LOCAL VIEW –How Humid Was It?–

Certain comedians train their audiences  to respond to a statement such as, “Lord, was it ever hot!” with a chorus of voices that all chime in with, “How hot was it?” Then they say something very funny.

But this is serious, man, serious! I have never seen humidity like this, up here in New Hampshire. And, Oh yes, folk down south will call me a wimp. I did live in South Carolina for a summer. But up here we are not accustomed to dew points over 70°. We hardly bother with air conditioners. Usually a dew point of 70º at sunset results in a heavy fog or even drenching drizzle by dawn, as our nighttime temperatures attempt to sink past the dew point to our typical, comfortable 60º. But this year?

I never saw this coming, because the summer began bone dry. Every drop of rain was wrung from clouds by mountains to our west. I was a bit snidely pleased, for even though stuff in the garden was stunted, so were the weeds. (I have no time for weeding.)

But then the pattern shifted, and rather than moisture being wrung out by higher hills to our west, we ourselves are the higher hills, wringing moisture  from the flatlands to our south. The forecast would be for scattered clouds, but we’d see this:

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And then see this:

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The lightning flickering about in the clouds makes these raindrops rich in nitrogen, which is a royal pain. For every inch it makes my vegetables grow it makes the weeds grow a foot. And I have no time for weeding, for all the rain means I have to mow the grass. I also have to attend to the pool, which the nitrogen-rich rain turns a vivid green.

How humid is it? It’s so humid it’s stupid,  for it seems stupid to me that it is more important to add algeacide to a pool than to weed my own garden. But our Childcare needs the pool to cool the kids, in hot, muggy weather. And it is the Childcare, not the farm, that brings home the bacon.

The irony burns a bit. The USA was initially a nation of farmers, but now nobody can afford to farm. (Not that many want to.) Something other than the garden provides the food.

As a man who is basically a survivalist, and has very little confidence in the government’s ability to handle finances, who foresees a day when there will be no way for taxpayers to pay all the welfare dependents and pensioners the government has  promised to pay, (whereupon there will either be no checks issued or rampant inflation), I suspect a day will come when food might be in short supply.

My view of history suggests there tends to be a breakdown of the infrastructure that mass-produces food on mega-farms and delivers it to cities, when a crisis occurs. Even if bread is available no one can afford it when hyper inflation makes it cost $100,000,000.00 a loaf.  Then the government tends to step in, thinking it can organize, and history demonstrates what occurs is a loss of initiative: The Soviet Union’s “collective” farms saw potatoes rotting in piles as shortages existed in cities, but also saw a tiny segment of the population that was allowed to have small, “private” gardens produce a disproportionate amount of the food; as I recall the figures were something like 5% of the farmland, in small lots, was producing 25% of the food. I also heard an old Hungarian tell me that during the bad times of Hitler and Stalin “the cows wore golden chains”. Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of Africa until the government stepped in to make farms “fair”, whereupon there was famine.  Venezuela was well-fed before the government sought equity for all. And in these cases tiny farms step forward to do what the giants bungle.

Maybe I just have a puffed-up sense of my own importance, but I have decided I have to keep my tiny farm going even though I’m physically incapable of the labor.  My plan is to commercialize my writing so I can hire two hands next summer.  This year will be written off as “the year the weeds won.”

In any case, I’m trying to focus on writing more (and also a possible redesign of this website), and the last thing I want is rain making the grass grow fast, so I have to cut it more. Then I also faced quite a job trying to find bits of sunshine, so I could dry all the tarps and tents and canvas folding-chairs and sleeping bags from our deluge-camping. (I was paying for the vacation after it was over.)

All I really want is to sit back and nibble an eraser contemplatively,  but after camping my wife hits the ground running. She feels a vacation has involved far too much sitting-around, and has a whirlwind of social activity planned, and then I hear a shriek from the dining room. I stopped nibbling my eraser. Why?  Well, this you have just got to see:

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How humid is it? It’s so humid the chairs get moldy. And rather than writing a great article, I find myself wiping down all the wooden furniture with a cloth dampened with vinegar, before the company arrives. I tell you, it’s rough, being a writer.

How humid is it? Well, we typically get a thundering downpour or two in the summer, with perhaps an inch or two of rain falling in a hurry, and the gutters are all full for an hour or so afterwards.  But usually that is that. However downpour has followed downpour, and a few places in the hills are approaching 24 inches of rain in just a couple of weeks.

Of course, this gets certain cats yowling about Global Warming, because everything, no matter what, is caused by that, in their world view. California mudslides? Global Warming. California wildfires? Global warming.

What I do is just try to look at the maps and see what actually occurring, avoiding the bias you get sucked into taking if you take a “side”. There are always places warmer than normal, and places colder than normal, and if you “take a side” you’ll focus on one and not the other. But let’s try to avoid that, and look at both. As most of the planet’s heat is locked up in the oceans, let’s start with the SST (Sea Surface Temperatures), and see whether they are above, or below, normal.

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You may notice a red area off San Diego. The media has made a great deal about “record warm Pacific waters” there. But just south of it is a blue blob off Baja California. Any headlines about “record cold Pacific waters?” Or just crickets? Do you see how foolish this bias can appear?

Also notice the tropical Atlantic between Cuba and West Africa is all light yellow. Just a few weeks ago it was all light blue. Does this represent dramatic warming? No. In some cases it can represent a tiny change from .01 below normal to .01 above normal. But what caused the warming? Was it trace amounts of CO2? No, it was enormous amounts of Saharan dust, swept by the Azores High off Africa, and all the way to Texas, and even from there north and then east to Ohio and then to here in New Hampshire (in trace amounts.) This dust, combined with slightly cooler SST, suppressed the formation of hurricanes and tropical storms. And what does that mean? More sunshine, warming the water and raising the SST as little as .01 degree, and changing the map’s hue from chilly blue to warm yellow. (I can understand that, but don’t understand what engineered the cooling of those waters, earlier.)

What is most important to our humid summer is the warm water off Cape Cod and Nova Scotia. I’m surprised the media hasn’t gone nuts about it yet, but perhaps they are distracted by the fact mild waters (and tasty seals) have lured Great White Sharks north to Cape Cod Beaches. (The media lately has seemed easily distracted by anything involving the word “white”.) I doubt they will be focused enough to see warm water off New England is actually a sign of “cold”, when it is surrounded by a horseshoe of colder water, called the “cold AMO” (Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation.) The AMO cycle is not due to turn “cold” for another five years, but is hovering close to that change already.

Humid 4 amo_short

Though they didn’t have the word “AMO” (which appeared around 1990) New England fishermen have long known dramatic swings in Atlantic conditions could cause populations of fish (and gulls) to shift dramatically north or south, once or twice in an average lifetime.  In order to be aware of it you needed to respect and heed grandfathers who respected and heeded their grandfathers. The modern media, which has an attention span of around four minutes, is likely unaware of the AMO and will be taken totally by surprise by the switch, and will likely become apoplectic.

Not that we don’t all become careless, when things only happen every thirty years, or every sixty years.  Humans have the tendency to farm the rich soil on the side of a volcano, and then be astonished when they blow.

Here in New England the best route up a steep hill is the route taken by a little brook, which has an uncanny way of finding the shallowest incline.  Road-building is assisted by the fact these little brooks have far more cobblestones than they could possibly need. The brook is moved to the side, and the cobblestones are used as the foundation for the road up the hill. And for thirty years everything is fine. Perhaps even for sixty years everything is hunky-dory.  Even the torrential rains of a summer thunderstorm stay in the brook at the side. But then….(ominous drum-roll, please)….there comes the summer that is so humid. How humid is it?  Thunderstorm follows thunderstorm, and the road winds up looking like this:

You see, the little brook didn’t have far more cobblestones than it could possibly need. It needed those cobblestones, once every sixty years.

I’m telling you this because I have a suspicion young whippersnappers in the media will look at the above picture and blame Global Warming. They will subscribe to the idea the solution to the above problem is to ban things and raise taxes to fund other things that do everything you can imagine, except fix the road.

Around these parts old-timers puff out their cheeks and shake their heads, for they know their taxes will have to go up, but it’s to fix the road, for another sixty years.

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NOT LOCAL —Deluge Camping—

My life is so tragic that I used to schedule two hours first thing every morning to cry my eyes out, but that got old after a while, so I decided to stop hanging around with poets. It was more fun to look back and laugh. So I suppose that makes me a humorist.

One tragic thing about my youth was that my Mom didn’t like camping. My Dad did a foolish thing, which was to take her camping on their honeymoon. He thought he might open her eyes to the beauty of nature. It poured. Years later, when he was a little wiser, he took her to the Caribbean. She stepped on a poisonous sea-urchin. Come to think of it, maybe Nature didn’t like my mother. When my Dad took her out mackerel-jigging she caught a sea-gull. It squawked and flapped about her face at the end of a hand-line, and she indignantly concluded only fools found joy in mackerel fishing. Nor did she like anyone finding joy in her discomfiture, but Dad did a foolish thing, which was to laugh.

After the divorce I was very careful to avoid the topic of camping. I was a sort of barefoot, suburban Huckleberry Finn, illegally fishing and skinny-dipping in the water supply of Harvard professors, and was briefly arrested at age eleven, but the officer had compassion and didn’t tell Mom. I had many other wonderful adventure that I didn’t dare share with Mom (at least until a sort of statute of limitations had passed) for I had concluded there were two types of people in the world. There were those who didn’t like camping…

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…and those who did.

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Back in my days as a bachelor and bum I did a lot of camping, for a tent was cheaper than an apartment. In 1987 I camped from May 1 to October 23. This presented me with a bit of a dilemma, for if I didn’t write my Mom she’d worry, (and I usually couldn’t afford a phone call.) The letters I then produced were masterpieces in the fine art of censorship. Every day camping was a sunny day, and rain was never mentioned.

After I surprised everyone by marrying and settling down, I got a surprise of my own, for it turned out my wife’s mother did like camping. I didn’t know that was legal for Moms to do, but she’s gone right ahead and done it.

As a young mother of five with a hot home, too poor to afford a summer house, she had moved to a campground by a lake each summer, perhaps to escape the heat or perhaps to escape vacuuming the house. Her husband would commute to work from the campground, and the kids rode their bicycles about and fished and swam to their hearts content. They don’t seem to remember any rain. The mother didn’t know what she was starting. It became a yearly event.

This year the lady, in her eighties, sat back and happily regarded her daughter and three sons, their four spouses, ten grandchildren, four grandchildren-in-laws, two step-grandchildren, two step-grandchildren-in-laws, six great-grandchildren, and two step-great-grand children, and likely thought about the ones who couldn’t make it this year.

It rained, of course. It seems to rain every year, but we count on the rain, and one of the first things we do is stretch out tarps between trees. I am proud to state I was the one who started this great tradition in 1991, and as the years have passed it has become a sort of art, as we’ve learned by making all sorts of mistakes. A tarp can turn into a spinnaker in a strong wind, and snap ropes, and also a tarp also can turn into a massive udder if  it catches rain and sags. Now we have learned all sorts of remedies, one of the best of which is to get old, so you can sit back and watch others clamber about in trees.

Only once did I arise this year, as the wise old man,  to show them the trick of tying a rope to a hammer and tossing it up over a branch, so you can skip the climbing, (which I didn’t learn until I was pushing fifty and getting tired of bringing an aluminum extension ladder camping, and saw a friend who was lazy demonstrate the hammer trick).  This year no one had a hammer so they used a hatchet. It added risk to the enterprise.

In the end we were ready for the rain. Here’s my area:

and here’s the main gathering area:

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In the old days we only had tents, and looked down our noses at RV’s, but a son and brother-in-law have gotten soft, and I must admit I don’t mind a bit of softness myself, though I can’t afford a RV. We also only cooked over wood fires in the old days, and while we still do a bit of that (under the high part of the tarp), the younger folk haul in all sorts of smokers and newfangled propane gadgets. I don’t complain, when faced with a spread like this:

I’m not sure we could have done as well if the winds had been high. Around five years ago we gathered in the gusty deluge of a former tropical storm, and as I recall we put off the gorging until the next day, but this year the feast was prepared despite downpours. It was interesting to see the smaller girls incorporate the water coming off the tarp into their play.

My wife strongly believes that, to acclimatize grandchildren to camping, you need to break them in early.

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We’ve been camping in the rain so long, nearly thirty years now, that we’ve watched an entire generation go from being this small to being stronger and richer than we are. I like to just sit back and contemplate the passage of time, but did get up and take part in a game of whiffle-ball when the rain let up for a bit, and now rue my brief ambition.  Within hours I was walking funny. But the former boys are now strapping young men who don’t stiffen up so quickly, and who itch for challenges, such as jumping into rivers from high places and being carried downstream.

This river is the Ashoelot, a geologically interesting backwater that flows down a channel made by a glacial flood. Usually it is fairly shallow,  but all the rain had its waters rising.Camping 9 IMG_7106

 

When we first arrived my dog L.C. (short for “Lost Cause”), (Animal Rights Activists think I’m calling her “Elsie”), had a great time annoying herons and geese on the river, which was a little higher than usual.

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But the clear, tea-colored water had risen three feet and turned to coffee by the second day.

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By the third day it had risen three more feet and gone dark again, and had the spin-drift suds that sometimes indicate pollution, but can also be natural, in swampy rivers.  The campground owner said the water was as high as he’d ever seen it. Driftwood shifted, with its colonies of greenery and crimson blooms.

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The men were smart enough to know you can’t jump in at the usual place, if you are unsure if driftwood has moved in, so they sent my nine-year-old  grandson down to swim around and see if he could feel any branches with his toes. The cheerful, young, eager-to-please chump fellow checked out the entire area under the embankment, which usually is around twelve feet tall. He said it was all clear. Then they asked him if the water seemed colder, and he shrugged innocently and said, “Maybe a little.”

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I wish I could show you the video of whqat followed. You see six big brawny men dash to the edge of the bank and leap whooping out into the river, make a tremendous splash, and then their heads emerge and they all simultaneously register the fact the water is twenty degrees colder. Not so manly, all of a sudden. As they drifted downstream you could have heard the shrieking a mile away.  (I looked suspiciously at my grandson. He was smiling noncommittally.)

Despite the fact they had disgraced themselves, in terms of machismo, some of the women wanted pictures of the young men “for a calendar.”

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Himph! No one asked me if I’d pose for a calendar. And I tell you, I’ve taken on all four of those fellows and whupped them with one hand behind my back……twenty years ago.

As the evening came on I sat in the light of the campfire listening to the patter of the rain on the tarp overhead, and the deluge became a flood of memory. I listened to the murmurs of conversation, snatches of laughter, and strumming of a guitar and thought about what a fool I was thirty years ago, when I decided I had God’s plan for me all figured out. I was camping all alone in the New Mexico desert, and expected to be single all the days of my life.

In fact I managed to convince myself that being alone was likely for the best.  Spirituality is all about renouncing the things of the world, and it would be far easier to renounce everything if I didn’t have anything. Just as it is far easier to be a teetotaler if you have no booze, it would be easier to be celibate without a babe. My “bad karma” was actually “good karma”.

Not so fast. (Though it did happen with astonishing speed.) In fact, when I told a spiritual friend I had married a mother-of-three I didn’t try to explain it, beyond saying, “I don’t know what happened.” Karma is like that. Just when you think you have things figured out you learn you’re just a chip on a mighty river.

It is also a little amusing how “good karma” becomes “bad karma”. When my wife was clobbered by morning sickness and I had three kids to care for it occurred to me that “family values” might not be all that they were cut out to be. Not that I had any desire to camp alone again. But I understood the irony of the Springsteen “Hungry Heart” lyrics:

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back,

There are times when leaving all worldly possessions has a definite appeal.  The Australian poet Francis Brabazon  describes a man who came to Meher Baba and offered to lay all his worldly possessions at his feet, namely, a wife and six kids.

However when Jesus said, “Leave all and follow me”, he didn’t mean just your “bad karma”. All means all. To be true follower you have to give up your “good karma”. Yikes. That is not so easy, when the kids who seemed like “bad karma” grow up and delight you by being “good karma” in a campfire’s wavering glow.

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It is no easy thing to truly give all to God. We are all addicts. But it helps when you reflect on how bankrupt you are without the gifts you have received from God. (I’m not sure where atheists think their talents and “luck” comes from.) It helps even more to believe God is love, and even “bad karma” holds compassion, though it may be a blessing very deeply disguised.

As a cancer survivor I know even accursed cancer can be a blessing, for it makes every day a treasure. One lives praying the doctor doesn’t deliver the bad news, “it’s back”. It is as if you are looking  around for the last time. Habits people have, which once annoyed you, become strangely endearing.

It is oddly ambiguous that, when we think we have control of our lives, we are full of complaining, but when we lose control we experience an overwhelming gratitude. Perhaps that explains (to some) why “leave all and follow me” is not really loss, but gain.

What’s Lost and What Lasts

One thing I thought about a lot, as a boy, may have been unusual. It was, “What is lasting?”

It likely occurred because my father struggled through all the grueling training that went into becoming a surgeon of the old school: The college, the graduate school, the medical school, and the grueling internship (wherein doctors were all but zombies due to lack of sleep). It didn’t really phase him. He loved what he was doing, and, while I don’t suppose he went skipping down the hospital’s halls, he didn’t drag about full of self-pity. He became a very good vascular surgeon at a very good hospital, and then, right when he finally had it made, he contracted polio. He got it bad, and the illness progressed until he couldn’t even move his fingers. He could barely breathe, but when they rolled the “iron lung” into the hallway outside his room he told them to get the %#@*&$ thing away. As a trained doctor he knew that once you were put in an “iron lung” your body would atrophy. It was a sort of kiss of death, even though it kept you alive.

“What is lasting?” You do all this work to become a surgeon, and then a stupid virus paralyzes you.

To cut a long story short, yelling and screaming and cussing like blue blazes, when the “iron lung” was rolled outside his hospital room, was the beginning of an amazing come-back. He went down to Warm Springs, Georgia, worked his butt off, and learned to use his fingers again. He never could do many things he loved, like skiing, and he walked like a lumbering bear, but in one of those delicious ironies life holds, (if you know how to look for them,) this man who had lost the use of his own arms was part of a team of surgeons in Boston confronted with a boy in one room and the boy’s arm in another room, and rejoined the arm to the boy’s body. He was the vascular surgeon who sewed micro-stitches, thirty per vein,  that joined first veins, and then the great artery. Then he un-clamped the artery had the sublime joy of seeing the dead and gray arm turn pink again. It was a beautiful example of medical teamwork and a great victory.

https://medicaltreats.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/the-right-arm-of-eddy-knowles/

However a comeback isn’t forever. Polio made my father like an aging athlete, needing to work far harder to stay the same. It couldn’t last. The great arm-reattachment was in some ways like the great, Boston baseball-player Ted Williams hitting a home run his last time at bat. Within two years my father was finished, as a surgeon. Then I got to watch the anguish a man goes through when all he lives for is taken away.

“What is lasting?”

Even as a boy I had a dread of being made useless by age. I wanted something you didn’t lose, something you could trust.

Money you could lose. Fame could fade. Popularity could turn on you like a rabid dog. Power could make you be the rabid dog, as you snarled to keep it, in vain. A beautiful woman grew old and gray. What the heck lasted?

Of course, as a boy such thought was inarticulate. I lacked words, but believe me, the pondering was there. And very early I came to conclusions I had no words for.

One thing I noticed was that my grandfather and grandmother were very wrinkly, but he was still somehow handsome and she was still somehow beautiful. They had decided to get married in second grade, at age eight, and at age eighty were still in love. How’d they do it? I had no idea, for my parents were divorcing. But in a chaotic home I could sense, when visiting my grandparent’s house, that they knew of peace.

Also in my boyhood I noticed some very wrinkly people playing piano in symphony hall. When President Kennedy was inaugurated, a wrinkly poet named Robert Frost read a poem. This gave me the idea that something in art was ageless.

In any case, even as a boy I was fearful of losing. I am glad most people don’t think like I thought, because if they did we would have no star athletes. All would fear the day they’d get old and retire. Young women would make no effort to be beautiful, if they all despaired about the day they’d be hags. My father wouldn’t have reattached a boy’s arm, if he thought like me. He would have said, “Why bother to do all the work to be a great surgeon? It won’t last.”

While I confess I was a coward and motivated by fear, I also was seeking a great thing worthy of saints and mystics. I was seeking what doesn’t turn to dust in the wind. To my way of seeing, the world was seeking things that were as fleeting as clouds. Unless I joined the madness, and agreed things were worthy of yearning-for even though they didn’t last, all the fuss and bother made no sense. It would be like craving a fashion that had gone out of style; like feeling you could not go out in public without George Washington’s white wig.

For example, just think what sex-attraction looks like, to a boy who hasn’t yet been hit by hormones. Does it make any sense? Because I was skipped ahead in school (and was slow to get hairy in any case) I got to watch my peers become demented before I became demented myself. They appeared senseless. I basically said, “screw this”, and headed off barefoot to go fishing. In order for the absurd antics of my peers to make sense, you needed to be horny.

In like manner, other so-called “adult” behavior makes no sense unless you know what it is like to be greedy. Or hateful. Or vengeful. Or frustrated in other ways. Only when afflicted by the itch of craving do many things gain urgency. Water has little value until you are in a desert and know thirst. Then a glass of water is worth all you have, but once you quench your thirst, a second glass isn’t worth a dime.

What is lasting?

To me what was lasting seemed to be so-called “art”. To sing, to dance, to rhapsodize, to praise the Creation, (if not the Creator). It didn’t cost a penny; old people had it; I saw it could be found in slums and even in Math classes; and even when people sneered and made me miserable, it never completely left, (and then I could have a wonderful time singing the blues.)

Of course, unless you are very good and very lucky (or an excellent con) there is no money in being happy. For many it is something you do after work. I got in all sorts of trouble for having art happen on the job.

In the end it is ironic. I tried so hard to avoid depending on something fleeting, like a strong body, and yet, because art has never paid the bills, I had to fall back on my strong back. For years and years I have been a “grunt”. I am very grateful my mother worked so hard to make certain my boyhood diet included good food and all the right vegetables, for without what she did to strengthen the good body God gave me, I could never have raised five children. But now they are raised. Now I’m sixty-five. Now, even when I try to be a “grunt”, I embarrass myself.

Not that I’m feeble, but I can’t do what I could do. It’s very obvious when I look at my vegetable garden. The weeds have pretty much won, this year. I appreciate the effort it took to weed a lot more now, than when I could actually do it. Before I took it for granted, and it was done for free, but now I’ll have to pay.

In essence, because poetry never paid, I have arrived at the very point I sought to avoid. I am the aged athlete the day the crowd stops cheering. The crowd groans, when I step to the plate with my baseball bat. I hold little potential to be a hero.

But this doesn’t mean I have lost faith in heroic things. How arrogant would that be? To think that, unless I get the glory and I get to be the hero, such glory and heroism cease to exist? It  goes against my actual experience, for I have seen the Light can shine even in Math classes. To be honest, I’m glad I can retire from being the hero, which perhaps demonstrates an understanding of What (or Who), is truly heroic.

All I ask anymore is to be Yours.
What’s the use of making my big-shot plans?
The strength I once had has bled from my pores.
My aspiration’s gone the way of all man’s.
I look at You, standing in perfection,
All power, but innocent and meek.
You control the destiny of each nation
Yet are so pure you do not need to speak.
You challenge all by simply standing.
This world’s a din of loud demanding.
All want control. All are commanding
Their will be done, misunderstanding
You’re the only one who has control
And Your love wants the best for every soul.

In any case, though I confess to feeling a bit feeble in terms of being a “grunt”, I also realize I am nowhere nearly as bad off as my father was at age thirty-four. I can still move my fingers, at least. I can still type. If old men like Rubinstein could move fingers and make amazing music at a piano past the age of ninety, perhaps I can do the same at a word-processor.

If my father could mount a come-back when completely crippled, can’t I do the same?

“Not likely” I hear a snide voice say. “You have written fifty years and no one cares.”

My reply is that I have been a grunt for fifty years. Writing was merely a hobby. Now it will change.

The snide voice laughs, “Change? You’re too old to change. Poets die young. They don’t arise from the ashes of decrepitude. If you haven’t made it by age forty, you’ll never make it.”

I suppose I could dust off my list of artists and writers who never “made it” until over age sixty.  Scarlotti and Darwin come to mind.  Or how about the creation of the innocent, girlish Laura of “Little House On The Prairie”? That was written by a lady over sixty.  When you get to be my age,  you notice examples of people who refused to be “all washed up.” Everyone said Winston Churchill was all washed up, in 1938.

Yet when I think of it, my plot when I was young was not to become rich  and famous when I was old. The script I had for my life was to become rich and famous when I was young, and could enjoy the usual period of debauchery that precedes the tragedy of dying young. That didn’t work out. Poverty was sometimes God’s way of keeping me healthy during a time when it was said “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you that you have too much money.”

Anyway, what I was really after when young was something you could not lose, and the only thing you don’t lose as you depart this veil of tears, as naked as you came,  is the contents of your heart.  If your heart is set on what you are leaving behind, you likely know sadness, but if you are looking ahead it seems likely you are joyous.

I’ve wished I could be a bright channel
Of drenching wisdom, a laughing summer brook
Dancing to a distant sea, with banks full
Of more than bankers dream, of fish no hook
Can hurt, of poetry for small salmon,
Singing of what’s salty, distant, giant,
And painted by a stunning, endless dawn,
And so I yearn to create what I can’t.
I can’t obey God’s gravity like water.
I resist the tugging of the puppet-string.
Obedience has led poor lambs to slaughter.
I fight the rule that leads to suffering.
I’m like a cloud that fills the sky with thanks.
Not all water stays within the banks.

LOCAL VIEW –A Little Like A Lizard–

We’re getting a break from the heat and humidity, as Canadian air pushed down and brought us thunder rain. The parched corn drank it up and seemed to grow a foot over night. So did the weeds.

Many years ago a woman accused me of being too positive. She said that even if someone served me a plate with a poop on it, I’d find something good to say about the poop.

Well, if that is a problem, I’ve been working on it. Or maybe not. I avoid work when possible, but life has been chasing me down and working on me. Now I have matured to a point where, besides noticing the corn growing, I notice the weeds.

Besides growing wiser I’ve been growing less hot-blooded. As the refreshing, invigorating Canadian breezes swept in I went from deeming it too hot to deeming it too cold, and moved from shade to the sun, a little like a lizard.

Canada warred Carolina, and a
Refreshing Blessing swept humidity
Out to sea. Where I’d sought shade and planned a
Sloth’s list, and used that flat itinerary
To fan nagging gnats from my face,
I now flee the shade. The dawn is so cool
I seek the sun, and find the one place
On the porch where slanting sunbeams pool
A couch of warmth. All around day sparkles
Where before it slouched: I called it “languid”
When in fact it was flabby. Thus my will’s
Seeking the right seat. I do what I did,
Now in sun, then in shade, speaking of charms,
Ignoring chill’s goose-pimples prickling my arms.

The high July sun swiftly warms us, and all in all Canada redeems itself in July, and is forgiven for how it treats us in January.

Sparkling Day FullSizeRender

It just occurred to me that even a lizard is an optimist, for in moving from the shade to the sun it is seeking the better side of things.

LOCAL VIEW –Hurricane Heights (and heat)–

I have seen summers in these hills when we never make it above 90°F: Gray, rainy summers where we were hard pressed to ever make it above 80°F,  when east winds off the cold Gulf of Maine could even keep temperatures below 60°F. Such summers always left me feeling cheated, for I grew up down on the flatland’s west of Boston where it was far warmer. A true heatwave of three days topping 90° is rare in these hills, and therefore I was pleasantly surprised to see this forecast for the start of July:

Hurricane Heat 1 IMG_6910

I love hot weather, even though I don’t get to kick back and watch the corn grow as much as I’d like.  Perhaps it just reminds me of being young and spoiled. I can recall laying on my back on a hot day as a boy, holding a Popsicle up in the air and letting it melt drop by drop into my mouth,  and feeling perfectly content. Or, perhaps there was a sort of unrest, but it was the unrest of peace, of listening to a symphony.  There was no to-do list.

I’ve had some heart-to-heart talks with God recently about whether it might not be wise to spoil me in that manner again. How is it I am not worth spoiling, now? Certainly I am as perishable, if not more so.  Yet now, if I tried out laying on my back and letting a Popsicle drip into my mouth, I’d get “the look” from my wife. When I try to watch the corn grow, I see the weeds grow instead. Rather than relaxed, summer becomes hurry-hurry, worry-worry, scurry-scurry.

The ironic aspect to the frenetic pace of running a farm-childcare is that I, in some unspoken ways, seek to spoil the kids. I want them to catch what I caught from being spoiled by my own Depression-era parents, who experienced too much poverty and toil and war, and wanted a better life for me. Therefore I fight my losing battle with weeds so they might munch edible-podded peas at their leisure, and teach them the old maxim, “Plant peas on Patriot’s Day (April 19) and pick ’em on Independence Day (July 4).”

Hurricane Heat 3 IMG_6924

And I struggle with cords and pumps and chemicals and filters, because there’s nothing like splashing in a pool to make a heat-wave bearable. (Our local ponds are OK, as long as you don’t mind leeches.)

Hurrucane Heat 2 IMG_6915

And then there’s the exasperation of fishing, of teaching how to put a worm on, and take a fish off, a hook; of tangle after tangle after tangle after tangle; of casting that is flailing and shoots hooks into shrubbery or another child’s hair or puts my life in danger, all for the dubious honor of seeing a child catch a first fish that isn’t virtual.

Hurricane Heat 4 IMG_6931

And then there’s the modern, liberated, young suffragettes. Back in my day, girls didn’t even want to go fishing, and thought fish and worms were icky, and they certainly didn’t gross out their guide by kissing fish.

Hurricane heat 6 FullSizeRender

Kiss frogs? Maybe, because a frog might turn into a prince. But I don’t want to see what sort of prince a fish turns into, and sure as heck don’t want him hanging around young girls at my Childcare.

But I digress. The point I was making was that all sorts of effort goes into making an idyll, all sorts of hurry-hurry, worry-worry, scurry-scurry, all sorts of exasperation and irritation….and then all is redeemed. A light descends and softens a child’s eyes, and just the way they look around at God’s green creation tells me that they “get it”, and that I have successfully passed the baton I received from Depression-era parents on to a new generation.

Hurricane Heat 5 IMG_6933

The mistake people (including myself) seem to make is to visualize the descent of the Light as being conditional. After all, the Depression-era was a brutal time, yet people who went through it seemed to grasp that Light could be found in small things, even in simply sitting, whereas Baby-Boomers who were spared the brutality and were pampered strangely knew thirst and discontent. The attempt to exclude brutality at times led to exclusiveness, to a sort of gated-community of “the elite” which, rather than an ivory tower, became a vacuum, devoid of the very air that hearts need most.

To me the escape from this conditional exclusiveness seems to be to cultivate the attitude of a little child: Children accept the cards as dealt, while the grown-ups attempt to bully and bribe the dealer. It is the grown-ups who scramble to come up with four hundred dollars a month to pay for an air conditioner. For a child, when it’s hot, it’s hot, and when it’s not, it’s not.

I love the warm mornings, (all too few
This far north), when I can sit on the stoop
And watch the dawn grow last webbed drops of dew
Before the day bakes, and watch last bats loop
And dart, and hear first birds sing, and not put
On a shirt.
                       It’s like I’m a boy again,
Though I’ll confess I wince walking barefoot
Now.
                Once I lost shoes in June, and then, when
I looked again for those shoes, it was fall
And they didn’t fit. I could tread over
Sharp stones and barnacles, and I recall
Broken glass didn’t phase me.
                                                           Now clover
Is what my feet prefer to tread upon,
But still I love the feel of summer dawn. 

One reason I was able to be content as a child was the sense the Depression-era grown-ups were taking care of things. True, there would be occasional shadows, times I intuitively sensed all was not well,  but for the most part I was blissfully ignorant about things such as divorce, mother’s-little-helper pills, and the Vietcong. I was nearly eleven before the assassination of John Kennedy first deeply shook my faith. Before then I had a sort of heedless and thoughtless faith.

Now my faith is more thought-out. Now I am the Baby-Boom-era grown-up, taking care of things. It doesn’t matter how inadequate I feel; it is my turn to be the elder. My faith allows me to  sit back and enjoy warmth that is rare in northern lands, but my contentment is not complete, for I am always on the lookout for trouble. When it’s hot I keep peering west for the purple skies of thunderstorms, and to the high clouds, for hints of a hurricane.

Many of my ancestors were involved with trade and sailing ships, and were  forever scanning the skies. A hurricane could turn a fat profit into a total loss, and therefore they were always on the lookout for “hurricane heights.”

What were “hurricane heights”? I can’t say. A lot of that wisdom was lost with the last captain of the last coastal schooner. All I can say is that they studied the sky in a way we cannot imagine. I know nothing of the nuances they knew, but do know they noticed high clouds don’t move the same direction low clouds move.

Modern meteorologists know about such differences through studying surface maps, which show the direction low clouds move, and comparing them with upper-air maps, which show the direction high clouds move. They have a huge advantage over the captains of coastal schooners, because they not only know how the high clouds are moving far to the west, and far to the east, but at times, when the sky is completely overcast, they know what high clouds are doing directly overhead, which the captains of schooners might not know.

But the captains of schooners had an advantage over modern meteorologists. When modern meteorologists blow a forecast they suffer embarrassment, yet seldom lose their jobs, but when the captains of schooners blew a forecast they lost their lives, or, if they crawled ashore, they had lost their cargo and therefore their livelihood.  Therefore what those old timers knew about high clouds involved an immediacy, urgency, and focus which modern meteorologists can’t imagine.

Also the captains of coastal schooners were not reading tickertape from a distant buoy or squinting at a satellite’s picture; they were right on the interface between sea and sky. They were right there, and there’s no buoy or satellite than can substitute for a man’s skin and hair. I often wonder if the most amazing discoveries concerning insights gleaned from the movements of high clouds were made by captains who died ten minutes later. Those sailing ships were not designed to handle hundred knot winds. Yet amazingly some captains survived hurricanes, in ships completely demasted yet controlled by a storm jib on a bowsprit. And when these crippled ships limped back to port their captains brought weather-data you do not learn in colleges, but can hear echoes of to this day, in taverns by the sea.

Me? I’m in awe of both the bygone oldsters and the modern meteorologists. What I know about “hurricane heights” is but crumbs a mouse gathers from a banquet. And what I gather is this:

Hot spells in New England tend to end with thunder, and also with a change in the movement of high clouds. When it was hot high clouds came from the southwest, but after the thunder they come from the northwest. Then it is delightfully cooler, with northwest winds. And upper air maps shows a “trof” (meteorologist spelling) crossing  New England. It is like a the dent a schoolgirl makes in a jump-rope, when lifting it up and down, and will be followed by the bump in the jump-rope, called an upper air  “ridge” (ordinary spelling).

As this upper air ridge approaches the refreshing northwest breezes die, and winds shift to the southwest, and people await the next summer hot spell. However worry-warts like me me get anxious, and start scanning the sunrise sky for hurricane heights.

Joe Bastardi called such ridges, “a ridge over troubled waters,” (a pun on an old Simon and Garfunkle song). Old schooner captains also worried when summer ridges past. They searched south for hurricanes. And true to form, as a hot ridge recently passed over New England, tropical storm Chris formed just off the Carolina coast, to the south.

20180709 satsfc

Such a hurricane shouldn’t trouble me, for they nearly always are steered out to sea by the upper-air “trof” following the upper-air “ridge”. Maybe such storms only concerned the captains of coastal schooners, because they too went “out to sea”, right where the hurricanes went,  and then those captains confronted conditions lubbers can’t imagine. (There was no Cape Cod Canal, and in order for New York City to build its tenements Maine lumber had to be shipped far “out to sea” to get around Cape Cod.)

Even people who stay ashore on the coast face high surf and rip tides, as such hurricanes go “out to sea”. But my farm is inland, up in the hills. Barring an unimaginable earthquake, these hills aren’t going “out to sea” any time soon.  Why should I care?

It is because the upper atmosphere does not always behave like waves going up and down on a schoolgirl’s jump-rope. A school-girl’s jump-rope never breaks off a bump into a circle that gets bigger and bigger and becomes a hurricane, boring from the surface right up into the upper atmosphere.

Once such a circle appears on meteorological maps they become an entity that has a life of its own. Usually they are steered by the steering currents, but they are also an impediment to the flow, like a boulder in a river, and therefore they have an uncanny capacity to alter the steering current. They can even steer the steering current. They impede the steering current to such a degree that upper-air winds are deflected. With a hurricane in the way, rather than aiming northeast the steering currents may be deflected north, or even, on very rare occasions, northwest.

Meteorologists who are wiser than I describe this as a “positively-tilted trof” being replaced by a “negatively tilted trof”, with the result being that a hurricane that ordinarily would go out to sea curves north or, very rarely, northwest.

Even when the hurricanes come north they tend to weaken over the cold shelf waters, and to suck dry air in from land, and have the most intense winds by the “eye-wall” collapse. Also they tend to curve away northeast at the end, which keeps the strongest winds east of my hills. Thus all the storms of my lifetime have been breezy and warm summer rains,  with some branches and rotted trees falling (and perhaps knocking the power out for a few hours). The next day’s news has pictures of surf and banged-up boats down on Cape Cod and in Buzzard’s Bay, and there can be flooding due to torrential rains, but the news  is never as bad as I know it could have been. In a sense I’ve spent a lifetime scanning the skies for hurricane heights I’ve never seen.

And what is this worst case scenario I envision? It is a hurricane that doesn’t dawdle over a colder shelf waters, but rather accelerates up the coast, cutting northwest as it plows inland, putting my hills to the east of the eye-wall. The blow-down of trees would be unimaginable to people now alive.

Actually I can’t say such a storm has never occurred in my lifetime, for Hurricane Carol took that track when I was one year old. I don’t remember it, but do recall being shown the fallen trees in the woods as a boy. They were trunks all laying the same way, on scrubby hillsides, and as we hiked I heard my Dad talk with other grown-ups about the older, mossier trunks being from an earlier hurricane (1938), and my grandfather commenting one summer was wetter (I can’t recall which summer) and that meant one hurricane uprooted trees and the other hurricane snapped them off.

To my boyish mind  it seemed such hurricanes must happen fairly often, but here it is 64 years later and we haven’t seen anything like them since. The scrubby hillside is now reforested with 64-year-old trees, and the fallen trunks have been melted down by rot and are mere green stripes of moss on the forest floor, with peculiar piles of stones at the ends, showing where the ripped-up bottoms once thrust tangles of earth and stones and writhing roots, and my grandfather said I should look for exposed arrowheads. Where the Depression-era elders saw two such storms in sixteen years we have been spared, but perhaps, just as the tree trunks have faded, so has the public’s memory of what can happen.

The sensationalist media is so eager to hurry on to the next headline it seems to have amnesia, like a person with dementia, only a person with dementia at least has some long-term-recall, even when they can’t remember where they put their car keys. The media is worse, with a forgetfulness more like a person who has smoked way, way too much marijuana, who cannot even remeber what car keys are for.

The media doesn’t even seem to fact-check any more, crowing a single day of hundred degrees is a big deal the Great Plains, where it once was over 110°F, day after day after day after burning day, during the nigh-intolerable Dust Bowl summer of 1936. Then, on July 13, 1954, it touched 120°F in Kansas, there were 100 degree temperatures noted in places from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and when you took all the high temperatures from all the station across the USA, north and south and east and west, the average was 95°F. (See post at realclimatescience.com) .

When the media ignores this striking past to sensationalize the more modest present, they not only make people less respectful towards what our forebears endured, but also make people unaware of what might happen again, (because it happened before). I have concluded that, in a strange way, the media generates a discontent where people once knew contentment despite hard times, and fosters a foolishness where people once were wise.

I refuse to be that way, so I sit and scan the summer’s warm dawn skies for hurricane heights, seeking high scarlet feathers and dappled intricacies from the southeast, at peace, but ever watchful.

But still I love the feel of summer dawn
Though I know her ways. She can’t disguise her
Devilish tricks. Her smiling lips won’t stay upon
My smile. She’ll leave. I’m older, wiser,
But still her kisses are reminding me of
A place I hope to return, after death:
The land before birth; a landscape of Love;
A time without time that takes away your breath.
Most have amnesia, and forget the breast
That fed them, and the peace before that time.
The work-a-day world puts all to the test
Like hamsters in wheels, or lemmings that climb
In a terrible rush to get to the top,
When the way to be wise is to stop.

A PLACE CALLED HOME

My favorite moments are those when things come together, and life makes sense. All the tests of the past are suddenly seen as preparations for the present. Winston Churchill described such a moment in his own life as “walking with destiny.”

Of course, in order for such moments to be special they can’t happen all the time. What this means is that there must be other times when life makes no sense whatsoever. I’ve had a lot of those. Such times either break, or strengthen, your faith.

In my case it seems I have experienced a little of both breakage and strengthening. If my faith was perfect I would have had no doubt I was cared-for, even in the midst of calamities, and would have whistled cheerfully, but the truth is: I grumbled a lot. In my time I’ve been one of those bums you shy away from, because they are talking to themselves as they shuffle down the street.

Actually in my case I was talking to God. Basically I‘d be saying, “I don‘t get it. Nothing makes sense.” This seems a little audacious, for in a sense it is like a speck of dust folding its arms and tapping its toe and demanding that Infinite God start explaining Himself. But I think God likes it when we draw close. Maybe He’d prefer it if we praised more and grumbled less, but He can handle our grumbling. He isn’t like a mother who shakes a baby unconscious to stop its crying.

In any case, if grumbling is “drawing closer to God”, then I do get points, for I grumbled a lot. One reason I grumbled was because I had a great appreciation of harmony, and could see how beautiful life might be “if only”. Those two words can be the saddest words in the English language: “If only”.

The fact life could get ugly was especially frustrating when it seemed to defy Karma. The Bible states, “You reap what you sow”, but I seemed to experience the opposite. For a long, gloomy time my motto and mantra was, “The right thing is never the rewarding thing”.

I think this tends to be a common experience for all artists of all types. God gives them a gift, and they know they are gifted. Furthermore they know it is wrong to “bury your talents.” The Bible makes it quite clear that the fellow who buries his talents gets punished. So artists do the right thing, which is to sit around being artistic when everyone else goes out to work in the fields. Then, when harvest time comes around, everyone else has a harvest, but what have they earned? It is a bit crushing for young artists to realize they don’t get paid millions, like the Beatles were paid. The Beatles were the exception and not the rule, for if what you sow is songs, then what you reap is music, not money/

It can be exasperating, especially when you are young, to try to achieve a balance between, on one hand, utilizing the unprofitable yet dazzling talents God has given you, and, on the other hand, fulfilling your worldly responsibilities. When I was young I decided good symbols for this dichotomy were Aesop’s “Grasshopper and Ant”. At age 26 I decided each deserved its own sonnet:

 
       THE GRASSHOPPER SONNET

When I was young, I was told a fable
About a grasshopper and one good ant.
The good ant gathered grain for its table.
The grasshopper fiddled the following rant:

“Man can’t live on bread alone; all need song.
Yes, all need song. Life, without its tune,
Is wrong. Yes, utterly, hopelessly wrong,
WRONG, WRONG.”
                                     That grasshopper came to ruin,
Or at least that is what the fable states.
I guess that means next spring will be silent
Without the sweet chirping a grasshopper makes.
I guess that means all the ways that I went
Will lead me to death, while you’ll never die.
Either that or all the old fables can lie.

 

               THE ANT SONNET

The poor ant works while the grasshoppers fiddle.
The ant looks up to the sky with trust.
The ant can’t see God stands in the middle.
The ant is shocked by the first locust.
The locusts swarm and the fields are stripped.
The ant’s outraged and it seeks its peers.
Army ants march in tight ranks, grim lipped.
Soon the last locust disappears.
Thus there’s no fiddling. Thus there’s no grain.
Thus we have nothingness. Thus we’re insane.
Thus all our efforts breed flourishing pain.
Thus does humanity go down the drain.
Pray for ecology. Then there’s a chance
That grasshoppers will get along with the ants.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (1979)                                                                

“Simple yet eloquent”, I said to myself, writing my own review. Then I sat back to await the accolades. Instead I received the usual rejection slip. Rather than the $1000.00 first prize I was counting on, I had to get a job at a herring cannery.

I think the people at that cannery thought I was too prissy and would never last, for the very first day they gave me the worst job, down in the dungeons in the bowls of the building, where a gargantuan machine groaned and squealed, screening the herring guts from a flood of reeking waste water. God heard me grumble a fair amount, that afternoon.

This brings me to the question, “Did God respond to my muttering?” In some discussions this becomes a debate about God’s nature: “Is God personal or impersonal?”

I tended to argue God was personal, but others would counter I was merely putting a silver lining on clouds, even when they were utterly dark. For example, I came to see my cannery job as a blessing. It toughened me up. I learned I could endure harsh conditions. Also the people working there were a wonderful collection of characters who loved to laugh, and I found myself enjoying myself, even though few cared about poetry. By the time I left, seven months later, I had reversed my thinking, and was sure I wasn’t going to die young like John Keats, (because I had outlived him), and few would have called me “prissy.” Therefore I could say God had been smart to put me in a cannery, rather than give me $1000.00 for sitting on my duff. I believed this,  but more cynical people would growl I was merely trying to polish a turd.

Skip ahead seven years, and I had bounced from job to job, north and south and coast to coast, and perhaps was getting discouraged. I felt farther from being “discovered” than ever, and rather than wiser I seemed more confused. I was usually broke, and lonely. I often wrote because the paper was the only one who would listen.

Said the singer to the song,
“It is for your lips I long;
It is for your sweet embrace
Though I cannot see your face
And I cannot ever kiss my own creation.”

The song came singing back,
“You are everything I lack
And we need each other’s life for celebration.”
                                                                                               (1986)

By the time I passed age thirty-three I was catching on to the fact that art, at its best, is a reward in and of itself. To ask for money lessens it, and can dirty it at times. Inspired art is a matter of the heart, and is beyond the arithmetic of budgets. Trying to materialistically value art is like a husband and wife trying to calculate who owes whom how much, and for what. And this is especially true when art becomes worshipful. When joy wells up, and one bursts out in song, art possesses a spontaneity which makes it different from a paid-for service. (When one employs the services of a dentist, one isn’t looking for spontaneity.)

Not that worship isn’t valuable. It is. The Bible even stipulates that people who are manifesting gifts with great ability should receive a “double portion” so they are freed from other tasks that might divert them from manifesting their gift. However it seemed to me this occurred after they were already successful. It wasn’t what I wanted, which was money before I succeeded, so I might “develop my art” and “have time to write.”

Young artists called this “an advance”, and dreamed of achieving such riches, but age brought wisdom, and a certain cynicism. As years passed, hearing the words “an advance” made some immediately adopt the voice of Wimpy in the old Popeye cartoons, saying, “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” while others stated the only advance you were likely to see from an editor was a sexual one. By the age of thirty-three I had glumly concluded money was a matter for the material world, whereas art flourished elsewhere. I tried to have a sense of humor about it, but God heard a lot of grumbling from me.

I have only got a penny
And that isn’t very many
And in fact it can’t by any
FOOD FOR ME!
But as long as I keep living
There is love; there is forgiving;
There is sight, and thought for sieving
And it’s ALL FOR FREE.
                                                 (1987)

In January 1988 I was barely managing eke out a precarious balance between worldly responsibility and art, on the cold, dry and winter-drab streets of Gallup, New Mexico. When the weather had grown cold I had moved into town from a campground where I’d survived at $25.00/week, into a motel unit on Old Route 66 which cost a whopping $60.00/week. Originally I paid for a week at the start of the week, but gradually was later and later with my rent, until I was paying for the week when the week was over, which the landlord didn’t approve of at all.

Minimum wage back then was $3.30/hour, or $26.40 a day, and I needed at least three days of work to pay my rent, and to have a little left over for rice, beans, coffee (and cigarettes, which I could buy very cheaply on nearby reservations.) I preferred to work four days a week, so I could buy gas for my sputtering 1974 Toyota Corolla, and afford to do some laundry at the Laundromat, and splurge on a chicken and a six-pack of beer. I’d work five days a week rarely, and only to buy time to write the following week. I preferred to have three or four days a week to wrack my brains. My writing seemed to be growing steadily worse.

I eat, sleep, work, drink and piss.
There’s just one thing I miss:
One year without a kiss;
Lord, it’s too long.

Lord! It’s too long.
It’s too long, Lord,
Too long! My mind
Can’t afford
Being Bored.
Help me, Lord.

The way I found work was to head up to the local Unemployment Office at the crack of dawn. You had to arrive there early, because an unwritten law stated that the men who arrived first got the first jobs, and, as some days there were only one or two jobs, it tended to be a case where the early bird got the worm. Often I’d arrive at five although the office didn’t open until eight, and I got to know some of the other fellows, (primarily Navajo, with a few Apache and Hispanics), quite well.

Gallup was going through hard times. All sorts of Booms had gone bust. The coal mine had closed. The Uranium mine had closed. The Native American jewelry and tapestry booms had gone bust. The road-building boom had withered with the completion of Interstate 40, and the completion of that interstate basically ruined all the businesses along Old Route Sixty-six. Summer tourism was only a shadow of its former self, and when tourism dried up in the winter the unemployment rate soared above fifty percent. The only sure jobs were to work for the government; for example, at the unemployment office.

It was hard enough merely surviving those winters. Bums like me really had to hustle, and pick up every returnable wine bottle seen on the sidewalk and return it, and sell plasma at a place in downtown Gallup. I had learned to get by, providing everything went well. But then things didn’t go well.

First, my car developed an odd ailment. It would run for only three to five minutes, and then would die. After the engine cooled down it would run again, and then die again. I knew very little about engines, but couldn’t afford a mechanic. I took to visiting bars to pick the brains of people I barely knew. They gave me around fifty wrong answers, but in order to learn the answers were incorrect I had to take their advice. In one case I stressed my budget by going to an auto-parts store and purchasing a new coil for $42.99. It did no good. The car still stopped running after three minutes. I parked it behind a friend’s business, two miles from my motel unit, and began walking a lot.

$42.99 for a coil was more than a day’s work, and I was a little late paying the $60.00 for my motel unit that week. Fortunately I’d earlier helped a Navajo friend raise the money to fix his truck by giving him $50.00 for $50.00’s worth of food-stamps, out at a campground months before, and I still had the food-stamps. I did not give the landlord the food stamps, but he accepted my explanation I’d have to do some adroit swapping, and he had no qualms about grabbing the dollars I produced a day later.

That landlord approached the size of a midget, with a wife who was shorter, and he likely had a grudge against white people, for it was white people who, seeing the writing on the wall, wisely unloaded all the motels along Old Route Sixty-six, as Interstate 40 neared completion, to a whole collection of short people with the distinctive accents of the sub-continent of India.

Little did the small man know, but I had a wonderful time in India in 1974, and was a sort of reverse-racist, in that I was inclined to think the best of people who spoke with that accent. He never thought the best of me. No matter how cheerful and ingratiating I endeavored to be, he never once smiled.

I was getting used to this treatment. A poet is always living in a dream-world above the sleazy concerns of money-grubbers, and he suffers a sort of heartache when the rubber meets the road. There are certain situations that allow shrews to revel over eagles, and landlords enjoy that advantage over poets, when the rent is due.

But I must mention this: I am not a Zuni, and in my adventures with them I was most definitely an outsider, but they were, on certain occasions, splendidly kind to me. The same can be said for other groupings of persons I met in that area. I was an outsider with the Navajo, an outsider with the Hispanics, an outsider with the Chinese-Americans, the Italians, the Mormons, the high mountain Ranchers, the Hopi, the Acoma, the Apache, and I can give examples where they dazzled me with kindness, and made me want to write poems about them.

I wish I could say the same for the diminutive motel-owners along Old Route Sixty-six, but I’d be dishonest if I said so. Surely they are kind to people in their own clique, but I never saw a hint they could be kind to poets. I drifted through Gallup often over the course of four winters, and hit the motel owners with blasts of my charm, and they proved impervious. It gave me the sense I must be getting old and ugly, for in my younger day I was highly skilled at getting invited to dinner.

I grumbled to God about this, as I trudged about without a car. I was tired of being an outsider, always on the wrong side of a windshield, cold while others drove by snug. Rather than life making sense it seemed increasingly senseless. Many of my pet theories were going down in flames. “No good deed goes unrewarded” seemed to be being replaced by, “No good deed goes unpunished.” My idea that people from the sub-continent of India were more spiritual and less materialistic than Westerners was replaced by experiences of money-grubbing meanness. Worst, my sense that God was a compassionate father who listened to me was challenged by a sense God didn’t care a fig about me.

I fought that feeling with might and main, likely because, if I didn’t, I’d vanish under a quicksand of complete despair. I told myself God was teaching me valuable lessons. I was learning to count on self-reliance before charm, and to never be a moocher. I was learning to avoid judging people by their accents. But these arguments weren’t working very well, especially as my health began to fail.

I had to get up when it was dark and walk for a half hour to get to the unemployment office before anyone else, and a couple of mornings I simply felt too ill to do it. Then I did manage it, but there was no work for anyone that day. I only made $52.80 for an entire week, which meant I had to avoid my landlord for a weekend. Fortunately I had a friend who didn’t mind me serving as a sort of “night watchman” at his shop, by sleeping in the back. He liked me being there because Gallup could get rowdy on the weekends, and businesses that didn’t have caged windows often suffered break-ins. Usually my friend slept at his workplace, but he wanted to get away that weekend to see his girlfriend.

I did manage to get work the next Monday, which allowed me to casually hand the landlord $60.00 that evening, apologizing for being late, and excusing myself with the statement, “I’ve been away.” It wasn’t a lie, for I was sleeping roughly two miles away, but the little man looked like he didn’t believe a word of it.

The next week was worse. With Monday’s money used for the prior week, I was starting behind, and only got one other day’s work, for another $26.40. I sold Plasma on Tuesday for $7.00 and again on Thursday for $9.00, plus a bonus of $7.00 (which one received every eighth time one visited.) I turned in $2.60 of aluminum cans I had collected, plus lugged four cases of returnable wine-bottles to the bottling plant, feeling dizzy and exhausted, for $8.00, which gave me a total of $60.00 exactly, but no money for food.

I went to my parked car and searched under the seats, and collected $2.65 in loose change, and also found my G+H green-stamps. (I collected them even when I didn’t shop, for some people didn’t bother with them, and I’d spot them blowing about the parking lot of the grocery store and would pounce.) I walked to the green-stamp “redemption center” and got another $3.60. I then had a whopping $6.25, and felt like a millionaire. I bought a pound of chicken wings for 69 cents; two carrots, an onion, and a potato for 89 cents; a pack of cigarettes for $1.09; and a cheap six-pack for $1.50. Then I went back to my motel unit to make a stew, sip beer, smoke, and write. I had taken care of the worldly-detail side of things, and quite honestly felt a welling-up of self-esteem. But I had forgotten the landlord in my satisfaction. He was pounding on my door even before the water was boiling, scowlingly demanding my rent. I had the $60.00 tucked into an envelope in a book on a shelf, and retrieved it in my most casual manner, as if the money had been there all week. He snatched the envelope from me and suspiciously counted the money, before wheeling and walking away without a good-bye.

“What a turd,” I thought to myself, closing the door and cracking a beer. “I bet he’ll be sorry, when I’m famous, and put him in a story.”

I tried to settle down and enjoy myself, but felt feverish and restless. The landlord had put me in a bad mood, and I knew better than to attempt to write, because self-expression would likely dissolve into a rave about how all landlords are jerks. Instead I was hoping the chicken soup might cure me. Either that, or the fresh pack of cigarettes. All week I’d been emptying the tobacco from old butts, and re-rolling it as “second generation” tobacco, and few things are more raunchy. It made even an nicotine-addict like me smoke less, but I felt worse.

Being unable to shake my cold, or ’flu, or whatever it was, bothered me, for one thing I’d always been able to count on was my stamina and resiliency. On some work-sites I’d go out after work with the fellows, and everyone would drink far more than was wise, and the next day I’d be the only one who showed up for work. Nothing seemed to weaken me the way it weakened others, and I could get away with things I probably shouldn’t have risked. At worst I might lay low for a few nights, catching up on my sleep, but soon I’d be bounding back to repeat the offences. Yet now things seemed to be catching up with me. Not even the chicken soup helped.

Things had reached the yearly low, in terms of the local economy. Not only was tourism as low as it ever got, but it was the week before the various governments (Federal, State and Tribal,) cut monthly checks, and everyone was barely hanging on, waiting for those checks. Even though I didn’t receive one, I knew I would likely benefit from the flurry of buying and boozing that followed their issuance. I had the feeling that, if I could just hang on one more week, things would improve.

But what followed was a dismal week. Not only were there far fewer wine bottles on the sidewalks, but there were far more people collecting them for the refunds. Never had the streets of Gallup seemed so clean. I sensed I was in trouble even before the week began. Then, though I looked for work every day, not a single spot-labor job appeared up at the unemployment office. A cheerful employee up at that office informed me and my fellow Destitutes that we should have hope, for people would soon be hiring spot labor to make ready for the next tourist season, and a Navajo grunted back, “Easy for you to smile. You’ve got a pay-check, this Friday.” I buttoned my lip, but imagined that my landlord wasn’t going to be very impressed by mere hope.

I couldn’t even hide out, being a “night watchman” at my friend’s, for he had left town early, due to the complete lack of business; Gallup’s streets were so empty he likely didn’t fear his shop would be broken into. His shop was dark and lonesome-looking. I decided there are few sadder sights than a friend who isn’t home when you need a friend.

I had to do something, so I sat in the local public library until it closed, and then in my car until I got cold, and then headed to an all-night coffee shop until it was very late, (getting free refills for my 50 cent cup from a kindly waitress), and only then did I tiptoe back to my motel, and went to bed without even turning on the lights.

Then next morning I crept off early, taking a path that avoided the view from the front office‘s window, and headed off to my final hope, which was my post-office box. You never knew what might come in the mail. My main hope was for my tax refund, which would be around a hundred dollars. I muttered to God a lot as I walked to the post office, and as I opened the box my muttering became fervent prayer, yet when I opened the box it held the ultimate rejection-slip: It was empty.

God may be King of kings and Lord of lords, but I fear I was then less than respectful. Not that I used the wrong words. I said, “Thanks a lot.” But the tone was all wrong, and caused other people in the lobby to jump. I didn’t care. Life had ruined me, and I owed it no good manners.

I knew I should seize the bull by the horns, and walk to my pip-squeak landlord and explain the situation, but the idea made me want to vomit. Instead I wandered about town, meeting my fellow Navajo bums, who knew how I felt, because they too had to face pip-squeak white men who had invaded their land. None of them were better off than I. We all were surprisingly sober for a Saturday, and broke, just hanging on until the economy improved.

By afternoon hunger drove me back to my motel unit, and I snuck back in to cook my remaining food, which was dried rice and dried beans. It wasn’t easy. Because Gallup, though down in a valley, is at an altitude above the highest mountains back east, water boils below 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and also, because the barometric pressure is much lower, water evaporates with amazing speed. Boiling is next to useless, because the rice and/or beans are nearly as hard when you are done boiling as when you begin. I learned this the hard way. However a Hispanic fellow had taught me how to fry rice and fry beans, so that it was already cooked before you boiled it. However I had no oil or butter to fry with, and therefore, displaying scientific ingenuity, I had to roast my rice and beans in a carefully-attended frying pan, before boiling. It took until after dark to produce the gruel I ate, and, although I did hang my spare blue jeans over the window to hide my lights, enough light must have leaked out to alert my landlord to the fact I wasn’t “away”.

One odd event happened, as I ate my gruel, that final night I had a home, before I became homeless. I was praying, asking God for, if not a “sign”, then mercy, when a little mouse appeared from behind the radiator on the far side of the unit and began coming towards me. At first I thought it was cute, and a good “sign”, but quickly I surmised the mouse was very sick. Rather than darting and scurrying it staggered. It labored forwards, tottering to my feet, where it fell over on its side and died. Hmm. Not a good “sign”.

The next morning I crept off with my final fifty cents to get a coffee, and when I returned an odd clam-shell was clamped to my unit’s doorknob. I couldn’t get in to my breakfast of rice-and-beans gruel. Obviously the landlord had had enough.

Just as obviously, this was a situation I needed to think about, before I faced it. I went for a long walk, and the day passed with me muttering to God a lot. I attempted to assess the situation in a pragmatic manner, (which poets only do when driven to it by emergency). How was I going to approach the landlord?

First, I had noticed few of his units were actually occupied. Therefore, as a customer who had always paid his rent, I must have some value, though I had just spent my last fifty cents. He must know I always paid, though I paid late. Perhaps, if I mentioned my coming tax-refund, he could be dissuaded from throwing me out.

Second, though the fellow seemed to have an accent from central India, I gathered he wasn’t a Hindu, primarily because the Navajos who had served in the Army referred to him as an “Aye-rab”. And also I had not spent hours staying warm in public libraries without poking through books. If you investigate you learn the nice-sounding word “partition”, concerning India, was not at all that nice in 1948. Gandhi could talk of love and pacifism to his heart’s content, but millions died, as peoples who had lived together for centuries divorced, and the subcontinent convulsed.

Though my landlord looked too young to have been driven from India in 1948, I surmised that likely his grandparents and parents had been among the millions who fled north to Pakistan. I imagined they didn’t find things any kinder in their new home. Why else would they flee Pakistan to the far side of the planet? There were likely some very sad reasons why the little man never smiled. I should have compassion, and also not expect the worst. Surely the fellow would pause before making me homeless, having once been homeless himself. Surely he would not do unto others what he himself hated, when it was done unto him.

Actually he seemed to rather enjoy it. When I finally dared return to talk to the greedy, little man, he just wanted me to get the heck out. He didn’t want to talk about history, or about compassion. He had not even any interest in my future tax-refund. Perhaps, after being bullied by others for generations, he was relishing the chance to be a bully. He didn’t actually smile, but I thought I detected a sort of satisfaction in the way his nose wrinkled a sneer. He seemed to like being mean, especially because, in my cowboy boots, I was a well over a foot taller than he. I’m not certain if there is a David and Goliath in Islamic literature, but if he was a Jew he definitely would see himself as David, and me as a Goliath.

It was an odd experience for me. I have been accused of many short-comings in my time, but seldom of being a Goliath. Poets are seldom accused of being hulking monsters, but apparently my failure to come up with the rent made me one. When I looked into the man’s eyes I saw nothing remotely approaching sanity. If the measure of a man is determined by his responses, the already-short man grew even shorter.

However I should confess I was not scoring much higher, if you are into measuring men. The only measure I was interested in was the distance between my fist and his chin. I was so tired and so sick that a ripple of rage quivered through my brain. I was close to violating my poetic principles, and the man was close to being unconscious and perhaps dead. But I abstained, thank God. Instead I chose to think in terms of words. What words could I concoct that would punch the greedy little rat in the jaw? The best I could do was to growl, “If you are not interested in money or my tax-refund, just unlock the door. I’ll be out of your life by sunset.”

Rather than devastated, he looked pleased, and he asked, “By sunset?” I nodded. Then I thought of something absolutely devastating I could say. It was proof I was a true word-smith, and made me smile, which changed the little man’s expression towards suspicion as he took the clam shell gadget off the doorknob, but I kept my words to myself. I figured it would be smart to be on my best behavior, until I had my stuff moved out.

I didn’t need to even think of what I had to do next. Now that I was a street person, I obviously needed a shopping cart. I recollected I’d seen one down in the bottom of a gully beside the nearby supermarket. In a matter of minutes I came squeaking back to the motel unit. The little man had vanished. I unlocked the door and began to load up everything I owned. It didn’t take long. My suitcase slid onto the shelf below the cart’s basket, and books and scribble-filled notebooks and a battered typewriter took up most of the rest of the space, with my coffee cup and a few utensils topping everything off, including my pot holding the last of my gruel. Then I pushed my squeaking load to the front office to return my keys, and to deliver the nasty statement I was treasuring.

The mean midget was looking sort of smug when I walked in, but I could tell my statement hit home by the way his deranged eyes crossed slightly after I spoke. I said about the worst thing I could think of saying to a Muslim. It was, “All you Hindus care about is money.” Then I walked out sniggering to myself, and pushed my squeaking cart off into the sunset.

A single sheet of paper may not weigh much, but that cart weighed a ton. Even on the flat pavement I was huffing and puffing, and then I reached a hill that lay between me and my distant car. It really wasn’t all that steep, but I felt sick and dizzy. Also cowboy boots have no tread, and it was hard to get traction. Halfway up the hill I had to pause to rest, and I ate some gruel. Before I ate I remembered to pray. Maybe it was not heartfelt, and was done by rote, but I figured I deserved a point or two in heaven for making the attempt. I tried to remember I was better off than some folk, who had no food at all, but God saw how I rolled my eyes and heard the irony in my voice.

I continued up the hill and continued my muttering, as the twilight grew and the streetlights came on. I was asking God a lot of tough questions, most revolving around the fact He is suppose to be a God of love, but I was failing to see the compassion in my current state of affairs. At last I reached the top of the long rise, and started down the other side, and immediately knew I’d made a big mistake.

The cart was so heavy it practically pulled my arms from their sockets, and I swiftly discovered I could only slow the cart. I couldn’t stop it. I was sort of skiing along behind it, attempting to dig in the heels of my cowboy boots but not having much luck. I was mostly concerned with steering the thing, but as I looked ahead I exclaimed, “Oh really, God? Really?”

Down the hill, under the reddish glow of a street light, a police car was drawn up to the side of the road. Two officers were crouching behind the street side of the car, looking up onto the the porch of a house. On that porch, under the yellow glow of a porch light, a man was raving at the officers. He was waving a handgun about.

It’s funny what you think in a situation like that. I briefly considered letting go of the cart. So what if I lost my life’s work? Poetry wasn’t seeming very profitable, at that moment. However I hung on, for it occurred to me that, if I let go, the cart would rapidly accelerate to sixty miles an hour, and then, the way my luck was going, it would collide head-on with the police cruiser.

I slid on, closer and closer, and finally emerged from the night and slid right between the cruiser and the porch, giving a little wave to either side as I passed through the brightness. As I re-entered the night I glanced backwards. Both the officers and the man were laughing. Apparently I had relieved the tension and defused the situation. Not that I expected any thanks.

“Really, God? Really?” I kept muttering as the cart slowed at the bottom of the hill, and I pushed it on to my car. I had the strangest sense God had used me to break up a fight, and that perhaps He was a compassionate God after all. Maybe not compassionate to me, but compassionate to others.

Yet I then experienced a remarkable turn in my fortunes. I blundered into two day’s work at a car-wash while an employee recovered from the ‘flu. Not only did it pay an unheard-of five dollars an hour, for ten hour days, but also it held an unexpected windfall. At the end of the carwash was an enormous vacuum cleaner people could use to clean the inside if their cars with, and when I was sent to empty the dirt out of it I discovered that besides sucking dirt from the inner mats it sucked up a surprising amount of spare change. Life was good.

The oddest thing of all involved my health. I figured about the worst thing I could do to my body was to be wet all day in a midwinter car-wash, and then sleep in a cramped Toyota when it was ten degrees below freezing. I confidently looked to the corners of my eyes, awaiting the first symptoms of pneumonia. Instead I was hit by radiant health. It made absolutely no sense to me.

Then I remembered the little mouse that died at my feet in the motel unit. Perhaps there was something poisonous in that air. It was making me sick, and God had to get me out of there. I wouldn’t listen, and stubbornly stayed in a poisonous situation, so God had to get drastic.

Of course, I knew some would say I was just putting a silver lining on a black cloud, but that was their problem. The idea worked for me, and I felt loved more than I deserved, and was happy. I even wrote a long poem, sitting in my Toyota one afternoon, and it flowed out without correction and, when I reread it, seemed rather good, if I do say so myself.

A PLACE CALLED HOME

So in love with child-scarred walls
Was I that I was loathe to leave
That place called home, that beat abode
Which saw me waul and roll and teethe
And then, astounded, rub my chin
And feel the first felt bristles there.

But Real-Estate can never grieve
And For-Sale signs never grin
To see a family stay secure,
And none would heed my aching heart.

I saw them empty every drawer
And watched my childhood bed depart
And, though I then slept on the floor
And listened through the lonely night
To echoes of bygone delight
Go ghosting through the empty halls,
When square dawn roses paned the walls
I had to rise and had to roam
And leave the place I loved, called home.

The smiles and tears and miles and years
I’ve crossed have made a man of me,
And home’s become most anyplace
I rest, and practice poetry.
A tent, or flea-infested pad,
Or barn, or boxcar, boat or bench,
Or millionaire’s mansion, where I’m guest,
Is home enough to make me host
And give what people crave the most
But most have lost for Real-Estate
And For-Sale,
                            For-Sale,
                                                For-Sale
With fingers crossed
And eyes on gain, choosing losing,
Causing pain, never giving what
I give: The poetry; the Gift.
You cannot buy a gift,
And it’s a gift to be the host
And practice the benevolence
Remembered from a place called home.

I have seen that poetry can bring
The beauty back to sitting on the stoop
Looking at the clouds. Sitting doing
Nothing with a friend. Children sitting
Doing nothing in the lush of summer
As the flowers droop for plushness
And the lone narcotic is the drone
Of many bees too drunk on honeydew
To sting. Bees drinking deep, then winging
Through the lucid air and bluer skies
Back to a honeyed place called home.

Upon the tops of boxcars, or thumbing
In the sizzling heat above the soft
Macadam, my home has come along
With me though I am not a turtle
And not burdened like a snail.
Everywhere I go is home
And everywhere I rest I’m host
And puzzle people with the art
Which makes one feel at home.

For they have bought the houses
And they have hoarded land
And they have sold their souls and sought
What seekers know is sand.
Forgetting green needs water
And sun scorches without rain,
Their roses lack all perfume
And they’re driven to complain,
“I’ve the title to this land.
I own the air you breathe.
You have no right to play the host.
I must ask you to leave.”

And so I hit the road again.
Always, as I roam,
I glance back at the place I knew
And briefly made a home.

Sometimes I wonder, as I walk,
If people watch my leaving,
Then glance about an empty house
And muse, without believing,
On how the quiet seems to mourn;
On how the heart feels strangely torn;
On how the house seems strangely lorn
And not the place called home.

For home comes always on with me
And when my old age sets me free
I’ll look behind, and I will see
The body that I used to be
And used to call my home,
And then my gaze will glance ahead
And see what fearful fools have fled.
There is more to life than bread.
With Real-Estate and For-Sale dead
I won’t have lost; love’s always led
Me to a place called home.

 

(AFTERWARD

I likely should tie up some lose ends.

I soon mastered the art of sleeping in my Toyota. All one needs to do is learn to curl up in the proper manner, around the stick-shift on the floor. This freed me from the bother of coming up with any rent, for the rest of the winter.

Once I had a bit of spare money I bought a manual about old Toyotas for around five dollars. This helped me figure out what was making the car stop. It was a tiny, worn O-ring that insulated a wire that entered the side of a carborator. As soon as the engine warmed the wire would short out. A new O-ring cost 89 cents, and I was on the road again.

Before I headed out of town back to the campground, I had a final meeting with my friend the tiny landlord. One day I was walking by the motel on the far side of Old Route Sixty-six, and he came dashing across the street and asked me if I had the money I owed him. I didn’t, so I just spread my palms and said, “I’m sleeping in my car.” He looked suspicious, as always, but also crestfallen. Something about how his shoulders slumped as he walked back across the road pricked my conscience, so, when my tax refund came a few days later, I returned to the tiny front office where he lived with his wife and children. (As usual it smelled of the delicious cooking which I was never offered.) He wasn’t in, but his wife came to the desk. When I explained I was there to pay a debt she snatched the money from my hand and turned away. I noticed she was shaking slightly. It helped me understand they likely were desperately poor.

It also helped me understand there might be worse things than to be a bachelor, able to sleep in a car and then head out to a campground when the weather got warm, free as a bird.)

A WRITTEN RAVE DELETED

I have been working on a post I titled “Sick Of being Polite”. Scribbling my feelings was very gratifying, but I hesitated to publish what I produced, because it did not seem to involve my highest instincts. Then the news I heard on my radio confirmed that highest instincts were not involved.

The news involved Maxine Waters, who was also sick of being polite. At a political rally she stated, (regarding Trump’s staff and those who work for immigration law enforcement),  “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them! And you tell them that they are not welcome, anymore, anywhere.”

This smells like the start of a Civil War. Why? Because the instinctive response is to hit back, and to tell Maxine Waters she is not welcome, anymore, anywhere.

She has inspired people to harass Trump’s staff when they go out to eat with their family. So the the response is to harass Maxine when she goes out to eat. She has inspired people to leave dead cats on the doorsteps of those who work for immigration law enforcement. So the response is to leave a dead cat on her doorstep.

Working in Childcare as I do, I see a lot of such tit-for-tat behavior among four-year-old’s, and am called upon to break up the fracases and make peace. Therefore it behooves me to behave like an adult when Maxine Waters (and her followers) behave like a four-year-old.

But it is not easy.

In the back of my mind a sweet song’s playing
Classical riffs like Mozart must have heard,
But out in the front donkeys are braying
Political guff that’s sounding absurd.
I prefer the music, but to hear it
You need to cease the ceaseless yammering
Of tripper-uppers. I loath and fear it
For it turns eloquence to stammering.
What a din they make! What a fit they have!
How are luteists to begin their strumming
When mobs interrupt? What fool’s-wit mobs have,
For, like tirading children tantruming,
They command music silence its song
While they never sing. It’s utterly wrong.