Welcome to Balanced Rocks: Pictures and Stories

Beginning March 16,2010, I began a journey of balancing rocks. I hold to the practice of setting to balance at least five sculptures a day, sometimes, many more. Of these I take lots of pictures and videos. While conducting this adventure, I have been introduced to an incredible unfolding story. Additionally, I discovered this phenomenon is manifesting worldwide. As I post pictures and stories, I found many others similarly engaged and sharing their works. Additionally, as folks come upon me performing my work, many want to find out how this is done and try themselves. This blog shares this work in both pictures and stories. Enjoy


A seeming impossibility becomes possible

Rock Balancing: The Beginning

On a fine summer day, sometime in August, 2009, I was visiting family in Toronto. Like most folks spending summer in a large city, we used up as much time as we could finding outdoor events that would cool us. One afternoon, we headed to the Beaches section of East Toronto. After spending some time playing in a large sandbox in the shade with my grandkids and some of their newfound companions, we headed to the Boardwalk that extends from Balmy Beach to Kew Gardens. Ella accompanied me, Liam took off with his mom, Natalie. They ventured down the boardwalk, Ella and I headed onto the sand toward the water’s edge. Halfway there we encountered what looked like a small size Stonehenge.

About a dozen sculptures were gathered together in a rough circle. Each was a stack of two or three rocks balanced one on another. The tallest one was slightly taller than Ella, who was small average height for a five year older. All were in the neighborhood of three feet and four feet tall. What immediately jumped out was the precarious nature of the balancing. Most points of contact were miraculously slight. Most seemed to be standing on a point. Two more folks were witnessing this amazing display. We imagined that there must be small metal rods embedded at the point of contact, or else some kind of glue was used. Each of us peered from close low angles to detect what could account for this mystical display. Ella, not being so cautious, toppled one structure over. Luckily, it did not land on her.

I hurried over and picked up the fallen rock. I saw no evidence of a rod or glue. It indeed had been balanced on its pedestal. I lifted it up and tried to place it back where I reckoned it had been balanced. I cautioned Ella, to be careful and not upset any more sculptures and went about the task of finding balance. I was not successful and struggled immensely but did not find the magic spot where stability could be achieved. After a lengthy effort, an attractive Asian woman about my age approached and gently nudged me aside offering to demonstrate her work. She pointed to the spot she would set the stone upon. She called it by a foreign name. To me it looked like a slight dimple.

Placing the small end of the upper rock into that hollow, she deftly and quickly moved it around, slightly twisting and cajoling it into position. The sight of this slender woman with longish graying hair performing an intricate dance with a rock slightly larger than her head emanated calmness. It seemed only the ends of her fingers were used to achieve these small movements. Apparently, equilibrium was close. Shortly she was done and withdrew her palms which naturally assumed an open prayer posture. The rock I had grappled with was majestically resting in its previous stable state. She next went over and reset two other structures, I had not noticed were also amiss. I just took them to be part of the rubble strewn about the beach. Now all the display was standing and providing a small sense of order in our chaotic world.

I never got this woman’s name, but heard her story. She had set this display up for the purpose of taking pictures, one of which she hoped to use for a cover of a book she was publishing. Unfortunately not getting her name makes it difficult to find her book. But I carried away with me the sight of her presentation and the incredible feeling I had witnessed an amazing ethereal event. I also felt an urge to explore this practice.

Rock in the Snow

Rock in the Snow
January in Toronto

Sunday, August 31, 2008

It‘s getting cold. November 1976, Lansing, MI

After visiting Bonnie and Richard in Montreal, Cathy and I separated. She wanted to head to Florida and I to Michigan. She felt OK about hitching alone and I wanted to visit a cousin. We agreed to hook back up in Florida after the holidays. Right around the corner was Thanksgiving, which meant it was getting on into November. Nights were chilly but days still sunny and mild. Getting across Ontario was quick. I got to Lansing, Michigan after nightfall.
My bedroll consisted of a silk covered comforter and a heavy wool blanket. Laying these down together and rolling myself up inside provided a place that my body heat could keep warm on most frigid nights. At least that was my experience so far. It was around nine in the evening and I searched for a place to turn into a rollup for the night. A dark grassy hillside overlooking a closing mall and the highway seemed a likely spot.
The first few moments after getting into the roll required adjustment. I first stripped down to underwear to give my body heat direct exposure to my blankets. Next I had to give time for the blankets, the air trapped inside my roll and my skin to get to the same temperature. It usually took a few minutes to get warm, before I could drift off to sleep. Somewhere in the middle of the night. I was awaken by a chill. Probably cold air infiltrated my roll. It was not comfortable and rewrapping and trying to get back to sleep did not seem feasible. I glanced down to the closed mall. A bank had a lighted time/temp display. I found it was three thirty in the morning and eighteen degrees.
At times like these, I learned that walking provide warmth. I got into my outdoor clothes inside my roll, them wrapped my bedroll up and started hiking. Relatively soon a car provided a lift. Inside a heated car got me back to operating temperature. I was left out at ramp just before light somewhere in the middle of no where. There was a small diner nearby but was not yet open. The gathering light exposed a thin snow covering. It appeared coldness was on the menu. Nearby was a small section of woods. A fire seemed called for. I walked in far enough that smoke from a small blaze would not be noticed. Next I se about gathering small twigs and sticks.
With a slight snow covering finding dry tender seemed difficult. I had a nice selection of kindling but with no paper and only three matches needed something that would light and sustain it self until the wood was hot enough to ignite. Searching around I found underneath tree boughs a supply of pine needles that were not wet. It took all three matches before I was able to light enough needles that they sustained flame. By bending over my fledgling fire and providing a breath bellows, I was able to get some wood afire. Soon I had a source of heat to warm and dry myself and socks which had gotten wet on my hike into the woods and search for fuel. By the time the sun was fully up and the diner open, I was warmed and smelled of wood fire. Letting my fire go out, I strode over to get a cup of coffee, probably not smelling much different that folks that got warmed by wood fires indoors.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Changing Times. August 2008, Ithaca, NY

When I began this blog, my daily regime was to rise early and after getting some coffee and breakfast begin writing. For the first several weeks I was traveling around in my PT Cruiser, which I dubbed my PT-RV. Being for the most part in upper Atlantic states in winter, kept me rising early. I would start up my car and head out looking for warmth and refreshment. Next would come finding a place to park where I could find a wireless connection. After writing, I would upload my blog. Having that accomplished, I would go about my daily adventure. My postings were listed in PST and made it appear I was rising and writing three hours earlier than I did.
Some readers corresponded, expressing concern that I was rising too early. I assured them, I was not. My daily habit continued with early rising, and writing first thing. Lately this schedule seems to be changing. For one thing, work now occurs three times a week. This has altered my schedule. I rise later and changed my morning regime. Often, I feel rushed trying to write early, and withhold until later. This week has produced other events that delay my writing. It still is important that I continue producing some written work daily. However, it seems my time for writing is approaching evening. That means my blog will not appear first thing in the morning on the east coast. Now what appears in the morning will be the previous night’s production.
As an example of my new schedule, today, I arose after seven AM. After getting coffee and waking up, I bicycled into town for a meeting and picked up some plumbing supplies. After coming home, I spent several hours repairing our kitchen sink drain. That was sandwiched around another trip to town for food and more plumbing supplies. After finishing that work, I settled down and began writing . Then another distraction arose. Melanie, invited me to a benefit lamb roast along with an African music and dance festival. That did it, Writing would now be delayed further. By ten PM, I felt the need to return home and produce a piece for today. This is that morsel. I will continue to write on a daily basis. It seems that my posting times may change a bit. I might decide to hold to a schedule of posting in the evening. Stay tuned.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Busy as a beaver. November 1976, Madoc, ON

We made it into Canada, without Cathy being asked to show her money. She was riding in the sleeping compartment, while I was sitting up front with the driver of the eighteen wheel flatbed with a load of lumber. Seemingly, the customs agent took me for a substitute driver, and did not suspect we were smuggling another person behind the curtain in the sleeper. We crossed at Buffalo, a few hundred miles further west than our previous attempt crossing at Thousand Islands. It would likely take another day to reach our destination, Montreal.
It was approaching dusk when Jeff picked us up still a distance from Montreal. It was obvious we would not get there in daylight, if we pressed on. So we accepted the offer to spend a night at Jeff’s cabin near Madoc, Ontario. It was still light when we got there. As he made a fire, Jeff suggested we take a walk to his pond and check out the beaver activity. A short walk through the woods led us to a small pond with three beaver lodges. They were keeping hid, but there were signs of their activity. The woods all around the shore were littered with trees felled by beaver. They leave a telltale sign by leaving chew marks tapering in to a point that no longer supports the tree. Apparently they were felling these trees to obtain branch material for lodge construction.
From the many trees felled it was obvious beavers are dedicated workers. However the results belie their lack of engineering skills. Almost half the trees felled, got hung up on nearby trees preventing them from hitting the ground. Therefore, beavers could not reach the limbs they sought for material. These trees were left hanging. Jeff reached a synchronous deal with the beavers. He used a saw to finish the job sending the trees crashing to the ground. He next removed limbs, leaving them for the beavers. He garnered the trunk and log for firewood. From the looks of it, Jeff would be set for winter heating season. Cathy and I helped by hauling several wheelbarrow loads back to the house while Jeff prepared an excellent dinner. After eating we spent the evening cleaning up, playing music, telling stories and probably not working hard as beavers. But like beavers we eventually disappeared into our lodges and enjoyed good night’s sleep.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Some kind of magic is afoot. November 1976, Corning, NY

It is more than a three mile hike across the causeways and bridges separating the United States and Canada over the Saint Laurence river as it meanderers through Thousand Islands. By the time we got to the Canada Customs the chill from the previous night had been walked away. Both Cathy and I were warmed and anticipated getting to Montreal. We did not expect the snag we hit at the border. I had landed immigrant status in Canada and could be admitted without pause. Cathy, as an American, was expected to have sufficient money to last her stay as visitor. We had been traveling light in cash. Cathy had little over thirty US dollars. That was not enough to satisfy the Customs agent nor was it sufficient I vouched for her support. She was denied admission.
I joined her on a trek back to United States Customs. Fortunately she was allowed to come back to her own country. Otherwise, she would have been stuck in no man’s land, that strip that shows up on maps as a broken or solid line. As soon as we got through, we sat on the curb and discussed our options. As an aside, I blurted, “Wouldn’t it be strange if a limousine pulled over, picked us up and after going into the US a bit, turned around and headed back to the border; and, when we got there, because of our fancy ride, they would not ask to see how much money you had?” With that thought still in the air, a long white limo pulled over unhailed. Its driver opened his window and asked, “ You guys need a lift?” Without a moment’s hesitation, we climbed in its spacious back with all our gear.
As he took off, our driver announced he was only going to Watertown airport to pick up a distinguished professor who had a speaking engagement at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. Cathy and I looked at each other in amazement. How could our wish come so quickly? I disclosed to the driver our idea. Unfortunately, he described that once he had a paying fare in his vehicle, he could not give rides. Soon he was at his exit and apologized as he let us out that he felt bad he could not fulfill our prayer request. We thanked him, stepped out into the afternoon sun and decided to spend some of our small money on bread, cheese and wine, then enjoyed a pleasant repast. Afterward, we headed back to the highway with thoughts that likely Cathy and I would separate; she heading to Florida, I back up to Canada. Just as we put out our thumbs a large truck passed. It’s driver honked his air horn and waved his CB microphone at us. Before long, another truck appeared, already slowing down as it approached. It stopped and we climbed aboard. The driver let us know his buddy radioed back to him that we were on the road seeking a ride.
Apparently truckers help one another in their task of getting hitchhikers off the road and into a ride. I quickly related our story and still uncertain destinations. He informed us that after hauling his load of lumber to Pennsylvania, He was picking up another load to transport back to Canada.. He offered to let us accompany him back to Ontario. The only hitch was that we could not accompany him to his yard in Pennsylvania, but would have to make out way across New York. We planned a rendezvous at a diner near Corning New York at three AM next morning. After letting us out in Binghamton, we made our way across New York and marveled at the incredible way that our dream was manifesting.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Winter‘s a coming. November 1976, Watertown, NY

By the beginning of November, the weather still seemed mild. Cathy who was from Florida did not even seem to mind the briskness in the air present in upstate New York. She wanted to be back in Florida by the time coldness returned. In the meantime, we figured there was still time to go up to Montreal and visit Bonnie and Richard before that occurred. We left Monticello by mid morning and headed west toward Binghamton before turning north toward Canada. The day was bright and pleasantly mild.
By the time we got to Watertown, it was late evening. We were still about forty mikes south of the border and did not want to be hitchhiking across late at night. It was beginning to get a tad frigid. We found a spot where we could huddle together wrapped up in our bedrolls. We camped under a trailer in a sales lot next to an all night truck stop. Before retiring we took advantage of the warmth inside and enjoyed a bowl of soup. Taking as much of the warmth with us we went out wrapped up and tried ot get some sleep.
The descending cold prevented us from getting rest. Before we could fall asleep, we needed to go back into the diner and warm up again. While inside we drank hot chocolate or coffee. By the time we warmed up, we went back outdoors to try and find some rest. Both the cold and caffeine combined to prevent us from getting sleep. We tossed, turned, quivered and stayed awake. When cold became overwhelming we got up again, returned indoors and repeated the procedure. By morning’s first light, we had gotten no sleep and wearily headed out to the highway to resume our trek towards the border. Our hope was to flag down a ride that would offer us the warmth of a car‘s heater. Right away a van blew by and its driver waved and pulled over a short bit down the highway. Cathy an I gathered our belongings and ran to get inside. Getting there, we quickly threw our gear into the back and settled on the bench seat in front with the driver. As, he took off we noticed that this van had no windshield. We proceeded to race north facing a wind that’s intensity matched our speed. The driver told us he was headed right to the bridge that began crossing the Thousand Islands boundary between the United States and Canada, It only took about forty shivering minutes to get there.
When he stopped to let us out, the wind ceased and a bright morning sun was rising over the many islands dotting the Saint Laurence River. Although it was likely only a few degrees above freezing, it felt almost tropical in the stillness of new light. We headed out walking the few miles over bridges and causeways towards the customs booth where we could gain entry to Canada. The walking and rising sun warmed and invigorated us. We both hoped that as close as we were to Montreal and friends that our next night would not have to be spent sleeping outdoors in frigid temperatures.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back to the future. August 2008, Ithaca, NY

There are clearly signs, I may be settling in this area. A friend that I visited while on my road trip on the way here stopped over yesterday. Chris plans to stay for a couple of days. He speaks positively of this location as a place to settle. This feedback gives assurance that my choice to stay around here and see if I sprout roots is a positive pause. This gives rise to the notion that making the decision to become a settler is indeed an action step. Today I contemplate other steps that indicate this may become my dwelling place.

A major benefit that will spring my way within a month is that on my birthday, next month, I will be eligible to receive free entry into New York State Parks under the Golden Park program. A perk of becoming a senior citizen, this allows me enter with my vehicle and its passengers into any of the wealth of state parks that abound in this area. These parks are a large part of the reason that I felt drawn to this area. Today, I plan to take Chris on a tour of a couple of these outstanding vistas. Having guests come visit and my being their tour guide also confirms that those nubs sprinting beneath my feet may indeed be roots. A requirement to qualify for the Golden Park program is that I present a valid New York State driver’s license.
Obtaining one of these is yet another sign I am choosing to become more or less permanent in this location. Considering the process involved with changing my license helps me entertain another development that will help fix me here. I am considering the notion of obtaining a local telephone number for my cell phone. Up till now I have traveled about with a number that since its inception has been based in Massachusetts. For at least four years, the phone company has considered me roaming. As long as I saw myself as being a wanderer, it mattered little my cell phone was also on the road. This choice means that local friends will no longer have to call me long distance. It also implies that old friends from Massachusetts can no longer reach me locally. It seems another umbilicus is being severed.
All this is antithetic to the theme of my blog and its title. These considerations indicate the significance for me of these life changes. For a the bulk of my life , I have considered myself a rolling stone. Next thing you know I may begin to gather moss. A harbinger of that notion appeared this past weekend while exploring one of this area’s vistas with Kathy. She discussed gathering and transporting moss to her home.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Doing Roosters Again. May 1978, Pettigrew, Arkansas

I only waited until the next morning to get back to slaughtering my roosters. This time, when I got them before dark, I bound their feet together before I placed them in a cardboard box. The rest of the procedure resembled the day before up to the point of taking the box of roosters to the chopping block. Now when I reached inside to grab the first victim, the rest were quiet and it seemed they were submitting to their fate. The task was accomplished with out raucous incident.
It was relatively quick to separate each bird from his head with a sudden short rap from a sharpened hatchet. Soon all birds were hanging from their feet, bleeding from the wound on their necks where a head used to be. Cleaning them seemed more of a task. This part I found distasteful. Removing their innards released a strong smell that could not be washed from my mind even after cleaning up and storing all these chickens in a freezer. Even several days later when we decided to cook a chicken, the memory of that smell returned. That made it impossible for me to partake in eating chickens I had butchered. No one else at the meal suffered the same and were able to enjoy chicken dinner. I began to doubt that I could make it raising and killing my own chickens.
One other occasion called me to do in some chickens. A neighbor who I had provided other roosters to asked would I be willing to butcher them. Having just had this experience I agreed. I was to dispatch them but did not have to do the butchering. Tana agreed to handle that messy part. All went well as I sent a few more roosters toward the dinner table. The only snag developed as I was coming to the end of the task. Tana also wanted me to remove one of the older roosters from her flock. This bird had finally given up top roost to a younger bird who was rising in the ranks..
Two roosters are one more than is needed to maintain peace in a chicken coop. It seems there will be unceasing struggle for top spot both in roosting place and being first in line to service hens. Tana made her choice who this would be and it was left to me to finish the culling process. She had helped me bind this tough old bird’s legs. After I had completed my task with the young roosters, I grabbed the elder one and tried to dispatch him with the same quick motion that was successful with younger boys. With him it only delivered a bad cut on his neck and turned him into a furious adult male in short order. We now engaged in battle and I had to become more forceful to complete the job. A blow delivered with greater impact completed the job.
The energy surrounding this event did not feel appropriate for giving honor to birds who were submitting their lives to provide us food. I decided to withdraw from the meat business and stick to hens who could provide eggs. I still had a source for roosters. I only restored these to health and sent them out into the community. I felt I had no taste to conduct killing and butchering.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Doing Roosters. May 1978, Pettigrew, Arkansas

It was more than a month since my rooster’s brethren were carted off to be processed into food. Mine were by now nearly twice the size of those who were harvested. Not only were they larger but quite a bit more feisty. Likely they were starting to release sex hormones and engage in the kinds of activity that chemical releases. Even though they had acres of woods in which to roam and carry on, they seemed to prefer conducting their shenanigans close to the house. They were loud and created quite a mess. It did not take me long to remember they were destined for the dinner table.
It came to me that if these birds were headed to the dinner table they must somehow meet a similar fate as their brothers. I reckoned that by being the person responsible for them, it put the onus on me to make the arrangements for doing them in and butchering. I had yet to kill an animal intentionally, but had ordered birds deaths by purchasing live chickens from a butcher. I felt called for to assume responsibly for carrying out their sentences since they were in my charge. I asked around for advice from those with experience. I was told that tying the birds feet together before slaughtering them made it easier to handle them and also provided a means to hang them upside down and bleed after their heads were removed. I was also told that since I had only ten birds, it would be trouble-free if I gathered them before they awoke and kept them confined in a large cardboard box.
Long before sunrise, I awoke and went to the coop with a large cardboard box. It was quiet and my roosters hardly were disturbed as I planted them one at a time in the dark confines and closed the lid after the last one had been placed inside. I left the box in the quiet of the coop and went back into the house, prepared a pot of coffee and began a lengthy meditation concerning the deed I was about to perform. It was a bright morning and looking like a fairly fine day to begin my initiation into killing. I gathered a sharp axhatchet to perform beheading, prepared a clean table covered with paper to conduct butchering and ringed a tree with nails for a place to hang fresh killed birds. When all was ready, I fetched the box of roosters and brought them near the chopping block.
To bind their legs, I had prepared ten lengths of cord and had tucked them in my pants waist for easy access. My plan was to reach in the box, grab one at a time, bind his legs, carry him over to the chopping block and dispatch him into the realm of chicken dinner. Somehow they got the gist of what was up and as soon as I slightly opened the box, two managed to fly up, get past me and leave the top wide open for the others to make an escape. Soon all ten were loose in the woods. Chasing was futile and they tended to stay far away from me for the day. I felt a bitter sweetness. I suffered frustration about the mess I had caused and felt empathy for the roosters who escaped sensing they were about to meet some unsavory event. On the other hand, I experienced relief that I had been spared the job of being their executioner. By nightfall, all was peace and they returned to their coop to roost. Their fate waited another day.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Turning roosters into hens. March 1978, Saint Paul, Arkansas

I wasn’t there the night a team came and picked up the just less than sixty thousand roosters Ed raised as Cornish Hens. But I was there shortly after the truck load of chickens bounced down Ed and Billie’s clay dirt driveway headed to a processing plant in Springdale, Arkansas. Ed’s Australian sheepdog was doing an amazing job of rounding up the strays that escaped during the gathering. I joined the crew that had come to conduct this collection at a large breakfast Billie prepared for their workers. The story told about how all these birds were collected in short order entertained our meal gathering.
It began in the dark of night when this team scattered throughout the five chicken sheds and replaced light bulbs with ones of blue color. Before now, white lights burned constantly, tricking these chickens into thinking it was daytime, the time to be awake, eat and drink. Immediately the chickens were in the dark for the first time in their short lives. Apparently they cannot see the blue color range and took it to be night at last and just as quickly fell into their first good sleep. This made it easy for the crews to round up sleeping birds, stuff them into small cages and haul them out the now open shed doors and stack them onto a flatbed trailer.
The efficiency of this roundup was attested to by the fact that the sheepdog was only able to capture seven who managed to awaken in the commotion and escape. Rumor held that, this sheepdog was so proficient at his job gathering and gently returning runaways that if he returned seven, that was likely all that escaped. Before the end of our breakfast one of the hands related the story of what fate would be dealt to the chickens he just helped gather. Besides harvesting, this crew also worked at the processing plant. Some would join at that job later in the day.
As soon as our truckload of roosters arrived at the plant, a crew would begin unloading the crates of chickens. Quick hands would now snatch the awakened birds and hook their feet into a small claws that hung from an overhead conveyer. From here they would be slowly drawn into a gleaming stainless steel machine. There was no view of inside, but when they emerged from the other end, these chickens had no feathers nor heads. After being mechanically separated from their feet, the plump bodies would fall onto a large stainless steel table. Surrounding this table several workers with sharp knifes would quickly remove viscera and slide the bodies down to a conveyor. Here inspectors would cull any bird that showed evidence of tumors. These would have their growths cut away, discarded and the remains put into large stainless barrels. Rumor had the content of these barrels going across the street to another factory and made into Chicken Noodle soup. Chickens who made it whole past this point became wrapped, labeled Cornish Hens and headed to a freezer.
I felt grateful to have been relieved of my duties helping raise chickens commercially. The rest of my work for Ed and Billie consisted of preparing a spot in the woods for a log cabin that would house Billie’s dad. I was to confine my chicken raising to the birds I was able to rescue from the mill.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Raising boy chickens. March 1978, Pettigrew, Arkansas

The same as when I brought hens home, the first matter was getting the new birds weaned off their medications and hormones. Quite a few were sickish and sluggish at first. More than half pulled through, developed appetites and emerged robust chickens. This group shared the coop with hens. All birds we set free during the day and had plenty of room to roam. It was over a half mile to our nearest neighbor and no predators seemed around during the day. Coyotes were present in the evening, but kept distance in the day when humans were about. The hens taught the young boys about returning to the roost before dark, when I would shut them in for the night.
As soon as the chickens got let out in the morning, they would begin scratching the ground driving up insects. They performed a valuable service ridding us of ticks. While the hens generally kept quiet and mostly scoured the underbrush away from the house for food and possible nesting sights, the roosters were more curious and pesky. They came near to the house as they could, and gained entry when they found an opening. Their litter was all over the porch and they constantly had to be chased out of spaces they intruded upon. Even though they were useful in the garden removing insect pests, their scratching dug up far to many tender seedlings.
Next came the development stage when male birds have to work out their pecking order. It seems this is a primal drive insuring that the dominate chicken gets the highest roost farthest away from predators. My roosters had no older male to teach and instruct so they worked this out on their own. Our yard resembled a schoolyard when no teachers or monitors were present. Small skirmishes continually broke out amidst loud clucking and puffed up chest displays. Except for the species, I might have been looking at normal adolescent human male behavior. I did not have juvenile court to produce interventions but was able to keep a handle on my flock by diminishing its size, providing chickens to our community. I had no delusions that my birds were being used as none other than food.
Ed was pretty well recovered and needed my help but little. The few times I went over to assist him, I usually received a bird or two he culled from his chicken factory. It seemed I would need to come to terms with my notion of saving birds. Especially in the case of these roosters, birds I saved were still going to meet their demise by ending up on the butcher’s block. I was able to gain some measure of satisfaction from the notion that for their short lives, I was able to provide a somewhat better environment that a crowded smelly barn. Additionally, by roaming free and cohabitating with hens, they was a chance they could get laid before ending up on a dinner table.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Birds of another color. January 1978, Saint Paul, Arkansas

It took about a week to prepare for the next batch of chickens. We began by opening the door to our largest shed and discovering an ammonia cloud so thick the opposite end of the structure was not visible. The first matter was to raise the shades and ventilate the building. As soon as we could breath, we began hauling out the foot or so of straw soaked with chicken excrement. For next two days we pitched the laden straw onto a wagon. Ed was recovering enough so that he could help with this back breaking work. He still lacked fine motor skills but had a strong back and adequate arms and legs. .
Once a wagon was loaded we drove it out into the fields and hooked up the manure spreading component and went to town flinging chicken shit far as we could. The faster we drove the tractor, the further out it was broadcast. This provided pleasant relief from excruciating tedium of pitch forking it off the floor.
Finally the floors were cleaned and a layer of fresh straw put down. The rest of the procedure was similar to the last time. Only now, Ed was able to work more as an equal partner, and I had a better idea of what needed attention. It seemed that after another batch or two of chickens, Ed would be able ot manage without a hired hand. I had learned enough of this business to not want to invest my future raising chickens commercially. The soon to arrive batch held a surprise.
The same as last time, a converted school bus showed up loaded with sixty thousand hatchings. As they were unloaded , it looked pretty much the same. Small white little peepers huddled under heaters. It was only by being told was I to find out these Cornish Hens were of the male sex. The supplier was able to sex the eggs in the fertilization process. Experience showed that separating the sexes made for less problems in raising birds for meat production. By nine weeks, at slaughter either sex came out as hen. This batch, in fact, consisted of roosters.
Same as last batch, I was able to save the lame birds by taking them home to my chicken rehabilitation clinic. It would be a awhile before I learned the differences about raising juvenile male birds as opposed to good strong laying hens. By now, Ed appreciated the fact that I was taking the birds and relieving him from the responsibly of being their executioner. Now he only had to put birds who succumbed naturally down the pipes to his composting tanks. Back at my coop, the tranquility established by a settled batch of hens was about to be broken by introduction of a gang of adolescent boys.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Saving chickens. November 1977, Saint Paul, Arkansas

Before coming to work, I decided I would not be able to continue in an occupation which required that I kill baby chicks. I understood the economics involved and realized they were only being raised for slaughter but I could not bring myself to be executioner. I was prepared to tell Ed that I could not perform the act of killing, even at the risk of my job. It would be OK if he wanted to take care of it but I was not willing. At breakfast we discussed this dilemma. A solution arose.
Ed understood my position but held to his economic principles. His charity did not extend to freeloading birds. But if I agreed to take them away and care for them he was willing to spare their lives. I willingly agreed. He had extra crates that chickens could be confined in while I transported them home. He even let me salvage lumber from a collapsed building so I could build a coop at my house. We had a deal and he agreed to sell me some feed.
I next went to work constructing a shelter for a chicken rehabilitation center. The few birds I got were lame, sick or runts. Besides getting over the infirmities that sentenced them to death and reprieve, my birds also had to adjust to being taken off medications and hormones that had been provided in their drinking water. Though a goodly portion did not survive, by patient nursing, a small but healthy flock of hens emerged. They had been weaned off their old diet and now were free range birds that had many acres over which to roam and hardly needed any commercial feed. By then Ed’s gigantic flock had been culled and no more made their way to my chicken house. He also hardly needed my help since his operation was running maintenance free at the moment.
By the time Ed’s hens were getting ready to be hauled off to a processing plant mine were beginning to lay. Apparently they came from a line off birds that were breed to be prolific breeders. A goodly portion of eggs we received had double yokes. We got almost a egg a day from each bird and were able to provide our community with large double yoke eggs from range fed birds who were rescued from the Cornish Hen mill. Ed now required my help to get ready for a new batch of birds. If I was going to stay in this business, I would need to find adoptive homes for my rehabilitated chickens.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Chicken Man (Part two). November 1977, Saint Paul, Arkansas

Right after breakfast, a school bus arrived delivering chickens. The bus was loaded with racks containing covered boxes about the size that would hold an extra large pizza. Each container held fifty newly hatched chicks. Before breakfast I hand cranked a bank of gas heaters to about two feet from the ground. Under each heater eight boxes were unloaded. As soon as all two hundred chicks were present eight trays containing food and water surrounded them, Essentially they were contained in tight quarters under a heater and were so fresh, some still have remnants of shell stuck to their downy fur. Feathers were not developed yet. Before lunch sixty thousand birds were installed in their new quarters.
Ed showed me the procedure of welcoming new chicks to his farm. For the next two days, I hauled wheelbarrow loads of feed to their containers and kept them full. On each trip I also filled their water trays. On each go around I moved their food and water slightly away from their heaters and towards the perimeter of the building. Each morning, I raised their heaters a foot or two. In about four days, the heaters were at their regular height and if temperatures permitted could be turned off. By now all their food containers had been moved next to the food conveyer and watering system. One at a time, I removed their trays. By now all birds were getting used to getting their food and drink from a constantly running source. While carrying out this chore, I found the gruesome side of this business.
When I traveled about pushing the wheelbarrow full of feed, I attracted the attention of the hungry youngsters. They would rush me and I had to be careful to bring my load to a stop and deliver scoops to food to their trays. Once they got their food, they were less interested in my presence and dove into eat. However, in the process a few birds succumbed to errant foot steps or crushing wheels. I took as much pains as I could but could not avoid small accidents that were fatal to tiny creatures. Ed accepted this part of the business. He realized I was being careful and he inadvertently would step wrongly also.
We brought the carcasses to a six inch pipe that protruded from the ground on atop a mound in the field. Ed lifted off the cover of the tube and dispatched several bodies down the hole. He explained that a twenty thousand gallon tank was buried underfoot. According to his story it was not filled in over ten years, but contained the remains of all the chickens that did not make it to harvest. I was sickened by the thought of the sad end for these birds whether they made it to market or not. Next Ed showed me an active method to cull the flock. When a bird was lame or a runt, he preferred to get rid of it. He claimed it would just consume feed and not make it to market, thereby costing him. As an example he lifted up a bird with lame wing. He placed the head under his boot and yanked up on its feet. This technique quickly qualified the bird for a trip down the tube,. He expected me to follow his example. It was the end of our workday and I decided to sleep on it. I was not sure I could stomach a job that required I do in young chickens.


Monday, August 18, 2008

The Chicken Man. November 1977, Saint Paul, Arkansas

In the middle of the Ozarks there was relatively little work. Most folks were sustenance types who eked out a living off the land. Besides lumbering there was little else that offered employment. There were several farms that raised chickens commercially. I was fortunate to find small work at one of them. Other than that the small tribe I lived with had little sources of income. Billie and Ed had moved from Florida to the Ozarks to seek retirement. They bought a working chicken farm to settle on. Shortly after moving in, Ed suffered a stroke. He recovered but lost the use of his arms. He could use eating utensils but lost the strength and dexterity to use other tools. Mentally he was unaffected. He needed a set of hands. That was my job.
My first tasks were to prepare the four buildings and their equipment to receive over sixty thousand hatchlings. These long structures would house the birds for about nine weeks until they became the size to be called Cornish Hens. For several days I followed Ed’s instructions and provided maintenance and repair.
Each building had a large feed hopper attached to it. Most likely the auger that feed food to a conveyer needed old compacted grain cleaned out of it so that it would be able to deliver fresh feed to the expected chickens. They would also need water, which meant small nozzles that feed a trough running around the shed’s perimeter would need cleaning. It seems the previous guests were messy and left the accommodations in not good order.
After all the mechanisms that provided food and water were put into working order, we needed to spread fresh straw on the floor throughout the sheds. It was no small task. The largest of these buildings were over five hundred feet long and thirty feet wide. Two were this size the remaining two were quite a bit smaller. Nonetheless, hauling a bale of straw, one at a time, in a wheelbarrow and spreading it out over all that floor space took up a whole day. The third day was spent making sure the rope and pulley systems that raised and lowered the canvas shades that covered the sides of the buildings were in working order and the canvas in good repair. A similar system that raised and lowered gas heaters needed also needed attending. After all these accommodations were in order we could await the arrival of a new batch of chickens.
During the three days, it took to accomplish this I got to enjoy Ed’s stories. He was able to talk about his adventures as a US Marine who survived the trauma of a forced retreat from the Inchon Reservoir during the Korean conflict. Ed’s wife, Billie would stay at the house preparing us the three meals per day it took to supply the nutrients to conduct our work. The rest of her time was spent glued to the television absorbing the continuous performance of Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker on their PTL Club. For Billie salvation meant a daily contribution of money or ordering of religious trinkets in support of their ministry. She also kept busy with the incoming and outgoing mail corresponding with the PTL Club. I wondered if the chickens who were due any day would understand the notion of salvation.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Is it a dog?. March 1976, Free Spirit Farm, Gainesville, FL

It was just a year ago that I spent most of my time out in the cow pastures searching for mushrooms. This year, I was spending the bulk of my time in the garden. I hoped to leave mushroom picking to others. Michael expressed interest, so, I agreed to go out and help him identify the appropriate variety. We went out to the same pastures I visited the year before. Crossing through a familiar field, we came across a cow laying down.
As we approached we noticed a small calf lying near the cow’s head, sort of whimpering. Then we noticed the calf had an umbilicus attached. Apparently it had crawled to its mother’s mouth to have it chewed off, only to find its mother asleep. After examining the mother, we determined she passed away. We quickly discerned that we should tie off the cord and get the baby ready for transport. It was obviously still new and needed parental help. After assuring ourselves the mother had indeed passed we adopted the calf and carried it home, much like a human baby.
It evidently needed attention and nursing. We had no cows at the farm and we determined that store bought milk would not suffice. A neighbor who raised cows gave us a supply of milk. He had no interest in taking our cow as he did not have the time to attend to it the way we were able. We started feeding our adopted calf from a bottle. We all took turns being mother. Rather quickly our calf showed signs of survival. It was still small, the size of our dogs. It also took to playing with them. Soon it enjoyed robust health and growth. By the time he got bigger than our dogs, we figured out it was a he. We had brought home a baby bull. Except by now he thought of himself as canine.
He would come in and out of the house like the rest of the pack and chased around the yard just like he was a dog. Soon we came to the realization this dog had hoofs. So when he jumped up on person or furniture, the results were different than a dog playing. We found we had raised a bull with the mind of a young puppy. His saving grace was he did not have teeth. Our utmost concern was how could we turn this beast back into a bull. We had no appropriate teachers. He was also getting to the size that dog training techniques would not be effective. We so much wanted to keep him, but his rapid growth was making us think differently. It took some time, but we found the farm from whence he came. After convincing the owner we were not cattle thieves, he became willing to take back his rustled calf who had been raised as a dog. Years later we even found out he fathered calves and none of them barked.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

The startle response. April 1976, Free Spirit Farm, Gainesville, FL

Our farm had a ten acre field behind our scattered buildings. It had a path going round it. Beyond the field on all sides was forest. Sometimes Phil used the path to race his dirt bike around. Other times folks would walk around the perimeter to achieve some quiet. One day Phil joined Armando and I for a walk. In the woods near the end of the field were a smattering of old junked vehicles. These appeared to be thirties and forties models. By the looks of them, they had been out here for quite some time.
Most of the cars were overturned and their parts rusting away and falling off. The ground around them was littered with pieces. Many parts were missing, obviously stripped off by salvage bandits. Overgrowth was beginning to swallow whatever remained. They also provided shelter and home for wild creatures. As we walked by this auto graveyard, Armando announced, “I going over there to take a leak,” as he pointed toward over to the overturned cars. Phil and I continued on the walk.
We were not too much farther along when we heard Armando’s startled shout, “Oh my God, What the fuck.” We turned around to see Armando in the classic pose of a man standing and urinating. He had one hand on his hip, the other on his penis. The only difference is he was holding this pose in midair and traveling backwards. I wondered what force could have propelled him in that direction. We returned to see what it was. Armando landed on the ground several feet from where he launched and finished his mission by the time we arrived. Then we noticed what had surprised him
There under the upside down hood coiled on a sand pile was a large majestic rattlesnake. In front of him the ground was slightly damp, most likely from a recent urine shower. Armando related how as he begin to piss, he looked down and spotted this snake in his urinal. Luckily the only one to startle and react was Armando. The snake was still enjoying his bask in the sun. We kept a safe distance and admired this handsome diamondback specimen.
We also noticed an opening to a burrow under the car that was most likely the snake’s abode. The next day I returned with a sketchpad and rendered a likeness of his majesty. The following day I returned to bid our neighbor a “Good Day” and discovered he had moved out. No doubt he was disturbed by all this human commotion and decided to seek a quieter neighborhood.

Friday, August 15, 2008

How far can a snake strike?. May 1978, Pettigrew, AR

We lived up a three miles up a dirt road near its end. Several homesteads shared the same road. It was not a busy highway, but yet was well traveled. At the bottom was a general store, gas station, Post Office and a collection of houses that resembled a small town. Hardly did I ever meet traffic head on, but care had to be taken because there could often be other cars on this roadway. One time venturing back toward home, I came across a small snake in the middle of the road. I stopped and got out to observe.
A small greenish snake was in the process of swallowing an even smaller ring nose snake. The green snake might have been all of eighteen inches. His meal was probably half that. I reckoned that when he finished , he would be immobile in the middle of the road until he finished digesting. I believed that would not be a good location to be sitting for that length of time. If another car came by and missed seeing him, be might become a traffic fatality. I decided to move him.
Grabbing a small stick, I prodded under him and tried to lift him up. Immediately he spit out his intended meal and looked at me glaringly. I quickly lifted him and flung him gently out of the road to the embankment about a foot and a half above the roadway. I turned to retrieve his meal and put it up next to him so he could again partake. I don’t know the if it was because I was messing with his meal or was he just angry, but when I stooped over to pick up the ring nose snake, he struck at me. By virtue of being elevated off the roadway his strike launched him. He shot out over several times his body length, but fell short of me. He look still conveyed the message “Quit messing with me and my meal.” I quickly moved his lunch up to the embankment using my stick prodded him up there.
He still used his focus to pay attention to me. He ignored his meal. I wished him a good day and got back into my truck. I headed off to leave him to his business. In parting I exclaimed, “Sorry for interrupting your meal.” Returning back the next day I saw no sign of the green snake or his meal. I hoped this meant he had eaten and moved on. I decided to be wary of any snake that had elevation on me.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Buster, the sideways cat: Free Spirit Farm. April 1976, Gainesville, FL

Many folks came to our farm with a pet. Other domesticated animals were dropped off or else made their way to us. One cat, Buster, showed up with no references as to his background. However, he was welcomed and joined the crew. There were also plenty of creatures for our cats and dogs to play with or taunt. Skinks were abundant. These creatures are a lizard of sorts with iridescent skin. They almost seem to glow psychedelically. Rumor had it that something in their skin was toxic and could poison any beast that ingested it.
One day we came across Buster with a skink he was dismembering. It did not appear he was eating it but did use his mouth to tear it into pieces. Whatever he did, evidently, was enough to poison him. He slowly slipped into a stupor. He was with us, but just barely. For two days, Buster looked like he was under the influence of a powerful drug. But then, he rather quickly made his way back. Physically he seemed no worse for the wear. However, he sported a couple of odd characteristics. One, his temperament was constantly irritable. Two, his vision and attention seemed about ninety degrees off from where he appeared to be focused. Since his vision was off most other animals were able to avoid him and his gnarly antics.
One day he was sitting on the washing machine on our back porch next to a screen door. The screen opened both directions so that our animals knew how to nudge it open to gain admittance. With Buster perched above, another of our cats pushed open the screen to gain entry. That was enough for Buster. He let out a snarl and leapt at the intruding cat. Due to his poor spatial orientation, he landed several feet away. That did not deter his attack and he commenced to turn into a snarling howling ball of fur, letting off all the appropriate sounds of a serious catfight. Apparently Buster was so angry he did not notice he was not joined by an adversary.
His opponent, several feet away, was not about to inform Buster of his error. He stood there with a look of feline perplexities, while observing Buster conduct a tremendous solitary battle. I felt I was observing the best live version of a animated cartoon. Finally, Buster got the best of himself and ceased the fight. He proudly puffed up and walked away with both head and tail held high. His supposed victim backed off, not too sure he had just been thoroughly thrashed.
His victory probably convinced Buster he was the top tom. He henceforth walked around proudly and seemed a lot less irritable or need to be cantankerous


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rooster goes crazy: Free Spirit Farm. March 1976, Gainesville, FL

Our farm not only held an assortment of people but we also took in stray animals. A large effort was made to ensure all animals including the large bipeds with opposable thumbs got along. For the most part we were successful. Disagreements were worked out and this usually took a group effort. Our assortment of animals that also seemed able to get along peacefully included a hodgepodge of domesticated dogs and cats, and a collection of feathered friends. These included a turkey, duck, several chickens, other domesticated fowl and a bantam cock. He served as rooster to this strange flock. We also had occasional visits from wild species of one sort or other. Most of these were reptilian including a stray alligator that found its way onto our lawn one morning and a large rattlesnake that lived in the woods nearby.
Even these dangerous species, although shocking to see, did not cause problems and did not interfere in our peaceful setting. One morning the peace was broken by our bantam cock who must have remembered his fighting instincts. There was constant commotion as he attacked every feathered creature on the premises. Most of the birds managed to stay away from him. He would turn his attention to the nearest one and chase after it until it scurried away. He would then turn his attention to the next bird nearby. All this chasing was accompanied by loud screeches and visible pecking. For all threatening behavior it did not seem blood was being drawn. That is until he got after the turkey.
I do not know if it was because the turkey was to slow either physically or of wit. But once the bantam went after him, there was not let up. The rooster would approach from underneath and grab turkey’s caruncle, that large colorful flap of skin dangling from his throat. . He would latch onto it and pull the turkey’s head down. It seemed the turkey could not escape this treatment and it continued until he got quite bloodied. All the other birds held their distnace and seemed to observer the turkey’s fate. They might have even been feeling grateful not to be in his place. The whole scène greatly disturbed me and I decided to break it up.
Grabbing a small stick I hurled it at the two of them hoping to scatter them in hopes the turkey would get away. Inadvertently, the stick struck the rooster in the side of his head. Immediately he went down and many of the other birds rushed him to try and gain revenge. I now felt bad for what I had inflicted on rooster and rushed to his aid. I managed to move all other fowl away and grabbed rooster to assess how I may have hurt him. It was serious. He suffered the loss of an eye and by the tilt of his neck, it was probably broken. I felt appalled to have caused such damage in my efforts to bring peace.
I instinctively realized if rooster was to mend, he would need a place to recover where the other birds could not get to him. We had an abandoned Volkswagen and it sufficed as his rehabilitation center. I placed him there and for the next several days feed, nursed and ministered to him. He eventually recovered enough to rejoin the flock. Now his manner was calm, the other birds got over their trauma and let him be. Calm returned to our barnyard. Poor rooster had a serious disability. The crook in his neck caused his head to be tilted permanently in such manner that his one eyed only looked upward. He had no eye to look down at the ground where his food would be scattered. Special care had to be taken to feed him, Extra food would be broadcast around him, so that when he pecked blindly downward, chance would be he would hit something. Feeling responsible for his condition, I accepted the task of making sure he got adequate feed. I asked his forgiveness for causing his sorrows. He did not seem to hold it against me.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A writer’s day off. August 2008, Ithaca, NY

When I began this blog, my intent was to develop a daily writing habit. At first my writings consisted of a journal. I kept that up for about 6 weeks. Then I switched to posting daily stories that I garnered from previous journeys. I kept to this also on a daily basis. My hopes were that I would be able to sustain an ongoing ability to write at least a bit every day. So far that has been possible. Even on days when reaching for a story seemed a stretch, I was able ot post an article concerning the writing process or content progression.
The past couple of days has seen me engaged in the editing process, which is also considered writing. It is difficult to post edited material on a daily basis. I do have the opportunity to edit the material already posted on my website. However it is not a new post. And the reader would have no idea of what is being changed barring those with incredible memories and a yen to retrace their reading. I doubt their numbers, if any, are large. Already it seems the editing process has separated me from accessing stories. Instead it seems my mind goes a spinning off toward looking at the material, the writer and the audience. What I yearn for is a day off.
So I post this instead, considering it part of the story telling. I may not be able to provide interesting tales or meaningful allegories, but instead give a glimpse into the mind of someone who is working his way through a bog that contains rambles and ambles. It feels satisfactory that today’s entry is made but perhaps goes no where. But none the less it is finished. Check back and see how it goes.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Creating on the beach. March 1975: Grassy Key, FL

While staying on Grassy Key with a lot of folks who had limited resources, finding something to do with idle time posed a problem. Much of our energy was devoted to obtaining food. But even that left plenty of space to engage in other occupations. It seemed as a community we developed a bent to fashion trinkets for adornment and gift giving. Even our destitute state produced an aura of shared wealth. Crafts that flourished included macramé, sketching, painting, bead stringing, and carving. Beachcombing provided materials and inspiration. Creative spirit led us to find ways to fashion tools and small items for our fledgling industry.
Not having many material distractions kept our work simple yet provided clear artistic learning adventures. In my scant possessions was Swiss Army type knife. This model had many blades and tools in one device. Mine included two knife blades, saw blade, awl, and corkscrew. These were enough to set me in the carving business. Coconuts provided material. My days usually began with gathering a coconut, using the awl to punch out the eyes and drain the milk. This I would share with anyone nearby. Next came out the saw blade and I neatly sawed the nut case into equal hemispheres. My curved knife blade was used to scoop out meat and dice it up. After serving it for breakfast, I had two nice bowl shapes to begin carving.
Working these bowls provided my first lesson in artistry. That was, while producing, it proved best to separate the work from thoughts of its outcome. By this I mean, focusing on the work at hand rather than what will become of it once it is finished. It was easy to distract myself with thoughts of who I would present my trinket to after it was finished. I quickly found that such distractions often interfered with getting artwork done. Also I found it a waste of mental energy since by the time I was finished the result was usually very different than I pondered. My task became a practice of returning drifting focus to the work at hand. This valuable lesson quickly became adaptable to most other tasks.
Though I had bowl shaped blanks, bowls were not the product. Instead I fashioned a way to use leather strips to hinge the two hemispheres back together. Then using a small hand made wooden bead and more leather strips I found a way to make a clasp. Then another piece of leather was used ot fashion a strap. What emerged was a small hard sided handbag. Its size was handy for folks who had not much to carry anyway. Several of these purses made their way into our community. Another product that sprung from local materials were walking sticks and canes. Mangrove roots provided strong straight wood for this project. The work consisted of scraping off the bark, rounding the hand hold end and adding carving. My first stick showed the words, “New Jerusalem.” Other sticks received different messages and symbols. Several of these items also made their way into the community.
Yesterday’s project ot editing my written work returned me to the lessons learned of maintaining focus on the task at hand, divorcing thought about where this task will end up. The difficulty being in this case, the editing I am working on is for the purpose of producing a clean written copy for presenting to Neal. My struggle is to divorce my thoughts of how I think how he will receive it and his reactions and instead stick with the task at hand.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Editing the story. August 2008: Ithaca, NY

This morning as I began my daily writing, I remembered I planned to meet with Neil and attend a sunrise service led by Perry City Quakers at Taughannock State Park. Not wanting to feel rushed I decided to wait until I returned to post today’s entry. The service was brief but fulfilling. On the way back to Ithaca, I related the tale of Joe’s and Lenny’s passing. This is a tale I have often told and beforehand one that as I finished, the listener would often remark, “You should write this story.” To which, I would sheepishly reply, “Yes , I know,” feeling like some day I would get around to it. As I was relating this story to Neil, I realized I just completed putting this tale to words. This has been the focus of my writing over much of the past month.
When Neil let me off, I was just finishing the story. He was relating a small segment of a significant passing he had attended. I realized that the spoken tale was not as rich as the one I had written down and offered to give him a written copy of the story I had just finished reciting. He accepted my offer. Today, I get a chance to take my writing to the next level--editing. This part of the craft, I have intended to launch into for quite a time. Like most things the intent takes a while to achieve birth. But I will use the promise to deliver a printed copy to Neal to provide impetus to get under way.
When I post a blog, it is often of the roughest unpolished sort. In haste to get it published, I fairly check it for spelling, quickly examine grammar, and slightly proof read it. Many times errors slip through, I suspect because enough time and distance from its creation has not passed to give me a more objective view. Often after a lapse, I read the published version and am appalled. I quickly edit the published version. Most often the saved version on my computer does not get edited. Today, I will bring both versions together to produce a single polished clear copy. Once done, I will publish a printed version to share with Neal. This will in essence be my premier published work, even if my own publication.


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Signs of settling. August, 2008: Ithaca, NY

When I decided to rest here in Ithaca for a while, I claimed I would spend time checking out the waters. I used the analogy of fishermen observing the water before deciding where to cast. In the same way that they are only indirectly observing the fish, by looking for signs that appear on the surface, I am looking for surface signals that may indicate deeper movement. One thing for certain, there seem abundant waters moving on the surface in this geographical area. These are not waters I am particularly observing. But I take them as a signal that the metaphorical waters may be just as plentiful and rich. The fact that opportunities seem copious makes me leery of making a cast too soon as it may lead me to throwing into treacherous waters. Maybe its age or wisdom that accompanies it, but I feel compelled to be deliberate about putting out roots.
That was another statement I broadcast, when I choose to investigate this area. I declared I would occasionally look at my feet to see if I was sprouting any roots. Several small nubs are appearing that could likely turn into roots. The largest is perhaps, a visit from a family member to what I refer to as my home. My sister, Karen, and her daughter, Laura, came by last week for a couple of days. Besides being a treat, I took it as a sign, I might be settled enough for folks to travel across country to find me. Then just after she left, I got a message my brother, John, and his wife, Lyette are planning to come next week. These visits are helping me to regard this as my home.
Several other items come up that indicate grounding may be occurring. One, while showing my sister around, a stranger asked me is I was from around here. She was looking for directions and information. Without admitting I was from here, I was able to answer her questions and provide directions. I could even fill in small segments of local lore. Afterward, she thanked me for my help. I may be slipping into native costume after all. Next, I took on a small part time job and got a first paycheck confirming my local address as my residence. That and the fact, I have a local post box, makes me feel I may be headed to becoming a settler. When I first arrived here, I was uncertain if I would just keep on traveling. It now seems it may be time to break out my tackle box and cast around for fortune.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Saying Goodbye to Lenny. May, 1992: Martha’s Vineyard, MA

It was evidence of the number of friends Lenny left behind by the crowd that attended his memorial service. He was present in a box of ashes. He had no written will, but left behind instructions for his friends to dispense of his ashes as they saw fit. His brother, as next of kin, took possession of Lenny’s ashes. After the ceremony a large gathering of friends who had been in attendance with him for the past few weeks congregated at the house on the lagoon where Lenny had passed over. It was a gorgeous afternoon and folks sat on the lawn in small groups and shared small personal anecdotes about how Lenny touched their lives. Along with the stories, food was brought and shared. One friend brought a small rose bush to plant in Lenny’s honor.
After a time we arrived at consensus to sprinkle half of his ashes in the lagoon. A small contingent carried that half to a small dock. Amidst small readings and personal salutations, spoonfuls of Lenny’s ashes were carried by a slight breeze toward the water. Soon that half was dispersed. It was undecided where the rest would be distributed, The rosebush and remainder of Lenny’s ashes would have to find a home on someone’s land. I and two others gathered the rosebush and ashes and headed into Oak Bluffs. At top of Circuit Avenue was a pedestrian mall where Lenny frequently sat conducting his ministry. Lenny referred to the spot as, “Up on the hill.” That was often his destination if you ever asked him where he was headed. It seemed an appropriate place to leave a living memorial.
On the Circuit Avenue end of the mall was a small raised bed planter. It was contained by a brick wall that offered a fine sitting place for resting and observing the traffic, pedestrian or vehicle. This spot was often where one could find Lenny watching over his flock. He neither regarded himself as a street preacher or evangelist. Lenny saw himself as a friend amongst friends, a worker among workers. It was at this spot we decided to place his rosebush. Since we did not have permission from the town to leave the bush or ashes in their planter, our task became somewhat furtive. Quickly I scooped out a hole with my bare hands, placed his ashes at the bottom and stuck the rose bush on top. Next all three of us pushed the dirt back over the roots, stopped and offered a thoughtful prayer and said goodbye to our dear friend. Lenny approved of our choice of spot. A year later, the town renewed the planting in that bed and took out the rose bushes. Today Lenny’s ashes are pushing up other plantings. His work continues.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Winding down. May, 1992: Martha’s Vineyard, MA

It was a Sunday night, I signed on to stay over with Lenny. By now, he was considerably weakened. Lenny hardly slept any. It seemed he may have felt that sleeping would draw him over the edge and forced himself to stay awake. The whole evening was spent sitting with him, holding hands and speaking in soft voice. Whenever, I observed Lenny’s eyes beginning to close, I would speak, “Lenny, if you find yourself drifting away, it is OK to let go.” He apparently heard and understood as he would quickly open his eyes and jump back to the room. He was not ready to leave us yet.
As it approached morning, I asked, “Would you like to go into the living room and watch the sunrise over the lagoon?” He nodded affirmatively. We got him into a wheelchair, pushed through two rooms and parked in front of a picture window facing the east. While sitting, I noticed a bible on an end table, picked it up and flipped it open. I glanced down to see Psalm 111. I was not familiar with this passage but read it aloud anyway. Upon finishing, I observed Lenny with tears welling. I asked, “ What’s up, Lenny.” He scribbled on a scrap of paper, “My favorite Psalm.”
As I was wheeling him back to the bedroom, We passed a poster of his mounted on the wall, announcing a Paul Gauguin exhibition. I distinctly heard a voice say, “ When I leave, you can have that.” Lenny could not speak, so I glanced at him and asked, “You want me to have that?” He nodded affirmatively. Four days later, on Thursday, while four others who were in attendance stepped out of his room briefly for a conference, Lenny slipped away to Peace. The following Saturday, his pastor called and informed me that long before he left, Lenny had requested I read his favorite Psalm, One Hundred Eleven, ,at his memorial service. She asked would I be willing. I gladly accepted this honor.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Something is happening here. May 1992: Martha's Vineyard, MA

Right away it seemed something special was going on. Out of the blue, a brother Lenny never knew existed dropped in. Lenny had been sent to foster homes at a young age. His mother later had another boy and girl. Lenny never knew them. For no apparent reason Lenny’s brother, Tom, decided to travel to Quincy Massachusetts, the family birthplace, and search his roots. He found he had a brother living on the Vineyard and came down to seek him out. He walked in totally unaware of the situation. After getting over the shock, he took an integral part in managing Lenny’ care. Most folks held this bit of synchronicity as a sign something extraordinary was in the air.
Another connection was stirring. I was acquainted with Lenny for almost fifteen years, He often mentioned another close friend of his and often asked me, “Have you met Enos?” I never had. Then he would add, “You really should. You two have a lot in common and should talk to each other.” It had not happened yet. The first night I volunteered to stay on later, in walks Enos to sit with Lenny over night. Lenny introduced us and a bond was forged.
My first overnight brought forth a disconcerting event. Lenny was a member of a Pentecostal Church. A sizeable group of his fellowship showed up quite late that night and held a service in his room. There was singing, loud praying and spiritualism abounding. Towards the end of their visit, a large clamor of voices demanded. “Take up your pallet and walk.” They seemed to be making a large command that a healing take place and placed this burden on both Lenny and his God. After they left, Lenny was visibly shaken. He claimed that this affair made him feel that there was something amiss in him that prevented his receiving a healing. He was not comforted. It took most of the night, sitting with him and offering assurance that he was OK , to restore his serenity. With his permission, we asked his parishioners to cease coming over for healing services. That caused a confrontation but after consulting with the pastor they relented and agreed to hold that type of demonstration elsewhere. We slipped back into a tranquil setting.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Is that you, Lenny? May, 1992: Martha's Vineyard, MA

Is that you Lenny? May, 1992: Martha’s Vineyard, MA
After finally getting Joe’s estate cleaned up enough that mother could manage the rentals and eventual sale, I loaded up one final truck load and moved back to Martha’s Vineyard. There I had my own house that needed finishing work. I was also called to the cutting and splitting of over nine cords of firewood I gleaned the previous summer after Hurricane Bob whirled through and felled an enormous quantity of trees. Right after that, Lenny helped me to gather much of the wood. That was while he was recovering from surgery to remove his larynx and beginning treatment of cancer in his the throat. I looked forward to seeing him and other friends while I was settling back on the Vineyard.
I ran into Rick who shocked me with some disturbing news. Lenny was having a recurrence of his cancer. It spread to his lungs, other internal organs and likely his bones. His prognosis was not good. Lenny never had a home of his own, but was now ensconced in Jenny’s parent’s home. It had been left to Jenny and David and was not otherwise being used. It provided Lenny with a beautiful setting overlooking the lagoon where he could conduct his passing. It also made available ample space for him to receive visitors and well wishers. I rushed over. I was greeted by a crowd of friends. A meal was being prepared and despite the somber occasion a festive atmosphere was present. Lenny appeared gaunt but displayed his ever present beam and joyous spirit. He embraced and welcomed me.
Lenny’s many friends rotated providing his care. Except late at night, when usually a single person would stay with him, Lenny had a house full of people attending to him. He spent the past twenty years ministering to alcoholics and other unfortunates on the streets. Even though Lenny attended an established church his comforting of others was a personal calling. The brace of people attending to him mostly came from the throngs he touched while conducting his ministry. In a sense even though we were caring for him, there was still an impression of Lenny conducting his office.
The liveliness in the air likely sprung from Lenny’s decision to not take pain killers. Though he was probably feeling lots of pain, he preferred to be alert and stated he wanted to fully attend and be present for his sendoff. He managed his pain with warm baths, massage, and meditation. That kept the gleam in his eyes and provided an enduring example of accepting and playing the cards that were dealt you. Lenny was open to discussing his present situation and held nothing back about his feeling s and beliefs regarding the realm he was heading toward.
I believe that everybody in attendance was blessed to experience the events that transpired as the veil separating this world from the next got closer and thinner. There seemed to be the supernatural afoot.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Cleaning up the mess. Spring, 1992: Atlanta, GA

Now that Joe was safely laid to rest, the matter of his estate was all that required us to hang around Atlanta. Joe moved to Atlanta after graduating from University of Florida in the 1970’s. He built a life for himself there far away from other family members. His illness drew me to Atlanta and now our mother was here. She was awarded the job as executor of his estate. Before his passing Joe had signed over to me two properties. At first it seemed like a bonus, but it turned out they were encumbered with mortgages and serious difficulties in structure. One was not able to be rented in its present condition. There was also the matter of dealing with tenants that Joe had loaded into his rental units.
Gratefully, mother accepted the responsibility and began her duties as landlady. We were both intent upon disposing the estate in good order. I had not much energy to stay in Atlanta and renovate these encumbered properties. I longed to return to Martha’s Vineyard and a house of my own. I likewise missed my family and friends. Hopefully we could find some buyers to relieve us of Joe’s estate. Luckily, mother had her sister available to come down and stay with her while she directed this dispossession. Maybe because of the circumstances I had not found Atlanta to be a friendly city and felt need to return to a nurturing environment.
This would require me to load up my pickup with all the tool possessions I acquired or brought with me to perform the work and maintenance duties on Joe’s properties. It would likely take the rest of winter and most of spring to tie up the remnants of work I had already begun and leave the estate in a tight enough condition for mother to sell it. In the meantime, I made at least two trips north hauling my stuff. My stays there were brief, probably because I no longer required extensive respite and also, I had substantial work tidying up the estate. On my first journey northward, I experienced chest pains. The whole trip I worried and fell into a mild malaise that I may be falling ill with my own fatal illness. It was only while riding on the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, did it occur to me I was not breathing properly. Quickly I intuited that stress was creating a tightness in my chest and forcing shallow breathing. Immediately, I began to focus on deep breathing. Almost at once, pain subsided, vitality restored, and stress was relieved. I garnered a sense that all would be well.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Saying good bye to Joe. January, 1992: Atlanta, GA

It is wholly coincidence that I pen a tale of Joe‘s leaving ceremony on the day that marks the fifty fifth year since his birth. Joe left us when he was only thirty eight years old. As much as he did not want to consider his passing, he nevertheless had worked out arrangements of how he wanted us to celebrate his life. He contracted with a good friend to provide an elegant and elaborate send off party. John had access to a wealth of props and decorations. His connections in the convention business gave us opportunity to turn Joe’s home and yard into a Greco-Roman setting. A theatrical prop business lent two large vases. These were over four feet tall and needed two people to move them about. Other props were hundreds of iridescent marbles that resembled pearls, large long stemmed flowery displays for the vases and a collection of iridescent skinned balloons that matched the pearled marbles.
We spent hours cleaning up Joe’s house to make it as welcoming as Joe would require were he physically present to greet his guests. While cleaning, mother gathered together a collection of mementos of his life. We created a poster and table display of pictures and artwork that left a glimpse into the world Joe created around him. Besides family, guests that attended his send off were gathered from professional acquaintances that he made living in Atlanta, working in display arts and renovating houses. An eclectic crowd of folks convened to say their good byes. Joe was adamant that no readings or mention of religion be brought up while honoring his life. His wishes were followed and a civil ceremony conducted. Joe was present in a box of ashes. His wishes concerning his remnants were to have them distributed in Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf waters and his backyard garden.
We were blessed with gorgeous weather. In winter, Atlanta can vary between bitter cold, and pleasant warmth. For this day of celebration the sun shone and temperatures were comfortably mild. To go along with the well-designed surroundings, some of Joe’s friends in the food service business provided elegant food and drink. After lengthy time of socializing and sharing reflections everyone was handed one of the balloons that were filled with helium. Per Joe’s final instructions folks were asked to speak briefly or not then release their balloon as symbolic of letting go of him. Bye the time the last balloon was let go the first one was still visible ascending to the heavens. I think Joe was riding with them.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Catching up on me. August 2008: Ithaca, NY

When I began this blog, I used it as a daily journal recording my notes on travels after I left my job in Pennsylvania on February 9. It followed me while I journeyed about in North Atlantic and New England states. It included a brief vacation in Florida and return to Buffalo, Toronto and finally landing in Ithaca on Good Friday morning. On Easter Sunday, I made a decision to suspend my sojourning and test the waters around the Finger Lakes. I felt somewhat of a draw here. I also settled on abandoning my journal and focusing instead on transcribing stories I set out over thirty years ago to gather.
Two matters I carried on my travels and mulled over were coming to separate evaluations about if and when I should cease my travels and whether or not to apply for and begin early retirement. It seems that resolution for both these choices have emerged as I have been going through the process of arriving at a verdict. Without a notion of finding permanent lodgings, on April first, I choose to find a room to live in as a treat to myself. Up till then I had been staying in my vehicle. Obtaining a room required I make a lease arrangement until July 31. I took it.
Without intending to find a permanent job, I took on various small bits of work. These were in the odds and ends category of home and people maintenance. I supplemented this with demonstrations on the art of using cane, cloth tape, artificial or natural rush to weave seats. I filled in more time by volunteering at a local organization that provides free meals. For the past month, I have gleaned several bunches of cattail rush and stocked them up for more seating projects. Savings and dribs and drabs of income supported my lifestyle. From this assortment of projects sprung opportunities to engage deeper. The organization I was volunteering for offered a small part time job. I accepted as a means to keep me regular and provide grounding. Meshed with this, slight pay from tasks of a handiwork nature provide regular income. To supplement that, I applied for and was awarded Social Security early retirement income. It seems I will be able to build a sustainable life style following this present course.
Yesterday, I moved into a new house that required a year long commitment. I begin this year with a notion of following my part-time working lifestyle with a self assigned task to continue writing on a daily basis. If I honor my commitment, I will be staying put for a year. It will be determined whether or not staying put causes any roots to develop or a storm of some sort dislodges me and blows me in some other direction. In the meantime, it looks as if I accepted early retirement and view myself as a writer and artist with a focus on sustaining that life style.


Friday, August 1, 2008

Just his luck. July 1987, Atlantic City, NJ

Karen and Lou bought a house in Lakewood, NJ. Upon moving in, they discovered it needed a new roof. Apparently old shingles failed leading to several areas where the wood decking was rotted. Three of Karen’s brothers decided to come and help restore her roof. I was joined by Karl and Joe. It was the middle of summer and working on roofs in full sun was impossible. Considering it a working vacation, we began at first light then get off the roof before 10 AM when it became not only uncomfortable but dangerous to be out in full sun. We were blessed with a spell of dry weather. So we could take our time uncovering the roof, replacing any rotted decking, recovering with tar paper and finally applying new flashing and shingles. Finishing each days work by ten in the morning also gave us plenty of time to play.
Since Karen lived slightly more than a one hour drive from Atlantic City we ventured down several times and toured the casinos, boardwalk and beaches. We engaged in petty gambling, sightseeing, and on one occasion tried to gain admittance to an audition for contestants on the popular television game show Jeopardy. We missed the first cut. Our excursions provided relief from the hot sun baking Karen’s roof during the middle of the day. By the time we got back to her house, we could spend the brief time before it got dark preparing her roof for the next day's work and covering it with a huge plastic tarp in case the dry spell turned wet.
When we finished, we had to return to our respective homes. Karl lived in Bradenton, Florida, Joe in Atlanta. Both had flown up. Joe had picked up some things that he would not be able to carry home on a plane. Karen offered her car, so we could carry Joe and his belongings home. Karl would go with us then fly the final leg to his home and I would drive her car back. I looked forward to returning via the Smokey Mountain Parkway and Skyline Drive. This was a trip I wanted to take since I was a youngster hearing tales of my grandfather’s excursions on this route as he traveled annually from Florida to Michigan.
When we left we decided to have on final go at the Casinos so diverted our route through Atlantic City. Joe liked playing slots and Karl and I preferred table games. We wandered around inside one of the larger casinos. Every once in a while, Karl and I would connect up then head into the maze of slot machines seeking Joe. He would be easy to locate since he played machines at the end of the row. He had a theory that they placed machines that produced more winners near the ends of the aisles. He reasoned that people walking by would notice when the bells and whistles notifying that a winner was being paid and be enticed to enter and fritter away their money in the rest of the slots. He did seem to find machines that paid enough winnings to keep him engrossed and financially viable.
On one of our searches, just as we approached, his machine went into its clamor announcing a winner. The display on the machine showed a jackpot winner with three big number sevens lined up in a row. But unfortunately the jackpot prize was only awarded if you played five quarters per spin. Joe had only wagered one. So even though he hit the jackpot combination, it paid out the paltry lowest prize, a handful of quarters. We commiserated with Joe about his lack of fortune not playing enough to win the big one, then returned to our walk through the aisles of table games.
Shortly, Karl and I bumped into one another again, and figured it was time to leave the casino and begin our drive to Atlanta. So we headed back to the slot machine area to retrieve Joe. We found him at the same machine as before and the scene repeated just as we approached. Again a jackpot combination showed up and just like before, Joe had only played one quarter and hence awarded the lower prize. Seemingly his theory about end of aisle machines paying out regularly held some credence but it did not guarantee that you placed large enough wager to gain top prize. We each had money enough to finance our trip home, so we left as winners and headed out on the road.


Blog Archive

About Me, Part One

My photo
Rock Balancing: The Beginning. What began as a journal of my travels took a hiatus when I began to settle in Ithaca NY. In the meantime, I took up the practice of setting rocks to balance. I returned to my blog to begin recording this story

Part, The second

On Easter Sunday Morning, 2008, I made a decision to settle in the Ithaca New York area. At the same time, I decided to continue to post my blog, However, the stories now will come from the archive stored internally. These will be the stories I gathered while on previous journeys and never entrusted to paper. The date of each posting will not reflect the date of the story being related but will mark the date that narrative got inscribed.

Carry wood

Carry wood
33 years later

Part: The third

I took a brief hiatus from my daily blog writing. I did not know the direction it would take. part of me thought I would abandon it. It turns out I missed it. The old title "On the Road Again' is no longer apt. It appears I am settling. The travel stories will age to a point, when I will probably resusitiate them and do something with them. I dusted off some old stories and begin this new series.
Thr first is one was written two years ago. I edited it and begin again a series that is more apropos to someone settling in upper New York State. They are meant to warm, amuse, educate and sometimes inflame.