Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Interview with JD previous owner, Sept 29 2008

Joe D. came by the Lodge Monday in his gold SUV on the way to feeding the animals, looking very dapper. I sat him down on the porch for some oral history. He told me a lot about his own family history in these parts – ancestors (including some Woods!) turning up about 1824, joining a Primitive Baptist church. There were many schisms among the churches of the time, largely over leader’s personality. Cherokee used this part of TN as hunting grounds, and would set up temporary camps (e.g. in the next hollow). Any flints found here today would have been imported from elsewhere. ** Charlie Thornton found an arrowhead ‘factory’ at the end of the horse pasture.

Yellow Bird Farm (the main property) has been owned by:

Beecher Stroud (father in law of HH) sold to Hogan Hollis (see Hollis Creek Rd) - (father of Louise, Carol’s (Bob Melton’s wife) mother). HH owned a property that included Bob’s farm and what is now mine, and sold off Yellow Bird to Woodrow Shelton (1945) (father of wife of Elmus Tenpenny – I met Woodrow a couple of years ago before he died) - he drained the small existing pond (claimed there were mega-mosquitos). He had tenant farmers growing tobacco, hogs, dairy cows: the Reedy’s (son George), the Willey’s (?), the Thomas’s. He sold to Johnny Huff, who sold to Grady Ratliffe (the farm still had cornfields behind the poultry shed). He ran out of $$, and the farm went to Ode Pettigo (realtor?), who sold it to Joe Davenport (1964), who sold it to me.

[The Lodge was built for Priscilla Woodward and Charlie Thornton in 1996 by Tom Bean. Built from 4x4 pine wood reclaimed from a whisky distillery, and from sunken cypress recovered from the Mississippi in/near Memphis. Sold 2005 to Pat and Julie Fann, then to me Spring 2008. Ralph Hall built the connecting road for me with his bulldozer in May 2008.]

The only previous name Joe knew was Rebel Hill Farm, which he once gave it at the suggestion of one of his pupils. The big field above the farm pond was Back field, and the field with the old pear tree, Pear Tree field. Apparently the pear tree was old when Louise was a child (she is in her 70s). Said to be a ‘Bosch’. Looks more like a Keiffer to me. Either way, ripens in October. I am picking fruit now and storing them in the basement. Ethylene from ripe bananas in the same brown bag apparently accelerates ripening.

Why ‘Yellow Bird’ Farm? Probably an associative mix of childhood visits to Yellowstone, affection for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the name of a calypso song, and a certain natural ring of innocence and delight. I was standing outside the barn with Joe a few weeks after I bought the place. “So, you’re calling it Yellow Bird” he said. “Do you see those birds on the fence?” “Yes I do” “Blue birds” he declared. And then with a twinkle: “In the spring we get bright yellow goldfinches – you’ll see.”

Words can be like birds. You are searching for the right word, when – how did it get there? – you find it’s perching on your shoulder.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mapping and naming

Naming and mapping. What’s in a name?

To share Yellow Bird with sculptors, earth-artists, friends etc. – especially from a distance - I need to be able to provide some sort of map. Perhaps I too need a sense of it as a dispersed but articulated whole. I can get both a plat and a topo map from the Court House in Woodbury, but it will lack any location names. So I have set myself the task, the pleasure, and the adventure, of devising a palette of names for the significant sites. Immediately, the whole question of ‘place’ jumps out. If place is meaningful spatial location, what role do names play? Establishing, creating, opening, extending, provoking, commemorating …. meaning? Should we name everything at the same time, as if by divine decree – like the ‘world’ of Narnia, or the Hobbit – so that the names all seem to have been baked in the same oven? Do we deploy literary allusions, chance associations, portentous redeployments? Do we let names accumulate over time, as memories accrete and inspiration upbubbles anew? (Yes, that seems right.) And who does the naming? Here I welcome input - imaginative, biographical, commemorative … YB is a shared space – with bipedic and polypedic friends alike - or it is a poor thing. Can I listen to the other-than-human for guidance?

Yellow Bird Solar Research Institute. I filled a black 55 gallon oil drum with water and placed it in the sun. As it filled up, the outside metal was cold below the water level, and hot above it. So it seemed to be radiating heat within. But at the end of the day, it seemed sub-tepid. So much for a free daily drum bath. I guess it’s radiating heat back out again. Next step – try to find a big clear plastic bag and some spacers to create a greenhouse effect. (The official solution creates an insulated glass box.) Watch this space.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Word and world

Life at Yellow Bird: In the mornings I am writing a book: Fatal Projections: Pathologies of Alterity. Most of the chapters are written or drafted – typically versions of papers I have given over the last two years. But as much as they do fit together, I am struggling to clarify an integrative theoretical basis. I am looking for a streamlined general account of ‘projection’ both as necessary for sanity and as empirically variable and ethically charged. I think of Kant, Feuerbach, Freud – but how to sew them together? In the face of this challenge, I went in for displacement on Friday, and cleaned out the fridge. Out went rotten containers, moldy sachets, out of date cheese (yes, I’m not yet a vegan). Was I modeling for myself the difficult practice of throwing stuff away. Practice on dead broccoli, move on to bad first drafts.

Today, I must have been continuing to externalize the task of organizing mental/textual space. I got it into my head that there was a part of YB that had too long been out of bounds, the steep brambly slope up to the ridge above Pearson Pond. Surely my 4x4 would handle that. I could take shears and a Japanese pull hand-saw to clear the way. An hour later, having got lost, stalled, and ripped up by nature’s precursor of barbed wire slashing my forearm, I began to regret my venture. Large logs obstructed the way. Trees too close to pass between blocked my passage, and everywhere dangling strands of thorns. At the same time, the drive to return and ‘conquer’, with more serious equipment and a team of trail-blazers, was hard to repress. The better to ‘care’ for the place. Perhaps we need a little control for care-taking to happen. Anyway, with an arm crimson-speckled with thorns, I looked forward to returning to writing and thinking, less bloody forms of the sanguine.

In trying to think about projection, I note that cleaning the fridge and trying to cut paths through the wilderness are precisely forms of projective externalization, displacing a problem with a less promising form onto a space in which ‘it’ seems more tractable. But on this occasion, at least, surely it’s not the same problem. There is just an analogy between the two problem situations. I still need to return to sorting out my book’s conceptual map. All I will have gained is a certain renewed confidence in tackling difficulty. Or, worse, a confirmation of Sartre’s dictum that ‘les choses sont contre nous’, and that sometimes they win.

I went by Bob’s and picked up the boards I had sorted out from the old building I agreed to tear down for him. I plan to make a French Country Table, 8’ x 30”, with breadboard.ends by gluing them tight onto plywood. Narrow so that you are close to people sitting opposite. Are the boards oak? Poplar? Some of each? Can a warp be flattened out with screws or glue? The classic joinery advice is to use round pegs in oval holes to hold the end pieces, so the width can ‘move’. Another nice example of strength through flexibility. Pleased to discover that the poison ivy I thought covered the building is or was largely Virginia creeper. I feared the worst. Vines of mass destruction. How can we prevent ourselves being governed by fear? Imagination is good; fearing the worst bad. How/when can we subject imagination to ‘reason’, or at least a certain reflection?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Reigning cats and dogs

Joe leaves a note. His truck is sick, he is out-of-town, and can I feed Buddy and the cats? Buddy's trough is full, but he starts eating when I arrive. Do some eat because they are lonely, and others cannot eat when they feel lonely? Or is Buddy eating in front of me just to show willing? Joe has left him table scraps (on top of regular biscuit chow) - against all vets recommendations - is Buddy trying to tell me he is OK with that? I get to the cats. Again full bowls. And a big surprise - five tiny kittens - two ginger and three blue/grey. All perfect miniatures, with sparkly heads. Unlike their parents they let me handle them. Should I break the feral cycle by doing this everyday. Should I have them all vetted? (This would make them expensive coyote breakfast.) Or should I take a ginger one for Berserker to play with? In memory of Tigger at 2 Emscote Rd? I feed Angie's three Heflingers their own special mix. Plus half a pear each. They take the fruit with their big rubber lips. Do they know to avoid using their teeth, or is that just good luck every time?

I drive on with my 4x4, and take a tour of the estate. Much to do if I want to host a sculpture competition[exhibition etc next summer/fall. To begin with, maintain all trails, and map the whole area, with names. How to invent names? I could draw on a literary model (Tigger was lifted from W the Pooh). Or wait for memories and associations to arise. Or?