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Missouri Diggs
Writing in the Transmississippi: Missouri, 4/13/2022
© 2022 James LaFond
SEP/6/22
Exeter Missouri is the closest town. There is a horse auction on some Friday nights and livestock auctions on occasion. The largest nearby town is Monet, that has a great Chinese buffet, due, so my host says, to the great number of stray cats in the area.
This room has two large curtained windows, a good small theraputic bed with an old timey quilt and this blue desk, which I think was once a vanity for a lady. The curtains stay drawn as I sit next to the exterior door, with my back to the door to the washroom ahead, bathroom to the left and large kitchen to the right. Beyond that is the front room with the wood stove, where Leanna sits with two of the three dogs and one of the three cats, knitting and cross stitching.
Buddy, the lazy cat, stays inside and hunts spiders, and in summer time goes out and hunts snakes. Paul suspects him of being gay.
Mamma cat enlisted as a ratter and mouser, a stray hoping on the moving truck. If not for the cats this place, located amongst vast farm fields, would be overrun with rodents, their many burrows making walking the fields a ginger-footed activity.
Bubba is a sketchy mouser, half brother to Buddy.
Kenny is a lion-like dog of 120 pounds, with a head like a Great Pyrennes, a dog of a deceased friend who used to be Big John Tate’s sparring partner in Tennessee. He spends 20 hours a day and night patrolling and lounging sentinel, eating various carcasses found all about. Kenny regards himself as human, has won hundreds of dog fights and at one time had impregnated 9 bitches at the same time. His teeth have grown dull and when the name of his deceased owner is spoken he sulks sadly.
Maple is Leanna’s tiny white companion, about the size of Kenny’s head, and “never grew into her paws.” She seems Chijuajua and Jack Rustle terrier.
Sheriff Chloe is blue heeler mixed with beagle and fox terrier, I think. She referees and breaks up cat fights, bosses dogs and humans, including me, who she barks at for swatting table flies, loves fetching sticks, boxes with Paul, and is the perfect walking companion, even keeping an eye on turkey vultures eyeing the old guest as he ambles about the fields. She will not go for a walk if Leanna is not feeling well and will stay by her side, sometimes laying on the arm of Leanna’s easy chair on top of Maple wedged underneath the half made quilt.
This old house was abandoned and being used my drugheads to get high. It is along a rural dirt farm route called The Pipe Line, that goes down into Arkansas through the Ozarks.
I hear a hawk scree in the distance, cardinals—a large red—outside in the canebreaks and brush pile, and some other small song bird I cannot identify.
A truck comes by, usually a farm truck, about every two hours.
There is a barn where I will help Paul set up his boxing gym. A great collection of horseshoes in 50-gallon drums and of fixtures welded of horseshoes, abound.
The old stone and concrete porch is shaded by the dominant tree, red oaks. The woods and fence lines nearby feature these, white oaks, post oaks, many maple, dogwoods, and a tree I am calling a locust but not sure of.
The country round about is the richest cattle land I have seen, richer than Oregon.
One hears the ominous winds howl down off the Ozarks into this shallow valley, where shoal Creek starts its journey to becoming a substantial Kansas river, and the names of Kansas and Arkansas—meaning windy—come to mind. The skeletal appearance of these woods—blooming late now this year—evoke a sense of brooding loneliness. This alone—of writing in the only habitation within two miles as the wind howls—is secured by the barren nature of every place. Few people abound even in the most substantial town, the abandoned houses rivaling the numbers of those inhabited.
This is such a good place to write, as the wind howls, and alternately the licking clouds skate over the distant landscape, something of a cross between Iowa and Pennsylvania fringed with a pseudo-Utah susnet, with the humidity of Maryland summoning crickets and frogs in great vocal numbers as early as April, though later each year of late.
Paul shoes horses every day, driving for hours to distant farms. Leanna makes blankets for his clients. She and I drink 2 or 3 pots of coffee a day, using the very best heavy cream I have tasted. Where the Pacific Northwest passes off pints of 30% cream at $4 for the real article, the nearby dairy of Hilard retails a quart of 100% cream for $4.
Leanna does Paul’s scheduling for him by phone. We go and pick up his boots from the leather shop and look for chaps. The crackpot works the perishable inventory in the cupboards and fridge, as payment is often taken or supplemented with home canned food, cheese or farm fresh eggs. They have given a truck away to a man who is handy with automotive repairs and is on standby as a mechanic. There is a police chief in Oklahoma who Paul works for largely, because “in the event of a grid down situation, that man will be a warlord.”
Paul returns when he may, bringing horse hoof trimmings for the dogs to chew on. We share a simple meaty meal, Leanna and I in easy chairs, he seated on a ball, the three dogs between us awaiting scraps and even drinking beer from the bottle. The news of the day, friends arrested, folks unhomed in fires or hurt in car accidents, and the state of storm and tornado prediction, are discussed.
At dusk Paul and Leanna, her with her soft southerly manner, and he with an oddly oblique use of pointed diction, negotiate the videoing of an interview with their crackpot guest. He is the man, the boss, but he does little without running it through her suggestive filter of feminine whiles. Leanna suffers Paul’s misogyny with quiet dignity, noting his grinding work ethic, his generosity in supporting multiple poor families as a local benefactor, and “mostly, because he’s amazing—he’s simply brilliant.”
It is a humbling stroke to the mysanthropic mind to be hosted and promoted by such folk. Paul has scheduled numerous drives for me to view the landscape for the novel I am tipping into, even charting an invasion route through high valleys we drove at dusk, selecting high points for crusader towers and ranger stations…
A crane—multiple cranes—fly overhead, marking their passage with a plaintive “hwuar” somewhere between a quack and a honk, passing from Arkansas in the south to the northwest.
The rhythmic wail of a brush bird outside the curtained window, greets the braying of lesser birds and is joined by something else. The coyotes prowl down in the creek bed and the white tail deer browse up in the woods as that lone turkey vulture glides over the purple-heathered fields between the twisted wood-lines and ghostly white cane breaks, all yet to bloom.
Three email articles are yet to be written, then posting for the summer months. Then, Paul has provided me with two solid weeks of novel time, landscape charting drives [1] twice weekly, writing by morning, strolling with Sheriff Chloe, writing after noon, playing cards and dominoes with Leanna in late afternoon as we wait for him to make the long drive home while the winds howl down off the stunted and crumbling mountains.
Thank you so much.
Notes
-1. The various landscape impressions will be placed in the back matter of Ranger? It is not a matter of just seeing. I need a guide that knows the history of logging, mining and other human abuses of the land that have transformed this place far from what it once was: trees a third natural size, mountains three feet lower from clear cut erosion, star cliffs now dirt slid, hills gouged with machinery to make interstates, some valleys narrowed, other valleys filled with a lakes for rich folk to boat on, and overall a reduction in the howling wind that has only 20% of the primal trees to groan and whistle in its mighty breeze.
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