Posts by The Woodcutter


Posted by on Mar 8, 2019 in Blog | 1 comment

Santa Barbara, Blue Sands, Manchester VT  

A bunch of things come to mind when I think of getting to Santa Barbara in’85. Staying at the Blue Sands Motel on East Beach is one, and the next morning going out at sunrise and seeing a pod of dolphins wrangling a young whale away from the beach to the open water. Standing on the grass next to the sand I knew I was in the right place. My vision quest was over. For the time being. I didn’t figure it out till just now that the young whale was me.

I think of walking down the dirt road from the cabin I was renting in Vermont near Manchester Center and that awful odor that dropped me to my knees. I’d been picking wild raspberries when this smell blew into me. My first reaction was that it was some nerve gas from a ruptured tanker upwind. Next thought was that I was dying. Next thing was figuring out which side my profile would look best when they found me dead. Next thing was I saw a small snake someone had run over, its guts squeezed through a tear in its side coiling in pain trying to get away from it. I welcomed having a pal for my journey. I was the snake. I didn’t know that then. We died together. But I got up and felt alright. Walked back up the hill to the cabin and lay down on the bed. Had a dream where some old gents told me about heading out, I’d been here long enough. I was to drive west. That was enough for me. i packed and left the next day, gave a call to the Russian woman who found me the rental. She was so friendly the month or so before driving to the turnoff, drove up a half mile and turned around. She was scared of me suddenly, big guy with a beard, dirt road far from the nearest town, no one to hear her screams for help. She didn’t say so but the flirtation was over for sure. We returned to Manchester in silence. I signed up for the place unseen at her office, drove back with the keys in my old green Cadillac. The one the garbage truck would shorten in Santa Barbara in a few months when I moved up the hill to a rental on Del Mar Street.

Manchester Center. People living there outside town were retired Washington. Starched, opaque, folded and laid into drawers carefully. Rich. Odd place. The Stepford Husbands. They all looked alike, spoke the same lines, played the same golf, drank the same drinks. Odd place for my vision quest to bring me. My cousin Tom Brockway was Headmaster at Bennington College south of there, I guess that’s what brought me this way, going by to see him and look at the girls. I fell into Manchester. Fell on the road with a dying snake. Was allowed to leave when I fell from the tomb. Two decades later I returned there with my new wife and had a devil of a time finding that road. The whole countryside was spooky, like out of a scary movie, that sort of setting, muted colors of greys and blacks and greens. When I found the road I began to feel like the Russian realtor and turned around more or less where she did. Something ungood was up that road. Maybe me, the one that didn’t get away. I felt so freed to turn around, telling Marilyn about the Russian and how I felt her fear and was so glad we were getting out of there. The cabin had fleas in the carpet I could see jumping backlit by the low morning sun. They attacked my bare legs, stalked me around the place.

The owner manager of the Blue Sands was a Vietnamese woman, only there a year. Iron Maiden they called her, the others in the neighborhood whose property she was trying to buy. While I was there she bought a motel on upper State Street at a bargain and set it straight. She had good rooms, charged low prices and stayed full. She was happy. But not so happy that she would smile. Still there was a calmness there. i liked staying there. i trusted her to bring me what i was ready for when it was time and then i would move somewhere else. This was the right place, the sister city of Santa Fe where I’d grown up. I came here in the 50’s when I was a ditch digger in Lompoc up the coast helping put in the Naval Missile Facility that later became Vandenburg Air Force Base. Visited my grandfather Laddie French who was retired Cavalry. He looked like a cavalry officer. He was glad to see me in the same way the Iron Maiden was. I was some proof he was alive. This time i didn’t even bother to call his widow. She was his second wife and didn’t like that he had another life and wife and child. She stared at me with glass eyes. They both may have been related to the Manchester Center people.

But the dolphins weren’t. They were having a fun time cowboying that young whale,  me laughing on the sandy grass and hearing their excited cries, the sun lighting the whole show.

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Posted by on Mar 8, 2019 in Blog | 2 comments

Eight billion threads of wool on one loom by one weaver.

How can there be a mistake in a design s/he alone imagines?

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Spain 1959

Posted by on Feb 26, 2019 in Blog | 1 comment


Marilyn lined up a timeshare on the Costa del Sol in Spain and got a great deal on tickets. I’d been telling her about living there and a trip three of us made at Easter from Seville along a Roman Road built two thousand years ago, riding through country that was little changed from the Middle Ages. There were no schools or electricity or food other than what they grew and butchered, no outside news. The people had never heard of the United States, or even the New World for that matter. We’d ride horseback into a village and people would drop what they were doing to follow us to the plaza or inn where we’d dismount and sit and talk with them. They were simple as children, wide-eyed, sometimes touching our garments to make sure we were real. I was ahead of my time and had long hair and they’d never seen long hair on a man. Dimitri had brass colored hair and Tim was blonde with blue eyes, his face Scottish pink and strange looking, even to us. They watched us like kids do cartoons on television.

One time a stallion galloped up to the mare I was riding and danced around biting her, then mounted her so his front hooves were dug into my legs. He was so turned on he didn’t even notice me. She kicked with both back feet and knocked him over and took off faster than I’d thought she could run, the stallion right behind and more interested than ever. He was circling around to cut her off at a bridge coming up but she made it across and he didn’t follow. We heard his whinnies for miles. I heard that story in all sorts of convolutions for a year in Madrid.

Anyway, Marilyn wanted to travel to the places I’d known in my twenties and hear my stories with a visual reference. Deep down I wanted to leave Spain the way I’d known it, a country cut off from the modern world until the year before we students got there when the borders that’d been closed for 20 years were opened. Generalissimo Franco was still in charge, his troops goose-stepping through the streets of Madrid while Hitler’s Messerschmitts flew in accolades overhead, but his reign was over. The people were waiting for him to die and Prince Carlos to assume the throne. Long wait.

When I lived in Torremolinos after Madrid it was a village on the south coast of a few hundred fishermen. It had one sit-down restaurant, the Bar Central. Now it is part of a resort bandwidth stretching from Malaga to the Straits of Gibraltar. This is where Marilyn and I were headed. We would land in Malaga and rent a car to drive to our timeshare and from here travel to Seville, Granada, maybe even Madrid. I secretly dreaded it. It was like meeting a young lover after fifty years, you have that one look from the heart and then the mind kicks in with a Good God!! What happened to you?

At the University we studied with some of the country’s cultural heroes. One was Joaquin Rodrigo who taught a course with his wife on the history of Spanish music. She played Nacisso Yepes’ recording of her husband’s most famous composition with the Madrid Symphony Orchestra. The two of them sat in folding chairs in front of us, hands in their laps, his eyes unseeing, hers closed, listening to soaring music the likes of which none of us kids had heard.

Marilyn plays the Concierto de Aranjuez a lot. It matters to her that I knew him, that I breathed the same air as him, that I heard his soft voice and watched his wife select the records he called for to illustrate something he was saying about Albéniz or Tárrega or himself. Imagine the simplicity of the country’s greatest composer sitting there with a group of young Americans, wearing a tattered, worn shiny suit with three blind mice black glasses on and speaking to us of the influences on his music, of its roots in his region of the country and the Spanish need to be free.

Marilyn and I flew out of Minneapolis on a late April afternoon en route to Philadelphia where we’d change planes for the Atlantic crossing. We got caught in a storm and circled over the Great Lakes to let it move through, but it didn’t. We landed at Pittsburg to refuel and took off flying in lightning. We were the last plane to land at Philly before the airport was shut down.

The airline had a thousand passengers who missed their transatlantic flights that night and by the time we got to the desk the next day’s flights were booked, and the day after that. They said our luggage was lost along with everyone else’s and for us to check by every hour in case something turned up. How could it turn up when it was on a plane to Spain, and they knew it. But we didn’t. They’d transferred suitcases to the overseas carrier from our flight when we landed, then not waited for us. Our luggage got back to us in Minneapolis three weeks later.

Out over the Atlantic we noticed the light of the sunset changed from one side of the plane to the other. I thought it was a miracle but then the Captain came on the intercom to say there was a small problem that was really nothing but regulations made them head back to have it checked out. Wouldn’t take but a few minutes. Ten minutes later he said we were heading to Boston airport where they had better mechanics, then later said the better mechanics were busy so we were heading to Philly.

The head stewardess announced that no one would be permitted to leave the plane when we got in and Marilyn and I looked at one another and decided we’d see about that. We agreed that our trip was doomed, we’d missed three days of our timeshare, had no luggage and by the time we nestled into our hotel room we’d have three days left. So we had one of the younger stewardesses call back the big, old and ugly one to talk with. She started talking before we did saying she understood how terrified we were but that this was nothing, she’d been through it a hundred times and was still here, big and ugly as ever. She had some travel sickness pills that’d calm us, and turned to go get them. We called her back and explained that we were not afraid, we were giving up the trip, there were only three days left for our visit and so we decided to get off the plane. She repeated that no one was getting off, and the look on her face reminded me of the head nurse in the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest. I get calm at a time like this and told her that the rest of them could stay on but we were leaving. The airline had lost our luggage, stalled us three days, now they were turning back and it sounded to us like we were not being given the facts about this emergency. She tried staring me down for a minute, said it was not an emergency, then went forward to describe what she’d just been through with the other stewardesses.

Marilyn and I decided we would get up as soon as the plane was at the gate and get off, opening the door if we had to. We didn’t have to, but we were the only two of 300 passengers who disembarked, and that plane was still parked there three hours later getting a new engine or something when we took off on our flight to Minneapolis. To its credit USAir refunded our money on all tickets, and paid for our way back home. The older man at the desk was a sweetheart, and we took this as another sign that we’d made the right decision.

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Out in the sticks near Tucumcari

Posted by on Jan 16, 2019 in Blog | 2 comments

North of Tucumcari, NM

I was at that trashy rest stop on the Cimarron River, you know the place off highway 54, the one with the railroad span to your right headed south?

I was talking with a tree about how things were and it said it couldn’t complain. Said its mother and father used to be up the road a bit either side of a barbed wire fencing the highway, and they never had it this good. They had full-on wind 365, and the only water they got was what run off the highway twice a year. They made do with what they got and seeded when they could.

This tree said its particular seed blew into this rest stop on a rare north wind, rather than the trades that almost always doomed elm seed to the wastelands, with no chance to sprout and root. Those that did through sheer grit didn’t reach longer than ankle high to a coyote pup before they keeled over and blew away.

The tree said it really liked the community of plants here, they was family, real strong though most every one of’m stunted, starved for love, and cripp’d up pretty bad. But they was alive, that was the thing. The parents never promised them a rose garden, only a chance to root & find out just what-the-hell kinda thing they might be.

That cactus over there found out and’s been complaining ever since, all the time grousing about what a rough deal it was dealt, how it didn’t ask to be a prickly pear bastard, how-come not a yucca with pretty flowers and stuff? Now that yucca was a cactus, not a Mickey-mouse-eared thing everyone talks down to. The elm said the whatever-it-was slept late and got up cranky, you’d think its spines was sticking more in than out.

Now the elm had a real story of deprivation and hard times, being an orphan down the road from its folks’ graves and all, brothers and sisters parched to dust, but you never heard it rankle about it. Elms was tough, they thrived on bad times, they loved bad times because then elms really feel alive and get to dream of turning things around and someday looking like one of them elms down there on the banks of the Cimarron. Runs sand on the surface, but deep down is lots of water. No, up here is good, real good, strong winds, get to see traffic whip by and the train loco-moting cross the span, maybe some horizon even.

I said maybe what that mouse-eared, down-home ugly, bitchy little cactus needed was for another like it to grow nearby, and it’d court it with pollen hauled over by bees and butterflies. Two uglies could make a pretty…

The elm said could be, could be, but… I waved, said I had to get back on the road to Borrego. I went over to the cactus and looked it over. Not bad, really, it had its beauty, the lopsided symmetry, the shriveled-up Mickey-mouse ears and buds and poisonous tiny barbs at the bases of thousands of long sharp spines promising a better yesterday, though not tomorrow. I mean it was saddled. But someone has to be a cactus, y’know. Guess I’d bitch too

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Marilyn and The Kids

Posted by on Jan 12, 2019 in Blog | 5 comments

Marilyn & the kids—Heart of the story

Heart of the Story 

The decisions Marilyn and I made in our new life together were based on what was best for the children. Before I really got it I carried around a few Excepts and Buts but in time forgot them. I’d lived by Buts and Excepts and that was okay when I was alone but once we had kids they got tossed out the back door with the dishwater. The Buts and Excepts.

She made sure I kept this credo as my guiding light. I’d run out on my first born son Ben and his mother years before, when he was still a toddler, and Cristina and Zack from their mother 20 years after, so it was clear to Marilyn that this thing called fatherhood and sacrifice were not more than learned lines for me. When I needed reminding she’d say something that made me feel fatherhood, at least as a responsibility if not a heart centered feeling. She could have gotten my attention by raising hell but that’s not her way, she gently maneuvered my infant sense about what is right, to educate me. She is a teacher, in the spirit of Jesus. It was a long haul and so painful for us both that there were times we both would have gladly died instead of going through what we had to in order to make a mom and dad home for the little kids.

It wasn’t that they didn’t have a home with their mother, they did, but she didn’t want to share them much. When I met Marilyn I’d already adjusted to that. Marilyn un-adjusted me to that. She felt kids needed fathers as well as mothers. You’d think I would’ve figured this out with the three of us boys raised by the angeldust of our mother in Santa Fe. But here I was perpetuating an identical drama reenacting the same things as my father. Kids are chameleons, everything goes into them and serves as blueprints for when they can finally think for themselves, and it may be that even their thoughts were downloaded into them. We are tattooed and pierced in utero.

So this is what I was choosing when I hitchhiked into San Diego from the Pacific Crest Trail. I was going to find The Connector who had come to me in a vision as I slept and accepted my prayer for help. That was what we were talking about in that dream meeting, although I didn’t know it till just now. I didn’t know I’d asked for any help. The vision had stayed in my memory as a mystical thing. I totally missed the part about my asking her to come be the straw boss in my life to work on an impossible project—being a full-on father.

The decisions we made, especially in those first seven years in the furnace of family law, were directed by the intent, mainly on her part, of saving Zack and Cristina from a catastrophic dominoing that my choice to walk away from them had set in motion. I couldn’t undo that but together Marilyn and I could redirect some of the lines of dominoes so they all wouldn’t be tipped over. That meant getting shared custody, something I’d signed away in Santa Barbara when their mother came with them from Fiji where they were living. She wanted two thirds of my income and full custody. She needed it to establish residency. I signed the papers. I’d hit bottom, or thought I had. If the legal papers demanded my soul I’d’ve turned over all fragments gladly.

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