Friday, June 26, 2009

A Michael Jackson Kind of Day

I was in my hotel room in Chicago yesterday afternoon force-feeding myself with breathless cable news stories in preparation for last evening’s taping of WWDTM. There wasn’t much hard news on. Every channel was focusing on the sad but not unexpected death of Farrah Fawcett from cancer. I turned off the TV and took a short nap. When I woke up and turned the set back on Farah Fawcett was nowhere to be seen. I don’t want to say it was as if she never lived, but it was certainly as if she never died. Now, the day belonged to Michael Jackson. And today does too, and probably tomorrow and it will go on until we’re so tired of hearing about Michael Jackson we’ll wish he weren’t dead. Plenty do already, I know, and for pure good reasons.

He was an exceptional talent, no doubt about it. My wife who is younger than me has shown me enough videos and played enough MJ songs today to remind me of that. I was a little out of his demographic to really feel the loss of him in the way she does. When John Lennon died I felt it. Elvis, not so much. The Beatles were part of my soundtrack on the way up. Elvis was just before that. Michael Jackson just after. I guess the people who make the music we listen to when we first start being affected by music are the ones we bond with. If I outlive Bob Dylan it will be a very bad day for me when he goes. Neil Young, same deal. These guys wrote my youth. Michael Jackson – he did that for a lot of other people.

I expect it will take about three weeks before people start spotting him in shopping malls or in blurry beach photos from Tahiti. Michael Lives! will scream from the tabloids as you reach for your Tic-Tacs at the grocery store. A woman in San Antonio will see his face in a tortilla. Previously unreleased singles and outtakes of videos will sell millions. When artists die they lose control over all the material that wasn’t good enough for them. The really great ones know how to edit and cull. And, I suppose, they know when it's time to exit.

One happy thought to this whole thing: Jenny Sanford and her four sons. That big dumb media eyeball has swung away to brighter lights. One last good deed from the Gloved One. I’m sure Mrs. Sanford has given a prayer of thanks for that tonight.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

We've Been Framed

There is a strange and beautiful tradition here in Vermont. If you were to mill a pile of logs into heavy timbers, cut them into components of a structure of some kind, and let the word out that you're going to put it all together on a particular day -- a bunch of good people show up to help you do it. That's what happened here yesterday. The photo above shows about a third of those who came by. We're standing in front of the nearly finished product, which at that moment was lashed together with straps and come-alongs awaiting adjustment and timber pegs. On top from left to right are Neill, Gabe, Adam, and Nathan -- Adam, Gabe and Neill did all the cutting on and off over the past couple of months in the barn. On the ground is Jared who did the stone work, myself, and neighbors Claude, Chad and Andy.

Putting up a heavy frame by hand is an oddly satisfying sport. This is the second time we've done this here. The first time was for the barn you see in the right background in the picture above. Nine or ten pairs of hands guiding a few hundred pounds of hardwood into a place with tolerances of less than a sixteenth of an inch. It can be tricky. It can also be a real finger pincher.

The devil and the payoff is in the details. Every part in these pictures was figured, cut, and shaped over the course of weeks. They slid together with an Ikea-like grace with only a few diplomatically applied hammer blows.

And, as with all good things. The proof is in the pudding. What is it?
We'll build an arbor frame over top and encourage a bunch of leafy stuff (not the technical horticultural term) to grow over it. In effect, this is a very elaborate shady spot in the backyard built with goodwill and good people. There is no better place to sit in three states.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Black Locust Bloom

The black locust trees are in bloom this week.  The air is sweet with it.  They are the last trees around here to bud and leaf out.  They are a confounded tree top to bottom.   The wood is so impervious to rot and pests that it can be used as if it were chemically treated.  Better than creosote many claim.  It is the preferred wood for fences and posts of all kinds and there are lots of popular bromides about it.  "Locust lasts one year longer than rock".   "A locust post will last longer than the hole you put it in."    I especially like that one.   Shortly after we bought this land I went looking for the property corners to properly mark them.  Like surveyors.  Not like dogs.  The survey for the place was made in the 1880's and the boundaries mostly followed an old stone wall.  All except one corner.   The map said it was marked by a locust post.  I looked and looked all through the bramble and brush and gave up day after day.   But I was determined to find it and went down one last time vowing not to return until I found the post.  And I did --  laying on the ground sound as a dollar and with no hole in sight.   Lasted longer than the hole they put it in.
I spend half my time in our woods admiring the locust and the other half trying to kill it.  It spreads in a variety of hideous ways and for the first many years of a black locust's life it is covered with nasty thorns.  Clearing locust is blood sport.   I have a six inch cut across my belly where one particularly tough customer tried to fight me off.  I bested it in the end, but there is a scar.   Locust will spread by sending out roots that pop up anywhere they please.   Cut it off and it sends a different one somewhere else.    Black locust will even hide in your luggage and take root in the cracks of sidewalks at your next airport.   Okay, I made that part up, but it wouldn't surprise me to see a locust shoot coming at me from under the taxi stand at O'Hare on Thursday.  
Where was I going with all this?  Oh yeah.  The locust trees are in bloom this week.   It's a very pretty smell.   And it will outlive me.

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