Thursday, October 10, 2013

My entry for a short story challenge


Her bare feet burned in the frost on the deck. Isolina stood looking across the flurry of snow to the far side of the river. Through the Tunio trees, tiny darts of crystal flakes fell with the wind gusts.

Inside the cabin he slept, while outside, below, on that river, someone moved. Isolina perceived a woman, small and heavily dressed, step down the frozen moss onto a rock.

The woman sets a bowl of potatoes and bread on the rock beside her. Precarious. Real. Odd, perceptable, but disconnected. She steps off. She disappears into the glacial froth of the river and is gone. Disconcerted, alarmed and frightened, Isolina screams from the cold deck above. Then there is nothing. It was nothing. A day dream. No bowl on the rock. No woman.

I am lonely, Isolina thought. More than lonely. I am more lonely with him. I miss him. The chill and burn moved up from her feet, and her knees began to ache.

The Tunio tress, with their tiny holly-like leaves, dark and waxy, still tittered at the touch of heavy snow. Soon, the snow would stick, heavy and unforgiving.

He may have called her for minutes, or even hours. She did not know because time was lost and his calls were always frantic. The first, and ultimately, the last.

Iso! He called her for something to drink. And eat. Frantic that she would not be there when he needed her. Always. Always I am here, she thought.
Some coffee? Or hot tea, or juice? Don't we have anything else, he asks? He forgets that we don't have anything else, and that we just went to the store and bought his favorite juice. Peach.

Here, I have some peach juice for you. I don't like that, he says. We just got it, Isolina says, remember?

He is angry, but then sinks back into the pillows, as if to remember that she is all he has, so maybe he should hide his anger and confusion. Yes. I remember. Why do you think I would't remember?

He takes the peach juice and drinks some. He likes it. Why didn't I remember I liked it? She laughs and slips into the bed beside him even though it is mid-morning. Because her feet hurt. And she is tired. And it is gray and snowing now. She kisses his warm head.

She needs to go out and carry in firewood for the stove. And start some bread, and a pot of water for potatoes. But right now she will touch him with her cold feet. Smell his good smell and be quiet. Remember. As long as she is next to him, with her eyes closed, they are young. She is young. He remembers things. He is not fearful of himself, or her.

Can I see myself, he says? What? Of course you can see yourself, she tells him. Why do you say that? Because, I forgot who I was this morning and I was scared. I thought if I could see myself, I would remember. She rubs his arm and he turns in the warm bed while the snow accumulates and the stove grows cold.

He falls back into barely perceivable breathing so Isolina slips out of the bed and downstairs, where she drags on her rubber boots and goes outside to get firewood. There is not much left. The split wood, anyway. Tomorrow she will need to split some more.

Inside, downstairs, it is chilly. She works up the wood stove and he yells to her.  It is too hot up here!

Remember when we lived on the beach and you loved the heat, she wants to say. But he won't, so she does not try and remind him. She goes upstairs, opens a window, and back downstairs, she starts some water to boil potatoes. When that gets going, she starts some bread. The yeast, the sugar, water, flour. Isolina puts her face close to the bowl and breathes. Making something. Make anything.

He is breathing and she is watching him breath. Close eyes. Smell. Forget. Remember. He wanted this. He wanted here. This is easy for him, she thinks. This is not easy for me, she thinks. But I can be happy anywhere with him. But where is he?

Down by the river, while he sleeps and she stokes the woodstove, the heavily-clad woman, the one who slipped into the river that morning, stands waving at Isolina. Who IS that woman? Isolina wonders. She has no one to ask. Him? He would think she was crazy. Him.

The bread is rising for the second time and the potatoes are done. Now, some butter, which he will say will make him fat, and some rosemary and salt. Potatoes make me fat, he says. And butter is bad for my heart, he says. He lays in his bed, a skeleton and hurting for comfort. Butter and potatoes are kind to his stomach, she thinks, and besides, that is all they have. Except for peach juice.

I want peanut butter and jelly, he says. She takes the bowl of potatoes and the fresh bread downstairs and places it on the table. The woman is back, just down from the deck, looking back at Isolina. Waving.

I am lonely, Isolina thinks. He calls from the bedroom upstairs. Where are you he says. He is lonely too. In his world where he does not know who he is. Where he needs to look into a mirror to know that he is someone, somewhere, somehow. But even then.

There is a woman by the river, she wants to tell him. I wonder what she is doing there, she wants to ask. What would he say? Nothing maybe. But even then, if he did, it would be gone again in a moment.

I miss him, she thinks. I want him back from where I cannot retrieve him. He needs me. But I am emptying out real fast. That's it. I am empty she thinks.

She slips her rubber boots back on. Picks up the potatoes and bread from the table and steps out the door. She walks down the path towards the river. The woman is gone. Isolina steps down onto the frozen moss, onto a rock. Precarious. Real. Odd, perceptable, but disconnected.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

October 2012 Some Rain and Recipes

It was raining today.  Nothing unusual in this season of rain which lasts for months.  The electric was out, something unnoticeable for hours until the dark skies caused me to flip the switch in the cave-like bathroom.

I am making banana ketchup today.  It requires ginger, onions, a few spices. and of course, bananas.  Bubble and stir.  On the gas stove.  No need for electric.  On another gas burner, a huge pot simmers jars and lids.  The rain so loud I cannot hear the dog and cat fussing,  or my Mista calling out that there is no internet.   

On another gas burner simmers brine for bread and butter pickles and on the last burner, eggs bobbing.  I canned my sauerkraut.  Four new large heads of purple heads of cabbage sit behind me in a basket, waiting to be rotkraut,  red sauerkraut, a cast-off from my days in Germany.   Rotkraut requires some sugar towards the end of the process, while regular kraut does not

I towel off from a mad dash to the fogon, my outdoor smoker/kitchen to retrieve onions for bread and butter pickles, and an apron full of potatoes to go with the smoked pork and sauerkraut we will have for dinner. 

Last night was clear, and lovely.  We had dinner by kerosine lamp and finished off a dish of stuffed squash leaves.  We danced in the lamp light flicker to Miles Davis.  

Grape leaves, being unavailable, squash leaves, rinsed and plunged for a few minutes in salted water, make a wonderful substitute.  For the filling (make extra for meatballs) you take a half pound of ground pork, a half pound of ground beef, a teaspoon of ground fennel, a teaspoon of the following: hot pepper flakes, salt and sugar.  Mix that all up with the addition of a splash of vinegar and chill in the fridge.  Make some rice.  If you want some meatballs, add an egg, pat them out and freeze them firm in the freezer now. Take the rest and mix it 1/3 rice 2/3 meat mix and add a little tomato paste if you like.  I like it a little saltier so I add some more salt and a little fresh ground pepper as well.  Lay out your cooled, simmered squash leaves (or cabbage, or grape leaves).  Place a couple tablespoons or more of the mixture on the leaf and roll it up, tucking in e sides of the leaf as you go. Once you have all your rolls done up, drizzle some olive oil in a casserole pan, line up the little beauties, cover with a fresh tomato sauce and bake for one hour at 350 degrees.  These freeze well.  

New tendrils of squash plants (overgrown, out-of-control patches like mine have many) make a wonderful addition to any oriental soup.  Snip them off, rinse in warm salt water, plunge into your broth and continue with your favorite recipe.  With my prolific squash vines, I can harvest constantly, and found that in the absence of collard greens, these work just fine.  The squash leaf is virtually impervious to pests here.  Other greens, not so much.  A big pot of simmered squash leaves with onions and my home-smoked bacon puts me into a coma.  Especially with chombo cornbread on the side.  

With kerosine lanterns, a charged-up iPad for music and a gas stove, we always have perfect evening.  

Next time...hushpuppies (hard to explain the name to Panamanians), some banana ketchup and cold beer over ice with clamato juice, lime and hot sauce.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A holiday message from a family member

An portion of a nice holiday email from a family member:

"You could care less about your family. And if you say you do, you’re a liar. If you cared about your country you would be here and not there excepting our money and bitching about how its being run."

Guess this family member doesn't appreciate the fact that I have spent more time visiting MY mother and MY family in the past ten years than he has. Guess this family member also doesn't realize that I get no money from my country, nor do I expect to ever get a dime though I paid in for 35 years. And I can bitch all I fucking want.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Week in Photos

This week, and a few previous weeks, have been consumed by rain. By carving. By woodfires and mud and cooking and cats and clay. Anyway, here are some photos of time arrested by weather. They include a baby in a tree, some coffee cherries, a cat, a bone carving I made. I am not sure what else will load up. But this is my week. Photo descriptions are below the photos.

a wild cat tamed

some clay tiles

a fire to fire the clay tiles

looking out the back door

how folks get to and from work

handsome contemplation

a bone carving I made

starting a face on a stump

a baby in a tree

I also started some saurkraut, but it isn't that interesting to take a picture of...had a lovely weekend respite with some friends which gives me strength to face the week of coffee business ahead.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Yes, I still smoke. It’s the worst addiction of all, I think, but I enjoy it. One of the things non-smokers are missing out on these days are the clever photos featured on every pack. The rotted, nicotine-stained teeth, the guy with the tracheotomy, tombstones, gangrenous toes. Here are some samples:

The best one, by far…very artsy and creative, is this one:

Friday, September 23, 2011

The video is sort of fixed?

I was able to get the video to load up, though it is off-center (?!?!?!) and slow to load on my Fred Flintstone laptop. Anyway, scroll down a few posts to find it. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Livin' Wide...Apples and Oranges

Livin’ Wide

Had I started a blog when we first moved to Panama, I would have called it “Livin’ Wide”. Not “Large”, not “Long”, not “Wild”. “Wide” meaning just branching out, experiencing everything, taking it all in. But, as it was, I started the blog in the Patagonia region of Chile, and the nearest town was Futaleufu, and I could not pass on that name. Futalandia it was, and is. That experience, in Patagonia, in Futaleufu, epitomizes the experience of being an adventurer in the sense that you don’t know what is waiting for you. Not at the next corner, the next day or the next moment.

Futalandia is the state of vertigo mixed with pleasure and dread. I learned living “wide” in Patagonia, yet I realize now that kindergarten started in Panama. It just wasn’t as harsh here. There were not stinging slaps on the wrists, no time-outs, no notes home to parents. Panama is more kind, a little more forgiving. The bitter winters don’t rush down and crush you; you have a chance to make mistakes.

In Patagonia, a mistake could mean serious consequences…your limbs, a digit, your life, or more importantly, your self-respect. I know. Patagonia humiliated me, but...I love her still. So I wonder why…why do I miss it? Panama has beauty so stunning it’s mind-boggling. The country people are incredible in their resourcefulness and graciousness. Sticks turn into trees and birds the colors of balloons swoop over the starkest towns and pueblos. It’s a lovely place, and I LOVE it dearly.

I think the reason I miss Patagonia is the people. Against all odds, with the most harsh and beautiful landscapes on earth, they thrive with gusto. I think that when you feel most vulnerable, you also feel most alive. And I felt vulnerable in Patagonia. In Panama I feel comfortable. Content. It’s easy here.

Someone once asked me to write about why we chose Chile once over Panama. I was offered a few bottles of fine Chilean wine…nothing to pass over lightly with the nearest town hours away. But, I said, I can’t. We didn’t choose Chile over Panama. It's Apples and Oranges.

And it makes a great fruit salad.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I might BE God

I am not a "religious" person, however, I was thinking about things tonight and realized that I might be God. This realization is both empowering and frightening.
Empowering because I feel like I might be just a tad in control. Frightening because so many fucking idiots are running around actually controlling shit.

And this is what preceeded my "awakening".

The religious right, right-wingers, christian conservatives and tea-partiers want GOD in their government, but they don't want Christ's teachings to be the basis for their policies. Down on your luck? Screw you lazy assholes. No work? Too bad. Create your own job. Sick, tough luck. Remember "What Would Jesus Do?" wrist bands so popular a while back? I know what Jesus would do, she'd be puking her guts at the hipocracy over the use of her teachings.Shame, shame, shame on what the US is doing in the name of Christianity in politics right now.

In fact, just to share a very personal experience, Jesus (as I call her for short) stopped by tonight and said, "Mom...I mean, God." Yes, my daughter, I said. She sat down on the front porch and peeled a ripe banana as the hummingbirds buzzed in the feeders.

You know how kids are. They run off all full of themselves, thinking they know what the world is all about. Jesusa comes by when she's needy. Depressed and feeling a little short in the confidence department. I love that girl, but she needs a reality check sometimes.

Free will, Baby, that's what I tell her was the basis for this experiment.

Jesusa starts whining, "I said alot of things way back in the day. And I had hoped that people would use the things I said as "guidelines".

Yes, I said, you did, and it was good shit. You are a bright kid, Jesusa, I assured her. (She was looking a little pale and down-trodden).

"But these folks these days pick and choose and it's not what I meant." I was squeezing oranges and she took the bucket of spent orange halves over to the fence and tossed them to the cows.

"I didn't mean all this, Mom," she said. "I didn't mean for people to value life before birth, then let their fellow humans flounder until death while the "money-changers" live in oppulence! You remember the "money-changers" Mom?"

I told Jesusa yes, I remembered. I told her way back in the day that her philosophy was too complex for the idiots. I told her they would pick and choose her words, her deeds and bastardize them. I told her that they would love what made them wealthy and priviledged and reject those ideas and teachings that "imposed" upon them hardships and took a peanut from from their snack tray. Selfish...that's what I told her many people are...but she believed they were compasionate and kind.

"My Golden Rule, Mom! That is the true basis of the meaning of living a good life." She sat there with orange pulp sitcking in her hair and cried.

I pulled Jesusa onto my lap. The stars came out in the late dim evening light.

"Look," I said, "This didn't work. They didn't want to be decent and kind. So look at all the other places we can try this again! Look at all the possibilities," I said as the Milky Way luminesced above in the dark Panamanian sky.

She smiled and said, "Do you think Dad loves me? He never calls."

"Oh my, Jesusa,", I lamented. "You know... your Dad...he has all those control issues and he's busy with the Tea Party."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

May God Bless and Keep You

Joyful and Awesome, or Not

I once stood in the snow and thunder, at the foot of a glacier. How do I up that one? I don’t, can’t. But I find monumentally insignificant moments that compare. Like when it rains so hard here that I cannot hear the cellphone ring and my mind goes blank. Like when I take a nap and wake up in time to take the bread out of the oven, all by accident. Joy and Awe are not necessarily big and spectacular, more often they are small things. Chile was big. Patagonia was bigger. It knocked me over, and over, and over. But I have realized that I can find joy and awe just as powerful in Panama, or, for that matter, anywhere. It might be the small, old Gnabe woman with a heavy bag strapped across her head, walking five kilometers up the road. I stop.

Donde va? I say. Arriba, she says. I have to open the car door for her because, I suspect she rarely has ridden in a car and does not know how to open, or close it. She settles her pack on her lap and seems uncomfortable.

Como se llama, I ask. Isolina, she says. And I let off the gas, letting the car slow as I have a flashback. Isolina… “isolated woman”. I knew Isolina, an Isolina, in Patagonia. She was a tough, illusive woman. Kind, rough, inside herself.

“May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others and let others do for you….”

I think of this Bob Dillon song, then realize that all Isolina May do is have just enough food to keep from starving. That she May have been borrowed or won in a fight, that she May see her children or grandchildren live the same subsistence living. That she May sleep on a bamboo bed, May get medical care once a year, May have three-quarters of her children survive, and most definitely at the age of 55-years, be picking coffee eight-hours a day for eight dollars come season.

I don’t know what Gnabe people wish for. I don’t know what gives them joy. Alexi, the young man who worked clearing some of the coffee field here seemed to find joy in his cell phone, and in making a snare, and in anticipation of returning home to his family in Bocas del Toro. Does Isolina wish for anything? Maybe wishing is the same as finding joy. I hope so…

There is the quiet life of people around us here…without the name-brand clothes, with their gentle, solemn living. When Dylan sings, “May you build a ladder to the stars, and …climb on every rung,” I wonder…what does it feel like to you have nothing to build a ladder with? Maybe if you don’t know there is a ladder to build?

I wonder.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Video of My New Life in Panama

You will all be jealous of the "opulencia" of my new home and life in Panama. I'm sorry, but I just have to gloat: