Goes Away

Where one leak seemed fixed, another springs up.  Well, isn’t that the way it goes?  Stained wood, stained mattress.  Damp kitchen, scary room.

Stove going.  I was in the dirty attic.  Three-legged chairs, canceled checks, dauber nests by the hundred.  I go up there because the attic is my place to intercept the rain that finds its way through the farmhouse’s old, fallible roof.  Like me, the rain keeps returning, keeps coming back to this remote piece of cattle country in the middle of the state.  

A mist rises from the pasture, hangs there like a cloud.  Above, the sky is clear.  There is, thank God, no wind.  It is still.  I can hear nothing but the nothing that is, the nothing that once will be everything.  If you would be so kind as to scatter my ashes here.  If you would allow me to play the part of the sandstone, to let the water through.

The mice are back.  Two traps, old cheese, picked clean.  Leave the droppings where they lay.  Wise rodents.  Re-bait, try again...


A short missive from Farm, from late last year...

A Little Dauber Do Ya

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The only thing here in the traps was a very crisp frog. There's a bit of a breeze. Only some of the grass has grown, only some of it needs to be mowed. The rest is fried—if it isn't dead it might not grow again this year. So there's one upside to the heat, to the lack of rain: less mowing. If I can stick out the balm, I can spend my time here the next two days doing more of this, and maybe a little reading...


The rest of the story...

To the Dogs

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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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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...  


This short essay continues here...

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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Coal Clams Are the New Storm Here

As we sat down at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room on our last full day in Savannah, the arrangement of food on the table drew attention.  The number of items itself was only part of the story: sweet potatoes, cheesy potatoes, fried chicken, cornbread, corn, rutabaga, cole slaw, cukes, black-eyed peas, lima beans, stuffing, barbecued pork, cabbage, green beans, jambalaya, white rice, baked beans.  All in porcelain bowls with serving spoons.  This was a family-style meal.  The way it works is that you stand in line outside the restaurant for a half an hour or so.  When one of the tables inside opens up, seven to nine of the people standing in line take a spot at the open table.  When you sit down, the food is hot and ready to go.  You grab a bowl next to you and start loading your plate.  If there’s something you want in a bowl across the table, you ask for it to be passed.  

Anne-Marie didn’t initially sit down.  She set her purse on her chair and went to wash her hands.  Brook had her hand sanitizer out.  I had mine out.  The woman seated to my right asked to use one of the bottles.  She and her husband had driven up from Miami, though they hail originally from Spain.  They had planned to be in Japan this week but canceled that trip because of the outbreak.  The other couple at our table was from Michigan, bringing the total at the table to eight.

I was conscious of the way I handled the bowls when passing or receiving them.  But I also felt resignation.  What’s done is done.  Let’s just enjoy lunch, I thought.  Reflecting back on the meal I’m wondering about the family-style concept in the age of corona.  That restaurant is an institution.  The original Mrs. Wilkes’s grand-daughter came to our table in greeting.  Yet, with the way the news is trending overseas, the word ‘inevitable’ comes to mind.  How do we stop going out to eat?  How many traditions are we willing to concede?  How many will we lose one way or another?  I mean, I’m putting pen to paper on this trip not just because I’m a writer but with a mind to meeting an assignment for a travel writing class I’m taking at Washington University in St. Louis.  My readers are my classmates.  But I don’t know, as I sit here in Savannah, ready to go home, if my class will even convene later this month.  Stanford has already gone online...


What follows is an essay I wrote one year ago as the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold. After multiple unsuccessful attempts to publish it elsewhere, I am happy to publish it here on my blog today. Click here for the full essay and thanks for reading...

Returning A Star

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The next morning the coals were there, buried but lurid, glowing like rare orange gems.  Across the distance of a cold night they were still hot despite being abandoned, despite being covered by a heap of fine grey ash as the prior day's fire faded in upon itself.  I walked around looking for pieces to add to the fire, to bring it back. I was out at Farm again, waking up chilled from a night in the unheated farmhouse. I was in search of fresh fuel, the arms and legs of trees, fodder for the next go-round.  Honey locust, sycamore, cedar. Walnut, hickory, oak. Just-fallen twigs, young limbs, old broken trunks half-rotted away, wet with the promptly melted snow of a Missouri winter.  On top of coals prevailing through the wind and dark of night any wood will do...


Click here to continue with fire, bluebirds, osage orange, and the sun...

June in the Vespiary with the Push Mower

I.

I'm out at Farm. Yeah, I know, surprise, surprise. Small green bugs—gnats, aphids—swarm the lightbulb overhead. They cling, somehow, upside down to the ceiling, making a marina out of faux-wood paneling.

It's finally dark out. June bugs fling themselves against the front door. Something dots the back of my neck, I try to chase it away. Today, June 14th, Flag Day. I'm here to mow, an insane endeavor depending so much on a car, a push mower, gasoline, and this forty-year-old body. Wall sounds, probably the pack rat. My approach to this old farm house, earlier today, descending the gravel road, sent two groundhogs scurrying across the front yard I would soon get to clipping. They disappeared to somewhere, probably into that hole slipping under the front of the house, just west of the stoop...


The essay continues...

Look Here, Boys: The Calamitous Fall of One of Farm’s First Owners.

I don’t know when or why the marriage of Milford to Stella Burns collapsed. 

But knowing so gave me reason to view the life of Milford Duncan with a certain wariness.  His marriage to Stella was finished by 1919 at the latest. This I know for sure because in early November of 1919 Milford was married for the third time, to Ella Noblett (b. 1881, location unknown). 

Ella Noblett herself had previously been married; she widowed a man named Coates, an Englishman who was closely associated with the rise of Maries Bank. Said to be a shrewd businessman, he also had a hotel operation in Vienna. When he died in 1917 from influenza, he was said to be worth rather a lot of money...


The Story of Milford Duncan...