Stump

Curvewarped reflections of stars flowing across, down the full length of, round and round in meridians exact as the meridians of acupuncture. What are the stars but points in the body of God where we insert the healing needles of our terror and longing?
—-Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Stump I dug up from the backyard.

It’s funny, you buy a little plant that’s on sale – ten cents on the dollar – somewhere and think “What the hell” and put it into a bed in the backyard without much thought, maybe in one under a window. The thing is in a tiny plastic pot – it doesn’t really deserve much thought.  A-and you don’t really like the thing… don’t like it at all – but still it grows. It grows and grows. It covers the window with odd-colored leaves and even more oddly colored blossoms. It grows until you forget what it was called and it doesn’t match any of the pictures in your gardening books. No wonder it was on sale.

It’s neglected and cut down and gets no water. But it still grows. Year after year it comes back. It always comes back.

Finally, this year, we decide we’ve had enough. It’s the plant, or us. Candy started… I came home from work and she had cut the plant off (again) and was trying to dig the stump and roots out. She wasn’t making much progress. I was too tired to help for very long – but I hunted around in the garage and found my sharpshooter. A sharpshooter is a kind of long and rectangular, small, but heavy shovel. It has a sharpened front edge and is used to cut underground roots – sometimes by literally throwing the thing down into a hole you’ve dug…. I was able to hack through a couple smallish ones before I had to give up.

The next day, Nick came over and between watching basketball games (for this is truly a great time of year… March Madness and all) we went out in the back yard and took turns digging and chopping with the sharpshooter, a big shovel, and a pry bar.

Finally, I decided there were some serious roots running down deep that needed more power to defeat. I brought out a small chain saw and started shoving the blade down into the spaces we dug out. That did the trick. There was one deep tap root and once the chain saw chewed through that – the whole thing came out. I lifted it up and heaved it over the fence, across the alley, and down to the creek.

No wonder the damn thing had been on sale.

Outside the Lab

But then Pointsman laughs the well-known laugh that’s done him yeoman service in a profession where too often it’s hedge or hang. “I’m always being told to take animals.” He means that years ago a colleague – gone now – told him he’d be more human, warmer, if he kept a dog of his own, outside the lab. Pointsman tried – God knows he did – it was a springer spaniel named Gloucester, pleasant enough animal, he supposed, but the try lasted less than a month. What finally irritated him out of all tolerance was that the dog didn’t know how to reverse its behavior. It could open doors to the rain and the spring insects, but not close them … knock over garbage, vomit on the floor, but not clean it up – how could anyone live with such a creature?

—-Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Isaak as a puppy, when we first picked him a year ago.

Isaak in the pond at NorthBark Park, Dallas, Texas

My son’s dog, Champ

We have had Isaak, our dog, our rescue, for a year now. We don’t know exactly how old he is, but he was a young puppy when he came to us, so he is a bit over a year old. He’s pretty much as big as he’s going to get, but still has a lot of puppy spirit, for good and bad, in him. Other than excitement over tennis balls and the squirrels in our backyard trees that taunt him – he’s a well behaved and relatively calm dog.

We also have my son’s black lab with us – he and Isaak get along great. It isn’t unusual for us to have other people’s dogs too – kept as a favor for friends while they are on vacation or foster dogs (especially ones that need some socializing) or people pay us to watch their pooches.

The other day, we had another black lab mix staying, a little smaller than my son’s dog. So we had three… if not big, then good-sized dogs at the house.

I was having some trouble sleeping, and it was work the next day, so I was laying in bed, awake, trying to relax and get some rest before having to go back into the breach the next morning. A little after midnight… the guest dog wasn’t too comfortable with the doggie door, so Candy got up and let the three of them out the back door.

I’m not sure why she did this, but as the dogs ran by she reached out and flipped on the light switch for the back yard (I mean… the dogs can pee in the dark, can’t they?) and there, right in the middle of the yard, illuminated by a circle of spotlights, sat a rabbit.

The dogs went nuts – all three bolted for the bunny – and the rabbit made a mistake. The rabbit ran to the east side of the house, where the fence runs along the wall, a few feet away, until it ends near the front. The rabbit hit that dead end and had nowhere to go but to turn around. The three dogs were on him.

Our dog, Isaak, like most dogs rescued from the Dallas pound, is a pit bull mix. He doesn’t really look like a pit (he has long legs and a long snout) but is, according to his DNA scan, one quarter American Staffordshire Terrier – which is a polite term for Pit Bull. The poor rabbit didn’t have a chance. He was dead in a few seconds.

Candy, of course, went crazy. You see, to her the dogs are like people. They live in the house, most of the time, eat the food you give them, and chase tennis balls around. But right under that domesticated surface is a wild animal… and seeing a big fat rabbit standing there right in the middle of their territory, the back yard, is enough to bring that wild animal boiling out in a split second.

I jumped out of bed, chased the dogs back inside and, with more than a little trepidation walked around to the side of the house (at this time, I didn’t know what had happened); I only knew that the dogs had run down something. There was the rabbit, a big one, freshly dead with a big hunk missing from its side.

Isaak was walking around, coughing.

“We need to take him to the emergency room,” Candy said.

“Naw, he’ll be alright, though you’d better keep an eye on him, he’ll probably yakk up a big ball of rabbit fur any minute,” I said.

So it fell to me to go out and pick up the poor dead rabbit and throw him over the fence. We live on a creek lot so I went around and took the body down by the water, so the coyotes will have a snack sometime later that night.

I feel bad about the bunny, but not too bad. There are hundreds of rabbits along that creek after all. I wonder why the rabbit ventured into our yard. Surely they have some survival instincts and our yard smells of dog as much as any – it’s like the rabbit tried to sneak into a kennel.

I didn’t get much sleep – Candy and my son’s dog were freaked out by the whole thing. Isaak was just excited.

He’s a city domesticated pit bull mix – this was probably the high point of his entire life.

Back From the Shadows

Back from the Shadows again !
Out where an In-jun’s your friend!
Where the veg’tables are green,
And you can pee into the stream!
Yes, we’re back from the Shadows again!

—-Firesign Theater,I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus

 

Every year, in the brief interlude between Christmas and New Year’s, I get sick. Really sick. Like clockwork.

For a long time, I didn’t understand. Then I realized it was the Cedar Flu. You see there are these cedar trees in the hill country and south Texas and in the winter they give off pollen – a lot of pollen.

Amazing. Sickening. One certain days the air itself feels like it is full of razor blades.

The last two years were particularly hellish. The congestion spread to my lungs and led to pulmonary and sinus infections. That isn’t good for anybody. The worst every year is the lack of sleep. If you start coughing uncontrollably every fifteen minutes it’s impossible to get a decent amount of rest. As I get older it all seem to be getting worse. Where I could just tough through it before… it lays me out now.

I looked all over the internet and found one women that suffered like I do and had found a solution. In January every year she went to the Bahamas for a month and a half. That sounded good, but I didn’t think I would be able to pull it off.

So this year, I decided to fight the thing. Starting at Christmas I:

  • Claritin and Ibuprofen every day
  • Stayed out of the cold
  • Extra Sleep
  • Neti pot twice a day
  • Humidifier by my bed and by my desk (this was new this year – worked great – don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier)

And hardest of all – no bike riding. That was tough, but that’s a lot of exposure to the pollen and the cold.

So January felt like a lost month. Basically going to work and going to sleep and not much else. But it worked. It’s February and I’ve been doing pretty well. The last few days I’ve felt almost human. I went for a long bike ride today and felt my lack of fitness, but otherwise it was glorious.

So February is the start of my new year. When I wrap this up I’m heading down to Deep Ellum for the annual For the Love of Kettle competitive shopping event with fifty dollars of Christmas money clutched in my fist, ready to get a piece of art.

Back from the shadows again.

Flock in Space, Ruben Ochoa
Trinity River Audubon Center, Dallas, Texas
(click to enlarge)

See Yourself Seeing

I like to use light as a material, but my medium is actually perception. I want you to sense yourself sensing – to see yourself seeing.

—-James Turrell

A long time ago(2004) , in a previous incarnation of a blog, I wrote about a trip Lee and I took to the newly opened Nasher Sculpture Center. The blog entry was eventually published in a local magazine. A highlight of the visit was my discovery of James Turrell’s work, Tending (blue).

Tending (blue)

Lee standing in Tending (blue) in 2004.

From the blog (I have quoted this twice before):

My favorite piece might have been the installation Tending (Blue) by James Turrell. We walked into a little opening lit by odd, shifting colors into the wall at the north end of the garden. The passage made a right turn and opened into a small room lined with dark stone benches. The walls on the upper half were featureless and smooth. A gray skylight lighted the whole chamber. The effect was strange and very peaceful. I liked it a lot.

Lee and I left the chamber and walked back up the garden and inside the building. We wandered downstairs and into the auditorium where a film was showing. It told the story of Raymond Nasher and his late wife, how they started out building Northpark Mall, acquired a fortune, and then became premiere collectors of modern sculpture. Mr. Nasher talked about his life, his wife, and his passion for the new sculpture center. The film then showed the construction of the center, how a handful of visionary architects and a few thousand men in hard hats converted a grimy downtown parking lot (I’ve parked there many times, put my quarters or dollar bills into a rusty numbered slot) into a thing of great value and beauty. They talked a lot of how it will be there forever. The film was fun and interesting – it really helped me appreciate the place.

On opening day Raymond Nasher said, “I put Patsy (his wife, the collector, who had passed away a couple years before) in charge of the weather today, and, as you can see, it’s beautiful.

One thing was odd, though. On the part of the film that covered opening day, Nasher and Turrell themselves went into the Tending (Blue) chamber that Lee and I had walked out of only minutes before. The benefactor and the artist sat on the benches and looked around. The skylight rectangle in the ceiling wasn’t gray like we saw it, but a deep cerulean blue.

“What’s up with that?” I asked.

“Let’s go back and check it out,” Lee said.

We hiked back down and entered the chamber again. The skylight was still gray. Something didn’t look right, though. I stood under it, looking up, trying to figure out what I was seeing and how it could change colors so dramatically. I was halfway convinced that it was a rectangle of light projected on the ceiling by some hidden apparatus (the upper walls are washed in subtle changing color from hidden computer controlled LED’s) when I was suddenly struck between the eyes with a big, cold drop of water. I wiped my face in surprise and looked down at some small pools of water at my feet.

“That’s weird, Lee,” I said, “I can’t believe it, but this roof is leaking.”

I looked back up, trying to find the telltale discoloration of a water leak, when, with a sudden shock, I realized what the hell I was actually looking at. That wasn’t a skylight, that wasn’t a projected rectangle at all, it was simply a big hole in the ceiling. I was looking directly at the sky. Once my eyes and my brain were in sync I could see the subtle variation of the clouds passing by overhead. The edges of the hole must have been cut back like razors – there was no visible frame around the opening, simply a featureless rectangle of light. It was amazing.

That’s why the rectangle looked blue in the film – it was a cloudless day. Now I want to go back. I want to go at sunset… I want to figure out how to go at dawn. The city sky at night… will it be brown? I want to sit in there during a rainstorm. I especially want to go there on that rarest of Texas days, a snowstorm.

The opening in the ceiling of the installation Tending (blue). A photograph does not do justice.

I returned to the piece many times. It became my favorite place. Then… horrors.

It was destroyed by the construction of an uber-expensive condominium tower. The controversy still rages today.

JAMES TURRELL
American, born 1943
The Light Inside
1999
Neon and ambient light

But I remained a fan of James Turrell. Especially when I found out about Roden Crater.

Imagine a hollowed out dead volcano in the desolation of Arizona filled with Turrell’s work with light. Amazing.

It is one of the things I want to visit before I die. I was losing hope, however. The idiosyncratic artist was taking forever and only a handful of people (each making tens of thousands of dollars worth of donations) were being allowed to visit. That doesn’t… and never will… include me.

But I kept watching… digitally. And today an article came across my screen. Turrell has partnered with Arizona State University to finish the project and open it up to the public. I’m stoked.

As much as I dislike the image of the isolated volcano surrounded by ugly parking lots – gift shop selling doodads and geegaws and rubber tomahawks – crowds of gawking tourists griping about the heat – tour buses idling to keep their air conditioning running disgorging their cargo wearing “I’M WITH STUPID” T-shirts into snaking queues of people staring at their phones…. All of that would be worth it if it allows one person (me) to actually visit Roden Crater.

Faster, please, I’m not going to live forever.

Now that I think about it there are three artistic creations I’ve know about for a long time and hope to live long enough to see finished.

1. When I was a little kid I read about the Crazy Horse Memorial Monument and fantasized about seeing the gigantic sculpture, probably as an old man.

Well, I don’t think I’m going to make that one – it doesn’t look like it has changed much since I was a kid. The other two, though:

2. The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona… they have picked up the pace the last couple of decades… I might make that one.

3. An now there is hope for Roden Crater. This is truly the best of all possible worlds.

Everybody Tries To Look Cool

“He always accuses me of trying to look’cool’, I was like, ‘everybody tries to look cool, I just happen to be successful.”
― Daniel Clowes, Ghost World

Two dancers from the Repertory Dance Company II, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts – Arts District, Dallas, Texas

Two dancers from the Repertory Dance Company II, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts – Arts District, Dallas, Texas

Two dancers from the Repertory Dance Company II, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts – Arts District, Dallas, Texas

I am the least cool person in the world. I have always wanted to be cool, but have always failed miserably.

If you don’t know what cool is, watch the youtube video at the bottom of this post. It is from Bande à part – a film by Jean-Luc Godard. It is the coolest thing in the world.

The reason I re-stumbled across this scene is that I am collecting bits that I can use as inspiration for the Upcoming NanoWriMo. Hopefully, I can get a day’s worth of words out of this. I think I can steal this scene and move it to… let’s say a run-down diner on an abandoned highway in western Nebraska or some place like that. That sounds cool.

Can Never Be Undreamed

“That which is dreamed can never be lost, can never be undreamed.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Wake

Buddhist Center of Dallas

Today, after a lot of hard work doing nothing at all useful, I felt the need for a nap.

I dreamed of a house, one that is very familiar to me. It is a classic old wooden Victorian – getting long in the tooth. Like thousands and thousands throughout the center of the continent, the place I am so familiar.

It is larger than most, four stories including a dormered top floor with ceiling slanted to match the steep snow-shedding roof. There is an apartment addition over the double garage, reachable from the second floor. The main floor is completely encircled by a porch, with an old metal glider facing the road. There is an old-fashioned sleeping porch extending off the back portion of the second floor – a refuge from the hot summers, a peaceful relic from before air conditioning.

Walking the halls, I realized that I knew every square inch of this large-rambling house and remember all the repairs and improvements done over the decades. I even remembered how it used to be – I remember standing over an opening that led down to the floor furnace, the crisp white winter smell, the warm air convectioning up, the blue gas flame hissing away far below, how my feet felt on the hot metal grating.

Of course, once I ended my nap, stood up and entered the wasted day fully I realized that the house that I knew in such detail and remembered for so long does not exist. Has never existed. Could not even possibly exist.

Yet it feels more real than my actual home – or any dwelling I have lived in before.

The Great Floodgates Of the Wonder-World

“…the great floodgates of the wonder-world swung open…”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, The Whale

The ponds at the end of my block, Richardson, Texas

All my life I have wanted to live on a creek lot. I remember living in East Dallas and riding my bike along the hilly lanes east of White Rock Lake (back then I was young and thin and fit and I welcomed hills – now I’m afraid of them) and spotted homes along streams – some with little patios down among the trees perched out over the water. They would have a grill, some seats, and I imagined knots of people at sunset enjoying the setting – always wanted that sort of thing.

My wish finally came true, sort of, when we bought our house in Richardson. Technically it is a creek lot – but the creek (which emerges from the flood control ponds in Huffhines Park at the end of our block and runs a short distance beyond where I live to join with Duck Creek) has been manmade wrestled into an arrow-straight path. It’s really more of a ditch lot.

On most days it’s barely an algae and trash encrusted trickle. There are a lot of ducks and turtles (both the friendly box and the prehistoric snappers) with a nighttime cohort of opossums, bobcats, coyotes and an occasional beaver. There are a few trees – but the number is limited by the Corps of Engineers to insure proper flow. They only allow new plantings when an old tree dies. It’s a sleepy stretch, mostly useful to the local kids and cats, feeding and stalking, respectively, the ducks.

They don’t call it Duck Creek for nothing.

That changes with frightening rapidity when a big Texas thunderstorm strikes. The water rises and moves in a symphony of wet muscular gravity.

Last night one hit, hit hard. The ground was already saturated, the flood control ponds already overflowing when the sky dropped six inches of water in a couple hours.

I opened the garage door and looked out through a forest of honey globs of water caterwauling off the roof into the dark. Illuminated only by staccato bolts of lightning like a galvanic Gene Krupa, the bellowing water stilled by the strobing arcs into impossible waves rising above the creek banks and beyond. The usual quiet night lit up by blue thunder. The gleaming fury as millions of gallons of deafening water scream by is frightening and intoxicating. I watched from my house – afraid to get any closer.

This morning I walked around the strip of creek, grass, and trees. The highest water level was marked by a line of twigs and plastic water bottles. In several places the delimitation moved up over the bike trail and almost kissed the alley that runs behind the houses. By then the creek was down to its usual level, having dropped as fast as it rose, with only a little more water flowing by than usual.

The flow was a dozen feet below the level of the detritus line – which was in turn only a couple feet below the level of the houses (though it would take a lot – a lot – more water to raise the flood up that last bit).

I hope.

I did think of those little patios perched in the winding creek lots of East Dallas. I always liked them – but I’m sure they are all gone now.