January 27, 2010

January 22, 2010

January 19, 2010

January 14, 2010


The record-breaking Florida cold snap, two-weeks long and just now starting to dissolve, has kept
me if not housebound, close to it. I ventured out yesterday for a brisk walk to the post office,
bundled in a down jacket.

Citrus trees all over the state have suffered heavy damage, and many crops have been completely
lost in the freeze. There has been a massive die-off of snook. They go into shock when the water
dips below 60; it's been 50. They're washing up on shore all along the gulf coast. Heartbreaking.
Their excellence, for both the food and the fight, is such that selling or trading them in Florida
is illegal. Their fishing season is short, and catch-size restrictions are strict. Recovery may
take years.

For those interested in Jeauxology, I came across this postcard in my recent dig. It was damaged,
along with several old letters, in a Staten Island apartment flood.

This requires some background. You’ll notice it’s addressed to Joseph. Even though Walter’s
partner’s name was Joseph, he took a fancy to calling me Joseph as well. So there were two of us
at the farm. Joseph and Joseph. Inflection and the like, as it happened, became remarkably
effective in keeping it sorted out. Once in a while I’d respond to something he was saying to his
Joseph. “I was speaking to the other Joseph,” he’d say. “I’m not other Joseph,” said Joseph,
feigning vexation. “You are if I talk to him first,” said Walter. 2... 3... 4... Somewhat to my
chagrin, the appellation stuck and followed me to New York for quite a while. I got used to it,
but it’s really not me. Of all the homo formalizations - Michael, Robert, Philip, - Joseph may be
the most formal of them all. Just as Joe is so informal it’s a staple of many a catch phrase. By
the time I moved to Staten Island, I was dedicated to getting my Joe back. Among other things. And
when I started making new friends I quickly did.

Anyway, the postcard. Walter was hanging out in London with William Empson when it arrived in my
mailbox on Vestry Street. And to bring this long digression around to its point, Walter’s
handwriting is a doppelganger, with some minor variations, of mine. Very close friends often share
these uncanny ringers, a DNA of the soul, manifested in the flesh. I was quietly pleased, though
not surprised, when I first noticed the resemblance. There was a resonance between us from the day
we met that had nothing to do with romance. I had, in fact, been trying to put a move on Joseph.
Tauruses generally like each other, but Walter and I fell into a comfort zone that is what the
word soul mate was invented to describe, despite the twenty year difference between us. Joseph
tolerated this very well, a corollary to my indifference to their romantic connection. We
functioned, the three of us, with an intimacy and mutual deference, deeper than any family, that
seems now to have preexisted our having met. I’m tempted to call it a karass, it reposed in such
sweet inevitability. It comes closest to describing the grace that permeated it beyond any
apparent purpose. They'd lived, all along, a half-hour drive from the house I grew up in. They’re
both gone now.

A distant cousin of that tribal paradigm, although attenuated and a little pale, reappeared in my
Vestry Street years. I have a few photos. We’ll talk. But today I’m eager to greet the return of a
semblance of summer. Get a little sand in my shoes.

January 10, 2010

Salem Village redux

Cold and rainy and raw. I’m holed up and snuggled in, stocked up on tea, strawberries, and a roast. It was 28 in Orlando last night. The local news notes that alcohol sales are up. I was moved to dig out an old photo album last night, and found in it a few shots of Walter and friends, circa mid-70s. I was in my twenties and in NY by then, but would sometimes summer back in Michigan. We shot mostly slidefilm in those days, so prints are few and far between...

I touch up Walter's faded cormorants

Walter approves
 Joseph offers an observation

My Cezanne hat

View to the east

House, back door


Beautiful doomed Bo, gathering eggs at our Easter egg hunt one snowy April.


Speaking of April, in the excavation I unearthed this birthday mailgram sent to me at the farm from Hetta (Mrs. William) Empson. William and Walter were friends during Walter's years abroad, and the Empsons visited the farm on occasion. 
Hetta and I hit it off. Her fabulousness was beyond compare.

Shastri, Joseph, and Agatha

When I went out this morning I could see my breath. I haven’t seen my breath in years. It was oddly exhilarating, seeing that living puff of steam... a confirmation that I exist.

January 3, 2010

Perhaps I'll listen now

A guest on an NPR program that I was listening to on my car radio a couple of days ago was talking
about a movement in Sarasota to pressure the city into allowing people with the right kind of
property to keep a few chickens. Specifically hens (they’re less noisy than cocks). The hens lay
an egg a day, the good kind. They scratch around and eat beetles. Their droppings fertilize your
tomatoes. The conversation glanced off into the cycles of the seasons, the utopia we once knew,
the possibilities in getting off-grid.

It sounded deeply appealing. It occurred to me that if I had to strip my diet down to a few
essentials, I could get along with meat and fruit. Maybe I’d thrive in the jungle. I’d want a
caffeinated beverage, though, or maybe nicotine, so I’d need a patch of Camellia sinensis, at
least. Maybe my Jane, or Jason, could gather wild coffee beans and peaches while I hunt pheasants
in the forest. Did you know that chickens are pheasants? Gallus gallus. Or fish snook from my
kayak on the banks of the Caloosahatchee.

Yesterday I happened to tune in again while driving to the hardware store to pick up a file
cabinet lock. The guest was an author who wrote a book about the imminent collapse of
civilization. He posited what I myself had concluded some time ago: when the gig is up, probably
sooner than later, the developed world, being so cut off from nature, will be hit hardest. The
endemic tribes in the Amazon, for instance, won’t notice any difference, except probably a gradual
improvement. He did mention, however, that the natural world is smelly and cruel. Let’s not get
carried away. I get that, too. Back when Cooper was rhapsodizing about nature in one of his
thrilling flights, it occurred to me, in a contrarian mood, that our appreciation of nature rests
upon having first conquered it sufficiently to have the leisure to contemplate it. Get tossed up
on a deserted island, or lost on a snowy mountain slope, and maybe nature isn’t the great smiling
grandmother we’d like to think.

Cluck. My friend Walter used to keep a few chickens at the farm. Pets. He gathered eggs every day.
I was too busy, in my callow youth, thinking about my boyfriend Bo, and the Beatles, to pay
serious attention, in those lost days so long ago, those starry, starry nights ago. There was an
ancient orchard, neglected but fruitful, on the property. His partner Joseph made summer peach
pie. Strawberry preserves. We went stalking field greens and wild asparagus, while I dreamed of
city lights. I would not listen, I did not know how.