Thanksgiving Part Two… It's a Family Affair. - And one helluva photo op…. The day, of course, begins with an examination of the back deck ceiling. Which is dad and Uncle Tom's specialty. It's also a ...
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
What if your life to this point was all prelude to what you will be remembered for? What if all your lived experiences to date were destined to wind up as footnotes in your autobiography?
That's where my head is through 250-plus pages of Thomas Pynchon's "Mason & Dixon," as the surveyors/astronomers are almost sunk at sea, chased by lustful women around Cape Town, and as Charles Mason is visited by a ghost in James Town, St. Helena. This is my first Pynchon novel. It's written in 18th century language, it's Pynchon and I'm frequently confused as to what's going on. I touch base with a solid set of reading notes after finishing a chapter. And they've got a whole Mason & Dixon Wiki to help lost literary surveyors like me.
But as I'm feeling abandoned or bewildered, Pynchon casts a fly into the deep water and I take the hook. Flies like, "a part of the Soul that doesn't depend on Memories, that lies further than Memories." Or "I owe my Existence to a pair of Shoes." Or:
"The Pilgrim, however long or crooked his Road, may keep ever before him the Holy Place he must by his Faith seek, as the American Ranger, however indeterminate or unposted his Wilderness, may enjoy, ever at his Back, the Impulse of Duty he must, by his Honor, attend."
And one more, "a People who liv'd in quite another relation to Time,-- one that did not, like our own, hold at its heart the terror of Time's passage,-- far more preferably, Indifference to it, pure and transparent as possible." A people who lived among and through us, in a different version of time. And they were pygmies, of course.
Flights of imagination and language. That's Pynchon's hook that brings me to the surface and keeps me reading. Talking dogs, time-floating pygmies, secret societies and ley lines are all bait. And the friendship between Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, whose names I have known since I was little, only because Maryland's border bears their name.
History felt flat to me in school: learning about people whose lives were distant from us, didn't relate to us, weren't like us. Then you start to read history books by Joseph Ellis or David McCullough or Howard Zinn, and you recognize that historical figures, in their own time and lives, woke up with worries and quirks and passions just the same as any of us. History was not predetermined. It was based on people's choices, commitment, mistakes, dumb luck, love.
I picture Pynchon sitting at a desk with charts, maps and notes in front of him, surveying the time, the lives, the interior motivations and hang ups of Mason and Dixon. And I want to know more. I want to know where Pynchon's imagination goes, where Mason and Dixon go--where fantasy meets history.
Part I of the novel, "Latitudes and Departures" is in the rear view mirror now. Part II, "America" lies ahead.
Monday, November 25, 2013
I have moved from the back yard into the garage. Anyone who has seen our garage knows that this is a step down. Last night I met a dozen refugees who are camped out in there. It seems our garage has a scale like Oscar the Grouch's garbage can from Sesame Street. Good thing the square footage isn't factored into our home appraisal.
Living in back yard and/or an infinitely cluttered garage gives a man time to think. About heat. About artificial light. About television. The refugees made a campfire in the garage using comic books and CD jackets for kindling. One of the guys looked familiar. He had a shopping cart full of newspaper sports sections, log canoe polo shirts and law books. He said he comes to the garage to contemplate breakfast meats. Calls himself Johnny Scrappleseed. I think he knows something about garages, scrapple, beards, life and infinity. I'll report more as I uncover it.
For now the refugees are friendly. Scrapple may promote beard growth. I hope this is not all for naught. I hope people are donating to "Cover Your Chin for Charity." They can pick their own beard grower and charity to support.
I just found my old Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
I've taken up time traveling. It's not a new adventure, really, I've been doing it for some time. At St. James School, we would run trails at the Antietam Battlefield. My mind would drift, wondering what it would have been like, rewinding time, what they went through... but then a turn in the trail, a friend running past, something would bring me back to the present.
As someone who reads and writes, time travel is a vocational habit. Walking through the Natural History Museum, the Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium, my mind is anything but stationary.
In this case, time travel takes a couple forms. It is going back in time with Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. Traveling to their world through the imagination of Thomas Pynchon and his historical novel, "Mason & Dixon," and through traveling with a group of friends/adventurers to find stone markers and walk the trail that Mason and Dixon surveyed and marked, the border of Maryland and U.S. history called the Mason-Dixon Line.
On Nov. 17, nine of us set off through early morning fog (there is always fog involved in time travel) to the Millington Wildlife Area, on the border of Maryland and Delaware. A couple folks in our group knew the park and we had GPS coordinates for where there was rumored to be a Mason-Dixon marker, off trail, somewhere in the woods.
Our group includes a couple of marine biologists and a card-carrying naturalist, who is working to catalog all the living things in Maryland. It's a fascinating band of vagrants to walk through the woods with, especially for me, who is fascinated by everything I encounter on a hike or a trail run, but no very little about what it is.
Following our directions, we hiked in on a marked Millington trail, then went off trail, blazing thick, blood-thirsty briers, log-crossing a stream, and wandering until we found the stone marker in question.
Finding a stone in the woods may sound unremarkable. But a stone that was laid in the 1760s during a survey/expedition that has become mythical in its own right; a stone put there by two men whose names any Marylander has heard practically since birth; a stone whose boundary has become synonymous with the Civil War; a stone about whose setters I am embarked on a literary journey with via the fantastic mind of Thomas Pynchon, well, that to me transforms it to remarkable. Then again, bourbon may have factored into that alchemy.
This was the "official" kickoff to our Mason Dixon Pynchon adventure. As we contemplated the stone and Mason and Dixon, I read the opening passage of Pynchon's novel aloud. That may be as far as a couple members of our group get in the book. ;) But as much as the book itself, and traversing one of the great writers of our time, for me the adventure is equal parts reading, experiencing the physical artifacts of history, experiencing the natural world and landscape around us that I haven't explored enough, and doing it with a group of friends equally disturbed enough to meet at 6:30 a.m. on a foggy Sunday morning to go look for a rock in the woods.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Last night I fashioned a makeshift beard by stapling two squirrels and a neighborhood cat to my face. Don't judge me, it was cold. I'll take a picture when I can get them to stop fighting. For any animal rights activists, I didn't hurt them. It's only temporary. When my beard grows back I plan to free them. If you don't want your cats turned into beards, don't leave them out at night.
My security badge for work has a photo of me with a beard on it. I was stopped three times, fingerprinted, and I don't want to talk about the rest. Co-workers walked by me in the hall. I sat alone at lunch. Now I know how the beardless feel: shunned, solitary, lesser.
Beneath the scratches from the squirrels and cat, my stubble is returning. I am hopeful of returning to the house soon. I fear if I try to pass of my cat squirrel beard, our dogs will attack me.
In the meantime, don't forget "Cover Your Chin for Charity." Help me get back in the house. Help these squirrels and cat get back to their lives. You can choose your charity and your contestant. I'm behind "Children with Cancer," benefiting a good friend's niece. And me getting in out of the cold.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Help me. I made a big mistake. It all started when I wrote about "Cover Your Chin for Charity." I was trying to help a friend. Do something for the community. I got caught up in the moment. You have to start the contest clean-shaven. So I shaved my beard of 13 years, mustache and goatee for three before that. IT WAS FOR CHARITY!
My wife and daughters kicked me out of the house. I'm sleeping in the back yard. Thankfully it is warm tonight. But it's November. That won't last. They won't let me back in until my beard grows back. Or maybe I can show them it was for a good cause.
I don't know if I can make it. Hipsters won't talk to me anymore. Other pick-up truck drivers don't wave back when I finger wave from the steering wheel. My daughters, who have never known me without a beard, yell for me to tell their dad to come back when they throw me scraps in the yard. Our cats hiss at me through the window.
I'll try to report as often as I can hack a wifi signal. I'm trying to will my beard back. So I can get back in the house. Maybe you can help. If you want to donate to the contest, you can pick me as the contestant to support when you check out. You can also pick which charity your donation goes to. Personally, I'm supporting "Children with Cancer," to support a close friend's niece who has cancer. But you can pick whichever charity you want. I'm just trying to get back in the house. Donation, charity, contestant information is here.
Help me. I'll report back later.
Saturday, November 9, 2013
November gets the shaft. Walmart goes from Halloween to Christmas and all November gets is a Wyclef song.
November is the calendar's transitional phase. It's a table-clearing, dish-washing break to get ready for Black Friday. We can't market November. How the fu** can we package giving thanks??
November for me is a month of trail runs and memories of the JFK 50-miler. It's a month of football, cool mornings and dark drives home from work. November is a month for beer you can't see through and clothes smelling like back yard fire pits.
November gets profound poets like Kenneth Rexroth, who most people haven't heard of, saying things like, "November comes to the forest," and:
We stand in the snowy twilight
And watch the moon rise in a breach of cloud.
Between the black pines lie narrow bands of moonlight,
Glimmering with floating snow.
An owl cries in the sifting darkness.
The moon has a sheen like a glacier.
November is the simplest month. No costumes, no pretenses, no shopping overdose, just family, food and a blank slate between two louder siblings.
November is a fireside view of winter coming, reflected.
* Photo is of the Arado Weehouse in Pepin, Wisc., by Alchemy Architects.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Cold bones shake the soul awake. They toughen the skin.
Cold bones make a warm house happier. They make sweat from a winter run better earned than money.
Cold bones dig down jackets and newbie hats. They are a fan of thermos coffee on the sidelines of a kids' game.
Cold bones seek out bonfires and bourbon's bite. Stout beer is made for cold bones.
Adventures are made up largely of cold bones and innovation and shelter owe their lives to cold bones.
Mountains are not climbed without cold bones and no deer stand or duck blind can tell a story without cold bones.
In the summer, I wake up, walk outside and feel no different. Life is unchanged. Perspective still groggy.
In the winter, cold bones remind me I am alive.