far too much writing, far too many photos

Two, two and a half weeks ago, after three+ months of mostly gray, rainy days, the weather gods did a 180, suddenly showering us with sunshine and user-friendly temperatures. A turnabout that has quickly become the norm — classic late summer conditions, warm days giving way to cold nights, mornings fogbound, sunlight slowly burning through. (With a rhythm of several warm days broken by a sudden cold snap, temperatures slowly recovering after a night near freezing and a morning of October-like cold.) There’s a bittersweet edge to all this, coming so late in the season — autumn has been edging its way in, the days growing noticeably shorter. The first small splashes of color appeared three to four weeks ago — during this last week they’ve spread, some trees have begun letting go of leaves. Autumn is settling in, behind it hovers the long cold season.

(Bittersweet? The end of August is upon us, a part of me is stunned and ready to freak the fuck out at the stealthy speed with which the days have skidded past. If I stay in the moment and do what needs to be done, one step at a time, I’m okay. If not, my little brain gets going like an unhappy, hyperactive mixmaster, spinning out unhelpful nonsense.)

I’ve found myself driving backroads, tooling through woods, farmland, small villages. The car windows open, the tangy, sour odor of manure drifting in now and then with the breeze. I found my chosen route closed for roadwork during a drive several days back, sending me down a route I’d never traveled, me grabbing the local road map to figure out where in hell I was, where I wanted to go. Followed one road to a gravel road the map showed becoming a track that trailed through backcountry for a mile or so, finally joining up with another gravel road. Swung onto the gravel road, passing a hilltop farm, moving through green land empty of homes, coming upon another farm, the road curving around it out of view.

Around that bend the road forked, the division to the left becoming the farm’s driveway, petering out in the front yard. The division to the right became dirt, then mud, two rough-looking ruts divided by overgrown grass that passed through long, deep-looking pools of water before disappearing between trees and out of sight. Hardly even qualified as a track, and its condition did not give me a good feeling. The trees crowded both sides of it, a glance along showed no clearance for turning around. A fast stop to knock on the door of the house and inquire about the condition of the track produced no response. Tried again. Still nothing. I stepped away from the door, called out a hello, no one answered apart from chickadees in a nearby tree. Decided not to risk a trip into those trees, hung about for a few minutes instead taking photos before following the gravel road back out to other, more secure ways home.

The work I’ve been hacking away at here has progressed enough (and the weather has become user-friendly enough) that I’ve begun tackling tasks outside beyond the normal warm-weather outdoors labor. Scraping paint, the first step in repainting one wall of the small kinda-barn — much bigger than a shed, much smaller than your run-of-the-mill barn, home to horses in an earlier incarnation — across the yard from the house.

Scraping paint. This is where I begin to see the value of extra hands, and I note once again how smoothly my entire social network has managed to avoid coming up to visit during this time of ongoing calorie burning.

It has its transcendent side though: stepping out the kitchen door into sunlight and warm air, into the music of late season insect music (crickets and their cousins, hidden away in the grass). I bring no radio, just walk to the barn, the view across the valley opening up to one side as I move away from the house, the trees of the woods towering off across the gravel road to the other side, blue sky arching overhead. The sound of my footsteps in the grass, the sound of scraper on wood, the constant background soundtrack music of the late summer insect world. I like it. Don’t care so much for doing the work solo (which leads to taking long, frequent breaks). But being outside in northern Vermont’s version of late summer? Amazing.

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Yesterday evening, northern Vermont:

España, te echo de menos

Barn, late August, northern Vermont:

España, te echo de menos

[continued from previous entry]

Further adventures: weeks ago, during the first throes of digging through accumulated STUFF, I plowed through a large crate stuffed with years of accumulated correspondence. Letters, cards, postcards. (Not a collection that’s had much added to it recently, email having taken over for most written contact.)

Spent hours sorting through that box, three or four evenings in all, neck-deep in a kind of personal archaeology. Digging down through strata of this life’s earlier years, unearthing a sprawling pile of artefacts — some banal (letters from the ‘rents reporting on normal daily hooha), some fun (dispatches from certain individuals, rife with goofiness), some poignant (notes from close friends and one-time lovers). Rediscovering connections that had been a normal part of existence in other times — some now long snuffed out, others still in working order though with less frequent contact.

Came across many letters from a high-school friend — someone I’d enjoyed, valued, even looked up to the teensiest bit. Sharp, funny, caustic. Kept one letter, then followed an impulse with the rest. Bundled them together, located him via the web. Wrote a note wishing him the very best, stuffed everything in an envelope, tossed it into the mail.

One evening, several days later, the phone rang. A voice answered my hello, sounding a bit cautious. Himself, it turned out. Had received the package that morning and followed an impulse of his own.

It was good to hear his voice again, and fun to catch up a bit. The cautiousness I noted in his voice carried through the conversation, feeling as if he were taking care to remain… I don’t know, respectful maybe. Which I appreciated — the very last time I’d seen him in 3-D, eons ago, his caustic side took over partway through the visit, something I’d experienced other times but never with so much focus or anger. Wasn’t much fun, and in its wake I kind of let the connection go. I figured we’d be in touch again or we wouldn’t, time would tell. Either way, I wished him well. I read excerpts from a book he’d co-authored at one point during the intervening years, enjoyed them, recognized the entertaining smartmouth I’d known — the same person responsible for that stack of letters I culled from my crate of correspondence, inspiring me to inflict all those written time-capsules on their author.

Did something similar with another old friend, an important connection for many years and a letter-writer like you wouldn’t believein years past. She and another woman — them friends from childhood — were two of the more important people in my existence for a long chunk of time, between them accounting for a hefty percentage of my stash of old letters. They’ve slipped out of contact, both not answering phone messages I left in the days before returning to Madrid three or four years ago. Since then: silence. Apart from a passing encounter in Montpelier last summer, that is, with the woman in question — me hearing a voice calling my name as I walked along Main Street, staring around nonplussed until I spotted a head sticking out of a car window across the main drag, down the street a bit, me crossing through traffic, approaching the car, finally realizing who it was. Didn’t know exactly what to say or expect — she turned out to be sweetly effusive, exchanging a few sentences, taking my hand, kissing it, then taking off.

Wading through the mass of letters in her handwriting, I found a classic, starting off “Hey, armpit,” going comically downhill from there. Stuffed it into an envelope with a short note telling her why I was going through her old letters, wishing her the very best in every possible way. Dumped it into the mail.

Since then: silence. Which is okay — a response is not required, she gets to make contact or not. It’s just interesting to see who does/who doesn’t.

A few days after all that correspondence-wading, etc., I came across a stack of old notebooks, some from university. Sat down and paged through them, keeping a few, dumping the rest into the recycling bin. One fell open to a page about three-quarters of the way back — a single page covered with handwriting, the only one among blank pages. Written, turned out, by a woman I was involved with during my second year at school — a six-month relationship, living together in the dorm for part of that time. Heavy on sex and drama, the two of us so young, with little idea how to do the relationship thing but giving it our best. A bright, sweet soul who wound up marrying someone from school, a guy I knew and liked.

She’d written that letter one day when I was out at classes, choosing a page toward the rear of a little-used notebook so that it would not be found right away, would instead be stumbled across at some point in the future — a fairly distant point in the future, as it worked out. A sweet letter, about loving and perseverance, inspiring in me tender feelings for the soul who’d written it.

On impulse, I ripped the page out of the notebook, found her address in the alumni directory. Stuffed her note in an envelope with a hastily-scribbled hello of my own explaining how I’d come across her letter, wished her the very best, shoved it into a mailbox.

One evening, a week, ten days later, the phone rang, a female voice asked for me. Didn’t sound like the person I remembered at first, as we talked that changed. Not a lengthy conversation, but one of good will, making me smile from start to finish.

Something I’ve discovered in recent months: there are very few individuals who have passed through my life for whom I would wish ill, regardless of the role they may have played during their time in my little clownshow. I like that.

I’ve come across all kinds of interesting items during this process of culling, including an old tissue box commandeered by my mother at some point in the dim, distant past, used as a stash for Christmas present bows. Old enough that it bears a price stamp reading “2/39¢” — ancient, in other words. Feels like sacrilege, somehow, to get rid of it — but it’s going. Along with lots of other STUFF.

And the work continues.

España, te echo de menos

[continued from previous entry]

Next trip: a completely different welcome crew, looking more like types with varying relationships to the biker way of life, including two grizzled late-50-somethings, from their appearance both individuals who lived the life, maybe were still living the life. Neatly enough dressed (her in a faded, summery kind of dress, him in jeans, workshirt w/ sleeves rolled up, denim vest, chunky boots) both in the 5′5″ to 5′6″ range, carrying a bit of extra midriff padding.

The first item I handed over, a large framed photograph, evoked childlike oooo’s, and as the process proceeded, it became clear I was dealing with individuals who moved and acted like kids in grown-up bodies. Well-meaning, kind of sweet. A bit clumsy and self-conscious, like children in bodies they hadn’t completed mastered. I handed some star-shaped ceramic candleholders to the guy, his thick fingers tried to hold onto them, awkward, him trying to focus. He made it over to the table, dropped them, one falling to the ground, bits of ceramic flying off. His expression confounded and guilty, he stooped over to gather it up, straightened, dropped on the table with the others as if releasing a hot coal.

Gave them the last items, drove away, watched them in the rearview mirror, still appearing like a bunch of unsupervised kids, the desire to be responsible warring with more anarchic impulses, all of it showing in how they acted with each other. And then they were out of view.

[continued in next entry]

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This morning, northern Vermont:

España, te echo de menos

Yesterday morning: arrived at the gym, found the in-house stereo blasting big-hair music. From the ’70’s, from the ’90’s, and especially from the ’80’s. Power chords, overwrought high-voiced male singers. Not generally what I’m looking for first thing in the morning, not the kind of stuff I tend to play at home or tune in while driving. I surprised myself by reacting with a sleepy, smiling, shoulder-shrugging acceptance. For 90 minutes, I figured, I can deal.

This morning, 4 a.m. — woke up with a particular big-hair anthem going through my head on a repeating loop. (One of the tunes heard yesterday morning, I suspect.) Dragged myself out from under the covers, made the short hike to the loo, dumped the ballast, my inner jukebox cranking out that same number as a wee hour soundtrack. Returned to bed, turned on the light, read for a bit. Somewhere in there, my head quieted down. I killed the light, drifted back off to sleep. Can’t remember the tune now, and that’s okay by me.

I continue with the slow process of going through things in the house. Yesterday I began digging into something I been avoiding all these weeks.

Somewhere around the age of four, I became seriously focused on music. Seriously, maybe obsessively. Listened all the time, played some instruments, began accumulating recordings. The tally: far, far too many CD’s, not quite as many (but still an excessive number of) cassette tapes, and shelves of vinyl. Shelves and shelves. A bigass pile of vinyl, stuff from all over the musical map, some of it classic, hard to find.

Here’s an aspect of my life in Madrid that I’ve come to love: I keep a pretty Spartan living space. Meaning not much STUFF. As opposed to here, where I’ve had plenty of STUFF.* Enough that the trained-in comfort of having bunches of useful things gradually changed to an increasingly oppressive sense of the weight of all that STUFF, the sheer, space-filling mass of it all. Going through it bit by bit has been… real interesting. Not as in the interesting-times old Chinese curse way. Genuinely interesting, if not always a laff riot.

So. Have brought a bunch of STUFF to Salvation Army a couple of times in the last 2-3 weeks. Both times, a different group of helper-type people waited at the unloading area behind the store. First, a bunch of 20-somethings, all with a similar look — skinny, not exactly friendly, partyers maybe, with some real interesting ideas of what partying means. I transferred items from the back of my car into their arms, they carried everything to a table near a dumpster. The staging area. One took from me a small gilt clock I’d once been giving for Christmas (a Seth Thomas battery-driven timepiece trying to fit the look of a certain kind of wealthy home, a formal look, not something I would have in my living space, given to me by a well-intentioned someone who had no idea what my living space looked like). He seemed taken by it, fascinated even — walking with slow steps, holding the object at face level, eyes fixed on it. I got back in my car, as I pulled away I saw him nearing the table, still completely focused on the clock, mouth slightly open. And then they were out of view.

*Me being the product of two depression-era kids, one of them — She Who Accumulated Great Honking Pooploads of Stuff — a professional packrat. Not that she lived like a cat lady with rubbish scattered all over the place. Everything had its place, was squirreled away in closets and the garage and the basement, in shelves and cabinets, in boxes and bags and crates. Done craftily enough that any visitor would believe they were in the home of a normal human being.

[continued in next entry]

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A final installment of the ‘Star Wars quotes’ quiz.

Brief, once again. Multiple choice, fill in the blank. As follows:

“You underestimate the power of ___________.” — Darth Vader
a) the dark side
b) vegemite
c) clean living
d) crotchless underwear
e) badgers in heat

“The emperor is not as __________ as I am.” — Darth Vader
a) forgiving
b) buff
c) wasted
d) fashion conscious
e) huggable

España, te echo de menos

Yesterday evening, northern Vermont:

España, te echo de menos

[continued from last entry]

Summing up (finally, mercifully): The weather gods and goddesses smiled upon me. The deities of organization and small-scale capitalism, on the other hand, must have been at home sleeping off a major bender.

Few people let the allure of a yard sale lead them up the hill, fewer still bought anything though most took something from the mound of free items. Which was okay by me, myself being more concerned with my prime directive (CLEAR SHIT OUT) than with the small amount of cash the shit possesions being cleared out might bring.

Murphy’s law kicked in as soon as I threw in the towel and began closing up 30 minutes early. The moment I began carrying things inside, a string of cars came slowly, hesitantly up the road, one after the other. Not to buy, you understand — to wander through, mumbling unintelligibly, claim an item or two from the free pile and wander back down the hill. (One slightly unkempt gent grabbed the lovely old Kundo clock that occupied a prominent place in the free pile — a sweet timepiece that stopped working years ago, one I’d been unable to find a repairperson for, could not give to an outfit like Goodwill in its current state, and had it out hoping that some capable soul would see it and give it a good home. The guy appeared before me after wandering out of view for a couple of minutes, the clock cradled in his arms, smiling shyly. He said he’d learned to repair clocks while in the armed services, loved Kundo timepieces, was timidly overjoyed at this find.)

I finally managed to close up, went into the house, changed clothes, got ready to lock up and head into town. When I stepped out the door from the laundry room into the garage, I found someone in there looking through everything. Someone I knew, thankfully (though finding her there made my heart leap up into my throat), the adorable daughter of my downhill neighbor, Mo, the current postmaster/postmistress/postperson of the teeny local post office, who’d seen the handbill I’d pinned to the bulletin board outside the p.o. door, and headed over after Sat. a.m. counter hours. She eyed a vacuum cleaner that waited patiently for a new home, told me it would be for the post office, I gave it to her, practically shoving it into her arms. (Yo, U.S.P.S. — you’re welcome!)

Since then I’ve been giving away bags of stuff — to friends, to Salvation Army, to libraries. And suddenly there’s a growing sense of slowly digging out from under in the living space. Enough that I’ll be able to start in on the one room I’ve been avoiding up to now, the tool/utility room cubbyhole, enough that I’ll be able to begin some work painting outside one of these days (during one of the several-hour stretches of rainlessness we occasionally experience).

Meanwhile, signs of the season’s slow turning are gradually piling up. The first orange leaves appeared on a tree across the gravel road a week ago. Crowds of robins — 20 or more at a time — forage through sections of newly-mown grass in the yard, done with breeding season and preparing to head south. I hear talk of the Perseid meteor shower, evening shadows stretch across the grass earlier and earlier, the nights have grown distinctly more chilly. It’s mid-August, and autumn looms in these green hills.

Morning, mid-August, northern Vermont:

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Further entries in the ‘Star Wars quotes’ quiz.

Brief, like the last. Multiple choice, fill in the blank. As follows:

“R2D2, you know better than to trust _____________.” — C3PO
a) a strange computer
b) Dubya
c) badgers in heat
d) a drunken Klingon
e) a drunken pederast

“Chewie, this won’t _____________!!” — Han Solo
a) help me
b) fit in my pants
c) let go of my pants
d) cover up the stains on my pants
e) stop playing Neil Diamond tunes

España, te echo de menos

[continued from last entry]

Last weekend, one of the families up here on this hill — one of those that participated in the yard sale — had a potluck dinner party. I brought a bunch of bottled liquids and took advantage of the occasion to remind key individuals that there would be a second yard sale this weekend. My uphill neighbor, who had not taken part in the first, expressed interest. The others nodded, said yes, appeared to make a mental note. A bunch of their stuff had been left in my garage after Yard Sale #1 so they wouldn’t have to cart it home and back, everything seemed to be all set.

Spent the week working away, produced a whole new pile of stuff to sell. The weather forecast did not promise user-friendly conditions for Sat. a.m., but I try to follow this rule of thumb: until the day in question arrives there really is no knowing what in hell is in store. And as with the first sale, rain fell during the wee hours — and fell and fell and fell — and dawn brought… quiet. No rain. Fog gave way to misty skies, sunshine filtered through, air mild and soft. Good conditions for a yard sale.

Got my adorable bum out of bed early, stumbled about doing a fair imitation of a moderately high-functioning human. Dragged things down to garage, opened garage doors, sweet morning light spilled in. The minutes streamed by, me sweeping the place out garage and setting up. And as 9 o’clock approached, I noticed: no neighbors. No fellow garage-sale proprietors. No chattering voices, no bodies setting up tables outside. Just me, laboring away. Hmmmmmm….

Went inside at five minutes before the hour, grabbed the phone, managed to get ahold of one neighbor. Everyone but me, it turned out, had moved on from the yard sale thing. Despite the bunch of their stuff sitting in the garage waiting to be sold, they’d all dismissed and forgotten the event (D’oh!), me apparently the only nutbag devoting any further time/attention to it.

[continued in following entry]

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Lately, for some reason, I’ve been seeing mentions of Star Wars all over the place. In honor of that, I offer a brief ‘Star Wars quotes’ quiz.

Brief. Multiple choice, fill in the blank. As follows:

“Luke, I’m your ____________.” — Darth Vader
a) father
b) mother
c) naughty French maid
d) tax auditor
e) dominatrix (you worm)

“Use ___________, Luke.” — Obi-Wan Kenobe
a) the force
b) the washroom
c) condoms
d) mouthwash
e) public transportation

España, te echo de menos

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