Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Key To The Dead






I woke with a start, not realizing that I had dozed off, fearful at once I was dead, but no. My breath came in ragged gulps but it came. They were gone.  I listened in the dark for a noise, any sound at all, but there was nothing but the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. I needed food, water, and most of all sleep, but beyond the door of my bedroom was either life or death, and on this side of it, for now, was life. I held up my hand and I could see the outline of it, see the fingers of my hand and the darkness outside was less than it had been a few heartbeats ago. I hoped that the light was that of lanterns, perhaps, but I knew that was false hope, wild imagination, and hopeless. All was hopeless. There might be a dawn today but tomorrow there would certainly not be. I held up my hand again and flexed my fingers. Yes, there was more light now, and I wondered how it felt when a condemned man looked out of his cell and saw the rope where he would be hanged? How many men had strained to see the rope, knowing that as soon as dawn arrived they would die, and knowing that if they could see the rope, then dawn was nigh, and so was death.

How many times had I rented a room above the square, with a good view of the gibbet, and listened to the sound of the felines mewling for their meal, disinterested in the life of the man about to die, and watching only the process? And what a process that it was! The cell of the condemned was situated in front of the wooden steps so that the condemned might step out of the cell and onto the first step. The best room was even with the chains, yet a full story above them, and I usually was able to secure book there. I would stay up all night, writing about what I saw, and felt, if there were some of those wronged by the condemned that would gather to taunt or ridicule or curse him. Some piled firewood and brambles high and heated the chains. The condemned might plead of beg for mercy but more often he would retreat back into the cell and wait and wait and wait. I waited for the light of day so I might live and they hoped for darkness for the same reason. I knew now what it meant that the turning of one into the other, darkness into day or day into darkness, meant the same wait.

Of all the men I saw die there only Earl Putman fought them. He wasn’t the largest man I had seen nor did he look the part of someone who might escape by sheer force alone, but Putman fought for his life and he fought hard. Twice they dragged him up the steps and twice he fought his way to leap down and only the crowd restrained his flight. The third time he was knocked unconscious by one of the jailers but they waited for his return to reason before reading the writ of execution. A man named Dawa, who held no surname, or no first name, cursed in some noisome language and even when he was screaming in agony he seemed to be articulating the curse.  Dawa was convicted of killing a child, and no one knew what country from which he hailed, or what language he spoke, but he was dark of skin and wooly of hair, and wore the tanned skins of some beasts that lived far from our own shores.  He screamed for his gods or his devils but his skin was no different than any others when the time came, only his voice. Nearly all went meekly and fearful, shaking and sobbing, to their final end.

And now I curse my idle curiosity, and my writing, and the newspapers who printed my stories of the men who, one by one, make my living. I fed off of their misery and spoke of the moment that each of them realized that the process, the unfolding of their lives’ end was now, at that second in time, and each of them faced it in some way that cried out as their own. Yes, I lied about some of those moments, and I created out of my own head some of the events, and I made sport of those who blubbered or fell to their knees to be led like dogs to their deaths. Yes, I did all of this, and more also, but those sins did not reach out to me. Those sins would have waited for some judgement that I might have repented long before my time was due, but I wanted more than just to observe these men and record and create their stories. I wanted to speak to them after they had died and I wanted to tell the world that I had done so. Now I can and I will, but I fear the written word will be all that is found of me when it is over.

I spent money, good money, money I had made in watching death come to the condemned to find anyone and everyone I could that might open the door to death so I might look inside. Immigrants from the darkest corners of the world I interrogated and cajoled. Always hoping that I might find someone who knew how to speak to the dead and how I might find those I had written about, I haunted the opium dens and the drunken dives. Always there were candles and smoke and incense and nothing more than silver thrown away for a show. I learned that there were many people wishing to speak to the dead; their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, lovers, but none spoke back with any accuracy. Years passed. Men died screaming. And my work grew to the point I was recognized on the street by strangers. I exposed fakers and seers and those who threw bones on the ground for what they were and men died knowing I might enhance their story or belittle it.

Hubris.  The arrogance of the man who was well liked by others begins to believe there is something good and worthy of this admiration. I knew at once who was a charlatan or a faker, or so I thought. I treated those who came to me with disdain, for I already knew there would be no speaking to the dead, but I wanted it known that I looked. What price to be paid, I never gave it a thought in passing, for trespassing into the land where only the dead reside? I tossed pennies to those who burned feathers and jerked upon the floor, and I wrote of their ineptness and worthlessness.

Never, in all the turbaned brown skinned and colored scarf wearing Gypsies, was I ever asked if I knew there might be danger in what I was doing. A man appeared one day, and he was one of the most outlandish yet, with his rawhide clothing and his wide hat that nearly covered his eyes, he was the one who asked directly, “Do you know what to do if you open the door?” And I assured him the silver was of the best quality and he could take my price or he could leave it. He nodded and spoke no more. Days later he returned with a simple wooden key, fashioned out of some twisted vine, most cleverly, and it seemed to sparkle if I turned it in the light or disappear of made of darkness itself. I marveled at this so when he asked me where I would retreat to, if I had some need. I answered him directly, before I thought of my words and told him there was a house in the hills, in a small village of Baden, where my grandfather once owned a mill. He told me that the dead would speak to me, but I could only tarry in the graveyard for as long as the key burned. Once it burned out, I would be at their mercy. He stopped and looked at me with one eye squinted and said, “Ye cannot sleep with the dead at your door. In the light of day they return to the grave but at full dark they will come to you, and in your sleep they will take you away to their world and there you will not die, but you will live with the dead, until time ends” and with that he turned on his heel and looked back not at all.

Now, even as I write this, I realize that the condemned man Tawa, at his trial, was dressed like the man who sold me the key. They drape the condemned in white cloth before the execution, but now, now I realize where I had seen that manner of clothing before they had draped him. I took the key to the graveyard where the remains of those I had written about were buried and struck a match to it. Instantly, without warning there were dozen, perhaps hundreds of voices, and I felt myself in a whirl wind yet I could hear each one distinct. Yes, that one I watched die, and that one, of course, he yelped in pain, and this one, I remember well, laughed with hysteria in his cell all night, and this one, oh yes, he was proved innocent less than a week after his burial. I tried to remember their words, I tried to put faces and names to the tales and then I looked down and the key had long since turned to ash.

Yet none of them threatened me. None of them made any move to laugh or mock me. I left the cemetery at dawn for they retreated before the light of the sun. I went back to my home and slept. But as soon as the sun left he sky they appeared in my room and they spoke without ceasing. I grew weary of writing, of trying to record the waterfall of words, and I nearly dozed off late that night. Instantly, I felt as if someone were stuffing a dry sheet down my throat. I awoke with the start but the voices did not stop. To sleep was to die and to join them, yet not dead. I waited the dawn with an urgency.

I slept until noon and then rented a carriage and four horses. To the mill house I drove the horses, all of the day and all through the night, with the voices and the wind whipping at me.   I stopped for nothing. I could hide here, I thought, gather my senses, then try to find someone to remove the curse. It would take time, surely, but it would not be impossible. With the stories of the dead to support me, I could make enough coin to hire those who might search for the man who had cursed me, and perhaps buy him to remove it. I drove the horses until dawn and collapsed upon a dusty bed. I was already fatigued and when I awoke there was a light in the east and in the west. Confused, I went to the window to see the sun setting in the west. This was a dire sight for I was still tired. But to the east there was a sight to paralyze my senses; someone had set aflame the only bridge leading away from the mill house. The river could not be forded for many miles to the north. I went outside and watched the flames grow and then saw the barn door had been opened. The horses were gone. It would take many days now, and many nights, for me to travel to the city again. I had little provisions and no one lived near this place. I was trapped.

So now I write the words you read here. I wait for dawn to arrive so I might leave. They are here but they have fallen silent. They know my plight and they wait to collect me. I might wander the woods until lost, starve, become injured, but I had to stay awake. Now, with the coming of the dawn, I realize what the words of the man meant, that if they take me I will remain with them. I must not be taken. In the barn there is a rope, a rope very much like the one seen by the condemned at dawn, and I intend to use it as such.

end

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Water Oak and the Heat.




The top of the water oak hanging up on another tree

The base of the water Oak. I had to make the cut 1.25 meters above ground level. 

Limbs and trees have been dropping but the temperatures keep rising. This is an unparalleled opportunity in exhaustion and I’ve taken full advantage of it. Basically, the idea comes down to this one; cut as much as I can with an axe until I get too tired or too hot or both, and not kill myself. I’ve always believed you have to dare your environment to kill you. You have to face the worst you can find where you live and find a way to prosper within it. You cannot allow where you live to dictate to you when you can do or what you can do. The only way to survive is to get out into the worst heat and do your best.

Live Oaks are the hardest wood I have ever tried to cut. The meat of the Live Oak is tough and dulls an axe quickly. The limb that fell out of the Live Oak tree took forever to break down and I took long water breaks. I also stayed outside with the heat and the stinging flies. Slowly, but surely, the limb was reduced to bonfire fodder. Not that it didn’t put up a fight, mind you, but anything can be eaten one bite at a time.

Recently, because I work all the time and because I really don’t have the time to cook the meals I should be eating, my jeans have been getting tighter. Using an axe every day for exercise has made my jeans expand and I think my arm muscles are getting bigger as well. In just over a week or do I feel better, I’m more active and I sleep better. I’m hitting the trees at least an hour a day and sometime much longer than that.

Better have a sharpener handy if you’re going to work out with an axe. The difference is as stark as driving a car with or without a windshield. If your axe isn’t sharp you’re basically trying to beat an Oak tree into submission which by anyone’s standards is a fool’s errand. While we are at it, Live Oak is easier alive than dead. The wood is softer when it still has life in it. Trying to cut this stuff when it is dead is like trying to cut iron.

The first limb down was some sort of Oak, Red Oak, I think, and it went without a fight. The next was Live Oak, and it was a bitch to get it bucked. The third limb was the biggest challenge. The top broke off a water oak and fell over into a neighboring tree. Water Oaks are very tall yet very skinny. There are usually no large branches and therefore there’s little to discern as far as a lean goes. This one was no different. The first thing that had to be done was taking out the main trunk and hoping the top fell anywhere but on top of me.

You either get it or you do not get it. If you are going to sit there at your computer and wonder what Demon possessed me to take down a tree with the top half broke of and hanging onto another tree then you don’t get it. What were my options? Wait until it fell on its own and perhaps killed me or one of the dogs? Rented the risk out to a professional? With temperatures topping out over triple digits I walked up to the main truck of the broken tree and began.

Water Oaks are an odd species of tree for they are thick at the base and then go thin and high. I’ve never seen one that lived as long as most tree do and I suspect this one had gotten as large as most. If things were not already as bad as they might be, just like the limb from the Live Oak, the water oak had fallen against a dead limb which meant that it might bring down more than itself when it fell, or if I left it to its own devices. The meat of a water oak is slight spongy and gets worse when the tree dies.  
It's easier to cut a water oak if the axe is used to cut in horizontal strips rather than going for the classic vee shaped cut. The meat of the tree comes out of the cut in chucks rather easily compared to the Live Oak yet because there is half a tree hanging over the South side of the cut I cannot cut around the tree. I have to cut the west side as much as I can, the north side as deep as I can, the east side very little, and the South side not at all.

And yes, I did try to pull the hanging part of the tree down with a rope, thanks for thinking of that for me.

The rope is important to me because I really have very little idea which way the pressure lies in this. If the main trunk falls north, where I am doing most of the cutting, the leaning part of the tree might well slide north too, or be dragged in that direction. There is little chance it will fall South but it could and who knows where the hanging part would go then? West seems best with the hanging part being dragged along and falling that way. I think it will fall north and the hanging part will simply fall to the east and stay hung up in the other tree. But I’m using a rope to pull it when it gets close.



When will it get close, I have to ask myself. The cuts on the west and north meet, the cut on the east, what little I dare, deepens, yet the tree does not relent. What manmade object could have ninety percent of its support cut away and still be immovable much less standing tall? The heat takes a toll on me as does swinging the axe, again and again and again. An hour passes, and then another, yet the tree remains. I get a ping from the woman watching me from a distance; it is time to stop tempting South Georgia to kill me. I have to admit fatigue is setting in deeply.

I go inside and I’m still panting. I drink a liter of cold water and sweat is still pouring off of me. I can feel the muscles in my back and in my arms. I can feel the strain on my knees and ankles. This is tremendous exercise but I wonder if I have over done it. My hands hurt from handling the axe. Yoga cures all of this, except for the part there is still a tree out there, of which half is hanging over the heads of my dogs when they walk near it.

After work the next day the tree is still standing but the cuts look a lot deeper. I think it will fall east or west, and after a half hour of cutting I take my first break and consider what is happening. The tree is beginning to shudder with each stroke of the axe and I know now the end is very near. I put a rope on it and it wiggles like a loose tooth when pulled to the east. I reorient myself west of the tree and pull. The tree’s last ten percent of life cracks with the strain and I can tell it’s over. Pull, pull, pull, and finally the tree falls towards me and I release the rope. The hanging part doesn’t fall down with its parent but now leans against the other tree. More axe work tomorrow. 


Take Care,
Mike

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Axe Man Cometh.





Note the Holly leaves in the background



The interesting thing about exhaustion it whereas it should bring a hard and restful sleep, having dogs that spent the day out in the sun with you brings dogs that vomit up the grass they spent the day eating. Both Cousin dogs graze until they have baseball sized bales of hay inside of their stomachs that can only come forth after midnight, and can only be expelled by making noises that sounds like a drunk man puking up his soul at Norte Dame during the baptism of a banshee. This causes me to have to get up and clean the mess up, which they do have the decency to do on hardwood floors, not carpet, and of course, this earns them a trip outside where they can puke out the rest on the deck instead of the yard. One day some stoned hippie is going to find one of these bales and roll a joint or two out of it, and after smoking it, while have visions of Lassie pushing Timmy into a well and then puking on him with psychedelic vomit drifting down while sparkling.  

I had a dream last night that comes and goes depending on whether or not I’m trying to remember or just letting things flow, and I cannot put my mind on who was in it. “You said something, that was really important” It’s a distraction, the dream is, and perhaps it will get here in time.

There’s three pieces of three different trees on the ground I have to get to the firepit, or just leave them where they are, and there’s to harm in leaving them, but to get them to the firepit means an impressive fire. I like fire. However, transporting them in one piece apiece means a lot of work and cutting them into pieces means a lot of work. The idea that space aliens or some sort of advanced civilization built the Pyramids or Stonehenge or the statues on Easter island was thought up by people who have never been physically exhausted from hard work. One, once you’ve tackled a giant piece of wood, to cut it or to move it, you know damn well how much mass one human being can affect. No, it is not easy, but it is possible. Two, once you’ve done it, there’s sort of a thing inside of you that makes you want to do more. Can you do it? Can it be done? If it cannot be done, how close can you get to getting it done and can you get someone else in there with you, in the heat, the grime, the sweat, the physical effort to build a bigger fire?

Don’t sell your body short. Don’t sell your determination short. Get out there under the worst conditions and put some effort into moving something most people don’t think can be moved by one person and move the damn thing. Worry it to death, move it an inch a day, cut a toothpick off it each hour, but as long as you’re flailing away you aren’t failing. You cannot fail as long as your body is getting stronger through what you’re doing. Moving a piece of a tree a two hundred meters may not be something you can talk about to people and impress them like you’ve build Stonehenge, but this isn’t about impressing anyone else but you. After you drag and hack and push and pull something like that through the woods, in July, in the middle of the day, what exactly will daunt you physically? After that, helping someone get a long sofa up a high stairwell isn’t going to make you flinch.

Where are your limits? They’re either in front of you where you can see them or they are behind you, where you left them.

I remember the dream now, oddly, and I was moving into an apartment that was underground yet in a city. There were two sets of apartments, separated by a narrow space, and I had an apartment alone, the one on the right, but when I returned to move in my keys fit the one on the left, and there was a giant man with a green beard in and another guy I don’t remember. The dream shifted a lot, and there was a lot of odd technology in it, as if I was in the future, but it is also very fragmented.

Damn, it would seem I’ve talked myself into moving three really big pieces of wood, or reducing them, in the worst part of the Summer. There isn’t any hope of finding anyone who wants to get out in the heat and work their body into exhaustion so there can be a fire on the coldest day of the year, but my grass eating canines will keep me company for the most part. I think I’ll start with those out by the pond, in the thicket, that I have to move all the way to the gate, and then back down to the firepit. The Leaner is going to go last, and that piece of a tree that is just hanging in midair will have to go first. Ah, living in the woods is like living in a gym made of fuel for a fire.  Really

I’m going to need a few things; a new axe sharpener, and maybe one of those two headed axes, I have always wanted one, a better rope than I have, certainly, and I need a heavy duty winch or come along.

Exercise equipment for the body and soul is found in moving large things. When humans decide to make the effort to do it good things can happen or just things can happen, but where there is no quit in the soul the body will follow. By limits will be defined not by what I cannot do but merely what I have not done yet. I have a lot of Summer left, and a lot of long days in this Summer, and a lot of sweat still in my body.

Take Care,
Mike