Archive for November, 2006

Muskrat

November 26, 2006

To balance a day spent lugging books, going around around the stairs of my tall house from the aerie to the cellar, I set outside in the last of the winter sun. The shore called, and I got in a rowboat, went out to the oyster boys for a natter. When – not often on a day after Thanksgiving – I felt the heat of the sun on my back, I pulled against the wind to Carlisle, the only place I felt safe walking in the woods on this last afternoon of the deer season. The geese are overhead – high now as the cold deepens – but the gulls are still around, and an unperturbed seal bobbed up by a lobster pot in my wake. The osprey are gone, but their nest awaits them for next spring. Mate for life, they do.

Pulled for home in the shimmering track of the sun, a lane of gold across the surried surface, scaring a heron off the rocks with a squawk with an outstretched neck and then levered into flight, and then the neck retraction into aloof disregard.

Then it’s up into the field where the neighbor’s dogs are poking through the horseshit. They bark at my like I’m the intruder, but of course they give way to let me pass – they know the hierarchy. As I take the crest for the view of the russet sunset, I surprise about 30 mallards in the little farm pond, drawn by Quan’s cracked corn. Only one remains, a female who can’t fly out for some reason.

I stop a minute in the gathering stillness of twilight, and see something moving along the surface of the water. At first I think it must be ducklings, but it’s too late in the year for such little ones, and as I watch it forms into a muskrat. Fascinated – I have lived for four years across the street from this pond – this puddle really – and never have I see a muskrat in it – stock still, I watch him circle the edge toward the duck, disappear, and then the duck comes flying up again, sratled. What can the muskrat want with the duck? It’s the size of a large squirrel, with a strong muscular tail – it is over by me now – spiky fur on his back, but otherwise sleek – but no way could he tangle with a duck.

250px-common_muskrat_fws.jpgAt home in the dark, I try to look up muskrat iin Ted Andrews’ wonderful Animal Speaks, but oddly it isn’t there. Clearly, the muskrat had a message for me – no one else has seen him and he came right over, but what is it?

Later:

A friend found some information on muskrats :

Identifying animal tracks of the Muskrat indicates resilience, detachment and adaptability. “Muskrats have many attributes such as inhabiting both land and water, able to adapt to surroundings, being relatively waterproof, and having a knack for going about their business undetected. Given this, when we cross paths with the Muskrat we are encouraged to tap into our own ingenuity and adaptability when dealing with our present circumstances – realizing that everything has a potential for positive outcome (no matter how bleak appearances may be).”

So, at the moment, appearances are bleak on my ability to save the Clarks Cove farmland from development when the generational changes come.� I was enjoying the land and thinking about all the people and animals that depend on it when I spotted the muskrat.� Glad to hear that if I tap into ingenuity and adapt, a good outcome is possible.� � The muskrat specifically put the single female duck into the air, without hurting her.� So will I.� Stay tuned.

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Endlessness

November 20, 2006

Sunday – especially the first Sunday I am home in weeks in the autumn – is anything but a day of rest. Quan has a list of things undone that require a second pair of hands or strong legs, and though she starts by taking me off the computer with, “Can you just help me with…?”, the list inevitably expands like a Hoberman sphere, and goes on and on, well into the dying afternoon of these increasingly short days. Finally, we stop from exhaustion, not from satisfaction – because the list for this rural farm – like the list for my somatic education enterprise – goes on forever.

But after an hour of mild fretting, I settle in. There is something very satisfying about the destructive power of a sharp chainsaw, and though I cannot understand anything else about President Bush, I get, on this wan afternoon, his satisfaction with brush cutting. It is pleasantly mindless, and produces a palpable result – in this case, more light for the garden next spring. It also produces wood, which I slice into stove-size pieces, and we truck it around to stack under the eaves. The branches mount up in the burn pile – it’s a yearly thing, a burn pile or two – always fun on a damp spring day to reduce it to a pile of ashes – I usually miscalculate and have to stay into the night to make sure it doesn’t stray.
But the garden has been covered with digested compost, rototilled, and mulched with rinsed seaweed to restore minerals. I am not a farmer or gardener, so all I supplied was the muscle power, but I am impressed.

Kids these days

November 18, 2006

I spent the weekend at the wedding of my brother’s oldest son, the first of the next generation to marry. The wedding was beautifully done as a meal – the ceremeny was literally between the crab cakes and the main course, and s series of toasts, speeches, and mingling bridged the dessert and coffee. The guests included many graduate students, who amazed me by saying that almost all their important papers – by which I mean their assignments, their research, their email, etc – existed only online. I can see that this is more efficient, but I am not ready to give up my hard drive. An early sign of fuddydom.

I guess we ‘cells’ are just hooking up a ‘nervous system’ with this internet, and I imagine that we are going to be obsessed with this new connectivity for some time to come. Even Quan has discovered email and the net, and we spend companionable time together each in our own screen light.

The cove at night

November 18, 2006

Fall is the time of putting away here.� � Annie and I trigged the old scow to the mushroom mooring around low tide, and I leave Quan’s warm side to trudge through the gravel to the shore in the cold, now that it’s about high.� I feel like my father, in knee boots, and old coat and pants, sneaking a cigarette.� I am about his kind of errand in any case.� The oars rock loudly in the total stillness – no, there’s a plane.� I have an efficient new little LED light on my forehead, red leaves your night eyes.� The scow is riding now to it’s anchor, the mushroom now floating some 12 feet free her, and gun her toward the shore. When the mushroom hits and drags, I cut the trigging line and leave her with a bouy, though she’s likely just where I want her in the intertidal zone, where I can find her in the morning.

cove-dusk.jpg

On the way back I stop to give the horses a treat of grain, but they are afraid of my forehead with its strange red light.

Homecoming

November 18, 2006

I didn’t take the hotel, the $400 voucher, and the delivery to Portland at 11 the nest day, because Delta assured me that, even five hours late, this plane would be going to Portland. But sho’ ’nuff, I was cancelled and dumped at La Guardia at 1am, with nary an offer for a hotel or a taxi, and a promise of delivery at 4 the next day. Disgusted, my new best friend Dave and I rented a car, and drove that 4 x 4 through the rain to Portland. I must have looked so old, I thought, zonked out and snoring snorts as I laid back, open-mouthed in the passenger seat. He was about 30, I felt twice that when I got through. He did Connecticut, I did Massachusetts, he did Maine. I got in my own car in Portland and arrived just in time for my 10 o’clock appointment for an oooh so welcome two-hour massage.

I valve my energy so precisely for these classes that I am pretty spent when I get through. The extra burden of a full 14-hr non-stop gruel in the travel tunnel, with its bad food and constant noise was too much, and in the middle of getting the massage my gut rebels and voids everything with a wrench. But I feel much better, and after sleeping I am right as rain.

Black-clad char

November 2, 2006

This ia an email to my family after the recent hurricane:

By the time you read this (our internet is down) it will all be past, but that was quite a night. I don’t think we’ve had such a decisive wind since the hurricane of ’56. The waves were washing over the floats, which were rocking like a carnival ride. Flotsam – none of it so large as to create a problem – scudded across the cove. Crests ran under the Glory Hole, splashing up to the undercarriage. From east through south to west, the wind tattered cloth, darkened the water in a strangely tropical light, and threw the rain sideways at everyone who tromped the pier to look to the condition of their boats. Not that you would want to venture forth in a dinghy to reach it if there was a problem. Aside from one dinghy swamped and lot of chafing and wracking, everything seems to have survived basically intact.

I hope Flye Point and Pemaquid Lake and all of you and yourn are fine.

Love Tom

Later:

That was the cart before the horse, the eggs all in one basket, or some such proverb:

I wrote that email this noon, having been out to my boat this early morning, presided over by a large bald eagle that was clearly afloat in the breeze, unable to land, being slowly pushed upriver from its home on Hodgson’s Island, two down from Peters. Aboard, I saw my lines were not chafing, and I presumed it would die down this afternoon as predicted. I bailed Marisco – I’d hauled everything else onto the dock – looked around, and judged that we’d come through alright as I wrote above.

I had put up the computer, and was starting a fire in the sauna (it had been a long day and night) when Tim Green peeled around the drive: “Tammie Norie’s broken loose from her mooring and heading for shore. Better come quick”. I leapt into the back of his pickup and we sprinted for the shore. In the westerly, with the luck of the Irish, she had fetched up between the fishermen’s float and the pier. She was about broadside to the wind, and pounding against the end of the float. As we looked it over, the runway started to crack and wrack under the pressure. We got a strong docking line, and Tim got it tied around the bowsprit. Tim got his arm and ribs hurt in the process – the hospital says it’s a crushed forearm, something about the median nerve, but he was back down on the dock by seven, so I guess we’ll see tomorrow how serious it is.

Neighbor Dirk and his son Carl showed up at this time, and we got the bowline around some of the pilings at the end of the pier, and begin to cinch it up an inch at a time, trying to bring the bow into the wind. I had the idea to get it along the front of the pier, but we couldn’t possibly do that with the wind rising to 40-50 at all times, with gusts to 60 and 70 – never seen it like that – you could barely stand.

The runway continued to wrack as the Tammie Norrie exerted pressure on the windward moorings of the dock. Frantic calls to her owners Joel and Mike were finally answered, and the secret of starting her up revealed, and I scampered back and forth along the high side of the runway – the phone wouldn’t work on the boat, but I kept needing new information. Spume was rising off the water in the gusts, and the pier, with the addition of Tammie Norie, still largely broad to the wind, slamming against the dock and pulling on the pier, rocked with each set of waves or new blast that hit us. It was so tenuous and moving so far eastward that I thought for a time I was going to have to decide between saving the pier or saving Tammie Norie, and I sent everyone not necessary to the task off the pier incase she went.

As the sun set, Dirk went to get work lights, while Carl and I set the anchor – a nearly hopeless gesture to try to stop Tammie from going aground if we should have to let her go, or if she just went. The gusts were so fierce, you just gritted your teeth and held on to something until they were done.

Tim Brewer had arrived, Quan showed up with welcome hot soup, which we could eat peacefully in the pumphouse watching the carnage outside. Mike and Joel (and as it turned out, Bill) were racing down from Wilton, and made it just after dark – the tide had turned and the sun had set, so there was some abatement to the wind, but it was still 40 gusting to 50, it was hard to stand on the end of the pier without one hand for the ship – but I was so glad that things had basically held steady until Mike got there – I didn’t want to make what seemed like crazy decisions about his boat.

Mike’s plan was the same as mine: ease it off the pier, backing it down the fishermen’s dock until it was on its turning point, pulling in the stern and gunning her out of there dead to wind. With a series of hand signals – yelling upwind was ludicrous – we did exactly that – let her drop back, foot by foot, pulled her stern in, and gunned her free as we cast off the sprit line and Joel hauled like hell on it to keep it from fouling the propellor – everything was carried so fast in the wind.

And then it was over. Carter Newell and I ran a dinghy out to them for the morning, and the wind was down to 30 by this time, so I am praying they on their anchor and Tycha on her mooring will be ok for the night, or so says the eagle. Now I am back here and it’s only 7 o’clock new time – so it was only 4 hours, though it felt like 8.

This time we escaped with little damage – a bit of minor gouging in the starboard flank of Tammy Norrie, and we will have to charge Mike to reconstitute the runway and whatever damage to the pier and Timmy’s arm, but it could have been so much worse – gusts and a fierce chop on that lee shore of boulders would have made short work of her. I must say on days like today I feel the weight of being responsible for all this gear – houses, pier, boats – especially given how ant-like we all felt in the face of this massive show of natural force.

But this time we were lucky. Lucky Tim was there when it happened, lucky I could reach Mike, lucky we had neighborly help.

Love T

The title for the email comes from a poem – even though it is still October, this one took all the leaves it could:

LEAVES

Where I live – there’s heresy in trees,

An orange apostasy amid the green denominations.

At first it’s just a single branch

In some dank corner of the lowlands –

A nickering doubt in the clicking of crickets

That gets a nod from the goldenrod,

A pang of white-haired dread in a dark night’s frost –

And suddenly a failure of the faith in the eternal power of Summer

Bursts forth among the congregation of the Leaves.

Is this cold October wind the Grand Inquisitor,

Keening his charges? – ” Renegade, recant ” he gusts, and

With ” Blasphemy “, shushes voices of dissent

And bears down upon the forests from thin ascetic clouds.

And the trees – they are divided.

The pious pines keep their green habits

Telling nervous rosaries on the round brown cones,

Looking down demurely, shaking their cowled heads

In shame and fear and secret horrified delight,

While the others lift their hands to heaven –

Half the woods afire with licks of flame,

Orange, yellow, red – copper purple, even –

Beseeching beeches, moaning oaks,

Begging birches bilious with fear,

Bark like flagellated skin,

The quiet sumac in a sudden glory of Transfiguration

Martyred maples – all rooted to the stake

All given to the Holy Fire.

At last and all too soon the flames die out,

And with a healing cry of rain

The black-clad char, November storm

Tears the tatters from the ashen trees

And leave a world of winter silence.

Only the pines risk a whispered rush of prayer

As they await – with perfect faith

But no proof – the rekindling miracle of spring.

And do you stand with those

Who keep their color green, who stay the course,

Who stand and wait the winter out?

Or will you join the ones who flame,

So brief, so bright, so unexpected

And confounding – but who must die,

Numb and having left the world unchanged

But for a carpet of brown husks

Pressed into the soil of another year?