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Archive for January, 2012

Pecan Harvesting

Image by lierne via Flickr

When was it that I began to perform work toward some positive result?  Not an easy answer.  Gather up my toys?  Make my bed?  Put those dirty drawers in the hamper.  Most of my early toil seems to have been compensating for the mess I had made of my surroundings.  Such strivings are at best unremarkable.  It was only when I began to see work as labor of love that it became worth thinking and writing about.

Picking up pecans is a leveler of persons.  Anybody can be a whopping success if they have the “stick-to-it-ive-ness” required to fill their bucket.  It puts everybody on their knees, a metaphor for the humility requisite to a mature humanity.  Picking up pecans puts everybody in their jeans.  This is not a day for satins, silks, or lace, nor gabardines, worsteds or tweeds.  Rugged cotton dungarees are called for, without apology.

Pickers start out close together, kneeling companionably in the tempting mix of fallen nuts and leaves that cover the late persisting green of St. Augustine grass.  It takes busy hands to stir the jumble, and good eyes to spy the prize.  Squirrels and previous pickers have shucked early nuts leaving the detritus of outer casings, stems, and even a few of last year’s crop ignored by last years’ extra-picky pickers.  Not all nuts are equal: some waited to fall until their outer cases opened, drying, and curling away, jutted prideful like a new-formed woman-child leading coyly with her breasts, the perfectly ripe pecans ready and waiting, offering themselves to the whims of wind and gravity.  Those nuts are the best, tasting ripe and ready.  Others, shaken or beaten down with poles, still tightly cased, can be shucked and harvested, but will have a flavor that hints of greenness, not quite readiness, a stingy resentment at being taken before their time.

As the day flows, the pickers diverge, seeking solitude or far-fallen nutty treasure.  Their shared subtle excitement recalls Easter egg hunts, with the predictable joy of spying a colored egg beaming its improbable spectra from left-over winter deadfall and drab.  The day chosen for the pecan harvest is always dry, mostly clear, a bit windy, with scraps of cloud scudding before the irritable breezes that portend the harsh bluster of Halloween night, shuddering stripped cornstalks, bound, standing straight and sere, amid the sturdy roundness of pumpkins waiting to be chosen for pie or lit candles.  The loveliness of the autumn day is all the more beautiful compared against approaching winter storms roaring down out of the north.  We pickers don’t want to think about “Blue-Northers” just yet and pick harder and faster.  Those long winter nights are when we’ll gather by the fire and shell these pecans for the coming year’s pecan pies, pecan fudge, pecan divinity, pecan pralines, and pecan you-name-it, whichever of thousands of cherished family recipes.

Finally comes the time that distinguishes the men from the boys.  In Texas they still say such things.  Eventually the children, distracted and bored, drift away to flirt with whatever excitement can be found.  Adults, enjoying a task that provides time for meditation without the guilt of idleness, continue until buckets are filled to overflowing.  Knees protest, and oldsters regain their feet with groans and aching joints.

The task completed yields satisfaction and gratitude to the trees for their bounty.  Some departing pickers, given to considering the poetry of nature, stop to admire the giant trees, their lovely symmetry, the fractal geometry of their branching, the stability of their bold expression, the love manifest by their root systems in intimate conjunction with the mother of us all.  Others, more practical, load the full buckets, round up the kids, chide the laggard poets, and head for home.  There’ll be pecans again next year, both to eat and to rhapsodize about.  Picking up Texas pecans is a perfect example of work becoming its own reward.

                                                         _Dorothy Jeanette Martin 1-29-2012

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Wild Hares

As a pre-teen, I visited for two weeks every summer with my Dad’s parents in the farm country west of Ft. Worth.  In the pasture beyond the fenced front yard there was a giant oak tree with several generations of farm detritus strewn about its roots.  There were wagon wheels, rims, chain, wire, lanterns, gears, pails, and innumerable miscellany.  Most were rusty, but all were full of imaginative possibility.  It was my special place.

With these junk components I assembled many marvels of invention.  I constructed a bicycle with wheels that turned.  There was a rocket ship, a loom, and an escalator.  There was even a horse and buggy, but you had to imagine the horse.  I filled the hours in between Grandma’s meals with my serious work.  A scrawny child but growing aggressively, I never lost track of the possibilities of breakfast, (eggs, sausage, steaming buttermilk biscuits with fresh churned butter, pear preserves and red-eye gravy).  That was soon followed by high noon farm hand dinners spread on the dining room table, the old oilcloth clean but sticky, and quiet evening suppers, retrospective warm-ups of the noontide feast.  Those meals must have been inspired by her memories of men, strong, hot and dripping sweat, just in from the hayfield and powerful hungry.  The hours under my tree were peopled with those laborers’ ghosts and empowered by their implements laid aside just in case someday they might prove useful to the work at hand.  Fortified with Grandma’s cooking, I toiled.  Grasshoppers buzzed.  Dragonflies chased and caught each other, then lit all-coupled on the quiet creek skim, celebrating the marvels of surface tension.  Cicadas shrilled a solid wall of scream.  With all that company it never occurred to me to feel lonely.  I had all I needed to do my work.

Every object had a right place where it fit; each necessary to the whole.  All the parts went together, mechanisms incarnate.  They lived.  Wheels turned.  Bearings screeched.  Rims rolled.  Chains pulled.  Pails frothed with warm buttery milk.   Old harness became pliant and slick with horse and sweat.  Square nails and rusty rings coupled dreams, as once they had bonded boards and leather strapping.  Time shrank into the single moment of now as I embodied pure happiness.

One evening Grandpa came to visit me under my tree.  I showed him my wondrous creations, demonstrating how each one worked.  We spoke of future projects.  I confided my worry that since everything had already been thought of there would be nothing left for me to invent.  He assured me there were marvels yet to come, and said to keep an open mind for wild hares passing.  As light faded to the west and early stars blinked on, we walked together toward the house and rest.  I slipped my hand into his.  “Grandpa,” I asked, “you know, don’t you, that I don’t really believe my machines are real?  They are just pretend like the mud-pies Grandma and I made when I was little.”  He looked down at me, eyes twinkling but with a face full of serious. “Sure,” he said.  “I know. But you can never tell with those jackrabbits.”

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Blowing Smoke

(This started as a dream.   Dreams can lead to strange places.)

I looked up and there was a building, inverted and emitting a plume of pink smoke__ bright, bright pink.  I stood in the street and everywhere there were children.  I pointed up to the smoke.  The children had better things to do. They looked up, shrugged their shoulders, and went on their way.  I wanted to stop them and make them see this strangeness with me, but it was useless.

I once asked my dad, Kelsey, why he was so reticent.  “Easy,” he shrugged.  “If you don’t say anything people think you’re smart.  As soon as you open your mouth and start talking, they know better.  Maintain a knowing silence, and they think you’re a genius.”

_Dorothy Jeanette Martin

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The Writer

Dotty sat at her typewriter fingering the keys, not choosing any to strike.  She looked out the window, past the old oak tree and saw a car coming round the bend, emerging slowly from beyond the fringe of willows where the bridge spanned the creek.  It was a sedan, faded green, dust from the road etching a soft haze on the window glass.  The old man inside wore thick round glasses.  He strained, stretching and squinting, to see over and beyond the steering wheel.  His decision wavered as he slowed and then veered gingerly to the right.  He didn’t see Melanie.

Time slowed, then inched forward, like the old car.  Dotty stared out the window, eyes round, then glazed.  Suddenly she was huddled, now only a snippet of thought, in a crook of the oak tree, where the lowest branch joined the trunk.  It was a good place to be, the breeze happily sorting through new April green leaves.  It reminded her of her tree at grandpa’s house, where she could swing higher and higher, pretending she was flying with the wind right into the blue bowl of sky.  Her mind reached for the dense center of the oak.  She whispered, “Tree, I am here.”

“I feel you”, breathed the oak, rattling his branches.  “I know you and your children.  You love them more than life.  But now you aren’t seeing.  Look! The car is moving toward your little girl.  Don’t be afraid to see what is real.  You think you should stop it from coming, but there is nothing you can do.  There’s not enough time.

“Humans are strange and wonderful creatures.  I have always known them since first I split that acorn husk.  They are good, for the most part.  But they don’t know themselves, don’t have the courage to really be who they are.  Maybe it’s because they aren’t firmly planted like me.  See my roots?  You can see how massive they are even before they sink into the earth.  Well now, humans have to move around.  With no roots they must have a hard time knowing they belong anywhere at all.  Isn’t that true?”  The old oak sighed, leaves moving gently.

 He sensed the young woman standing by the window, her eyes first wide with terror, then dead with denial.  A firm understanding with the earth was for him a source of substantial pride.  But in some ways he envied the woman her ability to freely walk upon the earth, to move and act and accomplish.  No wonder she toils at her pitiful little machine.  I wish I could create a poem, or a story.  God knows what tales I could tell.  I’ve seen so much, felt so much, remembered so much.  My heart shelters hers, he thought, arching his branches over the spot where her thought cowered.

“Dotty,” he said firmly, the north wind suddenly gusting through his topmost branches.  It sent chills rippling down his bark, “You know what is happening to Melanie.  You do know.  If you keep that from yourself you will be ripped from top to bottom like a tree split by lightning.”

Dotty shuddered, her center of knowing dancing a frenzied jig on the tree limb.  “I know.  I know,” she breathed and dived off the limb, tumbling over and over, finally steadying into a glide.  She banked to the right, side-slipped a bit to the left, willed herself up, up, just clearing the roof, and landed on an eaves-trough.  She clung to the metal edge, reeling from what she had let herself know.  She could see her oak tree, far across the yard standing quiet and still, and missed his calm center.  As she visualized the strength of the oak, she became that strength and was thankful.

“If indeed you are strong and brave, and have good eyes, you can see everything from here”, a sharp voice beside her announced.

She startled, turning to face the corner-most clapboard shingle that was gesturing urgently toward the road where the green sedan approached.

The shingle gathered up his importance.  He inspected this fragment of a human, feeling odd to address a consciousness so foreign, albeit just a disoriented thought.  He brushed the edge of empathy, but skirted it warily.  She wants to see, he mused.  Needs to, if I am correct.  But won’t let herself, if I am equally correct.  He gazed beyond and watched as the car rolled forward, the fender nudging the girl’s back, spilling her onto the roadway.  The right front tire caught her shoulder and slowly rolled over her head crushing it like a melon.  “You saw,” he said.

“I saw,” Dotty gasped, pitching forward, off the eave, dropping to the walk below.  The essence that was Dotty spiraled and coiled tighter and tighter, spinning into itself until it was a ball and rolled slowly down the walk, bouncing gently down, down, down the steps, out to where the child lay sprawled beside the road.  It bumped a small pink hand and stopped.

The road rumbled to the ball, “Why are you here?”  She waited for an answer, and hearing none, stretched herself from east to west, and from west to east, on around the bend and across the creek.  It felt good to stretch, since it was what she did best, extending in her mighty concrete, asphalt, and gravel web from sea to sea.  The road was a well-grounded entity, more in contact with the earth than even the oak tree with his much vaunted system of absorption.  The road rolled over the land seemingly forever.  She perceived more than any human could ever hope to see or know.  And she did even more.  She understood.  She knew why the ball hid beneath the child’s cooling hand.  In that moment she pitied the woman, still standing by the window, having sent her soul alone to acknowledge what she herself could not.  The road smoothed her mighty lap and accepted the child as she lay ruined, her blood slowly pooling about her head while the siren from the approaching ambulance grew louder and louder.  The road groaned, touching the pain of the woman and the child, one of body, one of mind.  And in the touching was born an understanding shared by the woman and by the road.

Dotty turned from the window, forgetting all she had seen.  She sank to her chair and began….began, to type……

                                                            _Dorothy Jeanette Martin –  for Melanie

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It was your dream that made me, God.

You called my soul to life as I swam,

fluttering gills and twitching tail,

recapitulating the phylogeny

of the ancients,

naked in my mother’s womb.

 

My DNA spirals in your thought,

a twining universe of suns.

When I sleep I dream of you,

grasping tangles of raw force

that throb and pulse,

live energy that rumbles thunder

in the palms of your hands.

 

I hear you scream, “To Life!”

as your face incandesces

the radiance of a million suns,

and you hurl nascent galaxies

out beyond the swirls of yearning

that grip the Milky Way.

 

Then the cool darkness of the cave

replies, “To Death!” a blessing on

the gentle peace to come.

Your darkness and your light

are both the yin and the yang

of my soul’s complex desire.

Comforted, I sleep.

Then I wake to find you there,

sitting on my pillow.

 

When morning comes

and dream gives way

to thought, wrought solid,

but leaving in its granite wake,

a cheerful crack of whimsy.

From such splits in ancient truth,

spring-fed streams of fancy

feed the flow of thoughts at play,

a Holy Spirit prattling

even to the dreams of day.

 

See now, as morning dawns,

and shadows flee.

The imagined lover comes

to kiss and touch and play.

I see in him God’s own incarnate lust

for all I am and ever hope to be.

Come man of brawn and beauty,

burbling blood, and bone.

I want you.  Take me.  Know me.

Join me in my paean to ecstasy.

Impale my hot embrace

as worlds implode

and galaxies are born

to spiral, gasp and die.

We scintillate in laughing arcs

of love and light and joy,

while time implodes,

and all that was and is

and may ever yet become,

thread the needle eye of Now.

 

Initial Publication:  http://www.monday-morning-writers-group.com  May 3, 2010

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Good Neighbors

Returning from town to my cabin in the woods, I surprised Espresso, my black pussycat, holding court on a tree stump.  I killed the engine and watched.  He appeared to be communing with a fox lounging in the grass.  Mr. Fox had a full brush, tipped with white cream, and a thick, rich, coppery coat.  He displayed no fear, only a regal curiosity, but seemed to appreciate that I, in some strange two-footed way, belonged to the cat.  When Espresso finally jumped down and meandered toward me, the fox rose, yawned, stretched, and followed.  That did it!  Composure be damned!  I snatched up the cat and tossed him in the car.  The fox glared at me, disappointed that I had questioned his intentions or had deprived him of lunch;  I’m not sure which.  He paused to taste the air in several directions and finally moved on, slowly picking his way through the low brush and weeds, several over-the-shoulder appraisals punctuating a dignified retreat into a pine thicket.  I was sad to see him leave.  He was beautiful, and his trust a benediction.

One of the many wonders of my sojourn in the Appalachian woodlands has been the willingness of the wildlife to accept me.  The deer, opossums, raccoons, rabbits, snakes, birds and squirrels seem to understand that I have no interest in them excepting the wonder of our sharing this natural aesthetic.

One afternoon, my mind otherwise occupied, I stepped out the cabin door straight into the muscled black loops of a snake sunning himself on the deck.  A quick apperception assessed no danger since his coloring and head shape contraindicated the local poisonous varieties.  So I waited, one foot in the cabin, one planted on the deck, while the snake, warm and equable, uncoiled his smooth scaly length from about my ankle and glided peaceably across the warm boards.  He chose a likely gap between the planks and slid headfirst into the abyss.  It would have been a simple exodus, excepting a small bulge, probably a recent rodent snack, which brought his progress to an embarrassing halt.  Back out and seek another route?  No way!  He demonstrated his confidence in choice of exit strategies by elevating the entire following half of his person and doing an upside down hula-dance until the rest of him finally slipped through.

For many months Mr. Snake and I shared our quiet forest clearing as the best of friends.  Later as snowflakes fell and wood-smoke rising curled away, we kept the silent peace.

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“Him”

One reason why Alzheimer’s is so ugly is that it mimics Narcissism in its deconstruction of the self.  Narcissism might well be defined as the inchoate fear of disintegration.  What can be more frightening?  This wonky insight is something that accrued to my fascination with the important psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut who is agreed to have broken the code of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  I learned that narcissism is far more complex and ubiquitous than the classic myth of Narcissus, gazing into his pool and falling in, provides to the general run of popular psychological understanding.

 

I believe there is a connection between Alzheimer’s and the mechanisms of human thought.  Why is there now an epidemic of dementia?  I suspect it is because we just plain folks know way too much about it, and we are terrified.  If we indeed create each other’s minds through our interactive gaze, (See previous posts entitled “Gaze” and “Catching Corelle”.) We may be initiating the shutdown of the mental processes through our cooperative hypochondriacal interactions and paranoiac expectations.  We used to say, “He’s just getting old and forgetful.”  Now we say, “He has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Dementia”.

 

Who in 2011 cannot describe in grisly detail how people of advanced age are expected to cognitively decline?  There is the science, the graphs, all slip-sliding down, all predicting what will, must, should occur.  Why “should”?  Because it is expected.  What is expected must occur; if it does not, we will make it occur.

 

My mother, deserted by my genius father when I was nine, fell into a distraught paranoia.  I too began to anguish, not about all the missed meals, but that I might come to be like her.  She made this wish to detach from her a natural, holding and stroking my hands, telling me that I was just like “Him”, exactly like “Him”, totally like “Him”, that I would surely do great things, like “Him”.  I saw the lunatic gleam in her eyes, and knew she was not there, but was somewhere else less frightening than being left to care for her child all alone with no-one to share the silent scream that chased its tail in her head

 

I submitted to her gentle stroking of my bi-lateral upper appendages, feeling wrong, feeling violated in some down and dirty way, soiled because at some dark and hidden level I believed I was like “Him”, wanted to be like “Him”, prayed to be like “Him”.  This was a Faustian transaction: I could let my Mother disintegrate, dragged away by the raging tide of her obsession and I could become “Him”, or conversely, I could mount a quiet rebellion.  It was my choice.  In my prior little twerp healthy narcissism, I had thought I created my own world, was thus all-powerful and omnipotent.  When my parents fought, it was always about me.  Mother shrieked at Daddy for his ever longer absences, leaving us bereft of money for basic earthly requirements such as food and shoes with room for growing feet. He loved me conceptually, even poetically, but failed to translate me into a meaty, bony, messy, inconvenient incarnation of all those lovely thoughts and words.

 

I affected a compromise: I chose to try but never succeed to become “Him”, never to be the son he wanted.  The wisest part of me knew that I must fail.  There was always a way to deny myself the hoped for success that would secure my fathers devotion, and in so doing, validate my mother’s incestuous desire to make me into a “Him”, a creature she could create and adore.

 

There is no doubt I did inherit an aptitude for understanding and manipulating the physicality of my realities, offering themselves to the joy of creative play.  However, I am not my Father.  I will never be fine enough, smart enough, dear enough, amazing enough.  It is better that I should just be me and let that be good enough.

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