Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Scots Pine Stimulus

Look at this picture of Dog's Plot homestead. What do you notice? Not so much the little box of a come-lately house which now rests on the old foundation..... but rather the mighty Scots Pine which the old folk probably planted even before they started to girdle the existing trees and clear the stones, rocks, and ox-sized boulders out of the new fields

Why is it it is that those hardscrabble immigrants who had to transport their entire households and tools to build and grow what they would need, brought with them seedlings of trees that bore no edible fruit, particularly pines, to a country already prickly with pines?
Recently my friend the park ranger and Adirondack guide who goes by the name Riverheart, told me about some friends of his in the central Adirondacks who have a small business harvesting woodland herbs and essences. For the last several years they have been providing Scots pine pollen to scientists who have been looking into its chemical composition and running tests to determine its effects on certain medical conditions, such as arthritis, and Lyme disease.
The natural function of the pollen, in addition to the fertilization of the female element of the pine, is to act as a growth stimulant, and there is anecdotal evidence that limited doses have the same effect as Viagra. But beware. according The Natural Testosterone Plan; for Sexual Health and Energy by Stephen Harrod Buhner:

"The chemical analaysis has revealed that the
"Pine pollen contains large quantities of exceptionally potent sterols. One such, brassinoloide, is a powerful growth stimulant to plants. The brassinosteroids in pine pollen are also very similar in structure to many animal steroid hormones and produce similar steroidal activity. In addition to these kinds of sterols, pine pollen also contains significant human male hormones such as testosterone and androstenedione and relatively large quantities of amino acids and other essential nutrients. Scots Pine ( Pinus sylvestris) pollen has been found to contain androstenedione, testosterone, and epitestosterone in high amounts.

Cautions: Some people are sensitive to pine products- seed, pollen, bark, resin and so on. Negative reactions can run from mild allergies to anaphylactic shock. If you have a history of allergies to pollen or severe reactions to bee stings, do not use without consulting your health care practitioner. Adolescents should not take pine pollen.."

You can't look at these huge rocks which make up foundations, line the wells, and stud the hedgerows around here without speculating about how those men and boys moved them. There is a lot to be said for the sheer determination of the Scots Irish, and for the clever use of levers, inclined ramps, sledges and oxen, but there is also every advantage in having a gigantic testosterone and steroid producing plant looming over your home. It is no surprise that the Scotts and Irish who had been driven off their land by the English who destroyed most of the pine forests and put sheep on the land, would gather up some seedlings and take off across the water.
The presence of the big pine here helps explain some of brother Davey's bone stressing over-enthusiasm with the digging bar and shovel, such that he made some efforts his bones could not really support, and it also explains the supper aggessiveness of the roosters here, not explicable in terms of roostosterone alone.
Last year I decided to stop marketing Roostosterone on Ebay not only because of the occasional wattle and comb effect on customers, but also because of the difficulty of harvesting the stuff. But with the Scots pine.....which will be pollinating in May, there will be no such problem . I'll just shake the catkins in a bag....and as far as intended or unintended effects....well it is a natural substance to which we are all exposed to some degree, and it is up to every individual to manage what she puts in his mouth and visa versa. Anyway what could be worse than arthritis and Lyme disease, or maybe cancer?
For better or worse, I expect to be gathering pollen this Spring. It should provide a good boost for me pulling the Ark when I haul off to the Great I may not need to get the Yak I have been considering and can't really afford anyway. Also, I could maybe sell some along the way to finance my travel, but, I'll leave the mail order marketing to the people a Woodland Essence:

So don't bother me about it. And for Cripes sake, be careful. Note especially that, although this may actually be beneficial to some women, it is not for the allergic sort of person, and particularly not for adolescents.
I wouldn't even want to be around an adolescent stoked on the stuff, unless maybe he was at the bottom of a well or harnessed to a sledge.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Love on the Roof

It wasn't generally known around the English department that I lived under a desk up in the junior faculty office garret , but only the most abstracted prof wouldn't notice me - barely four feet tall without my prosthetics - as I shuffled around Goldwyn Smith Hall, sat in on writing workshops, or appeared among the plaster casts of broken statuary at the Temple of Zeus open readings.
When I stood on a chair that first time to recite "Tripod, the Three Legged Dog" , people bent lower and fished in their coffee cups, but at the first line - " I'm going to hump your leg "- Archie Ammons let out a big country guffaw, and immediately the place echoed with laughter which resurged each of the three times in the poem's six lines that I threatened to hump their leg. It was a lame poem, but a few months later, crudely revised and worse yet, it would make me so infamous I would decide to disappear.

After that first reading, there were those who called me Tripod and made the obvious third-leg jokes, but Tripod was a real dog, truly famous on campus in the fifties, and long forgotten before most of them had appeared there. He was a malamute -half wolf- sled dog who had lost a front leg to gangrene as a result of a fight injury. He was useless as a sled dog after that, so some student had brought him back from a trip to Alaska, but it was not all that hard for Tripod to become top dog on the soft-dog Cornell campus.
At that time Cornell was an institution where it was a matter of pride and unofficial policy that any dog could attend any class. Dogs walked to campus with their fraternity boys, stayed and strayed all day, and hardly created more than a ripple of chuckling when they flopped down beside the lecturn or mated in the back of the lecture hall.
The beginning of the end of the dog years came when Tripod killed a couple of other dogs and was deported back to Alaska , but still in the early seventies when I was living in the desk , If anyone had suggested that you should not let your dog outside unless you were attached to it by a leash and that you should pick up its turds with a plastic baggy, that someone would have said, "pick up turds with a plastic baggy? What's a plastic baggy? What do you want with dog turds?

I wandered with a frisbie and Pike's dogs during the day, and I became a regular at old Professor Cole's introductory Geology lecture class they called "Rocks for Jocks." I liked the big story of the geological landscape, and the ecstatic phrases that rolled through it, like " glacial erratic boulders" .
I wrote it down in my tablet and drew pictures of glacial erratic boulders on page after page , some the size of houses and with pine trees growing on the top.
A slight girl with pumpkin colored hair was sitting two seats from me and because of her powerful aura of garlic, everyone else was at least three seats from her. I had also noticed her at the Zeus readings, and around about when I was throwing the frisbie for the dogs . I always sat fairly close to her in the Rocks lectures because there was always plenty of room around her ...anyway I have always been a dog for strong smells, so we were alone frequently in our private garlic bubble.
She wasn't more than five feet tall, with that pumpkin hair and big freckles mostly covering her pale skin like leaves on water. She was thin and superficially ethereal.... except for the heavy smell of garlic. She ate it by the whole clove from a Cracker Jack Box.
Her eyes were so pale green or gray that it was hard to see where they were directed, but she had obviously been watching me and my doodling .
One day before old Professor Cole had finished shuffling the notes that he never looked at because he had been giving the same scintillating lecture for years, the garlic girl, who had sat down only one seat away from me that day, tore this poem out of her notebook and pushed it onto the writing arm of my chair:

" That Glacial Erratic is nothing ecstatic,
or a god-egg that fell from the sky.
But it's not so mundane as if it fell from a train:
a garden stone imported from Shanghai.
Its purely symptomatic of ice in the Arctic
Which built up in the Great Bye and Bye."

It was very cute , but all I could say was thanks.
She offered a grin and a garlic clove from her cracker jack box. I put it in my shirt pocket instead of eating it right there, and that is all that passed between us until the class was over, but the deal was done, and after class, we walked out in our private bubble of garlic mist.

The garlic, she would tell me, was to keep predators off, and Garlic was the name she went by. She never told me her real name, but she said her father was an ornithologist, a specialist in raptors. I never heard about her mother. Garlic said she could see that I was no predator. This was true....a scavenger , but not much of a predator, certainly not a sexual one, and at that point, I was a twenty-some year old virgin who had never humped anything but trees. Garlic took me down to a place in the gorge where she kissed me and told me that I was an elf or a the magical sense......we took garlic together and she came with me to my desk lair. We pulled out all the drawers to make more space and that evening she discovered my General Dinglehammer - she was the one who came up with that name for it.
From then on Garlic sat with me in Zeus, called me Pan the Man and Boneypart in public, was with me privately every night, insisted on climbing with me on the rope rigging through the skylight to the G.S. roof where, ecstatic, we rang the dingle bells in the copper valley , held on and came through it , even as we slid half way to the eves and scared the shit out of me.

That outrageous behavior didn't have consequences or get noticed, but we were becoming conspicuous. Davey said I should stop bringing Garlic to the office...maybe some envy involved. I doubt any girl ever told him he was a magical being. Anyway, I think some of the other junior faculty up there were beginning to sniff around and talk. Global forces were at work. Erratic love had to go.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Blow Gun and The Sky Light

I'm a motherless child who's had at least half a dozen pretty good mothers and old Alan Pike was one of my best mothers of all. When I limped up onto the Arts quad, he took me under his brawny wing and saw to it that I was fed , then put me up in the junior faculty attic office he shared with my brother Davey, and did his best to administer an emergency Ivy League education.
Before he invited me to camp under the spare desk in their office, Pike had known me mostly from Davey's exaggerated accounts of how I used to climb with the raccoons, and sleep up in the pines, or float the whole night long out on Lake Bonaparte. Pike had something of the feral romantic in his own nature, and also I think that as a fairly short man, he felt especially comfortable with me - a really short one..... though with my legs on, I would be taller than him.
You might not notice that he was a small man. He didn't wear lifts or talk really low, or really loud, or punch you in the nose, or use any of those cheap little-man tricks. What you noticed was a figure like a tensed railroad spike which seemed like at any moment it might suddenly flip end over end through the air and thunk six inches deep into the wall, just to make a point.
He was a genius, knew that he was, and acted the part to distract, entertain, impress, and to teach . On top of that he was extremely self critical, and generous with others to the point that he suffered fools.... and he was a lot more delighted than Davey was to have me living in their office.

When he brought me a doggy bag of Chinese carry-out for the second time that first week, he also left me a bottle of Chianti.
And when he discovered during his office hours the next week, that I hadn't half finished the wine, he stayed around after hours until I wandered in, and then he helped me drink it.
I had never been a very good drinker : if I didn't guzzle, puke, and pass out, I just became a stump, not able to do anything but listen. So I listened, and Alan told me a lot about wine, and then he told me about technical climbing, and he told me the little story about his awakening as a genius.
He had taught himself to read at age three, but he was not all that extraordinary as a kid until he took the I.Q. test at school and his parents told him that he had scored at the high genius level.
With that knowledge, and from that moment on, he became the expert on everything, the leader of every activity, the president of his class and of everything else.
If he had decided to, he could have been the first Jewish President of the American Baptist Convention. He was a competition High Diver in high school, a Yale scollarshp Wiffenpoof with perfet pitch, then a Navy Seal, underwater demolition expert.
His tastes were wide and his and appetite for literature , music, food and wine was huge and contagious: He liked the cheap Italian wines, but he talked a fine line of French Vinifera too.
So after a very few evenings with him, I was aware of a whole lot more distinctions than I could taste.

As with wine, I didn't have much taste in poetry, and at that point, I had never even been drunk on it. I remember telling Pike I liked stories and useful information, not stuff like apple blossoms falling softly on cow dung, and he said that wasn't bad at blossoms falling on cow dung....that I should sit in on one of his writing classes, that there was all kinds of poetry - even informative poetry.
For an instance of that, he brought out the poem where James Dicky describes how he'd made a blow gun using a length of aluminum electrical conduit, and made darts from straight sections of coat hanger wire he sharpened by dragging the points over the asphalt of his driveway .
Well I wasn't about to attend poetry classes but I thought that was a pretty good poem and I said so.

So the next time Pike came in, he had a piece of conduit, a box of cotton balls, a few coat hangers, wire cutters, wrapping thread, and a brick for sharpening the darts on.....and we did it up as in the poem.
We hung a doggy blanket between some chairs and we set foam coffee cups on top of the inverted waste basket, then shot at them for probably a couple hours.
Pike had those Whiffenpoof Seal lungs, and I have a good pair myself, but mainly good blow-gunning is in the technique. It's is like woods-=whooping, or attacking a hill on a bike, or blowing a trumpet: a fast intake which radically expands the lungs, the diaphragm, the chest cavity and the cheeks, as if you had been blown into..... and then the quick bounce back.......
Fwhack ! Very satisfying.

Sometimes the dart would go right through the blanket, clatter against the wall, and leave the cotton ball to fall on the floor.
We filled a lot of plaster chips with tooth paste in the next week...... and eventually we got a dart board.

Davey had told Pike about how we had once used a bow and arrow to get a climbing line over the house at Edgewood Place, so that gave Pike the idea how we could use the blow gun to to get up through the sky light of the office.

He bent the end of a dart into a loop, tied monofillament to it, then pushed the dart about a foot up the tube packed several yards of nylon monofillament behind it, letting it trail out to loops on the floor. The floor end of the mono was joined to twenty five yards of heavy cord, which ran to one hook of a treble boat anchor with tennis balls on the points. He had tied a hundred feet of climbing rope to the anchor eye.
About one A.M. on a cloudy , but not so cold night in November, when there was likely to be nobody around to see us, or frolicking dogs to get hit with the dart, we pulled my desk under the sky light, Pike stood on the desk, stuck the blow pipe out and whooped the dart over the ridge of the building.
He went out to locate the dart, and I stayed in to manage the ropes, but he came back in after twenty minutes saying he hadn't been able to find the dart. . So we went out together and after a few minutes of sweeping the air with our hands we still hadn't found the mono, nor stumbled on the dart.
I picked up a doggy stick and went around waving waving it to extend my reach, then up the steps to the statue of the seated Goldwyn Smith himself.... and there was the dart, right at the feet of Goldwyn Smith, with the mono draped over his shoulder.
So, I went back to the office , got up on the desk and, when I jerked the line to signal him, Pike proceeded to hauled on the monofilament . I made sure the knot and the cord tied to it flowed through it, then with a broom, helped ease out grappling hook...... the climbing rope followed easily..
Fifteen minutes later we were up on the ridge toking on Pike's corn cob pipe, and he talked l about K2 and the Hindu Kush .
I still have the blow gun. I keep an old fly rod tip section shoved down into it, so that I can roam around using the tube as a walking stick, or a rooster whacker, until such time as I want to whip out the rod, and fly fish or blow darts.
The skylights are gone now, and Pike never made it to K2, or wrote his impossible thesis on the impossible Pynchon, or finished the story he was always mulling, which changed as he mulled it, and was as last I know about a recluse who lived in an abandoned bus with a dog pack.
but there were enough adventures ahead that there were some to look back on, only one of which was with both Davey and me too: a canoe trip, which was mostly carrying the canoe, and mostly the two of them doing it, along the old Alpine road to Indian Lake,
I'm no help carrying a canoe: too short without my legs, too bouncy with them. It was June, which means mosquitoes, black flies, and vicious punkies.
We smoked weed continuously to keep the bugs off, got bloodied anyway, and deeply stoned in the bargain. We caught half a dozen bass, which we ate half-raw, and with great pleasure. Stoned or not, I remember it all well.
We talked in the cooking smudge and into the night; we recalled the climbing of Goldwyn Smith and Pike pretended to argue that the dart had landed exactly where he aimed for, but given the complications and the distance and his frank newness to the blowgun then, the place he had aimed for logically would be the last place one ought look for it.... or otherwise he would have found it himself.
He explained that for the same reason, if you are going to celebrate by shooting a gun up into the air, you should try to aim it exactly straight up, because the last place it is going to come down, is into the top of your head.
He said, If a drunk Albanian gypsy shoots off like that , every one in the encampment who has managed to keep his head so far, runs to stand as close to the gunman as possible.
Matter of fact, said pike, when I had found the dart, he had been just about to look for it in Goldwyn Smith's Lap .....he had actually aimed for the lap not the feet, but it probably hit there and clattered down to his feet where I located it.
Near the place we camped on narrow Lake, Alan did find - lying a few feet from one another close to the shore , a pair of muskrat jaws bones, but with no skull or other bones near.

One day late that summer, after I had been out behind his place picking blueberries, he gave me f the muskrat jaws, which he had wrapped together at the hinge ends with the teeth pointing at each other, and strung on a raw hide boot lace.
I still have it right here. A minor work of genius.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Free Range Grapes

It's a shame I probably won't be staying here at Dog's Plot long enough to see pears on Davey's grafted trees, Dog help him . But I've got an idea for another project: a project which might even bear fruit before I ship out.
And this time, I'm going to do it myself.

I'm no student of wine, but I can drink a jug of it now and then, and one of the first things I learned from Alan Pike ....and which any beginning student of wine history also knows..... is that when the native European vines developed a root blight back in the twentieth century, it was found that the New World vines were resistant to the disease. So our New World root stocks were exported to Europe for the Chablais and the Chardonadys and all that to be grafted onto. Now, by virtue of these roots, French Champagne is as American as Jerry Lewis.

You know where I'm going with this: I am going to graft cultivated varieties onto the wild grapes.
It should be even easier than the pear grafting. All I'll need is the machete to split the stock, cuttings from the survivors among the half dozen vines Davey redundantly planted a couple of years ago, and to seal the grafts, some tar from one of his abandoned cans behind the trailer.
I'm pretty sure that I get better results than the one-in-four success rate Davey got by doing it in too early spring , when he got prematurely excited about the reproductive process. I can hold the enthusiasm until things are really growing and no frosts are expected.

I won't have to plant, I won't have to water, the vines I graft onto will already be well established, and I won't have to support or prune or cage them. I'll graft above the reach of deer and rabbits, and just let them go right back up the trees they are based on.
I know from the heavy-bearing, never-pruned old vine that wrapped around the south west corner of the house at Edgewood Place, that a single vine can occupy as much space as half a dozen are allowed in a vineyard, and even if it won't produce as much as six vines...a third of that will be fine. About a ton. If it hadn't been for the coons and possums which came into town to harvest them, the weight of the grapes alone would have brought the arbors down.
And anyway, it isn't as if I was going into business here, or had to pay for tractors, yard help, harvest crews, fences, nets,, and electronic protection, etc.. etc. etc. So there you go: Free Range Grapes.

Well, it's as cold as a witch's grapes today and I can't even push the chickens out of here.... but the season is close to the turning point, so I'll go out and cut some bud sticks off the chicken house vine today before they swell, then stick them in some baggies in Davey's fridge until the time is right.
And this afternoon I'll get back to grubbing out some more buckthorn stubs before Dangerous Dave finishes up his obsessive peening and whetting and comes a whacking with the brush scythe.