Monday, November 21, 2011
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Great Great Grandfather's Giant Red Wasps , and Other very brief Historical Recolections of the North Country
Great Great grandfather Noah Davey, second son of Reverend Severn-Keel Davey, dropped out of Harvard Divnity school, and moved into Rose Cottage: the old home of his Grandmother...and he very quickly discovered that Rose Cottage had been taken over by giant, red Wasps, such as you never want to see. The rest is history.
I have seen this falls on the Oswegatchie River ,with deep snow covering those fallen pines... and a deer path all the way across.
When I was in my twenties or thirties my Dad and I were trout fishing here for the hundredth time. I was standing about where I stood when I took this picture and watched as he slipped on the rock, into the sluice and got washed down to the pool.
He shook it off pretty well and we went on fishing up the river that day ..., but I knew then that he could die, and ten or twenty years later, he did.
How Mule Deer Came to the Adirondacks
Granddad and friends went to Texas and Mexico by train around nineteen hundred.... at a time when our Eastern Whitetail Deer were about extinct, and he came back with a a dozen sets of mule deer horns...which were much bigger than our white tail horns. He also brought a few set's of long horns and an occelot skin. He was an ardent hunter-conservationist, when hunters were about the only conservationists, and helped do everything except backpack fawns into the woods, to help bring back the Whitetails. Now there are more deer there than ever, and turkeys which weren't even there before. Recently, Cougars have been seen in the Lake Bonaparte area.
I myself, haven't been up there for a few years now.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Years and years ago, there was a story with a very long title, after which it got off to a very slow start, so we used to think would never end......which it nearly did. See here:
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Saturday, July 2, 2011
When I introduce visitors to my wife Olive, most of them pretend not to notice that she's a chicken , and are too polite to ask why I married outside my species. So let me explain.
First of all: our relationship is not about sex. Get that out of your mind. Ours is a marriage of mutual benefits and general convenience. Of course it is more convenient for Olive than for me, and unfortunately, eggs are not one of the benefits. Hens, like other women, are born with a limited number of ovaries to let down in a life tIme - around three hundred and fifty for a hen - but Olive stopped laying long before reaching that limit, no doubt as a result of her abuse by the other chickens.
I don't know if it was the roosters or the hens who ganged up on her, but one morning during the first year of the flock, I found her lying in a corner of the coop, beaten nearly flat.
She is a Dominker, which is a breed common in the nineteenth century, before Asian varieties were bred into the European stock, and different enough in feathering and comb that the other chickens discriminate, to say the least. Her several brother Domikers had already been driven by the other roosters to the periphery of the flock, where they have not survived.
I carried her up to the house and set her in a box on the floor by the chair where I write.
I put her food in a bowl on the kitchen floor along side the dog dishes, but each evening at roosting time she insisted on climbing up over my lap to spend the night on the back of my chair, The gallon can of Olive Oil sits on the shelf behind her. And so, she became Olive.
After a week or two, I tried to reintroduce her into the chicken coop....but the hens immediately attacked her, so I brought her back to the house.
And when I put her out among the ranging hens, she would immediately fly at them in like a hopped up rooster in a cock fight.
She had less of an aversion to the roosters, and would occasionally offer herself to one of the favorites I sometimes allowed into the house.
She also started crowing occasionally......never the complete phrasing, but two thirds of it, which is more than I have ever heard from the other hens.
My mother used to say, "Whistling girls and crowing hens, always come to some bad end." But there isn't much I could do about it.
The crowing behavior first began when I would leave the house.... or even the room.
She would also crow sometimes when I sang. This first occurred a couple of years ago when I began doing my weekly video weather report for the Tiny Town Times. She was usually sitting on the back of my chair when I recorded the sitting down portion of the video, so I incorporated her in it, as Olive the Weather Hen.
I guess that was a good move. Olive became famous, with more fans than me in my role as Davey Weathercock, and she aroused more interest than the substance of my weather comentery.
For a while , before the economic crash, we made a weekly salary which kept us in chicken feed and wine, for which Olive has developed a taste. We entertained a number of eminent Olive seeking pilgrims.
They don't love her any better than I do. Olive is an indiscriminate, serial pooper, but a fussy housekeeper otherwise, and spends hours a day poking around, examining small objects and specks of nothing much, and generally policing the floor. She even caught a mouse in here once, and always grumbles when one is heard gnawing in the walls or when one flits across the floor. Or imagines that she does. We share meals and maybe a nip of wine. When I write, she is at my feet or at my head. Her influence on my writing is obvious.
Waking mornings, we talk for a while her language mostly, between my bed and her roost. If I don't get up soon enough, she will come off her roost, waddle across the room and fly up onto my stomach.
Then I have about five minutes to roll out and get her some breakfast (chopped cabbage usually) and if I don't, she takes her morning dump on me.
Sure I have some cause for resentment,and I am quite tied down here by my obligations to her, but it is all by choice and I would have only my own choices to blame. I could have eaten her long ago, She sheds feathers on a regular schedule and I collect them in a bread bag. I already have enough to make the illusion of a replacement Olive, but of course, a bag of feathers, or even a whistling girl could never replace Olive.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
When I was five, the world was round on the bottom, and flat on the top, with a plastic dome to keep people from going off the edge.
I stayed close to home , but started an exploratory hole to China. That attempt didn't get further than the hard pan, but I also explored gravity and travel very briefly, by tying on a towel for a cape and trying to fly off the roof of the Bray's chicken house.
Clara Bray, the chickens, and her parents, whom I don't remember ever seeing, lived up the road on the edge of the village .
One day little Clara wandered into our yard where I was playing, and told me her mom and daddy were not home, and that she knew zactly where her daddy kept his bullets ....... so we could take some out back and splode them.
The box of 30.30 cartridges was on a shelf behind the door at the top of the cellar stairs.
We took a few and went way out back , where we put the cartridges on a rock and threw stones at them.
This experiment also failed, and we wandered on a little further toward the horizon.
We soon came to hedge row where three kids a little older than us were watching a brother and sister; she on her back and he sitting on top, trying to push his limp dinky into her girl thingy..... but there was nothing doing with that experiment either.
Clara went home and I headed back too, but our family friend, the widow Manie Lyons, saw me passing through her back yard, and brought me inside for milk and a cookie, then walked me home.
Mom had thought all that time that I was still out in the garden with my grandfather and the dog.
My grandparents lived next door to our own house, which had been my Great Grandfather's and the location of his medical practice. My mother had been born there.
I didn't understand houses to be built by people, but more like living things which engendered and sheltered humans.
The next year we would move to Ithaca...... a long drive from the center of the world ..... and I didn't imagine we could move without the house . I asked my mother how exactly it would happen, and I was sure for years afterward that she told me a big wind machine would come and blow it the house onto a truck.
I was bitterly disappointed when the day came and we left the house behind.
There had been no preschool or kindergarten in Natural Bridge, so when I entered school for the first time in Ithaca, I was a slow learner in everything with letters or numbers in it.... but when a teacher with a grapefruit and oranges represented the solar system and the motions of the planets, it made better sense to me than the old half-dome model. And not long after, when another teacher used the same fruits to show atoms with orbiting electrons and so on, something in me clicked and I realized that the stuff of the world is the same on the inside, as it is on the outside: a fractal universe, This made perfect sense of gravity and most everything but sex, death, and time.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Out of the Closet
Four or five cavalry and dress swords and an antique musket leaned in the back corner of the closet.... brought from the attic of our house in Natural Bridge, where they had been stored when not being used in the annual Veteran's Day parade. The gun's stock had four notches which I counted as dead soldiers.
It was meant to be loaded at the breech with a paper cartridge. Then you placed a detonator cap over a nipple at the breach, under the external hammer.
I snuck it out of the house a few times to use in improvisational enactments around the Civil War memorial cannons in the East Hill cemetery.
On the large pediment behind the two cemetery cannons was the brass statue of a Union soldier, holding a real gun, not unlike our family musket. A few years later, someone would wrench the gun out of the cold brass hands, and a few years later yet, someone toppled and stole the soldier himself , so the city replaced it with a stack of bowling balls , meant to represent cannon balls, but two or three times too big for the cannon bore. The two cannons were not plugged flush with the opening of the bore, so you could put a lit fire- cracker in there, then (very quickly) a bunch of oak leaves and acorns.......which would scatter, splatter on tombstones, and drive a whole surge of attackers all the way back to Dewitt place.
In the heat of play, I discovered that if I put a wad of cap gun caps in the hollow of the musket hammer, it made a terrific explosion, which would blow the hammer back and shoot flames sideways. One day when I visited the closet, I imagined that t if I were to drop a firecracker down the barrel of the musket and then drop a marble in on top of it, I could probably shoot clear across the gorge.
So I took the gun, a marble, and a firecracker out behind the house to the edge of the gorge, where I lit the firecracker....but the firecracker had a faulty quick fuse, and it went off when I was just about to drop it down the gun barrel.
Streaming banners of blood from my thumb and forefinger, I hid the gun in the entryway, and then told my mother about the defective firecracker. I never told her about the gun. I hadn't even gotten the firecracker into the barrel, so it was a firecracker incident not a gun incident.
Sheriff of Lewis County
Every summer the little Winchester went with us and our bee bee guns up to lake Bonaparte to be ready in the rack beside the fireplace , along with all the rods, and canteens, and creels, My Grandaddy sometimes took the Winchester along when fishing for Northren Pike, because they can rake you badly with their baracudda teeth or tangle you up in hooks and wires if you don't dispatch them before bringing them into the boat. We have a picture of Grandaddy standing in front of our camp with three bass and a big Northern Pike, strung between Red Pine trunks behind him, while he holds a spread-eagled Red-Tail Hawk he had shot out of the sky on the same expedition. Hawks were considered bad guys back then
Grandaddy had grown up working, the son of a Civil War Veteran disabled at the horrific battle of St. Petersburg, and had done about every job in county. outside of doctor, lawyer, and undertaker. He was a railroad telegrapher when he met my Grandmother, and he was even Sheriff for a term. He didn't get to keep his service revolver after his term as Sherrif, but I still have the holster, and one .38 caliber load, and he kept the ethic.
One day when I was eight or so, and the rest of the family had gone to town, Granddaddy and I were sitting out on the screen porch on the lake side of camp , when we saw two guys in a little putt-putt shoot a sea gull right out in front of the island. A sea gull was not exactly equal to Loon on the protected list......but Granddaddy put his pipe on the copper sombrero, went in and grabbed the Winchester, and.....for some reason...... told me to come along down to the boat house.
The Evenrude and the light aluminum boat were new back then and we caught up with the put put bang gang boys easily.
Grandaddy cut them off, quoted laws,and cussed them out. I don't recall that he showed the gun. Mostly I remember our righteous excitement.
Great Balls of Fire
My Dad's father was a Baptist minister who died when Dad was twelve, and probably wouldn't have introduced him to guns anyway. Dad was always more comfortable at the fishing level of blood sport , and he mostly just loved the society of camp with all the tradition and stories. He became a boy scout leader, and he wrote the charter for the Elijah Lake hunting club, of which he, my Grandfather Failing, and my Great Grandfather Dr. Drury, were all charter members.
Once or twice every summer we would go up on the flat boathouse roof with the Winchester....Mom often included...to throw cans into the bay and shoot at them.....hear the bullets glancing off the water and stinging through the trees.
At least we didn't deliberately point the gun at anybody, and by age fifteen or sixteen, I did have the actual firearms safety training required to get my hunting license. I joined the high school gun club, and was a marksman on the high school rifle team, which used government supplied amunition to practice one night a week in the old High School Gymnasium. I knew makes and models of guns like other kids knew cars models,
Since I got my hunting license before my driving license, my mother would sometimes drive me out to the country and drop me off somewhere to hunt grouse with my Grandfather's double barreled sixteen gauge Fox . It has a thumb-operated safety which I can quickly and easily push to release while raising the gun. Unless you hunt with a dog, it is always a surprise, and usually a shock when you flush a grouse in cover. Their stubby wings and pumped pectorals can rocket the birds just about directly upward ....sometimes right out of a snow bank,...... with such a roar that it might cause you to shoot your foot........ and as soon as a grouse is up, it swerves and cuts back, to put a tree between it and you.
When grouse flew up, I often shot off both barrels at once in the general direction of the sound.
One afternoon, in grouse cover where it had no right to be, a crow flushed out of a small pine very close to me.....and I shot him. Poorly.
The crow fluttered down and sat there on the ground cussing me .
I tried to gather it up to take the thing home and save it somehow........ but the crow wanted nothing to do with me, so I had to finish killing him. Nevermore maybe.
Dad hunted with his bolt-action twenty gauge. It had a clip holding a second and third shot, but he needed to take his hand off the trigger and use thumb and forefinger to pull the safety off, which is just one reason why I never saw him even get off a first shot.
He didn't care that much. "We saw a lot of nice country", he would say. It was a "Pleasure Exertion". When we went fishing, he preferred to row while I did the casting. He wanted me to succeed.
One weekend in October when I was sixteen we went up North to close camp for the winter.
Saturday afternoon, while Mom cleaned out the fridge, Dad and I took the shotguns to hunt along the abandoned road from our north shore of Lake Bonaparte toward the ghost town at Alpina, I was walking in the left rut, my Dad in the right, when a grouse roared up just beside the road on his right.......and, before the bird could get a tree or my father between him and me, I snapped off two shots right across in front of my Dad's face....about forty five degrees past my legitimate range of fire.
The grouse fell like a frozen turkey
"Great Balls of Fire!" was all my Dad said. Or maybe it was "Great Scott!" or even "Great Day in the Morning" He could use any of the three great expressions for a wide range occasions.
Maybe he said all three things that day...... but we hunted on toward Alpina, and nothing more was ever said about the incident.
Shooting the Bear or Not
If you have met me, I have probably told you some version of this story, and if you have had me over for dinner, you have heard it twice.
My Dad had sent several law school graduates to Alaska to take jobs in the new state's government, and one of those students, Buzz Miller, suggested that I would see some beautiful country and trout like I had never dreamed of, if I cared to come up to Alaska for a summer. I could stay with his family while I looked for a job.
So, after my freshman year of college, I borrowed the plane fare from my dad, and flew to Alaska to look for work. Maybe a job standing on an outrigger with a huge fly rod, casting a fly the size of a rooster to catch overweight Salmon .... but in Anchorage, I discovered that one had to buy onto commercial fishing ventures, and that the only job openings were on railroad Extra Gang living in side track set ups in remote areas....... or camping with a rifle at the mouth of a salmon stream, to keep fisherman from poaching within set limits.
R.O.T.C. and Rifle Club didn't hardly qualify me for the salmon guard job, and the idea scared the romance right out of me, but anyway, I wanted to be the one doing the fishing, and railroad tracks generally run beside rivers, don't they?
I filled out the railroad application, signed away my right to strike or organize, and went for my physical exam with Dr. Merrit Star, a friend of Buzz Miller Dr. Star invited me to warn him some weekend when I could make it in from the extra gang, and we would fly to a fishing camp he had built back in the bush across the inlet.
That was good, because there was no fishing where I was going.
Two days after making my application, I took a running jump off the moving train, way out on the line between Seward and Anchorage, beside a river so white with rock powder from the glaciers looming over us, that no fish could survive in it. And most of the time off work for the next weeks, I would be too beat and back broke to walk down to the river anyway.
No fish, but there were plenty of bears. Three to six of them appeared every evening soon after our cook dumped the dinner leftovers on the other side of the tracks. We came out to watch and may have fed them a cookie or two by hand.... but the Foreman were told there might be a dangerous, wounded bear among them.
The track patrolman , called Boomer on account of of his unmuffled gas car engine which echoed half an hour ahead of him, always brought along a .22 to sting critters off the track, in case his booming hadn't already done the job.
Our foreman said that if he himself wasn't around, and one of us saw a bear with as mean limp among the regular scavengers then we should just go get his gun and shoot the bear.
Alcohol was not allowed out on the line, but guns were. In Anchorage, on my first weekend in from the Moose Pass section, I went to a pawn shop between bars on Fourth Ave and bought a .22 revolver for twenty-seven dollars and fifty cents. It was not for stinging bears, and only accurate enough to shoot yourself in the head, but, because the chamber wouldn't take anything more than .22 short cartridges, not powerful enough to kill yourself that way.
One night as the train rolled by our side track, I fired the revolver out the open other side window of my compartment and I couldn't even hear the report ..... but could see flames leaping out the sides. That gun was useless for anything , except maybe for display during hold-ups and hostage situations.
On another weekend I flew in a Cessna Flat plane with Dr. Star , and his fishing buddy Ed, to the camp Star had built back in the bush across Cook Inlet....all using materials he had flown in.
Ignorant, uneducated bears will be curious, and that Spring a curious bear had broken into the cabin when the Doctor was not there. Dr. Star shot the bear when it returned.
He had nailed It's hide to the outside of the cabin to warn away other bears.
The bear hide was still there when we arrived, but the porch door and the main door behind itwere hanging open.
A bear had come in the window , opened the cupboards, bitten and sucked the life out of every can in the place, including the bug spray; then sprayed and shat over the floor, and gone out by way of the doors.
We cleaned up, went fishing, caught fish, cleaned and ate them, then threw the dinner remains out on the garbage pile down toward the lake, so that no bear would need to come in after them.
We played cards and drank whiskey until near midnight when it was still hardly dark yet .
Dr. Star said he had already shot his bear that year, and Ed, who taught at a remote native school, had shot his bear too, so I should be the one slept on the porch with the bear rifle that night...... just in case the bear came back. The assignment was something between a ribbing and token honor I suppose, but I lay awake for quite a while, zipped up in my grandfather's mummy bag against the cold lake breeze, listening.
Before I knew I was asleep, I was startled awake by a bear , testingly dragging his claws across the porch door screen.
I rolled over and reached for the rifle, but zipped in the bag as I was, just rolled off the cot, thumped to the floor , and knocked the gun over with a clatter.
By the time I was out of the bag and at the door with the gun, he was running straight away on all fours over the garbage pile.
I had the gun trained on his butt but Ed had come up behind me and pushed the gun down. I don't know if I would have shot the bear , but that couldn't have turned out well.
A Gun is a Gun, is not a Gun
Guy Ackerman had thick trumpet player lips and a sparse beard he had grown while offering trumpet lessons, and half starving through the winter in Anchorage. Out on the extra gang, he would stand out across the track blowing his trumpet, which would get a wild thing bouncing back and forth off the mountain and ice walls. Trumpet players should go to Alaska and get dropped off between Moose Pass and Portage, just to do that. Guy was not planning to starve through another winter in Anchorage, but he had bet his father that before he came home to Cedar rapids, he was going to shoot a bear.
One day when the foreman was away and we were watching the evening bears feed across the tracks, one of the bears appeared to Guy to be limping.... and so maybe it was one made dangerous by having been fired at by the track patrolman. So Guy got the rifle and shot the bear.
The assistant foreman who was a zoologiy graduate student in Arkansas, helped us skin the bear, and butchered it for the cooks, then built a fire to boil the head so he could collect the skull. We all stood around and watched it bounce through half the night, telling stories and jokes.....including of course the perennial one about the dumb green horn who is told that to become a real Alaska Sourdough, you have to shoot a bear, sleep with a squaw, and piss in the Yukon.....So he goes off into the bush, and comes back a month later, all tattered and bleeding and clawed up, asking , where was that squaw he had to shoot.
The next evening, Guy and I spent some hours scraping the fat of the hide, then he wrapped it for mailing to Iowa.
Through the Anchorage classifieds, Guy and I got a ride with an oil worker driving down the Alaska Highway to Seatle. He said he needed to know if we were carrying any guns, and I told him I had the revolver in the suitcase. That was fine; I should just keep it there, and not mention it to anybody.
On down the highway, Guy and I pissed in the Yukon.
We crossed back into the U.S. without incident or gun talk.
We hitch-hiked across the country, driving the last half of the way in a car which we bought for forty-five dollars from the guy who picked us up. It came with an M.P, helmet which he kept visible in the back window to prevent speeding tickets. He didn't have the registration with him, but said he would send it along. We left him off in North Dakota and of course no registration would ever appear, but, with some incidents along the way, but we were not stopped for possessing a gun while impersonating a military officer and evading the police in a stolen vehicle.
The next year I went to Europe for a junior year, and I took along some fishing tackle, but left the guns at home. I never got around to applying for a hand gun permit.
After my father died, I discovered the main frame of the gun in his desk up on the third floor, and later, found the cartricge holding cylinder down on the second floor in his dresser drawer; so you might say that there was no gun there.
My Last Hunt.
During my second of year of graduate school, I took a part time job which mostly had me standing at the bow of a Cornell fisheries research boat that was rigged with a couple of electrodes dangling twenty ten or twelve feet apart out in front of it. We cranked up the generator and cruised around little Dryden lake while I scooped up the stunned fish we had managed to get between the electrodes.. The pickerel , which are speedier or more sensitive than the bass and bullheads, would shoot right out of the water trying to stay ahead of the charge, and I could sometimes net one in the air. One I netted would have been a state rod and reel record. It was materially, my best fishing year ever.
Kristal, baby Mnetha, and I lived out Slaterville Road with the watershed forest in back of the house. I hunted for rabbits, pheasants, and grouse back there. One afternoon an owl flew up from the ground where I didn't expect to see an owl, and I jerk shot him .
Didn't kill it. The owl sat on a rock judging me .
I went back to the house, got a raw hamburger patty and put it in front of the owl....who stared at me, unblinking.
A day later, I hunted by the same spot but the owl and the hamburger patty were gone.
I hunted on ..... and was in a maple glen, coming down to the edge of the little creek bed gully, which was maybe four feet deep and eight feet wide, when I noticed a spike horn buck, head down, picking his way up the gully, only fifty feet away, and never looking up. Deer don't expect anything to swoop down on them from above. That is why people hunt from tree stands. Not even thinking about what I was intending, I lay down my gun, and waited until the deer was right under me. Then I jumped down and grabbed him up....his hoofs flailing so wildly that he slashed himself , and blood was splattering on the rocks. Then there was nothing do do but set him down.... which I did, and he clattered and splattered off. I wouldn't need to try that again. I guess that would be the apex of my hunting life.
On a Saturday two weeks later, my Uncle Curtis was in town to see a Cornell football game with my Dad.
I myself, went hunting out back that day.
I shot a rabbit and was gutting it in the yard when Kristal stepped out and told me my Mom had called to tell me Uncle Curtis had died at the foot ball game.
It was of a heart attack during a kickoff return.
A week or two after that, I got a paper from one of my freshmen English section students, telling about how a man died in the stands in front of her while she was at the foot ball game. I remembered again the smell of the rabbits insides. Still do.
I didn't make any conscious decision, but I haven't been hunting since. And after that my father would turn off the T.V. when a football game got too exciting and he before started yelling "Great Balls of Fire ! Great Scott! and Great Day in the Morning." And we didn't take any long canoe trips, because he didn't want me to have to carry him out of the woods, dead.
Sheriff of Dog's Plot
I haven't hunted in many years...... but I'm keeping the guns. And not just to defend against people who would invade my house to get the guns.
For instance, I needed a gun this winter when a car hit a deer in front of my place, and then another one just yesterday. I carry an ax in the truck for when I myself hit another deer . A gun would be better for killing, but I don't want a gun in my vehicle, so if I ever kill someone in a fit of road-rage, it will have to be with an Estwing, Hudson Bay cruising ax.
And then I have occasionally had to kill poorly-bred roosters of mine that insisted on attacking me, friends, or little people.
Ever since, if I am carrying Granny's cane, or anything that looks like a shot gun, or even just cradling an invisible gun when I approach, the roosters growl, chatter, and move off side-ways.
Though I do generally keep my guns locked in the root cellar..... Granddaddy's shot gun and a box of #6 shells have lately been standing close by the kitchen door, ready to deal with the critter that's been raiding here recently,
In the last few weeks, something has killed two of my three outdoor hens right after they come out of the trees about dawn, and also killedmy most beloved guard rooster Moby Dot, and his partner Whitey. I would kill for Dot and Whitey, maybe even after it wouldn't do any damn good.
The chicken killer doesn't carry the corpses away, but half consumes them nearby.....and returns to feed on them I think... in rotation with the possum and the cats. Maybe he never leaves the plot. I am guessing that the critter is a raccoon....maybe the one I rapped with the cane one morning this winter as it ran by me, chasing one of my hens which it had shaken out of the sumac .
So every morning lately I have been rolling out before sunrise to put the a kettle on, load the gun at the door, and go out to stalk around the driveway until Yellow Foot the last of her little flock comes down out of the sumac... and the shadows slink off so I can safely let the rest of the hens out.
But it still wouldn't be safe for you to show up here unexpectedly, no matter what time of day.
Key to the Root Cellar
My intense fascination with guns had long passed by the time my son Tarka came along, and I never tried to encourage his own interest.... but boys will be shooters, and go bang bang with whatever comes to hand.
Tarka's mother decided that if he wanted toy guns, he would have to make them himself.
Tarka made lots of guns with the tools and parts in my basement. And I only helped him a little.
Then his mother said he could have only one gun
So Takra took his guns all apart, and reassembled a new one from the parts whenever he wanted a different one, guns cycling in and out of existence.
Tarka and I made greenwood bows, sling-shots, and cattail stalk arrows..... but I don't think I ever showed him how we used to stand catails on their heads to soak in kerosene for a day, and then shoot them off the bluff in front of camp at night, flaming out over the lake.
When he got a little older and insisted, I brought the Savage .22 off the rack; told him about how it wasn't a killing gun, and we fired it at regular targets....not over the water and into the trees, but in a gravel pit.
And later we went out to the gravel pit with the shot gun, and the thirty thirty so he could make the big booms.
I took him to a friend's place in the woods where he got to help shoot up an old refrigerator with a mail-order military gun.
Then his own fascination with guns was bumped aside by bikes, which is all for the good I think, except that down hill mountain biking may be statistically more dangerous than general gunning around.
One day when he was a Cornell student, Tarka rode onto the scene of a fresh car/deer collision:.
Patrol car lights flashing, car at the side of the road with driver and radiator steaming. A female officer facing a deer, broken and flailing in the middle of the road. She had her revolver out, but coiuldn't bring herself to use it.
So, although I had never trained him in the use of hand guns, Tarka did the service.
When he graduated, I gave him the Savage .22. and a key to the root cellar here. It is moist down there, so when I am no longer around, he should go down there and oil the guns occasionally, whether they get used or not.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Aunt Hazel made this needlepoint for my mother, who always had it hanging by the telephone in Ithaca, and it now hangs on my own wall. I don't claim to be man's best friend, and I prefer to be
alone most of the time, but this house on Pumpkin Hill is close to the road, so sometimes I get involved with the human traffic.
When you drive over Pumpkin Hill, the trees fall back and the horizon drops away; when you round the top of the hill at speed, you experience a quarter mile of virtual weightlessness, during which empty Doritos bags and Poland Water bottles float out the windows; folks slip into cruising gear, insert a new CD, light up, make a call, or maybe resume an old argument. Sometimes they just want to bail out:
Stitches in Time
I was out with the chickens one Fall afternoon, when I heard car door and voice commotion down towards the neighbors place; "you hit me." in a shrill voice that made me imagine a kid being bumped by a riding mower. I went out the driveway to see.
A car stood half on and half off the road, the driver side open into road. An elderly man and a younger woman were trying to get a kicking and mumbling older woman into the back of the car. I could see how maybe these two they hadn't noticed her walking along the road, had accidentally hit her, and were now attempting to bundle away the evidence. Cars were coming from both directions now, so I closed the driver-side door.
The two asked me to help get the old woman into the car.
I could see cuts on her legs. They said she had fallen at home and would need stitches, so they were trying to take her to the Aurora "Urgent care center" They said there was a dementia problem
I am sure they were father and daughter and it was all as they said, but I knew the medical center in Aurora was not open on Sundays, so I called 991 while they packed Mother in. They were driving away by the time I got the local dispatcher, whom I told they ought to dispatch some one to catch up with these poor folks headed for the the closed, non-emergency center. I don't know how it turned out for the unlucky lady, or that I was any help at all, so I expect to keep thinking about it.
I can think of at least one old woman in a restless dementia who did come walking this way along route ninety this way. She did a good twenty miles along route ninety without beging struck or picked up, but she must have been navigating by the lake rather than by the road, because when ninety bends up Pumpkin Hill out of Aurora, she took the old road straight along the lake where cottages are in close neighborhoods and people walk,.....so was noticed by someone, and the Sheriff got finally got involved. Had she come over my way, I wouldn't have noticed her passing.
I wouldn't want to be aware of everything that happens on my little stretch of highway, and I'm sure I do miss a lot.
Peter my feed man is an emergency vehicle driver. One afternoon as I picked up some cracked corn he asked me how I had liked the spectacular crash right near my place that same morning. I had been totally unaware of it But Peter said the car had flipped end for end several times, hitting the ground five times before it came to a stop right side up. It had happend at nine thirrty when I was siting right here, and I would have expected to hear it.
The car must have toe-danced so deftly that it didn't make much noise with each touch....and since it landed right side up and not once on the top, the d the jaws of life were not required to extract her from her Toyota.. She walked away uninjured , but she complained of a brake problem,
It might just have been the fault of the place itself. Maybe Black Ice was responsible.
One frozen morning after a misty rain, I thought I heard a rumble of thunder north up the road....but I knew it could hardly be that, so I went out to look.
From my driveway, I could see a car half on the road up past the next telephone pole. The car seemed to be sitting a bit low.
I went down there. The tires were all blown and the roof was a bit mashed, and the two women inside were buckled up, unbloodied, and talking, but the older woman, who had been driving said she, couldn't move her head. I made the 911 call.
The two women were mother and daughter and had just gone out to get a pack of cigarettes. They hadn't been thinking about black ice, or black lung I guess. Now they wanted to call home right away and tell husband/ son-in-law that they wouldn't be back with the car, but they couldn't find the shoulder bag with Mom's cell phone in it.
I found the bag with the cell phone , and some of the other stuff that had been in it scattered along the ditch. Also a whole lot of none of the pieces larger than a maple leaf. Maybe some of the ditch glass was from previous incidents. Mom complained of the cold. I put my coat over her until they had cut the car open with the " jaws of life " tool, and moved her to the ambulance.
The next day, the-son-in-law/ husband appeared, searching along the road for his mother-in- law's wallet. It had been in the shoulder bag and had her driver's license in it. He didn't find the wallet, but he didn't seem to disturbed about it all,d I asked about Mom and he said she had NOT broken her neck. That's a miracle, because the car had rolled over three times and gone six feet up the telephone pole, before eventually landing right side up beside the road .
I haven't heard if there is a whip lash issue, or if they were ever able to find the wallet with the driver's license ; but the next time they have to run out for cigarettes, the daughter can drive.
You better watch out if you drive over Pumpkin Hill at twilight.
One evening this fall as I sat right here with the doors shut, I heard a muffled clatter from outside, and imagined something was after my hens under the deck. But then from out on my deck I could see a big SUV pulled off to the side of the road only fifty feet or so up here. I went out and across the yard.
The Stealth black, high wheel-base plastic- grilled SUV had hit a deer about a hundred feet down the road, and driven it half past my place. A lesser vehicle might have taken it through the windshield..
The car radio was on loud. The deer was in the ditch behind the car, all four legs shattered, struggling silently to get up. . A man and woman stood at the other end of the SUV looking at the radiator. The plastic grill was just about all gone, but the radiator didn't seem to be leaking. We supposed they could drive away.
The fellow guessed the deer had a broken back. I offered to shoot it, so they drove away and I went for the shot gun.
I left the deer in the ditch as a kind of road sign for a couple of days. Be warned: deer like to go up and over a hill instead of around it, so all ways over the hill tend to cross at the top.
After a few days it snowed some, so I sledded the corpse back into the brush for the coyotes and crows.
I hope it's never YOU I have to shoot.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
After thinking for months that my so called brother William was off down in the Carolinas with Missy Hoolihan (or Hooligan) and the Tall Animal Review, I got an email, saying he was in Hollywood, California, living on the Universal Studios lot, in a trailer which used to belong to Gweneth Paltrow's cousin or brother.
Willy is....or was, so he says, working as a chicken wrangler for those old-time farm-yard scenes you've got to have in every pre-twentieth century movie. He had use of a laptop with free Univeral internet; the cousin had left him a fridge full of diet Pepsi (which Willy complained about) and there would always be a nineteenth century drama filming on the lot.... and paying way more money than he has any use for.
That was a few weeks ago. I doubt he is there now. He's essentially too rural a stray for that life....and given his freedom with the truth....he might not have been there at any point, might have actually emailed me from the doublewide home of a waitress in Chisom, West Carolina.
Nope.... I don't know where he was or where he's gone. And as a matter of fact, I don't know where he came from either....not before the day back in Natural Bridge when I was about six years old, and he appeared in the family garden with our dog Binker.
Binker was part Spitz and part Border Collie, a former stray herself. She must have brought him home with her. I remember the scene very well, because I have remembered it so often: William standing there in the garden with his hand on Binker, seeming, because of his preternaturally short legs, to be a normal, though raggedy boy, standing in a hole up to his knees.
Right away I disliked this feral intruder, even if the dog had brought him home. Especially because My dog brought him home. Nobody wants to be displaced in his own home or his dog's affections.
When my mom and dad tried to bring the dirty boy in, I tried, and failed, to hold the door shut from inside, so I ran upstairs and hid in a closet while Mom and Dad took the nameless William to the bathroom and tried to wash the stink off him. They didn't quite manage to get all the stink off him, but he eventually got a name, and I would have to share my dog and my and bedrooms with him. It helped that he preferred to spend most nights either in the bathtub, or outdoors somewhere.
When I got to be ten or twelve he would disappear for days or even weeks at a time.....and then after we let him go off to stay with Aunt Sammy in Florida.... it was very easy to forget he ever existed.
So it was always a little uncomfortable for me and the family when he reappeared.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
The pre-Iroquoian Boe-Gae people of the Finger Lakes had a weather-related name for every month of the year....and for them, January was the month of the Pop Corn Snow.
This year the Pop Corn came, as it always does, with a dramatic cold front freeziing the air itself and suffusing everything with an intense, crystal light. Such light, so in advance of the temperatures and in conjunction with the full moon, confused the chickens of Dog's Plot, and severely aggravated Uncle Thread Bear's fly fishing fever.
Davey Weathercock and Olive the Weather Hen reporting:
This year the Pop Corn came, as it always does, with a dramatic cold front freeziing the air itself and suffusing everything with an intense, crystal light. Such light, so in advance of the temperatures and in conjunction with the full moon, confused the chickens of Dog's Plot, and severely aggravated Uncle Thread Bear's fly fishing fever.
Davey Weathercock and Olive the Weather Hen reporting:
Saturday, January 15, 2011
So long ago now that the memory itself has gone sepia , I used a miniature "Spy Camera" from the Johnson Smith Novelty catalog to take this picture of the young John Irving just as we were about to set off on our very strange trout fishing expedition to Waidhoffen an der Ybbs: that river of forgetting.
Twenty years later, the photo appeared in a Time magazine cover story on Irving at mid- career:
"Wrestling Fate into Fable" didn't say anything at all about our trip to Waidhofen , about the fishy business of the Forellen Brudern or about our experiences on the haunted Ybbs.
And it won't likely ever be ....at least not by me. Way back then my interests were narrow and few, so I was mostly unaware of what went on around me. And anyway....you never know the big story when you're right in the eye of it.
What I mostly knew then was Trout. Forelle , in German.
Before going abroad, I barely knew Austria from Australia, but I knew the Austrian Alps were home waters for the Brown Trout. This is not supposed to be a fish story, but to me then, trout were what it was all about..... Salmo Trutta, the European Brown was the god fish.....and the surface of the water, where the trout met the fly, was the place where desire met truth and beauty. Naturally, that meeting at the water didn't always go well. At Waidhofen, it almost went too far.
The Fish Fang Brothers
Along with the Spy camera and a little Remington typewriter, I had brought from the U.S. a Perine aluminum box of home-tied dry flies and my Pfleuger Medalist fly reel holding a hundred feet of Cortland 333 double-tapered floating line. I planned to buy an Austrian fly rod in Vienna and ask the tackle dealer where I should go to find some hallowed trout water.
John had only recently bought the Jawa and he wanted to take it on a test road- trip before he toured Europe with it that summer. He knew New Hampshire Brook Trourt, and had read Big Two Hearted River, but on this trip, he was only going to drive and watch. One afternoon we rode to a shop on a back street between the inner and outer Ring Strassen: The Brudern Forellen, Fish Fang Geselshaft, " Fish Fang" meaning " fish catching........rather than fish tooth.
A painted wooden trout with high forehead like a whale's hung from the Brudern Forellen shop sign.
The shop itself wasn't too much wider than the door. Hardly room to test wag a fly rod in there.
A few tubular rod cases, hung from chamois-horn racks ; reels under glass, beside a few meershaum pipes.
I don't know if the pipes were for sale or just belonged to the man with a overhanging moustache and braid-trimmed sporting jacket who stood by the counter.
He didn't seem to even glance at us.........just picked up a pipe from the ash tray before him and made three sharp raps on the ashtray....like on a door.
At which the twin of his moustash parted the curtains from the back room ....and the other brother stepped in.
Without the exaggerated mustaches, I am not sure whether or not they would have appeared to be twins or even brothers.
"Heil Peter", said one or both of them, to each other or to us, I don't know , but I knew that "Heil Peter" refers to the fisherman saint, and is the traditional Austrian greeting when one fisherman encounters another.
"Guten Tag Gruss Gott." I spoke for us. My German wasn't exactly a clear, flowing stream, but my accent was good enough that I was often mistaken for a borderline Hungarian who understood German much better than I really did.
I was able to explain, clearly enough, I THOUGHT, that I had come to buy a fly rod and to get their recommendation of a place to lease a leg of trout stream, Leg, ( literally beim in German) being, I thought, the equivalent of our " beat" in trout fishing terms.....rather than "shlag", which is the literal translation of beat, but which I knew means whipped cream in Austira, as in "cafe mit shlag obers". Although in other situations, "ober " means waiter.
The brothers checked their relfections in each other, then unaimiously recommended we go to Waidhoffen an Der Ybbs, which they assured us would be sehr rewarding.
Then we got down to choosing a rod. At that time, the gulf of Tonkin, where the bamboo with the best resilience for use in building fly rods grows....really it is really was the only acceptable bamboo for that purpose.... but was the Communists had it and weren't letting it out.
There wasn't all that much of a choice on the racks......but the brothers were well connected, and I'm sure now now that if they had really thought that I was really there about fishing, rather then for something extremely ullterior to fishing.... they could have brought out a decent, pre-war rod ...... something hiding behind the curtain there....... rather than selling me the limpest fly rod I would ever own.
The Towering Dead
The Post -War, divided occupation of Vienna had formally ended. The Stephans Dom cathedral roof had been repaired, and most of the other visible inner city war damage had already been taken care of, but outside the Rng Strassen were ocassional blocks of unreconstructed rubble.
I particularly remember a block not far from the WestBahnoff, where must have been a very large building - now was a perfect pyramid of rubble. Near the top of the pyramid, a small plane was crumpled and partly embedded: . I never knew wether it had crashed there during the war, or more recently. Maybe no one had noticed it and the pilot was still in the cock-pit : a monument in my mind .
The real public and over the top baroque monument to the dead is the Pestaule ( Plague Column): a marble tower of humanity striving toward a gilded heavens , memoralizing the Plague dead at the Graben platz in the olf city center. I once wrote a story in which John Irving,....in a series quick wrestling moves, during a night of drinking, climbed half way up that pillar of striving bodies, but that was totally made up by me....... would have surely broken a few marble ears or arms if he tried it,...... and I am sorry for any legal problems my little joke may have caused.
So on the night John didn't climb the Pestuaule in a sleep-wrestling trance - a few days before he and I left for Waidhoffen - some of us were in Marco Walshock's room on a totten end street, not too many Pesttaule lengths from the Graben.
Sitting or standing around the stove, cognac in our tea and a smudge of Austrian national brand cigarette smoke in the air..... we were bored.
In hopes of making things more interesting, somebody had been eating morning glory seeds for two days , but with none of the intended results....whatever they were.
Somebody else suggested we try the hyperventilation thing ... you know, where you bend over and breathe way too much and too fast for a few minutes, then stand up and hold your breath while someone wraps around your chest from behind and squeezes ..........until you pass out, maybe not, maybe have a near death experience, a go into a dream. Maybe hit your head on the stove,
I can't remember how it went for me. Maybe I'm one who hit his head on the stove.
I do remember that it was Eric who gave John the big squeeze and eased him to the floor....but John didn't stay down for even a second....he flopped a couple of times and came up quick .........said something that sounded like "French Fries", but could have been Fish Fang.... or pretty much anything... then he went for the door.
By the time we asked where he was going.... the door had already closed behind him.
A half hour or forty five minutes later, John came back.
He had cut across his eye-brow and his upper lip was swollen stiff.. l
Hard to understand him talking from just the lower part of his face, he seemed to be saying he had been set upon by a bunch of people who had stolen his leg........and he insisted that we had to go back with him to wherever and deal with these guys.
Four of us went along with him. We didn't find the guys who had jumped him....and,+
were glad we didn't........ we split up, went home, to each his own, and I didn't hear anything more about that night until after our trip to Waidhofen.
The Ybbs Spell
I used to remember that John's Jawa had a side-car I rode in ....... but when I mentioned it a few years ago, he pointed out that, had there actually had been a side-car, you would be able to see the third wheel in the picture here.
O.K. then: with me on the rear saddle, my sling-bag and rod case over my shoulder,..... the two of us in those G.I. surplus field-Jackets..... we invaded Neider Ostereich,....and buzzed up the Ybbs Tal, winding toward Waidhoffen an der Ybbs: river under a spell.
Rural Austria hadn't suffered a lot of war damage ......at least we saw no rubble or ruins. All was kempt.
Invisible hands had picked up all the sticks from under the trees; where the grass was now being cropped t by red deer. Old men with brush scythes moved in slow arcs along the road-side ditches.
The village of Waidhoffen then was much smaller than it appears to be during a current Google Earth fly- over. A town square, a few Onion Domes, a small castle Inn. We checked into the castle and slept in a stone chamber beside the chyrglngk Ybbs, river without vowels.
Late the next morning we followed directions given us by the Fish Fang Brudern... to the home of the fellow they called the Mayor or maybe it was the Major, from whom we were to pick up the Fish Fang permit .
The man who opened the mayor's door had a moustache so like the tackle shop moustaches that I didn't know whether he was one of the two brothers, or a third man related only by moustache.
"Nur Ein Rod?" The major scowled and gave us a map showing my stretch of the river that day....from a bridge right in the center of town, to the Inn a dozen bends upstream.
Looking straight down on the stream from the bridge, we could see two grayling up against the bank, and several trout rising out in the main drift.
In any normal town there would be kids under the bridge after the trout with worms and snatch hooks, but the Ybbs valley was under a spell which made the river invisible to people who lived near it..
We Auslanders walked down to the riverside..
I rigged up with a Light Hendrickson dry fly and, flipping line off my reel m walked right inrto the water up to my knees....no hip boots or waders . I didn't even use hip boots back in the U. S. But back my home streams back in the U.S were not fifty percent glacial melt water either.
Around a few bends....and aftrer an hour or three - I had no idea in my tunnel of concentrtion - . I was well over my knees in a long slow run, occasionally bringing in and releasing a nine or ten inch brown . From shore, with the spy camera, John photographed me casting. The poor resolution and my distance from the camera make it so you can't tell whether I was standing in a river casting or kneeling on a road, tyring to wave down a ride.
One of his shots shows me with a small, silvery trout, which you can't tell is actually a foreign invasive Ameirican , Rainbow Trout: , a much flashier, more impulsive kind of trout, which Ernest Hemmingway introduced into to most every mountain range he visited.
And the last of of John's pictures shows me in the Ybbs, nearly up to my boneless parts . One pointedly concentrated on....really located in the looping, floating fly....and entirely numb in the legs as I was....you could just about have amputated one of them without me noticing.
I vaguely remember the mayor, if that is what he was, as he passed us on the other side of the stream.
Maybe I remember John calling from behind me.
He says he finally got my attention by catching my backcast and holding on until I came around and reeled in.
We slogged across a meadow to the Inn beside the road , and sat at a table in the afternoon sun.
We probably ordered coffee and something to eat. I needed soup. John has said we gave them some trout they cooked up and served to us. What that is, is a fish story. I think that would be very nice, but i didn't even have a creel and would not have been bringing fish back the castle for the night.
What l I remember is the shivers and shudders . We walked back to the castle. I changed into dry clothes and wrapped up in one of those foot thick down dovets and didn't come out until it was time to eat again.
Next day, we decided to go back to Vienna by means of an upstream route, cutting over to the Danube. I suppose we thought it would be faster.
A half an hour out we asked directions of some guys fishing at a bridge. They pointed toward the pass, but invited us to climb off and go at the stream, because the owner was gone and would be away for three days. We soldiered on and up.
Before topping the pass or shortly after, we drove through a village....I didn't notice the name of it....but most of the people, (or at least a good percentage of those walking along the road, were either blind or were leading the blind.
The Third Leg
Das Detuches Weinhaus had more stories below ground than it did above : cellars below basements, below kellers,...... dug through time, and lined with the stones of old city walls. Eric, John, and I went there regularly for Friday night dinner.
One Friday after our Waidhofen trip, we finished our shnitzels on the street level of the Weinhaus, and then went down to drink beer in the first cellar.
We sat a few benches away from a lone man in a green felt hat, talking quietly to his plate and mug.
Eric... after a couple of chugs from his mug..... popped back up and went off to the water closet. We were both of us Frequent Shitters, ever since that meal aboard the Orient Express.
He was gone for longer than it usually took.....but Eric seldom went anywhere at all, without taking a side- trip.
When John and I had about finished the pitcher of beer, Eric showed up, face flushed and nostrils flaring. . He had gone all the way to the last basement, he said....and down theree saw a bus- boy sitting in the corner and YANKING HIS WANGER ! Loudly, he said it. I wasn't too drunk to look around embarassed,,,,,,,,,
as the man in the green hat straigtened up and yelled at me, STOP LOOKING AT MEINE MUTTER. Of course we all looked at him then, and he yelled more.
We didn't want to look at his mother anyway, so we got up and John said that since Eric couldn't even go to the bathroom without ending up in the fucking sewer... he himself would go get the pitcher filled.....but we went with him...... and then we took it down to the third level..
Somewhere during that or the next pitcher, over clanging student voices John wondered loudly if I remembered the Vilage of the Blind we drove through, on our way home from Waidhofen? And of course I did.
Did I remember that one bunch of blinden being led by a one-legged man? THE FUCKING HALT LEADING THE FUCKING BLIND?
No, I didn't remember that..
.......and I then I myself wondered out loud ..... what was that he had been mumbling that night at Marco's...... about some guys STEALING HIS LEG ? And by the way, what made him jump of and run off like that after he had passed out.
He didn't remember then what he had been mumbling, and the first thing he could recall from that night....he was out on the street............ with the image of the the Forellen Brudern shop sign with its wooden fish, dangling in his mind. ..... and no thought but to go there. Like a dog at a bone..
When he arrived, the shop lights were on but the door was locked.
Standing there he wondered at last what he was doing...and looked back toward the street. Then he noticed the hairline crack outlining a door on the back of the fish, and finger hole by which he was able to open it..
A large door key hung on the inside of the door itself.
Of course he took the key and used it.
He went past the counters under the chamaois horn racks and though the curtian to the back. Lights on there too. In a closet he found two wooden legs, both of them of barrel stave construction, and each with a small door on the inside thigh, He opened both. One had wads of newspaper between bricks of something wrapped in wax paper and the other had newspaper balls and sasusages.
But then he heard the front door opening. And there was no back door. Crouching over one of the legs, peeking through the curtains, he saw that it was one of the brothers, and that he was going to come right through to the back.....so John waited until the last moment, and, head down so he would not be recognized, burst low through the curtains, leg under one arm, stiff-arming the brother with the other as he reached for the leg.
And he was out of there.... not that he had planned to steal the leg,
He ran down a few streets and made a few turns until he had pretty well lost himself, then stepped in to a bier haus , and sat a rear table tryiing to hide the leg between his own
Two drunks at the bar had had noticed when he came humping in trying to hide the leg.
After another round, they came back and demanded to see his third leg...." Only meine Frau mienem third leg sehen kan" he says he said..
The drunks were not amused and they had already convinced themselves that he had stolen the leg off a poor organ grinder. One tried to wrestle it away from him, so John let him have it while he threw that guy on his back, but then another guy was on him and while John dealt with him, the first guy ran off with the leg,,,, then some more guys came off the bar...... so that's when he got out of there ......and made his way back to Marco's .
John didn't know which leg he had taken from the shop.....the one with the sausage, or the one with bricks of something wrapped in wax paper, and tied with string. At the time, he thought the bricks were hashish, but it seems more likely that they were cheese, being at that end of the smuggling operation...... because that is what we had stumbled onto here.
In those days the pitying indulgence granted to they amputee war victims who still limped the streets, made customs easy for those with artificial limbs. We had seen sausages changing hands, if not being pulled from out of hollowlegs, when we rode the Orient Express through the Soviet countries. Those places were so poor then, that I bet there was more money to be made selling the ssusage on board the train than by distributing the hashish they brought back from Istambul.
But that was the soft end of that sinister operation.
The Halt, the Blind, and the Hungry
One Winter night, several years ago and a few hours after we had pulled apart a rack of lamb in the dining grotto of the Irving cave/ dome home in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire....... we were once again discussing old Vienna and the Waidhofen of trailing memory, when John insisted that "Blindendorf" as we were calling it, was actually the real name of that village of the blind we rode through...... because he said he had seen the name on an actual road sign.
Well, I didn't remember THAT. I thought "Bliindendorf" was just anorther dorfish name we were CALLING the place.
Then he showed me a letter from a woman who reported that her mother and she had very much had enjoyed his every book. The envelope was postmarked "Blindendorf".
Now that he is translated into forty three languages and reads i to stadium crowds, Mr Irving is no longer available to write blurbs for friends or to sign books at his readings..... but he had actually wrirtten back to the woman of Blindendorf, thanking her for the kind attention ,........and asking by the way....... why DID they call it Blindendorf ?
There'd been no response.
So he suggested I write to her. I could assure here that he was the real John Irving .
I wrote to the Woman of Blindendoft , explained our history with the place and asked, by the way.....why DID they call it Blindendorf.
There was no response from Blindendorf.
Later that winter, I did what I should have done long before: I googled Blindendorf.
And I got THREE Blindendorfs!
it wasn't clear to me which Blindendof was ours, because II didn't recall exactly or generally where in Austria Waidhofen was anyway...... so then I 'Googled Waidhoffen an der Ybbs".
Before I even made it to a map, I landed in the middle of G.I. World War II diary, posted by a Vet who had been at the head of the push to Waidhoffen.
Waidhofen , he tells us, was the furthest East of the Alied penetration into Austria.... which I suppose is because that was the Nazi army's furthest retreat. I am supposing the officers were billited in the castle where we ourselves had stayed.
On the last day's march, as this brigade neared Waidhofen, they discovered a concentration camp , locked and abandoned by the Nazis.. When the G.I.s openened the gates, says the Vet, the still standing prisoners who did not fall at the soldeirs feet for ration packets, dragged across the road and began eating the bark off the trees. Others began straggling along the road to Waidhofen.
In the camp the G.I.s found sheds full of bodies, stacked like firew wood, rotting at the bottom, barely alive at the top.
The diary nearly breaks under the strain of trying to describe the evil smell.
After getting back on the road to Waidhofen, the G.I.s passed individuals they had recently freed struggling alone or in small groups beside the road,...and some dead on the shoulder.
That was enough to get past, that I didn't actually get around to googling Blindendorf again until three days later,
And THEN, there weren't three Blindendorfs, but ONLY ONE Blindendorf.... AND it was nowhere near Waidhoffen. I did find two or three BlindenMarkts....... but the nearest was a hundred miles away.
So is this winking , Blinkendorf thing a clue..... or an upland red herring? Whoever knows can please tell me...... but we had stumbled into the world of Black Medicine. By the early 1960's when we were there, the one-legged veterans were beginning to die off,d pitiful few new amputees could be found to fill the ranks of smugglers......... and there were plenty of desperate men who had nothing more than two good legs and a passport to make them a living.
With my misconstrued German expression "a leg " on the Ybbs, I had inadvertently spoken code words linked to their , gratuitous amputation station an der Ybbs... whether just outside Waidhofen, or in some portable Blindenorf
It is chillingly clear that if John had not hauled me out of the Ybbs that day when I had been standing numbed in the river... if I had instead followed the "Mayor" up the Ybbs ........ I would have been on my way to a hollow leg, and a whole other career. I owe John an arm and a leg for that.
But the one thing that still bothers me is, what did the brothers do with all the amputated legs? Sausage? Whenever I think of the whole thing, my legs shiver and sting, like ghost limbs in distant waters.....if you can have ghost limbs when you still have the real ones.