Weather Report

“If it doesn’t rain, it pours” might be the motto here in the Pacific Northwest the last few months. Last night we had one of the worst wind storms I’ve ever seen here.

We got up this morning to discover several shingles missing off the roof. I gathered them up from the yard, with perhaps a few of the neighbors’ shingles, and spent much of the morning patching the roof. It’s pretty clear that, despite the building inspector’s report that it “should be good for another ten years” it will have to be replaced this summer.

After finishing the roof before the next rainstorm hit, I was off to Home Depot to get some wood to repair the section of fence that came down last night, too. They were open, but barely, as they had no electricity in their store. Still, thanks to some dedicated, and much-appreciated workers, we have the supplies to start fixing the fence.

When we got back home around 1:30 p.m. the electricity was back on and I could fix some badly needed coffee, read how lucky we really were to have just suffered the minor damage we did, and give my aching back a respite by resting here at the computer for a few minutes.

“This Time”

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that it’s possible to fit some reading into even the busiest days. For too long I learned how to read in doctor’s waiting rooms, but even now that I’m feeling relatively healthy I take a poetry book with me when I know I’m going to have to wait, as I did today when I took the RAV4 into Les Schwab’s to have the snow tires mounted.

I finally started reading Gerald Stern’s This Time, a book I’ve had on my Amazon wish list since I first mentioned it on June 9, 2003 and recently purchased. If I’d read the first poem in the book


I didn’t start taking myself seriously as a poet
until the white began to appear in my cheek.
All before was amusement and affection-
now, like a hare, like a hare, like a hare,
I watch the turtle lift one horrible leg
over the last remaining stile and head
for home, practically roaring with virtue.
Everything, suddenly everything is up there in the mind,
all the beauty of the race gone
and my life merely an allegory.

before, I would probably have gotten too it much sooner. Heck, this sounds like my life, not the part about taking myself seriously as a poet because I still don’t do that, but the final lines when “suddenly everything is up there in the mind” and I head “for home, practically roaring with virtue.” Now that I’ve retired I finally have time to be the student of life that I always wanted to be but was too busy living to remember.

Many of Stern’s poems have dark overtones to them, but they usually contain an exquisite awareness that in the end redeems that darkness, even one like this:


There are two men I know who wander around all winter as I do,
half listening and half falling over rocks and curbs.
One is a bicyclist who pedals all day on
an old balloon-tire bike through Upper Black Eddy;
the other is a bridge-walker who wears a long army
overcoat with “P.O.W.” still faintly printed across the back.
There was a third who walked down the streets of Philadelphia,
touching base at the Chess Club and Frank’s and the Greek’s
like a farmer, or beggar, doing the daily round.
If you saw just the back of his head
and his hands waving you would know he was leading you
through one of his darker arguments;
if you followed him further
you would be dragged to a place where every connection was smashed
and the brain had trouble sorting out its own riches.
I last saw him concentrating with all his power
on the problem of simple existence,
trying to match words with places
and blurred thoughts with things,
reducing everyone who knew him or came near him
to a state of either pity or shame
because of his strangeness and clumsiness.
I remember the rope he carried
and the knot of terror he fingered as he daydreamed,
the knot of release, hanging slack like a crown
over the back of his neck,
always ready to guide him through his weakness,
ready to give him back his health and wisdom.

I’m hoping that not too many people actually hear me talking to myself while I’m out walking, or at least think that I’m talking to Skye, not writing poetry in my head, listening to voices from the past or to my other self, the one who knows what I’m really trying to say when I can’t figure it out on my own.

Luckily, I can’t wave my hands in the air because I’m too busy holding Skye back, trying to make sure he doesn’t finally manage to leave me behind.

Most of the time I even steer away from the “problem of simple existence” and focus on less important ideas, knowing that it’s unlikely I’m ever going to manage to solve that one.

I suppose this poem really isn’t in the Christmas mood, but it did remind me to go home and finally write that check to the Salvation Army that I’ve been putting off because of more important things, like writing entries on my web site that no one’s going to read because they’ve all gone home for Christmas.

That Old Christmas Feeling

If it’s been quiet here, and it has, it’s because I’ve somehow managed to make this Christmas, like many others in the past, a hectic time. It feels a lot like Santa’s workshop the week before Christmas.

In fact, it’s been a hectic three months, what with Leslie’s surgery, our aborted attempts to remodel the downstairs by installing new tile and Pergo floors. A $12,000 price tag on top of having to replace a hot water heater, buy a new dining room table and chairs, and replace a failed microwave, helped us to decide that we would have to put these off for awhile.

We still decided to convert the family room into a dining room in order to accommodate more than four people at the table. Me, being me decided that if we were going to move all the furniture we needed to paint several walls in the process. So we did, and so we are. Still.

Tyson and his family are coming for Christmas, and I’m determined to have the “best Christmas ever.” So, much of what we’re doing is in preparation for their arrival. Personally, I think the place looks better and more comfortable than it’s ever been.

We spent the weekend hauling out decorations and finding new places to fit them all in since nothing is quite the same as last year. And, of course, I had to add a few new decorations this year, as in past years. I’m hoping that somehow merely buying Jim Shore’s Three Wise Men will impart a greater wisdom to me in the upcoming year.

Somewhere along the way, Dawn and Tyson decided that we would make presents for each other this year rather than buy them, continuing last year’s decision that there must be a better way to celebrate Christmas than buying an endless chain of things that no one really needed, or wanted. Ordinarily, I would have been the one most pleased by that decision. But with all the remodeling my workshop, i.e., the garage, is one gigantic mess, requiring one trip to recycling and another to the dump.

In other words, we’re going to be out of town for three days next week, Tyson’s coming the 23rd, and I haven’t even finished making our traditional cookies, much less finishing making Christmas presents.

I’m afraid it’s going to get even quieter around here until after New Years, especially since I’ve decided that reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is definitely not putting me in the Christmas mood.

One man’s hero

may well turn out to be another man’s terrorist. Sometimes I long for the days of childhood when heroes were heroes, and villains were just plain evil.

Despite the fact that I may well have joined the Armor branch because of some long forgotten love of John Ford westerns, I quickly learned that being a “John Wayne” type would get you in trouble with the drill instructors, and, even worse, more than likely get you and your men killed in Vietnam.

Recently I’ve noticed the term “hero” being thrown around awfully loosely. In the old days heroes actually won battles. Now it seems just being killed is enough to make you a hero. Funny, I’d always thought that those killed were just Victims of war.

Some Muslim communities obviously believe that those who blow themselves and their enemies up in suicide bombings are heroes, just as the Japanese held the kamikazes in such high regard. Here in America where the individual seems to have more value than the society, both are regarded as “fanatics,” though we might well regard someone who dies carrying out a suicidal attack as a hero if they don’t manage to survive.

Little wonder, then, that modern society might see past heroes in a slightly different light a hundred years later, though others might still cling to older views. Inspired by my recent discovery of Louis Riel and the Metis, I’ve started reading Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

While reading the chapter entitled “The Long Walk of the Navahos” I was reminded of the song “Kit Carson” by Bruce Cockburn. However, when I did a search for the lyrics, I found that every site listed had a statement that the lyrics had been removed at the Cockburn’s request, though strangely enough you can still find the lyrics here. I found that somewhat strange, but I suspect that the rant going on
at Wikipedia which is longer than the actual entry on Kit Carson might have something to do with their removal.

Though I’ll have to admit that Kit Carson was never one of my childhood heroes, after reading Dee Brown’s accounts of his methods of conquering the Navaho, I’d have a hard time seeing him as anything resembling a hero, but, then, that might be expected from someone who even as a child viewed Geronimo as a hero.

In fact, the description of Kit Carson in Dee Brown’s work seems to fit the one found in Cockburn’s song quite accurately. Of couse, as Brown points out, he was attempting to tell the story of the West from the Indian’s point of view, not the view more commonly promoted in our history books.