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Out of Cold Storage.

24-Mar-14

My bike has now been pulled out of cold storage.  This bike has been across the country, New York to Seattle, and down the West Coast to Tijuana, and has done the length of the Via Appia from Rome to Brundisium.  This time the plan is to ascend the Mississippi River, from the Gulf to Minnesota, starting sometime in April.

John Muir in Chicago.

17-Apr-14

John Muir, at the age of 29, not having much in his daily life to hold him back, set off from Indianapolis southward to see what he called the “hot gardens of the sun.”  He walked through Kentucky, over the Smoky Mountains into Georgia, and down to the west coast of Florida, where he got a boat to Cuba.  He hoped to make it to South America and up the Amazon, but in the end he decided to go to California, where, of course, he found some things to detain his interest.  Before departure he had a few hours in Chicago, which he spent in a desperate botanizing:

I did not find many plants in her tumultuous streets; only a few grassy plants of wheat, and two or three species of weeds, — amaranth, purslane, carpet-weed, etc. — the weeds, I suppose, for man to walk upon, the wheat to feed him.  I saw some green algae, but no mosses.  Some of the latter I expected to see on wet walls, and in seams on the pavements.  But I suppose that the manufacturers’ smoke and the terrible noise are too great for the hardiest of them.  I wish I knew where I was going.  Doomed to be ‘carried of the spirit into the wilderness,’ I suppose.  I wish I could be more moderate in my desires, but I cannot, and so there is no rest.

Day One: From Clarity to Clouds and Rain.

16-Apr-14

After a few days not spinning my wheels in New York City – I was making attempts at buying gear for the trip, and failing as I typically do in anything related to shopping – I finally left New York around noon on Monday the 14th of April.  I came to the conclusion that if there is any way to protect a laptop from rain, the global industrial system has not yet come up with such a product or gotten one such item to New York City.  “That?” said the clerk.  “Waterproof? I wouldn’t leave it out in the rain, if that’s what you mean.”  “I expect to be outside with a laptop for most of the next two months. It will rain.”  “Umm… well you could try… if the computer doesn’t work anymore just bring it back and say you don’t know what happened to it.  You said it’s a new computer, right?”  I determined that a t-shirt and three plastic shopping bags would probably work just as well.  My conclusions were similar about all the other gear items on my list.  I could improvise much more effectively than I could shop.  I swear I have no idea how people manage to live in New York City without heaping up tons of money.  There’s nothing in the place to spend money on.

Across Staten Island and New Jersey the first signs of spring were evident: daffodils yellow on lawns, American plums (Prunus americana) blooming white in thickets, spicebushes (Lindera benzoin) greenish in the lowlands.  Along I-70 in Maryland I crossed the Alleghanies and – to me astonishingly – I entered the Mississippi River’s watershed – in Maryland!

And here for the first time the landscape underwent a visible alteration.  Washington had always presumed that the Potomac would become the great river of commerce for the United States, piercing deeply into the center of the eastern seaboard as it does, drawing near to the waters of the Ohio, from which it is all downhill to New Orleans.  But the landscape frustrated these hopes: a craggy, narrow, wrinkled range of hills intervenes between the Potomac and the Monongahela, and despite the short distances all forms of transport across this corridor could never compete with the Erie Canal.  I stopped for dinner in Morgantown, West Virginia, which felt like a piccolo Pittsburgh: it was prosperous but cramped, and it was impossible to mistake the dusky gloom of such a setting: there didn’t even seem to be enough room for the city, and buildings had been crammed onto hillsides and roads narrowly skirted slopes.  I got lost above town, and could neither turn around nor safely turn off the road, as the cross-streets dropped so steeply down the hillside I could not see their pavement – they simply dropped out of sight.

Morgantown is a college town, and it was a warm spring evening.  Young people, faces popping up from behind their phones, walked around me as I stopped on the sidewalk to gape at the opening dogwoods.  I continued on my way, threading through the hills along utterly empty highways.  The West Virginia interstates might be the prettiest of the East; — they are surely the easiest to drive late into the night.  Their courses would make no sense to a Roman: up hill and then back down, around every corner, never straight, it is actually a bit of a challenge to steer (an old truck, anyway) the curves at the speed limit.  As a result there was no monotony, and I drove late into the night.  It was a full moon and the night of an eclipse, which I looked forward to; but almost at the very hour the eclipse was to begin, I drove into rain.

My thoughts were not happy as I rode.  I thought about loneliness, I think, most of all; and I suspected that an experience of loneliness was one of the purposes of this trip.  I was alone, but I didn’t really feel lonely at my cabin: there I was surrounded by the same trees, the same plants, the same deer and turkeys and mountains every day, and they were a pleasure and a consolation, and companions too.  But yet I was alone, and my body and soul unhappy with it somewhere down beneath: and so I had taken myself from my home, made myself an outsider, and the plan was to keep moving to keep it that way.  I was going to drink fully of the cup: and if I hated it, then I would know that I needed to change my life at home, for such was what I had.

I pulled into Lexington, Kentucky, where I was staying with a friend, at 3 a.m.  Just as I turned in to the driveway I found it surprisingly hard to pull into second gear.  It was a presage of the next day’s disaster.

Office Shot.

08-Apr-14

It’s my last week at the sugar house.  Next week I start the big Mississippi River bike trip.

Francis Parkman.

02-Apr-14

I’ve been reading Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi – which is superb – and I have been amazed by the sparkling little gems of prose which Twain culled from Parkman.  I provide a sample, La Salle’s entering the Gulf of Mexico:

And now they neared their journey’s end.  On the 6th of April, the river divided itself into three broad channels.  La Salle followed that of the west, and D’Autray that of the east; while Tonty took the middle passage.  As he drifted down the turbid current, between the low and marshy shores, the brackish water turned to brine, and the breeze grew fresh with the salt of the sea.  Then the broad bosom of the great Gulf opened on his sight, tossing its restless billows, limitless, voiceless, lonely as when born of chaos, without a sail, without a sign of life.

The writing is so superb I thought I needed to take a further look at Parkman.  Not only is the word-choice superior – “now they neared” – but the juxtaposition here of man’s little dated efforts with the vast personless forces and infinite time-distances of nature is excellent and characteristic.  Even a glance at the Wikipedia page makes it clear that he was a fascinating man:

As a young boy, “Frank” Parkman was found to be of poor health, and was sent to live with his maternal grandfather, who owned a 3,000-acre (12 km²) tract of wilderness in nearby Medford, Massachusetts, in the hopes that a more rustic lifestyle would make him more sturdy. In the four years he stayed there, Parkman developed his love of the forests, which would animate his historical research. Indeed, he would later summarize his books as “the history of the American forest.” He learned how to sleep and hunt, and could survive in the wilderness like a true pioneer. He later even learned to ride bareback, a skill that would come in handy when he found himself living with the Sioux.

I want to see an account of his actual travels.

I Love My Friends.

26-Mar-14

A friend of mine is an artist – both painter and sculptor, he fashioned a bust of Henry David Thoreau for me which sits on my mantle – and he told me he wanted to build a chapel on my property.  I suspect that the term “chapel” is just a way of getting me to agree to the project – cunning, because of course I will do anything for God – and I came to my suspicion the following way: we were determining the location for the chapel, and I asked my friend where he thought the door would go.

“Door?” he said.

I responded, “Don’t I need to get into the chapel to pray?”

He said, “Sure, I guess we can put a door in.”

So perhaps this will be a large sculpture more than a chapel.  But what the hell, I’ve got six acres.  You don’t need a building permit if the building is less than ten by ten, and we’re not getting a building permit, so it will be small.

Last fall we selected a site and began digging.  This year we intend to lay foundations and build.  My friend texted me just yesterday, asking if the ground was soft yet.  I told him there was still almost a foot of hardened ice on top of frozen ground.  He texted:

I had a vision that the church must resume construction.  It was either Jesus, or [a friend of mine]‘s gay uncle Tim who used to model as Jesus for bibles in the 70s.

 He followed this up with another text:

If it was Tim there’s no rush.

La Boheme in Bloombergia.

26-Mar-14

Pauperibus vates ego sum, quia pauper amavi; cum dare non possem munera, verba dabam.

“I am the bard of the poor, because I have been a poor man in love; when I had no gifts to give, I gave words.” – Ovid

As we get older, I think we all fear for the things we really love. We know that change will come, and that some changes – even small ones – somehow break the beauty of certain things and certain people. I first kissed a girl beneath a cherry tree in Central Park, and one day I went back there in blossom-season, just to see it – perhaps some new pair of lovers would be beneath it just as she and I were once – but I couldn’t find the tree. I blundered about the area a bit, and then came upon the stump, which was all that remained. Central Park is well run, so I imagine the tree was diseased and had to be taken down. But it was still sad to see nothing in its place – just a stump where once had been a beautiful, craggy, wandering-trunked old tree, ablaze in pink in its season.

So it was with a little trepidation that I decided to return to the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday to see La Boheme once again. I’ve probably seen Boheme nine times if I haven’t seen it ten. But I hadn’t been to the opera in two or three years, and Boheme in perhaps seven or eight. And I was going to go as I always went, cheap-date style: standing room, way up back in the Family Circle, the nosebleed not-even-seats at the very furthest point of the hall. I haven’t lived in the city full-time for almost nine years now, and everything I’ve heard about the Bloomberg administration has told me that its motto was not “New York: a great city for cheap dates.” In fact, one of its parting shots was an attempt to give the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is located on City parkland and hence has to play by the city’s rules, the power to rescind its time-immemorial “suggested admission” policy, where you pay what you wish. All through high school the Met was my go-to cheap date: it was always a superior backdrop for romance or conversation, and if you had other places to go you could visit it for just an hour or two and then go elsewhere, keeping as it were the perfume of the museum’s beauty and grandeur with you the rest of the evening. But if I had had to shell out fifty dollars per visit – the suggested admission for two, and the desired Bloomberg policy – I can say honestly that such visits would have almost never happened. And the museum would never have become a defining thread in the fabric of my life, as it is now.

So also with the Metropolitan Opera. In high school I enjoyed big symphonic music, and went to see about as much Beethoven, Sibelius, and Rachmaninov as I could. That was in part just due to my personality. But to enjoy opera or ballet was a bit more difficult – they struck my uneducated outer-borough mind as a bit more effete, let’s say – and I needed some strong personality to draw me in. That personality was one of my brother’s high school English teachers. My brother went to an all-boys military Jesuit school, mostly filled by outer-borough middle class Catholic kids. And for their sake one of the English teachers – an obviously but not flamboyantly or even openly gay man – would arrange trips to the ballet and opera. I was there one year when he brought about twenty students to see The Nutcracker. I remember being struck by those things in him that for young people are so mesmerizing to see in an older person: undimmed enthusiasm, and a willingness to take young people seriously. When he encountered behavior he thought was puerile, he would simply say, “Hey – grow up.” It worked for him, because I think all of us young people wanted precisely that, as long as we could grow up like him, still alive and in love with the world.

We had the cheapest possible seats, in the last row of the last section. During intermission he brought us to the back of the hall, where by the bathroom there was a decent-sized vestibule, which was utterly empty: there he removed from a plastic bag some plastic cups, sparkling cider, a knife, and an Entenmann’s cake. In the vestibule we would have our own little brief cocktail party with cake and cider. We felt like the coolest people in the whole place, and felt that we were cheating the system somehow: we were getting the pleasures of the rich and powerful, for just a few dollars. Even in high school I knew that this was one of the little thrilling living things that made my city so great: there was a little blank spot in the city, so someone showed up to fill it with life, the way a hole in a tree will summon a squirrel’s nest.  His enthusiasm similarly created a space where our own could live without any fear of criticism.

He organized trips to various operas and ballets, but his two indispensables were The Nutcracker for ballet and, for opera, La Boheme. I would return to Boheme again and again, with various girlfriends, and later, with students of my own, with the same Entenmann’s cakes and cider.

Opera buffs – and, in my worse moments, I include myself in this – are apt to take Boheme for granted, as an entry-level opera. It seems to be the first opera anyone and everyone falls in love with, and once you have advanced to more difficult pleasures you are not apt to dwell too much on it. But it is truly a magnificent work of art, and can be admired again and again for so many different reasons. Right from the beginning it seems impatient to cast off artistic convention: there is no overture: the orchestra hits a few big excited but somewhat unbalanced notes and the curtain comes up on a painter in a Parisian garret, palette in hand, painting Pharaoh’s army being drowned in the Red Sea – or at least singing about it. He quickly asks his room-mate, a poet, what he is doing: the poet begins complaining about his “lazy swindling old stove,” che vive in ozio come un gran signor, “who lives idle as a great lord.” After discussing sacrificing a chair, they consider burning the painter’s Red Sea – bad fumes from the paint – and finally decide to burn one of the poet’s works, a love-drama in manuscript. As it burns, a third arrives – Colline, the philosopher – and the three make wisecracks about the quality of the drama as it goes up in smoke. Scintillante (“scintillating/sparking”), scopietta (“crisp/crackling”), giusto color (“perfect detailing/appropriate color”). Then a fourth arrives – a musician, who brings food and wine and money, as he says he is coming from a fabulous gig – a rich man hired him, showed him a parrot and said, “Play until that bird dies!” I haven’t the foggiest idea why such a job would exist, but it’s fabulously outrageous, and the musician says he got hourly wages for three straight days of playing. In the end he poisoned the parrot with the help of the rich man’s fetching maid, collected the money, and here he was.

There it is – the Bohemian life, in all its camaraderie, excitement, poverty, and bizarrerie. After brilliantly and comically evading their landlord, with the newfound money they all go off to the Cafe Momus – or rather, three of them do, leaving Rodolfo the poet to try to finish a review for a newspaper. They leave, but he can’t write – Non sono in vena, he says, “I’m not in the vein.” He stands up and there is a beautiful silence onstage – one of those pregnant silences that convey all the angst, the failure, the not living up to one’s standards, the inability to produce, which is also part of the artistic life.

There comes a knock, and in comes a young lady, whose candle went out and needs to get it re-lit. It may be presumed of course that she has no fire in her room at all. She becomes the love-interest, of course, but everything about the scene is natural and fresh as it would be today: she didn’t know her neighbors until she needed them, she tries to excuse herself quickly but finds she has left her key and needs to come back for it, they both look together, he finds it but hides it because he doesn’t want her to leave, she’s aware of this but plays along because she likes the attention – it’s all utterly natural and normal and feels like the way these things always begin. And the music goes along with it: rather than set-pieces that feel like songs inserted into a drama the way a musical might work, the music accompanies the drama as a constant element, providing emotional accent to the text, and building in very simple and subtle and highly effective ways. Helen Greenwald in her excellent notes in the program writes:

The score of La Boheme exerts a uniquely immediate emotional pull. Many of the most memorable melodies in the score are built incrementally, with small intervals between the notes, which carry the listener with them on their lyrical path. This is a distinct contrast to the grand leaps and dives that earlier operas often depended on for emotional effect. Boheme’s melodic structure perfectly captures the “small people” (as Puccini called them) of the drama and the details of everyday life. The two great love arias in Act I seduce the listener, beginning conversationally, with great rushes of emotion seamlessly woven into more trivial expressions.

These two love arias, to me, are dear because they convey so beautifully the life of inner richness which is all the more intense, sometimes, because lived in outward poverty. And they convey the desire somehow to share it – in fact, the desperate need to share it:

Wait, signorina,
I will tell you in two words
Who I am, and what I do,
How I live. May I?
Who am I? I am a poet.
What do I do? I write.
And how do I live? I live.
In my happy poverty
I squander rhymes and love-hymns
Like a great lord.
In dreams and visions
And castles in the air,
I have a millionaire’s soul.

She works as a seamstress and embroiderer:

All alone I make my own dinner.
I don’t always go to mass,
But I pray to God all the time.
I live alone, all alone,
there in a little white room;
I look out over the rooves and the sky,
But when the thaw comes,
The first sun is mine –
The first kiss of April is mine!

Whenever I see this opera, I have the same sensation every time: I know what these people feel. I know what it is to huddle over a cold stove wanting to write more and better, I know what it is to have nothing but the first kiss of April, and I know how precious it is when you are alone and have so little else. And the other characters – Marcello the painter who cannot resist the vixen Musetta, Musetta herself who is a terrible flirt but from the depths of her sinfulness can pray to God like no one else, Schaunard the ridiculous musician who will provide generously when he has anything, Colline the misanthrope who quotes Horace at the cafe – these people live, I know them from my friends, I know them inside myself, and the life that is depicted onstage is still the Bohemian life today.

This is no small achievement in an art form as artificial as opera, to create a highly naturalistic atmosphere. Boheme is the single most successful blend of the high artistic requirements of opera with naturalism, and in part it is because music is a successful way to depict the inner life, and for artists it is the inner life which is interesting. (Some years ago a friend criticized the movie Into Great Silence, with its C-Span-like recording of the monastic life, saying, “It’s like filming a writer writing. The outside is not where the beauty is, in that life.”)

And because the artistic life is such a defining feature of New York, Boheme feels like a part of the city: it feels like something that belongs to us. This is not only true thematically:  in actual fact, Boheme has woven itself into the lives of thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers.  It is generally considered the most popular opera in the world.  It sells out night after night, season after season.  It is the opera featured in our own love story “Moonstruck.”  The program notes tell us that Boheme has been part of the season’s repertory at the Met in all but nine of the last one hundred fourteen seasons; and the current Zeffirelli production – which is spectacular, and elicits applause from the moment the curtain goes up, for its sheer visual splendor – has been shown continually since 1981.

I have no doubt about the right way to see Boheme – the right way to see it is as Marcello and Rodolfo or Schaunard or Colline would have seen it. It is of course possible that they might have found their way into a box, either by some friend of a friend or by an irrational splurge to impress a lady, but in general the way to do it is cheaply: in the score seats, or in the cheap seats in the “Family Circle.” There is also standing room in the Orchestra, at the back under the overhang. But standing room in the Family Circle is best of all: that little alley at the very rear of the hall where the people who are willing to stand for three hours just for the privilege of being there is the Parisian garret of the Met, and one of the beautiful places in the city.

But as I said, Boheme from the back wall, looking out like Mimi “over the rooves and at the sky,” was such a precious thing that I feared maybe it had been ruined by some change or other. The standing-room rules used to be that tickets were available in person, at the Met, on Saturday for the rest of week’s performances; this made it possible (indeed necessary) to buy Saturday tickets on the same day. So I headed over to the Met in the early afternoon, and asked for a pair of standing room tickets in the Family Circle; and they had them; nineteen-fifty apiece. To this day, this is such a deal: not only is it cheap, but you can make the decision to go on the day of the performance.  And God be praised, inside I found everything just as it was: the production just as glorious; a fabulous new tenor just as good as any of the old ones, and indeed more poetic and dashing than most, Vittorio Grigolo; the house full on a Saturday night; the people loving it and happy; so many young people who were obviously seeing their first opera – it all was beautiful. And gloriously unchanged.

The program notes tell us that Boheme grew out of a series of artistic sketches by Henri Murger in the 1840s, Scenes de la Vie Boheme, at a time when “French artists had lost their traditional support base of aristocracy and church and were desperate for new sources of income.” But Puccini found their concerns to be relevant when he premiered his opera in 1896, and poverty and the artistic life are still likely roommates a hundred and twenty years later. Boheme captures the glory and exhilaration – as well as the desperation, of course – of such a life of lieta poverta, “joyous poverty,” and even if Marcello and Rodolfo never perhaps created deathless works of art – Marcello’s girlfriend during a fight with him calls him a “housepainter” – the beauty of the life is argument enough for its preservation, I think.

The survival and preservation of such lives in New York City depends on non-profit organizations – such as the Metropolitan Opera, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art – continuing to allow poor people access to the riches of city life. Michael Bloomberg explicitly pooh-poohed this notion, claiming that New York was a “luxury product,” which by its nature did not need to be made available to all. Complaints that this was the direction the city was headed in dominated the last mayoral election. I will not deny that great cities need great patrons – the Met Opera, in order to be the Met Opera, needs more than just a few starving artists singing along to Boheme in the back row – but if Bloomberg adequately developed that part of city life, that means that we may return to public goods and the wealth that is common to all. Boheme is a reminder of how glorious that part of a city is: all the places that are available to people who love them, for little or no money – the parks, the garrets, the inexpensive museums, the cheap seats at games or shows or operas. Cicero said of the Romans, whose grandest buildings of course were all for the public benefit, such as the Colosseum, the aqueducts, the baths, and indeed the temples and triumphal arches, which were open to all: Odit populus Romanus privatam luxuriam, publicam magnificentiam diligit, “The Roman people hates private luxury; it loves public magnificence.” There is something similar about New York City, whose greatest greatnesses are in its public spaces and parks and museums and libraries. New York is in many ways a wonderful city to be poor: so many things are available even to poor people, which are unavailable even to the rich elsewhere. These things may be one of the great consolations for the poor, and in the case of artists and lovers of the arts, a life lived in close proximity to them and to other such lovers of the arts, may be worth more than all the riches in the world.

Thoreau on Simplicity.

20-Mar-14

Reflecting further on what I am looking for, as opposed to what Helen and Scott Nearing were looking for, I find much of the answer in Thoreau as usual:

I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in. Who made them serfs of the soil? Why should they eat their sixty acres, when man is condemned to eat only his peck of dirt? Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born? They have got to live a man’s life, pushing all these things before them, and get on as well as they can. How many a poor immortal soul have I met well-nigh crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down the road of life, pushing before it a barn seventy-five feet by forty, its Augean stables never cleansed, and one hundred acres of land, tillage, mowing, pasture, and woodlot! The portionless, who struggle with no such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.

I find that I am willing to work, when I see the direct connection between the work and my life, or the work and my purposes: I can cut wood willingly, because I need it to keep me warm; I draw my water willingly, because I need it to drink.  It’s when life gets too complicated that I find myself losing morale, and my psyche resisting having to work.

Life on Snowshoes.

20-Mar-14

As I was sawing wood yesterday after work, I noticed that one of the bark bins I use to gather mulch for my garden was now a good four inches out of the snow.  It had been covered up to its edge just a few days before.  While we hadn’t had very much of a thaw, the days were longer and brighter and despite generally low temperatures, the snow was melting and compacting.  We may have one or two more big snowfalls before winter finally departs, but chances are that the snowpack is now only going to get smaller.  The snowshoe days are now numbered.

It’s been almost two months since I was able to get in or out of the cabin comfortably without snowshoes, the longest continuous stretch of snowshoe weather I’ve had since moving to the cabin almost six years ago.  I park at the road’s edge, strap on my foot-extensions, and walk the last quarter of a mile to the cabin.  I love the fact that in winter my home is surrounded by a vestibule of silence and beauty, through which I have to pass in order to truly be home.  On clear winter nights the stars reveal my cabin’s elevation, appearing through the trees on every side as well as above; and sometimes the snow is falling, silencing everything.  But all winter long, in all weather, there is no other noise except the slight fall of the shoes into the snow.  Once we had some warm weather and thaw enough to hear the river down in the valley; but that was only once.  I have heard a few woodpeckers – maybe one a week – and on rare and chosen nights the owls boom and the coyotes scream.  But all in all the birds and animals are silent – the only signs of their presence are their tracks – and I hear no machines of men or voices in the woods.

When the snow is frozen solid – as it has been most of the past month – walking on it in snowshoes is almost like walking on pavement, and you move quickly and without difficulty.  When the snow is fresh or melting, you sink in, and the going is troublesome.  Especially when going uphill.  When carrying heavy loads in on melting snow – laundry, or groceries, or gas for the generator – I grumble and sweat and pause on the path to catch my breath.  I also have to carry my water up several hundred vertical feet from the spring, and firewood from my sawhorse.  But even the heavy loads give you new sensory impressions: carrying a long log on my shoulder, I was amazed to feel the difference in my feet: I could feel how much more deeply I was sinking into the snow.

In the sap woods we have been working in snowshoes as well, so I have been walking many miles in them almost every day.  You get used to them, and I even run in them sometimes, though often such flights have the predictable result of falling face-first into the snow.  Backing up is an especial problem, creating bad tangles, and for this reason I still refuse to use a chainsaw while on snowshoes: I’d rather sink into the snow than fall with a live chainsaw in hand.

At the beginning of the season I left a big bank of snow by my front door so I could stick the shoes in it; and there they have been each night since.  They have been my constant companion up here for the past two months: when I go to work, while I work, when I cut wood, or need water, or visit friends.  When someone comes to see me I leave a spare pair behind the barn by the road.  It becomes another way of marking off the seasons.

Sometimes when I see my gardening friends in the spring they marvel that I don’t put on weight in the winter – in fact I often lose a little.  ”How do you stay in good shape when you’re cooped up all winter?” they ask.  I tell them they need to try an exclusive pizza and bagels and beer and pepsi diet and they’d stay in great shape no problem.  And a cabin in the woods and a pair of snowshoes probably wouldn’t hurt.

The Two Economies, Wendell Berry.

19-Mar-14

I’ve been reading “The Two Economies” by Wendell Berry again and again the past few days.  I don’t quite understand the structure of the essay – or if it really has one – but on point after point, I can’t quite believe how much another man’s paragraphs contain the contents of my own heart.

Within A Month.

14-Mar-14

I am planning a long bike trip this spring, along the entire length of the Mississippi River, from the Gulf to its source at Lake Itasca in Minnesota.  I’ve long thought of doing this, and I think the time has come.  Springtime is an excellent time to do it, and my work at the Sugar Shack has given me just enough – just barely enough – economic freedom to pull this trip off.  I’ll depart for it sometime between April First and Fifteenth, depending on how quickly the spring comes on up here.  I’ve long wanted to blog about a long trip, and I hope to put a book together about this one.

If anyone has site recommendations, book or movie recommendations, or knows of some good quotations about the area, send them along to me.