Writing resembles stone masonry more than you might imagine.
There's heavy lifting, smashed fingers, and at the heart of it, the process means hoisting one word on top of another to an effort to build something. I guess most masons start their day with the first few rocks that come to hand. Pile them up, see if they stick together and look okay.
My writing day begins with a few words arranged into a pile as a warm-up before settling into more serious -- and/or paying -- work.
This photo was yesterday's story prompt, and this was the result.
It wasn't fair, he thought, and there was no view at all to speak of.
A gust of wind moved over the empty buildings and pushed something metal into protesting movement. The harsh crying of crows echoed across the unmown lawns.
He looked back along the overgrown driveway, but the little blue Honda was not coming back for him.
Former religious retreat available for unique development opportunity. Large parcel with nearly 750 feet of deep-water river frontage, the Fairview property was host to a high-end restaurant as well as a private residence before falling vacant. With classic local river-stone construction on main buildings, the property includes a small chapel, an enclosed gazebo, and main lodge as well as several outbuildings, including work-sheds, bunk-house, and utility shop.
After the sound of wind swallows up the heated clicking of the car and the killdeer and red-winged blackbirds have resumed their gossip, the place grows larger than a first glance can absorb. The overgrown pea-gravel drive stretches a long way back to the main road. The black pine-trees standing sentinel along the property lines dwindle into the distance. The river at the technical "front" of the property (water takes precedence) sparkles at the bottom of a steep slope. The boathouse -- or perhaps a neighbor's house -- shows as a postage-stamp of roofing material among some trees at the river's edge. The former lawn between the front terrace and the fine view of the river looks like a vast and waving hayfield.
The river seems too distant to reach by foot: surely the nuns didn't rush down that hill or climb back up, no matter how sultry the summer. Did they stand with their hands on these warm, round cobbles -- the pink and buff sandstone somehow flashy, for all the weight and work of construction -- and watch the shiver of heated air rising between here and the cold river water?
I'll be away from the blog for a bit, but thank you for stopping by.
Sailboat racing. Thank you, Ralph Lauren and Hugo Boss for giving us an unrealistic but pretty image of the sport. There may -- indeed -- be clean-cut lanky kids with delicious haircuts who stand looking manfully out to sea while sporting spotless linen trousers and fresh stripey shirts, but they are not on my racecourse.
We might have looked better, but we felt pretty amazing.
Some phrases lose their vibrancy the farther they get from their vivid beginnings. Once upon a time, someone was darn proud to have invented the metaphor, "She's as busy as a bee," but time and use wore it out and made it into a tired old cliché.
Same fate for "stubborn as a mule." Who among us these days knows the depth of a mule's character? Without an understanding of mules, this comparison doesn't help us get a clear picture of anything.
Back in the day, however, people who knew mules hearing this would nod sagely and think, "That was one stubborn fella."
Sometimes a phrase wanders so far its origin as to be nonsensical: "avoid it like the plague," "dead as a doornail," or "three sheets to the wind"? Wha--? A person can parse them to make sense, but the expressions are fossils.
With that in mind, today's visual pun came as a fresh view (to me at least, after Uncle Mark pointed it out) of a fairly common phrase. Be the first to identify the phrase in a comment below and win a prize.
He was tall, dark, and handsome, my father.
Rangy as the Marlboro man, he had straight teeth and good bone-structure. Brown eyes and a tan the color of mahogany.
He rocked the Ray-Bay aviators and a cigarette. He played piano by ear and slowly wrecked his elegant hands with rough carpentry and masonry work.
In photos he looks like a movie star, equal parts James Dean and Clint Eastwood.
So many things to remember -- little quirks and big adventures, his imagination and creativity, his lifelong friendships, the oddball vocabulary and phrases.
There was a theatricality about him: upon opening a beer and taking the first sip, he'd say, "How do they make it taste so good?"
A nap? Well, "A rested hand is a steady hand."
During a card-game, he reacted to anyone's belly-aching by painstakingly retrieving a quarter from his pocket and then sliding it deliberately across the table, and saying -- with a certain restrained malice -- "Here you go, why don't you call someone who gives a damn."
Before dry-swallowing an aspirin, he'd look into his palm and say with wonderful puzzlement, "How do it know?"
Daddo offered dramatic, matinée-idol advice with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other, "Develop many interests, honey," he'd say. "Because one by one --"
Pause for a sip and a deep breath of smoke, and the rest of the line delivered with absolute sincerity, "You'll be forced to give them up."
"Do it right or do it twice," was his carpentering advice, sometimes inverted as, "Anything worth doing is worth doing right." His workshop was a wonder of neatness.
On the job site, he once called out, "Uh, honey?" from the other room, where he was replacing a ceiling fan while I rolled paint. "Honey, REAL painters don't say 'oopsie.' "
Fifteen years and whenever the word comes out, I remind myself each and every time that real painters (real dish-washers, real gardeners, real parallel-parkers, real basketball shooters, real anything-ers) don't say "oopsie."
I am not a food purist, heaven knows. But still. None of us needs much of that stuff.
It started with one small box of PupCorn. And then Newman's Own Peanut-butter dog cookies. And then Bacon-flavored Canine Carry-Outs. I can see it now, with the clarity of hindsight, how Lilly developed a discerning palate, one on-sale item at a time. She's slowly becoming a dog-snack snob.
When a food deity drops a sub-optimal treat into her gullet, the small dog spits the offending item to the floor and then turns her googling eyes back to the heavens.
"Eat it!" one of the gods tells her. Another roars, "That's a delicious snack!"
The dog looks momentarily distracted. Perhaps that WAS one of the good ones. She noses the dropped treat.
If she does not immediately set-to, there is a further round of hearty encouragement from the food gods.
If the treat still does not pass muster, she may bark her displeasure -- which calls for heavy artilliary.
We begin the shell game: I put a bare foot over the cookie and tell her that I would be delighted to receive such a treat. Denied access, she grows more interested. She does not like feet. Feet make her agitated and jumpy, which in turn gives her a less persnickety appetite for the forbidden fruit.
She feints toward my foot. I slide the dog-biscuit along the floor, flash her a sight of it, and then cover it again. Lilly finds this kind of thing intolerable. That biscuit must be eaten! Those feet will not keep her from her just reward! For f%$^# out loud, people!
Snorting and panting, she manages to zip in, get her mouth around the treat, and tear off to a safe distance, where she gobbles without evident relish, hurrying to get it safely stowed in her belly. Then she trots back to the couch to announce her requirement for a second course.
If they want my endorsement, the Muck Boot Company can have it.
I know other boots are made to resist cold and wet, and I am not exaggerating when I say I have tried on hundreds of pairs: traditional Wellies, yellow boots with pull-handles to match a big So'wester rain hat, Burberrys, and those adorable rain boots with flower prints or plaid or scotty dogs all over them. Funky urban-survival Bogs with the space-age styling, traditional L.L. Bean duck-boots, snowmobile boots with felt inserts. Crocs even make a pull-on boot, if you yearn for the sensation of walking on a yoga mat.
And then there are Muck boots, the Cadillac of such things. Cushy, comfy, warm, watertight.
We came to our Muck boots by happy accident, when USAirways sent our luggage on walkabout for a few days last fall. Using the tools available: a credit card and a wise Gander Mountain clerk (sorry, young dude, you WERE a bit of a tool...of the Man), we made the best of the mishap, striding out in knee-high shank-reinforced neoprene boots. Mine are mossy-oak camo. Jeff's -- he suffers in silence -- are basic black.
My distant farming history includes approximately 36,972 miles schelpping through mud and what-have-you in rubber riding boots (usually swearing at cows, often pushing a full wheelbarrel of manure, sometimes, though I should not admit it, vigorously nudging aggressive chickens with my feet) while each toe individually froze against its next-door piggy. But no more.
My future agricultural adventures are sporting a pair of Muck boots. And I will be a kinder, better person for it.
It's the time of year that sends me and quite a few pals onto the road hauling our boats to various rendezvous and regattas. Meaning: I will be making stacks of nautical-me-hearty words in the blog in the next few weeks, so in the meanwhile, some pictures to set the stage...
The annual survey to find out what people were naming their boats, the one from BoatUS, used to disappoint me. The same old usual suspects: Odyssey, Mistress, Irish Eyes, Serenity (or Sea-renity, natch), Osprey, Wet Dream.
So I stopped reading it, and instead keep an eye out for those less common and possibly more appropriate name options that reveal something about the character of the owners, whether it's humor, vulgarity, honesty, maybe a smidge of exaggeration.
This gave us the Ministry of Funny Walks, the naughty bits of a Larch, and the skit involving that poor little budgie pining for the fjords...and it's why whenever talking about lupins (the lovely flowering plants), my family refers to them -- always -- as "Bloody Lupins."
I returned to the North Country after a long break away when my sister invited me along to help with a fixer-upper cottage on the shore of the St. Lawrence River. I was glad to go. Not only are my sister and I funny together (raised on a steady diet of Monty Python and isolation, I should hope so anyhow), my sister is a clever carpenter and I was happy to trade some muscle for the chance to watch her do her craftsman-skills thing.
One morning I offered to make the supply run and said, "Hey, sis, do you want to put in some flowers?" Her answer -- a distracted "Um, yeah. I was going to get to that," -- seemed like permission. I'd been itching to put some flower-seeds into all that dirt.
Standing in front of the seed-carousel for a few moments, entranced by the pretty pretty pictures on the rattling little packets, I picked out Bachelor Buttons (because it was Daddo's favorite), the classic red poppies (which I love, and which I thought my sister loved too, for the WWI poem that starts, "In Flanders Fields the poppies blow..."), and -- "Oooh," I said it aloud, "Lupins! Bloody lupins!"
My sister suffers from migraines, and by the time I got back to the cottage, she was bee-lining it for a dark room. "Shall I make a little bed for these seeds?" I asked. Her answer was something along the lines of, "Whatever."
So I took my little packets and used my best judgement. I mixed the seeds with bone-meal so they'd be more obvious for watering or -- if she didn't like my judgement -- for plucking out. I planted them in swooping lines through the shrubs and trees. I flew home a day or so later, leaving my sister to keep chugging away at the cottage.
"Did the plants come up?" I asked her in a few weeks.
My apology didn't impress her. "I've been putting them into this bucket so when they go to seed they don't do it here. If you want to help, you can go around and dead-head for me."
A few days later, I offered to run the garbage to the dump. It's a pleasant drive to the other side of the village and the town dump is kind of interesting -- neatly organized and not-stinky interesting, rather than squalid or rat-infested interesting.
I set the bucket of deadheads next to me on the front car seat. Once I got into the village, I opened both front windows and then, as I turned onto the country road to the dump, I started flinging seedpods and dry flower-heads out the window. I was like a modern-day motorized Johnny Appleseed. I was Amy Poppyseed. Amy Bloody Lupin-seed!
A few years later, my sister sold that first cottage and got another. I heroically resisted the impulse to seed the new place with lupins. Or poppies.
Eventually, she decided to move back North full time. She found herself a new fixer-upper and I offered to help. We joked about the bloody lupins.
"Where's the new place?" I asked.
She explained that it was on the road that goes out past the dump.
"I dropped lupin-seeds and poppies all along that road!" I said.
"Yeah," she said, her voice weary. "I know."
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