Monday, November 27, 2006

pennsylvania black bear

I scoop them up all in my hand and cast them on the table like dice. They clink and clank like a wooden wind chime, a rain stick, the black bear claws my brother gave me for my birthday. I’m some sort of Iroquois medicine man looking to predict the future. I read the claws as they fall.

The smell was overpowering when the wind swept down the steep narrow valley and passed over us as we caught crayfish and built dams in the creek. It smelled like only a 400 pound mass of rotting flesh could smell. My grandfather played dumb. “I don’t know what the hell that smell is, but if you kids run across any big dead animals in the woods you let me know right away.”

It was July 1992 and I was 13. My friend Mike and I were spending another week at my grandfather’s house. It was a lot like summer camp but with less regulation and more four wheelers. He lived in rural north central Pennsylvania. His house was tucked back in the woods a mile off the road along a small, nameless creek that tumbled into the Clarion River from obscure headwaters high up on the Allegheny Plateau. My mother dropped us off once a summer and we shot BB guns and went fishing and rode in the back of my grandfather’s truck just like all good Elk County folk did.

There was one summer, after my grandmother died, when we subsisted entirely on ham and cabbage soup. My grandfather made 20 gallons of it the second day we were there like a lumber camp cook. Ten heads of cabbage, five pounds of ham, 10 pounds of onions and five hours of boiling made things simple for him, “I don’t know anything about cooking for these damn kids” he said to my mother. We also ate a woodchuck one night. “Um, Mr. Haight, there’s hair on this piece.”

You could see the dead bear from the kitchen window, a big black spot on the far bank of the creek. It took us a couple days to finally stumble over it. The carcass was flat but appeared to be breathing, pulsing up and down as the maggots gorged themselves. Flies in our eyes we ran back to my grandfather.

“Grandpa, grandpa we found it! It’s a bear!”

“Good. Now you boys go cut the claws off.”

He handed us a pocket knife and a pair of tin snips. We were a touch taken aback, confident for once that our rudimentary microbiological knowledge surpassed his sage wisdom. That bear was rotten. It was fouler than foul. If our parents had taught us anything it was that we shouldn’t be playing around in a rotten bear carcass. That’s a sure way to catch a cold or something. But this is why going to my grandfather’s was special.

So we set to it. Easier said than done. Tendon, ligament, bone, cartilage, and muscle were resistant to our snips and knife. But we persisted. Practically swimming in the fetid tissues of this former north country denizen we finally began to make progress as the claws yielded one by one.

It turns out that my grandfather “accidentally” shot this bear one night the week before we had arrived. He was having a lot of trouble with the bears. They were getting into his back porch and almost into his kitchen. They tore down the screen and tore up the porch. He’d had enough. So one night, when he heard crashing and gnashing at the back door, he rose from bed, grabbed a gun, POP! POP! POP!, that bear no more.

I knew my brother had the claws but I wasn’t sure why. I seem to remember that he was involved in their removal. I’ve been asking about them for a while now. I want to make a necklace. To remind me of Pennsylvania.

Monday, November 20, 2006

the circumnavigator perseveres

Part III has been posted. Trout and beer together make me very happy. And it's my birthday. Happy birthday me. Clicka the pictura to go there.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

look at miss ohio, that slut

Gillian Welch is a Great Blue Heron. David Rawlings is a Brook Trout. The tumbling mountain creek slows to half speed and they are in perfect sync.

Click on the picture to watch some video I took at one of the best shows I've ever seen.

Monday, November 06, 2006

the town, part 1

The town ran on trees. The men fought in wars. The sons cut the grass. The daughters did the dishes. TV was family entertainment. There were no tits and ass. Old fashioned black and white morality. It snowed hard in the winter, but everyone had a very nice garden.

Though the growing season was short, the gardens were prolific, the gardens were productive. A sizable portion of every back yard devoted to the straight rows of agriculture.

The squash, the sweet corn, the chard.
Cabbage, cucumbers, green beans.
Tomatoes, potatoes, rhubarb.
Zucchini and spinach and greens.

There were apple trees, pear trees, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes sometimes. They made jams and pies and wines and cakes and casseroles canned the rest.

The men hunted. They shot deer and bear and duck and rabbit and geese and squirrels and elk. The occasional woodchuck. They fished for trout and walleye and perch and pike and bass and musky and catfish. They ate most of it.

All the homes were heated by wood stoves. The trees were felled, the logs were split, the cold cast iron boxes glowed a gained red.

The land yielded.

A bountiful harvest.

Skinny and Boots Gorski were typical town folk. Funny nicknames. Right ancestry. Skinny worked in the paper mill. Boots raised the kids.

Skinny Gorski’s parents came from Poland in 1913. Shoemaking was his father’s trade, but in the town he worked at the mill. Just like everyone else. Just like Skinny would. He turned a particular set of valves or threw a particular set of switches or hauled a particular type of load for almost forty years.

The paper mill was like a fat, sweaty, swaying, drunken man squatting over the Clarion river trying to shit; his torso a gigantic, smoking, clunking, sputtering, leaking vacuum cleaner with various complicated attachments erupting from the shoulders where the neck would be; noisily and odiferously slurping the magnificent northern hardwood forest off the Allegheny Plateau. Manuum vacman, model T-4JY98. The trees went into the shredder, the digester, the black liquor, single nip, shoe nip, Larry car, pusher car, two felts, open draw, watch the wet end breaks now boys! Just so long as everyone hauled their load and threw their switches and turned their valves with perfect synchrony a single large tree could span the entire hulking mass of machine: every Saturday evening roots dangled from one end while Norman Rockwell’s sentimental America was posted at the other. A fluid, seamless gradient from rough wood to smooth paper.

The marvels of modern industry.

Terrific technology.

The mill smelled bad. Made the entire town smell like rotten eggs. Sulfurous and lecherous for the tight virgin land. But the oft repeated refrain amongst the good townspeople went a long way to justify their lives amongst the stink: “That’s the smell of money.”

And so the town prospered under the generous but smelly tutelage of the paper mill. Old growth forest stretched south into Maryland, north into New York, west to Lake Erie and east to Wilkes-Barre. Penn’s woods. Still mostly intact here in the hinterlands. It’d take at least a hundred years to use it all up. And by then, well, by then we wouldn’t even need paper anyhow.

And so the town grew. Its citizens were good and productive and friendly and generally na├»ve and uncritical. They were Americans goddamit. All the women were strong, all the men were good looking, and all the children were above average. The boys were Eagle Scouts crammed full of physics. They all went to college to study engineering and chicken breeding. Make a better egg. Before we know it, before we know it there’ll be a colony of humans on the moon, harvesting cheese at their leisure and generally living a very fine life. We already split the atom for Christ’s sake, it’s only a matter of time. So keep them clean cut, crew cuts. Make sure they’re polite. Yes sir. No ma’am. Please mister, I’ll have your daughter home by 10pm. The girls will need a curfew. Better make it 9pm. If we didn’t keep an eye on those little sluts they’d be out fucking the first crew cutted Boy Scout this side of Salamanca, come home pregnant at 15.

Johnsonburg was ripe and lusty.

A busy baby boom.

Boots Gorski’s father was some sort of Swedish. Nordic blue and silver. Her mother was from Tidioute. Native gold and amber. Born on the banks of the Allegheny river. She sold eggs to the raftsmen on their way to Pittsburgh or Cincinnati or Louisville or New Orleans.

The raftsmen rode the trees.

Friday, November 03, 2006

two beery developments

There have been two very positive recent developments in my life that have to do with beer and they are as follows:

(1) A while back I mentioned that I missed the deadline to submit a chapter to a forthcoming book called Beer and Philosophy. Well, it turns out that the editor still needed a chapter so I wrote one about the semantics and metaphysics of beer styles wherein I rehearse Hilary Putnam's famous Twin Earth thought experiment but in terms of beer. I think it's pretty funny. And it kind of works as an argument too. Kind of. The book won't be out until fall 2007.

(2) I will be flying to NYC this coming Thursday with a beer wholesaler to check out some breweries. Then on Friday we'll drive to Albany and then to Cooperstown to check out more beery things. Then on Saturday we're supposed to head back to NYC and maybe kick around Mannahatta for a while. I am under the impression that everything is being paid for which is pretty fucking sweet. I just need to document the whole thing and write about it when we get back.

Every once in a while, life throws me a frickin' bone.