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Last night I was putting my 8 year old to bed and somehow we got to talking about birthdays and how mine is one day after Mama’s. And I was explaining how I was a year older than she is even though our birthdays are so close and hers is before mine. I said something about how I was born and then 364 days later Mama was born. And I blew my son’s mind. He couldn’t get over the 364 thing. And he started asking me if there was ever any people that were as old as a millennium. And I said I didn’t know. Maybe there was.

Of course, I remember being likewise baffled by the passage of time when I was his age, how a few hours could seem like forever and someone who was 14 was like an adult. And thinking about the passing of a few months, let alone a few years, was just incomprehensible.

And I wondered where that bafflement goes. What are the conditions to make time run away ‘like wild horses over the hills’, as Bukowski says? If my bed was always made for me to crawl into at night and there was nothing to do to make the refrigerator fill or the lights switch on would my days likewise stretch on towards oblivion? What if it was my job to follow curiosity on winding paths or to stir great pots of imagination? If my true and only employment was to squeeze delight from my siblings and push them to the tear’s edge of amusement, what then? Would time seem to stand still?

I wonder if each chore ties him more to the spinning wheels of the world. I wonder if each responsibility he takes on does not in some measure pull him from the sweet memory of limitlessness. But Adults do tamp down the ‘beyond time’ in children, don’t they Peter Pan? I remember learning the word ‘responsibility’ myself. Again and again, I learned that word. And I don’t think there was a heavier word in the English language. I don’t know if I was twelve or a new teenager. But that word was pounded in me. And likely, I could ponder the nature of that word for the rest of the day, but better to dwell a little longer on the preciousness of having none of it.

We do savor the boy that we have. And though we want him to, you know, close the refrigerator, and other ‘responsible’ things like that. Let him stay baffled at the passage of time. Let him be unable to imagine the passing of a year for many years to come. These are the things we’ll be saying when our baby (pictured above climbing) is his age, I know. These are the things you tend to want to preserve in the last children, when there is no hurry that they grow up. (It is hard to be the oldest, I know.)  But let us remember this with our first child too. And let him linger with Pan fighting worrisome pirates for many, many years.

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Last night the sun set bright pink across the whole sky. ‘Twas a portentous omen on the eve of Easter.  It had significant meaning like sailors be warning. The meaning, if I can divine it right, was to lay down thy ‘implements of destruction’, put aside the metal rake and transfer shovel. Let the truck keys sit on their shelf and stir not a finger in the direction of a weed.

Ah, but the wife and I are heathen folk. We might be the devil’s own children for we know the secret formulas of sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter. That’s black magic for sure. There were folks hung for less in Salem and other places. Our alibi is that we learned it from a History Channel DVD. I’m doing my research on black power weaponry. I wanna get a gun that’ll shoot beaver between the eyes.

Friday night, I went out in the moonless night after tucking the frog princess into bed. Again, I went out in my robe and stopped this side of the spill way to hear what the frogs were saying. And they said, ‘All is well, carry forth on your errand.’ So I did. I went across the dam to the culvert that was clear and flowing, making that certain noise so horrible to beaver ears, the sound of running water. I went there and I scanned round for beaver bodies working. I saw none. And so, I waited. Like a hunter, I waited.

That horrible noise must have been too much for them for after while one approached languidly, circling in closer. Ah, but I forgot to say that I was cocked and loaded with shot. I decided I’m never going to be accurate enough with a slug in the 20 gauge standing in the black of night. What am I, some trained killer or boy scout raised with guns? Pish-posh, I don’t know a thing. I’m just starting to learn in my research what are the meanings of caliber, center-fire, gauges, bores and whatnot. And thanks to History Channel’s ‘Tales of the Gun’ Discs 3 & 4, I now know the origin of the phrases ‘to go off half-cocked’ and to be a ‘flash in the pan’. And also, that it seems even our most celebrated scientists, like Galileo and  Michelangelo, were sell-outs to the military-industrial-complex, back when it was a military-mostly-forged-by-hand-and-animal-power-complex.

In fact, watching the history of black powder and the rifle, et cetera, I think I can pinpoint the downfall of human society to exactly the time when guns & ammo gave chivalry & knights the pink slip (maybe J. Diamond already said this) and any idiot with a few weeks training could fire a gun and kill a fellow. But Joseph M. Marshall III does says something similar about the downfall when it happened among the Lakota on our American continent. All nobility was gone, bravery mainly abandoned. If there was honor in being a warrior anymore, it was hard to find and lost in all the senseless killing. But, oh, how I go off on tangents? Where was I?

That’s right. I saw the little bugger. He was swimming toward the culvert to stop up that flowing water. I leveled the barrel on him and had a good view in the reflected starlight on the water. The shot felt good. And there was no ‘beaver splash of the tail in anger’ afterwards. And the water still flowed the next morning when I went out to check the culvert. Ah, but there is no stopping these animals.

The following evening they were out again. One splashed his tail lightly in the distance while another approached and I took yet another shot. But this time it didn’t feel so good. And when I went back out this morning they had stopped up the water around the culvert and my first Easter chore began. Do the beavers not know that we should not work? It is a holy day! They are to blame for leading us to heathen ways, down the primrose path, first to chores clearing culverts and then on to heavy labor on holy days.

I just wanted to finish projects outstanding from the day before then switch to holiday/holy mode. I hate a job half done. First and heaviest, the old satellite footing was to be removed from next to the house. Like some vestigial embarrassment of a bygone broadcast era, the thing seemed to have been built to withstand a category five tornado. When you buy instead of build your ‘dream’ house you inherit these types of things.

We’d taken off the aluminum ‘wok’ part a few years ago and sold it for scrap, deflowered it if you will. But still, there was the steel footing post sunk in about three square yards of concrete. This great concrete mass had been dug around and sat for over a year like a brontosaurus egg in a nest outside our bathroom window. But finally, with truck and come-along, tamp and t-post we were able to wedge it out of the hole and into the bed of an old wheelbarrow-sans-wheels-and-other-hardware. It was sitting there in it’s sled not going anywhere. The truck, of course, couldn’t pull it. The thing must weigh six hundred pounds. Even on the “sled” it wouldn’t budge. Give the wife credit for the solution. We cut up 2 treated posts into thirds and on these six round logs we were able to roll it to an out of the way place. Yes, this is the way that the Great Khan’s of the past, moved their homes across the steppe. But it wasn’t easy.

That being done. It was time to finish burning the hedge apple (Osage orange) blow-downs along the pasture. This was simple enough until the fire got out of hand. And I lost control of it in the mostly dry and dead pasture grass. And it was about to blow out of the pasture and into the very flammable chestnut and hazelnut plantings. The flames were about shoulder high and I almost gave it up for lost. I prayed to God for the winds to change. I blew in the direction that I wanted the wind to come from (this is old Mongol magic). And low and behold they did change. And frantic, throbbing, sweating, smokey and out-of-breath desperation gave way to calmness.

Ah, but the funny part is when I was working along the burn with the shovel smothering and desperate, my son was behind me on the line moping up. And I told him, after my prayers were answered, “Thank God, the wind changed.” And he says, “Thank God? Don’t thank God. Thank Hanuman.” And I said, “All right. Thank you Hanuman.” What eight-year-old American farm boy thanks Hanuman?

Ah, but heathens though we may be, my son knows well enough what caves are to be remembered on Easter day. Though, he may thank Hanuman he knows the moral of the story is to not look for the living among the dead. And the moral of this story, might be the same. Heck, maybe that is always the moral of the story. Don’t look for the living among the dead.

That’s what we’re doing, “out here a thousand miles from [our] home”. Sick of looking for the living among the dead, we’re out here among the living. Living and working, enjoying holy days in holy toil. Yes, yes, it is romantic exaggeration. Perhaps the real moral of the story is not to work too much on Easter. And in my sweaty desperation, I did learn my lesson. And after a cold, hard cider, I stopped with the heavy labor and went exploring and canoeing with the kids, holy pursuits with holy rewards. We saw beautiful things, wondered, marveled and learned. But it seems there are lessons to be learned whatever road you’re on, holy or heathen. There are always lessons to be learned. But remember, don’t look for the living among the dead.

 

 

 

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1.)  I hold my breath driving by cemeteries.

2.) I don’t know who is more powerful, the person happy to die with a gun to his head or the person holding the gun.

3.) You shouldn’t ask kids why, generally speaking, and never in haste.

4.) Hearing in-depth stories about Edward Snowden leaves me with a more positive outlook on the world.

5.) A recently canned jar, cooling and making a tinny pop as it compresses is a highly satisfying sound.

6) I was invited to join a birthday dinner at Benihana and I stole a fork (it says Benihana on the bottom and is beautiful).

7.) I do not know if Ben Franklin was referring to masturbation when he said we should rarely use venery.

8.) If you happen to be eligible for food stamps but you’re able to feed yourself you should take the benefit anyway and give stuff away (unless you trust the government more than yourself).

9.) It must say something about me that my favorite movie as a tween was Never Cry Wolf, adapted from Farley Moat (remind me never to use the word tween again).

10.) It is a personal goal of mine to make pemmican.

 

 

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It has been a while.

My head has cleared a little and my brain has healed enough for me to exercise some. Only occasionally will I feel dizzy. I can’t hear well with my left ear but  that could be from when Chimba caught me with a right-hook sparring, back when I used to box in Ulaanbaatar.

The brain is one thing and the mind another. I can heal my mind with the wheelbarrow now. Load by load, mind is repaired. A tri-axle dump truck of mulch is the best of therapists.

Meditation is a loaded word but I am not afraid. Walking across the orchard, balancing mulch and mindful of the uneven ground, that’s wheelbarrow meditation. There is no need to dwell on anything. The wheel makes tracks in the grass from the furthest chestnut and to the closest peach. Sometimes I dodge the crawdad chimneys. Sometimes I kick them down.

American toads trilled for the first time this spring as I went out with the twenty gauge. I was wearing a fleece over my red flannel robe with box of slugs in the pocket. I’m not trying to hurt the beavers. I’m trying to kill them.

The moon is getting bright, waxing toward blood. It shines on the water when there aren’t any clouds. Sometimes I sit in a plastic chair on the edge of the spillway. On the orchard side and under a cattle panel arbor, I lean my head against the gate-post and rest the barrel on the cedar gate. My eyes focus on nothing. The slightest silver wake shines silently led by a black beaver head. It takes a while to convince yourself that you’re not seeing things. I take a shot but I usually miss by a wide mark. The slug splashes in the water and he dives quick and comes up a little ways off and gives three pounding, angry splashes with his tail.

Once, I hit him with buckshot and he slowly dove underwater and took the next few days off. Now I only use slugs.

The dogs have had better luck killing beaver than I have. Our orange dog got pretty torn up and he’s still licking some deep wounds that we guess came from beaver. Around the time we discovered the wounds, we found a dead beaver drug to the top of the hill by the barn. When I saw it our white dog had already eaten the tail. We celebrated a small beaver battle victory.

These battles with nature are all in our minds and eventually we lose every one of them. Sometimes fighting to preserve the illusion keeps us sane. A strange kind of sanity, like beautiful, bound Chinese feet.

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Yellow-breasted warbler and Northern parula, just in from South America provide the soundtrack to all this ephemeral flower business. I’d been confusing sharp-lobed hepatica (Anemone hepatica) with spring beauty, I think, but you focus on the foliage and it is clear. I’ll have to go back and look for the seedpods of twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) to collect. They make little animal mouths that can be painted to added effect.

So far, it is the year of blood-root (Sanguinaria canadensis) but I saw my first snow trilliums (Trillium nivale). False rue anemone (enemion biternatum) is colonial and almost always has five petals. ‘True’ rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) is found solitary and with usually more than five petals. Remember putty root orchid (Aplectrum hyemale) flowers in the first weeks of June and remember too, the naked flower of wild leek (ramps), round the first of August.

Naming these things in the woods gives them power. It gives them wholly justified power. The deeper I dig in this business the more powerful they become. When the clump of grass-like growth in the upland forest becomes Pennsylvania sedge and the red-tailed hawk soaring over head is ignored for attention to the song of spring migrants, fresh from the Andes, then you know you are in deep. And you measure your life by the ephemeral blooms that you have in your future. “If I’m lucky,  I’ll see the blood-root bloom like this twenty more times”, they say. I love to hear people talk like that. “Go learn the sedges” they tell me. And I just might.

Amazing powers of these plants seem to have stopped the damming of a river in our Indiana. Who knew a fen and some dragonflies could overthrow the hopes and dreams of the pleasure-cruising class? Who knows but some sedges might over power dreams of lake-front property development. But learn their names and you’ll see.

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I think out loud. Very little is sacred to me. Or everything is sacred. But I could drop it all on a dime. Or I could sacrifice my life for it. Mainly, I am just a reflection seeking things to reflect. I’m a mirror looking for identity in the flat images that show on me.

Adyashanti talks about how walking on the ground can restore balance and move energy where it needs to be moved. Bare-feet are the prescription. The earth works the pressure points in your feet. And I think about the voles and moles being massaged as they push swimmingly through the topsoil.

It’s more rodents than I know what to do with.

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“How do you make a cornfield out of a forest? How do you make a town? How do you clear away trees five feet through and towering one hundred and fifty feet? Forty acres, eighty, a section, a county – how do you “cut the top off” all the flat land between the Cumberlands and the Mississippi?

Our minds can only ache to comprehend.”

- Robert O. Petty from Wild Plants in Flower III Deciduous Forest, Essay and species notes, Dundee, Illinois, 1974

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