Ice fishing in Lake Willoughby, about 1790, new chapter, excerpt

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Aunt Melissy and Uncle Joe Hyde, Westmore, Lake Willoughby


“As you know the town was chartered by the authority of the State, Aug. 17th in the year of the Lord over 150 years ago.” I said, imitating Uncle Joe’s voice. Fiona smiled a bit. Encouraged, I continued:” It was then granted to Capt. Uriah Seymour, Abraham Sedgwick and their associates, being 65 persons in all, with the usual reservations and appropriations in the Charters or the grants by the Legislature. None of the original grantees or proprietors ever settled on their lands.”
All of Unce Joe’s stories started like a history lesson. Maybe to put Aunt Melissy’s suspicion over too wild a tale to rest only to sneak it in later. If Fiona was bored by the beginning, she did not let on. The patches on her dress now were of a saturated blue and orange, shining.
“There is no record of the exact time, nor by whom the first settlement was made.. But we do know that some six or seven families finally came to this town from Windsor and Orange Counties and made a settlement, among whom were Jabesh Hunter, Allen Wait, James Lyon, Jeremeel Cummings, Lot F. Woodruff, Dave Porter, Abel Bugbee and my grandfather, Joseph W. Hyde. The town had not been allotted at this time and they settled on such lands as best suited them, and others came too and made a beginning.”

Fiona listened contentedly. Stories were rare in our every day lives and even though I could by far not do it as well as Uncle Joe Hyde, who would pause artfully now and then, and whose blue eyes delighted in the fact that he had someone listening to his old stories gave it a special mellow flavor.

“But soon the cold season came and the Great War broke out between the Colonies and England. The settlers were surrounded by a howling wilderness a long distance from any other settlement, their numbers were few and not all were of kind disposition for you had to be rough at heart to survive on the land even though the soil is rich and productive and well suited to farming. The settlers were a hardy and industrious band of pioneers; like my grandfather they had come a long way into the wilderness, some single men on their own, some had made the way with young families. Each of them knew loss, especially loss of wee ones who passed on into the peace of the Lord before their first birthdays and left young wives sad and dreary. 
Their labors on the land were not ordered and peaceful like today, but it was onerous work, with no time for rest, not even on the day of the Lord, their privations were many, but the hope of better times coming and faith in their Lord cheered them on and enabled them to endure the hardships until the War came. Some had even build commodious barns and comfortable dwellings but though all of their hearts were fierce and brave, most were still forced to abandon their homes not yet into the second generation and retreat. Their numbers were scattering, the frost destroyed their crops and the fear of the British and of hostile Indian tribes filled their hearts with fear. So they held a council to see what it was best to do in their perilous situation, and most families decided to surrender at discretion and most left very soon for some of the lower and more thickly settled towns in the State.”

Fiona embraced her legs and listened to me intently. I had given up imitating Uncle Joe but was still using his words. My history teacher in Summerville would have been fascinated as I spoke like a gazette from the early 19th century.
“It took over 30 years until the town was settled again. But my grandfather was among the few and scattered who stayed on, all these years. So did my grandmother who was a small, fearless woman and could hold her own among the men, and she worked like one, too. So my father was born, and was the only surviving child among 12 children who all perished before their 15th birthday. The family lived in a wee wooden cottage for all of the married life of the parents, sometimes with up to four or five children, from cradle to grave, right here on the old clearing where my father later built the stone house. Maybe it was because the cabin was so tiny and surrounded by dense woods, maybe it was because they respected the land they lived, didon very little farming, really just working a small garden patch, and made their living mostly on hunting and fishing, that the enemy overlooked them, and also the tribes who roamed the hills let them be, maybe they were just too insignificant to be noticed, and so they did survive the wild days and years when they had no company but each other.

My grandfather taught my father all there was to know about the lake and he knew as much about fishing and hunting as any Indian. They lived well enough on trout, rainbow smelt, burbot, yellow perch, longnose sucker, lake chub, common shiner and whitefish.

My grandfather took my father and his older brother Will out ice-fishing in winter. They mainly fished for burbot, a fish rich in cod-liver oil which my grandmother extracted and made the children swallow measured out by the spoonfull each morning. It left an ill, fishy taste crawling up from the stomach all day long, but she would not let them leave the house without it. You know, the liver of the burbot is huge. I was told my grandfather would cut it out of the fresh kill and eat it raw, but my father and his brother refused.

When Will died, last of all the brothers and sisters, just shy of his fifteenth birthday, my father became fearless. He said, Will had been his only friend, all others had died too young or had been too sick or had been girls and not fit for the rough hunting and fishing trips my grandfather took my father and Will along on. There had been babies who died before they ever learned to walk and talk, a sister – Abbe – who was funny and quick-witted and who had lived almost nine years and was still missed, but it had always been Joe and Will and they had taken each other’s company for granted even when all the others left them, some not leaving behind more than a shadow. Even when Abbe had taken sick with a high fever and passed on after having been delirious for two days and nights and then unconscious for another day before she faded at nightfall of the third night it had still been the two of them who brought Abbe flowers in summer and put them on her grave as they remembered that she had loved them, still the two of them who did not contract the fever and had lived once again.

Will had been his best and only friend, they had been thick as thieves and one knew what the other was thinking without ever saying it out loud. They shared a bed all their lives and woke up the same minute every morning, Over time they had grown sure that it was this bond that protected both of them from harm – and they had been their parents’ pride because bringing up two healthy, strong boys out 12 children was still an accomplishment in the wilderness by the lake.

Both loved fishing with their father, but ice-fishing they loved best of all. It took a while until the lake froze over in winter because it is so deep, and my grandfather went out every day to test if it was safe to walk on the ice after the frost had come to stay and the ice slowly glazed over. They knew that fresh burbot with its brown and green mottled skin was waiting for them under the ice, deep down, and as they were subsiding on dried fish and meats they could not wait for the fresh catch even if it meant fresh cod liver oil. They say, said Uncle Joe Hyde, that burbot tastes a lot like lobster and they call it the “poor man’s lobster” and, by the good Lord, (here Aunt Melissy would cast him a stern glance) I have never tasted lobster in my live but there is no fish as delicious as freshly fried burbot.

Note: This chapter is based on a historical article in the Vermont Historical Gazetteer, edited by Abby Maria Hennenway. Orleans County – Westmore Chapter: By Calvin Gibson and Alpha Allyn. Published by Claremont Manufacturing Co., 1877, pgs. 365 -373.

Time itself took notice of the unlikely creature

“I  will be back.” Was it even meant to be a promise or rather the a mere, impulsive expression of an intent? The gargoyle pondered this question over many days, even weeks after the mason had left. He remembered the … Continue reading

Transformative forces

  He  was but a gargoyle, a stone image.  How the gift of sentient observation had come to him he did not know any more than man knew where the soul originated. From his place on the roof he observed … Continue reading

Fall from Grace / excerpt from a new novel, working title: the stone mason

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For the stonemason in particular the death of his stillborn son felt like a betrayal. It was as if he had livd in the never acknowledged faith that his profession granted him some kind of special reprieve from death, that someone had agreed to that it was not to occur in his private life as long as he continued to carve memorials for the dead, and that this someone now had let him down. He was an atheist in the service of the church and loosing his unborn child felt like a disciplinary measure for his godlessness. Like many atheists he had a system of inner convictions that replaced religion. He did not believe in a creator, an organizer, a final judge, and yet he felt like he had fallen from grace.

Iris quietly  lived in the shadow of their loss, simply mourning and nourishing the inconceivable thought that they should now never know him, their son, certainly not by the way of a new pregnancy as friends and relatives suggested. These well-meaning people did not realize that the depth of her grief was rooted in the very circumstances that they thought would alleviate the loss – the fact that neither she nor anybody else had ever seen this child alive; that it had in fact never been born in the true sense as he had died in utero. Her grief was that her child had lived, if ever so briefly, unknown to her, and that she would never know it. She sat at the kitchen table with her encyclopedia and with a three hair sable brush paint stamp-sized paintings on miniature panels of oak wood while thinking about all the small things she would not ever know about her son. She wouldn’t know his face. She wouldn’t know the sound of his voice. She would never hear him laugh. She would never hold him in her arms. And yet he had lived.

A creature made from stone

Time, unmoved by his suffering, resumed its course. We cannot keep close to our losses even if loss is all that remains of our loved ones. He had been bound to his companions by circumstance and habit, by outer design … Continue reading

deep blue pride / from my new novel (nasciturus pro iam nato habetur, quotiens de commodius eius agitur)

IMG_2442One day Aunt Melissy, Uncle Joe and a I had been invited to an assembly on a Sunday after church to the church elder and his wife. The men and boys were gathering in the meeting hall of the church while the womenfolk were expected to assemble at the church elder’s house. His wife was entertaining us with cake and good strong smelling coffee in her dining room that was big enough to fit at least twenty people at the table and then some around the benches placed at the wall. Even at such a gathering  there was no idle chatter but the women discussed who in the community was in need of support or charity and how the community should cooperate to provide it. The girls were clearly as bored as any girl at any time would have been even though I was sure they were working as hard and obediently as I was. We were all seated alongside the wall on the benches, holding on to our mugs and a piece of cake. I exchanged glances with a girl about my age who was seated across the table at the other wall. The girl seemed strangely familiar but I could not place her face. She was dressed just a bit prettier than the other girls and in fact she was a bit prettier than everybody else.  After we had finished our coffee she got up, left the room and returned with a tray to collect our mugs and the dishes we had been balancing on our knees. When she took mine she made a funny face at me, and the girl next to me giggled. I couldn’t tell whether she had been laughing at me or about me but the pretty girl had already filled her tray and carried it out of the room. When she came back into the room she did not reclaim her seat on the bench but stood next to the state elder’s wife, her hands neatly folded in front of her apron and  waiting to be allowed to address the woman sitting at the table. Finally, her mother decided to look up and notice her. As soon as her eyes found her daughter’s smile you could see the smallest glimpse of pleasure and pride you will ever catch in another person’s face. I looked at Aunt Melissy. Nothing much escaped her sharp birdlike eyes and, sure enough, she was squinting her eyes in the familiar way she displayed only when she was alarmed by some misbehavior while observing elder’s wife intently. The lady was well trained though and the moment of satisfaction with her daughter’s beauty and well-displayed training had passed quickly and had been replaced with the usual sober inquiry she met everyone in her church with, never letting on that she was the first lady of the community. I think that in this moment though I knew that behind all of this admirable display of virtue people were as they are through all times – well meaning at their best, proud and ambitious underneath, full of insecurity and doubt. Maybe even Aunt Melissy knew some of these feelings. I looked at her. Nah, not Aunt Melissy, I corrected myself. Maybe every hundred years or so somebody came along who was actually virtuous and good to a fault. In this room I knew this one person not to be the church elders’ wife  but Aunt Melissy.

Sir Thomas More

Portrait of Sir Thomas More (Holbein)

Portrait of Sir Thomas More (Holbein) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems to me that where private properties exist, where all men measure all things in relation to money, it is hardly possible to establish, in public affairs, a regime at once just and prosperous, unless you esteem it just that the best things belong to the worst persons, or unless you judge it well that all goods be shared among the fewest people who even then are not entirely satisfied, whilst all others are in the direst poverty. This is why I reflect upon the Constitution of the Utopians, so wise, so morally irreproachable, among whom with the fewest possible laws all is regulated for the good of all, in such a way that merit is rewarded; and that, in a sharing from which no one is excluded, everyone has nonetheless a large part.

Sir Thomas More

a very small portrait of a marriage

日本語: 日本で開催された第12回国際鳥類保護会議を記念する朱鷺を描く切手。

日本語: 日本で開催された第12回国際鳥類保護会議を記念する朱鷺を描く切手。 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

They never talked to each other of their feelings. After a while it was difficult to say whether they didn’t talk because they didn’t want to deepen the grief in the other, whether they were anxious that even the one person they shared their grief with would not be able to relate to its depth or even feel hurt by it – or whether it was because they were guarding their own grief with a certain possessive jealousy. The spring changed their marriage. It was the first time they did not talk to each other about something that kept their minds occupied.  It became more difficult to talk about the daily life as well.

 

Thus they were quiet in each other’s company. Iris was dedicating herself to creating miniature watercolors, none of them larger than the palm of a woman’s hand, some as small as a postal stamp. She used the finest brushes and worked deliberately slow. She had perched a nature encyclopedia on the kitchen table and truthfully to nature had copied illustrations of small insects and birds, placing them in imaginary and impossible landscapes filled with a soft green light that on better days implied a spring day, on days of more severe depression dark and damp shadows.

reweaving the fabric of time

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i have committed to the practice of exchanging, if only for 3.141592653 minutes a day, now for then, up for down and today for yesterday

so when, during those 3.141592653 minutes, i see my hand guiding a pen over the paper, rather than to follow the steady progress of a new drawing, i see it erased line by line, and am rewarded by the promises of a work just envisioned, not yet constraint by its execution,

when i scan the sky for vaporous messages of ominous prophecies instead of wilting under the weight of a heaven i care not to imagine i look down into the vast expanses of the deep oceanic universe consisting of the probabilities of its continuable or discreet measurable properties, energy, position, momentum, angular momentum, and i escape, if only for a moment, the inescapable urge of the common mind to inject the holy into the profane as described so aptly by eliade

and, at last, when i walk the well-known streets that carry the contagion of my own history continuously infecting my present with meaning like an obsession i backtrace and erase the past step by step to acquire a new sense of what this place could be if it was not what it is already.

The little gargoyle

A picture taken by Charles Negre in 1853. Of H...

A picture taken by Charles Negre in 1853. Of Henri Le Secq near the ‘Stryge’ chimera on Notre Dame de Paris. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Embedded in the otherwise raw stone was the face of a little boy. The details were not worked out but still the image unmistakably was that of a child. His eyes were almost closed; he had round cheeks and a high, equally round forehead. The face was still and yet there was something disturbing in these childish, lovely features, a hint of pain not overcome.

After a protracted moment of meditation, like a period of silence between two people who do not know how to talk to each other but do not want to part ways just yet, the mason had taken up his tools and finished his work. Within the hour he had transformed the boy into a beast by adding spiked ears, pointed horns on his head, a hairy body, large hands and feet and a curled-up tail, all roughly fashioned. He then had put down his instruments, and without evaluating his just completed work again, had turned away from the boy and had left.