Last evening, CA and I were enjoying a pre-supper appetizer along with an adult libation. She was dipping her favorite little puffy crackers into some spicy hummus and I was having a few slices of my favorite blue cheese on a Ritz, “Everything tastes better on a Ritz”. I mentioned that I had made some hummus from scratch a few years ago. She didn’t seem too impressed. Nevertheless, that thought lifted a rock somewhere in the backyard of my mind from under which crawled all these recollections of those times in my life when I felt that the essence of personhood consisted mainly of the practice of making it from scratch – doing it myself.

The modern D.I.Y. movement is, I believe, the attempt by modern humans to get in touch with the default human activity of making it yourself. Until very recently, everything was the product of a do-it-yourself effort. When it comes to making it yourself, I am a transitional figure. My childhood took place in the 30s when everything that appeared on the dinner table, for example, was made from scratch. Grocery shopping consisted of ingredient shopping. Mr. Galina would dip his scoop into the rice barrel, the flour barrel, the pickle barrel and yes – there was an actual cracker barrel. There was very little in the way of graphic art and packaging to misslead the appetite.

I can remember my stomach flip-flopping as I eyed all those wonderful edibles just lying in a glass case, barrel or big glass jar waiting to be scooped up, put in a paper bag for me to take home around the corner. It’s been a while since my stomach did anything like that in a modern market.

I have to smile as I remember when I first moved to Maine – the quintessential homemade state – that among the first things I wanted to do was to make cheese. That was over 35 years ago and I still can’t recall why I thought that making cheese would define life in paradise. Purchasing a little bottle of rennet was as far as I got.

I’ve been making bread for years. I am fairly competent at it. I remember once when a friend of mine asked me after she sampled my Anadama, “You made this with your hands?” I looked at my hands and showed them to her and said, “Yep, it was these two that did it.” She had this quizzical expression on her face that seemed to say, “I’m trying to decide whether or not you are jerking me around”. I was, of course. Poor thing – she was a sliced Wonder Bread baby.

One more thing: I get funny looks when I talk about one of my favorite homemade meals – rice and gravy. I just had a little for my breakfast. About half a cup of leftover jasmine rice that I made myself. Well I suppose I should say my Aroma rice cooker did it. But I could have done it. I stirred into the rice a dollop of my hand made roux based gravy that is so good that on occasion it has made people forget their names and addresses.

I’ll admit that it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but, if it was, they would be better people. I usually make enough of it to freeze and have along the way as needed. If truth be known, and it should, of course, a little gravy is always needed.


The crew we hired to come in showed up Wednesday morning and began taking out damaged and and other trees suspected as potential threats to our house, and hauling them off. This needed to be done as a matter of safety and survival. It had to be done. Yet there was a sadness watching them fall.

Watching these men work was a marvel of competence and coordination. What they accomplished in a matter of hours would have taken me the rest of my life – even if I had the ability I once had, or imagine I had.

I can live with the departing pine trees that threatened our home, but loosing a beautiful maple, also near the house, that I had watched grow from 8“ across at the base to over 15”, was sad indeed. At least that wood will warm us next winter with memories of its beauty as well as the energy that beauty contained. I loved that tree.

I am not a “tree hugger”, but I do value trees as givers and sustainers of life. Add to that their truly lyrical beauty and there is enough reason there to have them for their own sake. There need not be some branding as a commodity to demonstrate their value. Also I heat with wood and I have wood products in my home and I love living among trees. And I have a chainsaw and an axe, neither of which are my favorite tools

A stand of pine or hardwood is not “undeveloped” land. It’s just what it is supposed to be. There are those among us, I fear, who would “harvest” (an interesting connotation that one would usually find while discussing, for instance, the harvesting of beets) every marketable tree on the planet for money.

I lived in the south for half of my life. There you can grow longleaf pine to profitable size in about 40 – 50 years. If pulp is the object I believe that number is somewhat lower. Paper companies and others have thousands of acres planted all in neat rows evenly spaces so as to allow machinery to come in at the proper time and “harvest” them. This is an industry and it produces a product, employs many workers. And none of those trees threaten our house. Think dollars not Joyce Kilmer’s “I think I shall never see / a poem as lovely as a tree”.

But that’s exactly what I thought about that beautiful maple that split and had to be taken down. Obviously it was damaged beyond repair. Obviously it needed to be taken down. And so a lovely poem died.

Back in the late 1980s, I began to suspect that my hearing was suspect. I went to an audiologist and had a hearing test. Her report was that I was borderline, but still in the ‘green zone’ and did not need immediate help. I now know that understanding is the backbone of hearing loss. If I was having problems understanding then that needed to be addressed. I have always been able to hear things, but understanding had fallen off precipitously over the years.

Things came to a head one week when I was house sitting for friends. I was watching a movie in their bedroom from their bed on my last night there and the next day they were to return from their trip. The movie was GUNG HO. It was a propaganda piece designed to give the folks at home a good feeling after the historic disaster at Perl Harbor.

I got a call the following day when I was told that I had a serious hearing problem. What do you mean, was my reply. It seems that when they got into their bed, that first night after their return, they decided to take in a little TV. The volume blasted them out the window. They didn’t understand why the neighbors didn’t call the cops on me.

The theory goes that if I needed such volume to hear my movie then there was a problem. Furthermore, I had just taken a job at LLBean where I needed accurate hearing skills to perform. It just wasn’t going to work unless I got help.

I arranged for a hearing test at which time I found that I was seriously impaired and needed serious hearing assistance. That’s when I began to wear hearing aids. That was 20 years ago. Hearing loss doesn’t get better over time – it always gets worse. And, it’s understanding that counts. If you don’t understand what you are hearing, you are hearing impaired. It’s as simple as that. Get help.

I must be getting old. I’m feeling the cold this morning – more than, I think, usual. Checking the facts – a popular pastime these days – it was 9˚ when I woke up and stoked the fire. That qualifies as bloody cold. We like to say things like, “It dropped into the ‘single numbers’ early this morning”. Insider talk. You had to be there. That kind of stuff.

At sunup there was actually some sun visible in the distance. It is now cloudy and – though my eyes are not quite fully open – I am pretty sure that was a white speck that I saw drifting past my window that gives a narrow view onto the hillside out back.

I’ve loaded the little Waterford stove twice now and the base chill that kept gnawing at my hands and knees (I hate to wear long pants inside) is finally broken and I feel safe and warmly secure in my little bubble of heat.

Oddly, and completely off course, thoughts of warm rain bounded down the years and there we are walking out of a pocket wilderness in southwestern Arkansas in a gentle but persistent rain that I made no attempt to avoid. Soaked to the bone without a single shiver. Pure joy!

Then, all at once, that little white speck is a genuine squall streaming horizontally across my window to the woods.

When I was a kid, and the almost like-a-clock afternoon summer rain shower came along, we would put on our bathing trunks (we called them bathing trunks) and went out and turned our faces up into the falling rain. There was no chill. It was almost amniotic. Perhaps it was truly an unconscious attempt to return to the safety and promise of he womb that made this ritual such a prize.

March – don’t bet on it.

I get a newsletter from the author Louise Penny on the first of each month. They are as interesting and fun to read as her outstanding books – all of which, I am sorry to say, I have read.

She begins the March letter with a quote from Al Gore – “Air travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo”. She goes on to say, “Always makes me a little upset when the customs person looks at me, then at the maniacal passport photo, and never says, ‘This can’t be you.’ ”

Anyway, I thought I’d share that with you. I had just written an old friend down in the Old Country – SE Texas – saying how good it would be to see them again and how difficult air travel was for me. Of course I took the opportunity to add my 2¢ about the industry by saying “I sometimes think the airline industry is run by aliens. Surely no human would treat other humans that way!”

After sending that note off, I thought back to when I first lived in Texas and there was an airline called Trans Texas Airlines. TTA. Somebody started calling it Tree Top Air. It seemed to fit. It had flights to most cities with sufficient airports. I flew quite a few times on those old and comfortable airplanes. My favorite was the Supper Convair. Cruising speed 360 mph. About half of today’s jets.

I can remember walking from most terminals out onto the tarmac, usually past a small fence. I remember carrying my bag and sometimes an attendant at the airplane would take it and put it into a compartment in the belly of the plane. When you walked up the stairway into the front of the cabin you faced a huge closet – yes, I said closet. You hung your hanging stuff there and there was space enough for a small suitcase as well. Now you found your seat which was roomy enough to cross your legs with a little to spare.

Well, it’s time for something like, “Ah, those were the days!” I remember thinking that those airplanes were designed with people in mind. This is probably revisionist thinking at best.

I did love flying in those days. I even learned to do it myself. A thrill a minute!

There is no question about it: the snow and ice hanging on every branch, twig and other appendage is winter wonderland gorgeous! And that would be perfect if we had nothing else to do but play dominoes, eat leftovers and make coffee on the wood stove.

But then all of you, who share with us this lovely New England weather, know these things. I am going down and hook up our 5KW generator and pretend life is normal for a while. Power has been off and on all night and promises to keep that up today. I’ll gas up, hook up the cable, throw the proper switches and crank it up. I love electricity, even if I have to make it myself.

There are other things to do: snow/ice to remove and just for good measure, wood to bring in from the shed. All the while, the temperature is rising slowly. I hope, I hope, I hope.

These are unimaginable times. Yet, unfortunately, the unimaginable is our reality. The thought sends the mind into a paroxysm of despair.

We have a president who has no experience in government, yet who thinks he knows it all. He demonstrates his ignorance several times a day and blames others for his problems. The courts are incompetent or have the wrong ethnic heritage when they do not rule in his favor. He’ll take the courts to court. The press is the opposition because they report what’s going on. His ersatz press secretary tells the press to shut up. Another of his spokespersons admonishes us to look into his heart for the real truth and stop paying so much attention to what he actually says. That’s got to be a prize winner. He is nominating cabinet level people who are on record opposing the very function of the agencies they are to manage. These are the very people these agencies were created to protect us from. Am I missing something?

And he lies. He seems to think that if you say something that is obviously a lie often enough the people will begin to believe it to be the truth. If you say all politicians lie you miss the point. His performance is at the unimaginable level. Dare I suggest pathological?

His pouty mouth scowl, I imagine, is designed to give the impression of power and authority when in fact it more resembles a child whose favorite toy has been confiscated until he eats his greens.

It’s hard to keep up with his antics. He uses social media like a barely post pubescent adolescent starving for attention. Is this a management style?

At least he has learned one cardinal rule of power: if you want some hair brained idea to float high on the political tide, just say it’s a matter of national security. Keep out the Mexican rapists and dope dealers. It’s a matter of national security – build a wall. Need oil for national security? Build a pipeline to carry the dirtiest most corrosive crude on the planet across the entire country, threatening the environment and delivering another slap to the already decimated face of Native America. Beef up the National Security Council? Absolutely! Get rid of the Joint Chiefs – I mean, what do those guys know? Then install a known racist, anti-Semite, white supremacist whose stated purpose is to destroy every American institution. This is supposed to make us feel more secure as a nation?

Then, let’s ban Muslims until we can regain our grip on things? It’s hard to put a tag on this one. If you have a working TV set, you know the chaos this caused. One has to wonder what he is doing off camera while all eyes are focused on the thousands of lives so callously disrupted. You don’t think he could be that devious, do you?

I wonder – has anyone thought of the benefits of banning radical Christians? You know the ones – they want to become the national religion of America. The American Taliban. In God We Trust! What a joke. Talk about a threat to national security.

I told you – these are unimaginable times.

An old friend sent me a link to a Roger Angell piece about growing old (he’s 93) from the New Yorker. I read it slowly and with a Kleenex box at the ready. In a moment of grandiosity my friend suggested that I might have written that, or something like it. There’s no way I could have done that, even though I could say “Amen!” after every line.

The most stabbing part of the essay was when he spoke of outliving so many people. This is a condition that sort of creeps up on you. You discover it when in some midnight hour you decide to find “old Joe” with whom you palled around with in high school and find that he died in Korea or succumbed to the big “C” a few years ago. If only you had known …

Angell lives in an apartment in Manhattan and talks of a large support community leaving cooked chickens at his door and here I am living in the lap of paradise – knowing dozens of people while hardly ever seeing anyone. I cook my own chickens, thank you very much!

It’s mostly my fault – not seeing people as much as I think I should be seeing people. I am not the conversational dynamo I once was. Being essentially deaf sort of puts a damper on conversation and rips the heart out of the desire to be around people in the first place.

I always wonder if anything I say is relevant to the on-going conversation. There have been times when I enter into a conversation only to be greeted by a stunned silence. Not because I have uttered some profound titbit of eternal wisdom but rather the unspoken response is more like, “What the fuck are you talking about!”?

I have a new bionic ear now that promises to deal with this condition and in fact it is working quite well. I feel very fortunate to have this technology available to me. I am more likely now to be able to keep up with conversations. It’s a work in progress – a process with which I am quite familiar.

One of my fantasies is being a part of a group of older guys who have breakfast somewhere every month or so to just be there and talk about stuff we all remember. I have an old friend out west who meets six or seven retired army and air force guys at McDonalds for 50¢ senior coffee. I’d pay more for better coffee, myself. I’d pay a lot more for better ambience. There was a time 50 years ago when I was in the clutches of purpose and calling that there was a small group of ministers who managed to have warm and supportive relationships with each other. We golfed, lunched and hung out. Of course, when I bailed out of the crusade, that was that.

There is today in Baton Rouge a group of my old high school buddies – all retired engineers – who meet monthly. I am in touch with one of the group who tells me that now and then I am mentioned. It’s a strange feeling, but I like it.

I’ve stopped trying to find old friends from long ago. It’s a dead issue – no pun intended. I have lots of live friends, albeit mostly the age of my children. Even so, we don’t see each other enough. What’s enough? It’s what it is.

The take-a-way from all this is this: Be in your life. Don’t think about it – live it.

Now if I can just remember to do that.

From where I sit, I can see a couch, wood stove, TV, book cases and various pieces of physical training machinery. (All of it needs dusting!) That’s about as far as I dare look into America the Beautiful today. I hope for hope. I need hope. I take it that this is better than no hope at all. Which is where I have been for a while.

People are saying scary and insane things today. “Stand for the flag and kneel for the Cross”. And this: “I am so happy to have a dignified First Lady for a change”. And this, ”Suck it up sore losers.“ Or, ”Stop your whining and support your president!" Oh yeah, just like you supported President Obama? Remember him? Remember how the Senate Majority leader promised to make it impossible for Obama to govern if he won his second term? Is that the kind of support you have in mind?

One thing we know: Nationalism – the current trend in the White House – which is the twin sister of Fascism, has been, throughout history draped in the flag while invoking the blessings of God. Religion and government are like oil and water. Both are ruined when mixed.

A religion that insists its principles be imposed on others is totalitarian and has no place in this country or any other for that matter. We must distrust those among us who can not practice their faith without seeking to impose it upon others.

Mr. Trump has awakened the alt.right – the Skinhead contingent. The sleeping thug has been aroused and given permission.

Human rights are now threatened as never before. Women have now become our canary in the cage. When their rights are abridged then the rights of all of us are in danger. On Saturday women all over the world led the way and took the fight to the doorstep of power. The debt this country owes to those patriots is huge.

The salivating jackals surrounding Mr. Trump are tearing at the flesh of the republic and ripping apart environmental protections, restraints on the financial industry and the ACA and ignoring the critical needs of millions of Americans while slapping each other on the back in joy and jubilation. Their replacement plan fort the ACA? Get real. It will be a windfall for he insurance cartel.

Don’t look now, but essential protections and pathways for redress are being pealed away one by one. The press is being systematically cut out of the loop and even threatened and maligned when questioning the actions of government. The corporate steam shovel is poised to dig up the Grand Canyon and ANWAR and every piece of protected land in this country.

Dissent at your peril. But dissent we must.


I am sure that most of you are as distressed as I am about the careless way language is abused these days. I’m not talking about vulgarity. That will always be with us and ironically the way the language of vulgarity is used is among the clearest examples of language usage.

I had a teacher once who used to say that a passage in some text we were reading didn’t mean what it said but it “means what it means”! So, I said, it could mean anything or nothing at all. He took offense. I probably would have as well, but I made my point – which was if words can mean anything then they are meaningless.

By virtue of this country’s twisted and broken election system we elected a minority president whose idea of language never got beyond the age of puberty. His comments about just about anything seem fit for little more than the bleachers at a hotly contested basketball game. Leader of the free world? The free world shudders at the prospect of dealing with his thin skin and proposed quick fixes.

Now comes Ms. Conway – a trusted insider – saying not to listen to his (Trump’s) words but listen to, or look into what’s in his heart. This woman is the world cup champion of Dodge Ball. When she speaks I always have to shake my head in wonder at the obfuscation and outright double-speak she uses to avoid answering the simplest of questions. Her job is to “explain” the president? To advise him? It’s a full blown Orwellian nightmare come true.

How long until we hear something like, “I know I said that but you shouldn’t believe everything I say”. Which, of course, means anything.

Stock up on batteries folks – it’s getting dark.