I. Preface, Tuesday late afternoon, April 15.
How quick things change. On Sunday I was thinking I had the world by a string. Now I am melodramizing to the point I thought, “If I didn’t have the farm to look forward to, I’d kill myself right now.” I pantomime a skinning knife to my left wrist. That’s not an air guitar. I’m in the wrong god-damn family business. Stocks isn’t my thing. I was supposed to be a farmer. Farmer/lawyer/artist/poet—what the hell am I? I’m a platypus, I’m a fake, I’m a flake, I’m whatever I need to be—I’m a chameleon. The Renaissance is dead though: long live the banks. I asserted myself but I killed myself. I saw the Blood Moon, so clear, from one percent. But I’ve got nothing to show for it. I’m done, I’m over. I am born again—bitches.
II. (Several Hours Later.)
I get so incredibly emotional and I’m useless to the world. I’m an alcoholic. When I start with a mean manny but then pull out my last Buckler that’s the best thing I can do. It’s a sign to the world—nay, fuck the world—it’s a sign to myself that I want to live. And what the hell else is there to do but live? Ahhhh. Sometimes one of those mean mannies—it’s sinking in now, Even Williams and all his cordial friends…it helps. Mania is just as sticky as depression, and it must be fended off. If I weren’t gritting my teeth right now, I’d bare them to you, and you’d see how determined I am to hold this ground. This ground that I’m standing on, that I’m writing on. I’ll go down with my ship if it’s the last fucking thing I do, I’ll ride this sucker down and I’ll fuck the world in the process if I have to. I am rabid, I am mean, and I am waiting to be wild.
III. Wednesday Morning.
That was a storm went through me last night but the sandbags under my eyes, I guess they held, because here I am on Wednesday morning still among the quick, drinking an americano. I’m looking on the map for a conservation area near the farm, where Jeannie and Jen said they got a shower one time. Looking at the map, I can see the farm, and I can see the creek that runs along it, Little Tavern Creek. As I zoom out, I can see pretty well “Rinquelin Trail Lake Conservation Area, ” in Dixon, MO. But I’m on the MO Conservation Department site and I cannot see any place nearby that has showers. There is an RV park in Dixon called “The Missouri Festival and RV Park” but they don’t re-open for the season until May 1. It looks as though they have showers. Next nearest candidate is Lake of the Ozarks State Park. They definitely have showers. You take 42 into the park, hang a left on 134 (and go past the park office: what do you tell them? “Uh, I want to check out the camp sites.” And then do you skank a shower? Seems kind of rude. But what would they do if you said, “Yeah, I just want a shower. I’ll pay for the night.” I don’t know….) You go past an airport. There is literally an airport IN the park. It’d take 45 minutes to drive there from the farm.
IV. Thursday Morning: 6:40 a.m. to Noon. (Still not there).
We are leaving today. I have a slight headache. It’s not from wine or smoke (I had three beers yesterday, spaced well apart). And had not even a single cigarette. So: allergies, cold, or simply the sickly residue of two days of foul mood? It is cool but clear outside. I have done a cursory pack of the Jeep to see if it all would fit. Squirt was checking out the progress, trying to get a sense of what was transpiring. “You’re coming with us.”
B has to go to work yet. Until noon, she says. I don’t have a whole lot else to do. I remain unsure about what wood to take, and whether I can manage the telescope. The moon was still bold and bright this morning at six. I am obsessing about all of this, careening almost. I’m flammable and toxic. I’m the most conductive metal. The road should help a bit, the land even more.
It really doesn’t take four bags of ice to fill our two biggest coolers (big cooler, mid cooler). It’s more like three and change. I ended up packing our third cooler, one of the small joe-6-pack coolers. A Playmate that has my name on it. Ha ha. That’s where I put the tots after realizing I hadn’t packed them yet but needed to—and I had already filled the other two coolers to the brim. What we need to work on next time—and we sensed this but didn’t quite execute on it—is packing most of our beer as warm beer. Because you don’t need more than a night’s worth of beer as cold beer at any one time. And we’ve got warm beer packed—18 cans/bottles. So that’s 18 of 31 warm. But if we were to get that up to 23 or so…that’s five fewer beers in the cooler and room enough for the tots.
I had that thought in my head at Cheese Place yesterday as I was perusing their canned beer. I had two warm Mikkeller four-packs in my stead but I really wanted to try the beer first—and I wanted B to try it—before putting eight “unknown unknown” beers in the cooler. So I saw that the ole Cheeser also had the Mikkeller four-packs cold…and at that moment I went from a potential 24 warm beers down to 18 (I drank one of each last night—good beer, hoppy by rule, a bit pricey, but good. Danish but brewed in Pennsylvania? I move on….) Every little move and decision has numerous potential and inevitably some real consequi. When I went for the cold Mikkeller, it was as good as getting that third cooler out.
Otherwise, besides not nailing the cooler packing, I’ve got several other things to feel sketchy and neurotic about. First, the stupid lawn slam and bam team from next door was just starting outside as I was adding a 50/50 mix or antifreeze and water to the Jeep’s so-called “recovery bottle”. I was literally standing along the edge of my driveway and realizing, “I am actually in these people’s ways.” So I hurried along, filled over the add line, closed the hood, but then needing to put the antifreeze container away IN the Jeep…I opened the back gate of the Jeep and for all of the world to see, showed at least one complete stranger my intention to stay anywhere but my house for at least a couple of nights.
And then before that, as I was pouring the coolant into a half-filled water bottle, I was looking at my Goodyears and thinking maybe they didn’t look so great. That was a random, grasping sort of worry that I seemed to be looking for at first and now have a pretty good hold of. My mind isn’t working right. It’s running hot, say. The phrase “blew a sidewall” is dancing about in my head in accordance with the First Law of Brownian Motion. I am an LTL, a ticking time bomb of tainted ideas. Then of course is the whole worry about the Jeep not even starting at all, considering as how I got the old bird all packed. Oh, that would be awesome. (“Everything is awesome!”) I really don’t want to worry about these things. It isn’t pleasant, it’s not how I get my kicks.
You’re standing back against the side of the house, maybe smoking a Camel Light—sorry, Camel “Blue”—and you’re saying, “JB. Just get rid of the fucking thing if it’s such an…epicenter of worry for you.” And I hear you, I do. (Can I have a drag?) But I place a very high value—a sort of polished reverence—upon things that last, or at least: upon things that have been awhile. “The Things We Haven’t Gotten Rid of Yet.” My antiques! That set of things is so important to me—they represent continuity, permanence, i.e. “not-death”. Not death. Say it again, it’s not a difficult concept. They are the not-death, these things, my own personal antiques. It’s these things that remind me how long I have actually managed to stay alive, and what it might mean to be around a little while longer. One foot in front of the other, one game at a time. Of course it’s a cliché, that’s why you say it, right? Throw that shit again, meat.
If I can’t get that old Jeep on down to Iberia then what the hell can I do with these, the rest of the days of my life? I think that’s the bulk of my worry at the moment. At one point I was worried about how I was going to pass the time today. But it’s eleven thirty. We could leave as soon as “in an hour”. I feel pretty good about that.
V. Friday Morning.
I didn’t sleep too well. I got a bit spooked. But now I’m seated on the rock ledge/patio in front of the farm house and the birds are going and the sun is hitting the right side of my face with a little bit of solar verve and I’m composed, finally, and ready to back up.
I was still pretty raw of mood and weak of constitution when we got here yesterday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. or so. It’s a state I get in when we’re ready to set up camp—I want to do a dozen things at once. I realize that, now that I’m out in the open, the whole point is that I don’t have to do two things at once. In fact, I can do just one thing, and I can do it slowly. And get it right. But instead I got huffy, and acted like a little bitch, and got what I deserved. Such as having a cord get tangled or looking for something in one of three buckets, only to have it be in the third and final bucket I looked in.
The ground here is incredibly rocky and not easy to drive a tent stake into. We had put the rainfly on catty-wumpus and when I attempted to pull one of the rainfly stakes out of the ground I tore one its tie-down loops in the process. I shorn it right through. Eight years I’ve had that tent and never done anything like that. It was brewing. From above, you could have seen it coming, I’m sure. I slammed the hammer into the ground several times and cursed. Squirt ran for cover.
A blow-off, when it really is a blow-off—a negative acme, a bad zenith—can be a good thing, if a tie-down loop and a little bit of land is all that’s damaged. I put duct tape on the break and that actually seems to be working.
Last night I used a good bit of the wood I brought to make a fire. B made Cubans. I drank my second Schlafly Schwarzbier. We didn’t smoke. It was a decent fire. I has used an old rusty spade (just the shovel part, it lacked the handle) to scoop out a fall-and-winter’s worth of ashes from the fire site. I went to the creek where it crosses Redbird Ln and found a mass of pulverized trees. It was wood that looked like it was taken from tornado wreckage but have been the work of flash-flood waters. Shredded wood—like the pulled pork of wood. It made incredibly effective kindling. It might have been very wet last week or the week before but it was dry now, and bleached somehow—bleached of what makes wood green. Using some of these shreds I needed only one leaf of newspaper to get the fire going again this morning.
But I need to back up again. We went to bed early, maybe eight. It was clouded over and getting chilly. We walked up from the fire, brushed our teeth along the patio, spitting into the grass. I slept good until 2:16. I checked my phone then, the battery had started to burn pretty good, even though I had it in airplane mode. I hadn’t used it much, even texting had been difficult. There was a text from Roy saying, “Gabbo died.” I sent a text back, “Who?” I asked B, “Who is Gabbo?” She didn’t know. Our cellular network here—the Verizon network—was bad last year and hadn’t improved. Roy sent another text, “Or is it Gabo? I think the latter.” Who the f is Gabo? I send out another text, it doesn’t appear to go, it sits there waiting to be sent. But somehow the texts get delivered, eventually. Some I must resort to send as a “Text Message”, not an “iMessage”. This morning I get another illuminating text from him, “GGM.” That doesn’t help.
But I’ve forgotten something important going even further back. When B got back from work and we were out of the house, she was gonna pull the Acura in as I pulled the Jeep out. And guess what happened. Guess what! That damn Jeep would not start. I got the unceremonious, “Click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click.” Like a tommy-gun ripping my Jeep-loving heart apart. What are you going to do? I jumped the thing and we went on our merry way. Except as we pulled out of the drive and onto Treesvale I realized the interior lights were staying on. Earlier the back passenger window would not respond to my attempts from the driver’s console to lower it. Something was clearly amiss in the circuitry of the vehicle. It wasn’t a simple matter of the battery being bad. I had to pull over right away and get out to open one of the back doors and reach back to depress (and turn off) the very back, upper light. Somehow it got turned on. When I punched it off, the interior lights went off. I had seen this before. Somehow that back upper light has a role in all of this. The next time the Jeep refuses to start I will reach back and pop that light and I am real interested to see if that clears some electrical obstacle to the Jeep’s starting up. Just a theory.
We got to the farm fine after that. The engine temp was fine. No spikes. It ran right at the middle of the gauge. I idled it at McDaniel’s as B went in. I stood there leaning against the hood and I couldn’t help but off-and-on watch as the most hoosier-looking fifty-year-old dude in the world went about cutting a big patch of grass out back of McDaniel’s in cut-off shorts, a tank top, and a McDaniel’s hat (a black hat with the simple yellow-arches “M”). He had tats and a cigarette dangled from his mouth. Considering his two hands were firmly on the pushmower, I was wondering how he could really smoke that cigarette, and what he would do when it was burnt out. The Jeep was not leaking coolant. I think it only starts leaking once you turn the engine off.
So, yeah, at 2:16 this morning, for whatever reason, I woke up. I started to get paranoid. And I was thinking of that line, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone’s not out to get you.” And the “someone” in this case was coyotes. I had seen one turn tail and lope away, up in the pasture, just as we got here. The cows brayed too, the steers standing their ground a bit, looking regal and serious at the back of the pack as they checked me out. Just then wind on the gate made it swing on its loose chain closure, making it sound like someone or something was coming through. That was in the afternoon.
At night, cutting into the repetitive call of the whip-or-wills was the crazy bastard cackling of those coyotes. At first, the sound seemed to be pretty far off but I still thought, “Why didn’t I just park the Jeep right close to the tent, in case we need to make a run for it?” I got out of the tent to take a leak and I moved the hatchet, which was a few feet away, right to the doorstep of my tent-flap. That made me feel a little better.
But then I heard the coyotes again. They were closer, real close it sounded like. Right across the lane, it seemed. Closer than any coyotes I’d ever heard before. Maybe the only reason they had never come this close before at the farm was because there were always more people here, and those people—including sometimes me—kept much odder hours, and those peoples’ noise, our noise, and their bustling campfire kept the coyotes away. Those coyotes knew someone was out camping. They know every inch of this place, I’d say. I was thinking I’d put my backpack down into the bottom of my sleeping bag and swing it at them if I had to, to fend them off. I could see this scene playing out, right outside the tent.
Oddly, Squirt was unmoved. He didn’t utter his low, curious growl; didn’t raise an ear. I told B I was kind of spooked and I said I was thinking about going and getting the Jeep.
“We’re not doing that,” she says.
“Just to move it closer to us,” I say.
“Oh, I thought you meant go get in it,” she says.
She wasn’t nearly as worried as I was. She said, “I don’t think they’ll bother us in the tent.”
I had a hard time seeing how the tent was some sort of special barrier. In the end, she was right, but I still didn’t sleep much after hearing the coyotes. The dog on the neighboring farm barked on end. It heard the coyotes, too. Probably saw them. That neighboring dog barking on end and the whip-poor-wills. That’s what I’ll remember listening to for about another hour last night before I finally did fall back to sleep for a bit, and had a queer dream about going into a grade school I had no reason to enter. But I want to say more about those crazy birds, the whip-poor-wills. They were like a soundtrack, a loop. I have this bird clock in our kitchen, a gift from a buddy from college. The whip-poor-will is the nine o’clock bird. And the birds we heard last night sounded just like the recording on the clock. Dead on. And on, and on.
“How do they keep chirping like that?” asked B.
At one point I thought I had left the radio on—I had it playing the Cardinals on KMOX as we fell asleep, but the clock has a sleep timer, which was in effect. So it wasn’t the radio. It was the enchanting repetition of the whip-poor-will. As they sang over and over, it was almost as though the birds were composing some incredibly eclectic house music mix—the last note of every call ended so sharply and abruptly that it started to sound like a clap track. Entrancing. Dizzying. And I thought about the picture of the little whip-poor-will in my bird book and I was picturing one of those little fellas sitting on his nest and singing out, singing out: a whip-poor-will, a whip-poor-will, a whip-poor-will, a whip-poor-will, a whip-poor-will (smack!) And I was thinking about what other phonetics I could ascribe to its call. One I thought of was: Anne-Marie, and Anne-Marie, and Anne-Marie, and Anne-Marie! Plausible. Those birds were still going past five when we awoke for good and got this day off to a fantastic bacon-and-eggs kind of a start.
VI. Friday afternoon. Tyler and Doug Arrive, and Others.
Tyler and Doug arrived in Doug’s red truck. We told them about the ticks. B and I cut Squirt’s hair and deeted him.
I ran the chainsaw this morning, on this side of the cow fence. I cut up some fallen cedars. Seemed good. At least one piece had a couple of big ole ticks on it. I saw them just as I was throwing the creepy piece into the back of the Jeep. I tied down the longer branches I had thrown on top and high-tailed it down to the fire pit. And then I started thinking that the wood was probably the vector and we were just bringing the ticks to our doorstep by gathering wood for a fire, setting it in a pile near where we were seated around the fire. I don’t know of any other way to have a fire though. We’ve at least got to have enough wood to burn so we have coals to cook on.
Nature takes its course and there isn’t anything we can do about it. God, I rent work this week. I sent a fissure through how many years of relationships, monetary ones. That sent me to school and back. Nature takes its course. Ahhhh, fuck.
I’m not a gun guy. It’s a political issue nowadays and I’m not here to talk about politics. But it’s a good feeling, after being out here just the two of us last night, when guys with guns arrive, and those guys are your friends. Tyler’s and Doug’s tents are now upright, as I look up and to my right. The sun is pounding all of a sudden. I put some SPF 50 on my neck. Tyler has tunes going. Squirt’s hair is really short now. He had several ticks on him. One large and the rest really small. Baby ticks, microticks. Dot ticks.
I’ve got my pants rolled up, no socks on, Crox. I’m doing a little tick test. Maybe I won’t catch any if they don’t have anything to catch on to. Tyler did us up right, a while ago. Whew!
The farmer fellow was up in the field cutting. He came up here and talked to me in his old Chevy truck. He asked me if Aaron were here yet. “No, huh, uh,” I said. Said I wasn’t sure when he was getting here. “I’m really more friends with his brother,” I said. Which is to say: Aaron and I don’t have a texting relationship. The farmer is up there by the fence now talking to Tyler and Doug. His tractor is idling, a Massey Ferguson I believe. Cutter platform on the back, with wings on either side, that can flap up (not cutting) or down (cutting position) like wings, with two blades on the rotor of each wing, dangling down like free-swinging hands on a clock when the cutting wings are in the “up” position. I was wrong: the tractor is a Case. Aaron has a Massey Ferguson. The farmer has nice eyes, like Val Kilmer. And a drawl. This is drawl country here.
I’ve had Foghorn Leghorn in my head and B did earlier say, “I do declare.” I know that more Southern Patrician than it is Missouri drawl, but it made me wonder if she heard me doing some of my Foghorn Leghorn. Turkey vultures have been floating over us, like daytime bats but not nearly so fluttery.
Deb and Miz arrive. Doug is working on putting a trap together, for trap shooting. Not for catching coyotes. The breeze is fantastic…
I had my first catch of the year, with Tyler. We’ve played catch before. My left hand has coal dust on it, it seems. No, it’s from the glove. Tyler’s hand is yellow. B is drinking a summer shanty.
Tyler is saying that the small ticks are chiggers, not ticks. He says he was lousy with them after last spring’s farm party. He dumped too much tea tree oil in a bath, got in it, and then watched as they worked their way out from under his skin. I still think the small ones look a lot like little ticks but that’s what chiggers look like, he says.
Then I ask him and Doug what coyotes feed on. “Small game,” they say. “Rabbits, squirrels, and mice.” Then I ask them, “What do ticks feed on?” Doug says, “Everything.” Tyler says, “Any living thing.” B can live with a chigger bite. “At least it’s not Lyme Disease,” she says. But they will make you itch. And they hit quick. They hate tea tree oil.
Wipes are coming in handy. It’s getting kind of hot out here. We pulled a confirmed tick off of Squirt. It was bigger and had more of a defined “shell”. I lit a cigarette and tried to press it down against the tick. Pretty sure I got it. First I had that tick on the end of this pen—I could not crack it. Then with one of the little ones, a chigger, I was able to pry that one apart.
The thrush B and I saw this morning has started up again. It is talking all kinds of trash. At first this morning I thought it could be a mockingbird. The song is desultory, gibberish. Same size. But the color wasn’t quite right, the beak neither. So then I was thinking catbird. It’s been years since I’ve seen a catbird, but they are mimics like mockingbirds are. I swear I heard a catbird trying to quack like a duck outside Rockford once. That was years ago. But catbirds are grey, more of a solid gray. B was helping me locate this singer earlier this morning and it was tough—it camouflaged so well in its particular tree. It was brown, brownish. Nothing really stood out. At one point I got a slightly better look. Splotchy breast. I figured a thrush. Pretty, random notes, all over the place but sounding good doing it. I can’t find it in the tree now either. A master of camouflage! That farmer fella is down at the firepit talking to Doug. He rode in on a four-wheel contraption that was part ATV part golf cart. I think it was one of those Deere Gators. No, I can see now it’s a Polaris. The sun is relentless. Tyler is kicked back in Doug’s low-rider camo lounger. We’re still up on the patio.
The cows, in the field, are as near us as they can be, right along the fence, visible from here. I might be a bit burned on my forearms. A mourning dove sounds. The cows are mooing, lo-ing. Deb and Miz went into town. No Blues tonight. Tyler is getting coverage on his AT&T networked phone clean as a whistle. “Almost full strength,” he says. That settles it.
There is a baseball game going at this early hour on a Friday. That can only mean: the Cubs. Against Cincy. Tyler says my team has already gotten a rib and a bag. Rosie and Bobby are here! I’m gonna go and see if Bobby wants any help putting up his tent…. (He needed only a tiny bit. He generously offered me one of his stash of beers, including La Fin du Monde and New Belgium’s Snapshot. He also brought some fresh cut flowers that looked very pretty…)
I’m sitting around a smouldering campfire mid-morning Saturday. B has a bloody mary—spicy zing zang. “The best mix,” says Anne. The sun is back at it. I’ve got my wide-brimmed hat on, with a scarf pinned to the back of it, Desert Rat-style. Squirt is staring at Charlie. My arms are a little burnt from yesterday. The wind is up, stronger than yesterday. There aren’t any clouds. Talk of stocks. I do not have any sunscreen on my feet. Need to. Soon. People are drinking a bit. Not me yet. A cigarette. Talk of sump pumps. Aaron is working on running a hose from the Spring House to the pumpkin patch he and others cultivated in this morning. Miz brought 100′ of hose and a pump. There is a spring here, in a little corrugated metal shack (to keep the animals out). Aaron said this used to be a popular place for travelers to stop as they went cross-country. The spring runs to the creek. It used to be on the map. Little Tavern Spring. That’s right where I am.
The sunscreen is really coming in handy. I’m doing great trade in it. Sunscreen for deet is a hot contract!
That 100′ of hose looks like a fire hose but technically it’s not. It’s some kind of industrial hose. B said she wants to see it inflate. She might be getting a little d-r.
The song I’ve had in my head since yesterday is “Don’t Come Around Here No More”…”whatever you’re looking for….”
It is Saturday afternoon, mid-day. Pat put a tarp up overhead down by the firepit like he was talking, tied it at four grommetted corners and ran it to four different trees. He used string sliders marketed by that same company that puts out the LED lights for dog collars (Zite, based in Boulder—some of their stuff is made in the U.S., but neither of these products).
I’ve come up from down by the firepit, just to get a little bit of quiet. Still no drink yet today for me—but I’m on my second cigarette. I’ve been drinking lots of water. It’s hot and I’m saving myself for wood operation later. We are about down to none. There isn’t a whole lot going through my head, but I’m trying to force myself to write just a little bit. Tab and Brett did in fact arrive. There is a bumblebee buzzing around me. The Cardinals are in action, and it was on the radio down by the fire. Some kind of lady bug landed on me but flew away before I could finish this sentence.
Lots of deet, lots of sunscreen. I have refilled most of our water bottles at the kitchen sink. It’s well water and it’s fine. I’m not sure how much water we brought initially. But especially when we are using it for slapdash baths, coffee, and brushing teeth…with this sun…it goes quick.
Squirt has been doing well, all in all. He scraps at the other two dogs, gets up at them and does his fierce little bawl. I am looking at the Jeep sitting up here in the mid-day sun and wondering if it will start tomorrow. There are wasps about.
I haven’t checked my phone since early this morning. I feel pretty disconnected—from family, from Roy. Melancholic. Deb and Miz went back. The Knorrs arrived, along with Jamie’s sister. I’m sitting on this stone patio—what is it: limestone cemented together? Not sure. The wind is gusting from time to time. An empty cooler, my ball glove, and my crox are on top of the Jeep. Aaron went into town with Jake to get ice. I put in a request for a couple of bags. B and I’ve consolidated all of our beer and perishables into one cooler, and it’s cool in there, but not ice cold. There’s a little ice left, not much.
Missy and Jamie are in the kitchen. I can hear them talking but I’m not following their conversation. I think I just heard the word “meatballs” though. I’m thinking that I’ve never been down here with Roy—a miss. I did put on two pairs of socks (one very thin, one on the thick side). I’ve got a minor strain in my left forearm (the flexor mass? call Dr. Andrews!) The bumblebee floats along anyway, buzzing like an airship. I hear an actual cardinal, three-quarters of a mile away. And a warbler of some sort. Could be a chipping sparrow. Rick got Mars squared up in the telescope last night—did I say this already? I couldn’t do it. I tried for awhile. The strain on my eyes had me crying. The moon rose so late. For hours after the sun set, the night sky was infinite. The moon was down! When it rose it was like going back to dial-up modem after speeding around on broadband. The big stuff was still there—Ursa Major, Orion. But so much else was occluded.
Bobby’s getting a kite out. That interests me. Tyler and Doug and Rick have been out shooting for awhile. It sounds like they might have moved nearer from where they started. I’m thinking we can take the fly off of the tent tonight. The duct tape did fail on that tie-down loop. Not sure what I’ll do, but it’s a safe bet I might call on my minions the magnets. Sewing with fishing line also seems viable, in theory. Here comes Aaron, back from town. It’s a simple life, but we’re not exactly supporting ourselves out here. The thought of going back—of losing the farm as what I was looking forward to—is a rotten-ness that is already spreading in me. It’s what is wrong right now. Being out here makes sense to me. I can accept this place’s randomness.
We interrupt this transmission to deliver you the following News Bulletin, per Pat. Aaron was stopped at 42 and 17. IDs were checked [by Freud?] They were waved along but Aaron, a good asker of questions, extracted the basis: there is a manhunt on! I hope Tyler and Doug don’t go through all that ammo. We now return to your regularly scheduled travelogue…
The kite it up—two kites are up! Pat offers me an oatmeal cream pie, a twizzler. Today is like back in high school when I was the reverent one, refusing whatever was offered in lieu of what I’m doing right now—setting myself apart because it’s the only way to think clearly. I am a fortress! B walks up. Heineken tallboy in hand. She says all we needed was one bag, of ice, not two. She tries to get Squirt to drink some water. He hasn’t been drinking enough damn water.
It’s just about the same temp as yesterday. Marisa is up here. I’m telling her the clouds are different than yesterday. Today high cirrus, patchy and stringy at once. Yesterday was no clouds at first bit then cumulus humilis and not quite enough of them. I should have brought my binoculars. I don’t recall in farm parties past the birds having been so good. The shots seem to be moving closer yet.
Pat asks me if I want to have a catch. That’s an easy question to answer. Our chocolate Kind bars are melting steady. I am telling myself that next spring I should use color of clothing as a factor in what I pack—on what clothing could I best spot ticks?
[This ended any writing I did at the farm. But I do want to note that Friday and Saturday represented the first time I’ve played catch on back-to-back days since…who knows…high school? Maybe Roy and me accomplished that at some point a dozen years ago but I can’t say for sure.]
VIII. Sunday Night. Inventory.
Like a hulking pile of wood that promised so much fire and light, one of our two farm weekends this year has been extinguished. Memories are ash. I paused writing that last sentence a minute ago to go get the tweezers and lighter combo that I started pulling out somewhat regular to snare and burn ticks. B did some research and says, “No, I don’t think those small ones were chiggers. I think they were tick larvae. The ticks are Lonestar ticks.” This last one we pulled off of Squirt. It was a lesson in the natural history of ticks this weekend. That was the only real downside for Squirt. Now he’s licking again, but not his leg: just the blanket. Admittedly, he was not well behaved vis-a-vis the other dogs. He took numerous swings at Ellie. Like a furry little Gremlin, a rabid Fraggle.
So, another pair of those exact same Tweezers and a ridiculous amount of deet. I still like the Deep Woods pump spray best. B thinks the aerosols run out quicker—you lose to much to the air. Deet itself, as a chemical compound, is reputed to be quite stable. As in, it has a long shelf life as long as you keep it out of the sun and avoid storing it in extreme temps. S.C. Johnson, you got me!
What else came in handy? I did put one of my quarter-sized rare-earth magnets on the screen door. The hydraulic arm had come loose, swinging free, not pulling the door shut. The screw holding it fast to the door seemed stripped. The door itself was not magnetic, bit the arm bracket was, as was the screw. Somehow putting a magnet on the head of the screw, with the bulk of the magnet wanting at the bracket, held the whole combination pretty tight to the door.
Last night, last night. Where are you, last night? Where in the annals, where in the rolodex? Are you a ghost, were you a dream? Marisa got stung by a wasp up by her tent. Strange to have a wasp attack in the dark. I recommended she ice it and then follow up with Vaseline, which I gave her. She said it helped.
I’ve already mentioned the sunscreen. I might be able to find some on the shelves that doesn’t expire until 2016. Those are “buys”. Used our apples, but only one of the oranges. B drank most of the vodka, some of it went into a mary for Rosie. She used three of six spicy V-8’s. I had a bunch of beer left over. Bobby was quite generous with his. I had some of his Tank 7 bomber and maybe some of the Sofie bomber. He gave B a La Fin du Monde, which she liked. We didn’t eat all of our chips but I did crush the second half of a cheese Munchies bag on Friday night. Cheese crack! We did not use the oven mitt or the gable grill.
B says she should have packed the deli meat in a ziploc bag, so it doesn’t get wet when the ice melts. The paper gets gross. B made the rest of the tots this morning. I ate a couple handfuls—they were good. The bacon and eggs pie-iron scrambler was very good and that french loaf (pre-sliced at home) made excellent toast. The tongs got a lot of use. The Cutco knife is a perennial “Best Supporting Item” nominee. B is falling asleep as I sit up in bed. I slept some this afternoon. Between getting firewood, carrying camp stuff around, drinking, smoking…I was all used up. In a good way. But like Brett said, “I gotta quit smoking.” Not sure how many cigs I had over all those days. A dozen or more. Newports, Spirits. Tried one of Doug’s Marb Lights.
Inconclusive returns on the yoga mat. That ground out there is pretty hard. We’re ground sleepers. Couldn’t fit an air mattress in that tent. For me, the only night I was really cognizant of my comfort/discomfort in the tent was Thursday when the coyotes had me bugged-out and hyper-aware. So we’ll give the yoga mat at least one more iteration. We came back with a decent amount of pulled pork. I had some for dinner. We might have packed just a bit too much food. I had some food other people made. B drank the Canadas, after her Saturday day barn-storm. I ate some of Knorr’s fried chicken—good, juicy. Those potato chips they made in the frier were just dumb, though. Stupid dumb. Had half a reuben a la Rosie. Scarfed someone’s Wavy Lay’s this morning. That was like raiding that bag of sea salt and vinegar chips last year. B is touting her khakis. “The light-colored clothing made me feel better.” We did have a lot of ticks hit people last spring but I didn’t get any then so I was just a touch nonchalant about them going into the trip. Seeing Squirt pick them up sobered me. Then we found two on me when we got back. One tiny one on my junk and a big one on the back of my right leg (hamstring). So I was not immune.
B says the liner sheeting we put under the tent is a pain in the ass. And she’s right. I tell her we can try to go back to the brown tarp and see how that does. The liner is a pain to deploy and then re-fold and then to clean and then to re-fold again. But we do need some sort of vapor barrier between us and the ground. Otherwise we’ll get a good bit of condensate in the tent, especially because we are sleeping right on the ground. I can’t quite recall why I went away from the tarp. It had some holes in that I patched with duct tape. We’ll just continue to experiment—that’s the game.
We didn’t use any of our remaining Chinet paper plates. The metal mess plated do well. The buckets worked well. I like knowing I have “stuff” down by the fire without having to take up precious picnic table space. Put your stuff in the bucket, put the bucket on the ground. Put the lid on if need be. That was my weather worry going into the trip—rain. Not a drop. Sun, sun, sun. So I never got my rain jacket out. But I did need my winter hat every night. And that black and blue flannel is a staple.
The Jeep did well. It got us there and back. I can’t say it will see another farm party. Can’t say so with confidence. We talked about a truck. Toyota Tacoma. Aaron has one, Miz has one. Deb told B they like theirs. Doug has a Dodge, Sarah has a big ole Silverado.
We used…three or four trash bags. Can’t pack enough of those. We drugged Squirt Friday and Saturday nights with half a pill of melatonin. It seemed to work; make him drowsy. I did get some heartburn. Ate one generic Pepsid and one generic Tums. Not eating much Saturday helped. My lunch Saturday was that bag of carrots and radishes. They were good! That was when I was just drinking water, bumming around, saying hello to this person, that person, wandering over there, putting on sunscreen, spraying deet. Watching Ellie while the Bretts put up their tent. Tending to a crashing B. Talking with Rick about stocks and markets. That was the most intense conversation I had. I was telling him that 2013 was a tough year. He said something like, “Man, what I’ve learned from this shitty life I’ve had, you just gotta push through.” I didn’t ask him what had made his life shitty. I guess I was afraid to ask, sensing that it was a whole lot more shitty than anything I’ve had to face. So I’ll just keep chugging along. We’re not moving to the country anytime soon and what the hell else am I going to do?
Used the rubbing alcohol, the cotton pads. Floss, toothpaste, toothbrush. Standing out in front of the house, alongside the patio, brushing my teeth, then spitting out the pasty foam, swishing water around in my mouth, putting the toothbrush in there while I swish, to get it clean—that’s the kind of moment I miss when I get back home. Filling those Fiji bottles at the sink. I don’t need the Fiji water per se but I do like those bottles. They’re square, so they won’t roll like most other bottles. Sturdy plastic, too. These things matter! And the two-gallon jugs are a must. Refilled each one once. Didn’t drink much of my Old Crow Reserve—none after Thursday because Pat brought a handle. We were passing that thing around. Lots of mouths on it. Not sanitary, but fun.
Did use the hand shovel. Did use some of the pre-unrolled t.p. But also grabbed some off of the stack of rolls in the house. Used my headlamp but not extensively. Relied on the red light setting for stargazing. Used the star chart. Oh, and that orange object that we readily identified as Mars? That wasn’t Mars. It was Spica, of Virgo (my sign). Finding the constellation Corvus in the southern sky (a badly misshappen square with an extra star at its bottom right) helped me figure this out. Spica is quite rusty of color, though. And very bright!
I’m nearing the end, here, bear with me. I guess I could talk camping inventory ad infinitum. I didn’t use my big flashlight a lot, but I did use it. It’s a must, especially for non-farm camping. I actually used the mini-Maglite a bit—when I was up at the Jeep and didn’t have either my big light or my headlamp on me. Pat did get his good camera out. Did some time lapse. Took it up to the field. That was when everybody down at the campfire went “Lord of the Flies” and orgiastically gorged on Saturday night’s wood in the space of about half an hour. Then we had to go scrounging in the dark for shitty wood. Scrounging for wood in the dark is a desperate act. Any decent wood, reasonably near the fire, has probably already been got.
The chairs were good. I’m not sure I’ve sat in anything that is much better. The scissors came in handy. I did not use either of my knives. I used the chainsaw on three occasions. I am happy with that chainsaw. It’s a Stihl Farm Boss and it kicks ass! I got some good experience with it on Friday morning. I had some problem moments where I was getting the chain pinched. My technique needs work. I can’t always just start at the top and work straight down through a log. I have to get in mind starting with a little nick at the bottom, where the blade will eventually make its exit. I did not need to re-gas. I probably will need to get some more chain-bar oil.
I used the aloe Saturday to rub on my forearms where I got burnt on Friday. Anything with chocolate got melted by the sun. Whether it was in a bucket, in the Jeep, or in my backpack. There was no running. So maybe we should stick to non-chocolate energy/nut bars for warmer weather trips. I was happy with my Bean Boots. I have had them since 1997 I believe. At some point I will have to re-up. The stitching is going and the bottoms are worn smooth. The Crocs are a nice change-up, in terms of putting something on my feet that allows me to get them a little more air. But this morning I had something bothering me as I walked in them, right under the big toe of my left foot. I shook out the Croc, checked my sock, nothing. But I still felt it—a sharpness. Then I checked in the rubber of the Croc and pulled out a three-quarter’s inch bramble thorn. Nasty.
I used my Braven portable speaker, but only on Thursday night. I could use it up by the house if I were just hanging out up there, sitting on the patio, like I was. Used some lip balm, not much. Used some Neosporin, as I had a little sore trying to form in my nose. A sore, a pimple, an inflamed hairshaft. I don’t know what those things are. Used the log carrier, the handsaw. Used the hatchet briefly. Used the loppers; saw Aaron use them for something.
Did not use the clippers. Used some newspaper and having some in one of the buckets was a good idea. B says she did use her bottle opener; did use at least one straw.
OK, now I’m really fading. Sunday night, 9:13 p.m. Tomorrow the non-physical world returns. There’s nothing I can do about it. Used my charger, B used it too. Used hand sani, from at least two different bottles. Used safety pins. Did not use any paper clips. Did use twisty ties and dropping those in a few more places is a good idea. Back of Jeep, here and there. OK, goodnight.
IX. Post-script. Tuesday Afternoon.
It is Tuesday afternoon and I’ve made myself a cocktail, specifically a “journalist.” I remember the stretch I went through in college when I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I told that to one of my professors at the time, Professor Hadas, who taught “Bible as Literature.” He was notorious for allowing students to turn in their final paper whenever they wanted—even after the class was over for the semester. The catch, of course, was that you still had to turn in the paper by the time you wanted to graduate. So I was telling him I wanted to be a journalist, I can’t remember why. And he said, “The key to being a journalist is asking the questions other people don’t want to answer.” And the key to finding ticks after camping in central Missouri in the spring is looking for them in the places where you least want them to be found.
I have in mind that Wallace Stevens and Ted Kooser, good poets both, held jobs in the financial sector—careers in insurance—and still managed to get their writing done. Well, this is all I’ve got—a questionable twig listlessly munched on by a cow in the midst of a mindless drought. The farm is just a few days in the rearview mirror but already it is lost to me. And if I tried to write more, in hindsight, it would be embellishment, it would be acting, it would be wrong. I kept good time out there, a Swiss watch. Now I am off by a few minutes, and the discrepancy will only increase with every passing day.
One of my much-anticipated farm sojourns is over, done, kaput, and burned like a contrabanded tick. But the camping season for Jack and B in 2014 has just begun. It is only just beginning again.
—Iberia and St. Louis, MO