Sunday, October 30, 2011

Friday night was the "spooky nature trail" at the nature center.  The path, flicker-lit by jack-o-lanterns, winds through dark and breezy woods  among us pirates, monsters, witches and wizards.  Nico this year was off at a birthday party, but Monica and Porter and I volunteered as actors once again.  She was dressed as Professor McGonagall, and walked the trails as a benign presence, making sure the pumpkins stayed lit.  I donned some wizardly gear - a purple robe, green skullcap, and a staff wrapped in purple and gold rags with a light dangling from it's grip.  Porter wrapped himself in my old gray swiss army cape.

We found a deserted stretch of woods between the great spiderweb maze at the edge of the meadow and a mixed witch and pirate pair further down the trail.  We could hear other pirate girls staging their swordfights on the wooden bridge behind the rocky ridge.  We're not given any script, but just expected to be spooky (but not too scary for the littlest kids) and/or entertaining.

Porter and I improvised a little schtick where he would huddle like a gray rock under his cape, then loom up and block the trail as some kind of hostile stone troll - to gasps or shrieks often enough.  Then I would emerge from hiding, yelling and brandishing my staff to drive him off.  When we'd scared some kids, I asked them if I should turn the troll back into a stone, "because I am a wizard of these woods, after all!"  and they all thought that was a great idea.  So thrusting my lit-up staff at the chest of the troll, I would turn him "back to the stone from whence he came!"  Porter, whose gangliness is hidden by the cape would spin and drop to the ground as a small boulder, nearly indistinguishable from the granite rocks all around.  Then I would usher the walkers politely around the corner entreating them to beware of the pirates that were infesting the forest.

It was a fun piece of improvisation, and never quite the same twice.  Sometimes the troll dodged my first spells; sometimes the stone came back to life.  A young astronaut helped out with a nerf gun that had a turn-to-stone setting.  One pre-teen who shrieked had to be restrained by her friends from beating the poor troll with a tree branch.  Sometimes I was a wizard who'd misplaced my troll, and could they let me know if they came across him.

Afterwards, as I was salving a parched throat with cider, I was thinking about conversations I'd had with friends lately about art and entertainment.  The "Occupy Wall Street" protests have been encouraging many people to think about ways to extricate themselves from the powerful financial and cultural institutions that seem to dominate us, and who seem not to have our interests at heart.  Withholding your money from the banks; withholding your obedience from the state; perhaps cutting the cable and withholding your attention from the television?

My grandmother and her sisters kept diaries in the 1920's and 30's, and reading them I have been struck by how much visiting they did -- despite the fact that traveling 5 or 10 miles during a Pennsylvania winter was no simple task.  I think there was often work involved, but there were also their own forms of entertainment and fellowship.  They were all well-read, and they memorized poetry and did recitations and music.  50 years later she could still rattle off silly, humorous poems to entertain her grandchildren.

There's a tremendous amount of effort put into making us passive consumers of entertainment - partly through the admittedly high quality of much professional production, but also by the marginalization and even mockery leveled at the amateur.  I'm no professional actor, but I'm capable of entertaining a stream of children and adults who are in good spirits and are willing to be pleased on their whimsical walk through the spooky nature trail.  If the Viacoms and Disneys and Time-Warners of the world are going to continue to throw their lot in with greed and cultural destructiveness, I for one am perfectly happy to fall back on the talents and good nature of the people around me -- where hidden talents lurk.

The season's first snow is melting on the parsnip leaves.  More nights of this and they'll soon be ready to roust out and roast.

I put a cold frame over the harbenero to see if I could nurse another week's ripening for the chilis.  Probably too little too late, since the smaller leaves had already blackened in the cold nights.    I've chopped a dozen or so orange peppers from the volatile plant - which burned and smudged the fingerprints of my left hand.  But there are still a couple score green peppers that I'll have to figure out what to do with.  Create some vicious condiment that is not quite poisonous, I hope.

And certainly, the storm put an end to the beans.  They are Jacob's Cattle beans whose seed I'd let get damp, so I planted them very late on the chance that there was enough time to have them mature.  They stopped plumping in the weak autumn sun, so the result is over-mature string beans.  Still, there might be few pounds to shell, and maybe I can make a meal of some sort.
I've been ignoring the fact there is still a short row of potatoes that I never dug up.  Green Mountains, I think.

It's all an experiment this year.  (Of course, according to gardeners it's an experiment every year until you die or stop planting.)


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

So the tear gas came out last night in Oakland.  And billy clubs, flash grenades and "beanbags" if not rubber bullets.  Municipal paramilitaries around the country spent the rich years loading up on SWAT teams and riot control gear, and even if the Arab raids or Mexican roundups never quite materialized, well thank Ares for Wall Street's hubristic nobles and Main Street's disaffected youth.

The powers that be have begun to move against demonstrations in Atlanta, Boston, Oakland and doubtless other places.  They claim that "laws were being broken" that there were "reports of violence."  Or just that the damned hippies were attracting rats.

Now the question is, whether Americans really believe that the systems of law and democracy have been so destroyed by money and corruption that it is legitimate to disobey the law and spit at the ballot box.  To me there's no question.  Both political parties have been corrupted beyond any ability to look after the common good, and the Law just as often seeks to secure injustice as it does justice.  American's belief that they live in a meritocratic society is being openly flouted like never before.

Fox News and its many imitators have been amazingly adroit at channeling populist anger into a divisive, corporatist agenda, but it remains to be seen whether the people witnessing this current rash of populism are as eager to be conned as the typical Fox viewer.

Nevertheless, there's the rampant dementia of the Republican Party.  So as a parting shot, giving credence to the old adage that when fascism comes to America it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross, here's a nice disturbing video.  "I want to follow a leader - a leader who follows Jesus . . . 

Friday, October 21, 2011

In the woodstove, steam hissed from the ends of burning logs.  A reddish, armored centipede whipped along the length of one.  Misled by a hundred million years of evolution, it searched desperately for a crevasse to hide itself within.  In and back out.  Then out of the smoke and flames it tumbled from the firebox onto the stove's front ledge.  But instead of heading for open safety, it drove its sinuous body back under the rim of the stove's hot door.  And there it died, true to the imperatives of instinct. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The fiction I've been reading lately has been brain candy - space opera and Patrick O'Brien's sea-faring novels.  But a friend had urged Donald Ray Pollack's new novel, The Devil All the Time.  Its knotted tapestry of murder, rape, religious madness and boondockish ignorance is grueling, (like re-reading The Painted Bird, with the trek across 1950's and 60's Ohio and West Virginia rather than war-twisted Poland).  The book is all masterfully done and utterly convincing, but I reacted with my usual defensiveness toward authors who focus on the sick and twisted - who don't seem to have the skill for giving a fuller portrait of what human society is like.

But in honesty I thought about northeastern Pennsylvania - the shaggy woods and hills around Galilee, Damascus and Rileyville.  And how if you gathered the local tragedies, the murders and madness across those mid-century decades, you could distill just such a tale.  It wouldn't be the full story of the place; it wouldn't be the only story; but it would be a true story.  And terrible as it is, The Devil All the Time, feels like a true story.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Two new kittens have moved in -- the gray one, Haru, and the younger black one, who hasn't settled on a name yet.  Our grumpy old cat, Chloe, just as she did when Wilbur arrived, moved outside for a week.  But now it's been raining and she can be spotted once in a while slinking by or growling menacingly at one of the kittens.

We've considered Aye-Aye, Snowball, Cole, Kaboodle, Ash, Gatico, or Steve.

Anyone have any good name suggestions?


Prince Haru's name has stuck.
Porter wanted to name the black one Medallion (for a white spot on his throat) and the rest of us accommodated that by calling him Leon.

So, welcome to Haru and Leon.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The summer's hurricane whipped up enough salt from the waves that down toward the coast leaves turned prematurely crisp, and they fell like little brown scrolls in August.  Here we are six miles inland, and the trees only looked a bit discouraged.  But the autumn's warmish, damp weather, hard rains, and now a few days of blustery wind seem to be stripping trees even as they break into color.  So the fall forests are only gorgeous rather than mind-boggling.