BlueWater Dream of the Great Below

I awoke with a start. I had fallen asleep slumped against my favorite leaning poplar a ten-minute walk from the house. I was most certainly not exactly there now. I had nodded off on a warm summer afternoon, but now I was immersed in a cool but pleasant darkness, and more floating than lying against anything at all.

The half-familiar smell of being in a cave — or the dank, moist, earthy and energizing smell of a rainstorm — was intense; it came from every side of me, though I truly could not have told you — or cared at that moment — which way was up. My eyes waited for a glimmer. Maybe I’d slept into darkness under a passing shower. I was just groggy. Right?

I wasn’t afraid, exactly, but I confess some discomfort in not knowing: if I was dead; or in a coma maybe; or had I been transported across a divide into a place so utterly unfamiliar that I might never regain my bearings? Maybe I had gone mad.

I tried to stand, and somehow in the pitch-darkness had the sense that I became vertical, but I recall the odd sense of nothing under my feet — no pressure against my soles, no feeling of gravity whatsoever on my joints. Where ever I was, I was buoyant, weightless, a feather floating in… in what, I could not tell.

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Not surprisingly, I came to discover that there is no one by that name with a PO box in that small Blue Ridge mountain town whose name and zipcode appeared on the envelope.

The namesake of the purported sender was never seen again, nor the cool million he left the plane with, though some reports say some of it was found in an eroded riverbank decades later.

So the crisp, uncirculated 20s in the envelope might have been part of that loot, I thought, as I read the two sides of the interior of the card last week.

No mention was made of books or note cards to purchase–just 10 bills tucked in, with the final explanation that he and his wife also had disagreements about the thermostat–as in Solomon’s Sheets in Slow Road Home:

“Go buy yourself some new sheets.”

So thank you very much, Mr. Cooper, I am not surprised that, with your suitcase full of money you could go anywhere in the world, but you ended up just there, in that peaceful, rural mountain hideout.

That you are a supporter of starving artists I think speaks well for your sensibilities, in spite of your law-breaking, authority-flaunting past.

And let me just offer, lest I am tempted to resort to Google Ads, that anyone else who wants to sustain a wordsmith by underwriting the yearly subscription  for sundry app services and software purchases towards book #3, crisp bills are accepted. Also paypal transfers to my regular email you probably already have. Heck, I’m a new believer in the Good Fairy!

PS: the bills, crisp and never-before-used, were issued in 2009, and so NOT a part of the missing fortune from the 1970s that parachuted into obscurity.

PSS: I truly am awed and speechless by your gift, Mr. Cooper, and will be accountable to use it wisely towards whatever words I left to share that are worth the paper they are printed on. No promises, but I might just have enough brain cells left to get the job done. And those old hybrid sheets have, just now matter of fact, come apart at the seams.

Reprise: Of Memories and Hopes and Golden Dreams

Once upon a time, there was a strange farmer of Erehwon. He gathered his curiosities, his precious things–momentary objects that held his attention and delight–and hoped others might wander down his lonesome road and share his fascination with the ordinary.

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They came at random, sometimes rather sizable crowds of them, and a few exclaimed and were delighted, and some returned often and regularly. Some where changed by having seen up close the myriad works of nature and light, of clouds, of storms and seasons that the farmer set before them.

He laid these things out expectantly-mere things, some onlookers imagined–but each was a story, and each story was a memory and a meaning to the foolish man.

And so, over the years, when fewer came, and then none, it was not the same of a morning. He still wandered among his amazements but he did not often gather them, and of those, he almost never laid them out for others to see. For there were so few that he felt alone, and his stories and meanings for him only. Life was good, but it was diminished, because he still remembered the gifts he once gave, so appreciated and approved, once upon a time. He thought of the friends he had made, whose names he could barely now remember.

And yet, now and then even today,  some pattern in tree bark or glint off moving waters or bird call or memory of the smell of earth will urge him to lay out his boards again along the creek road. And has done so this morning.

He had come upon a wonderful village of threaded webs, separate but close, isolated but connected by the thinnest of dew-beaded tightropes. In the wet grass, as he so often did, he imagined. He saw in these tattered webs tight aggregates of neurons, each synapsing cluster a concept, a siloed understanding, an aggregate idea or realization. He so often searched for those almost invisible threads that, discovered, would make him shout AHA! in the thrill of creative connection.

It was the possibility of sharing creative connection between disparate things on his roadside bench that woke him up each morning, expectant and hopeful of the alchemy of object and language, searching among his curios to find what he called the “so what” in everyday things like spider webs and blossoms and one more picture of a familiar light-and-shadow turn of his road or creek.

And so life goes on, the buzz of conversation barely audible to him in some distant tavern in an altogether different kind of stopping place for travelers along the loud and hurried webs of surface travel and talk.

Winter is coming. It is the time for the old farmer to draw the curtains on the chaos and confusion beyond Middle Earth and to go back over all his  klediments and commonplace jottings and scraps of wonder, revisiting like old friends the emulsions of light and memory he has stored and saved, stories unspoken.

He lives on. And with what is left of his bones and his wits, he will weave what he might from the webs of wonder his eyes and his ears and his heart have laid out for him, even so, on his slow road. And we shall see what lies around the bend.

Strange Farmer of Erewhon— a blogger’s Allegory from the early years of Fragments (original version 2005.)

Feather Go Home

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We don’t know what goes on in their minds when they are with us, but only the smiles and memories they leave in our own hearts and memories when they are gone.

We did not even know her name in 2014 when we first insisted that the white dog go back down the road to the new neighbor’s house where she belonged. Surely her family doesn’t want her wandering too far from home, we reasoned, what with their small boys who would miss the dog if she was gone for long.

I lobbed bits of gravel from the road in her direction in mock threat. “Go home!” I’d tell her, and she’d slink back east, a few tenths of a mile, to where we knew she belonged. We thought this was the right thing to do, especially as the times she did get close enough to the house, our dog, Gandy, would set upon the would-be visitor with bristling bluster and harmless aggression, not willing to share either territory or affections with an interloper.

We went so far as to call her owners once, early on, to let them know where their dog was, lest they worry, like we would worry if she was our dog, gone. They did come to pick her up that time, and we learned her name was Feather. She was also a rescue dog like Gandy; she was the same age and almost the same weight as our dog. But the two dogs did not have a speaking relationship. Yet.

Later that year, we’d see her (you could not miss the long-haired almost-white Labradoodle at the shadows at the edge of the pasture) just watching from a distance as we made our routine walk-abouts down the New Road and back to the house. Gradually, she’d leave the cover of the woods and slink sheepishly towards us near the end of our walk, her approach greeted by Gandy’s challenge and some mild rough-housing. I’d pick up a rock (or maybe throw a pretend rock her way) and say “go home” and she would go.

But after a few months of insistence, Feather and Gandy came to an agreement. By that time, we’d realized Feather’s whereabouts might be lost in the list of concerns of the young couple with full-time jobs and two small children. And Feather had figured out the retired folks with that other dog in the neighborhood who were all outside every day made for a pretty nice day camp. And so we saw her often. Then we saw her every day. And many nights. We did not own her, but she seemed to have decided that she owned us.

And yet, early in that growing relationship and before Feather finally realized which side her bread was buttered on, she was bad to set off on an adventure to find human (and maybe other four-legged) companionship. Feather, it turned out, was the most needy dog ever to be in the company of humans and driven to be touched by hands. And so when nobody was home down the road, she took a road trip.

Her time and distance record were four days and five miles from home. We were frantic during her uncertain absence. It ended well. Another time we saw her picture on Facebook when she had been taken in by some folks we knew about four miles up the mountain, rescued from a bad outcome on a very busy road. We fetched her home in the car.

In those early days, she followed many a bicycle rider out of the valley, certain they had come to sit with and adore her in the cool shade. They didn’t sit, so she just kept running behind them. When this happened on our watch, we jumped in the car and caught up with her, and brought her “home.”

Finally, after some months of routine day camp here, she understood that her needs for adoration could be more than met just up the road from where she technically belonged; plus she really relished the romps, the boxwood chase and the roughhousing with Gandy — eventually to the point that they turned what used to be the yard into a muddy wrestling ring. We lowered our standards of yard care and increased our tolerance for mulch on the hardwood floors, and life was good.

She was a creature of habit, governed by regularity and predictability. We new for certain that it would not be long on any given dawn before her ghostly white form would appear, ambling in no particular hurry, up the road, then up the driveway, and at last to the porch. If we failed to see her arrive we’d be startled (but not surprised) to find her standing with her nose pressed against the back door when we opened it for firewood. She’d enter, greet all, and go to her Feather bed — not far from but not in the same room as Gandy’s cushier loveseat in front of the woodstove.

Predictably, should we be away from the house for a few hours, upon our return, Feather would appear out from under the lilac bush to greet us, always searching with some urgency to find a stick or a piece of gravel or a leaf. In her world it was bad manners to have nothing to offer in exchange for a two-handed head snuzzle. She might even get a brushing if the offering was carefully selected and convincingly presented.

And just as predictably, at the end of the day (on those days when she was required back down the road) the one of us that drew the short straw got the distasteful task of coaxing her out the back door, telling her how happy we were to have shared the day with her, and finally the tough love command: “Feather, go home.”

We never figured out how she learned to obey this directive, but she always did, even though she visible wilted when she heard it. Down the walkway, round the front of the house between the Forsythias and to the road she’d go. One of us — usually Ann — would watch from upstairs to be sure she didn’t double back and hide until dark and show up again just at bedtime. The next morning, she’d punch the clock and another day of romping, wrestling and serious napping would begin.

In my private recollections and journal but not here, I will enumerate a long list of very particular behaviors and attitudes and already-fading memories of Feather — a character in my life that I never want to forget. It is both a kindness and a tragedy that the wounds of such a loss do become less painful with time, but words can give the faint solace of a kind of immortality.

We are grateful to have had so many hands-on moments with our unofficially-adopted grand-dog, to have had so many smiles over so many miles with the two good friends; to have had so many sweet encounters with a creature that we always knew would likely go before we would — though not certainly at our ages, pushing seven dog years now.

We never took her for granted, nor do we the days we have left with Gandy — who has not yet given up on the notion that a white form will appear out of the morning gloom. I don’t think she’ll ever quit watching and hoping. Those two dogs were quite a team. We make a point now not to say F’s name out loud so Gandy will hear it and rush to the window expectantly, with her tail wagging.

The blessing was that the decline in Feather’s regular, predictable habits was a quick and painless goodbye. We’d noticed for some time that she was losing weight, but it made no apparent difference to her ability to reach the top of any ridge with amazing speed and endurance, even during her last week. But when she could not keep food on her stomach, she visibly faded. The vet diagnosed her condition as kidney failure. Monday January 23rd was her last day. And Feather went home.