To the Dogs

1

A couple of dogs were here yesterday when I arrived, and they have stuck around.  

I have been giving them food, so I can’t be too surprised that they have stayed.  I had an old can of soft food stashed away on the upper shelf of the corner kitchen cabinet.  It didn’t look too bad; they ate it.  They’ve also gotten a few of the heart-shaped Newman’s-brand treats, which are basically doggie biscuits.  And I’ve given them some kibble I had tucked away in a mouse-proof bucket back in the main bedroom here at Farm, dateline Traderight, MO.

I’ll give them what food I have, for as long as they are here, and then I’ll restock with some fresh food when I return.  Whether the new inventory will be for these two on some later visit or for my own dog Hugo or for some other rando dogs that might appear somewhere down the road, who knows?

They slept out front last night.  They growled and barked a few times.  Somewhere around one or two in the morning they woke me with barking and I had to pee anyway so I went outside.  Even before I stepped out the front door I could smell something dank and rich and garlicky, a very deep and funky body odor let loose into the wild.  Skunk.  There was no doubt about it.  Like a bomb had been released...


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Founding Feathers

“A lot of texts these days.”

“Yeah.  I was thinking.  What messages did we used to send that didn’t contain text?”

“Smoke signals.”

“Yes.  Can you imagine sending a smoke signal today?  From one end of a city to another?  From Minneapolis to St Paul?”

“There are a lot of places where it could still work.”

“Not in cities.”

“Certainly not.  But from one farm to another.  Along some trails.  In the desert.”

“What do you burn in a desert?”

“A desiccated cactus will bank a fire for days.”

“What about hieroglyphs?”

“Were they sent?”

“Through time.”

“That’s… a stretch.”

“They were composed by hand and contained or referred to a specific language.  How do we know they weren’t meant to convey information into the future?”

“I think they were pretty close to being text though.”

“How about Morse code?”

“Hmm—yes.  Only audible.  Not a text but...”


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River Flint

Look at how red that star is.  Oh, I know, my pillowcase was soaking wet.  Did you just text me?  I never use the hand dryer.  You know that door makes a lot of noise when it bangs shut, right?  I don’t have any idea what time it is.  The insects are happy.  I can see Orion’s belt now.  Can you imagine coming out here before the road was paved?  I don’t know if those people are just getting up or if they never even went to sleep.  The river’s gonna feel good tomorrow.  Why do you have that rubber band around your wrist?  It is not possible to drink enough water.  Is your dog dreaming in his sleep?

***

Man, where’d you find all that kindling?  If you saw Orion’s belt that high above the horizon in the middle of September it had to be two a.m.  Yeah, I had to wear ear plugs.  Can kayaks leave a wake?  Something absconded with the chips last night.  What’s this spongy stuff?  That guy slept in his van.  I dreamt about box fans.  What time are they picking us up?  You can’t use that kind of pen on these notebooks.  If it rains on your birthday that’s good luck, right?  Those look like chigger bites to me.  Almost nobody was wearing a mask.  If you saw a reddish star that bright it was probably just Mars.  It’ll go back up eventually.  That fire’s going good now.  Of course I brushed my teeth.  Did you hear those ducks going at it in the middle of the night?  Well, I’m supposed to wear a biteguard.  It was worse inside the tent, believe me.  I gargle if I can.  Dogs actually shed a lot this time of the year.  The whole thing was so stupid.  Is he just going to keep going back and forth like that?  Oh, that’s a cute mask.  It’s amazing those things float. I don’t know, I think it’ll be fun.  That was definitely an owl.  What’s that movie where they all scramble like hell to get ready for the airport?  You’re gonna have to get somebody back out here to take some photos.  Hey, how easy is it to tear these things in two?  Holler if you want a muffin.  Did water get in there?  Well, I was looking for my headlamp but it was one of those things where I needed my headlamp to find it.  I’m in fine fiddle with an hour to spare.  Those clouds do look pretty thick over there.  I always travel with a couple of little soaps.  Eh, I’ll sleep on the river...  


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The Case of the Missing Steak

But then a second Yoakum brother paid a visit.  This was Junior, the youngest, veteran of the Navy, pulling up the drive in an all-terrain buggy with his wife Ginger in the passenger seat and two hunting dogs in tow.  

I had never met Jr before.  He lives not far away.  We got to talking.  He had some questions for me.  He wanted to know about the house.  Does it have running water?  Yes, I said, but the toilet is not currently hooked up.  Is there any air conditioning, a window unit? asked Ginger.  Negative on that.  Just a box fan, I said.  

Jr remarked on the clearing I’ve been working on these last few years.  He even noted how the shed had been cleaned up, part of it anyway.  He had memories of Willy Lee, who lived in this house in the middle of the last century, who farmed this land.  Jr identified that big hulk of rusting metal in the pasture near the barn as a wheat combine.  A thresher.  My mom’s dad was a wheat farmer, he would have known that hunk of rust was a thresher.  On a recent visit, my uncle Vernon had alerted me to an article outlining the history of my grandfather's threshing circle in the Okawville Times.  I wondered about the viability of growing wheat on this rocky terrain but I guess old Willy Lee had it figured out well enough...


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Three Persimmons

Today I ate three small, round, plump persimmons.  They were of an orange hue, tasting somewhat sweet, a little juicy.  Fleshy.  I didn’t know much about persimmons until recently.  Probably I ate one or two somewhere along the line but when and where and why I cannot say.  These persimmons were from a stately tree with silver-green leaves that stands out now in the north end of the cattle pasture at a place I call Farm, a plot of sixty acres of mixed pasture, scrub, and hardwood forest in eastern Miller County, Missouri.  

This past winter I set out to begin relieving this land of the burden, of the scourge of eastern redcedar infestation.  These cedar trees, which aren’t actually cedars at all but a type of juniper that grows as a tree, grow at a quickened pace.  With speed and numbers on their side, a gang of cedars will take over just about any landscape, encircling older and taller trees, choking them out, robbing them of water and other resources...  


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Get In, Get In

1.
I deflate into sleep
Letting the air of
Today escape
Until tomorrow.

There's afternoon sun
When we stride,
Evening lights
When we slumber.

I saw it on the news.
Flies landed all over,
A bug-eyed buzzing
Mist, here to soak up
All of our
Crowded skepticism.

When we leave our
Doors open to the
Cool dark night
They make their move
To get in.

2.
All of the ice machines
In Tucson are empty,
Hobbled by
Mischievous
Desert tech.

Before they broke
They bade us
Sonoran goodbyes.
They said,
What water
We made solid
Will never be forgotten.

They didn't try to
Negotiate. They
Made no demands.
It's not a strike
When the absence
Never ends.

They just got in.


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Sketches of East of Here

I. Setting Out.

My brother is driving. I'm in the backseat at liberty to write. Dad, riding shotgun, shuffles through sheets of paper explaining stock valuations and physical therapy exercises.

The car is a 2015 Buick Lucerne with 62,000 miles on it and counting. Destination: Ludlow, Massachusetts, where my dad grew up, where he's from, where he still has family: his cousins, his aunt (who turns 88 in two days), his sister (who he hasn't seen in 25 years), his niece (likewise).

We left Belleville, Illinois, at 8 a.m. this morning, yours truly behind the wheel. Football (a.k.a. soccer) streams on satellite radio, channel 157, the European Championship tournament. This is the first round of the tournament, dubbed group play. Earlier, Russia knocked off Finland. Now, it's Turkey and Wales.

It's been awhile since I've been in a car's backseat. I'm enjoying it; it feels like a luxury. Like I'm flying on an airplane. What else is there to do but to read, to write? To describe, to explain, to tell?

At the first rest stop, my dad pointed at some new socks he was wearing.

"What do you think of these?" he asked...


Click to continue with my account of traveling by car to Ludlow, MA with my dad and brother to visit family there...

Ambrosia

A cadence of coded colors...
A five-cup salad...

My goal is to be
Neither seller nor buyer.
It's called holding on—
I get it wrong every day

First there's a wild pitch,
Then a passed ball.
Everywhere magnolia, we all
Eventually granola

Being of one-way streets
We bathe in salt dreams,
Dead seas,
We scroll down

But tonight I'm thinking about
that dessert Grandma made

The one with
Pineapple chunks, sour cream,
Coconut, marshmallows,
And mandarin oranges

Everything she got
From the IGA

Oiled Newspaper Hack for Charcoal Grilling

Today I want to write about a “hack” I have been using to get charcoal fires started.  By hack I mean a tip, a trick, a shortcut — in the fashion of a home remedy. 

Over a decade ago, I invited my friend Ray over for dinner and he noticed I was having trouble getting my charcoal grill going.  The method I had been using was to put scrunched up newspaper in the bottom of the kettle, topping that with the smaller of two round metal grills that fit in kettle.  I would dump charcoal on the smaller grill, then eventually place the larger metal grill on top of that.  It’s the larger grill that holds whatever you might be cooking: hamburgers, chicken, bratwursts, whole onions, whole peppers, foil packs of sliced potatoes and butter. Pork steaks, carrots, asparagus, shrooms.

The problem with what I’ll call the “straight newspaper” method is that the newspaper would often burn up too quickly, not having burned long enough to have caught the charcoal, the flame wasting away too soon.  In this event I would have to awkwardly lift the bottom grate, which was a little hot and which was still holding the unburnt charcoal. Then, in a vexed state, I'd have to shove more wads of newspaper down into the bottom of the kettle.  Sometimes I went through three rounds of newspaper before the charcoal would finally catch...


Get your charcoal fire started easily with this one simple trick...

A Farmhouse Almanac

Today was mowing.  Hours of mowing the grass surrounding this old farmhouse.  After timely rain all summer the ground has dried out as September lurches on, dateline Traderight, Missouri.

I arrived here late this morning, some dew still in the grass, the moisture bad for mowing.  But that was fine because first priority was to get the well’s jet pump working better.  When I left here two weeks ago the water was running but the pump would not reach its cut-out pressure; it would not kick off.  A pump can’t run like that.  If it does, it’ll burn itself out...  

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