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Sunday, May 20, 2012

November 4, 1983

The sky oozed persistent drizzle from a muddy layer of clouds. I tried not to think about the past or future, just focused my eyes ahead on the road.

The wet forced a heavy chill into my legs but my car heater for some reason wouldn't work. After just a few hours on the Taconic both feet and knees were numb. 

First stop was at the Martindale, a shiny stainless steel diner we know as "Big Chief". The rain kept pouring down. 

Shivering, I slumped into one of the booth seats near the window. A blast of hot air warmed my knees, a radiator beneath the table. The waitress took my order, a cheeseburger and coffee. 

Three salesmen with Southern accents sat at a nearby booth. They had been in Albany, on business, some kind of equipment convention. They talked about trucks. I kept hearing the term, 'twin diesel'. 

"Marty, he had five tractors last year, turned 'em all in for a pair of new twins."

After some time their bill arrived and there was some arguing betwixt them about who should pay it. The one that had talked the most ended up with the check.

"It all comes out of the same pocket anyway," he said.

The others were deferent to him, as if by paying for the burgers he had acquired another fleet of twin diesels  Then they all stood up, looking very uncomfortable in their suits and neckties. They stood by the register as the change was counted and the youngest came back to leave a tip. He put a dollar fifteen on the table. Then they all went out.

The waitress brought more coffee so I asked her what the pies were, but ended up getting powdered donuts to take with me in the car.

My associations with Big Chief have become almost philosophic. It seems that I go there just to prove some point to myself about a concurrent reality of places and events, knowing that if I sneak in there at an odd moment on a rainy day I will find life there, and that by intersecting that little bit of it I can somehow reconstitute in my imagination, all that has passed since my last visit. Checking in to a parallel path. This I find reassuring.

Some primal gene deep within.

By the time I reached Warrensburg, the day had gone. I bought vegetables, fruit, canned tuna and bread, filled up with gas, and resumed driving.

The trip sped by, strangely unmarked by events, or views of passing landmarks. The weather reduced experience to a cone of reality revealed by headlights, black roadway, falling raindrops, set to the music of the wiper blades. Night and rain limited my recognition of the passing world.

I followed a black thread, confident only that the route was correct. The rain turned to blinding whirling snow. I was a pilot, flying in zero vision. Giant snowflakes flew up at me like rare white moths. The car threw light ahead only a few feet. Occasionally the trunk of a birch would jump out of the dark, like a bandaged thumb.

Somehow I made it, stayed on the road, managed not to get stuck in the snow. I found the key and unlocked the door, and swung it open. I found a candle, and lit a fire. I went to the solemn black water of the lake and filled two buckets.


Now it is morning,

I look out but barely see an outline of mountains. Snow still falls, though lightly. All the kettles are on the new wood stove, full of water, clicking and boiling. They've struck up a tune with the fire. All else is still, and attentive.

I make coffee, have a bit of chocolate, sit down again Snow blankets the ground, makes the bare trees on the hillsides seem like the soft overlapping feathers on a duck's body. The rooftops are white with no definition, no tones of grey, no shading. They seem ready to jump off the landscape, but they are waiting. Waiting for what?

Design does not always relate to our intent, or to function.

The man who hurled a curse instead of a weapon, was he the founder of civilization? Was it Freud who said said this?  Against the yellow glow of the gas light all the slate grey world of tree bark and snow turns a deep ultramarine blue. Freud would be more interested in the colors of the world, not what that world is becoming.

I occupy my mind writing these small thoughts, aware that some other unexpressed thought must have taken charge, one I cannot yet put on paper.

Is the thing unseen more formed, but simply less noticed? Or is it unformed and unseen because it is not developed? Or is it repressed because it represents a threat to the order of the world. Dangerous, to the neat order of snow on shingles, or fog on a mountain.

Or are these little bits of idleness of no importance?

I strapped on my boots and went for a long silent meander to West Pond. Winter is preparing to put the earth to sleep. The trails are visible in light snow, but they are of no importance. The ground cover has died back, the woods are open. All paths are open.

It was near dark when I returned. I sloughed off my boots. Who heard them come off? I bathed in the tin tub with ladlefuls of hot water, from the kettles on the stove, then went for a roll in the freezing snow. The effect was not as strong as I'd have liked.

I re-stoked the fire, re-read old fragments of newspapers left in the woodbox. Cover to cover and one by one I consigned them to an ashy fate. 

The gas lights hiss and flutter. The stove clicks and purrs. My hand makes a sound like a little mouse, sliding back and forth across the paper. 

Is it better to write with longing and desire, than with the satisfaction of experience and achievement? 

Nothing kills mystery so much as knowledge. Do I love what I know, or what I dream of? 


My father has arrived, but a cold snowstorm keeps us stoking the fire in the kitchen for two straight days. Bored we try our hand at making apple pie. Cabin fever, I become locked into a spy thriller found on the shelf above my bed.

We share our table every night with Uncle Muff, also with Clarence and Lee Brandreth, and spend a lot of time listening to and telling tall tales. My heart is somewhere else, not here. My work routine and discipline collapsed when Dad arrived.

After two days the storm lets up. Lee Brandreth and I take our rifles for a slow walk over Panther Pond Mountain. I broke up small dry twigs of birch and spruce and we made tea under a slate ceiling of clouds, pregnant with rain. Lee wants to get a buck but I'm happy stooping on the wet leaves, holding a tin cup of hot tea made from melted snow.


The moon's daily period must be slower than that of the sun by approximately 1/30th. Since it waxes from right to left the sun is essentially racing ahead in relative terms across the sky. The half-moon theoretically rises at noon - then sets at midnight. The full moon rises when the sun is setting, sets when the sun is rising. All to be adjusted, and varies by season, latitude, local time zone, and adjustments for daylight savings.


What is the force driving Western Civilization? Is there some crux at the core of our mythos that pushes us to do what we do? These mountains will be bare in a half-century. Yes there are woods. The whole place is green in the summer. But the soil layer has been devastated by a century of heavy lumbering. 


I don't assume it should be self-evident, that life is better now than when we lived in caves. 

Mankind searches to purify himself, but wants to drive onwards, like the car in the rain. Our existence is in conflict with our technological explorations. As a result we have failed to osmose through our technological vanity, through our tough outer skin, and emerge like a new butterfly from a chrysalis.

If the individual may achieve kensho, why cannot the world?

A thought, like a wave, comes in, whispers something, then goes out.

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