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Living on a farm, I think about New York and L.A. during these quarantine days. I’ve lived in both those places. In New York, as a child, I remember the front stoop, and how social those stoops were, especially in summer, with the hydrants turned on and kids running through the jets of water; the braver ones ran close to the hydrant catching the brunt of the pressure, while the others made do with the outer sluices of cooling water. This was 120th Street in Manhattan. I would sit, unobserved, listening to older people talk in foreign languages; when they’d laugh I’d laugh, pretending I understood what they’d said. Sometimes this was cause for consternation.
The stoop sitters are probably farther apart now, if outside at all. A NY photographer friend, Wick Beavers, said this in an email today:
From the epicenter:
We may be flat lining on the top of the curve today as the death rate still climbs.
Bet it hits over 800 New Yorkers today.
Sorry about the use of “flat lining”.
I’m glad I finally went back to college and learned the difference between acceleration and speed.
Wanted to say if anyone has ever wondered what crossing an ocean on a sailboat is like: if you’re sheltering in place, you may be beginning to get the idea.
Without the rolling and the sound of water rushing underneath you as you fight for sleep and dream of still calm dry land. And humans outside your pod.
You hope the stores hang on, the time passes quickly and the boat- and its systems- don’t fail you. You’ve got a pretty extensive spare parts kit but…
You watch 4 hours on, 4 off if you’re doing it with your spouse/partner. You eat when you should be sleeping, you check the bilge for water, you check the horizon and you plot yourself on the unimaginably large South Pacific Ocean chart. Every four hours.
At night, you check the radar for transecting squalls and other yachts that might suddenly end your family’s future.
And you fight the fatigue until 4 AM when your watch is over.
But really? A lot of it is just holding on. The floor, the deck, the boat never stop moving. It’s work. You just don’t realize how much this affects you psychically.
The streets are very quiet these days so the whoop whoop staccato punctuation of ambulance sirens every 5 to 10 minutes is rattling.
I’m beginning to wonder if Corona can go airborne to the second floor? Shall I shut the windows?
You learn, like the rolling, to live with it.
It’s 7PM now and the anxious folk in the city are getting their ya ya’s going. They go to the windows and work their vocal cords.
I’ve never heard my neighbor’s voice.
Wish I had a West Marine fog horn. A cherry bomb! Even the dogs are barking… Cacaphonous mayhem and gleeful delivery is good!
I’m sure Samaritan’s Purse Tent City out in the park nearby can hear this.
If they’re not on ventilators in induced comas.
Maybe just try to think of this as your 7th day on a trip from the Galapagos to the Marquesas.
We’re on passage in the trades.
That’s what it felt like to me today in the epicenter.
What’s the alternative?
Los Angeles was so different. I was much older and lived in the South Bay. I could see the ocean from my place, a rented town house. Everything was at a premium out there. I made good money but couldn’t find a way to own a home, nor did I want to when I considered the impermanence I felt there. At my desk (we had offices back then, not the ungodly rack and stack elbow-to-elbow workplaces of today that employers force people into – veal and pigs and chicken farms come to mind) I had a picture of a horse, an orange-leafed autumn tree, and a long desert highway. These three pictures were stuck together under glass in an easel-backed frame, and served to remind me that, once again, I would own horses, that I would again live where seasons changed, and the highway would be west to east, back to Missouri or Kansas. On the trip I would eat steak, prime rib and Grand Slam breakfasts. I would drive at a leisurely pace, and I would take Route 66 for some of the trip. I would stop and watch sunsets. During this passage back the way I’d come, I would listen to ’40s jazz, and ’50s Modern Jazz and Rock and Roll. I did all of that. I was going home on my terms.
I chose a motel in Kansas, contacted a real estate company and started looking. Prices had escalated in the few years I’d been gone so I looked farther from Kansas City, fifty miles south, and found a place. The place I’m at now, thirty-four years later. I got married to my best ever wife and friend thirty-two years ago. We worked and built on to the little hundred-year old farmhouse, and built a studio out back. Some acres right out the front door had been held back because the seller wanted his son to build there; when that didn’t happen he finally sold them to me. And I bought another landlocked sixteen acres adjoining the north pasture. All told it adds up to about forty acres. A rancher friend hays it in round bales; while the horses were alive, he also furnished 100 square bales from the brome pasture grass they liked, and we stacked it in the barn. The barn was built in 1894. Fresh brome hay in a dark barn – what a great smell.
This is where we self-isolate. I’m retired, and my wife still works – from home now. I watched our retirement fund go to half and it wasn’t great to begin with. I’m a poet, writer, and sculptor. Had a solo show coming up May 1st, but the gallery called and said it would be postponed to June 5th.
Today, I mowed. That took a while. Then I cut trash trees, and storm-downed trees, dragged them to a brush pile in the pasture. The pasture is greening nicely. It was good to be out. The chainsaw blade came off and that took a half hour or so to fix, retighten. All this was keeping me from thinking too much. The pups were playing and having a great time, tumbling and running. The last horse passed away a year ago March, a gentle mare who’d been a polo pony, agile and willing. She’s buried on the south side of the pond with some of her friends, Harley, Mighty Mouse, Lopez and Dutch. Some came here as colts, spent their lives at Wise Acres. They enjoyed their time and place. Who could ask for more?
Today Was a Good Day
I dislike honoring the current thing
with poetry but since it’s affecting
everyone’s daily life I can’t help at
least acknowledging the scourge
the root word of pandemic is all as
is the root of pandemonium, but the
latter has even more evil attached
because of demonium and hell but
the words might mean the same yet
one is quieter, insidious like a gas
that silently spreads its awful wings
and brings down all including kings
But today, I have to say, was just a
day of satisfaction, cutting nuisance
trees like thorns and piss elms and
dragging to a brushpile out in the
pasture, treating stumps to kill them
off, cleaning out the old corral that
kept my horses in a bunch for vets
and farriers to treat and trim, then
the triumphal release, the open gate
the thunder of vamoose drumming
the air, but now they have escaped
it all, whinnying in a better place
I miss them, but the pups are here
to walk with me and elicit laughter
with their antics, and brisk walks
suit us, raise our heartbeats, raise
my old body’s resistance to a vile
and democratic apolitical disease
then I take a long hot bath, count
my blessings. It was a lovely day.
My wife Freddie baked some chicken earlier in the week and there’s broccoli and carrots. I’m hungry. We’ll watch Masterpiece Theater on KCPT which our outside aerial picks up. And, in the freezer, there’s some ice cream a local dairy makes called “Chocolate To Die For.” I’m unsure of the marketing effectiveness of this name but it’s the only ice cream I’ve ever seen that’s as dark chocolate inside the package as it is on the photo outside. And is it good. Not much left, but enough for tonight.
So, another day toward a future. And a chocolate night. And blessed sleep. May all the people in New York and Los Angeles and in between experience coming days of health and a return of normalcy, and chocolate nights if they want them.