Monday, May 31

a brief digression about keybindings

My .vimrc now includes:

map <F4> :set invnumber<CR>
imap <F4> <ESC>:set invnumber<CR>

Which I think is a bit cheesy, but it works and has the virtue of having been obvious to implement while I was high as a goddamned kite.

Saturday, May 29

IMG_5443.JPG

In the late '80s, in what I remember as a very dry year, my parents bought a house at the bottom of a hill. By the summer of 1993, when it wouldn't quit raining and most of the arable land in the middle states seemed to be under water, we came to understand that when the previous owners said that the basement had always been dry, they were either mistaken or lying.

A less industrious man than my father — a man with less dedication, or less fidelity to his own sense of possibility — would have given up on the basement then: Immediately, with the sound of the first generation of sump pumps still clattering in his ears. Such a man would thereby have saved himself hundreds of hours of tedious labor and many square feet of sodden, fungus-enslimed drywall.

I had time today, as I helped my father haul ragged chunks of moldy sheetrock up the stairs, to meditate on this theme at some length.

 

I'm home for the weekend, unexpectedly. Early in the week I found out that my cousin Richard's wife Phyllis had died, and so I decided to go to Kansas for the funeral on Thursday.

Richard isn't exactly my cousin. He's my dad's cousin, although he must be at least 20 years older. I can't remember now what that makes him — my second cousin? My first cousin once removed? English vocabulary fails me here.

Richard is the the sort of man people describe as "a character". He eats ice cream for breakfast every morning. He drives too fast and cons his way out of speeding tickets. He tells stories. Some of the people in his stories were born well before the start of last century. Some of them are people like my crazy, fanatically religious great-aunt Frannie, who wandered all over the country on God's behalf and drove maniacally and seems not to have gotten out of the speeding tickets very often.

Phyllis was a character in her own right. When I knew her, she was already legally blind and moved only with difficulty, but I would have hated to cross her. She was in poor and worsening health for the last decade of her life. When it got really bad, Richard bought her a hospital bed and slept on a cot next to it, when he could sleep at all.

They were married for 50 years and change.

 

green wheat

 

IMG_5172.JPG

 

After the funeral, we drove around and put flowers on family graves, and then to the farm where my dad grew up. The farm is off a gravel road some miles northwest of Salina, and some miles east of Culver, a town whose surviving institutions are two churches and a grain elevator. CarolAnn and I walked in the back way from the cemetery, past some of the old cars and what used to be the hog barn. (The back way also turns out to feature a lot of poison ivy and mosquitoes this season.) We grilled things and drank a couple of beers. Me and CA did our best to ignore the usual stray Republican talking points. We left not too long after dark, but I went back the next morning to talk to my Uncle Ron for a while and wander around in the pasture east of the house.

There's nothing like stepping in cow shit to really take you back to your roots.

 

manure spreader

 

fence

 

Where I live now, the Rocky Mountains start a couple of miles from my back yard. What I understand about the high places of the world is still based on a single low hill in Eastern Kansas. From the top, where there's an outcropping of native rock, you can see the biggest elevator in Salina, the thin line of Highway 81, and Crown Point, where my grandparents are buried. There is always a little wind, even when the air is dead everywhere else. In a dry summer you can smell the heat — road dust and field dust and desiccating grass — and hear it in the insect hum. This spring it's wet and humid and growing thick.

Even from the top of the hill, it's harder to discern the lay of things than it used to be. The pasture is more overgrown with trees than when I was younger, and the rocks themselves are almost obscured by cedars and some kind of low, woody colony plant I've never thought to identify.

Everything changes, and it was never quite the way you remember it to begin with. On the other hand: There are still frogs and turtles in the cow ponds, where Richard probably fished as a kid with my great-great-uncles. You still have to watch where you step. There's still yucca, buffalo grass, and a pair of buzzards circling. The wild turkeys that became so plentiful 10 or 20 years ago are thick; so too the deer.

 

buzzard

 

leinies

 

I drove to Lincoln that afternoon. Up 81 to York and across on I-80, past the exits for Beaver Crossing and Seward. I talked to Sarah-who-has-a-PhD-now-and-still-fences for a long time. You see some people and it makes you glad they're still who they are — so many of the ones you've fallen for, one way or another, seem to lose themselves entirely — and of course it also tears your heart out a little.

Somewhere around last call, I headed north towards Laurel. I was too tired to be driving and the road was full of wildlife and I would have been smarter to stay in town, but Lincoln is full of ambiguity and everywhere I look is another reminder of the kind of fucked up decisions I made in my early 20s and the kind of ragged ecstasis that usually prompted those decisions and the empty forms of all the things that used to seem like vessels of the community I was going to belong to for the rest of my life, and I usually can't take it for all that long.

I always just kind of take it turn-by-turn, but the route to my parents' house is something like Valparaiso, Prague (rhymes with egg), North Bend, Snyder, Dodge, Wisner, Wayne, Dixon, the Logan Center road, a right at the church, and home. There's a light on the corner, and then you go past the old parsonage where, as a teenager, I always made a point of turning the radio just about as loud as it would go because I was disgusted that my neighbor Ben and the rest of his fanatically evangelical family were all sober and in bed at whatever hour it was.

If futile, essentially incomprehensible, and largely unnoticed poetic gestures are the stuff of adolescent life (with a special extension for participants in 4-year degree programs), I should probably ask myself why I'm still making so many of them at 29.

tuesday, may 18

you're real young, you think your parents
cannot possibly understand you
you get a little bit older, you start to think
they might be the only people who can

Saturday, May 15

moth

I seem to be accidentally murdering a lot of insects lately. I nudged this moth to see if it would fly away. It fell off the wall and Jack promptly ate it.

IMG_4338.JPG

wednesday, may 12

all day long it's gray and
the rain starts well before sundown
it's hard to say just when the snow starts
but by 1am, writing bad poems in my
living room, i can hear tires failing
to find traction in the street outside

i can relate

Monday, May 10

There's a certain kind of book that people will tell you, over and over again, that you ought to read. You specifically, because it really reminds them of you. Accordingly, you give it a shot, and promptly discover that you really don't like the book all that much, and then you begin to wonder what exactly it means that everyone thinks you should. For years after this pattern starts, you'll feel a vague, pre-emptory irritation every time some new acquaintance starts a sentence like "say, have you ever read..."

For me, that book is Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I'd tell you what exactly it is that I don't like about Pirsig's work, but I've never managed to get far enough with it to feel entitled to an opinion.

A while ago, Brent told me I ought to read1 Shop Class as Soulcraft, by Matthew B. Crawford. Crawford's hook is that he's a PhD who runs a motorcycle repair shop.2 Even if the book didn't explicitly reference Zen, it wouldn't be surprising that pretty much every reviewer has made the connection.

So, ok, I took my time getting to this one, but I accidentally started reading a copy in the bookstore the other day and wound up buying it. It turns out to be pretty good. The writing strays here and there into many-claused academic repetition, and you could talk for a while about its situation in a masculine understanding of work, but mostly it's an intelligent and well-articulated essay. Not without its irritations, a little narrower than it would be ideally, but well worth the time spent.

1 Actually, I think his exact words were along the lines of "are you sure you didn't write this?"

2 It's a pretty good hook. Add in a parallel to one of those free-floating Classics of the Counterculture that somebody you know probably gives away in paperback (I suspect that Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance operates culturally just like Letters to a Young Poet, minus the girls giving it to boys they won't sleep with and boys giving it to girls they want to sleep with dynamics) and the sales pitch pretty much writes itself.

Sunday, May 9

heather goes to Svalbard:

Just how prepared do you have to be to head out of town? We arrived in Svalbard around 1AM on Thursday night/Friday morning, and we began preparations for an excursion with a 10 AM safety overview the next day. A rather abrupt gentleman (the head of safety at UNIS) told us calmly and in patchy English about all the ways we could die, pictures included via powerpoint. If caught by an avalanche, try to stay on top; if you have a hypothermic victim, keep them flat; if you fall through the ice, swim fast or in about two minutes your survival suit will be too heavy for you to support; if you slip into a crack in glacier, don't panic and wait for your team to find a way to get you out - if you went straight down it will be a much easier rescue. Travel in groups, and everybody has a role when an accident happens. - "And of course, if you don't like the shit you don't gonna be the one doing the first aid."

Concerning snowmobiles:

"If you are out driving one hour and the shit stops, you have one day to walk back, so think about that."

Concerning polar bears:

"Then you have the boss."
"Other times they give us shit in that and they looking for some dinner and that means you."

Naturally we were all very comforted by this lecture.

Saturday, May 8

IMG_3869

Thursday, May 6

table spider

wednesday, may 5

on watching king of the hill

ashes to ashes man
it's that dang old
ashes to ashes

Tuesday, May 4

The whole Prominent Right-wing Bigot Caught Being Gayer than a Tree Full of Monkeys on Nitrous Oxide1 thing has rolled around so often lately that it's lost a lot of its comedic punch, but there has long been a special place in my heart for the Family Research Council. Their newsletters, regularly deposited in the pamphlet rack at my home church, used to brighten my Sunday mornings with such quality material as

Needless to say, I'm finding this one this one pretty entertaining.

1 Apologies to N. Gaiman and T. Pratchett.

Monday, May 3

IMG_3782

Sunday, May 2

jar spider flails

Somewhat tragically, as I was releasing this spider on the front step, I dropped the lens cap on top of it. I wasn't sure where the spider had gone, and then I noticed that the cap was moving.

I feel bad about this. If I hadn't wanted to put the spider in a jar and take photographs of it, it would probably be in much better shape at present.