Thursday, January 7, 2016

Boy Builders of Natural Bone

        On the north side of the road in Natural Bridge, the back yards slope down to  a spring hole  where  the Indian River, exits the  caverns and wanders off  through a sandy plane with occasional Pine-topped outcrops.  Naturally, boys  build forts, camps, and shacks back there,  often making  an updated hide-out  every  year or two,  each a little further away.  Some boys   take apart and move the whole thing.  A person closely related to me, hustling with  his friends, took some unattended lumber from the  saw mill  in town, and  tossed it into the river below the dam. The lumber   made it through the caverns without getting caught up in the low overhead sections,  and the  boys collected  it a good way  downstream.  The best fort I saw was an anteroom to a small cave on the river.  I suppose that, since then, that cave has seen   many generations of  Natural Bridge boy-builders.

   Dicky Bray  and I, aged five or six,   built a fort together just behind the old Bonaparte house foundation near my family home. 
  We used some half-rotted boards from inside the foundation hole, but relied heavily  on a blanket. One day we discovered that someone had taken a few of our boards .
     Later, when we found our boards on new wood and canvas fort further out back,  we slashed the canvas with Dicky’s jack knife.

      Many years later, I partnered in a  building business, with Ed Franqueentont who had spent many of his young summers, staying with his uncle Moe Morgan and family in Natural Bridge Moe owned the caverns and the adjoining store.
     We met and  worked mostly around Ithaca, but Ed pretty much designed the camp for us to build on Round Island, in Lake Bonaparte. The main support is two massive beams, fabricated on site from two-by-tens  and three feet up on piers of local stone, laid up on the bedrock.   I had green wood sawed for it a year ahead, so it would have time to cure.  After a few months the wood disappeared,  reappearing again as a shack way out back of the mill.
      We eventually got another batch and put up the carry beams up on Round Island.

          Then somebody knocked them down.  So I put them up again and framed for a floor across them.  Brother Herb, whose camp it was to be, helped me nail up the floor. Ed Franquemont didn’t work on the job, because he was running our office in Ithaca and the big barn moving/house-building project at the time.   Four other N.B. workers , including my daughter Mnetha and my Niece Liz Morse both  worked on the barn house , with me on Round Island …and with Natural Bone Builders for a lot of years.

        One morning we had the roof rafters half up, but poorly braced …. when they fell off.  They fell mostly on the second floor, and David Morgan was the only one standing right there, but the rafters just fell around him.   Not much was said at the time, and we had them  back up before lunch time.  I wrote about that rough building project and sold the article to the Mother Earth magazine, but they edited out the part where the roof fell in. 
         So this should right that wrong.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The First of Nowella

The Origin of Nowella

  Each year at this time we feel obliged to tell the Nowella Nativity story from its very begnings, in what some may feel to be an unholy union .. and in fact, it didn't last; but what was, was, and young people just want to know everything.
  We know of only one  Man/Bear hybrid  ever:  the individual we call  Nowella,  whose constitutional rights  are currently being challenged in court by certain people who will not be allowed into this story.

      In the winter of 1965, somewhere between the Fort Drum Wilderness and the Bonaparte Cave State Forest of Northern New York, a young female Black Bear in the  early stages of hibernation was stirred to waking by the warm wind of a  January thaw that had melted the snow cap of the brush pile where she lodged.
     This particular bear had red-blond fur of a shade you might call "cinnamon" :  lighter than usual for Black Bears  - which are generally not very black either, but most commonly a dark brown.  So  this  light-brown Black Bear crawled out from under a  brush pile, and out into a patch of sun where she shook her bones, her slabs of fat, and her thick  pelt;  then  arched her back, bowed like a dog,  burped like a man,  and yawned like a cave as she shambled into the ferns to finish doing what everybody knows bears routinely do in the woods upon rising.  
   After all that,  she  sniffed off looking for a  rotted log to claw apart for snack-grubs before  -  had it not been for what she will discover in the next paragraph  -  she would have returned to the  brush pile for her deep-winter dream time.

       Because as she was wallowing across a  deep drifted swale,  her nose entered a  current of  smells:    wet wool … old smoke … peanut butter … artificial barbecue flavor …  carbon-dioxide and carbon monoxide … detergent … urine … gasoline … blood , sweat,  and beer.
  She followed her nose up the draw a few hundred yards, and there she found  a snowmobile on its side in the  snow beside a man who lay on his back with  his arms out and his forehead bleeding.  
     She licked the blood off his forehead …  and she might have proceeded to eat his face;   but her inquiring nose found the  beef  jerky in his pocket, still in the  torn wrapper, but half-eaten.  She ate the Slim Jim AND the wrapper.
   What happened next has many explanations and refuses them all.
          Did she at least INTEND to drag him to her lair and eat him there?
 Did she fool herself into thinking that the Slim Jim in the pocket was something that grew on him like fish on a tree? 
When she took the hood of his snowmobile suit in her teeth, was she just trying to skin the guy? Was this going to be one of those  inter species adoption things, like where the German Shepard accepts a fawn in with her nursing pups? 
        Be that as it may (and history may never tell), our bear took the  unconscious man's hood in her teeth and dragged over the wet snow, down the draw and to her brushy den, where she wrapped herself around him like a rug around an Slim Jim (except he was not what anyone would call thin… but anyway, she DID NOT kill and eat the man.  (  Note: A few  years before the publication of this article the same man was killed in another snowmobile accident, but his family has asked not to be named, so, from here on, we will refer to him as "Jim.") 
 By the third day of his confinement,  "Jim" was alert,   over-heated,  antsy, and very hungry, but afraid to move.
     The she bear brought in a leg of something  rotten enough to have been pulled off the body of whatever it used to be part of.  
      Jim  was accustomed to eating several times a day and hated to go without, and was REALLY in need,   so he ate SOME of what was offered, wishing he had   rum to kill his taste buds.  But Captain Morgan had stayed with the snowmobile.

 When her Man  was able to sit up,  the Bear went to pull some more haunch off the whatever,  but the Man was just  lively enough at that point to get to  his snowmobile,  start it up, and buzz off back to the hunting cabin (where he was spending the winter because his wife had kicked him out of the house. Which was O.K. because the cabin was electrified,  had a Satelite T.V., and an extra large refrigerator already stocked with beer and bacon.)
          The  cabin was several miles off through the woods,    but it was very easy  for our bear to follow the snowmobile track and the river of smells to that  cabin in the pines.
     The cabin was  made of two units brought  there in two trips on the back of a pick up truck.  He had built the modules in his barn where he lived in a trailer under the loft after his wife exiled him from the house, and he had brought them to his campsite one at a time in his pick up truck  The two halves were held together by C clamps and then sided with slab-sawed pine.  The   clamps were still in place, waiting for lag bolts.    The Man had previously piled firewood up against the side of the cabin under a   cheap awning-type window "Jim" had scrounged   from a junked trailer, so he could just open the window and pull in the wood without going out, or leaving it unlatched, go outside and push the wood in.  Most of the time he LEFT it unlatched, as it was this day. The bear arrived a few hours after the man.

          Drawn by a rivulet of scents flowing  from the window ledge,  the bear climbed up onto the woodpile. 
       From there, she tipped up the unlatched window, and  entered onto the kitchen counter. 
  The man, not quite fully awakened by her entrance  lay, still in his snowmobile pants, sprawled across his bed in the center of the  cabin.    
   And the bear, again demonstrating just how powerful is the Bear sense of scent, was able, from right there on the kitchen counter,  to  smell clear through the knotty pine cupboard doors, and through the g: canned beans, canned hash, canned soup, and canned pears in syrup.
   The man, though not nearly recovered from his ordeal and the three beers with chasers he had consumed upon getting back to the cabin, came mostly to waking, if not to living fully, when the bear had opened the cupboards and began tumbling the cans out onto the counter and the floor. The bear  bit into each can and sucked out what contents could be sucked, giving the last of each can to the man, who stayed in bed, still afraid for his life.  Fear woke him some more, until he sat up against the bedboard and began to hope that the bear wouldn't. 

When the man had  recovered and gained confidence and need enough to get up and out of bed,  he squatted over a spackle bucket  and did into it what a bear does in the woods, then put the bucket in the mudroom,
      And THEN the man opened the refrigerator.
      The open Refrigerator was a revelation to   cinnamon bear and it may be what ultimately determined whether she would be eating him or eating with him.
   She put her nose in  and, without taking it out,    ate the  styrofoam cup of worms he had bought at the quick stop, and stored for an ice fishing expedition,  which now, was never going to happen. 
       She then bit into a can of beer.  It was messy. She licked it up quicker than a maid with a mop.
    The man pulled the top of another and handed it to her.   The beer was not so sweet as honey, but stung less like bees, and a stung a lot nicer.
 She would never use a can opener or pull a zip top,  because he would be doing it for her.  And  she would not be biting cans and losing half the beans in this cabin either.   The ma
   "Jim"  had heard that bears stink … but to  HIM anyway;  Cinnabear did not  to stink at all, but smelled kind of good in a strong sort of way .  A little like food,  something like footwear ... with a hint of carmalised onion and Dining Room Rug.       
           When Jim   was well enough he switched on the T.V.,  which, until then, our bear had, understandablly taken for another refrigerator.
     The dancing foods and and talking heads buffuddeled her.    Our bear  flopped on the floor to watch, entranced   by the furious visions in the box and also by the new smells that she at first thought were coming from it  as our man fired up the stove for their first real breakfast together. 
  Jim admired the range of colors in the lush rug of the she-bear's pelt. He admired even the smell of her fur as it warmed in the heat of the stove, and was surprised that, whatever people may say about bears, THIS one didn't smell bad at all.  This bear smelled good!
       " Here you go my Cinnamon", the man  said, as he served her pancakes, bacon, Sausage, and Maple Syrup. 
             Not only did our bear  not return to hibernation;  she hardly even slept all the rest of that winter.  She didn't leave the cabin at all, except  to urinate and defecate in the woods.
  She would never understand how a man could defecate in his own den.  As time passed,  that became one of the more important differences between them. 
     Generally speaking, she would not have preferred to live in a house, as opposed to part of the time in a brush pile, part in a tree, part in as dug-out, and so on, but with easy access to houses.  Houses should be more like refrigerators, and above all, you should be able to come and go easily .
  So she  HATED door knobs:  they made her dependent  because she could not manipulate them.  She had to grunt and bang on the door with her head to go out;  and and to do the same to get back in.  Her waking hours, which as I have said, were all her hours,  besides eating and rolling around, she mostly  watched T.V. through the whole rest of the winter, and that was all very entertainiing but it WAS   a strain for a bear, and anyway , in spring, a bear has to go over the mountain, so she went out to the bathroom one day in April, and did not return. 

    Although bears typically give birth in mid hibernation, almost always to multiple cubs…. and of course, generally have cubs that are all bear,    "Cinnabear" , "Cindy" or "Cin" ,   as "Jim"  sometimes called her,  gave birth  that Spring to a single child - the mixed species individual we know as Nowella.      .

   But our Cinnamon would later tell this child  NOT that her father had  been been a white MAN, but instead, that he had been a white BEAR.   With intense questioning, and over time, it developed that said bear was named   Rudy,  had  red eyes and several gold teeth,  and had been performing  with Missy Hoolihan's Tall Animal   Revue, wearing a red vest  and balancing  on a large ball while smoking cloves in a meerschaum pipe.
 They were briefly married  and had planned to honeymoon at Pipestone National Park in Minnesota, but it never happened … or so Mother Bear said, lying about all but the  "it never happened" part.
           According to Mother Bear,  before they could have had any kind of Honeymoon trip, Rudy the Polar Bear  had left her without notice and for no stated reason, without even a note of goodbye.  He   had gone  back home to the SOUTH POLE,  she claimed, compounding and confusing the lie; because, as everyone knows or else should know, Polar bears are native only to the NORTH pole.

   Being mostly a normal bear (except for her mixed parentage, her farsightedness, her  vivid and usetteling dreams,  plus a significant   directional-disability,  and a few small cognitive quirks … all of which worked as a kind of stimulus to her curiosity) Nowella grew full of questions and ripe to wander by the age of sixteen  in bear years (three or four human years)  so she set off for the South Pole;   to search at the wrong end of the world for a non-existent bear who was not her father.