Sunday, May 26, 2019

R&R -- and Less

Markham, Virginia -- Soot’s Camp, Saturday, May 25, 2019. This was a hard week. Saturday I slept in. When I woke, about 7:30, I flipped on National Public Radio and cogitated. I sorted through familiar thoughts -- pulling the bowstring taut to launch what's next, my cares and obligations, those about me whom I love. Work is incessant. More effort lies ahead -- on Wednesday, an executive asked for increased velocity for a project I lead, citing her Senate testimony and newspaper headlines.

The reward for good work is more work. I do good work. But it can pile up.

I walk outside, replenish Soot’s water, and fill her food bowl with kibble and meat. I pour olive oil over top. She likes this. At nearly 11 years old, Soot is slim and fit, though she has slowed. On hikes after a first mile of dancing off the front, she falls in behind and we trudge on. I love Soot. She connects me to my young son -- and she is a friend, a gentle soul at the end of each day.

Soot tromps down the deck stairs, sniffs the long grass, and rolls about, twisting her back like a flat “S” against earth and bramble. The birds are active, flitting from trees to bird feeders and bushes that circle the deck. They sing and chirp, accenting blue sky and sunlight. A train whistle alarms in the distance; a shallow echo rises up-valley. Baby bluebirds clamor when their parent returns with a mouthful of grubs. Cool air flows over Soot's pond, rockface, and field. It perks my skin. I could get a blanket to cover my legs and lap, but I do not. Before long, the sun will be on the deck and things will warm. I’ll get some blue jeans and head to the garden store. First, I make a pot of coffee. I drink it black, with sugar in the first cup.

Last week my lawnmower died. I about broke even on the tool, considering the cost of a $350 mower against a season of lawn cutting service. The mower had a great engine, a Honda, that started with one pull, but its air filter flew off, the blade ground to a stop, and the whole damn machine became frozen. Nothing would move. I went online, read reviews and ordered a new mower, a Craftsman. I’ll pick it up and cut grass this afternoon.


Cutting lawn at Soot’s Camp gives me a sense of order. That said, I’ve let more lawn become field than before and have planted grasses to attract deer -- red clover, chicory, rye, rape and radish. The grasses grow long and flower. In evening I see many deer when driving nearby lanes, but I see few on my property. I think hunting on the adjacent lots has kept the deer at bay. (There is a bow-and-arrow stand in a field about 100 yards off, on the other side of an antebellum wall. I’m tempted to knock the stand over but I do not.) Aside deer, nature has steadily increased at Soot's Camp -- more birds, nesting creatures, coons, turtle, frog, snake, field mice, chipmunk and fish -- bass, cat, crappie -- and bursting greenery, sedge, willow, duck weed, honeysuckle, lilies, and on.

While two of the three eight-foot weeping willows I planted last month went brown, all are now freshly fringed with the beautiful yellow-green fronds of niobe golden. In not too much time, with roots continuously moist aside pond and creek, they should grow quite large, maybe to forty feet. Like other bits at Soot’s Camp, the willows tie me back to past joy -- here, the willow grove before my grandparents' house on the Tred Avon in Easton where my sister Kathy and I would cavort barefoot entwined by leafy tendrils. Kathy and I were very young then.

I love nature. Sitting on the cabin deck, secluded with my interests and concerns, I wish to blend in, be absorbed and embraced by what surrounds me -- sights, smells, moisture, coolness and heat, echoes, gentle breeze. A healthcare friend, a past lover, told me I am on the autism spectrum. This may be true. I find comfort in being clamped, burrowing in small boxes (as I did when a child), and cocooning in bed — best, when enfolded in my lover’s arms, her breasts flattening against me. Autism or no, this is how I am wired.


Wiring difficulties? I could compete for the United States in the Olympics of neuroplasticity -- brain reprogramming, new conduits, training -- rewiring that enabled me to live, to flourish. (I was struck by a drunk driver when 17, suffered brain injury, was not expected to live, endured craniectomy, coma, paralysis, aphasia, and such.)


My generally unbounded faith in humanity took a step backward today. I bought a lawn mower at Lowes, hauled it in my BMW “farm vehicle" and assembled it at Soot's Camp. When I discovered that the mower ran on clear gas (not a 4-cycle mix), I drove down the road to get some unleaded, leaving my shiny new toy in the drive tucked behind forsythia and holly. When I returned, the mower was gone: Theft!

I checked to make sure the mower hadn't rolled down the hill and sunk into the pond or become lost in the brush. It hadn't. I called the Fauquier police, an officer came to our cabin, he investigated, and we filed a report.

The officer was a good man. He walked the property, and took down make, model, and serial number for the mower. We chatted about law enforcement work, his, Karen's and mine. Out of Warrenton, the officer noted he drove past my cabin several times a day. Having met us and learning the cabin was a weekend retreat, he said he would keep an eye out.


My grace appeared and we leveled our concern about humanity (and the desperado who boosted my mower) with a bottle of Markham's finest, a Phillip Carter claret. I offered a humorous toast: “May the mower cut off every toe or pinky for its new owner.” We giggled. That night, I ordered a new machine online. My friend Steve wrote: “I try to put a positive spin on this kinda stuff. Had my car broken into on multiple occasions over the years -- one time while it was parked in my driveway. Cash and radio stolen. I kinda visualized the thief as Jean Valjean. Made me feel a little better about the inconvenience.” I am sympathetic: Cosette's song stirs me, as does a ramrod-straight man caring for a vulnerable child (as I do). Another friend, a Uganda NGO chief, suggested that I turn the other cheek and set out my chain saw for claim. I will not: drug-induced thievery, which this probably was, is not rational. I'd rather give cash to the rehab shelter.

Karen, the officer, and I speculated that the theft was a quick heist “of convenience,” maybe by a substance abuser, a heroin addict. In the grand scheme the theft was little; only my second in 40 years. My faith in humanity’s goodness will resume its inch-wise progress.

I ordered a game camera to set-up monitoring for future adverse events -- or maybe to snapshot a few wandering deer or a timid bear when the camp is still. I picked-up the mower and cut the grass on Monday, Memorial Day, a day I'm drawn to George and Mud Soldiers.

The mowing went well.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Camp Morning

Soot’s Camp is magical this morning. Light rises with fog in the valley. A train whistles. I sip coffee in my Adirondack looking across the pond. Soot lies in grass below, chewing steak bone from last night’s grill. Boards, gravel, and slate are cast about, ready for garden work and carpentry. (Weeping willow trees arrive later. They will fill a hollow between pond and swale.)

Birds surround the deck, toing and froing feeders and tree. Algae mass in mats on the pond surface. Jelly eggs with tadpole dots double in the green mix. Goldfinches, up to five or six, dance and caterwaul on the thistle feeder. Geese honk high above in the gray sky. A nesting pair paddle quietly below. Their ripples unfold across the pond. House finches, chickadee, and sparrow gambol and stab at seed. Turkey vultures, who against my design nested in a duck box, cluck and beat loud wings. I hear a turtle splash from rock-to-water, but I haven’t seen him. He’s likely a paint. No sign of swamp monster, the big snapper. Not yet, but spring is early and cool. He will come; maybe he'll grab a cygnet and sup. A bullfrog pops his throat, “Harrumph.” The peeper chorus will sound off as the day warms.

I watch the big, fatty cob — dad goose — paddle on Soot’s pond. I wonder if he knows about the swamp monster below, able to clench and sever his leg. How did the cob react to gunfire last night, hunters on the other side of the mountain? We don't know.

The air is moist this morning. Rain will come.

I leave my deck perch as the drizzle mists in.


It’s been a long journey, my second mountain. Or third, or fourth. Whatever. We all climb, and we fall into valleys. I’m happy, I’m alive, and my boys are well.


I purchased the cabin, five acres and and a pond, a year-and-a-half back. It cost much. While the building is pre-Civil War, it is in nice shape, well-outfitted with new kitchen, heating, cooling, bath, tin roof, and wood stove. I put in a wider deck; rebuilt the pond inlet and outlet; and constructed rustic benches, a bridge, and stuff.

The deck is circled by bird feeders — thistle, sunflower, and mixed seed, and nectar for hummers. The cabin is furnished from my Georgetown home, antique shop buys, and tables I built from ambrosia maple. My first year I went to the cabin every weekend save a couple. These were often work trips, building stuff. (I slept on air mattress at first.) Now the place is pretty much done, and my visits are to read, write, enjoy music, and recreate. I like hikes on the Appalachian Trail, which is near. In warm weather, I canoe the Shenandoah.

Friends and family visit, smile and laugh. We frequent nearby wineries and sleep before the fire. My love and I find respite at Soot’s Camp. She paints with acrylics on the deck and about the pond, while I muse.


I grew-up with my parents Joan and George and sister Kathy. We most always had a weekend or summer house on the water, the Severn or lower Potomac River, tributaries to the Chesapeake. Usually, the house was not much more than a shack. But it was full of love, fishing gear, scavenged buoys, swimsuits on porch chairs, saltines, crab shells, beer, and damp books. This is where I learned to swim, fish, and sail; where I read every Hardy Boy novel. Carolyn never liked the idea of a second house, so it was not to be for my children.

I fancy a bridge.