something new under the Roundrock sun

Posted March 1, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

Tags: , ,

I’ve been stomping about my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks for twenty years. In that time I’ve seen a lot of things and made a few discoveries (including, possibly, a bear sighting a couple of months ago). I like to think I keep myself open the the possibility of surprise — I’m still hoping to find an arrowhead before I shuffle off this mortal coil — and I like to think I’m a pretty good steward of the earth in my 80 acres.

Since the climate in Missouri decided to change from -13 degrees two weeks ago to 60+ degrees last weekend, I made a dash down to Roundrock, the second-to-last day of the month and the first time in February. I had a few things on my agenda, including a hike to a particularly nice spot about in the center of my 80-acre rectangle. Here it is:

This stream feeds my lake, and it’s a wet-weather stream, so often when I visit this spot (it’s a bit of a hike) I’m standing on the bedrock below the water you see. But what you see in the photo is what I saw on Saturday. I think most of this water is snowmelt, which was still on the ground a few days before. In fact, the lake still had some skim ice on it when I visited. Anyway, this is a nice spot, and Flike and I made our way to it as a way to enjoy the nice day after our first chore of the morning. You don’t see any round rocks in this picture because they’re shy.

And our first chore of the day was do some work in the pines. They are in the tall grass, which is more or less impassible most of the year because of the bugs. (Ozark chiggers are the worst!) So it is in the winter months that I can dare to venture in there. It seems that my pines are favorites of the deer who need to thrash the velvet off their antlers. A couple of years ago, when I last planted pines there, I decided to save some money and not buy steel fence posts to use for the caging about the baby pines. Instead, I cut down cedar trees, trimmed them, and pounded them into the ground beside the pines. I then wrapped chickenwire around them and had a pretty good defense system. For a year.

The cedar posts rotted quickly in the ground here. The pine plantation is about the only spot in my entire forest that has actual soil, and it’s just down hill from my neighbor’s pond, so this soil is often wet. Pretty good growing conditions for pines, but not so good for rotting wood. As the cedar posts weakened, the deer, I guess, saw their chance and used the pines to thrash off their velvet. The poor pines got pretty battered — some were lost altogether — and I knew I had to get more serious about protecting them. To this end I’ve been collecting fence posts from around Roundrock. Some were from trees long gone but some were from the older pines now fifty feet tall and no longer needing protection. All I needed was a reasonably warm winter day to replace the cedar posts with the steel ones, spruce up the chicken wire all fallen and full of weeds, then pat myself on the back for a job well done. Which is pretty much how it went down. Flike was not much help, and he decided if I wasn’t going to throw a stick for him full time, he was just going to chill in the truck.

I managed to rescue four of the battered pines, but the rest in that area are hardly worth saving and I think it’s time I ordered more from the Conservation Department and start again. (It is good soil, and the setting gets sun and water. I ought to do it. I really should.) As I worked in the pines I saw that many of the mature ones had lost their leaders or large branches to the ice storm last month. They’ll recover, but I did spend a little time collecting these fallen limbs where I could. (Some were deep in the blackberries!) I also found a deer antler as I poked around, so that was nice.

And then it was time to go back to the cabin for lunch. Normally, I sit on the porch for my meals. I can look down at the lake and watch for water birds or turtles (none of the former and still a little early for the latter). But as I gazed across the lake I saw a downed tree on the far shore. Another casualty of the ice storm (I thought). The exposed core of the tree was white in the February gray, so it was easy to see even at that distance. Well, I have a lot of trees, and I can’t fight the weather, so I decided to be at peace with nature.

But then I saw another white spot nearby. And what looked like white flakes underneath it. Keep in mind this is probably 300 feet away. So I decided that when Flike and I took our walk to that nice spot (above), we’d first detour to the spot across the lake to have a look at the fallen tree.

And this is what I found:

This was something new under the sun. I have beavers in my lake! I feel like a good steward of the land if it’s attracting new tenants. All of this work was relatively fresh. The chips on the ground were still white and clean, and the weather had only turned tolerable in the last week. (My neighbor lost four calves to the bitter cold just two weeks before.) I wonder if the beavers would have been busy with their work had I not arrived with a barking dog that morning. Actually, I understand they’re mostly nocturnal, so I guess my presence wasn’t a factor on Saturday.

The beaver don’t need to build a dam to create a pool of water for their den since I’ve done that already, so I think they’re bringing down the trees (about a half dozen) in order to get at the tips that they will eat until more palatable food becomes available. A couple of the downed trees were stripped of their branches, which were not around, so I suspect the beavers carried them to their den, which is probably in the muddy little “cliff” just below these trees. (In the very top photo, this area is just out of sight to the left across the lake.) I think their den entrance is usually under the water, but with the fluctuating levels of my lake, it may be exposed later.

My lake has been around nearly as long as I have been stomping around my woods, but it was only this year that the beaver moved in. My assumption had been that my elevation was too high for them to venture that far from the nearby river. Plus, there is a massive Corps of Engineers lake only a few miles from my woods. Seems like there is plenty of beaver homesteading opportunity there. But I’ve read that beaver were nearly completely extirpated in Missouri in the early part of the last century and that restoration efforts have thoroughly turned that around, so maybe the beaver in my lake are part of that rebounding population effort. If so, I’m glad to play a part.

This looked like a Golden Retriever to me. Wearing a Covid mask, of course.

books read in February

Posted February 28, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

I’m not sure how the shortest month of the year became the one in which I read an unlikely number of books, but there it is. These are the books I read in the last twenty-eight days:

Fog by Miguel de Unamuno – A doomed love story about a man infatuated with a woman he sees on the street. In the end, the author enters the story to discuss changing the ending, and the character’s dog gives the eulogy. I liked the metafictional twist.

Acastos by Iris Murdoch – Two Platonic dialogues featuring Socrates, Plato, the earnest youth Acastos, and assorted other stock characters, all discussing key points of Murdoch’s philosophy. Not as off putting as I had feared, but this had sat on my shelf for years before I cracked it open.

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry – Having enjoyed Lonesome Dove* when I read it last summer (all 900+ pages of it!), I was eager to try something else by McMurtry, and since this one is the first of a series of four novels (thus far), I thought it a good place to start. He certainly has a way with characters, and he can sustain a tone (mostly defeat and despair), but I thought so highly of this that I sent it to a friend.

Platte River by Rick Bass – I’ve read a smattering of Bass over the years, and a friend had suggested I try some of his fiction. Well, I have, and it didn’t happen for me.

Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker – This one was a surprise and a delight. I saw it on the shelf at the used bookstore and the jacket blurb sounded interesting, so I gave it a go. Two friends are joking with a church sexton about a fictitious old woman they make up to troll him. Yet the woman comes to life and wreaks havoc on their lives. The situation gets more and more untenable until the author shows how it can be resolved. Again, the metafictional twist appealed to me.

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson – My third (maybe fourth) time through this classic. Even Anderson admitted the stories and setting were dated, but he did such an fine job telling them that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and likely will again.

Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles – An epistolary novel of a man writing to the airline that has stranded him at O’Hare Airport for a day and a half. It begins as a demand for a refund and goes on to give an account of his dysfunctional life, just as the overbooked and over scheduled airline is dysfunctional.

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*McMurtry has said that he regrets writing Lonesome Dove, the work that won him the Pulitzer Prize, since everyone has taken it to be the perfect Western, and his point was to expose the romantic illusions of the genre with the novel. Similarly, Annie Proulx Jane Smiley has said she regrets writing “Brokeback Mountain.”

ain’t no way to treat a book

Posted February 22, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: ,

My local library is doing a pretty conscientious job about treating the pandemic with respect while still providing the services it always has. Masks, distancing, disinfectant, a request not to reshelve books you examine (um, I may not be good about this one). Among the most visible consequences of this infection control is how they are dealing with returned books.

I was in my local branch over the weekend and I saw what you see above in one of the conference rooms (which are closed to public use for the duration). These are the books that were returned recently. The usual slots for accepting these are closed, and patrons must simply leave them in a large bin by the door. Periodically, the bin is wheeled back to the conference room where its contents are dumped on the floor. Here they remain quarantined for several days so any lingering virus on them can expire and they can be safely disinfected, checked in, and returned to the shelves.

I was startled that a library would treat books this way. Dumping books on the floor! So I contacted a friend who works at this library and asked how such an atrocity could happen. She enlightened me in part by explaining their protocols for handling potentially infected books, and then she showed me this picture:

This is a photo from a decade ago, and it shows a typical weekday overnight return in the regular book drop. The books were piled upon themselves then too, and I guess I never gave any thought to what happened when I pushed a book through the slot.

She told me that it is because of this reality that the library invests in more durable bindings whenever they are available.

In any case, I understand reading is up overall during the pandemic, so I’m glad the public (socialist) library is there to help fill this need. Tax dollars well spent.

bits and pieces

Posted February 15, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, short stories

Tags: ,

Is it bitterly cold where you are? Relative to our norm and experience, my part of the country (Kansas City) has been in the deep, deep freeze for more than a week now. And it’s forecasted to continue for at least a few more days, with nighttime temps well below zero Fahrenheit. Even so, I still see people out running and even riding their bikes. I took last Friday off of work, and today is a work holiday, so I got to have some leisure time during this polar vortex. But maybe this coming weekend I can get out to the cabin if the warming forecast holds. The lake must be nicely filled with all of the snow that should be melted by then. I haven’t been to Roundrock yet in February and I only made one visit in January.

My neighbor down there raises beef cattle, and I asked him how the cows were coping with these dangerously cold days. He says they mostly stay out of the wind and eat a lot to keep the fires of their digestion burning. And I realized that in the winter, I, too, stay out of the wind and eat a lot.

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I’ve been working on a few short stories in recent weeks. I’m still lamenting the lack of some new big work that will grip my imagination the way Obelus did last year, but the short stories are filling the void nicely for now. They’re pretty good stories, I think. Worth rising early on the weekends to tinker with. Through the week, as I’m working for the man, I keep a notepad near me to scribble down story ideas as they come. Then in my weekend writing sessions, I work with those notes to jumpstart a new piece or enhance an existing piece. It’s a process that seems to work well for me. And I use it as a gauge to determine if a story is finished. If I am no longer getting thoughts about a given story, that suggests to me that it’s finished.

I have a few finished pieces in circulation, but they’re quirky, and finding the right market for them has been challenging. Last weekend I got slammed with I think six rejection emails. That’s part of the process, and I’m toughened up enuf to cope with it, but I’m sure there’s a home for them, and when they get declined it’s just frustrating to see I haven’t found it yet.

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Nilou says “Salaam,” y’all!

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I think I mentioned here that I’d read Lonesome Dove last year and really enjoyed it. The copy I have was given to me nearly 20 years ago by a friend who inscribe it to me. It’s a tattered paperback of more than 900 pages, but I raced through it. And I decided I wanted to read more of Larry McMurtry, so when I was at the used bookstore recently (note, I do not go shopping during this pandemic — I only go to essential places like the grocery store and the used bookstore, and I think I can cut back on the grocery store) I saw a copy of his novel The Last Picture Show on the shelf and bought it. I finished reading it last week and thoroughly enjoyed it. The tone is well managed and the characters are well drawn. I don’t think it’s for everyone (so much teen sex!), but it put me in mind of Kent Haruf, so I sent my copy to a friend who appreciates that writer.

McMurtry has a huge body of work, so I can dip into his fiction for a long time. The Last Picture Show, for example, is the first of four novels about the same characters and place. I’m always pleased when I happen upon a writer I like who has more stuff waiting for me.

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Currently reading: Platte River by Rick Bass. Oddly, it’s not engaging me.

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Like the Dude, my ponytail abides.

“Icarus” revisited

Posted February 3, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts, short stories

Tags: ,

This is going to sound a lot like last week’s post about my story “Hush Arbor.” Just as with that story, I had my story “Icarus” accepted, in this case at The Magnolia Review. But the extraordinary events of 2020 intervened, and not only was publication of “Icarus” delayed, but I feared that the journal itself had gone dark.

But then I received an email this morning from the editor apologizing for the delay and announcing that the issue with my story was in its final stages of production. Volume 6, issue 2 of The Magnolia Review will be coming out online very soon and possibly even in print.

This is the second story I’ve had published in The Magnolia Review. My story “Fire Sermon” appeared there several years ago and was even nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

When the issue goes live, I’ll post a link here.

“Hush Arbor” revisited

Posted January 27, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, short stories

Tags: ,

Last summer I had submitted my story “Hush Arbor” to a print journal named fron//tera, and it was accepted for publication. The forecasted publication date was for October of 2020, but we all know what 2020 was like. That date came and went, but the journal did not. I had researched it online, and they had a few good-looking issues listed, but they did not respond to my emails. Worse, Duotrope, that great listing of journals and publishers, had dropped fron//tera‘s listing altogether.

But yesterday I received an email from the publishers saying that while the issue was delayed, it was still going to happen, likely in the spring of this year. They even sent a mock up of the cover, which looks nice. (Though my efforts to post a copy of it here are mysteriously unsuccessful.)

fron//tera is bilingual, English and Spanish. (It’s published out of Madrid and Portland.) As far as I can recall, I’ve never had one of my stories translated to another language.

“Hush Arbor” is part of my One-Match Fire universe, though it is not part of that novel.

bits and pieces

Posted January 25, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Roundrock

Tags: , , , ,

I recently watched the movie “The Swimmer” based on the short story of that name by John Cheever. I had read the collected stories of Cheever *mumble* decades ago, and watching that film made me want to read his stuff again. So I found a used copy online (through ABE Books, which I understand is now owned by Amazon). It was listed as hardcover, with the dust jacket, and in like-new condition. And all for $5.00. So I ordered it.

When it came last week, I got a battered, sun-faded, paperback copy of it. Readable, yes, but not what I had ordered. So, with no hope of any response or satisfaction, I wrote to the bookseller explaining my disappointment. I was surprised two days later when I received a contrite email from the bookseller saying they did not have the hardcover copy I wanted and so they were refunding my purchase. Small victories.

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Small Paul says “Jambo,” y’all!

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The brain is a wild place, and I’m writing a story about going down one of its freakier paths right now.

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It took me more than two weeks into the new year to get out to my cabin. It was nothing more than a relaxation visit in the middle of the work week, and the weather was just nice enuf for sitting in the sun. We saw no deer or bears or turkeys, and only a couple of squirrels. But the birds had found the filled feeder and had emptied it in the time we were away, so we refilled it, and they soon returned. Mostly tufted titmice, but some chickadees as well. There had been an ice storm down there (as there had been at home), and many trees had come down. At least one of the pines I’ve been cultivating was leaning drastically, but it is so deep in the brambles, that I can’t get to it to try righting it.

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I’ve actually written a couple of stories in recent weeks, but they’re only in first draft form, and I need to let them gestate for a while. I am still waiting for my next great subject to reveal itself, and I think I got spoiled with Obelus and how quickly and easily it all came to me from start to finish. I have to keep reminding myself that writing is hard, painstaking, and generally slow work.

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Right now I’m reading Huck Out West by Robert Coover. So far, it’s not happening for me. I’m really hoping that he’ll do something astonishing with the character that is a worthy follow up to the original, but I fear it’s just going to end up being a fan fiction.

books of 2020

Posted January 4, 2021 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations

I’m sure I’ve written here before that I’ve long thought the new year should begin on the first day of spring, as has been done by the Persian culture for centuries. It’s a celestial event, measurable by everyone in every culture. It’s not arbitrary the way January 1 is. But January 1 is what we’re stuck with for the most part, so that’s what I’ll use for my beginning/end date.

This is the time of year when I see people’s lists of what they read in the last year. I’ve done that before, too, though not consistently. Sometimes I’ve listed all of the books I read in the past year. Other times I list only the highlights. Some years, nothing at all.* Well, this year I’m just going to touch on the books that I thought were worthy to me and leave out the stinkers and those that left little to no impression. And so, from the back pages of my journals where I keep my list of books read, here we go:

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout – I loved the characterization of Olive Kitteridge, so when I learned a sequel was coming, I grabbed up the first copy I came across (which happened to be in a bookstore when I was traveling in Kentucky — remember traveling?). Godfrey, what a good book. The story continues, and Olive begins to see beyond herself.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jumpha Lahiri – I read this because I had read her novel The Namesake and really enjoyed it. While I thought it was well done, and it gave me a glimpse into a different world view, I didn’t enjoy it as much as The Namesake.

Nat Tate by William Boyd – The biography of an utterly forgotten New York painter, which turned out to be a novel because the painter never existed. It was part of an elaborate hoax on the New York art set and people like Gore Vidal and David Bowie were in on.

Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner – It took me two tries to finish this monster of a novel, purported to have the longest sentence in the English language (1,288 words!). Faulkner’s typical esoteric style was at its peak here.

Stone Diaries by Carol Shields – This is one of those quiet looks at the deceptively simple life of a woman over a long time. I came to it when the novel was more than 25 years old, and I regret having lost all of the time not having known it.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles – Another novel I regret not having taken up sooner. I had read a good deal of Fowles in my callow youth, so I was surprised that I had neglected this one, especially after I enjoyed it so much. (Metafiction, folks!)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – We’ve had this on our shelves pretty much since my daughter moved to Brooklyn more than a decade ago. With the pandemic, I was prowling the house, looking for things to read (so I didn’t have to go to the bookstore with the unwashed masses). I enjoyed it, and I suppose it can be taken at face value, and the Brooklyn she describes is long past. Notable: Smith did not adhere to the sad dictum that only the word “said” could be used as a dialog tag.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – I was given this book by the man who sold me the 80 acres where my Ozark cabin now lies. He even inscribed it to me. Westerns were never my thing, but again, I was taking up many novels I had left untouched around the house (or in this case, at the cabin), and was engrossed from the first page. (It helped that I’d just watched the miniseries.) I think McMurtry got a little tired of writing it near the end (my copy is 900+ pages).

Upstate by James Wood – He is better known for his literary criticism, but I saw this on the shelf (at one of my rare bookstore visits) and bought it. Not much happens plotwise, but the look into the character’s lives and the development of Thomas Nagel’s philosophy in the story captivated me. I intend to read this one again, and soon.

Passing by Nella Larsen – A forgotten novel in the huge literary sub-genre about the movement of light-skinned African Americans into white culture in the U.S. This was a gift from a friend. A worthy read.

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley – I mentioned this novel in a recent post. Her retelling of King Lear in the Iowa farmland left me cold, but it is well done and won the Pulitzer.

Because I am not haunting the used bookstores as much as in years past, I’ve also read a few books in the public domain I can find online. Two notable works I read last year were The Story of a Bad Boy by Matthew Bailey Aldrich, which is said to have influenced Twain when he wrote Tom Sawyer, and The Unpublishable Memoirs by A.S. Rosenbach. Not a memoir at all but a series of stories about rare book collectors and rare book thieves. A bit of fun. If you’re familiar with the Raffles stories, you might like this book.

There were other books I read last year, including a smattering of nonfiction, but many were just things I got through on my way to the next work to read.

*I’m trying to be less quantitative about many aspects of my life. I think over-measuring and comparing my performance was one of the reasons I lost my love of running. I’m cautious about tabulating my creative life too much as well.

several visits to Roundrock

Posted December 29, 2020 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

Tags: ,

The weather has been mostly unseasonable lately, and with the surfeit of days off of work I’ve been able to visit my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks often. I think I’ve made two or three visits since I last wrote about it.

Most notable has been the wildlife we’ve seen (or nearly seen). Specifically, two critters.

One was a bald eagle that was hanging out in a tree across the lake. In my fifteen-or-so years coming to my woods, I’d seen a bald eagle there only twice before. One time I saw the bird circling in the air far above. The second time, last year, I saw it only briefly as it rose from the shore and flew away. Perhaps it was feasting on a dead fish there. But on a recent visit, the eagle flew into the tree across the lake, hung out for ten or fifteen minutes, then flew off. Back in my journalism days, I wrote an article about efforts to bring back nesting eagles to Missouri, so I was always eager to see them in my own bit of woods. They are getting to be a fairly common sight now during the winter, and I doubt my tiny lake has enuf to offer to draw a nesting pair (given that the massive Corps of Engineers lake is only a few miles away, as the eagle flies). Still, it warmed my black and shriveled heart to see one for a little while.

The second critter is more mysterious. On the same day that we saw the eagle, as we were driving in, we saw something on the road ahead of us that was running away as quickly as it could. We never got a good view of it, but what we saw was black, the size of a large dog, and had a shambolic gait as it ran. Now, a sensible conclusion would be that what we saw was a large black dog with a limp. But there have been reports of black bear sightings in the area, and last year I did find some droppings that matched bear droppings I’d seen online. My woods are pretty far north in the state for the known range of black bears, but their numbers are growing. I’m thinking of investing in a game camera (one that will interface with my Macbook Air, which is sometimes problematic) that might provide better evidence of what we may have seen. I had a pair of low-end game cameras in the past, and they provided grainy photos of mostly deer and squirrels. They stopped working after a while and I discarded them. But maybe it’s time to try again.

Having a black bear in my woods presents its own set of problems, of course. Powerful and fearless and potentially destructive. A threat to my dogs. Elusive, so it wouldn’t even offer majestic viewings of itself occasionally. And just as with a nesting bald eagle, if I reported a black bear, the state Conservation Department might get involved with rules and proscriptions. But I’m probably worried about nothing.

When we were down to the cabin last weekend, we had no wildlife sightings. The lake was frozen, which is hard to tell in the photo above. The ice was thin, and as the temperature crept into the 60s, it was thawing slowly. (It is also oddly greenish, meaning it’s had an algae bloom. When my neighbor to the north was farming his 100-acre field and fertilizing it, these blooms were common since part of that field is in my lake’s watershed. But I have a new neighbor now, and he’s preparing the field to graze cattle. He’s put up some nice barbed-wire fencing, set back from the property line. He’d also called me to tell me his plans and see if I had any concerns. Nice.)

Something we’ve done on recent visits that we don’t normally do is have a fire to cook our lunch burgers. Usually, I’ll only have a fire in the evening on visits where we’re staying the night. That way I can monitor the coals and be sure they’re fully out when we leave the next day. But these last two visits had fires that I quenched with water I keep at the cabin for that specific purpose. And the forest hasn’t burned down. (It helped my worried conscience that in both cases, there was rain/snow in the forecast in the days soon following.) Cooked burgers beside a campfire on a warm winter day is one of the small pleasures of life I enjoy. (Though does the smell of cooked meat attract black bears?)

There are many chores we can’t/don’t engage in there until the winter months. A critter that is plentiful in our woods is the chigger, and we don’t want to be afflicted with them, so we save wading into the tall grass and scrub until after the first couple of frosts. Which was the case on our most recent visit. One failed effort of mine was an attempt to grow a stand of short-leaf pines on one of the islands in the lake. Several years ago I had planted fifteen of them on the island and then slammed about that many steel fence posts in a square around them, wrapping the whole thing in two levels of chicken wire. I hoped that would be enuf to thwart the vandal deer (who seem to like small pines for thrashing the velvet off their antlers). The pines did not flourish. After a couple of years, only two remained, and they were being overtaken by the scrub growing in their enclosure, which I couldn’t get to to cut down without some fence undoing. On recent visits we’d found our fencing pushed to the ground and the scrub within matted to the ground, a pretty sure sign that deer were spending the night within the enclosure, ironically. And so, our winter chore for this visit was to begin disassembling the fencing on the island — accessible since the lake is down, which is typical for this time of the year — and transferring it to the other pine plantation near the possible black bear sighting. We have some young pines there that have been sorely used by the deer, and we’d never had sufficient fencing and posts to protect them. Thus failure in one part of the forest might provide opportunity in another.

Doing this, however, meant pushing ourselves out of the comfy chairs around the fire ring, quenching the fire sufficiently, gathering the tools, and hiking across rocky Ozark terrain to the island. Which we did. The posts proved mostly easy to wrest from the ground, though we only grabbed five of them since we had to carry them back to the cabin and the bed of my truck. We’ll save the rest, and the chicken wire fending, which I think is salvageable, for our next mild-winter-day visit. Then we’ll need to use the chigger-free weather to shore up the defenses in the pine plantation, which is also growing a nice crop of grasses and scrub. And there’s some work I need to do down among the pecans in the grass and scrub below the dam. And more cedars that need clearing so I can grow more grass and scrub.

bits and pieces

Posted December 28, 2020 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: , , , ,

I recently finished the first draft of a new short story over the long holiday weekend. It’s actually a very old idea, one from my long-past St. Louis life, that I’ve finally gotten around to writing. I think I’m betwixt great projects right now, so I dipped into my file of story ideas and picked up this one. It’s 2,500 words, and I wrote most of that in just one day. Of course, coming back to it a day later confirms that it well and truly is a first draft. But it’s been something to work on, which has been gratifying.

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I recently finished reading A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley’s Pulitzer-winning re-telling of King Lear set in the Iowa farmland. While it was a good story, well told, it didn’t engage me. Something about the first-person narration left me cold. I have this vague ambition to read all of the Pulitzer-winning novels, so for that reason I’m glad I read A Thousand Acres, but I don’t see myself picking up any of Smiley’s other works soon.

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The white noise experiment I mentioned before is proving a success. I’ve reached the point where I don’t hear it, which may seem contradictory but is really sort of the goal. Unable to hear the beat of my heart in my right ear as well as unexpected household sounds in the wee small hours of the morning lets me focus better on whatever writing task I have set myself. Also amazing is how loud the “silence” suddenly is when I turn off the white noise.

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Last weekend I took more than sixty of my books to that private library I mentioned in my last post. I wish I could give you an awe-inspiring account of the experience but it was so brief (because Covid) that I barely experienced it myself. The library is in a hundred-year-old Victorian home on a bluff in the small town near my cabin. I stepped into only the front room of the place yet what I saw there would fill the heart of any bibliophile. Books and books and books on shelves in a space filled with ornate wood trim and a fireplace that alone would be worth a long look. My donation filled three heavy boxes, but I only carried in one of those from my truck. The man who lived there and maintains the library carried in the other two — and he’s a vigorous 90 years old! He offered me a tour of the library, but my wife was waiting in the truck and I was wearing a mask of course, but I promised to return in the summer when I hope the pandemic will be behind us.

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I think I said before that we’re in the early stages of downsizing our household. (My donation of the books is part of that effort.) When my oldest son was in high school shop class, he built me a glass-fronted bookcase, which is probably my favorite piece of furniture, and that’s where the donated books had sat while they were mine. Now that it is emptied, I plan to move my collections of Philip Roth, Iris Murdoch, and Sherlock Holmes-related books into it. They’re scattered about the house.

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I am now at the point where I can’t leave the house without first fixing my hair. I’ve grown adept at gathering and binding my pony tail and making myself presentable. When this is all over I’m sure I’ll get my hair cut, but I wonder if I won’t.

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In a past life, when I was “committing journalism” (as a free lance), I had visited the writer Sue Hubbell at her Ozark home and later wrote three articles about her for regional newspapers. I had contacted her and had to wait several years to visit her because she said she didn’t want any distractions as she worked on her latest book. She also would not give me the directions to her place until I was at the motel in the town nearest her. She said she had to be secretive about where she lived because once her books started getting national attention and praise, random people would just show up there assuming they were welcome and wanting a tour. That lesson has stayed with me.

I have been coy about the location of my own cabin in the woods for this same reason (though none of my published writing has gotten any national attention that I know of). Still, when I was writing my earlier blog, Roundrock Journal, I had a reader from Australia who managed to locate it on Google Maps based on the vague details I gave about it. He even displayed a screen shot of it on his blog. I have nothing to protect there expect my solitude, but I find that is something I do want to keep to myself. (Still, anytime you want to visit, let me know.)