Today is the first day after the winter solstice and the slow crawl to longer days could not have presented its self in any better a way. Woke early at four. The crisp morning county air gave way to an orange red, blue sunrise. Two cups of coffee later, I was ready to move these bones enough to start making breakfast. Wright’s thick cut bacon, gourmet yellow potatoes and onions, think white toast and two friend eggs all made to order with John Hartford’s music in the background. The Steamboat Whistle Blues and whoa Nelly do I have a case of that. Especially the last section of the second verse.
The grass is all synthetic
And we don’t know for sure about the food
The only thing we know for sure is them steamboat whistle blues
I’d sit and watch my TV if I thought I could trust the news
About the only thing I trust these days
Is them steamboat whistle blues
Yesterday while aimlessly driving around I stopped at DQ, Dairy Queen and got a Spicy Chicken combo, large fries, Sprite and Reese Peanut Butter cup Blizzard. Not so sure about the actual food content. But plenty of soy, oils, flavoring and packaging. Not sure if the ice cream is even primarily a Milk product.
I have not owned a TV since my early twenties and I spend little time listening to the radio news, so that part of the song does not apply however, I am a fireman on a 106 year old western rivers steamboat. Matter of fact, the only steamboat left operating from the packet boat era of transportation on the Ohio River. So, just about the only thing I trust these days is the lessons I am discovering about life on the river. There are many life lessons to dredge out of working on the river and the two that come to mind for the purpose of this mornings drive are : things that are important must be preserved and taken care of and a meditation of the word drift. Aimlessly drifting about the country landscape for me, seems to be a good way to spark inspiration. Lately I have been feeling much like a piece of drift wood slowly making its way down a meandering river of life. Another reason for the country drive was to burn off the morning fog anxiety I woke with. As the country drive progressed and the fog started to lift ; just how crazy it is that this much fertile land is going to waste became the main focus of this time well spent. That thought sparked a remembrance of meeting Tiécoura Traoré a couple of years ago.
Tiécoura Traoré was on a speaking tour of the United States and was slated to speak at a Labor Notes labor convention in Chicago. After his last stop we were to meet up in Louisville and after a three day stay, hitch a ride up to Chicago. I was working with Railroad Workers United at the time. Tiecoura starred in the movie Bamako.
*** Wikipedia ***
The film depicts a trial taking place in Bamako, the capital of Mali, amid the daily life that is going on in the city. In the midst of that trial, two sides argue whether the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are guided by special interest of developed nations, or whether it is corruption and the individual nations’ mismanagement, that is guilty of the current financial state of many poverty-stricken African countries as well as the rest of the poor undeveloped world. The film even touches on European colonization and discusses how it plays a role in shaping African societies and their resulting poverty and issues.
After spending three days talking about politics, culture and a tour of my place of employment the CSX Osborn Yards, we set off for Chicago straight through Indiana up I-65. We were somewhere about half way when Tiecoura asked to stop the car. We pulled off in on one of those long stretches of highways where for as far as your eyes can see, all you see is corn and soybeans He walked up and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Brother, look as far as your eyes will allow and as much as you see is enough fertile land to feed the people of my entire Capital City.” We got back on the road, next stop the Eugene V. Debs house in Terra Haute, Indiana.
The fond memories of Tiecoura and all that we talked about when we met kinda flooded my mind as field after field of rolling Kentucky pasture went by. The anxiety was in part fueled by trying to figure out what I am supposed to be doing right now. I am fifty years old, half a millennium, holy horse manure WTF! How did that happen? Writing is something I enjoy doing. I have tons of stuff to draw on, but not knowing what to do is troubling. Should I keep writing or go back and work on the poetry that I have almost ready for a second book of collected works? Should I record that CD of songs that I have ready to work up or keep pushing forward.
My river man Harlan Hubbard side is telling me to “drift”, have patience and to keep dredging forward. It’s too thick to navigate and it’s too thin to plow is a river boating term. It means conditions are not favorable for cruising because of sediment in the river. Regardless of conditions, drift will still be making its way. Time well spent is a voice that enters into my mind these short winter days due to my close friend ship with Paul Hassfurder. Paul inherited Payne Hollow from legendary river man Harlan Hubbard. Payne Hollow is a handmade home built way off the grid on the Banks of the Ohio. Paul is certainly one of those river voices I hear guiding me through these too thick to plow pandemic times. Late last winter, before the shit hit the fan, Paul gave me a rare opportunity to sit in Harlan’s chair fireside to read Harlan’s, Payne Hollow, Life On The Fringe Of Society.
So here I am a seasonal employee of a National Landmark, Steamboat, given an opportunity to enjoy some time well spent trying to make heads or tails out of this, that or the other. That’s an old country saying I learned from a Locomotive Engineer back in my CSX railroad days. The metaphors of the railroad work well with the river. What I hope to do with this writing is to bring several life memories together with what I am doing now. Drifting. I sort of feel as if a very long journey has come to a close and now its time to write the book. I tied to do that a couple of years ago by writing a book I titled, The Table. The Table became too personal too quick as it was written right before a Timequake, aka a divorce. Kurt Vonnegut explains a Timequake is a period of time when time shifts, due to some kind of something, and free will comes to an end. In his Timequake, he is thrown back ten years after trying to write a book that he said, “did not go anywhere.” Well, folks, friends and neighbors, that for many will be the covid years of 2020 and possibly part of 2021. No?
This is a work in progress, feel free to send any suggestions or edits or whatever. It takes a village so they say!