, doubled over as if he had been kicked in the gut, then finally straightened up and went to work clipping. Moving on from tree to tree, sick at the sight of each one.

He's damn lucky I decided to hang around here, at least through the winter. To tell you the truth, I don't know how he would get along without me.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ripped Off

After my Ellis Hollow beaver-meadow lodge went up in smoke, I moved back to the old stone shelter in the East Hill Cemetery.
It was never more than a laid-up false face on a overhang in the little gorge there, and some of the stone had spilled in the years since I had last occupied it ,so I repaired and chinked it with turf. Not really much more spacious than a high class sarcophagus, it was tight and comfortable for my constitution, but it was nevertheless too small for me plus what little stuff I was packing around and had not lost in the fire - the prosthetic legs, sardines and hard cheese, underwear and socks, yellow birch sticks, the machete, not much else. So I stowed my paratroopers pack in one of the mausoleums, and covered it loosely with leaves which had blown in over time. I leaned my bike up against the behind of the caretakers building.

The Old East Hill Cemetery is on a rolling series of terraces descending from the Cornell Campus to engorged downtown Ithaca, with its own tiny gorge, and near dead silence, is as beautiful as anyplace in town or on campus. And around the time I am speaking of.....the early seventies.... it was not yet the busy dog run and Frisbie Golf course it's come to be.
But then, after I had been set up there no more than a week, somebody stole my bike.

So the cemetery began to seem lot less of a fine and private place.

And no more than a week later, the place was ruined some more, as far as my use goes.
What happened was, Davey wrote that story about the East Hill Kids Cemetery Club and it was published with a series of fresh photos in the now-deceased Ithaca weekly Grapevine.
The events in the story revealed that back in the fifties (as continued to be the case) several of the mausaleums were not securely locked, or only loosely chained.... so that we kids could easily squeeze in for our Spooky Games, dead man's finger bone initiation and all.
So, sure enough, you guessed it again......the day after the story was published, some semi-literate townie kids or Lettered campus ghouls slipped in and stole a skull and some bones out of one of the coffins.
I don't know exactly when they did it or how it was discovered, but the police showed up, and it made first page of the Ithaca Journal .

Davey was very amused..... never himself took serious shit for the events, and they never busted the ghouls, but that was that was the end of me living in the East Hill Cemetery. Where dog's and me used to run free, and now coyotes do.
At least no one had seemed to notice or fool with my pack under the leaf mold in the corner.

I got it out of there, packed in my mail stone, and headed up into the watershed.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Making Way For Albert

Did I tell you a while back about Albert the Dominker?
Dominikers are the early breed of chicken which was common on eighteenth century homesteads, and traveled west in covered wagons. They look a little like a barred Plymouth Rock, which are descended from them and Asian birds, but they have a low, frost resistant comb which makes them suitable for outdoor living, and which looks something like a beret Albert Camus would wear.
Albert is a stranger for sure, and an outsider.
His call isn't the usual four or five syllables , which sounds to Americans like "Cock A doodle Do", and to Frenchmen like something quite different, but only three sylablles, which sounds to Davey like Oh - Dav - ey, and to me , like O - Bam - A.
I have even thought of taking him along with me in the Ark when I pull it out of here, and exhibiting him for tips along the way as the Obama Rooster, but he doesn't call on demand, and , because of his past trauma, he isn't too easy live with.
You will remember that he was one of the half dozen chickens who followed Moby Dot , after a couple of deadly weasel raids on the chicken house, leaving to stay outside from then on, roosting nights on the deck rail of Davey's house.
With his low exposure, beret type comb, Albert weathered the winter well compared to the others who had their combs dubbed by frostbite, but he was the lowest in status in that group, which means he roosted on the outside, closest to the steps, so it was him that the neighbor's hound picked off the rail very early one morning a year and a half ago.
We had given Albert up for a gonner, but he came back the next day, minus his tail feathers, silent. He was lucky that this was a well bred bird dog with what they call a soft mouth" .....who by nature does not maul the bird, and retrieves it without puncturing the skin with his teeth.
Albert went under the house and didn't come out for six months.

When he finally did emerge, the other roosters would chase him off, or he was on the hens like a dog on a chipmunk.
He has gradually become more accustomed to the hens, if not what you could call courtly, and evading the other roosters has become a little easier, since this winter Dot and his side kicks have decided to move back into the chicken house, and don't even come out if it is much below twenty degrees.
Albert is plenty strange yet, and though he has a comfortable resort in the crawl space and is far from a gentleman companion yet, I have allowed him to move into the Ark and integrate with the hens Olive and Jenny whom I had taken in after they were injured by the roosters.

This was mighty kind of me. So for the moment anyway, I have moved out of the Ark and into the main chicken house with the other hens, plus Dot, Lefty, and Whitey.
That is fine for now....I even have more room there, but I don't know what I'll do about Albert when I move on with the Ark.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Leaving it to the Beavers

For several years in the early seventies, I lived in an old beaver lodge, a few miles
upstream from the Cornell campus on the flat middle reach of Cascadilla Creek.
Like the other beaver lodges I've taken over, that one was in the new meadow above the breached dam of a pond the beavers abandoned because they had consumed most the aspen within reach. Deserted beaver ponds provide not just the shell of a usable shelter, but several acres of unfiltered sunlight, flowing water close by, and - on the exposed bottom of the former pond - ten or twelve years deposit of sweet top-soil which supported Butterfly Weed, Fireweed, Joe Pye , Golden Rod, and half a dozen other field flowers that grew well over my head. The place was loud with bees and bird song.
I loved to grub in the dirt or just lie around naked on the lodge or in the grass on a spring day, and because of the swampy surroundings,I never saw another human being there....only the planes coming in low right over my head to land at the Tompkins County Airport about five miles off.

When living in beaver lodges I have always had to deal occasionally with snakes, skunks, or coons that moved in when I was out for a while, or even when I was there. On the whole, snakes and skunks were the least obnoxious room mates, and I occasionally shared with them, but the coons were generally too rowdy and most likely to get into my food supply or to try and face me down at the door.
No beavers ever tried to move back in but I always had to keep an eye on the old dam, because adolescent beavers ousted from overcrowded lodges up or down stream will periodically wander through looking for new opportunities, and young beavers can hardly resist the temptation to dam up any water that flows, regardless of whether they are going to stay around. A working dam would put my entrance door underwater and drown anything I have planted. But I always managed to stay on top of that problem.

I foraged for clams and crayfish in the creek and I banked the soil around the lodge to plant carrots and potatoes, acorn squash that wandered out over the meadow, and runner beans that climbed up and over the lodge.
And I planted a dozen or so pot plants every year. They grew big as Christmas trees. Though it was a low potency, seedy product by today's standards, a few people on campus paid me for it, and it was my first venture into the cash economy, making me only a few hundred dollars each season, but all I needed, to support my way of life.

I was very popular with my customers.....such as a certain invertebrate biologist who said it helped him "get small,"for his research, and then there were some in that psychodrama circle Davey introduced me to, who claimed my pot helped them to get into other people's heads.
I guess I don't need pot to get small, and, as for getting into someone else's head, I can hardly imagine any place I would less like to be. What it did for me, the one time I tried it, was at first nothing at all, until I went out to take a shit and, in the process became absolutely convinced that I was trapped in time, which not so much a cage as a kind of circle.
This was not just a seems- like, metaphorical kind of experience. I was terrified.
Maybe it gave me a better understanding of time, but maybe I am still cycling shit back there.

I felt pretty safe in that swamp from any kind of bust or well as from bears like the one that dragged me out of my lodge up at Fort Drum and are pretty rare around here. And the Cascadilla soil was much sweeter and richer than the acid duff of the Adirondack pine woods.
The most obvious danger to all my crops there was the deer that loved the swamp and meadow lands as much as I did. In the Spring, there was always a doe with a fawn or two that hung out close by, so I cut brambles and stuck them around my lodge and the deer didn't bother the crops much.

I can go without heating my living quarters alright, but cooking makes it possible for me to eat a lot of stuff I could otherwise never digest, and most people couldn't eat any way. So I had made a stove from two, one- gallon bean cans, with smaller cans stacked for a pipe leading up through a smoke hole and protruding just a few inches above the lodge, so as not to be conspicuous.
A carefully tended fire of only a handful of pencil sized sticks, or two or three fat devotional candles in the stove gave enough heat to keep a half gallon of water at a simmer, so the soup was always on. Those were some of the best days of my life.

As popular as I was in a few intersecting campus circles, no one wanted to pay for stuff too green to smoke, so I had to cure it myself.
In a beaver lodge, where the walls are three feet thick, the ceiling is pretty low, and I couldn't hang the whole pants in there, so I stripped them and hung the greenery in net onion bags from the ceiling of the lodge. The heat of the stove with a single candle in it provided enough draft so that the pot would be ready to go in a week or two, depending on the weather.

I had pulled an old, three speed girls bike out of a little gorge in Cayuga Heights where it had apparently been used to joy ride a sloping falls there. Sometimes I used it to get in and out of town, sometimes without my leg extensions, which was just plain hard, sometimes with them, which was harder, but very effective. Other times I would hitch hike, or sometimes just bound along the road on my prosthetics. If I was in no hurry, and especially if I was carrying pot, I would avoid the roadside and go along the river bottom.

One late September day in 1974 or thereabouts, I was returning on the bike with some rice and candles and as soon as got off my bike, I noticed a lot of crows wheeling over the swamp, flying crazy, like they do, tumbling on breezes before a storm, cawing up a storm all by themselves, six vultures wheeling higher over them.....and as I hurried on and got closer, a lot of song birds carrying on as if it were just after a July rain.... and then the sweet smell of that smoke, so sickening to me in that circumstance, that I turned around before I got half way in from the road,.....knowing very well what had happened....that my stove had caught the works on fire.
The wetlands kept the fire from spreading to the the woods, but I never went back. I spent that winter in Ithaca.