Put down your coffee before you read on, for I am about to say something astounding, and I wouldn’t want your coffee to come out of your nose or spray the computer screen.
Sometimes, even though I am the air-headed poet, I am the only pragmatic and efficient person around. This is very stressful. Poets should not be exposed to such seriousness and gravity. Poets are suppose to skip and traipse, but perhaps it is part of the suffering of a poet to occasionally have to trudge and plod; to occasionally have to be the practical, efficient and boring person in a situation.
Partly this is due to mixing farming with poetry. I wanted to be like Robert Frost. Though he did have the misfortune to get incarcerated at an University later in life, some of his best poems were written when he was younger and got his hands dirty:
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Robert Frost; (1874-1963) Published 1914
My wife would strongly disagree that I am ever the practical one, being of the belief I need to be inspected before I go out into the world, to be certain my shirt is right-side-out and I remembered to put my teeth in. Sometimes she seems to remind me not to forget things no man has ever forgotten in recorded history. It used to exasperate me, but I have come to see it as caring. What exasperates me is the insinuation that she is never the impractical one, and in need of caring, due to her own sort of poetry.
My wife’s poetry involves a tendency to see a reason for celebration in somewhat mundane events. I probably would limit holidays to Christmas and Fourth of July, to avoid all the bother of cleaning the house, but my wife has a joyous streak, and finds a reason to party to a degree where she sometimes resembles a burn-out. For example, I present to the court the following evidence:
My youngest grandchild just turned one. This may be a sentimental day for my daughter, as the boy is her first child, but I figure the child is at an age where he won’t remember the event, and is more interested in tearing wrapping paper than in what is underneath. It seems to me that one should limit the time and energy put into such an event, especially when we need to plant the potatoes. But does my wife put on the brakes?
It is around this time I become the pragmatic old grump. I mean, do we really have time to blow up 200 balloons? And what are you going to do with 200 balloons when the party is over?
And should the children at our Farm-childcare be running about joyously playing-with and popping 200 balloons? What, pray tell, does this have to do with farming? With using the brief sunshine of a rainy spring to work out in the muck that is the garden?
I mean, as much as I’d like to dress in a white linen suit with a black-ribbon-tie like Colonel Sanders, and drink mint juleps on a plantation porch as others do the work, I haven’t sold a hit song yet, and until I make my million I must be practical.
One thing we did to make our Farm-childcare more interesting, in the constant rain, was to buy some cute, fuzzy chicks. But they grow with amazing speed, and as their cuteness shrinks their reek increases. Someone must build a coop away from the main building. Being the only practical poet around here, the job fell on me.
The long, rectangular structure is fronted by thick, hardware-cloth of strong wire, which will allow the chickens to sleep without being nabbed by foxes or weasels or coyotes or raccoons. (A bear would be another matter.) The chickens learn to walk to the coop and roost in there even before the sun sets, (as they have very poor night-vision, and are all but blind in twilight). I then shut and latch the door, making their pillbox impenetrable. In the morning I will let them out, and they will be “free range” chickens in my garden, eating various bugs, until around the time tomatoes get red. Chickens are attracted to red, and peck holes in ripe tomatoes, so I built a pen to coop them in August, roofed with mesh to protect them from a chicken-hawk that lives nearby. (Chickens have what seems to be an instinct to keep an eye to the sky, and free-range birds hurry for cover, if anything large,even a vulture, passes over.)
The structure is simple and pragmatic, but I soon noticed peculiar additions. Why are those branches tied to the side? And do chickens really require swings?
And what’s that thing down at the bottom of the post?
A xylophone!? A flipping xylophone!? Are these chickens going to be as musical as thrushes?
And do chickens really require a bench with gnomes? A hummingbird feeder at the top of a post? How do you know chickens even like hummingbirds? Did anyone ask the chickens? The hummingbirds? And hey! That’s my grandfather’s old wooden step-ladder! Did anyone ask, before turning it into an elaborate perch!?
I’m not sure I approve of what kids are learning at my Childcare. I’m not sure I approve of what the chickens are learning, either. But I will confess that it does the soul of an old air-head good to, once in a while, be the sensible one.
As the clouds rolled back in I did make progress in the garden.
April has continued wetter than normal. I’ve planted the peas despite the risk of rot, (due to the garden being more mud and mire than dirt). I’ve also got the onions in, with each small bulb planted in a hole poked in “weed fabric” I’m experimenting with, (as the less time I have to weed the more time I have to write). Because the fabric is black it absorbs sunshine even when the visible light is largely hidden by clouds; (yes, you can get a tan on a cloudy day.) The soil under the fabric is warm, and each onion is planted in a small pool of warm, brown water. It’s sort of a gamble, but then, farming is always a gamble.
The rain can depress your mood. The mind has a habit of expecting the worst at times. I find myself thinking of the Little Ice Age, when it rained all summer and crops rotted and famine was so prevalent that the average height of Europeans (judging from skeletons) shrank by three inches. Yet if you get too depressed you don’t even try, in which case the chance of famine becomes a certainty. Therefore I try to keep plugging on, and to teach children at my Childcare there is reason to hope, despite mud (which they actually enjoy.)
Though I am cheerful on the outside, I can be crying on the inside. A selfish voice in me grumbles, “But what about me. Why do I always have to be the one cheering everyone else up? When is someone else going to cheer me up?”
Yesterday was a bit like that. Sunday should have sun, but the brief gleam at daybreak had already clouded over and sprinkles of cold rain fell, even as I walked out of church. The sermon had been excellent, but the real world seemed very different from the sanctuary. The time had come to practice what I preached (or had heard preached).
I took a nap. After all, Sunday’s suppose to be a day of rest. But I still had to feed the goats, in the cold rain, late in the afternoon, and they looked glum and pessimistic. Where they like to hang out under the barn, when it’s raining, is largely now a mire, and they perched on drier rocks and shot me annoyed looks, as if the mud was all my fault.
That’s gratitude for you. Not a single thank-you for coming out in the rain. I scolded them and told them that if they didn’t wise up I’d turn them all into chops and steaks. But then I noticed they weren’t listening. They were looking out from under the barn with what seemed to be hope. A silence announced the pattering of rain had ceased, and they then ignored the grain I was feeding them, and hurried out to sample spring’s first, lush, green grasses. To the west a single beam of sunset escaped the lid of clouds, and the entire scene was changed. (Sonnet time.)
The cold April Wet had me walking brave But then the rain stopped. I stopped. How the heck Am I suppose to be serious and grave Without the rain? My head swiveled. My neck Craned. All around clouds blazed with sunset. I thought, “Red skies at night; sailor’s delight”, And a strange beaming brought play to eyes I met. A single ray of sun displayed a might So great it defeats a whole day drenched so wet The garden became ooze. A single ray Makes all the difference. In the blackest cave A mile underground dark is chased away By a single candle. Though men may rave, All their rage and all their crazy blindness Can be defeated by a single kindness.
Seize the moment. Today’s sun may be the only sun forecast for the entire week, but I’ll get the potatoes in, once the sun comes up.
One impulse I’ve often been embarrassed by in my life has been the urge to pop victims right in the snoot. This is especially embarrassing because I strive to be a spiritual person. But one time, when young, I was saying peace and love were desirable, and another person sneered I only said that because I was a gutless wimp who couldn’t fight. So I punched him. It shamed me because my reaction was so obviously not peaceful and not loving.
Victims tend to especially draw this out of me when they become militant. Even when I start out sympathetic they lose my sympathy. For example, when I lived in New Mexico I was friends with many Latinos and was in sympathy, but La Raza does not touch my heart with warm feelings of love.
The problem with getting mad about being a victim is that it can make people react in a way that victimizes you and perpetuates your victim-hood. If La Raza starts a war there will indeed be victims, rather than an end to victimization. If they “win” the war then they will merely move from being the oppressed to being the oppressor. Then a new people can get mad about being a victim.
It can be very hard to remain calm. For example, when people in Europe were attempting to have a debate titled, “Blasphemy – crime or freedom of expression,” some militant feminists decided to debate in a way all their own.
The priest did rather well, quietly praying as the ladies doused him with water and raged, and then, after “security” had ushered the women out, (when the priest noticed the water bottles were in the shape of the Virgin Mary), picking a bottle off the floor and kissing it.
I’m not sure I would have done so well. I can’t say how I might have reacted. Attempted to give the girls a spanking? Gotten beat up? It probably would have been a shambles.
I tend to avoid rallies and crowds, as I am too easily provoked. And it has become clear that some are out to provoke. Even in Berkeley, once a center of free speech, Antifa appeared to use fascist techniques in what it claimed was anti-fascism.
One starts to wonder exactly who is the victim and who is doing the victimizing.
Some claim it would be good to “bring things to a head” and that they want “blood in the streets”, but to me it seems anti-American to destroy our ability to discuss differences in a sane and civil manner. I am starting to really be touched by any group which includes many races and nationalities, cooperating and harmonizing, because it defies the entire separative ideology that at times it seems the media supports, and desires to make rampant.
How can I say the media supports such a thing? Because the media has sought so hard to preserve its status as “the voice of freedom” that it blackballs other voices, attempting to make people who are not fascists appear to be fascists. For example, an effort was made to never show any pictures of Blacks, Latinos, or Asians supporting President Trump. A more honest press would have felt more free to report the diversity of America’s views. Here are some minsters meeting the President (which got little press):
What I see is two forces at work in America. The powers of division, and the powers of unity. The powers of hate, and the powers of love. If we are divided we will fall. If we remain united we will stand. If we are victims, we are victims of our own separative exclusiveness.
Only one thing can save us, and that is the Personification of Love.
One small child has the weight of an army If God is in all, for in that small one Is the same pure, stunning Infinity Marching hoards are led by. The same warm sun Shines on and out-of rich and poor alike. The widow’s farthing means more than Miser’s million When Love prompts her; for pride is a dike Holding refreshment from sands parched by a sun Which wants to be kind but must be cruel Without water. If you compare your lot With others, and sneer and resent, Poor Fool, You are missing what you’ve already got, For God’s in all, and you don’t have to wait. See that and your aching will evaporate.
One of the best Easters I ever enjoyed had nothing to do with the real Sacrifice the holiday is all about. It was 1969, and I was sixteen, and had an intuitive interest in the Almighty, but no interest whatsoever in church. Church, in my eyes, was a ridiculous waste of time. School was a stifling of my spirit for five days a week, and to accept any further stifling during the scarce two days I had free each week (Saturday and Sunday) seemed a stupid suggestion. Fortunately I was a Unitarian, and one good thing about being a Unitarian was that we didn’t have to go to church unless we felt like it, which, as I recall, amounted to a total of ten times, by the time I was sixteen. (I wish my parents were alive, so I could ask them what prompted them to go to church those ten times. It was an odd thing to do, and I recall being somewhat awed by the weirdness of it all).
In any case, I not only had no idea of who Jesus was, or what Easter celebrated, but also I had no idea of the deep thought behind Unitarianism, (which tends to be skeptical and scientific and to doubt miracles are real ). Unitarians failed to educate their youth, in my case, I suppose. The result was I enjoyed a permissiveness and lack of discipline that left me free as a bird.
But, because my brain is bigger than a bird’s, I did a lot of wondering. In school this was a problem and was seen as a failure to pay attention to the blackboard. I daydreamed a lot, knew such thinking was illegal, and became an artful dodger, when it came to avoiding drawing attention to myself. Self-promotion was not a thing I desired, and if I had any talent in that regard it atrophied like an unused muscle, because my main aim in school was to escape punishment by going unnoticed.
My thoughts existed in a sort of Underground. There were a few mean and repressive people in my childhood who I suppose I could blame for stunting my growth, but still it seems odd to me that I was so reclusive. For the most part my life was good, but still I withdrew as if Nazis might come down on me, if I thought out loud. Due to this fearful reaction, (and fear must have been involved, to keep a blabbermouth like myself so silent), I became, at a young age, very aware of what a wasteland the mind can be, without the introduction of ideas outside of your own capacity to “think-up”.
Sometimes my daydreaming would leave me totally dissatisfied. Although I did delight in staying in bed late on Saturday and Sunday mornings, enjoying my slumbering thoughts, by noon the thoughts were becoming irksome. I had to get up. I had to get out. I had to find some other minds.
To some degree I could find the other minds in books. But even books grew irksome after a while, and then I was confronted by the fact I chronically avoided involvement in school. I had few friends. I was the youngest in my grade, in some cases by more than a year, which in some cases put me at a great disadvantage, but in one case was a great blessing.
The blessing occurred because I remained a boy as my classmates became adolescents. This was painfully obvious in the showers after “Gym” class, where I could see I had no pubic hair and nearly everyone else did. It was also obvious at school dances, where I was usually a foot shorter than the girls. This resulted in some situations that seemed tragic at the time, but seem funny to me now. If I digress into the details I will write a short novel, but you should be asking yourself, “How could such a situation be a blessing?”
It was a blessing because I could witness what idiots my peers were becoming as the hormones hit, when I was still free of such madness. It altered my mind, so that when the hormones finally did hit me, only a year later, I rocketed off in a direction all my own.
Only a few years later I was six feet tall, and the fellows who had bullied me backed off. I was still a dreamer, but a big one. I still liked to sleep late, but also was propelled by a strange desire to escape my home town, and escape the school where both teachers and peers didn’t think much of me. One form of escape was to hitchhike.
I should underscore how much safer hitchhiking was back then. Not that I didn’t meet a few perverts, but perverts were far politer back then. Once you explained you were not interested in their particular perversion, they’d be very understanding. I’d apologize for not being perverted and they’d apologize for asking if I was, and they’d drop me off at the place where I wanted. Except, in a few cases, we had to sit together for a while longer, before I got dropped off, and there were awkward silences. I never liked awkward silences, so I’d get an interesting conversation going about perversion, before I got dropped off.
In 1967 I began hitchhiking home from school, and the rides were short and the talks brief, mostly with suburban fathers on their way home from work. But some of the same fathers picked me up over and over. But I wanted adventure, and in 1968 I ventured farther afield, down to Cape Cod and out to Nantucket, and then from a friend’s summerhouse on Mohegan Island in Maine to a family gathering east of Toronto, spending a night in the YMCA in Montreal on the way. I was fifteen years old.
Let me repeat that. I was fifteen years old. That is how safe the world was, back then. I kept careful records of my adventures, and in my diary noted every ride, and what I observed in the kind people who picked me up. I was not a dirty hippy at that time, but a smooth-faced youth with short hair and idealistic eyes. Families driving loaded station-wagons full of children would swerve to the side of interstate highways to pick me up, so I must have looked wholesome and innocent. I did my best to totally charm my benefactors, and I seldom waited long for a ride.
One ironic event was that I got picked up by a reporter for a small town newspaper just as it was getting dark, and, (after he asked his wife permission, and she (and two small children) scanned me from head to toe), I was allowed to sleep on his screened-in front porch. I wrote about him in my diary even as he wrote about me at his typewriter. Because I was quite close to the place in Ontario where the family-gathering I was heading-towards was held, his article was seen and clipped from a paper by a family friend, and I actually eventually had a copy sent to me. What is ironic was that he seemed to envy me for being on an adventure, even as I envied him for having a woman who loved him, (and for getting paid for his writing).
When I got back home there were no articles in my hometown paper admiring and envying me. I was back to being just a nerd in a school of snobs. I loathed school more than ever, but God was kind, as 1968 turned into 1969. That winter saw stupendous snowstorms in February which, along with the February vacation, meant that I only had to go to school something like four days the entire month.
March brought the ordinary routine back, and I swiftly was very sick of it. I wanted to stay in bed and not deal with how shrunken and humiliated high-school made me feel, but rampaging hormones made me also want to flee. I had developed a new habit of impulsively blurting stuff, turning from an introvert into a braggart, and, even though I was (mostly) a quiet introvert at school, when I arrived home I talked big. One afternoon I stated I had to write a Social Studies report (untrue) about “researching America”, (untrue), so I was going to hitchhike down to my grandparents in Florida in order to “gather interviews”. (Largely bullshit; I actually planned to spend Easter Vacation sleeping late.)
My home-life was chaos at that point, as my mother had remarried an old, rich Harvard Law School professor the prior May, and the poor fellow, nearly seventy, got hit by such terrible disrespect, (I am one of six children), that he had a heart attack. I felt slightly guilty as he recovered, though I confess I continued to refer to him as “The fossil”. I just figured he was an old sleaze-bag and my mother was a money-grubber willing to degrade herself and become a “trophy wife”, which may explain part of my desire to leave town, but the old geezer surprised me by actually seeming to care about me. How he survived that first year I’ll never know, but when he died nine years later I knew I’d lost one of those rare friends you don’t deserve, but who sometimes unexpectedly appear in your life right out of the blue.
In any case, I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously when I said I would hitchhike to my grandparents in Florida, in order to get good grades. It was only one idea out of a whole lot of other ideas I blurted out, when I got home from school. I probably also said I’d get to the moon before both the Americans and Russians. It shocked my socks off when my stepfather thought it was a good idea.
In 1969 Easter occurred on April 6, days before “Easter Vacation” actually started. There was no attempt on my stepfather’s part to subject me to church, but he did subject me to some tradition of his own, some egg-hunt his family always held, and which now involved his grandchildren and not his children. I was annoyed, as it was beneath my sixteen-year-old dignity to hunt eggs. How dare this fossil (who was saving my family from poverty) ask me to attend a stupid egg hunt? Did this silly business of hunting eggs end the Vietnam War? Did it end poverty in the inner cities? With the sneering scorn only a sixteen-year-old virgin can glower, I did attend the egg hunt, but I was not helpful.
As I stood disapproving of children hunting Easter eggs, I could not help but eavesdrop on what the “grownups” were discussing. I was taken aback when one topic was “my trip to Florida”. One grownup was saying, “But what if the police think he is running away from home?” My stepfather stated, “My stepson will produce proof of my permission, with a permission slip, written on Harvard Law School stationary.”
To be honest, my response was to silently think, “Oh, shit”.
It is one thing to just blather on and on about political manure, but quite another when you actually have to shovel the shit.
One part of my sixteen-year-old diary makes me chuckle. It admits what I really wanted to do over Easter Vacation was to sleep late, and wonders why on earth I was getting up early the next day to hitchhike to Florida.
I am so glad I did it. It opened my eyes to the sort of Americans who care enough to pull over for a sixteen-year-old kid hanging his thumb out on the side of a highway. All I can say now, a full fifty later, is, “God bless them, bless them, and bless them again.”
It took me some three days and thirty rides to get from Massachusetts to Florida. For some bizarre reason I calculated my miles-per-hour, as a hitchhiker, and it was nearly sixty mph the first day. But back in 1969 Interstate 95 quit in the Carolina’s, and a hitchhiker had to go slower, hitchhiking smaller highways through swamps where Spanish Moss hung from every branch of every tree, and sharecroppers still plowed fields with mules.
My grandmother very much wanted to see my Social Studies report after I wrote it, which was very embarrassing because I’d made the “assignment” up, as an excuse for my wanderlust. She kept asking to see it, even years later. Now I am thinking perhaps I’ll write it, fifty years later. I still have the old diary, with every ride carefully listed.
I have one paragraph completed in my head, a sort of statement I’ve spoken so many times that my kids roll their eyes slightly when they hear me again becoming garrulous. I just say how kind all the people were, and how they advised me to be wary of other people who might be dangerous. I say, “Northerners told me to watch out for southerners, and southerners told me to watch out for northerners. Whites told me to watch out for blacks and blacks told me to watch out for whites. Absolutely everyone told me to watch out for the Georgia police, and the Georgia police told me to watch out for absolutely everyone. And everyone was beautiful and kind.”
Something odd was occurring in 1969 that many recall. It was called “The Summer Of Love”, which seems a bit odd considering there were anti-war riots and drug overdoses and bad trips, and over the years I’ve heard many do their best to belittle the rare mood which flavored pretty much everything. But no amount of denial can completely erase how special it was, even though it is nearly impossible to describe.
In the Bible there is something called a “Jubilee” that occurs every fifty years or so, where all your debts are forgiven. In Hinduism there is something called a “Darshan” where God or a saint reveals divinity to the ignorant and undeserving. Something along those lines occurred in 1969. In the strangest manner I could see God in every person I met. I got a glimpse how beautiful this world could be.
How far we have fallen. I can sink into a dismal mood nowadays, where it seems everyone is whining, and claiming they are a victim, and blaming everyone else. Rather than God I see a jerk in everyone. I yearn to go back to 1969, when everyone shone with a beautiful light.
Another year’s under my belly’s belt And another spring startles with warm wind. I wonder if I’ll feel as I once felt, Or did last winter make me so thick-skinned That I can’t smile. Bitter men own logic That pounds its points with harsh effectiveness Even through healing palms. And so sly, so slick Is this sick debate that one avoids the mess By washing ones hands. Why try? And why get Mixed up with the doomed? I don’t even want To turn on my radio. No saint breaks a sweat Striving, for it’s easier to taunt, Yet my heart knows Christ saved fools who had sinned, And it’s then spring startles with warm, washing wind.
I fell into a sort of sulk last November, due to shrill Democrats winning the House of Representatives here in the United States, and also because I became aware my blog was being censored in certain search-engines due to the fact I am a “Denier”, regarding Global Warming. I felt a divisive and even fascist power was arising and oddly accusing everyone else of being fascist. It felt totally different from 1969, when people sung, “everyone is beautiful, in their own way.” I just wanted to turn away from it all, but that just made me feel marginalized and alone.
It was then I discovered the #WalkAway videos on YouTube. Apparently I was not the only one who felt as I felt. Although the videos are political, (in that they are people who are “walking away” from the Democrat party), they also had the feel of a support-group, wherein one becomes aware one is not alone. It is a relief to see others feel the way you feel, even when they are from very different backgrounds, of different religions and nationalities and age-groups. Men and woman, whites and blacks and Asians and Latinos, young and old, all disliked the division. None liked being told they should hate fellow Americans. All preferred a unity, and felt “all men are created equal”.
It gave me the strange feeling I was sixteen and hitchhiking again, and a stranger’s car had stopped to pick me up, and that for a short while I sat beside a new and interesting friend.
The state motto of New Hampshire is “Live Free Or Die”, but bureaucrats don’t seem to understand that “free” means I can do what I want, and they can just buzz off. It used to be a man could run his farm how he wanted, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, and he didn’t need a bunch of busybody bureaucrats butting in to test manure for methane. Old farmers were married to their land, and didn’t need to ask a person who knew nothing about the quirks of his particular plot of dirt for permission to love it. Bureaucrats beg to differ. They spend all their time far from the dirt and weeds, inventing rules and regulations which make it harder to farm, quite certain they know more about farming than the farmers they oppress.
Sorry about the rant. I could on for pages about the error of their way and the idiocy of their belief. (For example, they actually believe in “Global Warming”, and are stupid enough to base policy on what has been scientifically refuted, but that is a “hot topic” I had better avoid.)
Instead of going on for pages and boring your ears off, I’ll give a little example.
In New Hampshire farmers have always been free to burn the dead, dried weeds from the prior year in their garden in the spring. The flames kill some weed-seeds and the ash fertilizes next year’s crop. No permit was ever required. This still is the law, but now you have to fill out forms and to be officially called a “farmer”.
My farm has been a farm for 250 years, (perhaps longer), and I dug my first post-hole in its stony soil in July, 1968. Maybe the farm had never produced a profit from food, but it has produced a lot of delicious meat and vegetables, and I don’t need any bureaucrat telling me its not a farm if I don’t file forms. But, because I’m a cantankerous old coot and can’t be bothered to jump through the hoops, I legally have the status of an ignorant immigrant from Massachusetts, who lawmaker’s figure cannot burn the weeds in his garden without burning the entire town down, and therefore need a lot of legal advice.
Who needs a permit before burning weeds in their own garden? And, if they are going to burn the town down, will a slip of paper and paying a fee beforehand (and maybe a fine afterwards) make the flames less orange? All the rules and regulations likely makes fires worse; (or at least they “burn me up”).
Who needs permits? I’ll tell you who. (Deep breath). Stupid people are who, hapless Flatlanders who need a nanny, before burning weeds. They grovel before Bureaucrats, needing a nanny for everything. They need a nanny to tell their own children right from wrong, and when I tell them I withdrew my own children from public school and Home-schooled them, they are horrified. How dare I disobey the “nanny”? I just tell them I trust my own judgement over that of an outsider who neither knows nor (apparently) likes me. I’d rather be free, than some slave-to-a-nanny.
But I will play their game if I must. Below I offer evidence I got the nanny-permit, and burned the weeds without burning the town down.
(Please notice the blue hose in the bottom of the second picture. If the wind had unexpectedly risen and the burning weeds had shown the slightest sign of going-out-control, I would have quenched the fire. This sort of common-sense is something nanny’s don’t admit ordinary people, [even mad poets like myself], have.)
Yet as I burned last year’s weeds in my garden, something odd occurred. I was officially off-duty, and not watching the children at my Childcare, but all the children gathered to watch me burn weeds. My staff, who must keep the children from being burned, also watched. And parents, arriving to pick up their children, seemed strangely in no rush to get kids in the car and hurry home. They too lingered to watch what has been done for 250 year: A New Hampshire farmer burning last year’s weeds in a garden, creating an incense in the April air.
I seemed a sort of rock-star, even though I was doing something everyday and ordinary: Burning weeds. I felt like a rustic character in a glossy magazine, and perhaps I should pose, gazing in a picturesque way at the honking geese flying over, heading north
Politicians and Bureaucrats have a desire to be rock stars, [and therefore to get more votes, which leads to more funding and other-people’s taxes to play with,], but that was not why I burned weeds. That is not why farmers are farmers and why poets are poets. They do what they do for something different than popularity.
What is the difference? I’ll leave it to intellectuals more skilled with prose to say. Instead I’ll just enjoy the poetry and beauty God puts in every day and every weather and evey situation, a sweet sanity that heals, has nothing to do with money, and can’t be bought.
Sometimes, just to prove to the doubter in myself the poetry is there, I get into a binge of sonnet-writing. The following two aren’t that good; more like rough drafts or sketches; but they demonstrate there is poetry even in burning weeds.
As I burned all evidence that last year I did not weed as I ought, it seemed strange How people gathered. Fire brought me no fear Of arrest, because I’d bothered to arrange The “burn permit” bureaucrats want. (Perhaps The fact I dealt with rules seemed so strange That folk saw I’m serious?) (It seemed a lapse In my poet’s-misjudgment?) (I’d deranged Some accepted order of things, with my fire?) All I did was burn last year’s tall brown weeds And reveal my garden had an entire Lower level, called earth. Such ashes feeds Unplanted seed. Why did a fan club watch deeds That I did? Are they all hungry for seeds?
I burned the evidence. I failed to weed To the proper degree during the heat Of last summer. I had the crazy need To write sonnets. Such needs surely defeat My desire to get fat. There’s no mystery To why poets starve. My garden was proof You reap not what you sow, but what you see Fit to weed. My crop shrank under a roof Of green which turned brown in frosts of fall, And then stayed proof all winter that I shirk, But this spring will be different. To all I announce that this summer I will work Beyond sonnets that help day-dreamers slumber, And will grow at least one blasted cucumber.
I am feeling a need to redefine the word “dour”, a word which which tends to fail to include a sort of gallows-humor I often notice in dour people, and instead dismissively defines the dour as “relentlessly severe”.
The simple fact of the matter is that life isn’t all sunshine, especially in northern lands. In fact just a few days ago I was texting with my youngest son, and it was 76ºF in New York City, where he was, while it was 32ºF just a five-hour-drive north, where I was, in New Hampshire. Now I ask you, is that fair?
Life isn’t fair. This is especially true if you are from the north and have blond hair and blue eyes. Certain racists blame us northerners for all the world’s problems. Believe me, we don’t need such gloom. The weather up north is gloomy enough without additional politics. We couldn’t survive, without a sort of gallows humor. Here is a dour sonnet:
The gloom returned, just as I expected. New Hampshire’s not known for it’s sunshine, Especially in April. One is led To believe we’re deceived. A pet peeve of mine Is that, ‘round here, a true “bolt from the blue” Is the sun itself, ‘specially in April. Sunshine’s not expected. Therefore it’s true That people move here, and then like to thrill About our Autumn foliage, but by April they’re fed up. Good-bye ‘n’ good riddance. If you can’t abide gloom, don’t even try To live in the north. Instead have some sense And seek some place full of camels and sand. You’ve got to be dour to live in this land.
Yesterday we got a “bolt from the blue”, which was a sunny day in April. This usually has nothing to do with south winds. Dry winds come from the cold northwest, yet so powerful is the sun (as high in April as it is in August) that even though thawing ponds refreeze overnight, by noon you take off your coat under the hot sun. The problem is that the dry wind then swings around to the moist southwest, and clouds increase, and that hot sun vanishes. It is then that warm air gets as far north as New York City, but all we get is the chilling clouds.
A further problem is that the single sunny day with bright sunshine makes people crazy, especially if they are not acquainted with the dour truth of northern gloom.
I once worked as a landscaper for a wealthy woman from Virginia, and she became frantic in early April because the weather became downright hot, and we had no tomatoes planted. It took every iota of diplomacy I owned to calm the lady down, and to inform her that to plant tomatoes in early April is a bad idea, in New Hampshire. A week later, as I pruned budless roses in her garden in a snowstorm, she called me in to her warm, glassed-in porch and, with Virginia hospitality which I, as a dirty gardener, was not accustomed to, served me tea and a delicious “five bean salad”, and also informed me, with a glance out at the falling snow, “You were right about the tomatoes”.
There was something about the begrudging way the good lady said “You were right about the tomatoes” that was very dour, but also makes me want to redefine the word “dour” to include humor. There was something very northern in her glance, as she looked out through her greenhouse’s glass to a world turning white. An extreme irony.
If truth must be known. the moment this gracious lady’s starchy, northern husband died, she vamoosed back to Virginia. Southern Hospitality does not feel at home in the north. But maybe I did teach her a bit about Northern Hospitality, which includes telling people not to plant tomatoes just because a single day in April is sunny.
This is not to say that I myself can’t be infected by April sunshine and be made insanely manic. Just a couple days ago I was guilty of buying a flock of peeping chicks for the children at my Childcare, but then discovering that, when I went out to dig post-holes for their coop, that a rock-hard semi-permafrost made digging difficult, only ten inches down in the dirt.
Who is going to help me, (and those poor chickens), by slamming through permafrost with a bladed crowbar that weighs forty pounds? I’m getting too old for such nonsense. I became dour, as I contemplated my predicament, huffing and puffing.
Life isn’t fair. When that gracious lady from Virginia became manic she had a young, blond man appear to help her out, (me), but, now that I’m as old and gray as she was back then, what do I get when I become manic? I get blamed for all the world’s problems because my skin is too white.
No sooner did that grouchy thought pass through my mind when a very blond boy appeared to help me. (It is hard to blame him for all the world’s problems, as he is only five years old). (Also his ancestors came from Finland, which didn’t enslave anyone that I know about.)
How like a trickster is the April sun, When for days it hides in purple gloom Where a raw fog, complete with sleet, can stun Even optimists towards discussing doom And death, but then that same sun bounces up On a day with no clouds. I’m made surly And walk with a snarl to my coffee cup, For that slap-happy sun’s suddenly early In rising, beaming my bed so I squint. And what’s that I hear? Summer birds singing In the dawn? Robins are back. Shake the lint From my brains. Prankster April is bringing A day without clouds. A day of pure sun. A day to make dour men remember the One.
As an old poet I’ve learned that the world of poetry is, at the very least, on a tangent point between the physical and the spiritual, and at times is farther off in an air-headed place that has so little to do with the physical that bill-collectors, and sometimes your friends and your parents and your spouse and your children may be irked by your failure to face “reality”.
What such well-meaning advisors fail to see is their “reality” is going to quit on them. We must face our worldly responsibilities, but a day will come when this world will fade. In fact it fades every day, when you go to bed exhausted. Even if you stay up to all hours doing your taxes, being very, very responsible in a worldly way, when you are utterly exhausted the world becomes utterly ungrateful, for it vanishes. But another “reality” is more faithful. Pragmatists disdain the other world as a mere “dream”.
I would like to encourage young poets by telling them poetry is not a mere “dream”. You young poets have bungled into a battle which is occurring on a sphere the worldly simply can’t admit exists. Yet it does exist, and you do do battle, even if it looks like you are just sitting and nibbling an eraser.
Want proof? Consider Beethoven. Music, to physical pragmatists, is a physical reality involving sound-waves and the physical ability to hear. But Beethoven became deaf. In terms of physical pragmatism he lost all physical reasons to produce sound-waves. Yet he not only persevered with his art, but produced music most musicians confess is astounding. This is not possible unless a non-physical reality exists.
You young poets may have been tricked into poetry because it seemed easier to daydream than face the sweat of a Real Job, but at this point I have to inform you of sad news: Worldly responsibility must be faced, even if you are a genius. As amazing as Beethoven was, he still had to come up with the rent.
Now, before you young poets charge off into a rant about how unfair it is that Beethoven, who gave so much, had to scrimp to pay for shelter, (and how, by extension, it is unfair that you too have to pay rent), be aware Beethoven had his physical side. He loved a young widow he couldn’t marry because he was a commoner, and she would lose her children if she married beneath her class. Therefore much of the passion and tragedy in Beethoven’s music may have been born of frustration.
As long as we have any entanglements with the physical world there will be consequences. The only way to avoid dirty dishes is to give up eating altogether. Therefore young poets should expect interruptions. Be cheerful when asked to take out the trash. But do not be tricked into thinking the physical world is the only world.
April in New Hampshire can make a man sardonic. It tends to be a cruel flirt, like a beautiful woman toying with an ugly and old man. A bit battered by winter, we do our best to make ready for spring, but mercy never comes until May.
This year I went out in the cold and skun my knuckles fixing the drive belt of the rototiller, planning to plant the peas, and cold rain promptly made the soil a swamp too miry to till, and so wet it would rot the seed. Not satisfied with that, April then changed the rain to falling slush not even the children at my Childcare much enjoy.
What is a poor old man to do? Well, to start, he should write a sonnet:
This old farm needs some chicks. Not for profit, For I’ll be damned if the eggs that we get Will cost less than a store’s. In fact, my wit Jokes we may get no eggs; it’s a good bet We will only feed the foxes. Be realistic, But still we need chicks, for their sweet peeping Somehow makes an old grouch optimistic. It sure beats twiddling thumbs. Though sleeping Through summer has its appeal, and though fluff Too soon grows feathers, and what was once cute Grows gawky, and the reek of a pullet Is a stink few like, such points are all moot. I’ll get hammer and nails, bite the bullet, And go out in the rain to build a hutch, For the peeping of chicks puts hoping in touch.
I must say that, on a cold wet day in April, it makes a difference to children to have some new chicks to watch, under the cherry light of an infrared lamp.
The beat and drench of the cold April wet Strands me by my window, frowning distaste. When young I’d push myself out and forget All comfort, not for “fears-must-be-faced”, But with my eyes filled by mad ambition.
With handsaw and hammer and reused, rusty nails I would change the world, and no lack of sun Or cold rain could stop me, but bluster quails After fifty years of seeing I don’t Change the world, but the world changes me.
The mud remains as muddy; mankind won’t Change the climate; through my window I see The same wet twigs holding crystal-ball drops. The change is the same and the change never stops.