Dateline Farm. First tea of the season. October 11—kind of late for first tea, methinks. B agrees. It’s Thursday. She took a sicker.
It’s sunny and breezy. The blue jays make ratchety calls. All in all the place was in good shape upon our arrival. The freezer was running strong. The four trays of ice were cold and full. I cracked them and filled the owl, part-way. It amazes me that old freezer works so well. Even the fridge compartment had a chill to it, which isn’t always true. I was here three weeks ago; left it running in anticipation.
Turkey vultures float in rising arcs, a woodpecker knocks. Cows lows in a neighboring field. Farther away, a chainsaw gnashes its teeth. We await arrival.
A little after four this afternoon, Doug, Megan and Olivia (their pup) arrived in Doug’s red Dodge truck. B and I had moved some split wood from the shed down to the fire area, and were gathering some kindling before we stopped to greet them.
At this moment there is not a cloud in the sky, not even contrails. Usually we see a litter of contrails in the sky here. How can you explain that? B says maybe because of Hurricane Michael the would-be flights, having been canceled, are not in the air. Plausible!
Hugo (our dog) and Olivia are a sight to watch. It’s Hugo I don’t trust. He is showing his teeth some and growling—one bark. Liv wants to play. He seems to be thinking about sex.
Of the many items to note I’ll jot at least one more: the spring is really flowing, susurrous and full. Hugo barks at Liv again. We just haven’t had him around other dogs enough. I feel wary and amateurish.
House thermometer says 57°.
At a-quarter-to-five, the next arrival: Eric, Michelle and Olivia. Olivia is their daughter.
I traipsed through the brush down by where we have our fires. It’s a grassy area that slopes away from the house until it levels out, not far from where the spring bubbles up and makes its way toward Little Tavern Creek. It all sits below a squat, rocky bluff of sorts, hard sandstone I have worked to clear and keep clear over the years. Toward the creek are established trees, volunteers, bushes, tall grass. I was in there pulling out kindling and a few heavier branches that had fallen.
Then I walked back up the hill, passing the house, and stood at the pasture gate and just looked out. Turkey vultures caught my eye, two groups of about thirty each, flying toward the sun. Then they tightened their formation and began to float slowly upward, in a kaleidoscopic rising dance. I’ve never seen TVs do that before, or hadn’t until three weeks ago at Meramec State Park. I’ve a newfound appreciation for these birds I’d only previously associated with picking at roadkill. Before if I saw a group of them floating I figured something must be dead down below.
The dance seems to be about gaining warmth in the sun and joining together in some instinctual choreography, some community life I have not seen any other bird display with such languid grace, if at all.
Current head count: seven people and two dogs.
“Not bad for a Thursday,” someone says.
No, it’s not.
Eric is trying out ad hoc parts for his outdoor wood stove. He gets these curio pieces from places he demos. I can remember a friend finding Xanax behind the bookcase of some place he was rehabbing. That’s some chimney Eric’s got going, the top pieces still rising to eight feet above the ground, gleaming in chrome or stainless steel, the rest a-rust, having set outside since April, when last we all were here.
Sunset update: getting there, at 17:30. Not twilight yet, not dusk.
At the approaching sound of an ATV—the farmer—the cows sound off.
Thursday night. Not only are Patrick and Anne Marie both here but the stars are nonpareil. As I look due east, in a line starting far above and then descending lower toward the horizon is a perfect vertical consisting of Pleiades, Taurus, Orion’s belt. Lurid, formidable, effervescent. Have the stars looked better here, to anyone, ever?
V. Friday, 10.12.18
Re-stock: Dawn. Patrick and AM arrived last night about 21:00. Leading up to yesterday, we didn’t ask him or anyone if AM was going to be at Farm this weekend. The odds of her arriving on Thursday we thought were pretty low. Then they were here. I was drinking beer by that point, though I had started with two Busch N/A.
My night ended a little after two. I had smoked a cigarette, which knocked me loopy. I tried to meditate the lurches away but couldn’t cut through the spinning, fogging daze as it enveloped me. I retched some onto the bed of coals. My throat was torn up. I drank water and made my way up the hill, first to the car and then to the tent.
The sky was as clear as possible then. The rain started about four hours later, maybe as early as five. Little drops, pinpricks, like sporadic sand pinging the tent. The condition has persisted. At 9:50 it’s overcast with light rain, 45°F.
I am up in the house. They are out there, down there. There are two canopies set up by the fire. It is raining but there were still plenty of hot coals on the fire this morning. I made two trips up to the house from the fire with a broken-handed shovel, and with B’s help, dumped the imported coals into the wood stove. Inevitably the house smoked in a bit. But a fire was going in the stove in relatively little time.
I hear Olivia saying something, not quite shouting but proclaiming, projecting. It’s funny about Gerald. Who’s Gerald, you say? On trash day this week, I saw a strange and grotesque object in the gutter along the curb out in front of our house. It was a foam replica of a human skull. My first instinct was to bring it down here, enticing hijinks. I thought again and tossed the skull into our bin. Then yesterday B took out a bag of trash. I was watering the grass.
“What’s this?” she asked.
I told her. Then I said, “Should we take it?”
“Uhh, yeah,” she said.
As we unpacked here yesterday I put the skull out on the stoop, on one of the stands out there. At some point Olivia saw it. She then mounted it on a stick. B had some role in conjuring a name for the entity. We had driven through Gerald, MO on highway 50 yesterday. The stick-skull figure is thus dubbed Gerald.
So, two fires. They have rallied the coals down there and I have the stove jogging along up here, my music going, my four- and five-star songs. This is Idjut Boys’ “Another Bird”, a Scottish acid jazz dub. Adam, if you’re reading this, you’d dig this song for sure. I have a cup of Tulsi steeping, and wood to get. Fall Farm 2018, right where I want to be.
At 12:45, Billy arrives. His phone had him go 63 to 68 to 28 to 133 to Missouri Highway DD to county road 632. He said DD was paved!
It’s two o’clock now. Chilly. Rain is off and on but never hard, nothing much beyond a drizzle. My nose is cold and my hands are cold. I need another layer; want to go and chuck my phone. I have a bit of a headache. We ate veggies.
I ran the saw for a little while, cutting up a medium-sized ash that had fallen and lay over the second-channel a.k.a. the dry creekbed you cross over before getting to the Little Tavern. Then I cut off more the upper limbs of the big oak near the road that fell a couple years back, propped up by a smaller tree and still off the ground.
It has been tricky to get the fire going again in earnest as folks cook and also with the rain.
Wow, it’s Friday night, 22:30, and I am turning in.
Saturday, morning, it’s getting light. I’m down by the fire, with Lanie and Julia. The fire was in pretty good shape this morning when I returned to it, about 5:40. I was then unexpectedly joined by the two girls I’ve mentioned. They’re on the rocks now, in their pyjamas and headlamps. Playing house! Master bedroom, porch. I imagined an amphitheater when those rocks were cleared. They contemplate couches, TVs, a hallway, bookshelves.
Hugo was out of the tent with me. I’ve fed him and he’s down here, too, on his bed, on his second leash, after some pie-iron licking.
I didn’t expect to find any wood remaining, having gone to bed relatively early. But maybe I wasn’t the only one worn out by yesterday—the moisture, the boisterous young congregants. My head hurt much of the day, from the usual suspects: alcohol, cannabis, nicotine. A day later my head still hurts a little and that baffles me. I had less to drink yesterday that any other day I’ve spent here: this pastureland halfway between Iberia and Brinktown in Missouri, USA.com. I had one Bell’s brown ale, one Avery imperial oktoberfest and two Busch beers. I started with two Busch non-alcoholic brews, my pace cars out in front of all the action.
“We forgot about the kitchen, Julia.”
It is gratifying to have the rocks clean to the point two girls can clamber upon them in morning’s dusk. I looked up half an hour ago and saw a few stars, the best and the brightest. Now, some blue sky. Undeniable, indefatigable, inimitable. A sight I saw not once yesterday.
The birds are clocking in. The fire crepitates and hums. It’s oak and ash I cut yesterday from what were already fallen trees. I mentioned this already, didn’t I?
A cardinal now. A blue jay, farther away. The girls walked off; my writing flushed them.
“Do you, like, want to be a writer when you grow up?”
“Well, I am kind of grown up already.”
“Wait, how old are you?”
I told them what I write—mostly journals, some poems, a few stories. “But no,” I said, “not professionally.”
Nichols has his A-frame-style pop-up camper down here, this area where we have our campfire, call it the Firegrounds. He rented the pop-up from some outfit, or maybe just from some lady, name of M B Thomas.
I’d love to see some geese overhead. Snow geese, I’m talking, their almost imperceptible tight and thin high V. But some Canadas would do fine, too. Maybe it’s too late for the snow geese by this time of the season. Who knows anymore? Do the birds even know what they’re supposed to do?
Writing without my glasses on strains m’eyes, refers tightness back into my head.
“Wait, Julia, what do you want, like, Sprite?”
“I’m not thirsty.”
“I’m just gonna get a Sprite.”
Their decibel level rises with the growing of the light. There’s gotta be some folks in tents thinking WTF!?
I look around at the ground. Beer cans, Busch Light and Bud Light. Chair bags. A tarp and a shower liner that laid atop two wood piles yesterday in the drizzle. The forecast had rain possible tonight. I’ve got most of the remaining wood stove on end in a ring around the fire, in the fashion of a palisade, a loose circular enclosure composed of individual pickets. It was AM yesterday saying we should be taking the up-next wood and ringing the fire with it, to warm it and dry it out a little before putting it on the coals. I like how it looks, too.
Sunday morning. Drizzle back in effect.
At 10:09, we leave.
At 16:17, I sit down in bed, and sigh.
VII. The Way Home.
Back home the bereftness takes hold of me. I transport back to the roads we took home. County Road 632, Missouri Highway DD—a road I had never traveled, a paved road through rolling, picturesque cattle country, the colors even more lurid because of the mist, the greens more supple, the cows like holy statues, every sight playing up in what was not quite fog.
From DD to 133, which we took north but probably should’ve taken south instead, toward … I can’t even recall, the route I took was so convoluted, desultory, ad hoc … to Highway N into Brinktown, past the Catholic church there, just letting out, to Highway 28, to 63 for just a moment toward Vienna where we went east on 42 for a brief stretch. I left 42 for Route Z, heading east and running into Highway 28, again, this time heading north through Belle and Bland, curving east toward Owensville and hitting, eventually, Highway 50. It was 50 all the way into Union where we briefly jogged north on Highway 47 before turning right on Route V, over Highway 100 to Route T, back to 100, to Clarkson Road (340), to Clayton Road, to Price Road, to Delmar. It sounds like a lot but it really was not a bad drive, less than three-and-a-half hours. I could shorten it easily by staying on 28 and not taking 63 into Vienna.
VIII. Who Was There.
Jeanie arrived on Saturday, the last arrival. Me, B; Doug and Megan; Eric, Michelle and Olivia; Patrick and Anne Marie — the nine for Thursday, along with two dogs, Hugo and Olivia. The stars were brilliant that night, the tent was chilly, I stayed awake to a late hour, I smoked a cigarette that made me retch.
Friday was in the drizzle, but with two canopies and a tarp added to the side of each canopy lean-to style, giving just enough extra room to slide a table out from under the canopy and giving us a little extra space for stashing wood beneath to keep clear of the rain.
Billy was the first there Friday, in his red Flash (lightning bolt) hoodie. He set his tent up, didn’t need help. Later that night he would find solace in the solitude of his tent, with a bottle of Yoohoo, a clutch of Zebra cakes and some You Tube. Then it was Jay W with his daughter Julia and her friend Laney. Laney telling me she got her shoes at Dollar General on the way. She actually kind of liked them, she said. Nichols with the A-Frame pop-up rental, his two children, stately Kaya and my apprentice-for-fire-master, Easton. The Norrs: Ryan, Jamie, Keegan and little Keeley. Wilson, his beard pure white, a Stag hat; his wife whose name I never asked after and never heard; their children Eli—his upper lip chapped from a habit of aimed-up licking, the same thing I used to do when I was his age, a couple of yearbook photos ruined by it, that sort of false thin mustache running above my top lip, purplish-pink like some sort of birthmark; his interest being more in the ant farm than in the monkey bars, his distaste for pizza….
Which reminds me of Laney and all the mayo she was putting on her hot dogs, made for her by B, who also made Laney and Julia grilled cheeses Saturday morning when they shocked me by showing up so early to the fire, when I thought I was going to have some time there by myself.
And finally Wilson’s daughter Clara, who was even tinier than Keeley. That made 24 for Friday night. There were only two Saturday arrivals: the aforementioned Jeanie, who is Patrick and Eric’s cousin, and then the final arrival, Katrina, who was Jay W’s girlfriend, in a zip-up hoodie and with cigarettes going. Like Billy, their departure Sunday morning was without a goodbye, which is alright. That was 26 total for Saturday night, then.
IX. The House.
No one slept in the house, something of a surprise when you consider the precipitation, which in terms of inches wasn’t significant but it was wet from Friday morning on through departure. The air was wet, the rock was gleaming, the trees were dripping, the grass would dampen your shoes or boots, the spring was running full-bore, the creek water was over the road in two places. The temperature never rose above 57°F the whole time we were there, though it was likely never below 37°F either. We saw the sun only on Thursday. When the clouds broke a bit Saturday morning it was just a deke, the overcast soon obtained again.
We left the house dirtier. The kitchen floor took a beating. The handle to the front door—a storm door with its top glass pane duct-taped together—was snapped off at some point, by someone, a child perhaps. There were yet a couple bags of trash in the house when B and I left (the Vaughans remained, so maybe they grabbed it). I myself left some dirt in the first bedroom, no doubt, as I did my changing there, removing sawdust-besieged boots and socks. I will sweep up next time I’m there, which date I intend to be not later than the last of November.
There is definitely less wood in a couple spots than there was before we arrived. I, and others, used wood off the back porch for the stove. I brought in one load of stove-appropriate pieces from the shed to replenish the the back-porch stock. Up in the shed, the first pile Helm and I ever collected and placed on one of the old box springs is all but gone. It was honey locust and ash. It was a good pile, the box springs were perfect for keeping it aloft. Some of it still exists on the back porch and is ready for the stove.
I used very little dry wood—shed wood—for our fires down below. I had left a bundle of State Park wood in the shed in September. That I took down below and we burned. Saturday morning I grabbed one of two canvas-carrier loads of dry stuff for the fire, and that we burned almost but not quite entirely as I could see a wedge of oak still hanging around, abandoned in the wet grass as I gave the place a final sweep, the fire still with life as we headed down the washed out driveway.
But I touched none of my secret stash of oak from March. It’s not even shed wood laying instead in the bed of an old detached trailer bed, the wheels so far gone, the trailer ensconced in small volunteer locust and ash, covered further by a layer of branches and brush I tossed atop it. It can’t be completely dry but it’s definitely seasoning in there. A dry month this winter would prime it just right.
There remains also a good bit of the large split pieces I have set on a built-in bench in the first shed bay, which bench I reinforced with boards and spindles, pressing back into existence. This bay of the shed is uninviting and not especially easy just to waltz into, even perhaps scary to those not familiar with the actual benignity of the shed and its various compartments, all of which make it a good place to stash wood. I had split those pieces earlier year. Maybe they need more seasoning but there is a part of me that is saying: If you did not burn much of this wood at a Farm Party beset by rain and chill, when, then, will you burn it? Will you burn them before someone else does?
I cut on a fallen hickory Saturday morning around eleven. It was on the pasture side of the barbed-wire fence but in actuality it was quite close to the fire spot. From the fire spot you would climb the rock, get over or through the fence into the pasture, turn to the left and then walk about forty feet through weeds, shrubs and short, young trees. Patrick, Billy and for a moment Wilson helped me get the sawed logs down to the fire. Patrick stacked them down there in an aesthetic way. As we began to go through them we would stack them bit-by-bit on their end around the fire as we had done on Friday. I had cut the hickory pieces in a way to make them sort of stout and squatly, making them excellent perches for resting a pie-iron on. The logs circling the fire this way made the coals more accessible to the various, rotating crew of cooks—it allowed multiple cooking access points. The fire was still smoky but I’d chalk this up in part to the wetness of everything, rain at times falling on the fire as it smoked and burned.
I ran the saw, also, because it gave me something to do. On Saturday morning especially I was a little nervous and antsy with energy. I feared getting the hammock out because the children would be attracted to it , perhaps squabble over it, maybe damage it. If I wanted to get into the hammock and have any peace with it I would’ve had to take it away, perhaps not out of earshot but certainly out of sight. And, besides, it wasn’t that warm. The air underneath you in a hammock can feel chilly, and I wouldn’t have been in my bag or with a blanket atop me. So I ran the saw. It ran well. Eric et al then ran it for an extended time to fell and buck nine cedars. I tightened the chain after someone got it pinched, which might have been when they were cutting the third or fourth of their nine cedars, but I haven’t looked at it since. I am a little afraid to inspect it. No doubt it needs a cleaning. And, probably, the chain will have dulled. C’est la farm vie.
XI. The Three R’s.
I am not trying to re-hash the whole weekend here. I need a shower, though I did take a shower in the house after I cut on the hickory. The water wasn’t as cold as I feared. The bathroom mirror was even somehow steamed up.
My objective in this account is to have something useful to look back upon. I want it to be a reference in my continuing effort to do better. B and I were talking about trash on the drive back, i.e. the trash we all generate at Farm. B and I have gotten good at not generating trash—the trash has to come back from Farm with someone at weekend’s end so why not try not to generate trash at all?
What trash did we generate, B and I? Floss. Cotton pads, which we use to apply rubbing alcohol to our underarms. Tea bag wrappers. The coffee filters I take outside and chuck grounds and all into the brush. We did trash the foil that we wrapped our potatoes in. Beer cans, sure. But I brought back 50 cans along with with several other recyclables, mostly plastic bottles that held water. In the cans and bottles we brought back with us more in mass and weight than we ourselves generated or asked anyone else to bring back.
We use reusable sporks—no plastic silverware. We use steel cups for all of our beverages: coffee, tea, cocktails. We use Nalgenes or similar plastic or metal canteens from which to drink water. We drink the well water, from the kitchen tap (was/is the pressure low? I think it has dropped from prior years). We have our aluminum, reusable plates. We wash them in the kitchen, perhaps once a day. If we use paper towels we burn them. But, you know, some hand towels or dish rags down by the fire would be kind of nice. I wouldn’t use them to wipe off a dirty plate but I could use them to wipe or dry my hands at times.
I also keep a trash bag in the car. Hugo’s poop bags we collected in an out-of-the-way spot and then put into a larger bag which we took with us at the end of the Party.
We pre-prepped the food we planned to eat. We brought a dozen kolaches, which worked well again. Each morning we had one each of the breakfast kolaches, which contain egg, sausage and shredded potato. We burned the paper box that contained them. I finished of our little carton of milk this morning. I put the empty carton back in our cooler. Our ice bags remained in our cooler the whole time. They are drying as we speak. I brought back with us two or three of the Jay We got from Iberia last night. I will re-use those bags, probably to construct my own big bags of ice for future trips. One I opened carefully with needle-nose pliers, straightening the staple-like clasp of metal the ice company clamps on there to tie the bag off up top. They are very reusable, sturdy, unscented bags! I like our reduce-reuse-recycle style of life is what I’m trying to say. It’s my joie de vivre. I want to spread the word!
XII. Pack List Review.
I have my list out now. A yet-unused copy of my “Camp List”. I’m going over it to jog my memory for taking notes. For Farm next time I know I need: dish soap, a door handle, material to fix the back door screen, tea, coffee filters. I didn’t put my shovel away correctly this morning. I usually hide it in the shed. I never actually used it this weekend because I was using the port-a-pottie. But I had gotten it out, made it visible. I saw Jay We with it but I saw him put it back more or less where he found it.
I forgot to wear my biteguard last night. If I was grinding my teeth, it wasn’t extreme—not like that night I forgot to wear it at Spring Farm 2017. I used the egg-shaped ball of lip balm in the camp kit, right before eating one night. It has a flavor/scent that marred my eating experience so it might be on the chopping block.
I did use ear plugs Friday night. I never put any deet on and haven’t closely checked myself for ticks. I do want to use some liquid shower soap out there.
I didn’t do any reading while I was there. Any downtime I have there is devoted to drinking and socialiZing. Which is fine! But I have two trusted books in the house, Pancake and Baxter.
I needed the mini-USB cord when my speaker went kaput last night and we wanted to link B’s phone to it to play dance music. I had that cord in the camp kit—I thought! Or I had one in the boot of the car—I thought! But could not find one in either spot. I would have used the cord to connect my speaker to my battery pack, which otherwise I did not use, alas.
I spent no money on the trip. B charged 14.15 gallons of gas at the Casey’s in Belle on our way back.
The batteries in our head lamps must be running low but I did not deploy or mess with any batteries this weekend.
We had our rain jackets on a lot. We didn’t use the ponchos. The canopies served us well. One was Doug’s, one belonged to Eric and Michelle. We did use our lantern but even better was Doug’s LED light/fan that he was able to mount or attach to one of the ceiling struts of the canopy, distributing plenty of light in that canopy, which Hugo seemed to find comforting.
I didn’t use my ballglove though I did toss whiffle batting practice to Keegan in the grassy area between the house and the fire for about half an hour, shagging the hits myself. I enjoyed it. He likes the ball low and away.
I brushed Hugo’s teeth once. I need to do that now, in fact. Get a better carabiner on one end of his second leash.
I wore long johns Friday and needed them. I didn’t take my axe but I kind of wish I had. Some of the wood I freshly cut I could’ve split—to diversify what we were adding to the fire. There are times when you just can’t toss an unsplit log onto a fire that you are also trying to cook upon—the fire isn’t big enough or hot enough, the unsplit round won’t flame. It’ll burn down eventually but it will throw off a lot of smoke along the way.
One of the box fans in the house works? I couldn’t believe it. There are two or three. I thought I had tried them all but I saw one working. They had got it going to blow out smoke from the kitchen when they started up the woodstove on Saturday.
Doug left behind his good recliner-chair. It’s under a bed in the first bedroom—don’t forget.
“I’m donating this,” he said. He couldn’t fit it in his truck bed upon re-packing for the drive back home.
We brought back—an accident—a pillow I’d taken down there, to leave, earlier this year. B grabbed it out of the house when she decided the Casper pillow I packed for her was not good enough. She wanted to leave the Casper there but I use it here sometimes, as a supplement (on its own, I concur, it is not enough pillow).
The big “thermal-insulated” Kinco gloves I had this weekend were great for fire-work and comfy otherwise. I can’t wear them for more than a moment during the summer but they were perfect in the damp and chill. I could stock another pair.
Speaking of gloves…. I now have no gloves—or, OK, one pair—down there. The left middle finger of one of my orange pair has worn through, making the entire pair useless. For some reason, maybe just bad luck, when one of the halves of a pair of my gloves wears out first it is always the left glove! I have at least a couple of odd righties but no odd lefties to go with them. Why can’t we all just get along?
We took four hardboiled eggs, ate none. We took granola, didn’t eat any of it. I am so busy on wood and on the house and then so focused on people and the fire when I’m at Farm Party that I don’t really eat much. I also accept offered food. It’s a sort of grace, to welcome and to take what is offered. I’m practising at it. I ate a sausage patty Billy had made (Roxanne was not there). I made two bloody Mary’s a la Jay We and his bloody Mary bar. He had fixins, too: olives, sausage, cheese sticks. I ate five of those olives and several slices of the sausage.
I didn’t touch the fire at all this morning. Billy was down there at seven stoking it. Easton was working on it after that. Some of the logs I cut were still stacked where Patrick had left them except this morning they were covered in what must’ve been a mix of dew and rain.
As the weekend fades away from me I keep hearing that sound of something hitting the sides of our tent. Middle of the night, toward dawn. With a twang almost, a rubbing-up against, a membrane’s falling. As I lay in the tent I could not figure it. Cedar branch? Deer? Mere water?
As we were taking down the tent I saw a grasshopper on the fly. I think it was the culprit. They fling themselves at the tent, landing with that twangy ping, a pulse of reverberation. Percussion. It is like they are boomeranging themselves, trampolining, having fun.
— Richwoods Township,
“You’ve got Trump hair.”
“He’s not orange though.”
“Yeah, he’s orange.”
“He’s a Cheetoh.”