Saturday, December 10, 2011

Maine: something done

Waking up on the deck of a dry-docked yacht in Ellsworth, Maine, thinking it's a good thing I'm doing this now. In five years I won't want to sleep boatyards on the edge of thoroughfares anymore. Hell, I don't even want to sleep in boatyards now. Any future rambles should include either nothing but earth under my bedroll and quiet all around, or else a bed.

The light was just enough to let me drop off port-side of the stern and slink away to get breakfast. A man on a bicycle was doing laps on the pavement till his car got out of the shop. He asked me where I was going, but the answer was no longer unusual. Half an hour later, drinking tea on a rock, he cycled back and asked where I started. I said where.

- You ought to stop in at the newspaper in Bar Harbor. They like to keep tabs on things like that.

A few times on this walk I met doubters who said that if I had actually walked as far as I said, then they would have heard about me. I protested this judgement since the staff writer for the news in Little Rock, Iowa (pop. 447) had come out personally for an interview. So, I said I'd keep it in mind to stop by.

I crossed the bridge and onto Mount Desert Island. The water was now salt, but the air was not. The tide was very well out, and I went down to tideline to see what may have gotten trapped in pools or else washed up as wrack. Gulls were hovering, kicking legs like on bicycle, and dropping mussels onto rocks, often having to drop the same one again and again. Letting go from a greater height would do it one go, but then some interloper might steal their work before they could descend. It worked as a technique. I was not able to beat any of the gulls. But I was more interested in what lay at my feet anyway. Mostly broken and dull stone, and a few pieces of well-weathered beach glass. Having gone glass hunting on the other coast, I pocketed a bit of may have been bottle neck. Then, for a packrat's exchange, withdrew the rough telegraph glass I'd carried for some miles and threw it. It will need time to ripen.

It was then about time for lunch. Seeing Hull's Cove not far away, and the country grocer's that sold food plastic-wrapped or out of steel crocks, I bought a cup of macaroni with my last twenty. The clerk placed the change in my hand and I looked at the mint on the singles. B & L. B - New York - was fairly common in this part of the country. L I hadn't seen an L for months. San Francisco. All these miles away and both of us started from the same place to meet here. The shopkeeper gave a concerned look.

- It's nothing about you, I said. It's something else.

- Glad to hear that, he nodded. You take care.

Right about there was the moment where my mind reversed thru records till it came back to the beginning. Not the very beginning, I don't think. Not where the longing started. But the beginning that came up baptized in strawberry-rhubarb jam over pancakes in May of the previous year, then unrolled over every kind of earth - shore, mountain, desert, prairie, forest - to here, to me holding a one dollar bill with an 'L' stamped on it. Trying to think of every place I slept along the way - every tree, coulee, culvert, truck, couch, bed, barn, bridge - to make a sense of it. And then I was in Bar Harbor, walking into the newsroom, and still not making any sense but thinking someone might stop my rambling legs and mind.

A middle-aged man looked away from his computer as I came thru the door.

- Can I help you?

- A fella in Ellsworth told me you like to keep tabs on folks traveling thru.

- Sometimes, yes.

- Well, I walked here.

- Alright, what's your story?

Anything I could say, everything I had come upon, were the elements, maybe, of story. But they emerged separately without narrative. Sleeping inside a redwood. Watching fumaroles rise from St. Helens. Wild horses on the prairie. Memories like bricks in a walk, or like the photographs I had taken, black and white and hazed, all image and feeling, but in themselves... the shapes of clouds and crows' wings.

- I don't think I have one.

The newsman adjusted his glasses.

- We did have a man come thru on a bicycle last year. He had just retired and was cycling around the world. Is your story like that?

- No, it's not. I don't think my story would sell any papers.

- Well, then best of luck on the rest of your trip.

The rest of my trip took several minutes and a few blocks over to a grassy park overlooking the harbor. Lobsterboats came in from the Atlantic. There was no joy, nor pride, just the great sadness of a long journey come to its end. It was no longer something wished, but something done. Not even the ending I had imagined: a sandy beach with the wind, and me walking into the surf, a continent at my back. Instead, I was sitting on a bench, with the sunset hidden - this being the East - listening to traffic and alone. A block away, a car alarm went off.

Behind me now were nothing but moments. Moments which were never stories in themselves, yet collectively were the story:

The Yang Ming freighter gliding under the Golden Gate.

Sidestepping elk in Olympic

Breaking trail down the Bighorn Mountains

Watching goats with Wade

Chasing a calf thru the corn while lightning crept the sky

Moonrise over the prairie

A raindrop dragging itself out over my lower lip

Fires of sagebrush and buffalo dung

Crater Lake blue-goodgod-blue

And somewhere in there the name of God and me listening the whole way thru but only ever hearing the same thing over and over again: I am. I am. I am. I can't regret any one thing without regretting the succession. And so I could condense it all to this. I went many places, met many beautiful people, they changed my life.

Night rose up from the sea and swept westward. A loon called out from the harbor. A hollow and mournful sound. It was winter.

I opened the front of my journal to these words:

This being the second journal of my walk across North America, begun April 1st, 2011 from Seattle, Washington.

Below them, I wrote:

Ended December 5th, 2011, Bar Harbor, Maine.

And with those words, the trip was over. Done at the end of a pen.

The loon went on crying and howling and I rose to make a phone call and find a bed.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Maine: starting up from stars

Seems everyone's is putting out a cookbook these days. Might as well try to make one myself.

Boiled Venison with Squash and Cabbage

- venison
- squash
- cabbage
- water
- fire

Materials needed:
- knife
- burned out can
- kindling

1. Walk secondary roads for several miles till a road killed deer is found. Early mornings during the autumn rut are best.

2. Check for freshness of deer. Check eyes for clarity, feel stomach for distention, look for parasites. Ticks will leave a cold deer.

3. Drag the deer off the road to a secluded spot. If this is not possible - there is a steep drop, perhaps, or a swamp, or the deer is too large to move - then proceed to 4. directly, but beware the eye of passing motorists. Work with skill and caution.

4. Peel the skin off the back of the deer and remove the meat from either side of the spine. This will likely be the least damaged from impact. Look for deposits of fat. Cut these out and take them as well.

5. Glean vegetables from a harvested field. In this case, squash and cabbage. Late-summer and autumn are best.

6. Break sticks, build a fire, boil water.

7. Put meat and fat into boiling water.

8. Cut squash lengthwise and roast on coals. Remove seeds if preferable, otherwise leave.

9. Chop cabbage, add to pot.

10. Scrape off blackened skin of squash, add to pot.

11. Let reduce. Eat when ready.

Note: Recipe equally applicable to animals and vegetables besides those stated.

I boiled the flesh of many animals I found in the can I carried: elk, mule deer, black-tailed deer, turkey, grouse, mussels, snails. Vegetables too: corn, squash, beans, potatoes, cabbage, and puffball and oyster mushrooms. No salt. No spice. An animal simmered in its own grease is flavor enough.

Save in one case I could name. Outside Belfast, Maine a ruffed grouse broke its neck against an oncoming car. Plucked and gutted, I boiled it that night with nothing more than the greens from its crop - a parcel of evergreen seeds and wood sorrel leaves, their tri-folds lapped into hearts. Even after an hour, the result was a bitter black broth and a tough-breasted bird that, but for a slight give in texture, may have been confounded with oak wood. It was a meal fitting with the piercingly cold night night and tasted of winter hunger and ache of a dark season. Nowhere near so good eating as deer or turkey, or even porcupine.

My hands smelled of shucked grouse for the next day, even after washing. Strong offal and gut juice early on, fading out to vinegar and earth, and finally in the afternoon, old leather. A good smell, one that could be held without minding.

This was not commonly the way I ate each day, but I never passed up an opportunity to do it. To pass by an intact, human-killed animal without any eye towards making use of its body did not seem to fit with the code I had set. To participate in each place I came to, eating with the custom of the territory, or on occasion, eating the locals themselves. The word for this is 'communion.'

Just as sound does not stop but spreads outwards without end to vibration, so too do what might rightly be called the vibrations of life. Some vibrating atoms in the sun made grow the browse that fed the doe that fed me. For the others fed by the same deer - the scavengers who came after - they now hold echoes of those same quaking atoms, and too will pass them on. Namely thru scat, or being themselves eaten. And so photosynthesis and consumption are the processes by which light is made flesh. It is a sequence not only observable, but in keeping with the progress of creation. Before beasts walked the land and birds flew the sky and the waters teemed with living creatures, before seed-bearing plants and trees that bore fruit with the seed inside, was not there first light?

No animal gives itself over to be eaten. Rabbits run, fish mass and evade, even flies caught in spiders' webs will fight the captor. In the final stages of exhaustion, it is not to the predator, but to its own willed death that the prey surrenders. Man may be separate from this view in so far as alone of all creatures, he may have some directive over his body, and so may indeed give of himself. But it is a choice rarely made, a decision passed over so as to take from the earth, even to the last, by denying his remains entry back into cycle.

After a life made on the eating of the once-living, it is a hypocritical and separatist view to insist the dead of one's own kind be filled with poisons, or placed in vaults, or burned to ash. The greater reverence would seem to be in allowing their inclusion in the flow that brought them starting up from stars.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Maine: a magpie's eye

There were no marks of red-backed lichen on the ties, nor young pines from where seeds had blown into cracks, as there had been on the abandoned rails running east from the White Mountains. Here the line was yet fragrant with creosote, the rails well-laid, seamless, and rusted, suggesting both placement and abandonment were of recent event.

A grey pile of fox scat lay on the ties, a few days old. Within a half-mile, I found the author trotting the stretch. The path cleared by the railway had given a clean thoroughfare that he used to assert claim. Not looking about in any caution towards rivals nor stealth towards prey, his motions assured, he moved on, till the wind brought him a scent, or else the rattle of a metal cup, and he paused, caught fear of me, and ran for the pines. I wonder if he considered me pretender or conqueror come to rob earth from the meek and leave marks of my own, or just passive intruder, the clear ruin of a morning’s stroll. Then wonder too what he will think when the rail company finally makes good on the pledge of service up from Portland and the diesel and boxcars crowd out his leisure, the engine ignorant of his mark.

I was intent in my trespass on following the old telegraph lines, many of which yet held their insulators. The light caught in a few on a pole from which a slack cable trailed. I had a mind to fetch one up, thinking it a pretty thing to sit inside a window whereon it might be looked at of a morning, and shinnied up the cable. Sitting astride the cross spar, having reached the top, I looked at the three three remaining caps, each a different shade of blue, like they were the clutch of a crystalline crow whose nest I’d come to rob. All were broken.

I reached out to one of the caps and twisted it from the peg, drawing the ball of a finger against the cut of it. The wound was small but relentless, and spit blood for the rest of that day. I dropped the cap to the ground, then myself after and found some scattered shards where the glass had split from the wire and hatched out lightning. Having a magpie’s eye, I picked up one.

In Iowa I had seen long ranks of telegraph poles file thru a marsh. While the tax of sodden feet and knee-deep mud might not have been too great to prevent me, the trouble of climbing a pole without any knobs and then down again without dropping the prize was. Those insulators still stand, waiting the thief with a ladder and a boat.

By afternoon I had come across three other poles I could climb with the aid of tree or cable, and each time gotten sore joints, shortness of breath, and scratches tarred with the sap of firs. And then, gotten too the satisfaction of holding in raw palms an artifact earned thru search and labor in the grip of aching hands. Three whole ones of differing shades and era, each an aqueous, marine hue, of a tint more common to anemones and inlets, or else to eyes. I lifted all to light and gazed uninterrupted. Where I have otherwise met these colors, such might be a manner to distress the beholden and make blush.

There were other ends in mind than to tote glass weight, but the jewels were too precious to leave. I wrapped the three inside some clothing and hefted them out, admiring that there had been a time when even what was made for utility and obsoletion was crafted with beauty.

still life with mushrooms

My cup and three puffball mushrooms I found in Indiana and ate in Ohio.