Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Valdosta Beaver Hunt

Sorry, trawlers for porn, this post features many photos, but not of the Larry Flynt variety. We're looking for the real thing.

This is my house from the woods on my property, as I move toward the city-owned green belt through town. Today, woodpeckers knock and rattle dead and dying trees for bugs.

Looking into the woods from the path behind my house.

In these woods, where smoke from burning swamps seems less oppressive, water is rising into once dry areas despite the long drought. Maybe the ground is sinking or maybe rain from a tiny cloud falls on a sad cartoon man lost in the woods. Small trees had been cut down, wood chips flecking ground. I was enraged, wondering who could be wandering through the slim green slash through town by two-mile creek cutting down trees. Toothmarks grace some of the stumps, so I perform some environmental arithmetic. Beavers.


I'd heard they were around, but this locale seemed improbably urban--good for the occasional raccoon, hawk, opossum, or pilieated woodpecker, but beavers? Around the margin of the expanding pond, two dams that confirmed recent activity.

Dam 1

Dam 2 (Harder to see, but the dam crosses the A about 2/3 of the way down)

Finally, I discovered evidence of the actual creatures.

The one- to two-feet deep pond, not deep enough for a lodge, sits above the deeper two-mile branch. Perhaps young beavers are exploring, or perhaps they're just creating an area friendly for feeding off the creek. Or perhaps they've been displaced due to the work on the emptied Mill Pond, into which the creek drains. I'll keep watching.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Graduating Ian, pt. 3

Graduation eve at Lehigh could have provided several plot lines for one of those disfunctional family movies, with the requisite minor dramas, hurt feelings, impositions, etc., and I won't go into it because it's boring. What wasn't was hanging out with Ian and Elizabeth and playing dollar-a-game pool and drinking Yuengling (5 bucks!) by the pitcher at a local pub, or eating more Indian food before that (not bad, but not enough spicy heat). I'll just say that we survived dinner with my former in-laws after my ex-wife opted out. It's weird dining with former in-laws, but it was, in fact, lovely. The hotel restaurant was loud, and, upstairs, a prom was going on while a polished jazz quartet forged ahead with some jazz standards next to our table, all of which added to the surrealism. Somehow it all worked out.

Graduation the next day was long, but the weather was outstanding, the stadium surrounded by green forested hills, the occasional raptor soaring between mountaintops and clouds. Three and a half hours to call out all the names and listen to the speeches and watch the green and blue and hide from the sun when I could. I've been to so many graduations it was all pretty ho-hum until Ian's name was called out and we all cheered and whistled. He couldn't hear us, of course, but he was happy with his friends and to have us there, and that made it all worth while. After everyone else left, Amy and I attended an afterparty briefly at a friend's house. Nice friends, banjo music, and good outdoor fare. After that it was decompression and a long day journey home. We stopped in Philly for a quick bistro lunch of chicken sandwiches and hit Indigo gallery on 3rd street, where Amy bought some gemstones and I bought a Mexican ceramic cerveza delivery truck with two skeletons.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Graduating Ian, pt. 2

The second day in Philadelphia meant a visit to Chinatown and lunch at Penang, a popular Malaysian restaurant on the east coast, where we sampled rice (Nasi Lemak, with coconut chicken curry and anchovy chili curry) and chicken curry (Penang Kari Ayam). Tasty and filling, Malaysian cuisine blends Indian, Thai, and Chinese influences nicely, and the web site boasts one or two pretty fair Engrishisms. Nicely fueled, we walked from Chinatown to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a long afternoon of walking and looking. It's worth it for the Duchamps room alone, but the museum has a fine collection of Cezanne, Degas, Monet, Gris, Rousseau, and the obligatory Van Gogh paintings that denote any serious collection. It has its holes (no Klee?) and its contemporary collection is spotty (some decent pop art, but . . . ). Exhibitions featuring 18th-century brush masters and couple Ike Taiga and Tokuyama Gyokuran and Harlem Renaissance artist William H. Johnson will satisfy lovers of print and brush. Of the older pieces, a small Heironymous Bosch delighted me. Of the more recent, Marc Chagall's Half Past Three (The Poet) hit home, the empty bottle, the happy head upside down, green kitty tongue. Too bad reservations for the Barne's collection were unavailable. Amy liked the Gauguin and Renoir.

Late in the afternoon, the museum presented a happy hour jazz concert in the atrium, but sensually overloaded, we headed out to walk beside the Schuykill River and trekked on to South Street where we saw the mosaic work of Isaiah Zagar and all the shops and restaurants and missed Andrew Bird at the Fillmore (sold out). We finally collapsed in a small Indian restaurant and snacked before we headed, exhausted, to our fine Motel 6 room across the river in Maple Shade, New Jersey, next to the apparently popular Elbow Room.

So, well-fed and cultured, we headed the next day to the Super 8 in Allentown on Airport Road, as close as we could get to Bethlehem and Lehigh. Allentown itself was uneventful, even drab, but we didn't give it much of a chance. The goal was to track down my son (thanks Elizabeth) and we did, dining at Sal's near the campus. Good pizza and garlic rolls, and a glass of Carlo Rossi Paisano is free if you want one (I passed), since it's one of many byob places around the campus (they can give it away, but they can't charge for it). Best of all was hanging out with Amy and Ian where he lives, which is why we came. It's weird to see your kids grown up, talking about plans for the future, maybe the Peace Corps. We were all silly together, and it was good.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Before attending my son's graduation at Lehigh, Amy and I spent two lovely days wandering the streets of Philadelphia, eating grandly, enjoying the fine weather, and even pausing at some of the many historical landmarks. The first full day, we walked around historical Philly, saw the "back" of the Liberty Bell (which ironically lacks the crack) and Independence Hall and cobbled streets and many fine old buildings adorned with plaques emblazoned with notes on events and people in American history. We didn't go to a Phillies game. We didn't eat a cheesesteak sandwich. We wandered happily and half-oblivious. Blackberry people came suited appropriately out of the Chemical Heritage Foundation on Chestnut near Trotter's Alley, Elbow Lane, Black Horse Alley; they had Homeland Security badges on and talked animatedly about the chemicals they looked forward to consuming on our dollar. We didn't follow them. A horse pulling tourists in a carriage filled the gutter with a huge rush of piss. Our legs ached. We looked and walked. We smelled garlic. We talked and smelled. Garlic. Crowded and lively. We went in.

We went into La Locanda del Ghiottone on 3rd and sat and had a wonderful meal. The antipasto plate was fine, not extraordinary. Amy had chicken, nicely done and wine-sauced and capered with a side of roast potatoes. I had a revelatory saffron seafood risotto in a tomato sauce that, amazingly, didn't overwhelm the saffron. The seafood (clams, mussels, shrimp, calamare) was tender and the generous portion they served me evaporated. Purists might complain that the rice wasn't al dente enough, but the flavors were so wonderful and balanced, it was a good time not to be a puritan (though Puritans would be happy we didn't drink wine, because it's byob and we were unprepared). The restaurant is apparently controversial, because, looking through reviews, mostly outstanding, it appears that if you don't quite get it, they're happy to chase you out. It's Philly don't-fuck-around elegant. The room is crowded and a little loud, but it is romantic and the staff has personality. And I can still taste that saffron. Next time, I'll show up early with a nice Barolo.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Georgia Fire

The smoke is blowing somewhere else, today, so yesterday's blood orange sun is back to lemon and clouds and someone else is choking on swamp turning into light and ash and air. I worry about making my flight tomorrow to go watch my son take his turn across the stage for Lehigh's graduation ceremony, that little square-hat dance. Roads open and close depending on the winds, and we'll have to get in the car at 3 AM and drive into it. I'll have to get in the car and worry about what I might run into running away from it all, because all that life has to go somewhere if it is to avoid becoming light and ash and air. The swamps here can be marvelous and beautiful, quietly spooky, cypresses laced with Spanish moss, alligators, turtles, and pike swimming around the cypress knees, snakes curled up in trees, frogs flipping like dimes into dishes at the county fair. When the swamp dries, it becomes the worst sort of biofuel and can burn for years. Permanent signs on highways say "Possible Smoke Ahead," but my imagination wants impossible smoke.

We'll get in our car and drive into it, and end up in Philadephia where nothing's burning, exactly, though Philly fans are starting to smolder. We'll get a slice at Lorenzo's and avoid the famous cheesesteak stands and then make our way upstate for a city that burned itself up and out long ago in fires of industry and capital, where my son's on the verge of, the fulcrum of, becoming an engineer, the future ahead for all of us obscured by smoke and the fire we're turning the world into.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Fresh Homemade Sausage (Italian, Thai)

The local grocer occasionally puts out odd cuts of pork that the label calls "pork fat." It appears to be boneless trimmings from brisket, neck, and rib end sirloin, and has lots of lean with the fat. It's .69 cents a pound and makes terrific sausage. Yesterday I got my exercise grinding about four pounds of it with my hand grinder, and made two kinds of sausage, mild Italian and Thai. Obviously one could use lean cuts of beef, chicken, or turkey to blend, but nothing tastes better than grilled pork fat. Recipes follow:

Italian Sausage

2 pounds fresh pork sprinkled with fresh ground sea salt and red wine

10 cloves garlic
10 large basil leaves
Fistful of fennel seeds
tbsp fresh rosemary
one fresh green or red chile or dried red pepper
four sprigs of fresh oregano
tbsp olive oil

Chop the above ingredients into a course mix. Feed mix and meat into grinder, alternating to create a basic sausage. Afterward, add tbsp of paprika and red pepper flakes, black pepper, or cayenne pepper to taste. Blend thoroughly. Let rest in refrigerator for a day before cooking. Good on the grill or on pizza.

Thai Sausage

2 pounds pork, sprinkled lightly with lime juice and fish sauce

6 cloves garlic
Tbsp lemon grass
3/4 to 1 sq inch fresh ginger
tsp galangal powder
3 or 4 fresh thai green chili peppers
2 scallions (white heads only)
Tsp (or more, to taste) ground coriander
Fresh coriander leaves (cilantro) or basil to taste, optional

Chop the above ingredients into a course mix. Feed mix and meat into grinder, alternating to create the basic sausage. Add Fresh ground white or black pepper, red pepper flakes, or cayenne pepper to taste and blend thoroughly. Sweeten with 1/4 cup orange/lime juice blend and/or tamarind juice to taste if you want a sweeter sausage. Make sausages into patties or stuff into casings, or make into meatballs for use in Thai noodle or curry dishes. Great on the grill.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Can You Scare Me Now?

Response to posters in a discussion on a Cal Alumni listserv regarding the merits of the Fort Dix case and other DOJ credibility issues. Messy writing ahead. . .

Nancy (see quote below), this is true, and really helps make my point. It's not that people aren't truly trying to figure out ways to "hurt us"--they are and they will sadly and regrettably probably succeed some day, and we need to accept and prepare for that before it happens again or we will freak out and give up what remains of our civil liberties next time. We just can't expect to be protected from every plot, especially after all our military adventurism in the middle east.

That our current administration has so manipulated the facts in many cases for PR purposes means that, at least for me, every similar announcement provokes suspicion rather than relief. The timing of the announcement and its possible similarity to the Florida case, that Ann Coulter's ex-boyfriend and FBI Agent intervened in an investigation into a serious felony voter-fraud charge against her (just dismissed without a real investigation), the past grandiose claims that "terrorists" have been thwarted (remember the so-called Brooklyn Bridge terrorist?)--these kinds of manipulations unfortunately cast doubt on all law enforcement activities, even legitimate ones. I have no idea whether these Albanians (Albanians are typically pro-American Muslims because of our intervention in Kosovo, by the way) are real terrorists in training or more hapless PR puppets.

Please understand that I attended a local session conducted by the DOJ intended to put us at ease about the Patriot Act when Ashcroft was AG. Noticing some disturbing passive voice on a
poster with a clause stating that the act would only come into play if "it has been determined" that someone is a terrorist, I asked the regional attorney flat out "Who determines?" I was expecting to hear some reference to some court or legal proceeding, but he just said, "The Attorney General determines."

Our modus operandi as a country since 2001 seems to have been "Can you scare me now?"

So, Albert must go and the senate must confirm someone who can restore fed cred.

> it doesn't mean there aren't idiots
>who want to hurt us, as a country we've botched things so badly, we make
>great targets.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Turley and Everwine and Hannah and her Sister, Part Last

After a leisurely morning sipping coffee and groggily seeing George and Amy leave to walk Mookie and Nigel (or vice versa) and then off to work (and I thank them again for their wonderful hospitality), I headed up the coast toward Fresno, where I was born at.

I took the 101 to Paso Robles, where my mother is from and where my grandparents farmed almonds, zinfandel, and vegetables . My uncle, proprietor of Richard Sauret Vineyards, still lives there and grows grapes for Rosenblum and other wineries (congrats on inclusion in Wine Spectator's top 100 for that yummy 2003, by the way), so making a quick wine stop seemed appropriate. Since I've always been a big fan of Turley Zins (or a fan of big Turley Zins), I made that my stop of choice despite the temptations of many new wineries along the 101/41 corridor. A quick turn onto Vineyard Road in Templeton led me to the redesigned winery and tasting room (formerly Pesenti winery) and I tasted several new releases, including the powerful Ueberroth and their version of the famed Dusi vineyard. Very good wines, all, so I ordered half a case to be sent to me (isn't it Friday yet?), some I can drink soon (Old Vines) and some to hold, the Moore Earthquake--fond memories of sharing one bottle, 17.1% natural alcohol, with Kurt Brown and David Oliveira at the Paradise Grill in Santa Barbara--and a Haynes Vineyard, their flagship zin. Some don't like Turley style wines, especially James Laube, but I find the fruit extraction more than compensates for the alcohol. Generally, the nose is dense fruit with just a hint of briar (moreso in the central coast offerings) and spices more or less complicate it nicely or amazingly, depending on the source. They're balanced, portlike wines without the sweetness, and I can only compare them to Amarones in a great year, with roasted fruit flavors and enough acidity to make it friendly to strongly flavored foods or even with deserts. They make a port, but it wasn't available for tasting.

I arrived in the afternoon at the Williams "Estate" in Fresno, a green 50s era tract home in a lower middleclass neighborhood two blocks from William Saroyan's former pair of Fresno houses. My nieces, Haley and Hannah, were playing in the wading pool, while my parents fiddled in the garden. Dad's gone seco-palm crazy, and sprouting fronds everywhere make the yard an eye and balloon hazzard, but it was nice to be home and to see my parents in good health. Dad has lost 20 pounds and Mom especially looks much younger than her 67 years. It was also good to catch up with the kids' mom, my sister Kelly, and Chase, her oldest son.

The next day, my full day in Fresno, I planned to visit the homes of various poets I know there. Phil Levine was in New York, but I wanted to catch up with Peter Everwine, Connie and John Hales, Glover Davis, Charles Hanzlicek, Jon Vineberg and Dixie Salazar (David O. and I visited Jon and Dixie last year), and I made a contact list and headed out. I made it to Peter's and just never left. It was great to see one of my favorite teachers and one of our finest poets, share a couple glasses of zin, and hang out, talking about everything from mutual friends mentioned already, poets we liked (especially Bob Hicok, whom Peter likened to Bill Matthews in terms of his pure love of language), prose poetry, the book festival, and our lives. I enjoyed his classes because he was so efficient and yet genial. He cut through everything in a workshop or class and always said something that was both surprising and luminous. He'd pull us out of our cloud-of-dust verbal scrum and say, "Hey, look up, here." Then he'd show us. I don't think I ever would have pursued poetry if it weren't for him. I first met him through his work, when Thom Gunn at Cal pulled out one of his poems, "Desire," to show us what a great contemporary poem was, then later when I met him in Fresno as I pursued a teaching credential, showed him a little poem, and heard him tell me to my surprise that it was good enough for me to begin serious study. (I can't emphasize enough the word begin in the previous sentence.) It still took me several years to get into the program, since I had a young family and a new career as a teacher. But his encouragement helped many of us take the art seriously even as many of us were intimidated by his inimitable, underappreciated talent. To whit, one of my favorite poems of all time, currently available in From the Meadow: New and Selected Poems (Pitt Poetry Series, 2004):

How It Is

This is how it is --
One turns away
and walks out into the evening.

There is a white horse on the prairie, or a river
that slips away among dark rocks.
One speaks, or is about to speak,
not that it matters.

What matters is this --
It is evening.
I have been away a long time.
Something is singing in the grass.

Peter Everwine

Monday, May 7, 2007

Who isn't tired of the Pinot Envy pun? CA, pt. III

Not me, apparently. After "philosophizing" in Chris Buckley's backyard, I headed back to Santa Barbara, parked, and walked to the end of the pier that famously burned up in November, 1998. I know the date because it was my birthday and I was driving back from the airport after defending my dissertation at the U. of U. in Salt Lake City. I remember rounding a bend and seeing the horizon on fire. The entire city was burning, I thought, but it was just creosote-soaked planks and pylons spitting flame. (Months later, I arrived home and a sobbing voice on my answering machine pleaded with whomever he was trying to call to help him recover from the financial and artistic loss of his paintings that burned. He sadly left no number.)

After reacquainting myself with the sea air and the waves, I walked to Madeleine and Bob's condo to say hello. They didn't know I was coming, so it was delightful to surprise Madeleine (Bob, alas, was at UCLA) and Sophie and their guests, Lily and Lily's grandmother. When two two-year-olds are around, they pretty much determine the course of human events, so we sat around, played, read parts of books, talked between lulls in the perfect chaos. It was fun and especially wonderful to see Madeleine so happy.

Later, we all headed to dine with dear friends George and Amy, who graciously put me up for the night and who hosted an impromptu gathering in my honor. The evening evolved into a study of California's pinot terroirs (which I guess makes us homegrown terroirists [insert bad pun drumbeat here]), beginning with a 2002 Williams-Selyem Rocchioli Riverblock (rich nose, evolving complexity; opening with this is definitly going all in). Friends dropped in and we munched pizza and caught up. Patrick was looking as dapper as ever, and he still maintains his intellectual ferocity. Mookie and Nigel, the house greyhounds, towered over Sophie, who ran around the yard with them anyway. Chryss (one of those Santa Barbara poets) and her new husband Dan came by as well, and we talked about music and the woes at the News Press and kids and people and events and anything, all the while powering through several more bottles of pinot and three pizzas. George kept it lively, spinning cd's from one of the best music collections in the west (Eric Bachmann and Yo La Tengo covering anyone, among several fine others). The second bottle, the 2000 Dehlinger Octagon, was my favorite of the evening, perfectly aged (like all of us, I hope?), laser fruit and spices and a wonderful finish with a hint of smoke. A 2003 Longoria Bien Nacido, one of my favorites from my time there, followed that with its rich, ripe central coast earthiness. There was a 2004 Brego pinot from Anderson Valley that explored the youthful strawberry side of the pinot spectrum. I might have missed one, but by the third bottle, one sips more than one takes mental notes. All in all, it was a wonderful evening--what we live for, good friends, food, wine, an evening that tailed off into quiet comfort and restful warmth.

The only thing missing from it all was my Amy, but here's a toast to you, sweetness. Cheers.

(Thanks for the help on the winelist, George.) Fresno tomorrow, I promise.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

What begins in Pixley and ends in Zin

After driving up PCH's foggy ribbon to Santa Barbara, I had the pleasure of the company of dear friends whom I knew the five years I lived in Santa Barbara. I arrived at the Sandman Motel, which turned out to be the hotel my old apt. complex put my son Ian and me in when they were doing some work. I called George and Amy, who were entertaining Amy's folks. They invited me over for a nice risotto and a yummy Rhone blend and amazing cheese and five dogs competing for attention and I had a wonderful time. Amy's parents are fun to be around, adventurous and lively. It was a quick evening, though, as I arrived later than I expected, and I needed sleep.

Monday morning I checked out and drove to Lompoc to see my friend Christopher Buckley, who'd just received a Guggenheim. We met at a wonderful Laotian/Thai restaurant, Suvann's, which serves all the usual dishes, but they make and serve a homemade pork and lemon grass sausage that's wonderful spicy and slightly sweet, like your lover's earlobe. We ate and talked Poetolitics, then went to his backyard to continue and philosophize over a delightful and inexpensive wine from Pixley, of all places. The marketing writing on the back was effusive, praising the "breath-taking central valley" (I might have used the term "choking," but then again I wouldn't have got the job) and the winery's environmentally friendly practices (When have you not thought of Pixley and environmentally friendly in the same sentence?). Not bad for a two-buck cab franc from an outlet store--a little roasted like old-style zin, but enough clove on the palate to make things interesting. Chris was great and I we talked for several hours about everything from cats to catharsis. My only regret was that Nadia, Chris' wife, was at work. Hummingbirds sipped sugar water. The sky was blue, white where the clouds smeared.

Tomorrow I'm journeying home to sweet Amy, but this trip will continue to Monday night in SB and on to Turley and Fresno and family and dear, dear Peter Everwine, when I'm finally, finally home.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

On the Road, PT 1 LA

Writing from Fresno today, after a long weekend in LA at the book festival working the poetry corner and a fine day and evening with wonderful friends in the Santa Barbara area.

The book festival brought writers and readers from all over the southland, and that it continues to feature a venue devoted entirely to poetry is what keeps me going back every year. Highlights this year included David St. John, Mark Doty, Erin Belieu, a tribute to Bert Meyers, Charles Harper Webb, Jane Miller and Jane Mead, old friend Richard Beban, and many others. The only problem with working the corner is that it makes attending other events difficult. I missed out on a pre-teen fantasy when I missed Tina Louise's reading of her new children's book, though, I was always a Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) fan, to be honest. On the plus side, I missed out on Christopher Hitchens' boorish tantrums. Apparently, he calls security if someone asks a question he doesn't like. He must have missed the first amendment question on his citizenship test. At any rate, the poetry winner, Frederick Seidel wasn't there, so we pressed on. The lack of winners at the award ceremony perhaps made the after celebration a bit more muted, but since I was with my dear, wise friend Margaret, I had a delightful evening; she helps me see through my self-blindness. My love, Amy, adores her as well (We missed you, Amy). Friend and fellow poet and emcee Elena Karina Byrne (who should have been reading) was an ever-smiling spirit-being organizing the tent area, and Noah Blaustein dropped in to help us find good restaurants to eat and dine and tell stories in. His wife, Cristina, is lovely as ever, and I finally met their new daughter, Siena, happy and intelligent well beyond her 10 months. Paul Willis, Phil Taggart, and Jackson Wheeler, all old friends, also dropped in.

In LA, I stayed in the Tradewind Adventurer's motel in Inglewood on Century Blvd, near Hollywood Park. Strange place to be in. Jets pour noise over, white noise syrup, but the courtyard was peaceful otherwise and filled with travelers, many backpackers from Europe, so I enjoyed the international atmosphere. Not the cleanest place, but if you've backpacked Europe and Asia, it'll do, it's cheap, and it's near the 405. The nearby Indian restaurant on Century and La Brea boasts at its grand opening that it serves the best Indian cuisine in LA. It doesn't, but it was fine; it's not often that I find chicken makhani on a lunch buffet, and the naan was served fresh, crispy, and hot.

Tomorrow, Santa Barbara, Wine, and Fresno in the "breath-taking central valley."