Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Humble Thanksgiving in Futa

I began Thanksgiving day planning - the day before. Mistake number one. With no turkeys to be found in Futa, I had the bright idea to buy a live goose. That was mistake number two. As in, cook what you know, don't try something new when preparing a feast for new guests. So, on Wednesday I traipsed around Futa and found the goose guy, then around with him looking for his flock. Once corralled, he snatched one up by it's long, elegant neck and stuffed it in an old grain sack. Money was exchanged and I plopped the bag in the front seat of the truck. Turned out to be another mistake as a bird suddenly stuffed into a sack is likely to expel green, runny excrement in very large amounts. As I am usually the passenger in the truck, this now looks like my accident. I'm thinking, "seat covers".

Mistake number four and five...First, not secluding the old ganso and giving him nothing but water for a day. Then, enlisting Greg's help. His total participation in the premature slaughtering was to stand with the video camera mumbling, "Oh God! Oh, oh, GAWD!" But it was accomplished anyway, and the next couple of hours I spent gutting, cleaning and spitting feathers (which I craftily saved for a commemorative pillow). Finally plucked, cleaned and singed, it rested in a nice brine in the fridge overnight.

Turkey Day...making bread, cooking squash, mixing up stuffing and finally plopping the goose in the oven, we made a table out of our packed boxes, topped with a piece of scrap press board from Bosque's shed. I covered it with a couple of Thanksgiving-colored throws and fretted over the fact that I only have three forks and 10 soup spoons to set the table with. Sweep the floor, throw all miscellaneous clutter under the couch, set the garbage outside the back door (another mistake with the neighborhood dogs slinking around). Crack open a beer and periodically check the goose which is deceptively looking quite nice. But then so does wax fruit in a bowl. Doesn't mean you can actually eat it. The seasoned, roasted squash seeds were more tender than the bird.

But so, and anyway...Nono and Ismael arrive exactly on time and seem to appreciate that I've set a decorative table (complete with a home made basket containing the bread, and some dried fall flowers from last year). Either that, or they thought me daft for putting dead flowers on a table made of cardboard boxes. We cracked open some beers before dinner, and they tried the pickled deviled eggs. "Interesting," they proclaimed. No matter what they really meant, the plate was finished quickly and I popped into the kitchen to take out the goose and mash the potatoes.

Dinner is served! The goose was gamey, and tough. We ate it anyway. They loved the stuffing, which really was good, and finished up the mashed potatoes while rejecting the gravy. Instead, they smeared the home made bread with the potatoes and thought it was "very good". Plates were scraped into a doggy bag, for their dog. We poured wine and watched a Spanish version of Funniest Home Videos on the computer online and laughed. Then a little talk of tomorrow, what everyone might be doing, hugs and kisses good night, and it was over.

So, a Thanksgiving in Futa, and an enjoyable one for me. I'd hoped to catch family members online and say hi - love ya - miss you - but back in the US, football was on, and life is much busier than here. We piled the dishes in the kitchen, and as it got cold, pulled on another pair of socks and a second layer of quilts and slept.

One thing that was not a mistake...spending an evening with good friends over food prepared with the best intentions. And being thankful.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ohio Thanksgiving mid-1960's

Thanksgiving for us growing up was never about the Pilgrims and Indians, though we spent many an hour in school carving feathers for turkeys and Indians with snub-nosed scissors from faded construction paper...remember those nifty paper head dresses put together with edible glue? Back then, if we were lucky, we could still find an arrow head, if only in a treasure box in grandpas desk...dug up from a field on the north side of the farm. The barn would still be warm and dusty though outside it was cold and overcast...Uncle Virgil would sneak in to spit on our new shoes and generally just creep us out. In the farmhouse, filled with coats and relatives, the coal furnace could not be regulated and we would almost die of the heat. Talk was of Grange meetings, government subsidies. In the mid-1960's, the small family farm was an endangered species...we were all on the way to a zoo, of sorts. That farm, that house, those trees and land and pond and black flies and is still there. But nothing works now. It's a museum.

This Thanksgiving, I wonder if the ghosts are mingling around, down the quarter-mile drive from the road to the old, leaning farm house. What will Uncle Virgil do since we aren't there for him to spit on our shoes? No one can knock on our ratty, blonde heads and ask uncaring about our school work. Ghosts. Grandma Briner with her unnaturally young hands red in scalding dishwater, the flaky crusts of pies, the congealing gravy boat, wool coats smelling of mothballs piled in the bedroom. Grandpa Briner sitting in his recliner, grinning some secret grin. Aunts and Uncles, weather, always the weather, and subsidies. Then the younger men, and a few renegade older ones, would head out to hunt, everyone admiring who had grown the best beard, and lightly mocking the sparse growers. Uncle Bob...where DID he come from! Wide, and stocky, a big, thick beard if he tried or not, gun tipped over his shoulder like it grew there. Masculine men, and quiet farmers. My father, tall, young, eyes that laughed and found fun and joy in everything. And back in the house, the silent, demure lesbian aunts, who lived in humbled subservience. Pretend. Don't ask. Don't tell. School Teachers, Nurses, lonely companions pretending to be spinsters. My mother, a city gal, so to speak, with nothing in common but trying to fit in anyway, sneaking out with Aunt Dorothy to have a smoke...the only thing that connected the two. Guffawing at Uncle Virgil. He buried a million dollars in his yard you know. Aunt Donna, no one realized she was a wonderful tapestry artist caught in a hideous marriage to a twisted old man. Maybe it worked for them. No children, thank god!

Thanksgiving, with little rivulets of frozen water in the ditches along down the lane to the country highway. The slamming of a screen door and a sharp reminder to not track mud in. Hand-mashed potatoes with lumpless gravy. Hand cranked ice cream with last years' maple syrup. Too far to drive home tonight. All three of us kids falling to sleep in the middle of a sagging mattress under a mound of quilts. And oatmeal with brown sugar for breakfast. I pee the bed and blame it on Howard. Jeff, the little one wanders over to stand on the iron-grated heat register in his pajamas, damp from pee, oblivious and happy.

Why Not

A compilation video slideshow of our first visits to Patagonia Chile. Why not?


Now, it's Thanksgiving week. There are backpacks and boxes and canvas pouches with bits of our lives in various stages of sorting and packing and unpacking. There are little bags of produce and breads hanging on nails on the wall in the kitchen. I splurged on a small jar of peanut butter, over $4 US for such a treasure treat. I haven't thought if I will make a turkey, or goose this week, probably not. Maybe I'll make some buffalo turkey wings, a compromise. Or maybe like last year I'll get up and forget what day it is and make a pot of beans. I'm thankful everyday anyway. Mostly.

Letter to Diane

November ?, 2008

Dear Diane,

My one and only true friend - who I've neglected over these crazy past seven years. How you still consider me as a friend, I'll never know. I've never felt so isolated, alone, frustrated and tired. I am sitting here in my beautiful but unfinished house by a stunning river. But I'm sitting in a $5 plastic chair with a fruit crate for a table. There is so much undone. I have no joy, and no desire to even start on anything. I look around at my pathetic attempts to make this place a home...baskets I made from Ivy and willow twigs down by the river when it was warm. Punched copper lampshades I made for lightbulbs that have no electricity running to them. The lovely woven wool throws and tapestries with nothing to throw or drape them on...rugs, a cow hide, and a hadn-hooked rug laying on a raw-wood floor. Books with no shelf to put them on. It's a Hobo House with no joy. It's raining, and I have pneumonia. Doesn't that beat all?

This (Patagonia)is probably the worlds MOST BEAUTIFUL place, but it is also the hardest place in the world to live. With the volcano destroying Chaiten and the port, we are even more cut-off and isolated. It is a Twilight Zone of massive proportions. If it were the "end times" of a catostrophic world melt down, here is where I would want to be. But because it is not the end of the world, it feels like it here. It's hard.

I know I'm a whining bag of shit, but I need to whine and piss and moan. And the crazy thing is, I LOVE Patagonia. I didn't even flinch when the volcano blew and a half a foot of ash covered the town and we walked around with masks and ash seeped in through window and door frames and we got our water from water trucks and it was so cold we slept in our coats and hats and I was afraid my ass would freeze to the toilet seat.

I don't know how to do this anymore though. Other people know how to do this. They grew up doing this. They know how to keep warm in the winter, dry in the spring, and grow food and fix water lines, and build chicken coops, and smoke meat and weave and knit wool and trade for milk or sugar and cheese. Their gardens pop up lush and green while my seeds die in the husks. My firewood won't catch but then it does and I burn my eyelashes off again trying to keep it going. I look in a mirror and I think, "My God! How did that happen in just one-years time?" I am an accidental hobo wishing for a white picket fence and a rocking chair and some roses in the yard. I wanted Mayberry and I got the Twilight Zone.

And the really crazy thing is...I'm ruined now. I've tasted the wild winds and pounding rain and lacey mountains and electric blue rivers...the hard meaness and soft days that craddle me in a shit-storm world, and I don't think I can ever go back to life in the U.S. Is this my tipping point? Patagonia drives me crazy. It has stabbed me in the heart and left me standing like a complete dope, yet my heart has healed around it and embraced it and fallen in love. I walked down to the screaming river a while back. The water was so cold it burned. It was a warm day and still snow on the mountains. I sat on the bank and smelled the dirt, and the water and the trees and I had a feeling like my soul was home. And as I sat there the river began to sing. It was voices, three-part harmony, just soft, but definately not my imagination. And for that moment I felt ok. In that crazy moment in time, by the river, in Patagonia, I thought, "I can't ever go back".

Diane, I know you must think I've lost my mind now, but I'm safe because I'm too far away for you to have me committed. And most likely I will not send you this letter. Who knows. I hope my other friend, Nono, will appear on the path down to the house, and in her laughing, mocking sing-song Chilena Spanish, she will pick up a brush and shame me into finishing the varnish work, or she will poke the fire with her calloused hand and it will spring up to life. She might make us come to her house for dinner where we will eat mutton with our fingers and sop up the juices with soda bread and drink chicha in chipped jelly glasses and it will be warm and happy and I will feel alright once again.


October 2008 - Returning home to Patagonia

It was such an overwhelming feeling of joy to reach the frontier of Chile at the Futa crossing yesterday. Nowhere do the Andes seem more majestic. The hard-packed volcanic ash however, still lines the 10-kilometer road leading into town and large transport trucks kick up swirling clouds of it. An omen of the season to come. Cleanup crews, rains and snows have reduced the ash somewhat, but large patches and thin layers coat the countryside. This will be a serious contention when the hot dry winds hit in December.

Futa seemed as lovely as ever when we pulled in late on Monday. The cabin smells of stale woodsmoke and I was appalled with how I left it. It will take me at least a whole day just to organize the mess before I start to clean, and pack for an eventual move to our new home (when?). But most startling was the punch in the heart I felt when it was finally real that Max is not here anymore. Remembering the email from Daniella, the Vet, I imagine Max escaping in his anger and frustration, racing down the road and positioning himself at the door here. Waiting for us to come home, defending the cabin for us. Max, sitting in front of the cabin, waiting for us to come home.

Max went out of his mind. He became a dangerous dog. My Max who slept curled up behind my legs, who had such great joy when Greg woke up and we were all there. He tried to tell us things...he would make sounds with his mouth and poke us with his nose..."I love you! I'm so happy!". He would bound with joy across the river rocks out at our property, sit for hours along side Greg with his nose easy against Greg's leg. "I'm happy as long as I'm with you". He would watch a piece of beef jerky on the counter longingly for hours without touching it, but had no resistance to a box of milk, or slab of butter or cheese. That was too much for him. He hated cats as much as mice, and there was no containing him with other dogs. A frenzy. But as long as he had us, he tried. He only wanted us.

Daniella tried, she explained in an email to us while we were in the U.S.. But when Max cornered her in her house menacingly, then escaped to our rental and tried to attack the neighbor, we had no choice. Heliberto brought Max's cage to the shed out back and lured Max into it. Later, Daneilla brought some good, fresh ground beef laced with a heavy sedative and Max was happy. He drifted into a deep sleep. Then she put in an IV line and Max left us. When he was gone, she wrapped him in a blanket and took him out to bury him at our property. Max is at peace now. I am profoundly sad that we didn't get to touch him one last time and tell him how much I loved him anyway.

This morning I am up early, I think, I don't have a watch, but it seems early, and chilly. I opened the back door to catch some sun and there is Max's crate, and his harness. And the blankets in his crate and his dishes. He only wanted us to come back home. My heart feels like a hot stone in my chest and I sit down in the doorway and put my head against the crate for awhile. I miss you Max. I'm sorry.

Anyway, I have my instant coffee, and a massive project in front of me. And a messed up ankle to confound it all. Today we need to pay the internet bill, get boxes, some bleach and get busy. Wash dishes, hang out blankets and rugs, sort and pack clothes, clean the fridge, sweep, wash walls. Find an electrician, arrange for a truck and three men to haul our furniture out to our house (when?). Organize all our junk. Time to get busy.

Busy? I've been doing this for a year, getting busy but not getting any further along. Later on, out in our unfinished house, by candle light, I write a letter to my best friend back in the U.S.