rain

Last night, in my van, after work, the rain wouldn’t stop falling. Flooding! Endless! Dark and dampening rain! And the rear doors on my van don’t seal properly, it was in an accident, the water drips down on my collection of books- What We Leave Behind, Mrs. Dalloway, Shadows on the Koyukuk. I sat watching the rain, not rain like I’ve known it here, in the last three weeks- not thunderstorms, the sun fighting with the wind, clouds like wadded clothing thrown across the sky. This is the proverbial rock’s underside- a wetness that saturates every happy soul- thorough- like how they do it in Portland. Portland! I am nearly two weeks past the three-month mark away and my homesickness has reached its fever pitch. How I miss my friends! How I miss them! Kindred spirits! I’ve stopped caring about minutes on my overpriced prepaid cellphone (orphans don’t have family plans) and I call them up whenever I fell like it, except always it’s too late, there, or someone is working, or the connection is bad, and I end up feeling like the last living person on Earth. Last night I got through to Toby on the second ring, dear close Toby, and as always she was having the very same thoughts and feelings that I seem to have, only she tempers hers with coffee and notcaring and I try to temper mine with nature.

“We’re going to die!” She said. “I don’t give a fuck!” And then I laughed nearly hysterically because it’s true, true, true, and I had just been thinking (writing in an email) that very same thing in the morning, that I am, in theory, unafraid to be myself and not tempted in the least by conformity and moderation and self hatred because I am, truth be told, along with every other thing, going to die, and for this very reason I should listen to my soul and my heart and my intuition and no-one else, not ever, ever, ever. I have to keep reminding myself that, these days, here in the land of self-doubting, where everything seems for naught, and I don’t remember who I am, or why I care, or where I came from, and I don’t have any friends.

I am going to die. I am going to die. I am going to die.

What is there to be afraid of! What is there to lose! Nothing! Nothing nothing! Tell me what you are afraid of. Tell me one single thing. And then imagine you are dead. You are dead right now! You are dead forever! You never get to be alive again! That’s it! It’s over! You never get to put together another outfit, or eat another pinto bean. You never get to have one single more crush on a living human being. You never get to tell someone to fuckoff! Never again! What a shame!

And then guess what? You are alive. You are not dead yet. You have been beamed down from space, mysteriously, after you were sure that you were dead. You are like a spy! No-one knows that you have died and now you are alive again. You can do anything you want! You have this strong and functioning body, fifteen fat leather suitcases stuffed with privilege, like a season’s pass to all the world’s theme parks. You can, in essence, do whateverthefuck you want. No more lingering in the clouds, watching, being nostalgic, having regrets for all the times you were dishonest or indirect or cowardly. A L I V E ! What are you going to do with your million living dollars? Your twelve thousand days? Your five hundred waxing moons? How often has a waxing moon passed and you haven’t even seen it? How big a number is five hundred? How long do you think you will live? What if you were already dead?

It’s a cheap trick, I know. But it works, like beads on a rosary. There is the part of me that believes it, and there is the part of me that is tempted by immortality, laziness, and cowardice.

“Does it ever get any easier?” asked Toby, the Toby that lives in my soul but also in the telephone- “Why can’t people like us have someplace to live that’s not in the city, with good air and water and stuff?”

“I think that life is just hard,” I said, laughing. “like a hundred years ago people were like, ‘I wish I didn’t have to haul water in this bucket, and I wish I had a comfortable chair and stuff’, but it didn’t make anything easier, life is just hard now in different ways.” We are both laughing, and when I hang up the phone I am crying. Sob, sob, and then I swallow it and reach for Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters To a Young Poet, which I have just acquired and which, of course, has been written just for me.

“You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your while life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose. Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: they are the hardest to work with, and it takes great, fully ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty – describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. – And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to inte4rest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it. So, dear Sir, I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it. Perhaps you will discover that you are called to be an artist. Then take the destiny upon yourself, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and must find everything in himself and in Nature, to whom his whole life is devoted.”

And

“In your opinion of “Roses should have been here . . . ” (that work of such incomparable delicacy and form) you are of course quite, quite incontestably right, as against the man who wrote the introduction. But let me make this request right away: Read as little as possible of literary criticism – such things are either partisan opinions, which have become petrified and meaningless, hardened and empty of life, or else they are just clever word-games, in which one view wins today, and tomorrow the opposite view. Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism. Only love can touch and hold them and be fair to them. – Always trust yourself and your own feeling, as opposed to argumentations, discussions, or introductions of that sort; if it turns out that you are wrong, then the natural growth of your inner life will eventually guide you to other insights. Allow your judgments their own silent, undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be forced or hastened. Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.

In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything!”

secret chicken

I lost my digital camera, I think. It was wrapped in a boy-scout smokey-the-bear hanky, last seen on my van dash, next to the open window, outside the gas station. I left my phone at my new job, on the edge of the stainless sink, in the darkened kitchen stuffed with vintage rootbeer flavoring. I left my calculator watch at the lake where we went swimming, in the weeds along the edge of the water, where we left our clothes, where they got wet in the rain, while the thunder tore the sky, as we were swimming. Without time devices, I have no alarm for the morning. So I stole an analog wind-up clock with glow-in-the-dark numbers and a cheap plastic face and real ringing bell from Fred Meyer and now it sits ticking on the oak cupholders next to the steering wheel. If the clock runs fast, says the slip of paper that came inside, move the regulator towards “-“. If the clock runs slow, move the regulator towards “+”. As humans we long to be such simple machines. In the morning this clock will tell me when to go to my new job, which I have not lost yet. It seems a miracle that I have it, that I’ve had it for three days now, and each day I count and recount this chicken, and the chicken grows more real. I really have a chicken. I really have a chicken. Most likely, the first instant I write about the job on this blog everything will change, making me self-conscious and embarrassed at my own sheer humanity and the fluidity of my life. We all would feel the same way, if we all wrote it down and put in on the internet. It grows tiresome, this exhibitionist recording. Up, down, back, forth, this, that, and this other thing. When I find my digital camera, when I find my calculator watch, when I collect my cellphone and when I have enough money to buy a pillow for my bed, a two-burner propane stove and a cast-iron skillet, then I’ll take some pictures of the flowers I spend all day watering next to the hay meadow that overlooks the entire world while the sun shines down on the backs of my hands and tell you about my new job.

The lake

I work in paradise. There are three hundred acres that overlook a long river valley. There are hundreds of weak annuals, a murky pond that spits water from rusted cannons. In the pond are one thousand goldfish. The long river valley, which can not be seen on smoky days, has the ends of the earth in it. I water the flowers for an hourly wage. The flowers are infinite, so my work is infinite. It’s like I’m dead already, and in a way I am. I water the flowers with an antique watering can and ride a four-wheeler down the dusty trails through the emerald green woodlands until my teeth are coated with grit and my eyes water. The woman I work for teaches me how to shift- like a motorcycle- and how to brake- like a bicycle. One kick up to shift to second, another kick up to shift to third. Are you opposed to alcohol? She asks me. Her arms are tanned a shiny gold, her black apron spattered with dust. What she means, I think, is- Are you opposed to my drinking problem? She is grumpy in the mornings. At the strike of noon she drinks, big plastic tumbler of margarita clutched in her rough hand as she patrols the grounds on her four-wheeler. Her cheeks grow ruddy from the sun, she laughs. She is alive.

Later I am happy so I pick up Liani and Erin and we go to the lake. I pick them up at the coffeeshop where they are sitting outside, on the gravel at the side of the building, smoking weed. The lake is by the gravel pit. At the lake we eat a pint of coconut bliss and then Liani and I swim all the way across the lake and back. It isn’t a big lake, but it feels big, neither of us having ever swum across a lake before. And the water smells good and fresh and the floor is seaweed and soft underwater grasses like shag carpeting. When we finish crossing the lake we are gasping, triumphant in the warm light, naked. I set up the mosquito net and Liana and Erin sit in my van and chainsmoke. They are both from Anchorage, born and raised, but we went to different highschools and they’re too young to remember Atari. They drove up here to Fairbanks in a station wagon whose starter quit when they got into town and they exclaim constantly about the heat, as if every day is Christmas. The good evening light comes in the open back of the van and streams through the smoke of their cigarettes and the mosquito net, and we read Mary Oliver poetry. Liana is wearing a short white dress and a hundred-year old key on a string around her neck. On her forearm are the figures 2 + 2 = 5, tattooed.  Erin wears flip-flops and rolls up her sleeves kind of sloppy, has long hair the color of wood. I know that Erin is gay because our plaids are goodwill cousins, and because she looks me in the eye and sleeps in my van, after I watch her finish a quarter of a bottle of rum in Jake’s little cabin that stinks of stale cigarettes, with his shrine of goodwill knickknacks, an old brass clock with an army man who wears a tea-strainer for a hat and his black cat, Shady. You’ve got a pretty face, he says, and she laughs and hands back his bottle of rum. He’s working her over, wearing her down. I pet the cat. I am the only one not drinking. Every single person in Alaska drinks but me.

Liani and Erin are too young for me, and they have nothing interesting to say, because they have, before this trip, only ever lived with their parents. I seek them out because I do not have refrigeration in my van, and I cannot eat a pint of coconut bliss alone.

You can sleep in my van, I say to Erin. We park next to the field with the birds in it and in the morning it’s hot and folks with butterfly nets and safari hats are swarming around our little house, talking loudly and slapping mosquitoes. We walk to the swamp-pond where the fearless phlebotomist fleet crank their whiners into gear and dart from the backsides of the poplar leaves, needles raised. The folks in safari hats swat their necks and remark on a passing butterfly, golden something-or-other. Alaska, I say to no-one, is the only place I see butterflies anymore. The field with the birds in it has sandhill cranes in it today, eating the seed that was scattered there for them. The emerald green of the spring-grass is having some sort of sex with the blue of the sky and the syrupy yellow sun. I wonder what it would be like to spoon Erin, to put my arm around her hip and smell the base of her hair. We eat sunflower butter and apples on brown rice bread for breakfast, and share a slice of quiche that the coffee shop threw away, warmed in the sun on my dashboard. It has artichoke hearts in it and I pick pieces off, leaving the crust for Erin. I’m allergic to pie crust.

Big Rock Candy Mountain

That’s how I feel right now. Like big rock candy mountain. Does life get any better than this? Things were rough for a few minutes after I bought my van- I’m no mechanic, so I couldn’t really tell if I’d gotten a good deal or a bad one, but almost as soon as I drove away from the guy’s house who I’d bought it from I started to notice little things- strange noises under the hood, clankings, problems shifting, jerking transmission… fuck. But I got the oil changed and put some gas in it and drove north to Fairbanks- where the alternator belts froze up, the whole thing screamed, and blue smoke poured our from under the hood. Shit. I thought I was pretty much totally fucked. My friend Debbie helped me get it towed, and my other friend Jim let me park it at his shop where he fixes heavy equipment on the weekends. He said he’d take a look at it when he was in town, maybe he could help me fix it. He got in on Saturday and I was at a job interview outside of town, helping a psychologist make a healing rock labyrinth in his backyard, for his depression. I rode my borrowed bike back into town as fast as I could, and found Jim in his shop. Did you get a chance to look at the alternator?

He had not only taken the alternator out, he’d traded it in for a rebuilt one and bought all the new parts I would need. All I had to do was put the new alternator in and change one of the wheel thingies, which he showed me how to do and then handed me all the tools. It kind of killed me. I mean, how can some people be so nice? Would I be this nice, if I was a mechanic?

Jim told me that to pay him back I can help him out in his shop this week, and I was like, yeah, ok, but I know shit about mechanics unless I’m, like, fixing my bike, and only if it’s not a problem with the derailleur. But he just kind of nodded, like, whatever, it’s Alaska, everyone knows how to do everything, everyone knows that, and so I was like- cool! That sounds great! And so now i have a job.

WORKING ON THIS.

cat 003

Which makes me feel very, very, very butch. I wear a coverall and get black grease all over my hands and bang up my knuckles and have to wash my hands with that special mechanic soap that has little plastic granules in it that wash straight into the ocean.

My life is AWESOME!

Fairbanks

I live in a van, in a weedy lot, for now, a sort of junkyard where willows grow from the engines of old cars. I’ve pulled one of the seats from my van and set it up on a wooden flatbed trailer that catches the light. It’s my recliner, the place where I sit in the endless evenings and read arctic adventure books from the nineteen eighties (I have read all of the eighteen hundreds already, fox pelts and white flour and cooking pots, and now I am caught up, almost, with today- with snow machines and the destruction of nature’s aesthetic and nature as a place to look for something, to look, look, look for something you have lost). The sun sinks into peachy-orange milk in the dusty sky and the air cools around eleven, and the mosquitoes come out, nature’s eyelash-kiss phlebotomists, with their tiny whining engines, they land politely on the bare tops of my feet and stash one drop of blood into their cargo holds. I don’t mind. I mind insomuch as I’ve strung army-green mosquito netting over my bed in the back of my van because when I’m sleeping I do mind, but I don’t mind that they take a little, here and there, in the mornings when I’m brushing my teeth, spitting into the sand and in the evenings while I’m reading. I don’t mind because each summer I spend in Alaska the bites itch a little less, to the point that this fine Friday of the year 2009 I may have one hundred red mosquito bites, but only one mosquito bite will itch, most likely on the side of my foot or the back of my thumb, and then for only ten minutes, in the afternoon. I don’t mind.

I have one friend in Fairbanks and she has lent me a bike, kind soul, a rusty mountain bike she bought off some man on the street for thirty-five dollars. It’s been three months since I rode a bike and so I am infinitely, endlessly, bottomlessly grateful as I turn that rusting crank on these hot and sprawling streets. I could be walking everywhere, walking everywhere in the heat, like a slow and dusty turtle, the cars honking and spitting rocks in my direction. But instead I have a bicycle and I can cruise around at the speed of light, hair blowing in the car-wind, I can go to the library and to the food store and to the thrift store where I find the perfect summer plaid, light cotton with pink and purple and peach in it, all the colors of a two a.m interior Alaska sunset/sunrise combination. And I roll the sleeves up as high as I can get them and tuck in the bottom (but not too much) and put on my new hat and then I wonder why I’m doing any of this at all. (Is there a sort of scurvy, I think to myself, that you can get from lack of queers? If so I am suffering from it. I have forgotten what my hair is for, why I bother to collect so much plaid. My collective cultural memory is being washed away in the aesthetically revolting land of straight people. And I feel a sort of hunger deep in my gut, like a craving for fat.)

The friend who lent me the bike, her name is Meadow. I know her because she was one of the other riders of my craigslist ride up the Alcan, the ride that crashed and rolled in the fifteen-below weather south of Whitehorse. She is an old soul, as they say, twenty-two with the bedside manner of someone who wakes up each morning surprised and delighted to have lived another day. She sleeps in a cabin made of canvas, plywood and plastic sheeting on a wooden frame, abandoned, with half the foot-thick insulation spilled out by the squirrels. Black mold flowers on the ceiling and the deck is rotted into the taiga, and the mosquitoes rise up in great stormy clouds like vapor from the earth. Meadow was, for a while, sleeping in a discolored plywood lean-to in a broken truck-bed and then a dirt-biking friend found this place for her, on a faint track through the forest off a powerline trail in the hills outside of town. She moved in immediately, lining her trinkets up along the windowsills, watching the sun sparkle on the mossy forest floor. A friend built her a loft out of thin air and two dumpstered two by fours. There was one artifact in the cabin from the previous occupant- a calendar on the wall- nineteen ninety-one mountainscape. One day a woman showed up in sandals and, shading her eyes with her hand, told Meadow that she could stay. This was her land, the cabin was built by her son, who had died in a car accident long ago. She could stay, so long as she swept up the broken glass on the deck.

I ride my borrowed bike around this town and Meadow shows me the free-box at the coffee shop, the free coffee at the bookstore (farthest north used bookstore in North America!). She takes me to a meadow where homebums are drinking beer from cans in the mid-afternoon and playing guitar in the grass, their bare chests sunburnt, their beards tangled. Meadow is a little drunk too, and she crumples her empty can and tosses it in the street, her cheeks and nose pink and shiny from the sun. “You should come to the M bar later, for the open mic,” she says. “There are lots of people there who aren’t straight.”

The day before she’d gone with me to Fred Meyer to buy chicken salad because I don’t have a stove so can only eat cold things and we’d run into another friend of hers, carrying a roast chicken he’d found in the trash. He’d found a few hundred pounds of meat in the big dumpster, he said. Every day he came here and boxed up the meat for his dogs, carried it home in his bike trailer. “I got a cold pit,” he said, “big hole I dug in the permafrost next to my cabin. I put it down in there and it doesn’t go bad. Any extra, I take it out to the airport and they fly it to my buddy on the river, to feed his dogs. His catch wasn’t so good this year.” And by dogs, of course, he means dog team, as in sled dogs. He’s wearing stained carhart overalls and his forearms are tanned from the sun, looks to be about my age. He looks at Meadow’s value village bag full of tank tops and summery things. “What are you girls doing?” he asks. “Girly things?” And I am reminded, once again, that I am in a foreign country, a sort of nineteen-fifties homesteader back-to-the-future. Interior Alaska- The future and the past, in a not unattractive, though sometimes unappetizing, salad.

Later I bike around town forever, across the river with its hanging flower baskets and benches that wait for no-one, through the eerily empty downtown with its shuttered tailor shops and dark-windowed coffee shops, chairs upended on the tables, all the way out to the edge of town where the highway forces me onto a hot field of sand and weeds, all the way to the great glinting box stores that appear to have been built just yesterday, their lots choked with cars. I am attempting to soak in and make sense of the weirdness that is Fairbanks. Is it the quality of the light, the thin inland air? It is not thin, of course, Alaska’s great endless forests make it full of oxygen. Is it the way that sound carries, the feeling that I am at the literal top of the world? It is not my home bioregion, that is for sure. I am not used to the dryness, the sun, the lack of leafy rustling. Where I come from, in south central Alaska, the summertime is a fetid flowery orgasm, every surface flickering and damp, and the meadows practically sing to you, and the creeks do too, and you are absolutely enchanted, and you want to lay in the dappled shade of the forest floor in a bed of horsetail until you are digested. The only problem is that in my home bioregion, south-central Alaska, the flowers may be reliable but the sun is not. So, one thing for another. At least here in the desert Interior I am getting a tan, and learning to appreciate the aesthetic of great rolling hills and dusky river valleys.

And I like it here- and I mean to find friends, I mean to turn over every rock I see until I find them. And in the meantime, there is this– something I might take for granted if I was still in Portland but right now feels like a sort of blood transfusion from a fantastical and oh-so familiar land, for which I am extremely grateful.

So I bike around town, my feet pushing the rusty chain rings, solitude eating at the pit of my stomach and feeding me, all at once- and I come to the conclusion that what I see- at least what I think I see- the weirdness, the eerie stillness, the slant of light- is the memory of wintertime. It’s in the way the buildings sit, their shoulders square, the way their shutters gimace. It’s in the buckled concrete lots, the stark small houses. The sun cannot chase it away, no matter how bright, how hot, how endless. This is, more than anything else, a land of wintertime.

the nigerian prince

Today I am a nigerian prince in his off-time, inspired by franciska to give up all of his inheritance for the sake of poems, and I will give you details instead of sentences.

1. The morning is cold and I am wearing a gingham shirt that I don’t really like but it hides my tattoos and my hair is bad, dried sort of stiff and stuffed behind my ears, it’s ugly the way that my brain feels when I am late for dreams in order to not be late for work

2. That was a sentence. I will try harder.

3. This is hard.

4. The parrot, ringing the metal bell with his beak, adjustable pliers for a face

5. Ice-cream cone from the freezer, covered in stale peanuts, stuffed with goo

6. East of Eden at work, getting so lost I don’t know what to say when a boy says “Miss Quinn? Miss Quinn? You look like a Joey.”

7. Walking home the air is damp and gray. Someone killed the summertime again.

8. The smell of rain is living things. I don’t know what I would do without that smell.

9. Peanut butter and Concord HFCS Jelly on injera. The sting of sugar in my throat. “Some people are acclimated to this, this sting of sugar,” I think. “and won’t eat anything else.”

10. Lady Gaga keeps creeping into my brain, I have internalized each of her pop hits. I am infatuated with her the way I was infatuated with Barack Obama before he was elected, my friends were all “no-one for president!!” but I had read his book where he talks about smoking pot with the Marxists and radical feminists and so I thought that I could see into his soul. Somehow Lady Gaga is the same…

“Some artists want your money so they can buy Range Rovers and diamond bracelets, but I don’t care about that kind of stuff. I want your soul.”

11. Green light from the photocopier
Printing ink
Debbie’s one thousand workbooks from value village
stacked six-hundred deep
Kids smiling obscenely in high-waisted pleats
PHONICS CAN BE FUN
pages untouched

12. The thirty-thousand dollar golden retriever who
Speaks English
Intuits with her bottomless brown eyes using her gentle dog soul
Smells like rotten smoked bones and acid stomach saliva
Vomits up half-digested dog shit from the yard
Will leave soon, to fulfill her destiny as a dusty-coated service dog who never
Ever
gets walked

13. Just because I’m not an alcoholic now doesn’t mean I can’t decide to become one at some point
I’m glad I at least have that
And smoking
And coffee
Maybe when I’m old

14. I will never get tired of the way the alder leaves move in the wind

15. Yesterday on my walk I felt there was something watching me, in the forest, that had not been there before and I kept turning, turning, seeing nothing, calling out “show yourself!” just to break the silence, smelling broken fir needles to keep the fear away. And then I realized- oh- it is the mosquitoes.

15.5 Once in a friend’s unfinished cabin I was sleeping and I had the same feeling. Something is watching me. Something is watching me. A monster? A monster come to eat me? I shined my headlamp around- it was a bat, found its way in through the gaping door.

16. The mosquitoes are born. Biting eyelash kisses. Stray hairs that rise from the swamps. They beat their wings at the entrance to my nostrils, making me panic.

17. I remember what happens eventually. I become zen, and they do not bother me anymore. Same thing as adjusting to the rain in Portland.

18. They are only giving definition to the air. If I were Annie Dillard I would appreciate the extra detail, the excessive hand of god.

19. There are so many of them, and with so many edges- and for what?

20. Hares, stupid and brave, eyes milky, cracking in the underbrush. If I found a bunny, I think, I could keep it in my van that I do not yet have.

21. I am late to dreams. I will take a nap.

infinity worth of jars and a long weekend’s worth of time

It rained today, a thunderstorm that split the sky. The sky is taller here, way up there and far a way, a sort of theater, too far away to do much harm. Not low and tight like the sky in Portland, tied to the tops of buildings and weighted down with stones.

I finished cutting meat today, cubing all those half-frozen muscles that numbed my fingers and once moved great caribou legs, a cow no less, pregnant with a fetus, who was thin, because it was the spring, and if she hadn’t gotten hit in the road there would be two caribous, now, but instead I cut her up and there was hardly meat to fill the top layer of a chest-freezer. And cooking stew, meat and good broth I made by splitting the bones with a hatchet on the back steps and cooking them in a stockpot for twenty-four hours, a splash of vinegar to leach out the calcium, until marrow floated on the top and the bones were clean. And two heads of garlic, and a bag of onions. That’s how big of a pot I made. And canning stew, hot jars in the pressure canner, a sort of nineteen-fifties magic. and tomorrow I am going to make more of it. I have infinity worth of jars, and a long weekend’s worth of time. Also, today, I walked seven miles through the woods, until my calves were stiff and sore, and I saw as many hares, ragged looking, now, with milky, zombieish eyes, which is because they have trichinosis, and you can eat them in the wintertime, when they are white, but you should never eat them once they turn brown.

And that is the end of my paragraph about eating animals. If I still have any blog readers who are vegan, I am surprised.

On my walk it was hot, I couldn’t believe how hot. I brought a glass bottle of water, a kombucha bottle I’d rinsed out, half a liter, and I drank it right away. Then the sun seemed extra bright, and the stones themselves seemed hot, and the road a little dusty, and the shade skeletal and weak. And all I have is wool socks, for some reason, so my feet were hot. First thing when I get done working next week I’m going to hitch down to Anchorage and find some sandals. Sandals and a pair of jeans I can cut off for shorts. And I’m going to buy a van!

At the apex of my walk I squatted in the moss and studied the “trees” section in my field guide, Pojar for the Boreal Forest (they have Pojar for the boreal forest!) pointing in the air. Paper Birch, I said, With The White Peeling Bark And The Sawtooth Leaves. Green Alder, With The Tiny Hard Cones. White Poplar Which Is Also Aspen And Has Leaves That Flip Like Coins. Black Poplar Which Is Also Balsam Poplar And Has Bark Like A Fir. And then as I walked back through the woods I said the trees out loud as I found them, my voice ringing with joy at the solitude, the fact that I can name the trees out loud, wave my hands, skip and spin in circles, and no-one but the hares will see me.

And then, tonight, after the rainstorm, after the canning, I sat in the dim late light in my room and read more East of Eden. And after another hour of it I have to say that I am sorely, sorely disappointed in John Steinbeck. I’ve been carrying East of Eden around with me for weeks, ever since I walked out of B&N with it in the waistband of my pants, like a precious jewel I was smuggling. I got a small, compact edition, with thin, efficient pages and margins that smelled of oldness, and newness too, and childlike wonder, and trees and earth and sky, and printing ink. I’d been carting it to work with me everyday and back, my xeroxed sudoku tucked into its pages, waiting for a clear half-hour where my mind could wander well enough to read it. And then that horrible introduction.. and it has all been downhill from there. What do I do? Do I re-read The Grapes of Wrath again, the old standby, the book he DIDN’T write after a bitter long-winded divorce which left him with a hatred for women that stained all of his characters and rendered them lifeless and one-dimensional? And by characters I mean women characters, they are people too. As are the Native people. Not just his “common man”, his cruel yet lovable hero, his philanderer with a sense of humor and a gentle touch for children and the cripples.

Vomit.

Dear reader! Give me book suggestions! I want to read something epic and classic, that has lots of pages, yet is sympathetic towards women. Something that covers multiple generations and a piece of land. Like 100 Years of Solitude! I liked that one so much! Do you have suggestions for me? Leave them in the box!

Look!!! Even here, there is a Pojar!

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See! It says “Pojar”!!! Right on the bottom!!

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Feeling inspired. Ate some coffee icecream, the sun is out endlessly. I’ve been going on these long hikes every day, just walking on the looping four-wheeler tracks that go through the wilderness, finding bleached moose bones and bits of eaten un-shy hares and impossibly lavender pasque flowers… the birch leaves have gone, in a matter of hours, from the size of squirrels’ ears to the size of birch leaves, large enough to clatter like pennies in the wind, newly minted and flawless. There are these clearings… god, I cannot describe them. Beds of moss without any trees or any sound, an impossible cornocopia of sun, ringed in cottonwoods, like a portal to a magic land…

Every day is 75 degrees and sunny, and will be, as far as I can tell, until September. My Experimental Interior Summer is, so far, going far better than I had ever imagined. I like to think of Alaska as five different states, because there are five distinct bioregions- Southeast (rainforest and giant trees, ala the PNW), South-Central (mountains/glaciers/oceans/jumping whales combo, ala an alaskan postcard, also where I grew up), The Arctic (windswept tundra and Inupiat people who eat lots of seal meat- caribou herds- no roads and I haven’t been there), Western Alaska (windswept tundra and Yupik people who eat lots of seal meat- no roads and I haven’t been there), The Aleutian Chain (islands, windswept grass and rock, nesting birds, native people with cancer- where the military dumps its nuclear waste- have not been there) and the Interior (hot dry summers with some of the coldest winters in the world- Denali is here, the rest is boggy forest flatlands with a few mighty rivers running through). I want to go to the arctic, someday, there is a dirt road that the oil trucks use, I want to ride my bicycle all the way up to the arctic ocean, see where the caribou go to escape the flies. Alaska has four oceans, did you know- pacific, bering sea, chukchi sea, beaufort sea, and more coastline than the rest of the country combined.

I slept for ten hours last night, and had a dream that I had inhereted a household of cats- I then forgot to give the cats any water, because I was having heterosexual sex. I have anxiety about animals not getting enough water… when I woke up I felt like I had gone on an impossibly long journey and had some difficulty making breakfast, going to work, and going about my day- reading books with the children, teaching them to count dimes… the cats, I kept thinking- the cats…

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pemmican and grizzly tracks

I finished the pemmican today. It’s so nice to have a day off- sleep till ten, get up all cobwebby with dreams, shake myself back into reality. Grind up some dried meat in the blender, mix the meat powder with some melted coconut oil and dried cranberries, pat it into a cookie sheet. Taste it, get a little weirded out but decide that ultimately, if I was hungry enough, it would taste like fucking magic. Grinding that meat up was a bit of a strange experience- for some reason the smell of the warm meat powder and the look of the little sinew threads all wrapped around the blender blade seriously turned my stomach. And there’s not much that turns my stomach. It made me mad at western civilization for feeding me shiny-clean shrink-wrapped meat my whole goddam life, either that or none at all. In the bright clean aisles of the grocery store, where is reality? Where is the violence of eating? Life and death? It’s all so weird.

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pemmican all mixed up and ready to be squished into bars.

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more hares! they’re everywhere!

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Yesterday Debbie told me that a haggard woodsman at the post office had told her that he saw grizzly tracks down by the river. So today in the warm evening light I walked down there with my camera, past the families out grilling in their yards, all the young men out on their four wheelers, zipping this way and that. It’s all a little too intimate here- houses all crammed together within a few cluttered blocks, every other one abandoned, and nobody even says hi. I was, and continue to be, the only person I have ever seen walking. Down at the river the water was gone, and I realized it’s not a river at all, just a slough that fills up with water during breakup, and now breakup is over so the thing is just a long stretch of mud and grass and jumbled rocks. I start to poke around, walking up the silty bank. I saw dog tracks, footprints, an old fire circle- and just as I turned to head back, there they were.

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After a while the battery on my camera died, and I got creeped out and went home. There’s a key in this last one, for scale.

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And speaking of big shy things- can you spot the tallest peak in North America? Even though Denali is hundreds of miles from the village, it sometimes jumps out at you on the horizon like this. You might have to click on the picture (I think maybe that will enlarge it?) to see the giant mountain.

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