Archive for December, 2007

Dakota Darya – Death in the Family

December 21, 2007

The center of our little compound is the horses. There are a hundred rabbits, 7 cats, a couple of dogs – but the horses are the largest mammals about, and they require someone to be there every day, and a lot of care and feeding. They give and take a lot of love; they’re all heart.

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The call came through about noon. Misty and I were in town shopping for Christmas as the latest snow fell around us. Tammy was on the phone, “Are you driving?” “No.” “Donna just called, hysterical, Dakota is dead.” Misty and I flew back to the car and took off home. As we pulled into the drive, we saw everyone on hand – Annie and John and Donna and George and Tammy, all standing in that hunched and forward way that earnest people assume in the wake of a tragedy about which they can do nothing – gathered around a large mound of brown in the sea of white that is Maine this Christmas. Dakota, fallen.

Fallen in a decisive way – he went right over sideways into the fence and took one of the paddock’s posts with him. Donna thought he had impaled himself on it, but it is not even broken under him, no blood, no injury. In fact, all signs were that he just keeled over standing, making a snow angel impression of a horse. There are no signs of a struggle, not from his legs, not from his head. Baffled and crazed, I picked up his head – rigor had not set in yet – and his neck movement felt normal. There were no signs of excess salivation or foaming at the mouth, nothing in his throat. His ears were up, his eye open and clear, his stomach still gurgling and beginning to bulge – but he is gone, solid gone, no trace of him anywhere around. He had defecated after he had fallen, but that seemed normal enough. Neither his poop or his mouth smelled strange.

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And yet Donna, Annie and John had seen the three of them cavorting around the paddock and pasture, tossing their heads, kicking up snow and really racing, spirited enough to call all three to the window to look. Literally minutes later, Donna went across to give them some hay; there was Dakota and the broken fence and the hell of an afternoon began.

First the three of them, then George and Tammy came up from the office, then me and Misty.

Quan came home shortly after, direct from a deep osteopathic treatment – she’s been poorly, and now this. I sprint to the truck as she turns in to break the news so she can take it in slowly, and after the first wave of shock she lies with her head on Dakota’s, but as with the rest of us it is no use – as alive as he looks, he is gone.

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We’ve been having some trouble over a horse with a neighbor (long story) and he had made an indirect threat against our horses a couple of months ago, and then this week she dreamed about him in war paint, so Quan’s natural and immediate tendency in her initial keening is to think of poisoning. But there were no signs of it. Dakota was 19 or 20, had goodly years left. Donna said he coughed sometimes after a good workout, perhaps a sign of underlying heart trouble, but nothing definite. The manner of his death suggests a heart attack or stroke, not poisoning.

Camelot and Celebrity each take it differently. Cammie keeps coming over and nudging Dakota and biting his side, as if to say, “Joke’s over. Git on up, now.” Celebrity turns his rear end to Dakota, clearly upset. After a few minutes, Celebrity goes down on his knees and then to his side and starts to loll and roll. My God, it’s like 9/11, we now have a second horse going down. The call goes out to Wendy at the hospital, and she is out of the OR in minutes and here with her precious CB.

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Wendy, who spends half her time in Hawaii for her husband and her play, and half her time here in frozen Maine for her work and her horse, is alternately professionally stoic and brimming with tears. CB (Celebrity’s nickname) is back in the stall, head down, eyes at half-mast, clearly out of it, circling the stall like a dog circling for a nap, and then backing into the wall and tucking his pelvis under, lifting his leg to ease his belly pain. Poisoning comes back to the fore in our thinking.

Wendy talks to animals, and CB keeps telling her, “I killed Dakota.” CB had a little blood coming out of his nose, and there was a little blood – a few drops – on the snow just in front of where Dakota’s head would have been just before he fell sideways – but there is no blood coming from Dakota, not his mouth, not anywhere. What credence I can give to Wendy’s animal conversation I put in the category of child psychology: horses are 3-year-olds, and most 3-year-olds think that anything that happens – a fight, a divorce, a death – is their fault, they caused it somehow. So if CB feels guilty, it is probably just the egocentrism of a child. We do consider whether the two of them could have butted heads hard enough in their cavorting to kill Dakota, but who has ever heard of such a thing? And the corner of the paddock fence where he died would have been a hard place to get much momentum going.

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The rest of the afternoon is a melange of images – I’m not sure of the sequence – handing off phones, checking the grain for poison and the hay for mold, running to house for water, vet numbers, tea, warmth, back and forth between the dead and the living horse, between the stunned and the grimly determined people. Aside from the first few minutes of hysteria, and the moments of crisis with CB, there is just the heavy-headed tunnel vision of grief – do what’s next, what needs to be done. There is nothing we can do for Dakota, so we cover him with a tarp in the gloom, and all our attention goes to CB.

The kindly vet arrives after the early dark drops over us. The stethoscope to the flank, checking his lips, taking some blood from a vein as large as a garden hose – even I could do that one, I think. She decides he’s colicking, and proceeds to sedate him, and then feed a large surgical tube up his nose and down his throat as he’s standing there – 6′ or more of it, blowing in the other end as she feeds it in to open the esophagus before her. Once it is in his stomach, she pumps warm water and mineral oil down the tube, so grease the way. I try doing some gentle visceral on him, but his cecum, she says, is 6′ long, and the tie up could be there or in the small intestines.

He needs to stay upright, if he lies and rolls in his pain, he could twist his intestines further and die in extreme agony. Wendy sets herself up for a night in the barn- she’s a nurse, she’s used to pulling all-nighters. By now it’s about 10 degrees (-12 Celsius) and everyone is dog tired. We go out and take the tarp off Dakota and the vet examines him in the frozen, ‘Fargo’-like atmosphere of a couple of flashlights bouncing their light off the snow. She looks at his lips and gums, smells his poop, and attempts to get urine for a poison test to put Quan’s mind at rest, but we can’t get enough. It’s enough that he’s dead, I say, gathering her in.

Later, the vet calls back with CB’s blood test results – could be poison, could be ulcers, creatinine enzymes up, albumen down, something else – but in any case we are shoved back into uncertainty. Last to show up is Lea, horse whisperer and bodyworker, who checks CB out and says, “He thinks it’s his fault. It’s his stomach or liver that wonky.” Seems to fit with the tests, but we are still in uncertainty. She goes out to Dakota and pulls back the tarp and puts her hand on him for a minute, chuckles – I thought she was crying, but – and says, “It happened so fast, I don’t know what happened” she is quoting Dakota, “Something exploded in my chest, then I felt it draw in in my hind end, and then I was gone.”

Maybe yes, maybe no, but it’s devastation, a friend gone, can’t count on anything, never too early to say goodbye, life’s impermanence, and what to do with 1500 pounds of frozen horse flesh? Somebody’s called Toby, and he’ll be over tomorrow with his excavator. Wendy’s on a mattress in the barn watching over CB, Donna and Quan are emotional pulp, and all of us fall to our beds and what sleep may come.

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My friend, our horse. Sort of – really he was Quan’s – she almost literally birthed him, as his mother Sonoita rejected him, and the vet had to knock her out so Quan could lift him to the teat, so that it was Quan’s smell and Quan’s face he bonded to as he took his first nourishment. Inseparable they were in the first days of our relationship – what a thrill it was to see the two of them flying down the beach, sand flying behind them, their movements so synchronized that they moved as one animal, one mind, one heart. He would come out of a herd at her whistle, head up and mane flying, ready to play. He even put up with me bouncing around on top of his awkward trot from time to time.

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But after Quan’s closed-head brain injury, we had to get her a smoother-gaited horse, and Camelot the Tennessee Walker became Quan’s horse, and Dakota was ridden by Donna (more often) and I (occasionally). At her urging, I rode him for the last time just the other day – I guess I was the last one to ride him, throwing snow behind us as we galloped (believe me, I was trying to slow him to a trot, but he was full of oats) out to the point. After these many years, I don’t have the same strength or agility, but I’ve gained a little seat, and feel our centers move with each other – or at least know when they are not. Oh, I will miss him, chestnut brown, half quarter horse, half standard bred, probably the worst of each but we loved him dear and will miss him sore.

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That was yesterday. Today we all woke up to the new reality of life without Dakota. I turfed out about 6:30 and went to the barn. The orange rising sun was bouncing off the crystalline snow – a perfect Maine winter day. I figured if the worst had happened and CB had died, I would have heard about it. Wendy had left at 6am, a note says: CB looking ok. I give him 1/2 cup of oats, and he eats, drinks, and farts with relish. Not wanting to awaken Quan, I tromp off through the woods, but the snow is too deep, so I end up by the water, taking the outboard off my dad’s scow, Marisco, and setting it upright for it’s long winter sleep, and then poling the boat over to the ways and trigging it. It’s a concentration job, taking my mind off it all, keeping my footing by the water with all the snow and ice.

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Returning to the house, things start to happen fast. Quan goes to find the excavator, because the (other) vet who is to do the necropsy is coming soon. Toby’s brother Sean (Eileen’s new boyfriend – Maine is a small town) shows up with the excavator. He takes off through the fence to the crest of the field, where another horse, Duster, was buried years ago. I know that on that little ridge, at least, there is enough soil to bury a horse – the rest of this land being not far from sod to solid granite ledge. The backhoe is like an extension of his hand, and soon there is a 10′ x 10′ hole – only the top 6″ or so of topsoil is frozen, and he breaks through that easily.

Then he creeps the treads back through the snow to Dakota’s body. We scrabble around under the snow to find some space under him and pass a chain around his chest. This morning he looks really dead – legs splayed with bloat, the eyeball frozen opaque. Sean gently lifts the backhoe’s arm, and – Christ, it’s strong – the horse comes all the way up, as if in a sling, so the huge animal is carried in the air like a returning Achilles, not dragged over the ground like a vanquished Hector. Over the road – no traffic this Christmas Friday, though the whole operation does draw stares from the few passers-by – by the pond to his final resting place.

Sean lays him down by the hole, just in time for the vet. The vet wants him in the hole, so with as much care as if it was his own hand, Sean lays Dakota down on hs side in his grave. Me and young Sara, open face and blue eyes, a cover-all and rubber gloves up over her elbows, clamber down in with our equipment. Sean, John, Misty, and Donna watch from the rim above us; Wendy and Quan have opted out.

Sara starts with a mid-abdomen slice along the linea alba, layer by layer, ever so careful not to cut the intestines themselves open. There is a rush of foetid, farty air as the peritoneal cavity is breeched, and the cecum – 6′ long indeed and as big around as a gallon of paint – billows out onto the clay. But everything we find looks perfectly healthy in the small and large intestine – no twists, no necrosis, no discoloration, no sign of poisoning. The wind takes the smell away, and we are quite comfy – down in the hole, out of the wind, but with the smell Venturied away off the top.

We reflect the abdominal layers up toward the spine, and then use branch loppers to crunch and splinter horribly through the ribs just lateral to the spine. I don’t look up while I am doing this, knowing the sounds are as bad as the sights in these things, and remembering my first anatomy teacher and his sadistic delight in scaring the neophytes when he carved the chest of our first cadaver with a carpet knife, and ripped the ‘breastplate’ off with an unforgettable sound, sending students rushing for the lav and the sinks. Now we can see the lean, tuna-red horsemeat, including whatever passes for a trap or lat that the saddle rests on and I was pressing into with my knees not 4 days before.

The loppers and the scalpel alternate with a serrated knife because of all his winter fur, but finally we are able to reflect the whole side of ribs from scapula to hip so we can see the chest and abdominal cavity. The general cause of death is immediately visible – everything above the diaphragm is literally swimming in blood. I literally have to take a jar to bail liters and liters of still-warm (!) but coagulating blood from the chest cavity (Sara thinks they have 50 total, but she’s not sure), until we have emptied it enough to see and disconnect the spongy lungs at the hilum and expose the pericardium. The pool of blood I have emptied is literally around my feet, coating the bottom of the hole.

I know, it’s a friend, but he’s a carcass now, and Sara and I are well and truly into it, trading horse and human terminology back and forth as we play the CSI number of following the clues. The lungs are clean and clear. We bisect the aorta – smooth and open. We carefully detach and take out the heart – it’s as big as my head and looks very healthy. Nevertheless, here we find it: the pulmonary artery, just outside the right ventricle on its way to the heart, has given out – hemoraghic signs are all there. It could be just a genetic weakness, or – Sara’s theory – some pulmonary edema gave him that little cough Donna had reported, the pulmonary edema created pressure back against the artery, and then exercising hard on a cold morning gave extra push from the heart and boom – something exploded and, like those who end their own lives by opening a vein, he bled into his chest so fast that he simply went into euphoria and fell over dead. Lea was right.

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I wouldn’t have done this to a friend, except for another closer friend to us both. Dakota is like her son; Quan deserves to know whether he died of natural causes or foul play, and so I must do what I can, even desecrate his body, to reassure her. And now we know:

Definitively, no poison – Sara doesn’t even take any tissue samples for toxicology tests. We have the confirmation of no ‘skulduggery’ as George calls it, and even better, knowing for sure that he did not suffer at all.

Sara and I, fingers frozen in nitril gloves, climb out of the hole, and way say goodbye as Sean pours the dirt back into the hole with his deft ‘hand’ – soon he is finished, the ground smooth, where we will put a memorial come spring.

It was a 24-hour cycle from death to another horse’s crisis to the burial. In fact, this story sticks with all three of the Greek unities – it all happens within 24 hours, all in one place, and no sub-plots – we were all totally focused on this unfolding for the entire time.

Sara checks CB, who is fine and recovered from his seemingly stress-induced colic, though both he and Camelot keep going over to where Dakota fell, and looking around for their friend. How does a horse do grief? How does a horse do closure?

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I have been on a deep tear to finish my book and preparations for Asia, and now I am another day behind. But who cares? – what gets done will get done. Misty and I have an arms-around-each-other talk on the sofa, alternating tears. The Christmas-time edgy bickering is gone. Tonight Lea will come and preside over a ritual to send his spirit on its way. Tomorrow will come, as it always does, and we will go on. But no one knows for how long.

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The ritual went well – drums and a fire, calling the directions, sending him on his way with whoops and sage – sure, we’re playing at Indian rituals, but we’re not pretending to be anything but white, and it helps seal the deal.

After the doing comes the being – realizing how scratched and cut up my hands are, how my shoulders ache Refinding my line and growing along it, taking the terrible stun and heaviness out of my body. And finally, doing done, the tears flow. We went to a party last night, but we could not stay – too raw, too easy to burst into tears, we were the only ones we could talk to.

Cammie is so sad this morning, we are all so sad. We cannot wish for a better death – stop dead in a second in the middle of playing with no pain. But for us, the living, it is too soon, too sudden, and the hole in the middle of our hearts – and literally in the middle of our compound, where the barn is, is tremendous.

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Camelot and Celebrity have been lost for days. They are both despondent and don’t know what to do. “Dakota taught them how to play,” Quan says. And I realize it’s true – the other two were raised in stables where all they did was work, but Quan made sure Dakota’s first two years were in a herd, and free running, and besides she literally taught him how to play. So he taught them how to play. And now he’s gone they don’t know how to continue playing, but they know they miss it. So do we – a big spirit gone, a big hole in the farm’s spirit, though the community rose to meet the challenge, each in his own way.

Quan has called a prominent animal psychic, who says that CB did in fact inadvertently kill Dakota – striking him in the chest with his hoof or knee or head when they were cavorting, and setting the artery-break in motion. It may be. We know it wasn’t poison; we know it was sudden and relatively pain-free. We know it came too soon for any of us. We know Dakota was overweight – he had a slab of fat around his torso as we took him back, layer by layer. We know he had an odd cough when overworked – could be an indication of heart weakness. We know he was leaping, rearing, and cavorting in very cold air just before he died. That could have created back pressure on his pulmonary system.

Perhaps CB was right, and he really did strike Dakota in their play and break the artery – we will never know. Quan is ‘mad’ at CB, but temporarily – it was no more CB’s fault than it would be if someone died in an auto accident, so she will let it go in time. We all move on from death, and so we are moving on, but slowly, heavily.

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Dakota Darya!

Gift to our little alien nation,

Your breath was sweet and white in this winter world

I held your still-steaming heart in my hand

It was as big as my head, and just as strong,

I will remember you prancing sideways,

Forever feel the tattoo of you galloping uphill

Leading the others, pleasing yourself.

If you can be stopped in your tracks,

So can we –

Watch out! Love while you can!

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Dis-traction

December 15, 2007

Life at home has settled into something of a routine: arise to the book at 5 am, using the computer in bed until the battery runs down or I need a reference, then down to the basement (feed the cats on the way) to keep running my head against the wall of expressing my current (mis)understanding of coordinated fascial tensegrity.

The re-write of Anatomy Trains is painful, in that tiny additions knock on like a Jacob’s Ladder (like a tensegrity structure, like a fractal, like a semi-conducting liquid crystal array) to many different places in the carefully constructed edifice that was the first edition.

Consequently, as I go to tackle it, it is like a three-dimensional crossword puzzle (I love doing Will Shortz’ NYTimes puzzle every Sunday) that one must enter and get ‘at home’ in before any changes can be made.  With the telephone, email, snowstorms, and Quan’s animals, few are the hours where I can stay undistracted.

Distraction – traction – being pulled away – anything does it, even nice ones, and I retract afterwards, pulling in and being snarky to all and sundry. I’m sorry, but I can’t help it – I have gone from artist to autist, and I need – need! – the concentration to place this pitch exactly where I want it.  But in fact it is always a compromise, it will need another revision sooner than I would hope.  Why does it matter so much to me to get it exactly right, when few people will ever bother to read such an overwhelming mass of words?
I usually emerge, if we have power, around noon to answer the call of the business via email or phone, and then duck out with the cross-country skis to work up a sweat under the scarf and crackly jacket.  The coyote tracks and scat are everywhere – they’re on the move.  The two rabbits who live by the brook are still there – only once have seen them, but love to see their tracks.  Adam’s trapped the beaver right out of there, but the dam survives yet. Loads of sea birds still in the river – what do they do at night in this cold?

Back home by dark to light the fires and luxuriate in being with Quan, still very delicate from her jaunt to Mexico.  We like each other, so it’s great to just let the talk roll along, filling in the nooks and crannies til we fit just right, then no words are needed.

Aging is only bad if you hang on to what must be let go.

The Feeling of Home

December 10, 2007

Let it be no slight to the kind and attentive hosts I have had over the last weeks when I say “Home! and thank God”.

This last series of road trips has taken me from Carolina to England to Seattle to three different trainings in our KMI method of bodywork and movement – the beginning of the end for a group in Carolina (set the plow), the very beginning in Oxford (tumble together the disparate skills and juggle them into harmony), and the very end in Seattle (put the angel on top of the tree).

Our school is beginning to take shape, separating like an ice floe from Rolfing and other methods of its derivation, getting a flavor of its own. And not a bad flavor, either: All of the groups are interesting, each with a unique savor depending on culture and the other teachers. The classes are small enough where the piquancy of individual students can shape the group – for better or worse, usually for better if one can frame them properly – with the force of a single personality.

All to the good, and all well done, but no matter how sweet the work and how careful everyone is to make things smooth for me, there is just no place like home.

Its first attribute is silence. No TV, no computer games, no music blaring, no announcements from Tannoys overhead – the world outside is rife with noise. Coming off the red-eye from Seattle, I slip into Quan’s car, and our catching up on the way home is a series of murmurs interrupted with long periods of companionable silence. While I was gone the first snow has come, laying down a blanket of quiet around the house. After the usual sorting of receipts and laundry, and storing the suitcase out of sight, I dress for the cold and begin my series of ablutions.

The first ablution is that silence, actually, washing away all the noise. The second is to find the natural world. Today I begin with my Jesus act – the lake that has been something to walk around all summer has become something to walk on now – I test it gingerly this first time, but it is solid without cracking or buckling. Around the head, where the incoming stream makes for open water, I find the criss-crossing tracks of the coyotes, a porcupine, birds, and something I cannot identify.

Moving up the stream to my favorite spot, I lie down under a tree in a protected hollow to rest in the enveloping down comforter of the woods, letting my the rush of water carry my thoughts for a while.  I get up and do what I have not been able to do in Carolina, England, or Seattle – cup my hand in the natural running water, and drink.  Drink deep and cold and mineraline and clear – until my mind quiets too and retunes all 12-strings inside.

I lost my guitar on the way out to Seattle – left it – habitual idiot – in the food court at Atlanta Hartsfield. One of life’s angels had braved Atlanta’s traffic to scour the security guys and the lost-and-found and damned if he didn’t retrieve it. Returning to the house thus cleansed, I take the guitar out of its case, caress it and tune it, a meditation in itself that eliminates the noise from the music I play a little into the silence, cleaning more of the noise off my system.

Quan has taken the horse out in the fresh snow and it’s great to see them, tails up, prancing. I fetch in some wood, and go to catch up on Annie, taking joy in working on her feet in front of the new and powerful stove – my hand skills are still there, even if I don’t use them so much these days.

While Quan cleans the barn and tends to the rabbits, I make the next ablution – the wood-fired sauna. The crackling fire is no noise at all, and the searing heat mellowed by jugs of cold water is the final clearing of the dreck and gunge of the trip, and then Quan and I can slip into the completion of union. We’ve been circling around it all day, but whereas once we would have felt the need to fall into bed within minutes of coming home – sometimes even getting a hotel rather than enduring the hour’s ride home – now we prefer these series of ablutions first, coming together in words, then a separation, then sharing a little food then a separation, then the sauna and a little meditation, and finally – sweet and deep – the expression of a love that has surpassed anything else in my life as the source of connection with God.

A perfect day – thank You. Thank You …

In Memoriam – Louis Schultz

December 4, 2007

If Ida was the face that launched a thousand elbows, Louis was the voice that launched a thousand anatomy geeks – and I am definitely one of them!  After his 4-day Anatomy class – optional in 1974 when I started training – I was hooked, and everything that has flowed to and fro in my travels was birthed in the curiosity and wonder that he created in that wide sandbox of his mind and heart.

It is wonderful to see my students surpass me – like Gil Hedley and Christoph Sommer among many others – but all of them should know that so much that I taught them came from Louis and his embryological unity unfolding, Michael Murphy and his willingness to be a fool for the students’ benefit, and Dan Seltzer, a man whom nobody knows, but once, before he killed himself, he was a Harvard theater professor.  My first spiritual teacher, Dan taught me about finding the role deep, deep within the self.  He couldn’t do it himself, but he could evoke it in others.

No such doubts assailed Louis. Generous, kind, open, pragmatic and true to himself, Louis Schultz was an inspiration to us all.

Chisel Cold

December 4, 2007

In this dry season, winter arrives on a northwest wind that turns the river to blue pewter with cloisonné waves. The only respite is in the woods or on the far side of the barn. Dust, unusual here, swirls across the driveway and lifts off the paddock. Trees bend and squeak, doors slam out of your hand, ice gathers at one end of the pond, shards piling up on themselves and freezing into a miniature Fortress of Solitude.

Cold is a chisel. Go out undressed – as I did to take the phone to Quan – and its blade hits you bluntly, digging in and bruising your grain until there’s nothing to do but get back in and shudder it off. Bind yourself too densely and the cold glances off you, taking no wood, leaving you as you are.

But if you dress just right, keeping your breasplate and the sides of your neck warm and your ear tips of course while leaving your face clear and a few places for drafts to get in, then when you venture out into the sere and searing cold, it starts to shave thin layers off your summer rot, taking the bark and leaving a surface as smooth as a slate for writing a new you.

We take to asking each other why we live here, as the fall leaves get blown under the bushes, the water left for the animals freezes before they can get to it, the sun comes late, smiles wanly, and leaves early. We put things away along the waterfront and turn to the woods to keep our houses warmed and the cars working.

But secretly I welcome the cold: it chisels off conceits and illusions, reduces you to the little that’s needed for life’s necessity. “There’s so little of you left.”

Striking at Iran

December 2, 2007

Are we suicidal? Has Congress no spine to steer America constructively?  Has the populace no recourse?  No one I know wants more war – not conservative, not liberal, not backwoods hunter nor shoreline fisherman.

And on such a country as Persia – well-organized and orderly, hungry for trade and ripe for guidance, not coercion.

This administrative team, if allowed to wander fecklessly for another year, will have done two generations worth of damage.  The American experiment is at stake, and I see little or no move to bluff, hold, raise the ante, or call.  Impeach? Hell, prosecute!