Tuesday, October 06, 2009


When I got up in the night at 3AM, as I often do, only not exactly at the same hour every night, the floors were strewn with squares and trapezoids of silverplate. The moon was full, as big as if seen through a telephoto lens. In the Sixties an artist used to submit to auctions and shows a sort of genre he invented: an old country homestead with clothesline and outbuildings, situated on the horizon and silhouetted by a huge full moon. It was so definitive of the West, so born of experience, that I’ve never forgotten those paintings and wonder where they’ve gotten to now. Where’s the artist fifty years later? I never met him, so don’t know whether he was young or old.

By the time I went back to bed, the wind had come up and the air was warming, which is always the way new fronts come in. There’s an arctic mass on the way. The forecast is snow all week with a night-time low of 8 degrees on Friday. Today is the last day warm enough to work outside. Sometimes the long sweet autumn ends like falling off a cliff. The Farmer’s Almanac says a long hard cold winter. Around here we take that seriously.

The reason I get up in the night is partly that I love seeing the moon splash whitewash everywhere and make patterns through the still-not-quite-turned leaves. A clear night in the fall or winter always means the temps will drop fast because of heat radiating out into space. The moon yearns for our body heat. The moon wants to come into that little homestead through the windows and sit on the hearth to warm up. The moon has no mercy, but it gets none from us either.

Another reason I get up in the night (there are quite a few reasons) is that the Internet has less traffic then so it works better. We have been struggling with our small town infrastructure for a few weeks. Somehow, even though we’re within a few miles of the futuristic wind farm where hundreds of unbelievably tall and thick masts support whirling blades that could cut a car in half, we’ve been having blackouts of several hours. Usually when this happens it’s a one-time event related to someone’s machinery severing a cable or someone’s accident knocking over a power pole. Once in a while they are scheduled swap-out/upgrade events. This time the reason is unknown.

My microwave shut down. My television refused to play. (I only use it to play DVD’s.) My radio went off. The streetlights dimmed. The only way to stay online was to keep rebooting both the software and the DSL box. The monitoring electronic parts for the local Bed and Breakfast heating boiler were blown and had to be replaced. Telephone calls to techies went nowhere until the calls were finally booted upstairs to someone able to do more than placate. Those smug fat newcomers who assumed living here would solve all their problems were upset that they were losing their Fox News feed.

The hard cold comes again. Locals knew it would. Some of us sort of forgot. In the cold war of my youth, the enemy was supposed to be Russia, at least the USSR. We equated being progressive with being open to science, calling on our own government to protect us, freedom to speak our minds and move around. This cold war requires passports, ID cards, registration, and camera surveillance. Progressive as a political option is so confused as to be meaningless.

But I’m mixing weather with politics. Still, the environmental listservs to which I subscribe would say that weather IS politics. Weather is the economy here -- looks like the winter wheat crop is exceptionally good this year, which COULD mean that prices will be down. Every farm I pass has a couple of new steel bins which means that there is also a DSL connection in that house where someone is trying to decipher the futures market so as to know when to sell. In the towns the merchants are trying to second-guess the farmers so as to know how and when to stock their shelves. This translates to international trade.

The right wingers believe that keeping guns will prevent the government from invading them. Today there was another scare story in the paper about the US Fish & Wildlife invading the home of a retired couple who had a business buying and selling rare orchids and who had let their paperwork get out of order. Their house was ransacked, strewn, by a SWAT team. The man went to prison for two years. Some people are surprised that Fish & Wildlife did this, because their mental map is waaaay out of date. They haven’t lived near a border where cars are regularly searched and eagle feathers are not just Native American materials, but the equivalent of drugs in giving authority figures the power to fine, imprison and -- at the very least -- impound. The irony is that it was the political struggle of NA’s to own their own heritage that has given the feds this much power, made it defensible in the name of a “noble end” not unlike the demonization of marijuana that has put 30% of the population in jail. I don’t cross the Canadian border anymore, even though my book was published in Canada and I have many ties there.

Now the wind is blowing the sky back to blue. I’ve got a couple of aerosol cans of insulation to fill cracks that leak cold air. The stepladder is already out front, ready to reinstall the gutter-gap strips under the edge of the shingles. The wind blows them out all the time. This time I’ll try nailing.

My homestead infrastructure always needs a bit of maintenance. I don’t pay anyone to do it for me. The proportion of thinking to doing is about 80-to-20 and these days I have to write down that 80% of thinking or I’ll forget. But I can do that in the middle of the night and have the reward of the huge moon printing my floors with her luminous patterns. This latter is the “end,” the purpose, the meaning of being human and alive. All the rest is “means,” requiring attention but not the goal. Maybe if I sorted and filed more of my boxed archives, I might find that artist’s name. I hope so.

1 comment:

Lance M. Foster said...

I loved the imagery of the moon coming in to sit at your hearth.

Have you seen this? It is called a literary trail map, in this case connected to "The SUrrounded" by McNickel:

Wouldn't it be cool to see something like this for "The Sun Came Down" or "The Old North Trail"?