Monday, October 31, 2011

Scraps and Oakum IV

 Sloppily assembled

 Self-writing joke

Still intact 

Minor conflict

Happy Halloween, all.   -YWP

Friday, October 28, 2011


If you enjoy a stroll through the woods in New England, you will likely find stone walls. A very short moment in each year is the harvest.  Mechanized now, the harvest was once a near-panicked and frantic race for many seasons.  Making hay is even a risky venture with New England weather.  I occasionally bird hunt in up-state New York amongst the cleanly-shorn fields where some of the migratory birds glean the errant grains from the ground.

The labor is poured out, elbows and backs wear down... some will never be the same.  Toes and fingers are crushed, and shoulders on men both young and old pinch during a pre-dawn stretch. In April, it's still cool enough for hard work, and there won't be too many biting insects.  Burning stumps and brush tend to smoke the clothing, and at the end of the day, the clothes are better kept by the door instead of in the bedroom... it goes back on the next morning. They smell, but it's the arms and joints that complain the loudest.

Then... the field is used as intended... grazing, agriculture, hunting... if children find dead animals they poke them with sticks.  Season after season of harvests. Relatives and neighbors are brought in to pike and rope the assembled beams on a new structure... treenails are commanded home and Mother brings out sandwiches cut into triangles while water is gulped from ladles or tankards.

Years later, Father dies after a few years of being a grandfather.  Mother goes ten years after.  The children have moved to the town with the grandchildren and the cousin takes over the farm.  His ruined shoulder kept him out of the Great War.  He scales back the production and leases more out.  Buildings start to age, and the barn roof will go three seasons too far, first bowing, then sagging, and then opening up.  Equipment rusts away and wood rots away.  The land is long since grazed, and saplings take hold like bacteria besting a neglected wound.

The land returns to forest, and the cousin, now elderly, occasionally walks the stone wall, remembering his childhood and the seasons of building it.  He saw a bear a decade ago, but not since.  Coyotes are returning. He remembers his uncle sitting on the wall smoking a pipe, he remembers acorn-throwing play-wars with the other children, and he thinks he remembers hiding an old pocket knife somewhere in the stones.  What was the hen's name?  The milk cow was named "Seffa".  Everyone and everything has changed, nieces and nephews rarely visit or write, and the others are dead.  The wall has held up better than any of them. Those damn stones. A nice young doctor from Concord wants to buy the land... thinks he'll start an orchard. He must be as dumb as the wall itself.

All photos are Eric Sloane illustrations.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Flea and Several Hounds

Purchased at Top Shelf Flea Market IV over the weekend from Zachary Deluca for less than $40.  100% wool and not too heavy.  

A tie picked up from Giuseppe's booth.  Hounds catching the scent.

Liquor prices at the bar could be fulfilled with pocket change.  Some excellent vintage finds... even Mrs. found plenty, and my son's Auntie brought home a dead fox for her shoulders.  I was happy to meet many of the folks I've known only by email (a bad way to maintain an association), especially a particularly well-dressed Pacific Northwest power broker attorney who bounced around the city with me afterwards, sampling comfortable leather chairs and exceedingly comfortable drinks.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Easily Influenced: Love Letters and Sunkist Soda

For almost forty years, a woman named Joan worked for Grandmother, and it was Joan who actually ran the house.  Joan was deputized as de facto first lieutenant, and she took her job very seriously.  She had her own room at the other end of the house, and kept the pace exacting, regular, and perfectly coordinated to Grandmother.  My older cousins called her the Gendarme, and she would give us a “five-minute warning” to clear ourselves and possessions from the lawn before the mowers started, and then literally chase us away once they could be heard.  My father always described her as “having the warmth of a German combined with the openness of a Yankee”.

Joan was a widow who saw three sons go off to Vietnam, but only one return.  Her surviving son was the local mailman, and he was virtuosic in memory and had never had a cold, fever, or sickness as far as anyone could recall.  He was dependable and friendly, and lived by a cowboy code of refusing to gossip, which frustrated those along his route.  He would walk the mail up to the big houses and collect required signatures, etc. and often delivered hand notes between neighbors.


Grandmother’s cousin had moved to California --to Hollywood of all places-- in his thirties, partly to find himself, to crash several sportscars, and mostly to piss off his father and mother (Grandmother’s aunt and uncle).  He had scandalized his uptight parents with accounts (by letter) of lavish poolside parties and relentless name-dropping of disliked Hollywood figures, none of which played well with that portion of the family, but which suited Grandmother surprisingly well.  Even when both were much older, Grandmother liked visiting her cousin, his parties and the guests, and Joan would always go out to California with her to keep things in order and assist with logistics.

On one trip during the late seventies, Joan met a younger handsome former hippie/actor who charmed her irreparably, and for the first time in her life, she actively began dating.  It was a strange and improbable match, but Joan had given herself completely to this man, and Grandmother was happy to see a bounce form in her step because of it.  They dated for the entire spring, and Joan spent all of her free-time with him. She also began to hum and sing around the house Grandmother rented in Hollywood for the spring. 


That summer, Grandmother and Joan returned to the New England coast, and began the process of opening the seaside house for the summer with the usual efficiency.  When we arrived, everything was in its place and running as expected, but Joan was noticeably different.  She kept a small battery powered radio by her side in her small office, and sent away for Beach Boys records that her son would deliver, played every evening when she was off-duty in her room.  Within a month, she sang along to all of them, having memorized the lyrics.  She wrote letters to her beau at the rate of almost one per week, and her son accepted them each morning during his rounds.  As the weeks passed, the love-struck Joan waited for a letter to be answered, but a response never came.  Her son, would always hand her the daily bundle of mail, and say in his characteristically honest tone that he had not seen any letters from the man in question.  Joan concealed her disappointment as best she could, but even the children could tell that she was wounded. 

Joan’s son was married that summer, and Grandmother surprised him by sending them on a honeymoon to Europe for three weeks.  It was the only vacation time he had ever taken from work (excluding his tour in Vietnam) and they shipped off in early August.  His replacement was an older capable mailman who was unfamiliar with the route, but still friendly and professional.  During his first week, he walked up to the house with the mail.  The bundle also contained Joan’s letters to her beau, all postmarked and stamped by the California post office as UNDELIVERABLE and ADDRESS UNKOWN

“These were sitting down at the office” he said, handing her the letters.  She stared at them for a moment and then took them into the house, disappearing into her room for several hours.


When her son returned, tanned and refreshed from Europe, he walked up to the house on his first day back in uniform, with gifts for everyone, the nicest of which he gave to Grandmother.  His thankful bride sent about two dozen pies throughout the following week and we ate ourselves stupid.  According to my father (who recalled the conversation below), Joan asked her son if there were any letters for her from California, and he responded as usual “No, sorry, Mum… none today.”

“Do you think they’re getting through?” She said, giving her son the chance to come clean.

“Of course, Mum.  I’m sure he’s reading them.”

“Okay.” She said, knowing that he had sweetly been shielding her from the disappointment the entire time, in the only way a son knew how.

“See you tomorrow, Mum.”

“Okay, Marcus… glad you’re home safely.”


Several summers later, my cousins and I were watching a tiny TV during a rainy summer day by the sea.  There was a commercial for Sunkist orange soda that incorporated a Beach Boys song (“Good Vibrations”) and featured a catamaran launching off of an oncoming wave, ostensibly in southern California.  My cousins and I were gobsmacked.  We immediately knew that we were going to attempt the same feat.  It took about three days to sweet-talk and arrange for use of a catamaran, which was a small (ubiquitous) Hobie, and three of us set out to perform the jump, speculating about the height, the gasps from onlookers the jump would elicit, and the likely heroic status we would have for the rest of the summer.  We were also certain that Sunkist would want us in their next commercial.  As it turned out, Sunkist would likely not have been impressed at all by the pitch-poling disaster, the embarrassment of a spectacular capsizing, the loss of one pair of boat shoes, the stitches required for two foreheads, and the pleasure craft that thankfully came to our rescue.

***UPDATE: I was just corrected via text message by one of the participants:

"you got it wrong dork!!! nobody got stitches. only big bandages. bled like crazy tho."

My apologies, Cuz.   -YWP

Saturday, October 22, 2011

River Style

A weekend+ trip to the Ozarks for some much-needed fishing.  Saturday afternoon, I checked into my cabin and took a canoe for a solo trip down the river for a few hours as the late sun set in the cliff-lined river as the trout fed on a hatch all around me.  Before sunrise the next morning, I enjoyed a lumberjack's breakfast before meeting my Ghillie for a full day of guided fishing.  Gorgeous rainbow and brown trout, frigid tail-water, and warm sun in cloudless skies gave us a perfect day.

 Drift Boat piloted by an expert Ghillie.

Straw hat for the Ozark sun.

Waders, reel, and wading boots. 

 Offensively yellow socks worn under waders.  The picture does not do them justice... they are almost day-glow.  My Ghillie was not impressed, but he was diplomatic.

Gorgeous vistas.

Last remaining rental in the lot... an American muscle car.  It made the drive fun with a strong rumbling engine and firm suspension.

One final fruit hangs on. 

The trout-enriched White River.

The landscape and its relic.

An evening out with with friends.  Grilled fresh-water fish and barbecue were washed down with beer purchased in one of the few counties that allow alcohol.

I've fished these waters before and am always impressed.  Baptist-heavy counties are voted "dry" by their citizenry, outlawing the sale of ANY type of alcohol (though the tide seems to be turning) and everyone smokes.  Sore hands and forearms from paddling, rowing and casting and the first lip-chapping of the year... all well worth it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Those Boats, Those Boots

At 06:00, the boxer puppy barfed on me for the second time since midnight.  It was December of 2002, close off the coast of Ireland, and we had anchored the evening before.  I was the guest aboard the boat that belonged to the father of my close friend.  His father had made good during the huge up-swing of the Celtic Tiger, and was within a year of retiring.  In fact, they had all done well.  They were smart and hard-working, and all in their twenties.  I had raced with many of them back in Boston and around the northeast, and I took the two weeks before Christmas for a visit to Dublin and the coasts.  

Their father slept aft in the larger berth, my friend and his brother in the bow, and I took one of the mid-ships bunks.  The puppy was sea-sick, and had spent the entire night breaking wind and whining.  After it puked on me for the second time, I decided to get up.

Within an hour, we (minus the puppy) planned a trip to one of the small islands nearby.  The father stayed aboard “to care for the dog”, which obviously meant that he intended to sleep for a while longer.  The boat’s tender was a long (17-or-so feet) Whitehall with two sets of oarlocks, a small sail rig, and a sturdy rudder.  We lowered some things into it and argued over which two would row, and who got to sit holding the tiller.  I ended up as one of the rowers.

We pulled hard through the nasty gray winter drizzle that (of course) had turned to rain the moment we set out.  Towards the lee-shore we stretched out the oars, my friend in the stern steering us along and laughing as he sarcastically shouted out rowing commands.  Jerk.

The tender ran up to the pebbly beach and we dragged it ashore.  After hiking a small grass path, we came to the ruins of an old structure that provided a half-roof under which we could cower, while my friend started up his Whisperlite camping stove (bought in Freeport, Maine the summer before).  Within minutes, the tiny kettle was boiling, and we steeped our Assam tea.  From his pocket, the brother produced some scones in a plastic zip-bag, and we sat on the broken and rotting beams and dunked the scones into the piping hot tea and laughed about the poor dog. 

We hiked the small island for a while, feet warm and dry, and returned to the tender.  Again, I lost the bid to steer, but I did secure the aft-most rowing position, and my friend had to absorb the wind and spray across his back instead of mine, while the brother quietly steered, facing into the wind.  It was a rough pull to windward, and when we finally muscled alongside the boat, we remembered that we had left the small camping stove in the ruins back on the island.  At least I was able to man the tiller once.

I was borrowing a pair of Dubarry boots for the trip.  I had never even heard of them, though the father and two boys each had two pair, and took sympathy on me for my (perfectly adequate, thank-you-very-much) winter Wellies.  A few months later, I was fitted for a pair, and my feet were happier for the switch.  

I have worn them on bird hunts, at miserable and hopelessly muddy outdoor events, and on the VERY few occasions when I get guilted into serving on race committee during the fall or early winter.  They are pricy buggers, but the cost is appropriate.  They are warm, dry, soft, and sturdy.  They don’t feel like heavy boots, and they are both breathable and absolutely water-proof.  Thankfully, unlike other boots, they tend to remain on the feet of those who use them for their intended purposes, and are only occasionally seen going from an SUV to a chain coffee shop.

Anytime Dubarry has a booth at a show or convention, their salespeople perform this this cutesy demonstration.

They are funny looking, but they work.  The hover somewhere in the $400 - 500 range (location depending) and the company is pretty good to deal with.  I have never walked city streets with them on, even during winter.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Practical Clothing and the Subtle Landscape

An extended weekend with clear blue skies and warm air was well-timed.  The moment was seized with leisurely drive out of the city to half-day at a fair where ribbons of varying colors had been awarded to all manner of vegetable, animal, and flower.  A sunflower head the size of a small tire sat near a pumpkin that weighed nearly a ton.  A booth sizzled away with an aroma that was magnetic... battered and deep-fried peanut-butter and jelly sandwich.  Twinkies and Oreos battered and fried?  Yes.  Hell yes.  Battered and fried cheesecake?  I'm listening.  Thankfully, Mrs. and the others were off looking at the exotic ducks, because I knew the face she would make if she saw me consuming batter-dipped deep-fried dessert on a stick.

"We fry all of it, Sir" the man in the apron told me.  The small spotted scars on his hands and forearms told me that he had plenty of experience dropping things into hot cooking fat.  

"I wish I had known that" I said. "I had a bacon cheeseburger earlier.  I could have had you fry it" I sighed.

"I would have, Sir" he said.

Neither of us were joking.

Onward to New Hampshire for a last weekend on the fresh spring-fed glacial lake.  Swamp maples always turn first.  Some call them swamp fires, because of the brilliant red leaves that appear first in autumn.

That Monday was the popular trubute to that Johnny-come-lately Chris Columbus... I'm of the Leif Ericson doctrine.  Would that make it a Valholiday?  I know, dumb joke.

 This might be what the Abenaki and the first settlers saw when they hunted and fished.  The marshes turn early in autumn, and the cooler temperature bring the trout back to the more shallow depths.

A patch ironed onto the inside of a rip.  Boat shoes are preferred for pulling docks from the water and I have not fallen in since 2007.  My day will come again.  On the last boating day of the season, I decided to go for one last swim.  I climbed onto the stern of the boat and plunged into the HOLY %#*@$! THIS WATER IS COLD for a bracing swim.

 A sweater that is older than me and lives at the lake. A shirt I've had since high school, with a hopelessly fletched collar.  Don't let other blogs fool you... this logo was not considered cool throughout the late 80's and into the 90's.

Season's last family paddle.

[Above photo zoomed in]

On the drive back to the city...
 Landscape's beacon.

Public Library 

 Architectural flourishes are actually very practical features.

The HQ of the iconic magazine.

The New England landscape is not wild.  The nucleated villages are specifically laid out.  Houses built before the 1800's had central chimneys and faced south to absorb as much sunlight as possible.  Only after the classical revival period (1815 - 1825) did the end-gables face the streets.  The woods you see are not the wild virgin forest we often assume.  Vast acreage of southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts were once cleared for farming.  Laboriously assembled stone walls still line many property lines along the road, originally laid after two or more seasons of painfully excavating the stones.

Sturdy maple trees also line the road, but they were planted there to make tapping easier, as syrup makers prefer not to wander all over the woods changing buckets.  Now, the trees are connected with modern tubing, and the reservoir is emptied and reduced inside the home to create the desired grade of syrup.  Steeples are also the Yankee landscape's permanent beacons, and columns of smoke are visible year round in many parts.  Besides large highways, the landscape was not changed in any macro sense the way oxbows or the occasional dam alter things.

An autumn cocktail is made well with Maple bitters.  A bar in Central Square mixes it with Canadian whisky and lemon.  A colleague, who told me about the bar, appeared in the office in this soft herringbone suit.

Modern trends have made rye and bitters very popular again, and like three-piece suits and dressing intentionally, this trend resurrects what was once very common.  Not all trends are bad.  If your style doesn't change much, you will likely come in and out of "fashion" about every twelve years.  If you think tight high-water pants and sockless dress shoes are here to stay, you likely also think that the LL Bean Signature aesthetic is here to stay too.  Talk to me in five years.  If you think that the urban woodsman/lumberjerk look is permanent, you likely can't repair engines, can't load/shoot/clean a gun, and can't swing an axe.

Baked ham with maple glaze.  French-Canadian farmer's (meat) pie is topped with syrup.  My tie this morning also has a few spots of Grade A on it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Reviving Shirts VI

A pink (T. Pink) shirt of mine had some blue staining on the cuff that would not come out, even after several professional attempts.

I also had a Lewin shirt that had been ruined by a dry-cleaner during a long business trip several years ago. The cleaner had apparently used bleach on the collar and cuffs, and the damage ruined the shirt (for business purposes).  It's possible that the cleaner was used to bleaching white shirts in this way as standard procedure... mine didn't really need it to begin with... I'm just not that filthy.

Two shirts, both marred, but enough parts to reformulate.

The cuffs could be reversed to hide the bleached areas.  The blue striped collar on the pink shirt would have looked great if it hadn't been damaged.

Contrast-collars are easy to find, but contrast-cuffs are more rare.  It's actually rather subtle, now that I look at it.  I hiked back my jacket sleeve for effect.

Good enough for business, and I only had to part with $12.