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Through the woods, at the end of a track that goes along a stream (mom swears she used to bathe in it as a child with her friends) there’s a mill and the modern-day idea of a quaint cluster of small farmhouses – a B&B proves the point, and so does an old shed, of mossy bricks and rotten beams, untouched by the renovating fury, showing a massive wooden plough, stuck in time and dust and cobwebs. In El Dorado somewhere in the Andes, ploughshares were made of silver, and this gripped the imagination of a farmer who might have heard of the legend. One morning, as he went about his day, he must have stopped and pondered whether it was worthwhile to send at least one of his nine children to check if that was true. (Mom says they would rest under that giant oak after bathing and then run back to the village before sunset, so no one knew where they’d been.)


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Grandma used to hang the laundry on those wires, and it would float in the breeze. She had a basket to put it in when dry and I guess I’d follow her up the sloping garden and onto the big expanse of green grass. Behind us, grandpa was picking peaches, apples and pears, orange apricots. Or he was busy inside, at other times, at his income tax – “he uses a calculator and then does it all again by hand to see if the calculator is right!” she’d say. Now their two sons balance his checkbook and he doesn’t seem to care, even laughs at their precision. And the laundry, seldom out to dry on the rusty poles and saggy wires, somebody else collects it. It’s the smell that takes you in – the smell has stayed the same. And the bees, fortunately, buzzing around the flowers. There, those have changed. There used to be so many more.


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I am deaf and yet the world listens. I am blind and yet the world sees. I don’t talk and yet there are sounds. What a strange combination of thoughts. If I were any of these things I would think intuitively everybody else was like me, till they told me it wasn’t so. The other side of the little valley is the village, once thriving, now much less, with the willing effort of a so-called repopulation. We never can let go completely, but it does strike the imagination now as the unpretentious bell tower, above the rooftops, has a tuft of something sticking out under the tatty small dome of slate. It’s blades of grass, quite a clump must be, seen so from a distance, and it makes the bell tower a proper ruin in the modern sense – sneaky for a piece of architecture.



I’ve become the gardener at my own home (my family’s. I’ve left.) Kindly contributing to the communal sharing of hardships, I was mowing the lawns when more and more grass was being left behind. Rake it away, naturally. So I went out back where… I didn’t know where a rake could be. I vaguely remembered the rake; but that wasn’t enough. And one I found leaning against a wall in the toolshed, its keyless door shut by a big tree fork, the previous owner – great-grandfather! – must have had a story about this “bifurcation in the trunk of a tree.”

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Tamed nature makes you afraid of real nature. Alleys in city parks, no matter how winding, will never settle the fear of a path in a forest or by a lake. The contained force of a storm in drops, no matter how big, seen falling from a window up high of some building, will not do as the slowly coming of dark clouds from beyond hills, mountains or the see, when colors are not the property of things but in the eyes as the fields turn into hues of green, gray and black, as the echo of thunder, now ravaging other areas, gets muffled then booming then roaring, before it all passes by quietly in the end, only to let it be known that it just wasn’t meant to be – this time. Sunlight’s now reflected in patches of yellow and orange and red, on days that are different, on days that are the same.


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A piece of reclaimed swamp that might return to swamp as soon as the rains set in. Something to look forward to. Or something not to look forward to. Or something to look forward to in not looking forward to something.

Who can stop the rains from coming? Clouds forecast to only glide through the blue sky, will linger on threateningly for days. Clouds that linger on threateningly will, contrary to prediction, dissolve gliding through in innocent puffs.

The ocean over there makes fun of us living on this side of the bay, the way it starts out calm and quiet on the other coast and then picks up speed and anger, so that by the time it gets here it likes to play with our lives. The sky does that, too.

Once, I hear, there were gods to please to make it stop. Now science is at a standstill and our desolate houses might be washed away.


The Nazis were here, towards the end of the war (nobody knew it was towards the end of it.) They requisitioned the biggest house and made it their HQ, and they were looking for food. She was saying that she could hear them at night marching up and down the street, making sure no one – no one! – made a run for the border (here, the village borders on the neutral country.) In her courtyard near the farms they let the chickens loose and pushed them towards the wooded area near the stream. They’d also been raising a pig. They hid it, alive, under layers of dirt in the farm’s organic dump where the Nazis couldn’t find it. And they didn’t. (At some point later on the enemy left. Withdrew. And the friends who had escaped returned. And they could all slaughter the pig they had gone to incredible lengths – life and death! – to save.)



It was time to think about getting the firewood for the winter, for the stove in the basement. Countrylike preoccupations. And tribulations, too. We were talking about it out in the back, dad sitting on the fence, he says grandpa’s got so much wood up in the old henhouse he will never use, not because he’s going on ninety-two, but because he doesn’t use his fireplace anymore on wintry Sunday afternoons, too much of a hassle, although last year we spent quite a sum to get the chimney all clean – the chimney sweepers came! – the chimney’s old, all bricks, you would need steel now, but they cleaned it anyway, grandpa won’t use it, so should we get all that wood, old and half of it rotten as it’s been out there for ages in that dilapidated shed, or just get it new? He says he’s done a few trips with his wheelbarrow up and down the hill from our house to grandpa’s: Is it worth it? “Honestly, it would cost me more to get the wood down here than get new wood” – sometimes it’s all about the cost of things with him.

And then the farmers, two brothers, who live at the very top of the hill and who, among other farming jobs, go around chopping down trees into firewood, pass by on their way home and well, “what a coincidence! I was just talking about all this,” father says – I’m being pointed at! – and a series of nodding and weird sounds that are not really words, eh, huh, bah, what are we gonna do?, the decision is made on the spot to go see straightaway, hop on the truck, dad will go up pronto with the two of them, in hindsight not such a good idea, grandpa will be eating, he’s not one to be disturbed while eating …

So we’re awaiting now the return of the hero with the solution for the firewood. The two professional farmers will have the final word of course, one look at the big stack of old wood in the old shed and they can tell instinctively how long it’s been rotting there, heads shaking in dismay, to think that grandpa was a better farmer than they – the wood’s been here at least 10 years! eh, huh, bah – and it’s never been grandpa’s job really, never had a farm, worked in a factory in the city, always had a garden with vegetables and fruit, grandma was into the flowers, this being the division of labor in the country for the old school, all year round. The hero seems to be following in these old-fashioned steps, on sunny days of hobby-devoted afternoons, in his house without firewood, which runs on electrical heating, cutting-edge solar panels installed a few years ago. But he’s got it. The rural understanding that nothing, however old, can be thrown away – nothing!

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