far too much writing, far too many photos

Last night: woke up in the wee hours, as I lay in bed I heard noises downstairs, the kind of noises I’ve gotten used to hearing in this house: a door closing, the sound of someone moving from one room to another. No one down there, of course — my guests left yesterday afternoon and since then I’ve been the only human in the house.

Never occurred to me when I bought this place that I’d be picking up a house some might consider to be haunted. And it’s not as if whatever goes on here that might justify that label is dramatic or nasty. Low-key is more like it. Episodic, generally polite, with seemingly no concern or awareness re: anyone else in the living space.

It’s a loaded, sometimes silly word, ‘haunted.’ Freighted with connotations, from the ridiculous to the fraudulent to the frightening to the awe-intriguing, even awe-inspiring. Whatever one might think about it, it’s become a simple fact of daily life here, though daily is too strong a qualifier. Now and then is more like it, whenever it feels like it. “It” (the second of the three ‘its’ in that last sentence, that is) being whatever produces the sounds, the kinds of noises another person in the house might make off in another room. Sometimes in the next room –- clear, distinct, straightforward. Not threatening, not spooky (apart from the fact that there’s no human body producing the sounds — if one doesn’t think about that aspect of it, it’s just something that happens in the house, the way the furnace/boiler goes on and off from time to time).

I mentioned this to my guests, G. & S., yesterday afternoon as we sat around the dining room table talking, post-lunch. S. then mentioned she thought she’d heard steps, coming from a place she knew none of us were located. Real? Who knows. Depends on who’s defining the term ‘real.’ I can tell you that the sounds I hear are not my imagination, and that’s as far as I’ll take it. Think what you will.

We’re now sailing into the season of haunted houses, a phenomenon that’s gained steam over the last ten or fifteen years — places to go for a good scare. Go with friends, scream and laugh at fake spooks, fake monsters, fake ax murderers. Some run by religious groups with a Christian agenda, others run by college or community groups. Some bigger, more organized like Spooky World. Not a kind of entertainment I’ve had much interest in, though the one time I went to Disneyland, I did the Haunted Mansion twice. That was a while ago –- bet the technology is way better now.

Why am I going on about this? The season. I may not be big on the haunted house style entertainment, but I love the atmosphere of the weeks leading up to Halloween. Yeah, it’s often cheesy, often silly. I don’t care. Something about it feels great –- the change in the way the air feels, the getting dark earlier. Leaves blowing through the air, racing along the ground or down a street before an October breeze. I love that stuff. And we’re just about to head into it. My last two Octobers were spent in Madrid, and as much as I love Madrid, it was a different kind of Halloween — hardly Halloween at all, actually. I’m looking forward to being around the New England version once again.

Written yesterday — Saturday, September 28:

Yesterday morning: I stepped outside around 8 under a slate gray sky. The sheerest drizzle fell, so light, so polite that I wasn’t sure it was actually happening till I could see it on the car’s windshield. By the time I reached Montpelier and disappeared into the gym, it had asserted itself a bit. Still polite, but more distinct. Within an hour rain began falling for real; by 11, it had lost its manners and become a genuine downpour. It rained the rest of the day and well into the night, mostly coming down so hard that I could hear the rumble of it on the roof. Mist and fog moved in during the afternoon as the rain came down, the area adopting its primeval look: green, wet; large restless banks of fog moving through valley and hollows; hillsides and steeper slopes draped in mist.

I had company scheduled to arrive yesterday evening and so spent the afternoon cleaning house. Not my idea of a good time. At all. But necessary ’cause the place had developed a dire need for, bare minimum, a good vacuuming. (If nature abhors a vacuum, why does Hoover remain in business? And why is vacuum spelled ‘vacuum’ instead of ‘vacume’?) I did more than the bare minimum, in the process discovering loads of wood shavings left strewn around the basement level by the electrician who spent a day or two here a few weeks back. Also discovered: many spiders and abundant cobwebs -– as many as I could find got hoovered.

At the end of the process, the house looked like a decent place to live and hang out, no longer the flop in which I work, sleep, make meals.

And still the rain came down. My friends had said they might start the drive north as early as 5:30, getting them here around 8:30, in ideal conditions. Between traffic and torrential rain, however, ideal conditions did not reign. After 10 p.m., I went to bed and drifted off. Around 10:40, I woke to the thump of luggage being brought in to the downstairs guest room, me having left the doors open for them to enter whenever they pulled in.

They started to unwind, I cranked up the satellite TV, found Run, Lola, Run playing (yee-ha!). We settled down and watched until it wrapped up around midnight, when everyone retired to their respective bedrooms. And outside the rain continued.

**********

Written today, Sunday, 9/28:

My guests took off a couple of hours ago, I’m back in this space on my own once more, the vibe a bit different due to the injection of energy from the last couple of days. Lots of talk, laughter, food prep and time spent around the dining room table.

The autumn in these parts has so far been slow and gentle, the colors turning gradually, in muted hues. When I got up this morning the thermometer outside the dining room windows read 32 on the nose, but because of fog and overcast there was no frost -– flowers still abound, crickets and their ilk continue to whirr and chirp away in the grass. When I raised the shades in the living room, I found a visible difference in the colors around the valley from yesterday’s display -– between the rain of two days ago and last night’s plunging mercury, the autumn display got a major goosing.

I’ve had a long window box of marigolds out on the back stoop — a stopping place for bees, mostly bumblebees in recent days, as the smaller variety seems to have disappeared with the advent of shorter daylight hours. Earlier, out in the yard, I caught sight of a small-sized bumble bee flying from one marigold blossom to another, alighting on one, walking around the closely-set petals, then making the short flight to the next blossom for the same drill. Absorbed in its task. I stopped to watch, and as I stood there the bee seemed to notice me, stopped what it was doing, turned to face me, apparently checking me out. A handsome little bugger, looking more like an oversized honey bee than a slightly diminutive bumble bee, wings surprisingly small for its body, multi-eyed visual organs appearing heart-shaped. After a moment, it apparently had enough of me, returning to its work. I came back into the house.

I went outside a short time ago to bring the window box inside for the night, rustling the marigolds around before picking it up to dislodge critters hanging out in the greenery. The plants seemed to be free of insect life, I brought the box in, set it on the kitchen counter. A few minutes ago I noticed something flying around the dining room, discovered what looked like the same bumble bee, having made the trip inside with the flowers where it found itself in a world it didn’t seem to be crazy about. It headed toward the picture window in the living room and landed on the glass, trying to figure out why it couldn’t keep going to the big world it could see out there. I put a drinking glass over it, slid a piece of paper underneath the glass, trapping the bee inside, transported it outdoors where I removed the paper, holding the glass up into the air. The bee climbed to the rim of the glass and took off, heading in a leisurely way to the nearest flowers. Back to work.

We all go about our business, thinking our concerns are the defining parameters of existence. We forget we share this planet with creatures far smaller and far bigger, with concerns just as fundamental, just as abiding. We’re all travelers, riding this living globe through space.

It’s Sunday evening, the end of September. The days stream by, life rolls on.

I woke up a bit before 4 a.m. this morning, got up and stumbled to the loo to dump the ballast. After which I crawled back into bed, read for a while, fell back to sleep until just shy of 8:30, when a dream woke me.

In general, I don’t seem to remember much about my dreams, so the times one comes back to the waking world with me are occasions. Let me see if I can describe this one.

It’s evening, toward the end of the year. I’m in a place that’s not exactly a resort, not exactly a hotel, not exactly a fancy restaurant. Nice place –- made of stone and wood, with floors of flagstone. Not done up with the accouterment you sometimes see in places like that, bric-a-brac suggesting centuries of history. It felt newer than that, though not brand new. With the feel of a place that’s been in operation for a some time.

The weather has turned genuinely cold, the kind of cold that signals winter’s arrival, and the place is about to close down for the season this very evening — after dinner, which had just commenced. Dinner takes place on a partially-roofed flagstone patio overlooking a valley and mountains. Everyone who’s going to eat is out there, along with any staff. I’m inside, by myself, in a long, comfortable room where everyone out on the patio has left their coats and luggage spread around on the chairs. I’m there when the last of the diners and staff goes outside, so the room falls quiet around me. I remain there, thinking about something, standing quietly, unobtrusively, off in the corner of the room furthest away from the passageway to the patio. A man suddenly comes in from the patio, gleefully believing himself to be unobserved. He begins going through coats and bags. I approach him quietly, get the jump on him and hold him down. People began coming in from the patio as I hold the guy there, going to their bags, talking, paying no attention at all to me and this guy, though it’s clear I’m restraining him. I’m looking around, watching them enter the room, chatting as they get ready to collect their belongings and leave, paying me absolutely no mind as I immobilize the thief who had started going through their things.

That’s when I woke up.

I lay thinking about that story for a while, most of it still clear in my memory. Clear in the way memories can be, once lived. Until I rousted myself, headed toward the shower and started my day, quickly forgetting all about the dream. At some point — coming out of the blue as I washed dishes, my thoughts off who knows where — I realized what the story was about. And all I could do was smile ’cause the situation in the dream was a such a silly yet nicely drawn metaphorical representation of how some part of me apparently views a recent situation in this little life of mine.

I’ve gotta say: I love dreams. The ones I remember are always great stories –- complex, dynamic, wild narratives, often heading off in directions I never would have imagined, much less considered, if I had to sit down and try to write them. Full of powerful, vivid images, experiences, situations. Often hilarious -– if not in the moment then in retrospect. Great entertainment, put together just for me.

Every now and then I’ll go through a period when they seem much closer to the surface, if you know what I mean, when I find myself remembering lots of dreams. Short periods I really enjoy.

I’d like it if that happened more often.

********************

I headed over to Barre again today – Montpelier’s evil twin city – to do a bunch of errands. Seen along the way:

Wild Auto
Body Repair

Soap Opera
Coin Wash & Dry

A bulletin board in a complex of mostly small manufacturing companies featured the following two ads:

Highland Bagpipe Instructors
Vermont Institute of Piping

Smith & Wesson
Model 3000 20GA
Slug Gun
Nice condition.
$225.00

And coming home, heading north on Route 14, about a mile out of East Montpelier, a roadside business (used cars/produce/eternal yard sale/misc.) had the following sign out by the road:

Guns & Ammo
Tomatoes
Corn

Following is a short story of mine that I’ve been reworking. Despite the copyright date, this tale — like the other one posted here [see journal entries for 28 August, 2001] — was first written ten or twelve years back. A darker period of my life, which is reflected in the story. Just so you know.

KILLING TIME

© 2002 by runswithscissors

This is what I want: Sunshine. Birds singing. The irritating percussion of trash collectors. Storms, wind, rain, hailstones the size of golf balls. The idiot noise of a sitcom, laugh track and all. Movement, any kind of movement. Evening fading to dusk. A night sky slathered with stars. Talk shows. Change. My old existence.

This is what I have: Eternal morning, clouds frozen in an overcast September sky. An ex-lover’s caustic laughter echoing in my head.

This is what happened:

Early spring, the grass turning from its dull winter color to the waking green of April, buds sprouting on trees. I stood in my backyard looking up at a deeply blue sky when something caught my eye. A smudge of motion, blurry and indistinct, seeming to alight in the branches of a nearby maple tree. All I could see was a glimmering as if the air itself were shifting about, and as I squinted up she appeared, taking shape suddenly enough that breath caught in my throat.

At first glance, her form seemed human. On closer scrutiny, I saw that soft, fine feathers covered her everywhere save the eyes and the palms of her hands — primarily white, though other soft hues seemed to glide through them when she moved. She had a slender lower body, hips just wide enough to suggest those of a female. Her torso grew broad and muscular as it extended up from her waist, I suppose to support the wings which sprouted angel-like from her back, extending in a strong curve from above her head to her heels. She had fingers but no toes, her feet tapering to soft, feathered points. Finally, she had an earless, streamlined head, its features sleek and angular. A startling, unnerving image, all told, not the kind of fare normally encountered in my back yard.

A moment passed before I realized she’d spoken. At first, I thought I’d heard breeze-borne music. She spoke again — when I remained dumb with confusion, she leaped from the branch toward me, her wings fanning out to slow her descent with two or three powerful strokes. I backed away until she landed, extending a hand to touch me reassuringly.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said, voice soft, and, amazed, I realized I understood her.

“You speak English,” I managed to get out.

“I do. I speak all languages.” My expression must have made it clear that I didn’t see how that could be possible and she shrugged, a disconcertingly human gesture. “I am what you might call…” — she considered for a second — “…divine.”

A breeze passed, ruffling the feathers of her wings. It was only then, with the chill of evaporation on my skin, that I realized I’d been sweating. My hands were damp, I rubbed them against my pants. Looking about, I saw a beautiful day, life going on all around, heard the sounds of kids playing basketball a couple of yards over. I looked from them to her, then back at the kids.

“They can’t see me,” she said. My eyes returned to her. “No one else can. I am visible only to you.”

“Me?” My mouth had gone dry, my tongue growing thick and clumsy. “I’m sorry, you said divine, right? Like….”

“A god.”

I looked around again. What if someone saw me like this, thought I was talking to thin air like a nitwit? What if my wife saw me? I turned to the house, saw no face at any of the windows, turned back. The creature’s eyes watched me, dark gold pupils, lighter gold around them. I swallowed. “So you…,” a pause, a breath, “…you’re telling me you’re a god?”

“I control a fundament of your reality. That may seem godlike to you.” My mouth moved, producing no sound. “What?” she asked.

I tried to pull myself together, speaking the first question that came to mind: “Do you have a name?”

She reached out and took my hand in hers. “I am Time.”

“Time?”

“Yes.” She watched me, apparently amused.

“As in, er, time?”

“Yes.”

I looked around, shaking my head, a disbelieving smile taking form, finally saying, “Come on.”

“Sorry?” She looked puzzled.

“This is too much. I don’t know what’s going on here, if this is a gag or what, but really,” — I laughed here, almost a moronic, choking gargle — “you expect me to believe you’re time itself?”

“You think this is not so?”

“What am I supposed to say? I mean, after all,” — another gagging chortle — “Time?”

“Watch,” she instructed. With her left hand still holding mine, she raised her right hand to point at the sun, remaining in that pose for a beat, marshaling something — energy, intent, I don’t know. She held herself as a dancer might, her body seeming to grow slightly with poise and extension. Then her delicate hand moved, slowly, toward the east, retracing the sun’s arc. And the sun moved with it. Clouds hurried across the sky in the direction from which they’d earlier come; birds flashed around the yard, backwards, at impossible speed. The neighbors raced up their driveway in reverse, poured out of their car, vanished into their house. Late morning retreated as the sun followed Time’s pointing finger, edging toward the east, easing backward hour by hour. “Stop it,” I said, hearing a panicky tone in my voice. “Please.” She lowered her arm, the day picked up where she left it, eight-thirty by my watch. Nearly three hours difference.

I indicated the neighbors’ house. “Do they know what just happened?”

“No.”

“How can that be?”

“They are within the stream of time. It moves ahead for them without difference.”

“But they just went through the morning in reverse.”

“You and I moved in reverse, no one else. You see the difference because you are with me.” She gently squeezed my hand to illustrate our contact.

I stared, unable to process the situation. “I’m sorry,” I finally said, “I still don’t understand.”

She studied me thoughtfully. “The flow of time is a great river in which temporal existence swims. Do you think fish understand the currents that move around them?”

“Um… no?”

“No,” she confirmed.

I turned back to the house. At eight-thirty, my wife and I had gotten up. We’d eaten breakfast together. If I went back in there, would I discover us rising?

When I looked around again at Time, she’d gone. Startled, I glanced about, finding myself alone in the yard.

If the Earth had opened beneath my feet and spewed radioactive postal workers, I don’t think I could have had less of an idea what to do with myself. I finally headed inside, uneasy about what I might come across.

Entering the kitchen, I encountered Helen putting a kettle on the stove. “Hi,” she said. Silent, I continued on to the bedroom, my stomach constricting as I peeked around the corner. The bed lay unmade and empty. A glance into the bathroom revealed no doppelgängers.

“Hey,” said Helen, appearing by my side. I covered skittish nerves with a quick smile. She gave my cheek a kiss. “I never heard you get out of bed.”

“Couldn’t sleep,” I responded, sounding almost normal. “Thought I’d get up and take a walk.” It surprised me to hear a lie come so easily.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

I shrugged. “Full bladder. You know.”

“Poor baby.” She put an arm around my waist. “How about a cup of tea? Long as your bladder’s already working overtime.”

“I don’t think so.” I felt my teeth worrying the inside of my cheek, took a steadying breath.

“Look at me,” Helen instructed. A hand went to my forehead, moved down the side of my face to my neck. “Sweetheart, why are you so warm?” The hand slipped inside my windbreaker, found my shirt damp. “You’re covered with sweat.”

“I jogged some. While I was out.”

Her eyes locked with mine, her mouth opened to speak. The whistle of the kettle cut through the moment and I took advantage, moving an evasive step away. She stared, perplexed, turned and stepped back into the kitchen, casting a last confused look back. When she’d gone I slipped into the bathroom, quietly locked the door, turned on the shower. As steam gathered in ghostly billows, I leaned against the edge of the sink and collected myself.

Two mornings later, out in the yard again. I worked on a flower bed, turning soil. At some point, I noticed a shadow stretching across the ground parallel to mine. When I turned, there she stood. Close enough that I don’t see how I could have been unaware of her. My gaze involuntarily slid around to the house, scanned the windows.

“Your wife?” Time asked. I nodded. “She’s busy.”

“How do you know what she’s doing?”

“You,” she observed, “are a very nervous human. Are you always so?”

“Um,” I ummed nervously, “no. I don’t think so. Not usually.”

“Good.” She took my hand. “Walk with me.”

I did. And found nerves giving way to curiosity. Her manner with me had a disarming effect. The feel of her hands on mine calmed, her voice soothed. She drew me out with questions, seemed interested in my answers. I felt a growing thrill at being with her. And something more, something dangerously pleasurable.

Imagine the touch of divinity. Imagine it coming in the form of the opposite gender. Not in the static manner of an icon or religious image, but living, breathing. Alive. Seeking your company, intrigued by you, and communicating that in subtle, flattering ways. Divinity choosing to reveal itself to you. Only you.

Now, I have never considered myself weak. I’ve never felt inclined to risky involvements, certainly never wanted to endanger my marriage. But Time’s attention exerted a pull on me that came to feel narcotic.

Visits from Time became a regular part of my days, something I looked forward to, depended on. Until being with her became an overriding concern of my existence. A routine developed: I would wake early and leave my wife sleeping; in the kitchen, I’d find Time waiting, sitting by the window at the table; as I sat down, her hand would move over mine, my pulse leaping with her touch.

The season passed, good days. I felt keenly alive, full with clandestine passion. The weeks rippled along then, like the breeze-billowed canvas of striped tents you sometimes see spread on June’s lawns. Friendly. Easy.

Back then my wife rose to meet the day later and later. I’d be in the kitchen, my Elvis mug of steaming coffee in my left hand, the other clasped in one of Time’s, her fingers softly stroking mine. We would sit until Helen wandered in, announced by the soft smack of her feet on linoleum. She’d stop by my side, give me a kiss. I’d smile at her, and when I glanced over at Time, she would wink a golden eye conspiratorially.

Eventually, Time would lean over and whisper, her shoulder pressed against mine, her lips brushing my ear, telling me she had to leave. Maybe she’d suggest a walk the following dawn, maybe she’d simply say, “Tomorrow.” And she would vanish, a soft, luminous blur of motion, leaving me brimming over with the memory of her presence.

I had everything, I thought.

Then came that morning. My wife entered the kitchen, said hello, and stared past me, eyebrows curling in puzzlement. I looked over at Time, who watched inscrutably, then back at my wife.

“What?” I asked.

“I….” For another moment, she peered at the chair that held Time. “Nothing, I guess. I thought I saw something.”

“Saw something?” My stomach stirred uneasily. “Like what?”

“Like light.” I stared at her. “Hey, I just got up. I’m groggy.” I smiled, she turned toward the stove to fire up a kettle of water. When I glanced back at Time, her chair stood empty.

One morning, not long after that, I slept late. Normally, I’d rise early, pull on clothes, move quietly from the bedroom to the kitchen, heart beating quickly with anticipation — my wife behind me, Time before me. This day, I did not. I lay beneath the covers, drifting in and out of unsettling dreams. And then I heard voices, or thought I did. Two voices, murmuring. I came fully awake to a quiet house, thought my ears had been playing tricks, thought my dreams must have bled over into my waking world.

When I stepped into the kitchen, I found my wife sitting at the table, Time seated to her right. Helen turned in my direction, her face adorned with a good-morning smile like lazy welcome itself. “Good morning, love,” she said, standing to put an arm around me and kiss my cheek. Time sat by the window, watching. I looked at her from my wife’s embrace, she winked her customary wink. My wife acted unaware of the divine presence in our kitchen, neither looking at nor addressing her. Helen moved to make coffee, I sat. Time’s soft hand covered mine, my gaze lit on it, then moved to her golden eyes. They revealed nothing. A short time after that, she disappeared.

Later, I noticed a small feather on the floor beneath that chair. I held it near the open window, studying its sheen. When my wife came in from the yard, a gust of air from the window swept the feather from my fingers to swirl briefly around the floor before disappearing out the door and away.

Should I have seen what was taking form? Probably. But up to that time I’d never had cause for suspicion. Time had never lied, or so I thought. “I will never leave you,” she’d whispered to me. “You are special. I will always be here, only for you.” What did I know about the workings of life and the creature who conducts it from the past into the future? Nothing.

After that morning, things happened. I would notice my wife’s gaze flicker past me at something. Looking around, I’d spot no one. Sometimes a soft wrinkle of light, a smudge of motion seen from the corner of the eye, but that’s all. Turning back to Helen, I’d find her attention focused on me as if nothing had ever drawn it away. Other times, my wife would disappear for spells of two or three hours, always returning with a plausible explanation, her cheeks showing a bit more color than normal.

And then early one a.m., I rose, went into the kitchen, found myself alone. Out back, where Time sometimes waited, I saw no one. Walking around the house, then around the block, nothing much stirred apart from a dog behind a cyclone fence, barking half-heartedly as I passed. On my return home, I found my wife up and the day moved on from there. Sans Time.

The next morning Time waited in the kitchen.

“Where were you yesterday?” I asked quietly as I sat down by her.

“I had to be other places. Are you upset?”

“No,” I lied. “You just didn’t say anything. You didn’t tell me you wouldn’t….”

“Must I account to you now?” she said, interrupting me.

“No, of course not.”

“Then why act as if I do?”

“I’m not,” I said, flustered. “I just asked where you were. What’s wrong with that?”

“Shush,” she said, voice low and soothing. “Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s fine.” Her hand stroked mind with a comforting touch, but her eyes showed no love, no anger, no amusement, no concern, nothing.

Uneasy days followed. If I expressed anxiety to Time, she vanished behind an empty smile or grew distant, even impatient. My wife remained sweet and solicitous, yet her attention would, at moments, drift away in a manner I’d never seen before. I decided, finally, that something had to be done.

And not long after that, early one mid-September morn, Helen rose and quietly left the house. I strained to hear the closing of the door, when it snicked shut I pulled on clothes and carefully stepped outside. Moving down the driveway, I spotted my wife walking quickly up the block and around the corner, out of sight. I trotted after her as soundlessly as I could. The sun, breaking brightly from the horizon, began to slide behind clouds, dimming the morning. At the corner I saw no one, but at the next intersection Helen was visible a distance up the cross street, moving purposefully away. She paused to look back in my direction, I ducked behind a parked car. When I peeked out, she’d continued on.

Some blocks up, she veered into a park, a large, wooded expanse of conservation land. I lost her there and paused when I reached the edge of the greenery, wondering about the wisdom of this pursuit. Then I gathered my resolve and moved slowly in under the trees, attempting stealth so as not to announce myself with the racket of a cuckold loose in the woods.

After creeping along for ten or fifteen minutes, sweating from nerves and effort, I came to a pond situated near the center of the conservation land. As the incoming clouds thickened, a breeze rose up and the trees swayed, a few yellow leaves dropping around me. I bent down and inched forward through the foliage on hands and knees as the woods gently rocked with the wind. High, chiming laughter sounded ahead. And there they were.

They sat on a bench, shoulder to shoulder, enfolded by Time’s great wings. As I watched, the conversation lapsed, their heads settled against each other in a pose lovers have adopted for millennia. The breeze swelled then, scattering leaves around the damned couple, and I lurched to my feet and forward through the brush, my body out of my control, until I stopped near the bench, undoubtedly looking wild and haggard. Helen stared up at me, mouth open. Time’s eyes met mine, coolly serene.

“What’s going on?” I said thickly. “What the hell are you two doing?”

Helen started to speak, Time silenced her with the touch of a feathered hand.

“Well?” I wanted to sound solid, firm with righteousness. Instead, my voice held the ghost of a tremble. Time smiled in my direction like one would at a naughty pet, a not terribly bright, naughty pet.

“Why are you bothering us?” she asked, gently chiding.

“Oh, am I interrupting something? Have I showed up at an inconvenient moment?” I noticed my body seemed to be shaking as I spoke.

Helen stood. “Don’t do this. I’ll go home with you.”

“Helen,” Time said, voice soft.

“This isn’t right.”

“Sit.” Time patted the bench. Helen looked at me, then at Time, before sinking slowly back down. Time fixed her gaze on me. “Stop this. Go home. You don’t belong here.”

“Why not?” I asked, anger at last overcoming jilted grief. “Why have you done this? Couldn’t you at least have the balls to be honest with me?”

“‘The balls,’ she said, her lips forming a small moue of distaste. “Such a pungent, masculine way with words.” Her eyes met mine. “Look at you. How can you live with such hypocrisy? Or have you convinced yourself you truly are wounded? I saw no moral outrage when you sat at my side, no qualms. And suddenly you’re scandalized. It’s absurd, don’t you think?”

“Don’t talk to me like that.”

“Why not? I speak the truth.”

“No, you don’t.” I advanced a step. “The truth is you wanted me. And then it changed, just like that.”

“I wanted you?” A slow smile eased itself across Time’s face. “Is that what you think?”

“You did.” I knew I sounded ridiculous — the abandoned lover, impotent and melodramatic — but I couldn’t stop. “I know you did.”

She laughed. “Listen to you. Go home, little boy.”

“Shut up!”

Time turned away, shaking her head in amused exasperation. Helen looked from me to the being beside her, apparently with no idea what to do.

“So you will not leave us alone?” Time asked, her eyes returning to appraise me. I tried to speak, shook my head instead.

Time stood and gazed down at Helen. “Come,” she said. Helen took Time’s outstretched hand and rose so that they stood together before me, the woods waving around us as the breeze swept through with growing force, leaves coming down, a branch breaking with a loud crack somewhere off in the trees. “Don’t let go,” Time instructed Helen softly. And then she raised her other arm, pointing at the spot where the sun lingered dully behind thickening clouds. There was no mistaking her intent, and before she could do anything more I launched myself at her, hitting her hard, taking her down.

We rolled a yard or two, when she tried to get to her feet I dragged her back down, throwing myself on top of her. She was strong, the thrashing of her wings made it difficult to maintain my hold. Helen grabbed at my arms, pleading for me to stop. She might have made a difference if Time hadn’t begun to laugh again. I saw her mocking face beneath me in the grass and one of my hands went to her throat. Helen yelled, “No!”, her shout seeming to come from a great distance. Time’s lips shaped words, biting, derisive taunts that enraged me more, and I saw reflected in her eyes a me so wretched and out of control that I had to blot it out. Before I realized what was happening, my free hand had clawed a large rock from the ground and begun battering Time’s sleek head. I heard screams from Helen as the face below tried to twist away from me, growing bloodied and misshapen from repeated blows. And then everything stopped.

I was on my knees astride the feathered body, its great wings flattened beneath it at odd angles, the head unmoving, its one undamaged eye vacant. Chest heaving, I looked around, found Helen frozen near me in mid-movement, face paralyzed in an expression of horrific emotion. She remained absolutely still, falling leaves hanging motionless in the air around her, the woods silent — no breeze, no birds calling, no noise of insects from the ragged September grass. I staggered up and away, collapsing a few feet along to heave up acid and bile, my stomach convulsing in long, miserable waves.

After a while, I wrenched myself to my feet and left. I passed motionless traffic, saw a newspaper delivery man frozen in mid-toss, the paper suspended in its flight, everything still as statuary.

Eventually, I found myself in my yard near the garden, standing by the hurricane fence, fingers gripping its thick, interwoven wires. Staring around shakily, gradually realizing where I was, I straightened up to draw air. That breath died when I noticed the blood. My hands, I finally saw, were sticky with it, nearly covered with clotted smears and tiny crusted feathers. Time is on my hands, I thought stupidly. My palms rubbed clumsily against each other in a futile effort to wipe the stains away. I couldn’t understand how Time’s freed blood had failed to register before then, especially its color — not the familiar human red, but gold, fading from its initial brilliance, becoming dark and muddy with exposure to air.

I don’t know how much time has passed — my watch is useless. I can’t bring myself to go into the house, don’t want to eat, so I’ve remained out here, sleeping on the grass when the fatigue becomes too much. The world around me remains motionless, arrested. When I fall asleep, it’s morning, as it is when I wake up. The hardest moments come, I think, when my eyes open from drowsing. My dreams teem with life and motion — falling out of them into this waking nonexistence is unbearable.

Sometimes my wife appears in my dreams, eyes shining softly with life. She puts her arm through mine, we walk together, and in those moments it’s almost as if all mistakes have been undone, all wrongs forgiven.

I find myself wondering if time has actually ceased or if it goes on for the rest of the world and I’ve been yanked out of it. Can that be if its custodian lies dead not far from here? I don’t know.

The traces on my hands are all I have left of the life I took for granted. Time has run out, Time flies no longer, and ahead of me stretches endless time, changeless time, barren, lifeless time.

Earlier today: me in my car, driving north on Route 14. A nice country two-lane, Route 14, winding through beautiful countryside. I passed a farm stand that sits by the road a couple of miles from here, adjacent fields of corn standing green beneath pure September sunlight and clear blue skies. No traffic ahead or behind. Just me in my little vehicle riding this strip of asphalt as it followed its cheerful course through the area’s rolling terrain. And a big, goofy smile spread itself over my face.

This tendency of mine to be so easily pleased by life sometimes gets me wondering if I should be concerned about the possibility of excessive simplemindedness. I tend not to wonder too much because I know how comparatively dark and troubled my frame of mind was in earlier years, how turbulent and dramatic a life I created for myself back then. And I know how good it now feels to be alive and in the middle of this existence.

I was headed to a medical appointment with my new G.P., a woman I’d gotten connected with over the summer. I haven’t had a G.P. since I left for Madrid in 2000 — when I went overseas, I let my then medical plan lapse and with it the doctor I’d had through that plan. A good guy, and a good G.P. And now I’ve got another good one. Smart, friendly, competent, unpretentious. And I have to say, I like the clinic she works out of. I show up on time, they take me in for my appointment pretty much immediately. A nurse takes my weight (today, minus boots, keys, pocket change: 145), ushers me into an exam room where she takes my vitals (today: temperature – 98.8; blood pressure – 90/54; sorry, didn’t get my pulse reading –- I must have one ’cause the nurse didn’t looked alarmed), writes it all down, leaves the exam room. Two, three minutes later the doctor walks in.

I’m there for a short check-up. I’m poked, I’m prodded, I’m handled, everything goes smoothly. For the finale, she decides to give me a prostate exam and I’m reminded all over again why I don’t enjoy anal penetration: the insertion of things up my bum brings me no joy or pleasure. (”At least,” my G.P. pointed out, “I have small fingers,” a blessing I will concede.) But seriously –- if I were gay, I’d be in trouble.

It’s over quickly. I skip back out into the still-beautiful day and drive back home, thinking about a call I received from my brother earlier today. It looks like the court case I mentioned here a couple of days ago is suddenly picking up steam after three years of moving at a glacial pace, and certain recent revelations have drastically turned the situation in our favor. My brother’s all excited, we’re both pleased at the prospect of this thing finishing up and disappearing from our lives in the foreseeable future.

I drive by the farm stand, my eyes fasten on the sign advertising their soft ice cream, the wheels start spinning in that teeny brain of mine. I get home, make a big plate of spinach ravioli and consume it as I pull together this entry.

It’s now 4:30. The sun is tilting toward the trees to the west of the house. Out the front window, the valley stretches away to the north, sunlight and afternoon shadows outlining the contours of the ridges that rise up from the valley floor.

They’ve got blueberry soft ice cream at that farm stand –- vanilla ice cream with real blueberries blended in, berries grown there in the fields by the stand. This is sounding extremely good to me right now. I think the time may have come for a dessert break.

Later.

I’ve been toiling away in this little life of mine, working on a never-ending stream of projects around the house. And the more that get done, the more that present themselves to get done. Stuff around the yard -– another never-ending stream, given the size of the yard and how much nicer I’d like it to look. Writing -– this journal, the novel I’ve been hacking away at, trying to find time to input older material to post online. And more. Enough to keep me going from morning ’til night most days. How this came happened I’m not exactly sure, though I’m sure home ownership plays a significant role. But it surely is different from earlier years, when I would have been much more inclined to go to a film or sit down with a book or spend time with a good woman or sit in a café or meet friends for a meal or go for a bike ride. Not that each of those things isn’t wonderful, ’cause they are, every blessed one of ‘em . Life just seems to be different right now, for whatever reasons. Not at all bad — on the contrary, which feels a bit strange to me all by itself — just different.

So. Finished and printed out the novel’s penultimate chapter, then immediately loaded my printer in the car to take it in for repair work. It was a truly beautiful late September day, the foliage continues moving slowly away from deep greens to transitional hues. As I drove down the hill to Route 14, I passed a small stand of sumac which had begun to turn red and remembered an autumn drive taken about ten years back, between Albany, N.Y. and the Boston area.

The stretch of land between Albany and the Berkshires is lovely -– rolling, gentle, hilly land that stretches east from the Hudson River toward the more mountainous terrain of western Massachusetts. I drove through on this particular weekend as the colors were hitting their peak, and I passed a long stand of sumac that had turned a vibrant, electric red. One of the most vivid displays of natural color I’ve ever seen — the kind of sight that can stop one’s breath for a moment.

This autumn has been pretty user-friendly, easy on the eyes and on the constitution, but the colors haven’t yet shown what they can do. There are small splashes of red or orange here and there, but to this point it’s been slow, relaxed, understated.

So I’m tooling along Route 14 into Barre, Montpelier’s evil twin city. The sun’s drifting lower in the sky, casting long nearly-October shadows. (As soon as the afternoon approaches 4 o’clock or so, those shadows start stretching themselves out and the warmth of the day begins to ebb, the air takes on a chill. This is that season that walks the fine, wavering line between summer and deep, true autumn.) As my car rides the two-lane down into the bowl in which Barre sprawls, Halloween decorations begin appearing in house windows, which seemed to disquiet a part of me, as if that part considers the early decorations to be a way the world around me has of accelerating the seasons. Oh please, it whimpers, Halloween will arrive soon enough. Let September be September; hold off on the cardboard witches ‘n’ black cats ‘n’ pumpkins ‘n’ ghosts ‘n’ bats. At least until October, at least for another few days. On the other hand, who cares? If it gets people smiling, produces some autumn atmosphere, gets kids excited about what’s coming, what difference does it make if front windows and front lawns get festooned with fanciful stuff?

No difference at all. It’ll be gone soon enough, replaced by Indian corn, then Christmas lights, Santa Clauses, all that.

I arrive in Barre, I find the computer store, bring my printer in, they take my info, give me a receipt, tell me they’ll call. Everything’s happening easily, smoothly. People are smiling, it’s a picture-perfect September afternoon.

Along with the printer, I had thrown a torchiere lamp into the car, because there is currently some major discounting happening throughout the state for high-efficiency, low-wattage lighting. Last week I picked up around 20 light bulbs for a paltry 20 cents each, plugging them in all over the house. That right there made me ridiculously, even absurdly happy. Then I found out there’s an exchange program going on where you can trade in your current halogen-bulb torchiere lamps for the new high-efficiency/low-wattage models, the new lamp costing a big $5.00. I’ve got four torchiere lamps here in the house, I figured I’d give this a try. This last Saturday I brought one of them in to a hardware store -– they took it away, presented me with a brand new in-box lamp, I handed them $5.00 and skipped out of there as happy as if they’d handed me a $100 bill. (I’m not defending my pathetic self here. I simply describe the situation.) I get home, pull the bugger of its box, throw it together, install it in the living room. The verdict: it looks great! The light looks great! And it cost me five bucks! I exchanged another one today, bringing home a brand new five dollar lamp that waits to be set up in one of the bedrooms.

Honest to God — the simple pleasures.

I get back home here an hour after I drove off, the sun had just dipped down behind the treetops to the west. And with that sinking, the temperature slips from chilly levels to cold ones. Like being in the desert, with that kind of sharp, fast contrast — at 3:30 it’s beautiful, temperature in the low 70s. By 5, it’s nearly 20 degrees colder. Feels like it may get genuinely brisk tonight, possibly down near freezing. I’ll probably bring in a bunch of potted plants to keep them happy and alive for one more day.

Tomorrow will bring more work, more entertainment. And the days will roll along.

The weather continues its return to more normal patterns after a dry, beautiful summer — rain’s fallen on and off since yesterday evening, the sky gray, the air soft, the temperature mild. Mist drifts slowly down the valley, wisps trailing up toward the overcast sky. The leaves continue their slow turning.

J. stopped by earlier in the day, bringing her dog, a three or four-year-old Australian shepherd. There are plenty of critters around here, but none are sanctioned to live in the space with me apart from the occasional spider. The sudden presence of a substantial-sized animal — bright, friendly, inquisitive -– changed the feel of the space completely. Plus, there’s now extra padding on the furniture in the form of dog hair — a small price to pay for the entertainment provided by the hair donor.

She’s a classic dog -– fundamentally happy, living right in the moment, chasing tossed balls with unstoppable joy and enthusiasm (and when her teeth punctured one, she had just as much fun carrying around its deflated corpse, shaking it, chewing on it), wanting to be right in the middle of whatever activity’s taking place. A superb role model in terms of demonstrating how to enjoy life minute by minute.

Good, clean fun. I’ve also continued getting to know my new computer, to this point a largely trouble-free process. It’s begun sinking in that I can play DVDs on the bugger, which today led me to inflict the first 45 or so minutes of The Matrix on J. This is a film I’ve seen far too many times (never in the theater, I’m sorry to say — always on DVD), especially certain sequences. During my time in Madrid, as part of my preparation for a stage acting gig, I bought a DVD player to study three or four examples of a certain actor’s work. DVDs, it turns out, are tailor-made for that kind of thing. No rewind, no fast-forward, at least not like with VHS — the ability to move forward or back in a film, or to pause/re-run a certain sequence, is nearly miraculous. This is old news, I know — I’m just appreciating it all over again. Bear with me.

I sold my DVD player just before I left Madrid in April, though I hung on to two or three DVDs, which made the trip back with me from Spain. Until I picked up this ‘puter, I had nothing to play them on. Now it’s time to party once more.

The single weird note in the day came from reading through documents being prepared for a mid-October court hearing, a matter that’s been in process for four years and now seems to be moving toward its wind-up. The kind of matter that inspired Dickens to write Bleak House, one whose conclusion and disappearance will feel very good.

At the commencement of this brouhaha, around 3-1/2 years ago, I functioned as the liaison between our attorney and the various parties on our side of the issue -– my brother and three of our cousins. At some point along the way, probably just before I left for Madrid in the summer of 2000, my brother took as the point-person. Man, it was a joy to release that bugger to someone else. I’m not sure I realized I needed to be liberated, but once I was I felt the difference immediately and never looked back. The matter became something that only intruded on my existence now and then until just recently, with this hearing coming up. I look forward to waving a happy good-bye to it all.

I’m alone in the house as I write this, no lights of any sort visible through the windows — just darkness. The only sound I can hear apart from the clicking of my fingers on the computer keyboard is the music of crickets and their compatriots in the grass and bushes outside. A nice kind of solitude which will only be interrupted by a phone call or two. At least until 9 o’clock, when the mayhem of the Sopranos will break the quiet.

Then on to the coming week.

Received from my best friend earlier today:

“I thought that this week should not go unsung, so I’ve decided to put Georgiana’s first week in Kindergarten into an e-mail to friends.

“Georgiana had a great last year of pre-school with a great teacher, Miss Bonnie. This is the kind of teacher that they had when they invented the Leave it to Beaver show, I imagine. Miss Bonnie gave the kids gifts at the pre-school graduation. Maria [my friend's wife] attended and said that during the ceremony all the parents cried. This is pre-school graduation mind you. This is the kind of teacher that writes notes home, calls her students at home to say hello, drops them postcards from Martha’s Vineyard. Gives them such unbelievable support that they can’t help but do right.

“We suffered over whether Georgie was ready for Kindergarten this year or should we hold her back. She is the youngest in her class. She will not have her fifth birday until October 30. She is shy. On the other hand, all her classmates in pre-school were moving on to Kindergarten. We left it up to Miss Bonnie. At the beginning of last year, she wasn’t so sure. But she put together a curriculum of play that tested Georgiana’s strengths and weaknesses and pronounced her ready by the end of the year. How much are they paying this woman? God knows, we’re not paying her much. Although at one point Georgiana said, ‘I know why I’m going to Kindergarten!’ ‘Why?’ I said. ‘Because of money!’ she said. Hmmm.

“So the big day came. And off she went. No problems. Ready to deal. Except that night she became obsessed with searching for Madeleine’s pacifier, and when she found it, she sucked it for the rest of the night. The next great day was followed by an evening where she crawled into Madeleine’s crib, and the next day when she came home from school she demanded to watch her favorite Christmas sing along video. Obviously big things are going on in that little girl. She has always told us that she has loved her new school. Until yesterday when she said she was bored. I think it is starting to sink in: she’s in this thing five days a week for a very long time. ‘I go to school when you go to work!’ she said the other day. That’s right.

“Maria thought she was ready to not take her right up and into the classroom the other day, so she gave her a big hug at the front of the school. And Georgiana went off and said, ‘Okay, Mom. ‘Bye.’ She headed to her classroom. Eight steps later she turned around to see if her mom was still there, and there was a tear in her eye.

“Oh, these life transitions. They are tough, aren’t they? At any rate, last night we went to parents night and the teachers who seemed like even better than Miss Bonnie ( I mean, where are they getting these people from?!) assured us that Georgiana was speaking up. When they told her to shout, she talked at a normal level. And that she was confident, just a ittle shy and smart as a whip.

“Georgiana is impressed because she has not one or two teachers. But FOUR teachers, if you count the adult helpers in her classroom. If I had had this kind of Kindergarten, I would be running Exxon by now. Hmmm. Maybe a good thing I didn’t. Perhaps we should be worried. I would rather Georgiana run a school for children who play violin and sing in the key of E. Oh, well.

“Hope this missive finds you all well.”

Seen on the way into Montpelier today: expanses of pumpkins at farm stands, swaths of orange standing out against the grass and the browns of nearby buildings. Also, on a roadside mailbox, perfectly located at a slight swell of land next to a busy Route 14: the season’s first Halloween decoration –- a smiling jack-o-lantern’s face, trailing ribbons of different shades of orange that rippled in the breeze. Cheerful, sunny stuff, on a cheerful, sunny September day.

Found myself thinking about Madrid quite a bit today, starting with the realization that a year ago I’d moved into my second Madrid piso, had begun exploring my new barrio, made two excursions to Ikea out in one of the ‘burbs to the northwest of the city. Right after that, the mail brought a cassette tape of news and information from Spain, a quarterly audio magazine put together by an outfit called Puerta del Sol, I assume named after the plaza/crossroads in the heart of Madrid -– Madrid’s Times Square, a combination of beautiful old architecture, centuries of history, modern commerce and touristy sleaze. A vortex of people and energy, and the place where I first realized I was smitten with the city.

I drove into Montpelier listening to the tape, the first story about “el botellón,” the amazing display of public drinking by Madrid’s teens and 20-somethings that took place every Friday and Saturday night in certain areas around the city until recently. Madrid has a reputation as party central anyway -– between that and the fact that the parents raising children in the post-Franco years (the first period of genuine freedom and well-established, relative affluence in decades) didn’t want to deny their kids anything, it led to a wide-open, anything-goes atmosphere, a time in which the kids were given free reign. They’re good kids, the Spanish kids -– smart, attractive, well-educated, well-intentioned, fun to be around, fun to watch. It was strange to observe the explosion of outdoors partying they created every weekend. So extravagant, so in-your-face. Never ill-behaved, really, that I saw, apart from the massive night-long public consumption of cheap booze and the piles of garbage left in its wake — but so wildly excessive that it was just a matter of time before the rest of the citizenry reached the limit of their tolerance. A few deaths from the taking of ecstasy at two or three large raves in the south of Spain early this year added fuel to the fire, and just before I returned to the States in April, the government decided the time had arrived to try and eliminate el botellón.

When I reached Montpelier, I parked my car and sat listening to the tape, wondering what the one or two passersby thought about the stream of loud Spanish coming out the windows. Then went to the gym, forgot about all that. Stopped in at the local supermarket afterward, walked in the door, found two women speaking loud, animated Spanish. Montpelier is way the hell up north — there’s not much around in the way of things Latino apart from a pseudo Mexican restaurant on State Street, a block or two away from the state house. I’ve never heard it spoken around town before. All of a sudden it’s making multiple appearance in my day.

On the ride back from town, a number of roadsters passed going in the opposite direction. Beautiful vehicles, vintage coupes from the 30s, perfectly cared for, painted eye-catching colors. Front ends low to the ground, looking like they’d be fun to drive. Seven or eight of them in all, randomly placed in traffic, not riding together. Must be an event of some sort going on in the area.

And more pumpkins, especially at the farm stand just a couple of miles from here. Nicely arranged in formations that spread out across the grass, extending out from the building in the warm sunlight. Looking festive, not like a harbinger of bare trees, cold weather, short days. Like autumn eye candy.

******************

Something I’ve mentioned before that bears repeating: the posts here are almost always first draft. My first drafts tend to be a bit sloppy. (Sometimes more than a bit.) I usually get back sometime the next day to clean ‘em up, maybe refine ‘em a bit. So it’s not a bad idea to give these spewings a day or two to ferment.

Unless you’re impatient, in which case you should do whatever you want.

My new copy of The Secret Guide To Computers (28th edition) arrived today. This makes the fourth time I’ve bought a copy of the bugger — each time a different edition — in part because, not being the world’s most technically-minded individual, I need a good, basic, understandable, reasonably comprehensive computer reference manual. The Secret Guide is all that, in addition to being a genuinely wacky piece of low-budget art in its own way. Its author, Russ Walter, has attitude to burn, most of it droll (example, from the first page of the book: “I hate this book. I wish this book didn’t have to exist. I wish computer companies would create pleasant hardware, software, and manuals; but until they do, scribes like me are doomed to spend our lives explaining the computer industry’s mistakes.”). The writing is not dry and it sure as hell isn’t written like a tech manual. This is good, as my teeny little brain sometimes shuts right down as soon as I try reading technical writing. Sometimes it shuts down if I even think about reading technical writing, so that when I actually have to read some of that stuff I need to sneak up on my brain, make like I’m actually thinking about doing something altogether different and then ambush it with reading material that makes it want to scream and curl up in fetal position.

But I digress.

Russ Walter not only has comic attitude, he is endearingly unattached to making huge sums of money, selling the book at discounts that quickly become steeper the more copies you buy (give them to friends! use them as conversation pieces or to prop up the short leg on that wobbly dining table!) and encouraging people to make and distribute reprints of “as many pages as you like,” asking only for the insertion of a notice at the beginning of the reprint. He even includes his home phone number encouraging calls at whatever hour of the day or night.

This is not to say he’s a saint. I’ve actually called him on two or three occasions, experiences that were a bit less than wonderful. On the other hand, someone else I know called him and had a fine experience, so what do I know?

The book is easily worth checking out. Educational, and good goofy fun.

**************************

The leaves have been turning in this area (this area being northern Vermont, about 15 miles northeast of Montpelier — just outside the Northeast Kingdom), but sparingly. Here and there a tree will be well along, but for the most part the color green still abounds. The equinox is coming on fast, the evening shadows stretch out across the ground earlier and earlier — the only thing about this time of year I’m less than crazy about.

The weather these last couple of months has been sensational — warm and dry through July and August, shifting to a more normal cycle of sun and rain during September. The last three days have all started off with fog, giving way late morning to blue, blue skies and rising temperatures. The air is clear, the ridges stretching up from the floor of the valley sharply vivid. It’s beautiful, in a way that almost leaves me speechless (and wouldn’t that be a nice change?). The temperature sails up into 70s during the day — near 80 today — then as soon as the sun moves down behind the trees to the west, the mercury coasts precipitously down, the air developing a chilly edge with surprising speed. One minute you’re out there in a t-shirt, warm (almost too warm in direct sunlight), the next you’ve got gooseflesh and a cool breeze sends you inside the house in search of a flannel shirt.

I stepped outside at dusk tonight, shortly after the nearly-full moon had hauled itself up from the ridges across the valley. Several stars shone above, the cold air had the beginning of some bite – a gentle bite, but a bite. Insects sang in the grass all around the yard. A few chickadees still came and went at the bird feeders that hang by the dining room windows, their flight a series of swoops as they made their way back and forth between feeders and the fir trees that stand in a curving line off this end of the house.

Autumn will assert itself more forcefully in the coming weeks. Montpelier and the local highways will grow busy with carloads of leaf peepers. Trees will grow starkly bare. Leaves will blow before chilly winds.

I intend to enjoy these warm days while they’re around.

Later.

Yesterday, 7:15 a.m. -– I found myself outside the house digging a trench. The electrician who spent the previous Thursday here was due to show up around 7:30 or 8 (meaning around 8:20) to finish up the work that needed to be done. One item in that list was a major cleaning up of wiring inside and outside the house -– the trench would be the new home of the cable to the water pump for the well, which until yesterday exited the house through the south wall into the fresh air, then meandered earthward until it hit the dirt about three feet away from the building and went underground.

It rained during most of the previous 24 hours, stopping around 7 a.m., just in time for me to run out there and get to work before the guy arrived. There’s been quite a bit of precipitation here over the last few days, nature beginning to balance out this summer’s miserly rainfall. The grass is looking happier, less brown and crispy, and the earth beneath it looks darker, more substantial. The rivers and lakes are rising back toward their normal levels, creeks and waterfalls are flowing the way they more normally do, swelling with the inflow of water.

The electrician showed up at the stroke of 8:20, getting right to work, maintaining a brisker tempo than his leisurely pace of last Thursday. I get the feeling he showed up that day intending to spend the entire day here and therefore settled in for a full eight-hour shift, working at a relaxed – occasionally very relaxed – speed. Yesterday, he clearly had somewhere else to go once he’d knocked off the remaining work here, and wasted far less time going about it.

There is something deeply satisfying about watching house details that need attention being taken care of one by one as the days roll by.

Sunday, two days ago, I attached the pontoons to my car and drove through pouring rain down to the central part of the state for some fun with a friend. Spent part of the afternoon in Woodstock, an attractive, affluent town that does a booming tourist trade. It was actually in between tourist seasons – that time between Labor Day and when the autumn colors crank up in earnest – which was just fine with me. Parking could be found, traffic was manageable, the main drag was not overwhelmed with folks from other places looking to soak up some New England atmosphere and air out their credit cards in the local stores/restaurants.

Had lunch in a place called, I think, the Bentley – a restaurant/tavern in an old building that apparently housed a hotel in earlier times. Good food, personable staff, the space abundant in dark wood and potted palms, prices not too elevated. Afterwards, as I spent a few minutes in the dark of the single toilet stall in the men’s room (up a steep flight of stairs, around two corners), two men entered — one from California, one from North Carolina — and struck up a conversation with each other comparing tourist notes. It was nice to sit there out of sight listening to these guys striking up a passing friendship, talking about their home regions and where they’d been traveling, as they emptied the ballast, washed up and headed back out into the day.

Guys in restrooms can be such a study. Sometimes they stand at adjoining urinals talking away (I think the protocol is that one generally doesn’t look the other in the eye at times like that). More often, though, men at urinals just stand quietly, looking up, down or straight ahead. Not to the side, generally, unless one side or the other is free of other peeing males. I’ve stood at urinals where men not only keep their faces averted from other men, they angle their bodies away as completely as they can manage. And afterward? Some wash their hands, some don’t. Of the ones who don’t, a healthy percentage not only waste no time getting out of there, they literally seem to bolt.

We’re a strange bunch, we humans.

So yesterday, maybe twenty minutes after the electrician drove away, a UPS truck brought me a brand spanking new computer. Getting that running and transferring programs/documents from my old, tired laptop has kept me well occupied. (This is, in fact, my inaugural journal entry on the new machine.) In the process, I encountered an error message that necessitated a call to tech support. I call, we’re talking, it turns out to be a bit complicated, the whole process takes some time. The fella dealing with me had a heavy Indian accent, heavy enough that I had to ask him to repeat some things he’d said. During one moment of silence, as we’re waiting for this new computer to re-boot, I asked him where the facility he worked in was located. Turned out he was in a city in southern India – someone halfway around the planet was helping me iron out the kinks in this new machine of mine. And it occurred to me how many miles our voices were traveling. All those words, inflections, tones of voice — streaming through the lines in the form or electrical impulses, through thousands of miles of cable, until they reached an instrument which reinterpreted them into the conversation we were creating together. All to persuade my new toy to play nice. Which it finally did.

We take so many amazing things for granted. This world around us is filled with miracles, some ‘mundane,’ some ‘extraordinary,’ but amazing nonetheless. At least I think so. But then I’m easily smitten by life.

Well, it’s been a spectacular September day here, the kind of day that sometimes makes me reluctant to go anywhere ‘cause I’ll miss how beautiful it gets right here around the house.

I’ve spent the day quietly, putzing around the house, sometimes being productive, sometimes being anything but (cut some firewood, waterproofed boots for the coming cold season, played hearts with my ‘puter, ate two breakfasts, blahblahblah). About an hour and a half ago, I hear a noise out on the road, the noise of a vehicle toiling. Turns out to be a tractor heading uphill, towing a serious grass-cutting rig. They go by, continue on up the road, slow down by my uphill neighbor’s house (those neighbors now gone back to the city where they spend the winter).

Uh-oh.

A few minutes later, out on the hillside behind that house, the tractor engages the cutting machinery and begins bush-hogging that uphill section of my neighbor’s land. Since then the tractor’s been moving back and forth out there, clearing the land so it doesn’t get wildly overgrown. Noise of the agricultural/industrial type, the wind blowing from that direction so it’s coming in every window on that side of the house, loudly, clearly. Kind of like the rural version of the sound of a dentist’s drill.

It’ll pass.

It’s the perfect day for that kind of work. For almost any kind of work, really. Or leisure. Breezy, temperature in the 70s. Skies blue with thin high clouds in advance of tomorrow’s forecast rain. Insects singing steadily away in the grass and undergrowth, butterflies hanging around, what birds haven’t taken off for southerly destinations are out making a living, scooting around in search of food. A good day for a hike or to plant oneself in a chair with a good book (neither of which I’ve done just yet).

Two days ago, I had an electrician in to take care of a bunch of little things that, er, have needed to be taken care of. I’m not sure what it is, but with the turning of summer to autumn, I’ve found myself on a getting-things-done-around-the-house binge. For instance, there have been wasps hanging around, as they sometimes do, and there have been points of access they’ve found in the casements around two different windows. Entry points they use to find shelter as the nights get colder and the days shorter. Some of them get into the house and start bumping against the windows in the living room, I catch them in a glass and return them to the great outdoors. Others find their way in and settle into the channels in which the storm windows and screens slide up and down, huddling together to try and stay alive as the temperature falls outside. Not a huge problem ‘cause in the cold weather they can’t fly or move quickly – if I slide the storm windows up and down, the wasps come tumbling out, I scoop them up and toss them out. But it’s become chronic enough that the time had come to find the access points and close them off. This morning I found myself awake FAR, FAR too early, and when I finally rousted myself, I got the impulse to go outside and take a look around the windows before the temperature climbed enough that the wasps would get active. Pulled out the extension ladder, snooped around and sure enough, each of the two offending windows had two small holes drilled in the wood in the horizontal track just above the aluminum casement, possibly to allow for air flow/moisture escape when the storm windows are down. Covered them up with weather stripping, also covering some other possible points of access around the casement. The wasps have been flying around the house as usual this afternoon, but so far no intruders. Very satisfying.

I’ve become such a rustic.

Tractor man has finished with the uphill section of my neighbor’s land and come downhill to the section just above my property line. Man, that’s a noisy rig.

So two days ago, I get the electrician in to take care of a bunch of small stuff that’s needed to be tended to since I bought this place 3+ years ago. Small things, but lots of ‘em, all left over from previous owners — work not completely done or not done well or done sloppily. 8:20 a.m., there’s a knock on the door, a pudgy guy shows up, the work commences. He labors steadily – not fast, but steady – knocking off one job after another. Somehow this collection of simple jobs gets longer and longer. I’ve now got outlets in a couple of places I’ve wanted them, he put in CFGI outlets in all the wet areas. I remember the house inspector I hired when I bought the place had expressed some concern about the sockets in the living room, something about them not being grounded correctly. The electrician checks them out, we discover they are indeed ungrounded, he rectifies that. And on and on, me learning in the process about further work I may want to get taken care of at a future date. Eight hours later he’s gone, leaving two or three things yet to be taken care of. He’ll be back Monday a.m. for those.

The guy reminded me very much of my friend Woody, an intelligent, kind-hearted, distinctive-looking character. There were moments when the electrician would walk into the room, I’d experience a brief, slightly disorienting moment of adjustment as I’d go through the Woody/not Woody thing. Strange.

I get the feeling Tractor Man is going to be working out there for a while. Maybe I should pull out the lawn mower and cut some grass over in that direction, make my contribution to the decibel level.

Later.

Moments from Madrid jotted down in a notebook I just came across:

My last full day there this last July, I’m walking down el Paseo del Prado on the way to a museum. A beautiful, warm July morning, around 10:15 — early for a Sunday in Madrid. The streets were quiet until I emerged at the intersection of Gran Vía and la Calle de Alcalá, where people walked, cars passed.

El Paseo del Prado is one section of a wide avenue that runs along the eastern flank of the city center, north to south. Three lanes in either direction at this part of the avenue, with a wide island in the middle containing a walkway, grass, tall old trees, some benches. Lots of shade. A nice way to cover some ground, traffic passing on either side.

I head over to el Paseo del Prado, walk along the path beneath the trees in the boulevard’s green center section. Ahead of me is a couple, Japanese 20-somethings, wearing sports-type outfits -– sneakers, fanny packs, nice sweatpant-style bottoms, identical t-shirts reading “Superstar Exercise Unit.” They stop by a bench, confer with each other, and as I pass by they begin doing calisthenics together.

Later that same day, at la Reina Sofia, I go into a men’s room, step up to the row of five urinals and notice that (a) the two Spanish males already there have arranged themselves so that any third party coming to take a pee would have no choice but to stand next to one of them, while at the same time they (b) make a big show of looking up at the ceiling or in the opposite direction when I take a berth, even angling their bodies away so there will be absolutely no chance of eye contact, much less a fleeting glimpse of bare pipe. It jogs a memory of my first foray into a public restroom in London in 1986, a lavatory of extravagant opulence at the Barbicon theater complex. The urinal: a long, gleaming slab of marble spread along one wall, well-dressed men stepping up to it, whipping out their genitalia to relieve themselves, talking, relaxed, seemingly unconcerned with restroom modesty. The polar opposite of these two guys in la Reina Sofía.

Afterward, I wander into an exhibit of photography by Elliott Erwitt. Black and white photos from the 40’s through the 90’s — large, beautiful shots, some somber or poignant, some witty, all the work of a hugely accomplished artist. I find myself standing in front of a photo taken in Moscow in 1957, a shot of two boys, one in his late teens, the other maybe 10 years younger, standing by a truck. A sad, evocative image. A man appears next to me, checking out the photo. After a moment, he sees his reflection in the glass covering the print and takes a moment to slick down his hair (thin and combed sideways across the top of his head to cover a large bald spot). A perfect moment of self-absorption, juxtaposed over the quietly emotional moment in the photo. I had to move off before my smile grew too large.

Later, at a restaurant near the museum, a joint of long standing called el 7 -– good food at reasonable prices, usually busy during meal hours with a combination of tourists and local folk, often with a line that stretches to the door. I get there, all the tables in the main dining space are taken. I wait a couple of minutes, an older waiter grabs me and seats me in a small, windowless back room containing five or six tables, all occupied save one, which he aims me at. I sit down, he drops a menu in front of me and takes off, I realize I’ve been dumped at a table from which I can only see the wall, arranged so that I can’t even really watch the other diners in this little gastronomic dungeon. For the first time in my life I begin experiencing what I can only describe as claustrophobia, and the prospect of spending an entire meal that way becomes unacceptable. I go back out into the main room, petition the head waiter for a different table.

In another ten minutes, a table in the main space opens up, they seat me there. The two waiters who service that area are covering something like 16 tables between them and are in the zone, moving quickly around the space, carting drinks and plates of food, shmoozing with customers, carrying on loud comic patter. A great scene. There are families, couples in their 60s and 70s, younger folks with backpacks. And the waiters thread their way through it all, working hard, dishing out blue collar entertainment.

As I’m eating, an elderly couples finishes up, passes my table on their way out. The husband gives me a nice smile, saying, “¡Que aproveche!” — literally, may you take advantage of it, may you use it well. Sort of a combo ‘bon appetit’ and ‘good health.’

When my meal’s done, the bill arrives, I hand bunch of euros to one of the waiters, including a 10% tip, unusually generous in Madrid. I tell him that should take care of everything, he sees the fistful of cash I’ve given him, his eyes widen a bit, he says, “¡Hombre, sí!”, and heads off repeating, “¡Hombre, sí! ¡Hombre, sí!”

Madrid. There’s no place like it.

All night long, the air outside held a sense of change coming, of weather about to take a real turn. Overcast sifted in during the course of the evening, but predicted overnight rainfall failed to show. By this morning the air hung still and thick.

It’s been exceptionally warm here these last few days, a trend that peaked on Monday with record-setting temperatures, the sun so intense that when I stepped out the kitchen door it felt like I’d walked into a blast furnace. That had to do in part with the concrete in the back stoop and the foundation on that side of the house — south-facing — soaking up hours of direct sunlight. As I moved out into the yard the effect faded, leaving me with the simple, unaugmented effect of the sun’s light, impressive all by itself for an intensity not the norm up here. That day the windows and shades in the house remained closed until the sun dipped down behind the trees to the west, when the temperature immediately dropped toward cooler levels, the air became more comfortable.

Rain finally arrived this morning, beginning softly, gradually building to a hard, steady downpour, drumming on the roof of the house in a way that made it sound like a passing train. The successive rows of ridges that spread north from this hill slowly faded into mist, became faint suggestions of rising lines, ascending to the east and west and out of sight. Since then, the rain stopped, the mist cleared. Clouds in numerous shades of gray have been drifting over the valley, the air has been washed clean of yesterday’s humidity. Bits of orange and red are spread over the hillsides, the first small signs of the coming onslaught of color.

There are times when I wish I could transcend the limitations of my writing and truly describe the way the land looks here through all its changing conditions. These strings of words don’t even really come close.

One of these days, I’ll have to get a digital camera so I can slap the occasional photo into these entries.

When I got up this morning, the temperature hovered around 55-56 degrees. Instead of coasting up into the mid to upper 80s (and occasionally beyond) as it has the past few days, it briefly rose to 60 and has since drifted down, currently 53 and falling. More like autumn in northern Vermont. I went around putting storm windows down, encountering a bunch of wasps that had managed to find their way into the aluminum tracks of the screens and windows in one casing. When I raised the screen to its cold weather position, they tumbled out, getting slowly to their feet to stumble clumsily around as they do in colder temperatures — unable to do anything aggressive, no threat to me at all. (They flew around the outside of the house yesterday, hunting for access points. The prescient little buggers knew seasonal temperatures were about to assert themselves and began the hunt for cold-weather quarters.) I scooped them up, dumped them out into the grass. They’ll have time to find another squat in the coming weeks before freezing temperatures arrive.

********

Within the last two-three days, the odd noises around the house [see journal entries of 8/14 and 8/15] have picked up after a period of relative quiet. Strange, sudden, distinct sounds, sometimes close by, sometimes off in other areas of the house. As I sat here writing about a half an hour ago, I heard the loud concussion of a door slamming off at the other end of the building. No car was in the driveway or heading away from the house, all doors were as I’d left them, the outside doors at the far part of the house remaining closed and locked.

Ten or fifteen minutes after that I noticed motion out in the yard from the corner of my eye. Glancing over, I saw three wild turkeys making their way past the barn — big buggers, looking like stooped-over old men in old-style black suits, walking thoughtfully along, heads bobbing as they went. It’s pouring outside, a hard, driving rain with a cold gusty wind — the three birds didn’t seem to notice. Which is maybe where the line about not knowing when to come in out of the rain came from.

Life. So much entertainment gets sent our way.

It’s breakfast time. I’m eating pizza. Cold leftover pizza. Can’t remember the last such breakfast. I’ll say one thing: the pie’s got more kick than my usual bowl of cereal.

I ate no pizza during my time in Madrid. While the food there is generally PDG, all the pizza I encountered appeared to be cloned from the standard American-issue Pizza Shack fare, and after years of life in Cambridge/Boston (not to mention early years in the N.Y. area), where the Pizza Shack breed of pie compares with the locally-bred version the way Spaghetti-O’s compares with fresh, hand-produced pasta, I just couldn’t bring myself to fork over the pesetas (or, since Jan. of this year, the euros) for more dough, tomato sauce and mozzarella than I generally want to suck down in one sitting.

The Spanish version of Pizza Shack/Whatever is Telepizza – call in your order, a guy on a moped shows up with a pie. Business seemed to be booming — the mopeds were everywhere, each one producing a sharp, piercing whine that preceded it and trailed in its wake, like pizza-bearing wasps. And now that I think about it, that’s a kind of sound I haven’t heard since my last time there, the second half of this past July. A rare example of something I don’t miss about Madrid.

The first time I arrived there, mid-February 2000, I took the bus into the city center from the airport. The city greeted me with an amazing display of scooters, mopeds, motorcycles, all slicing in and out of traffic with impressive indifference to the swarming multitude of cars around them, driving with an easy disregard for the rules of the road — ignoring red lights and speed limits, going in whichever direction they felt like on one-way streets, moving through lanes of traffic with a lack of concern for the laws that made stateside motorcycle riders look cautious, tentative, excessively polite. Those drivers were mostly male, but during my time living there the number of women on motorcycles and scooters increased steadily, seeming only marginally more well-behaved than their male counterparts.

What got me off on that? Oh, right -– pizza.

The Rainbow Sweets Café offers pizza on Friday and Saturday nights only, and the pie is good enough to go out of the way for. The last time I sampled any: this past December, going with two friends from Ireland who hoovered down enthusiastically extensive amounts of pizza and dessert. Which brings up another strong point of this eating establishment: their sweets — world-class creations, drastically superior to the normal restaurant fare, as good as the high-quality confections I got used to in Spain. My friend Dermot, who has done some traveling, swore up and down that evening that the Café’s desserts were as good as any he’d had anywhere, then put on his game face and plowed through three of them. He’s a big boy, Dermot, a high-capacity lad, but that remains an awe-inspiring feat.

So I went last night with J., we ordered a pie. A short time later the owner brings it over mounted on a contraption I’ve never seen before, a large bent metal thingie — the pizza in its pan resting on the top section of the holder, elevated nine or ten inches above the table –- that makes it look like the Starship Enterprise coming in for shore leave. We dig in, it’s tasty enough that all conversation dies away. About three pieces along, I’m sitting, chewing, experiencing a bit of low-cuisine satori, when the pie starts moving. And as J. and I watch, the pie and its pan slide backward off the bent-wire contraption, dropping to the floor with the kind of clatter that stops all activity, drawing all eyes to it. One of those moments that unreels in slow motion, your senses taking in the disaster as your brain realizes that you can do nothing to halt it.

We’re sitting there, mouths open, eyes wide in surprise, both holding partially-consumed slices. One of us manages to get out an amazed, “We didn’t touch it!” A woman at the other occupied table says, “I was watching! They didn’t touch it!” We continue staring at the point in space where just a moment earlier a pizza had hovered, astonished smiles slowly taking form on our faces. The proprietor comes over, also smiling, picks up the guilty mechanism, tells us they’ll bring us another pie. Ten minutes later a replacement hit the table, the hoovering recommenced, life moved along.

Later, back at home, a strange display of clouds and light had collected in the northern and western sky, masses of vague, ghostly illumination, shifting around slowly enough that the movement was hard to pinpoint. To the west: enormous shafts of faintly peach-colored shafts of light extended well into the sky from above the trees. To the north: less distinct, more mysterious. Turned out to be a modest, spectral display of the northern lights, jogging the memory of the only other time I’ve seen them, fifteen or more years ago during a late August visit with friends about twenty miles north of here. As I left my friends’ house one crisp evening, heading to a tent I’d pitched in a secluded stand of pine trees, I noticed movement in the sky, very faint. Light, like the light you see on the ripples moving across a lake before a breeze, emanating out from the northern horizon and spreading across the sky, slowly fading as it went. Eerie, the night around me completely silent. People talk about seeing spectacular demonstrations of the northern lights here -– the examples I’ve so far seen have been delicate, almost timid. I look forward to a big, sloppy, multi-hued extravaganza.

The clock reads 11 a.m. During the last three hours, the mercury has risen from the mid-40s to nearly 80. This may be a day to make a trip to a swimming hole. Or at least attach a sprinkler to the garden hose.

We’ll see.

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