Thursday, November 29, 2007

Flocked Around.

Barry Hannah's "Water Liars," from Airships, opens with the line, "When I am run down and flocked around by the world..." Well. That's how I am today, too. Completely flocked. The drought rolls on, and I guess the good news this week is that the percentage increases in the various severity levels of the drought were smaller this week than last. The drought's still worse this week, but nowhere near as much worse as it was last week, or the week before.

I was in Tennessee. I saw Tennessee. It rained in Tennessee.

The semester draws to a close and I find new ways to disappoint the kids. The dogwalks aren't long or frequent enough. A kind of physical tiredness is settling in, and on top of all of it, I can't shake the feeling that I'm lonely.

Mostly I am just tired, tired. This, too, will pass. Tonight our little college lines up luminaries all over the place. A good percentage of them are plastic. White plastic imitations of white paper bags. We have fake luminaries.

I keep feeling like not only am I not ready for what's next, but that I am not ready in general. That story ends with "We were both crucified by the truth." I love that story. I love most of that book. I am a dragon. America the beautiful, like you will never know.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Other Illumination.

I'm still pretty hyped up about the twilight thing. I like the notion of a few guys sitting around at dusk, holding their hands out in front of their faces, arguing about how dark it is or isn't. This, then, compliments of the U.S. Navy:

"In the morning before the beginning of civil twilight and in the evening after the end of civil twilight, artificial illumination is normally required to carry on ordinary outdoor activities. Complete darkness, however, ends sometime prior to the beginning of morning civil twilight and begins sometime after the end of evening civil twilight."

And this:

"At the beginning or end of nautical twilight, under good atmospheric conditions and in the absence of other illumination, general outlines of ground objects may be distinguishable, but detailed outdoor operations are not possible, and the horizon is indistinct."

I have, all day long today, had some difficulty performing any kind of detailed operations, indoor or outdoor. I raked for maybe twenty minutes. Pulled some of the leaves out of some of the pansy beds. My brother called to report that it's a boy. I'm happy for them, genuinely so, happy they're having a kid and want to have a kid. But I don't know how to be happy about it being one sex or the other, and this feels like a distinct deficiency on my part.

Let's go to the forecast: It's somewhere between cool and cold. It's supposed to stay that way. Some little ripple may or may not be coming through tomorrow, and we may get a little moisture out of that. Keep it tuned right here, then, folks, for the latest updates.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fleece Hat.

Colder again. Just like that. Watchcap weather. I have this fleece hat this year — this year's hat — that I'm much fond of. It's the yarn monkey hand puppet I can't go to Kroger without. When I was a kid, I had a yarn monkey puppet, named Monkey, who went everywhere with me. Actually, he wasn't named Monkey. He was named Maa The Monkey. My brothers had these squeaky toys, intended originally for dogs, I think. There was a pelican and a purple gorilla. The pelican was named Pelican. The purple gorilla, of course, was named Piver the Moon.

The days are getting so short that I keep missing the evenings. Seems like it just comes on dark and that's it. Christmas lights are going up in the neighborhood. The cold front came through, and on the dogwalk I could see the Pleiades no problem, even in the wash of streetlights.

The dog's limping on her front paw again. It didn't rain enough to quite matter. Thanksgiving was a train wreck. It's basically dark by 5:45. Civil twilight has something to do with the ability to clearly distinguish terrestrial objects. Also the horizon is clearly defined. I miss my brothers. I am not ready for Christmas. I am having trouble finding the horizon. I am having trouble distinguishing terrestrial objects. I am wearing my watch cap indoors.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Much Warmer.

Well, it is. Midnight. Windy. In the sixties. Weather all screwed up. Marchlike. Just thought I'd say so.

Denser Fog.

Dense Fog Advisory. The name of a band if I've ever heard one. We're not so much gray as a kind of filthy white this morning, the sounds of the garbage trucks muted and half-hearted up against the fog and the now-wet leaves everywhere.

The Japanese Magnolia dropped every leaf it had while we were gone.

The weather pattern isn't right yet, but it's closer. There's more rain in the forecast for the end of the week. I don't want to use a word like hope. I have a friend who has a rain barrel system, though, and if we get today and tonight what they say we might get, he'll be in good shape for whatever winter stock he's got in the ground.

Data: The dog is still asleep. Phil's maples are empty. The stubborn apple trees in the back are purpling. The pansy beds are covered over in leaves. I have purchased two new hats. La Vieja's heater kicks on, kicks off. I've got 25 crocus bulbs that still need planting. For today, I'd rather live the kind of life where all I had on front of me was another pot of coffee.

Drizzle, Fog.

Home again, home again. Out of a gray Nashville dressed up right for the occasion, down and off the plateau (only the lasts of the oak leaves left), into sunshine and back over the mountains on 70 through Hot Springs, where we ate a kind of desperately needed charmed lunch — outdoors in November in the NC mountains — at the Paddler's Pub, then south and east through Asheville and back onto the Piedmont (we've still got the dregs of the maples in places) and a welcome mix of fog and rain and that cold still winter wet that makes me feel so much more at home, in every sense of that word.

Coming through the mountains the clouds were piling up on the sides of the slopes, skittering across, breaking up and coming back together. Long lines of geese in Tennessee. Hawks. Vultures. Crows flying with and against traffic. Weather coming in.

And everyone's back home now and through their own doors, bolts thrown behind them and deep breaths and scotch and coffee and dog walks and books on the shelves where you put them, where you intend for them to be. My pronouns have gone to hell here, but so be it. I know what this home thing looks like, what it's supposed to be, what's needed, what's gained. I know it better than anyone, or at least as well. But how, then, to reconcile this up against a non-negotiable demand I've got lodged in my skull that my family come back to Nashville or Atlanta once or twice a year and box all that up and drop back into the roles that we're supposed to remember, say the words we're supposed to know back to front?

And let's say one has a kid. Expand one's family: My mother's new favorite hopeful euphemism of choice. Let's say one has two, or three. One raises these spawn the best one knows how: don't shake the baby, don't pour scalding water on the baby, don't instill some set of disastrous complexes (social anxiety, nervousness, inadequacy, general shittiness) in the kid. Tell the kid her Science Fair project is good enough, for god's sake, even when it's not. Baking soda and vinegar. Gravity. Beans in a cup in the dark. These things can be tested, proven. Mainly. But let's say one does this, raises a family, gets it all somehow to hold together without death or pestilence or famine. Get them to where they can dress and feed themselves, get them finally out of the house.

What if they don't come back? Or: What if, when they come back, they're all completely damaged anyway?

Sweet potatoes. Onions in cream sauce. Turkey. And on Saturday night, as always, the roast beast. Whiskey. Wine. Coffee.

All that maybe and probably for the last time. That way, anyway. That's what's got me half-miserable right now.

But: Drizzle. Fog. I remember this. The drought's not broken, isn't going to be any time soon. But I think I remember this weather. Something about this, goddammit, looks familiar.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Snow Flurries.

And I only mention it because I sometimes worry we could go all winter in Greensboro without seeing any. It used to snow. Seven or eight years ago we got more than eight inches twice in two weeks. Haven't seen anything like that since. Here on the plateau it's 35 and flurrying. Back in 27408 the .19 inches of rain was all we got out of a system that dumped 2 inches on Atlanta. They needed it more than we did, though, so.

Celebrated Thanksgiving by slowly but surely cracking the fragile detente we'd glued onto the side of our lives. Our positions, newly staked out: Some of us simply do not much like others of us. With that firmly established, then, let's hold hands and sing songs and make construction-paper turkeys and celebrate the New World.

I think I know what happened in those early colonies like Jamestown where the people just plain dropped off the face of the earth. They had at least one too many dinners together. And, just like that, I'm now I'm an anthropologist. Anybody needing any additional expertise should please take a number and wait patiently. I will get to you as soon as I can.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Day.

Nine hours yesterday across the mountains and up onto the Cumberland Plateau and Nashville, TN for Thanksgiving with the family for what's probably the last time— new babies and aging patriarchs will probably get you every time, no? Last night, a real and honest thunderstorm. Close-striking lightning, the dog at full alarm, and then a free-fall down out of the seventies overnight and this morning we're gray, fog, and 43. Here's hoping that front and that rain make it fully through to Greensboro. PTI only shows two tenths so far.

Part of me hates that drive— the eighteen-wheelers banging by, the families all packed into their minivans headed through Hickory and Newport and Sevierville, the way when we hit the power plant steaming away west of Knoxville we've still got two hours to go, still haven't even made it to Cookeville. Part of me's the kid again, though, headed back to the house on Foxhall they don't own any more, the island in the center of that cul-de-sac with the Bradford pears as touchdown markers, the street Adam whatever-his-name-was' mom taught me to ride a bicycle on, the creek and woods down the back of that neighborhood. All of it's too easy and too homespun. But part of me might be too easy and too homespun.

I'm caught squarely between hating whatever all this has become and is becoming, and loving what I thought it used to be so fiercely that I might be able to wink it back into being. Like if I just squeezed hard enough, this shit would somehow snap back into focus. Like I'm sitting in the optometrist's chair, and that grassy hill with the goddamn red barn floating a half-inch off the ground is there, and everybody wants to know is it clearer like this, or like this? This, or this?

Is there no more scientific way for those people to go about their business? If I knew what was wrong with my eyes, I'd fix them myself. The orthopedic surgeon doesn't ask you if you like your broken wrist set better this way, or this way. That whole thing at the eye doctor has always bothered me. It's an outrage. It all is.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dense Fog.

At least that's what we had at 7 a.m., when the dog asked to go out. Things were a little less dense later on, but still gray and excellent and heavy and slightly colder than I'd been expecting. The sun burned through by 10:30 or so, and the drive in to work on 70 was almost crystalline, a thin gauze left in the trees from the fog and the low sun hanging in the southern sky throwing a kind of deeper orange on everything, which was already orange to begin with. The sky went white at the horizons.

I guess I should say that this entire exercise is a kind of homage to my grandfather, who for years kept a journal of what the high and low temperature that day had been, what the weather conditions were, what he'd had to eat. At Thanksgiving or Christmas some debate would bubble up about what we'd had for lunch three years ago, or what wine he'd served with the turkey last time, and he'd go straight to the archives, one or another little red or brown day planner about the size of a checkbook, and there, in his penciled capitals, would be the answer. A Willamette Valley Pinot. Barbecue from Whitt's. Tomato aspic. Rain on Thanksgiving. Clear and cold the Friday after.

I don't know if he keeps that journal any more.

The stands of hardwoods are starting to go gray, that brittle winter shade that hangs on through March and into April, long after I'm ready for things to green back up again. And it's been months since I've seen the retarded man at the end of his driveway there in Sedalia waving at passing cars. I'm worried something happened to him, worried he may have died, or worse, that they had to put him somewhere. We go to Nashville tomorrow. Everything is stacked on top of everything else.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Morning Storm.

A small one. Tiny. Not in the forecast. A few rumbles off to the northwest, the dog panting, nervous, up in the bed, and then what would have been a very nice little early June storm, if it had been early June. No progress yet on the rain gauge front, but it's not wet under the Chinese Firs, so we can't have gotten more than about a tenth of an inch. Enough, though, to dampen the flowers, and with the excellent High Point soil, that'll hold for a day or so.

Outside, then, to work on the novel— this is meant to get me stretched out and ready each morning, not to do whatever it's doing to me now, which is leaving me sitting here trying to find something else to say about the weather. We're supposed to get most versions of it this week, they say, so that's encouraging, and it's beautiful out my window right now, clouds burning off and a pale blue sky building back in behind. Hi ho, then.

I left the windows down in the truck overnight.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Not Cold.

Not anything, really. Not much breeze and slightly warmer than it is in the house, so: windows open. But none of the celebration that normally attends such a thing. I don't know what it is. Maybe the sleet ruined me. Made me too ready for whatever it is that's next.

Tonight I'm cooking and freezing chili for 10, to take to Nashville on Wednesday. The pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving is over, and now we hang on against the prospect of actual Thanksgiving. I'll avoid forecast jokes for now. I've got it idealized, of course, which is the whiskey-soaked Norman Rockwell in me, but I remember it as something astonishing, somewhere safe, a warm house smelling of sandwiches and awful coffee, the lighting different than anywhere I'd ever been, definitively my grandmother's house, all those odd angles and half-corners— my family the way I still can't break myself of thinking of it.

And now we're all married and not ourselves anymore, at least not the selves we were. Which of course and etcetera, but still.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Big Bird.

A sixteen-pounder. Tonight is a return to an old friend: the Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving. I'd had intentions of grilling it, but (a) it was too tall for the grill, and (b) I started too late to get it done in time.

So. Inside the oven, it's 450 degrees, as per this excellent Gourmet recommendation. Outside, it's gray, low sky dropping down on the backyard, the back end of fall, the oaks turning now that the maples have finished. It's 54 degrees and headed for 35 overnight.

Our house will not hold the number of people we've invited. It's pot luck, but we didn't tell anybody what to bring. I have to go add water to the roasting pan to keep from filling the house with smoke. Thanksgiving's always been my favorite holiday.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Gimp Paw.

In the course of the morning show — massive stretching, sneezing, snarfling, small and big barks, bouncing, sharp expulsions of air — the dog gimps up her paw. Nothing serious, no cries, no whines, but the scared face and a nice heavy limp. Great way to start the day. So we solve it the only way we know how: dog walk.

And once we're out in the wind and the cold (it hovered right around freezing last night; this morning we've got sharp winter sun and low forties and a fairly serious breeze out of the NNW) she's fine, she's her old self, digging with all four feet in the leaves and grass and mulch. She likes to squint into the sun and wind and pant and taste what's coming in. Pretty sure I'd like that, too.

Down the street is what I hope is not an eviction: Bags of clothes and boxes and boxes full of coat hangers. A ruined blue plastic rocking horse. A few other boxes. It all got rained on yesterday. And on the way to work: A building going up, and out front of it several palettes of drywall, also rained on yesterday. Everybody always a half-step away from disaster.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Live Update.

It sleeted. For two bursts of fifteen seconds, but still: five minutes ago, at 9:54 a.m., it sleeted here in 27408. There is ice on my front porch.

PTI is reporting almost a half an inch of rain out of this storm, which leads me to this: I'm probably going to have to buy a rain gauge. I love the airport and all, but we do not live on Runway Three. It turns out that if I'm going to do this, I'm going to need to be able to report live from the flowerbed, live from the patio, live from the cracked adirondack chairs. You people deserve nothing less. You hunger for accuracy in all things. Exactness. I'm worried that only divorcees and ham radio operators and scoutmasters have rain gauges, but I'm willing, in the name of science, to take my chances.

It's 49 degrees on the screen porch. It's no longer sleeting. There's a light mist. This is as warm as it's supposed to get all day. Tasks for the day, then: Baby the truck into work (starter, alternator). Survive the afternoon. Survive my late-day meeting. Baby the truck back home. Engage in extraordinary and far-reaching rain gauge internet research. I will have the rain gauge to end all rain gauges. I will have the Official Rain Gauge of the 2008 Olympic Games. Or I could just go look in the bottom of the coffee mug I accidentally left outside six weeks ago.

Still vaguely sad. Still vaguely worried. Slept like hell. But it sleeted. Back to you in the studio, Jim.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

To Do.

We did get rain, but only for show. Still: The forecast is calling for specific amounts for tonight and tomorrow, plus a good long day of temps falling off down through the fifties and forties all afternoon, so I can't quite complain.

An invasion today of box elder bugs, in the hundreds, on the south-facing wall of the house, which my vast amount of research suggests is normal. Also several hundred tulip and daffodil bulbs installed in strategic front yard locations. Plus six flats of pansies.

I'm tired, and there's something like sadness creeping in around the edges. Dirt under the fingernails helps to some degree. Red Garland's albums, newly discovered. Ice in a glass tonight and a mug in my hand tomorrow morning. The dog on the porch giving the mailman the thorough business. More pansies still to plant, more bulbs to trench in.

This morning, Phil's trees next door had turned so red that they changed the color of light coming in this side of the house.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Light Rain.

The weather said so. I can't confirm it because I'm at work, but just to see those two little words pop up over there on the weather thing gives me the happiness. And more in the forecast for tomorrow evening. An embarrassment of riches.

Outside here at 27244 it's dusk, a little damp, and spitting some — but not enough of any of it to keep me from student conferences in the lawn chairs, under, oddly, the only other Chinese Fir I've ever seen. Cool and gray and dark at 5:10. Acorns are falling and bouncing off the sidewalks, and a squirrel leapt off the roof of Whitley and fell three stories, tail helicoptering out behind it, crash-down into a bush. Then it walked out like nothing had happened at all, like it had done the whole thing on purpose. What, that? I meant to do that. I do that all the time.

Monday, November 12, 2007

High Clouds.

Gray morning, rain out east and a little more back behind to the north and west, but nothing for us. Warmer. That winter crispness is out of the air, and a kind of thick early fall has set back in. I can't quite say it's humid, but it's different. Which is what counts for weather these days. A kind of beauty attends to it all the same.

We spend most of fall swinging between September and December. What I need now, I think, is the three days of 42-degree rain. I want to plant bulbs all day long in the frigid mud and then come inside and make too much chili. I could use a little fog. Or sleet. I'm about ready for that.

Inside, Outside.


Pulled the half-frozen impatiens out, cut the mums way back, dug out the flowerbed, put 3 1/2 flats of pansies in across the front. The highschool kids across the street fronted at each other in their giant jeans and badass minivans. And here's me, Joe Driveway, glaring at them. But I remember what fifteen looks like. It looks like that. Good luck to them. It's hard enough.


Dinner with friends — white lasagna and a pear salad and overlong conversation about real estate values (my fault). Then back outside to sit by a fire pit and bitch and whine at each other about where the logs ought to be to burn better or brighter. Cold enough for the fire. Plain and good and simple.

Was I wanting for this at fifteen? I hope so, sort of.

Warmer this week, then rain by the weekend. Rain's always a week off.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sale Pansies.

Five (more) flats. Plus another bag of bulbs, 40 tulips this time. I'm a sucker. And a specific kind of fool. When Tita and I were first working out our finances, she wanted to split everything. Not the landscaping budget, I said. You do not understand the landscaping budget. The landscaping budget, is, of course, also the mental health budget. This she understood. She just did not quite understand how much was required for head cases around here.

One year I spent $300 on dirt that only costs $20 per ton.

Dog in the truck, light getting low and long, brand new hooded sweatshirt. This might be my first and only hooded sweatshirt. I fear I look like a dumbass in it. Still. Thanksgiving's coming. The solstice is coming. The leaves keep piling higher along the curbs.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Mockingbirds, Clouds.

Both the same color, for starters. On the docket this morning: Two mockingbirds down and out of a magnolia and chasing each other — and the dog, a little bit. Flight confuses the living hell out of me. Also: A man in his eighties doing laps around the cul-de-sac down at the 600s end of Elam. Hunched hard over, shuffling, looking like it hurt him. But taking his laps around the circle all the same. And a green and silver heating oil truck banging through the neighborhood.

There's something out west, something darkening, even though there's nothing in the forecast. I cheated and looked at the radar and there's a blob of what might be light rain that might get us. If it's even raining, that is, and not some trick of the radar, not something evaporating before it hits the ground. We could use it. We could always use it.

Down on that far end of our street it's a little bit more like being in the woods. The dog sniffed every leaf in every yard. Took us half an hour to go a quarter-mile. And so long as I'm listing: Carolina wrens, hawk, crows, jays. The usual suspects.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


There was a freeze warning up for Raleigh and down east and upstate SC last night, but not for us, though we've gone below freezing both nights. Just not enough, I guess. This morning we've got high gray clouds and no real breeze to speak of and maybe 40 degrees. Between last night and the night before there's been a kind of drive-by effect: some plants down to whatever shade of frost/freeze we've had, some not. I'm still holding out for one last rose bloom out back on the bush my mother gave us. The last living morning glory is still, well, living.

I love the cold.

Down the street the house that went up for auction last winter has a new sitting garden over to one side: mowed grass, ornamental grass, a Japanese maple, an iron bench. The bench is set up directly in front of the A/C, facing it. So you can sit there in all the beauty and view the compressor. There's a little flagstone path leading to the bench. It's not just some place they're keeping the thing. Somebody wants to sit right there.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Dog Walk.

First of the new morning dog walks: Hat-cold. The cannas are going purple-black, the oaks on Fernwood are just starting to turn, and the acorns are getting crushed into a flour over on Timber. Acorns under tires or heels is I think a pretty good sound. The neighborhood gets a little ugly in the winter, but I don't mind. There's something interesting about the spareness, the sparseness, all these plain box ranches huddled down onto the browning lawns. The neighborhood feels more its age then, somehow. We're not there yet, but it's coming.

Something I love about Greensboro: The leaf trucks, the guys walking behind the leaf trucks with the gaping vacuum hose, the piles of leaves that hunch up on the curbs from now until the first of the year. I'm sure most everybody else in every other town has leaf trucks, too, but we didn't in Atlanta, and so it's still a novelty to me, even after ten years, still another new kind of big yellow work truck coming down the street making a shit-ton of noise. And the dog likes nothing better than to wade chest-deep into pile after pile after pile of dogwood and pin oak.

This afternoon, then: maybe some raking. The Chinese Firs are starting to cover over the lawn. They throw off great huge chunks of their —leaves? needles? twigs? branches? — for about the next four months. Kind of a pain in the ass, but a good excuse to drag down my grandfather's giant rake and try suburban life on for size one more time.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Cold Front.

Another cold front through and no rain. Well, not entirely true: The airport reported a whole hundredth of an inch at 3 in the morning. So I took the dog and my coffee out front to water the pansies first thing. Hand-water, that is, as per the ongoing GSO restrictions that probably ought to go permanent.

It nearly smells like winter out there. Southern winter — not real winter — but it smells like Thanksgiving in Nashville. Or warm January. Or something. The leaves are coming down all over. Our dusty drought-resultant fall continues. Like a special set of paint chips: Drought. Earth tones, sort of.

Last night I got a little hopeful: a big comma of thunderstorms hung itself across the west side of the Appalachians and back through Tennessee. All we get out of it, though, is fire warnings. And perhaps a frost. Only you can prevent forest fires. Safety first. Look alive out there, people.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Weather Report.

Eastern Standard Time. Dark so damn early. Winter on its way back in. The leaves in La Vieja's maple next door almost down. Leaves on the forsythia out back going purple. Blue sky like the Mountain West. No rain. Dog in the dry lakebed on Saturday afternoon. Dog full of fetid mud not too long after. Orion wheeling east late last night. Half the pansies in the ground. Half still to go. Impatiens hanging on until the freeze later this week.

I remember the thing I used to like best in the world was my dad's old NOAA weather radio, a faux-wood cube about four inches on a side. That used to be a real person in there. Now they've got it computerized, like all else.

Maybe showers tonight. Maybe tomorrow. We'll see.