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Goddamn, what a beautiful day. Blues playing on the radio, kitchen door open allowing in cricket music and sunlight that wanes and swells with passing clouds. Each time the light pouring in the windows brightens, I find my already fine frame of mind brightening with it, at times sending me out the door and down the stoop to the grass that spreads away in all directions, my feet pulling me off in whatever direction calls. Me feeling like I might lift up away from the ground with the slightest breeze, simply take off with no effort whatsoever, the house, barn and yard receding as the Vermont air takes me.

Four pair of newly waterproofed boots and shoes sit arrayed on the concrete steps of the stoop. Inside, books, CDs, notebooks, pens/pencils, software manuals, a basket of biscotti can all be found comfortably strewn on the dining room table and the nearby wing of the kitchen counter. Tomatoes grouped by the kitchen sink ripen to a deep, soft red.

Out the front window, the green hills that flank this valley wander away to the north, shadows created by passing clouds drifting slowly across their slopes.

A long weekend, feeling light, relaxed, untethered. Ahhhhh, yeah.

*******

The latest installment of the Not That You Asked Dept.

– recordings that have recently spent some time on my CD player:

Concert By The SeaErrol Garner

TraceSon Volt

Thirteen Tales From Urban BohemiaThe Dandy Warhols

The Last Great Concert, Vol. I & IIChet Baker

Live At The Point — Christy Moore

MusicforthemorningafterPete Yorn

Yankee Hotel FoxtrotWilco

RitualMísia

Goldberg VariationsGlenn Gould

Veni Vidi ViciousThe Hives

Once again I found myself up at an ungodly hour, managing to coerce myself out the door into the car, down the highway, into the gym in Montpelier just after the opening hour of 7 o’clock.

Something I’ve noticed: I can bumble around the house at an early hour like that, getting myself ready to go out and do whatever it is I’ve gotten myself up to go out and do, and I seem to be moderately awake and functional. I shower without spraying water around the bathroom, I shave without spraying blood around the bathroom, I take care of the lower functions without spraying effluent around the bathroom. I dress myself properly, I manage to toss some vitamins down my throat. It’s only when I step out the door that it becomes clear I’m nowhere near awake and clear-headed, that in fact I’m bleary enough to be a danger to myself and anyone that comes near.

(This morning: I step out the laundry room door into the garage, immediately begin knocking things over with my gym bag. I hear the sound of something falling over, I turn foggily to look and knock something else over. I turn foggily to look at the second sound and knock something *else* over. Embarrassing.)

I manage to get the car out the garage without hitting anything, make it down the hill to Route 14, pull out onto the blacktop, and am bowled over once again at how beautiful it is around here. Fog drifts through fields in ghostly fashion. Mist rises from hillsides beginning to show hints of autumn color. Patches of blue and sunlight leak through skies dramatically crowded with autumnal overcast. Spectacular.

At the gym I was, I think, the first person in the door. The young woman at the counter who punched my card wore no smile, made no conversation. (Who can blame her? Starting a Saturday work shift at 7 a.m. wouldn’t be my idea of a great time.) Around 7:30, a sudden influx of people poured into the facility. Most were out the door again by 8, maybe coming to their senses and fleeing back home to bed. By the time I walked out the door at 9, the sun shone, some folks walked the streets, the farmers market was open.

Did errands, got food, drove home in time for the weekly infusion of radio goofiness (Car Talk; Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me). The sky clouded up. The temperature, after floating hopefully into the lofty mid-60s, settled back down to the 60 mark. (A mild 60, but still.)

Autumn’s been gently elbowing summer aside. If the recent weather trends persist, the elbowing may become more ill-mannered, more drastic. Already, one of the trees I can see from my seat here at the dining room table — peering out the window past the barn to the property line — is showing touches of color, leaves out at the ends of some branches gradually turning yellow/orange.

Whichever way it goes — summer holding on, autumn pushing it aside — it will be beautiful.

Further signage spotted in Montpelier, VT:

– One more from the window of Charlie-O’s, a bar on

Main Street (”Good drinks and bad company since the

war between the States”):

Welcome Demonic, Sadistic, Wild Motorcycle Crazies –

Your Money Is Good Here

It’s been feeling like late September these last few days. Remember my entry of last Saturday, when I went on about predicted cold weather not arriving? It showed the following night, the mercury dropping down into the low 40s. Some neighbors stopped by Sunday a.m. for a brunch kind of thing, folks who live at the bottom of the hill — they mentioned that when they woke up the thermometer outside their window read 39 . Cold snaps are normal in August in these parts but this one apparently decided it liked here and has lurked about ever since. The nights have gone well down into the 40s, most of the days have not made it above 60.

The finches and hummingbirds are still hanging around, despite the early cold. The crickets and their singing insect brethren remain out there in the grass cranking out late summer music 24 hours a day. A nice soundtrack for Mars-gazing, something I intended to do a bit of last night. Woke up after 3, pulled my drowsy carcass out of bed, took a glance out the window to see that fog had drifted in, thick enough to wipe any possibility of checking out anything the sky might have to offer. Poop.

Tonight. Or tomorrow night. Whenever a clear sky presents itself and I happen to be awake.

So the Vermont warm season is gradually fading, the cold months are on deck. Last week the first batch of local apples and apple cider appeared at the farm stand up the road. Monday the first pumpkins appeared on the lawn at the same business, about two hundred of them, practically aglow with a cheery, eye-catching orange in the soft afternoon sunlight.

Also this last Monday, kids appeared at local roadsides waiting for 8 a.m. school buses, looking less than enchanted about the situation, backpacks slung over shoulders.

Wednesday, driving along a twisty two-lane between here and a neighboring town, I came upon a tree whose top quarter was crowned with orange leaves. Brazenly tarted up for autumn, the first of the season to take plunge.

Later that same day, driving slowly home up a narrow, rocky fourth-class road not far from here, a hawk plunged out from trees on the right-hand side of the road, gliding directly in front of me for 20-25 feet before alighting in an overhanging tree. I stopped, put the car in neutral, peered up at it, just ten or so feet above me to the left. For 30 or 40 seconds, we checked each other out, the hawk apparently not sure what to make of this encounter, expression fierce but body occasionally bobbing back and forth with uncertainty until it finally lifted off and disappeared through the trees to the left, visible briefly through the leaves as a silhouette moving away, wings stationary as it rode a breeze.

Labor Day weekend looms. This summer has slipped by at a startling velocity. And a lovely, graceful summer it was, at least up in the northerly lattitudes.

Signage spotted recently in Montpelier:

– In the window of Charlie-O’s, a bar on Main Street

(”Good drinks and bad company since the war between the States”):

CHARLIE-O’S

CAFÉ TABAC

A CIGAR BAR

NOW SMOKIER THAN EVER

– At one end of the Granite Street Bridge, facing the traffic light on Memorial Drive:

Originally: STOP HERE FOR GREEN LIGHT

Someone white-painted out the last word and painted in a shaky-lettered

replacement, the sign now reading: STOP HERE FOR GREEN BUDS

An especially cryptic bumper sticker seen

this morning in Plainfield, VT:

I POKE BADGERS WITH SPOONS

Sign seen in a dentist’s office shortly after

bumper sticker sighting

(caption beneath a photo of a cat playing

with a toothbrush, mouth wide open,

brush bristles lodged firmly among the

cat’s teeth)

BRUSH AFTER EVERY MOUSE

A teensy little linkfest:

Takin’ pictures through the windshield.

Arrrrr! Only 24 days to go!

(In the meantime, you can study up on the translation of some common phrases.)

Within the last few days, the local weatherfolk have lain predictions of extreme temperatures on us up in these parts. Thursday was supposed to be torrid, driving the mercury well up into the 90s. Didn’t happen. Last night, we were warned, would be a cold bugger, reaching down past 40 F, well into the 30s. Didn’t happen. At least not around here. When I raised the dining room shades this morning at the hideous hour of 5:50 a.m. and trained my bleary eyes on the thermometer, its little needle pointed casually at the 48 degree mark. Chilly, yes, but not out of line for this time of year. Not chilly enough to affect the temperature in the house, at least with the windows prudently closed. On impulse, I stepped outside into the fresh early a.m. air and attempted to drag myself up to something approximating functional consciousness. Still air; soft, swelling sunlight; air cool, but not unpleasantly so. Not enough to need more than a t-shirt beneath a long-sleeve shirt, certainly not enough to produce breathmist. A pair of hummingbirds were already partying at the sugarwater dispenser over the in the big, hulking lilac bush. Finches were ranged around the fir trees that make up the wind break at the end of the house, subdued but gamely pretending they were actually awake. The sky looked autumnal, and why not? August is in the home stretch, the days are sprinting toward September and the de facto end of the summer season of Labor Day weekend.

I was up at that unspeakable hour because I’d passed on going to the gym yesterday afternoon, which meant I had to drag myself there today. I’d decided to get it out of the way early, pre-Sat.-a.m. rush, then take care of errands and get myself home by mid-morning. I’d prefer to be in bed at that hour, so I’m always a bit stunned when I find myself instead putting my bod through what some might consider to be strenuous exercise. And stunned is the word. There are moments between sets when I stare around in half-awake disbelief, remembering all over again why I don’t inflict this kind of early-morning punishment on my little body very often. It’s not civilized. It’s not humane. And, damn, it feels good to walk out of there into the rest of the day, morning shadows stretching across the parking lot, the first few early, early autumn leaves being lightly driven across asphalt by a light, cool breeze.

And yeah, leaves are just beginning to turn around here. At certain sections of the drive between here and Montpelier, yellow leaves are becoming clearly visible in the summer greenery, starting to blow through the air when the wind finds its way through the trees. A reminder of where we are: Vermont, just outside the sprawling, open-air refrigerator called the Northeast Kingdom.

Montpelier is in its August mode, folks away on vacation, the streets quieter than they were in July, quieter than they’ll be in September. It was a lowkey version of the Saturday morning bustle thing, more like early-Sat.-morning Madrid than Montpelier’s usual Sat.-a.m. self. When I walked down the steps from the gym, a UPS delivery guy hopped out from his truck, a box under one arm — the only other person in view. Out on Main Street, a few more people could be seen, a few cars drove by. Two extremely obese women, appearing to be mother and daughter, sat side by side in wheelchairs in front of Brooks pharmacy, apparently soaking up some sun. Quiet, one occasionally making a murmured comment to the other. Other folks walked about in shorts and sandals, ignoring the by cool temperature, by then up into the low 60s.

Post-errands, back in my car, the laughter of the knuckleheads from Car Talk spilling out from the radio, I made the drive back here, parking the car out in front of the garage (leaving the garage door open, the concrete floor still drying out from seepage left by the four weeks of intense rain that ended eight or nine days ago) beneath a blue, cloud-dappled sky.

The temperature has worked its way up to the 70 mark, the trees rustling in the cool breeze that continues to blow. Mourning doves call out now and then, finches come and go at the window feeders. Crickets sing in the grass. Otherwise it’s quiet.

Late summer tilting toward fall, the green hills of Vermont spread out all around, life moving placidly on.

This year’s version of the Fringe is up and running, steadfastly ignoring the winding down of August.

The Virtual Occoquan, on the other hand, is meeting August’s waning head on. (Warning to punctuation purists: the VO seems to be turning into a direct-address-comma free zone.

A week ago the first of two waves of guests passed through. A brief visit, 24 hours. Featuring loads of interesting conversation. At times extremely interesting.

For example. We’re here at the dining room table, where I sit to write, go online, fart around with the computer. (Not necessarily to dine — that often takes place in the kitchen, me standing at the counter, reading or (more painfully) thinking. Or out on the back stoop, me sitting, taking in the day or (more painfully) thinking. Or in the living room, me planted on the floor in front of the T and V (not thinking).) The bird feeders that hang outside the two dining room windows were seeing heavy use, bunches of feisty finches and chickadees wrangling over sunflower seeds. Mourning doves and the resident chipmunk picked away in the grass below, hoovering up seeds sprayed about by the winged pigs duking it out at the feeders. Hummingbirds came and went at the sugarwater dispenser in the nearby lilac bush, often pausing to hover curiously outside the windows, peering in at us. A lot of entertainment, which had us talking about critters, about the wildlife that supplies a lot of the background here. It occured to me that I haven’t seen any blue jays this year, birds that made themselves real pains in the butt in past warm seasons. We get talking about them — beautiful birds, though often lacking in charm – me appreciating a jay-free summer. Within a few minutes, my friend G. looks out the window, says something along the lines of “Uh-oh.” A blue jay starts making its obnoxious noise from the bushes out there. First time all summer.

Hmmmm.

Another time we got talking about spiders. Mostly in appreciation, ‘cause they’re fascinating critters. I confessed that there is some part of me that gets a teeny bit creeped out by them, something to do with the their archetypical form, manner, way of moving. Meaning I appreciate them, I let ‘em live in my living space (or put them outside in lieu of squashing them) without problem, but I don’t especially want them crawling on me. Within the hour they were showing up seemingly everywhere I looked. This continued during the following days, reaching its peak just as the second wave of visitors were about to hit the road — sometime between Saturday night and Sunday midday, a seriously sizeable black and yellow spider threw together a web on the outside surface of the screen door for the house’s front entrance, produced an egg sack about the size of a golf ball (with a hard surface, not your typical soft/squishy job), perching itself just above eye-level once it settled in, post-home-building. So that anyone going up or down the stairs got a startling eyeful of black/yellow spiderosity.

I de-webbed the storm door screen, tossed the family-sized egg sac into the long grass out in front of the house, caught the spider in a glass, took it a couple of hundred feet down the hill, deposited it in some bushes.

I regret relocating the bugger without taking some photos first — I’ve been unable to find it any field books, hard copy or online, and it was a beautiful, impressive creature.

One more bit of goofiness: something got us marveling at the way holiday decorations/store displays have been showing up earlier and earlier — Halloween, Christmas, all that. That bit of chat took place on Friday, shortly before my friend packed up and headed in the direction of Montreal. I go into Montpelier to pick up groceries for the next visitors, walk into the town’s supermarket where I’m met with some near-mountainous displays of Halloween candy, all visible display surfaces extravagantly covered with black silhouettes of bats, etc.

August 15. Halloween candy. We’re a wacky bunch, we capitalist running dogs.

From News Quirks (odd, strange, curious and weird but true news items from every corner of the globe), a column in Seven Days, an alternative newsweekly based in Burlington, VT:

A Few Monkeys Shy of Infinity — Intending to test Thomas Huxley’s notion that an infinite number of monkeys given an infinite number of typewriters would eventually produce the complete works of William Shakespeare, researchers at Plymouth University in England gave six monkeys one computer. The monkeys eventually produced just five pages of text, none of it a recognizable word. “They pressed a lot of S’s,” researcher Mike Phillips said, noting that when the researchers first placed the computer in the monkeys’ enclosure at the Paignton Zoo, the lead monkey bashed it repeatedly with a stone. “Another thing thye were interested in was defecating and urinating all over the keyboard.”

Written last Monday evening:

Today: A difficult day. The kind of day some people refer to as “ONE OF THOSE *#@^!! DAYS,” if you know what I mean. Got a little better after 2 p.m. — up until then, however, my internal dialogue went something like this:

It’s okay. Don’t worry, it’s okay.

(FUCK!!)

Hang in there. It can’t go on like this all day. It’ll get better.

(FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! This SUUUUUUUCKS!!)

Really, you’re all right. Everything’s fine. This will all pass.

(Jumpin’ JESUS, what is going ON HERE? What the FUCK is going ON?)

Etc.

Written today:

After four weeks of daily, often torrential rain, water seepage began collecting on the garage floor for the first time ever. Big spreading puddles. To the point that, as the rain continued and the puddles expanded, the place began to feel like a swamp or a dungeon. Dank. Nasty.

Finally, after one final bout of heavy-duty rainfall moved through Wednesday morning, the weather changed. Abruptly, completely. Someone switched the sun on, the clouds vanished, the intense humidity of the last month evaporated. Leaving jaw-droppingly classic summer conditions.

Perfect weather. And that was the story for the rest of the week. Company showed up on Thursday, leading to an evening out in Montpelier whichended with a meal at The Chef’s Table, one of the three eateries associated with the New England Culinary Institute — the high-end one. Nouvelle cuisine, I guess, which I often tend not to be wildly keen on. Sheer pleasure in this case, though. Students do the cooking and serving, they want to do it right. They’re earnest, hard-working, endeavoring to be professional but endearingly rough around the edges. Except for the meal itself, which was superb. Killer. Easily the best meal I’ve had all summer, me made even more obnoxiously ecstatic by the fact that my visitor bought me dinner. (Woo-hoo! Thank you, G. — I grovel with gratitude.)

Friday. Perfect weather, day 3. Went to Nichol’s Ledge – a hike of ten 10 to 15 minutes up a fairly challenging grade with a payoff of one of the two or three most spectacular views I’ve seen here in Vermont. Thankfully, Nichol’s Ledge is well off the beaten track, not at all overrun by people. In fact, unless you’re a local it’s unlikely you’ll know about the place.

My visitor took off post-hike, leaving me to more routine life. Gym, lawn-mowing, blahblahblah. You don’t want to know.

This morning: rain, humidity have returned. Damp. Gray. Hazy air. Which did not stop me from sticking a small pear tree and some herbs in the ground. (Yes, I’m living the rustic life. So sue me.)

More company will be arriving within the hour, here until sometime tomorrow. August is tilting toward September, suddenly friends/loved ones are coming out of the woodwork making threatening noises re: undertaking the several-hour shlep to Casa Runswithscissors. Until Columbus Day. Once the fall display of color run amok has past peak, the desire to head north seems to wither quickly away. Until next summer. (What’s with the three-word sentences beginning with ‘Until’?)

I blather. Time to go prepare for the next wave of visitors. Later.

Not that you asked:

Recently read:

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay — Michael Chabon

The Haunting of L. — Howard Norman

The New Yorker — various issues

The Revenge of The Baby-Sat (Calvin & Hobbes) — Bill Watterston

The Dreaming Universe — Fred Alan Wolfe, Ph.D.

McSweeney’s #10 (McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales) — Edited by Michael Chabon

Seven Days

[Confession: I did not make it through The Dreaming Universe]

Recently watched:

Panic

Far too many episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Rumpole of the Bailey

Monty Python and The Holy Grail, Special Edition

Prime Suspect 4: Scent of Darkness

Robin Williams Live On Broadway

A few days back, I dragged myself into Montpelier for a haircut, something that almost always feels like a major deal to me, something I tend to put off until my hair — my thick, wavy, blessedly abundant hair — has become a hulking, aggressive mass of badly-behaved cranial adornment.

I hadn’t been sheared since April, when I went to a clip joint a few blocks from my piso in Madrid and a slightly chunky 30ish woman gave me an excellent cut. Clip joints, for some reason, are unbelievably plentiful in Madrid — they’re everywhere, seeming at times to pop up overnight like mushrooms — and almost every one I’ve walked into has given me a disastrous cut. So disastrous that I’ve needed to flee home immediately afterward, grab a pair of shears, attempt damage control. The cut this last April was the first decent one I’ve received in all my time in Madrid. The very first, a smart-looking job leaving me nothing to repair. I was not bright enough to get the woman’s card, didn’t remember her name, and when I stopped at the shop for a trim before heading back to the States in June I didn’t see her around. Rather than try a different person and risk another disaster, I went home and trimmed it myself, which turned out okay. And remained okay until sometime in July when it grew big, bulky, rude, unkempt.

I like change. I like contrast — at least once I make the move away from whatever rut I’ve settled into. I tend to get into a comfortable place, stay there for a while, then as the time approaches to make a change of any real size — haircut, beginning a new writing project, heading across the Atlantic for several months — I tend to drag my feet until they can no longer be dragged. And once I’ve lurched my way through whatever the shift we’re talking about, I discover all over again how great it is to have a change of scenery/routine.

So my hair. It grows at an amazing rate, and the weeks and months post-cut see it going all sorts of phases, loads of ‘em phases I like. The longer it gets, however, the more unfavorable the ratio between nuisance and great visuals becomes until we arrive at the point where another cut is unavoidable. At which time I usually get a drastic shearing and rediscover how much fun the so-short-it’s-spiky look is and how little care it needs when it’s that length.

It had gone well beyond the point of manageability by the time I made the trip to Acme Hair this last week. Tamsen — proprietor, source of haircuts and nonstop entertainment — gave me a fast, short shearing that I went home and improved upon, leaving me with an extremely, extremely short do. So short that a couple of nights later, mid-early-hour shuffle to the bathroom, I turned on the light, got a fast glimpse of a stranger in the mirror and jumped in half-asleep surprise. Literally jumped, as if I’d just spotted an ax-murderer.

I’ve adjusted. I jump no more. My hair is totally bitchen. Life goes on.

Still talking about the weather

Sent by a loved one in North Carolina:

“The storm you spoke of [Note: see entry of August 2 -- rws] has been a more than weekly… day after day being more like it… event here. Flood warnings are issued nearly every day for somewhere within a few counties’ reach. In Greensboro, we have had 43 inches of rain already this calendar year. The record for any calendar year since records were begun to be kept was for 58 inches and that was about 100 years ago. Since we have almost 5 more months in this calendar year… I shall not be surprised if that record is broken. As this trend began in late August of 2002, I’m guessing we may have already broken some 12 month records. Ben had gone to a conference in Utah, where it is bone dry and brown from dying spruce. He said when he arrived at the

airport here, the entire building smelled of mold.

“It is all very interesting.”

Yes, it is. (Least I think so.)

Bothered by alien mind control? Move beyond aluminum foil to more serious headgear!

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