Tuesday, January 20, 2009
The Weiser River Pillow Book #2
If you’ve been following along in the Robert Frost’s Banjo world, you know that my wife Eberle Umbach wrote a journal called The Weiser River Pillow Book over a 12-month period in 2000-2001. A generous excerpt from this was published by Impassio Press in the anthology In Pieces in 2006. You can read the first installment of Eberle’s book on Robert Frost’s Banjo here, & you can find more background on Eberle’s work & its connection to an 11th century Japanese writer here.
Without further ado, here's Eberle writing in January 2001:
Greed as the defining principle of our culture.
The floats in the Rose Parade.
One's own death.
THINGS THAT REVEAL THE DYNAMICS OF A HOUSEHOLD
IT IS RARE FOR A THING TO BE BOTH POIGNANT AND AMUSING
You go down to the lakeshore to skate, and on a snowy dock extending out into the ice you see several pairs of brightly colored boots, pointing outward. There is no one in sight all the way across the frozen lake.
Between gentleness and danger when handling a parrot.
Between faith in yourself and overweening pride.
Between a love of beauty and affectation.
Between intense joy and a loss of center.
Between neighborliness and falsity.
Between splendid decay and discomfort.
PHRASES IN AMBER
Shiver me timbers.
Bearing the brunt.
Right as rain.
I BRING A BEADED AND FEATHERED HOCKEY STICK
I bring a beaded and feathered hockey stick to the frozen lake where people are out skating. Among friends it is a thing to smile at, and adds to the giddiness of skating. Women, invariably, are drawn to it, and young girls. Certain men, incredibly enough, appear to be deeply threatened by this sacrilege of a masculine totem and are moved to criticize. Imagine—skating on this expanse of beauty, and these men still can't stop themselves from taking out their insecurities on other people. Imagine—how they are not even embarrassed at doing this. Imagine—there are women who live these men, day after day after day.
THINGS THAT HANG LIKE JEWELS IN THE MIND
The ability to create.
The knowledge of beauty.
The invincibility of humor.
The sense of yourself in solitude.
IT IS HARD TO KEEP A SENSE OF PURPOSE
It is hard to keep a sense of purpose when small-minded people pluck at you. Wanting to play at one of the endless variations of the game of hierarchy. But this is not a fun game, it's only the game of choice of the brainwashed. Are these people unable to invent their own games? I think the answer to that question is yes, actually— which paints a rather horrifying picture and explains a great deal.
THINGS MAKING SHIFT
A can of peaches patching a hole in the cast-iron drainpipe from the kitchen sink.
Dental floss, putty, and a button to fix a toilet flapper.
The tube from the vacuum cleaner running from the sink to the bathtub when the bathtub pipes are frozen. How marvelous to have a vacuum cleaner.
One hundred and fifty trips to the henhouse to bring in the waterer at night = an electric element to heat the water.
Flushing the toilet with buckets of water in January = a light-bulb under the floorboards to keep the pipes from freezing.
THINGS WORTH DOING
Drumming in the Winter Carnival parade.
Seeing the flocks of wild macaws in the Pantanal.
Putting summer cherries in the freezer to eat during winter.
THINGS THAT HAPPEN WHEN YOU FINISH A DRAFT MANUSCRIPT
Songs from musicals you hate play in your head: I Enjoy Being a Girl, and Put on a Happy Face.
You snap back into the world without buffers—the face and hair of your beloved are heartbreakingly beautiful, you feel unbearable tenderness.
You want to hold close the things that you love and thank them—the frost crystals on the screen door and the match holder on the wall by the woodstove where you kneel to build a fire.
You want to drive all the way to Boise to see adventure movies with fighting and danger.
THE THING AT THE HEART OF WINTER
It seems that, one by one, the things of ease and familiarity are removed to reveal the heart of winter. The car won't start, the pipes have frozen all but two, it's too cold in the music room to work on music.
My beloved is sick and there is this overwhelming tenderness, surrounded by empty space. Anguish at the thought of ever losing him.
There was nothing new left to see about the winter, I thought. Until this morning, elaborate frost crystals coming out of fog—even on the icicles themselves. It was an uncanny excess—making the chicken-wire of the guinea-coop door unrecognizable, making it into a portal of terrifying beauty into nothingness.
SIGNS OF EXTREMITY: JANUARY
Walking outside around midnight, so restless, down the snow-covered road to the bridge. Looking for some kind of solace in the sound of the cold rushing water, the shape of the brush. How different this spot looks, the next day, from my window.
Shoveling snow in the chicken coop and the frozen ends of lettuces, the scattering of old rice. Feathers and blood in the snow—the sight of a cat carrying off a half-dead flicker makes me feel crazed with anguish, a sense of failure.
When you decide that love is no longer something you can afford, that it has cut too deeply into your storehouse and you look ahead, counting the hungry days, calculating.
The satellite dish on its mast docked at the edge of the snow-lit blue pasture and the lights of Indian Valley rocking gently on the horizon.
The dry grasses, islands of them in the snow— some forming reefs, a peninsula, and the young trees standing neck-high in the deluge.
The pic shows Payette Lake in McCall, ID in January 2001. That year when the lake froze solid it was clear of snow for quite close to two weeks, during which time we made the trek to McCall almost daily for skating in this gorgeous setting. We really explored the lake in this unique way, skating out past various islands; it was a memorable experience.