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Gutter Gnome in an Empty Nest
Writing in Utah: 9/3/2022
© 2022 James LaFond
APR/7/23
Utah: Reloading room and lake home, is what this was titled. But the basement that I used to share with the eldest grandson and the youngest son, has been deserted and left to me. I used to write in the reloading room—the place where Richard Barrett and I recorded our Pulp Renaissance podcasts last year. But I now prefer to write in bed and on couches to keep my ruined right leg elevated.
So I write where I sleep. Also, the lake home of Dante I have not visited for three years.
Kamas Valley Utah is my favorite place in the world, peopled by the most polite and hardest working folks I have yet to meet. Kamas is also my first guest writing destination. I was invited here in 2015, visited in 2016 and 2017 for two weeks each, and began living here seasonally at end of summer into early autumn, in 2018. Along with Portland, this is my most productive writing space—that is other than the graphomaniac hey day of Sensei Steve’s room rental on Caucasian Avenue in Baltimore City.
The bedroom is in the ever cool basement of the small single story home on Utah Route 30 with the eggs for sale sign out front next to the arbor. The property is an acre, ringed with cottonwoods, blue spruce and aspen, a big tooth maple shading the trashcan and recycle bin. The north window is two feet above where I sit propped by two pillows with a third as a lap desk, and provides cool air, that will begin causing me to shut it by night when the first freezes of mid September come. The sound of trucks and tractors and cars constantly rumble on the breeze along with the bird songs.
The rooster has been slain, so there is no longer a morning cock call. There is actually a closet for my use, the ruck sack stowed in it rather than serving as a foot locker, shirts hanging, pants folded on the chair. There are hiking boots from Jake and work boots from Shayne here for me to use, resting the travel boots. 90% of the women are really good looking, half of them beautiful. The men all tower a head over this gutter gnome.
Walking on the roads is easy. I stay on the berm and drivers still split the center line to give me space to fall over and not get run over.
Other than the reloading room, the house is entirely girled up by Deb. Passers bye stop and admire the flowers, 14 garden boxes and the trees. Mexicans and hipsters stop to buy fresh eggs. A beautiful blond who said good morning to me while she was jogging and I was weeding tumbleweed on the roadside, stopped bye while I was picking green beans, the local Linda Evans, handing me a plate of cookies, for Bob and Deb and I.
I wake and have two cups of coffee with Bob, made in an old camp pot that sits on the gas range burner. If I need to mail a letter I walk three blocks, to the center of town, to the post office and back. If the coffee has been over done, I can get a 4 pack of 16-ounce light beers at ken’s cash next to the gas station for $3.79, the cost of one beer in Portland.
Once a week I maintain Tim’s widow’s property, weeding, edging and such, and do so with Tim’s mother, Arla’s property. These two early morning chores give plenty of time for writing contemplation. Screen time is limited to four to six hours a day with these failing eyes, so the writing is done like it once was, in the brain, while I move hands and feet.
There is a daily chore here, such as cutting out a dead tree, and the minor chores such as feeding scraps to chickens, picking in the garden, pulling the garden plots, rotating in compost, stocking the burn pile that will generate ash to by mixed in with the manure and grass clippings and other compost…
This provides a rhythm, a rhythm that feels ancient. Whenever the traffic racket of this rapidly suburbanizing redoubt becomes distracting, one can stand and look east to the Mountains and be lost in wonder. There are “back bench” roads lined with horse and cattle farms, the mansion of the rich, where one can walk and wonder.
The mountains scream at the human that he is not the ascendant god that he has been told he is, and puts him back at Eternity’s uncaring feet.
The mixture of a purpose, of helping hobbling elders still working with a body full of replacement joints, of canning garden produce as a team in the kitchen, of rotating and inventorying Deb’s basement pantry, of helping with the bi-weekly family dinner, going to church on the alternate Sunday, and helping three households prepare for the coming of the winter season I shall not see, does have the effect of imposing a rhythm and helping cultivate a worldview alien to that I grew up with.
Thrice a week we watch a movie together and have a fun time after night has come.
Foraging for the various wild foods in the mountains is the most mind-inspiring tonic available. Rarely have I encountered this mix of purpose, solitude, teamwork, toil and wanderspace—coupled with an absence of human predation, and to boot, experienced at a high elevation [1] that puts me to sleep for 7 to 11 hours a night, a lifetime record.
The resulting writing occurs with more depth in less time, saving the eyes and giving me the time to do as much work around the place as my hosts.
The intrusion of purpose helps in the writing of characters of real type. For instance, I missed choke cherry and currant picking at this elevation by three days, my miscalculation driving me up the mountain for those things. This morning, if I do not get the rest of the ash berries, they will be gone tomorrow. The birds clean them out after the choke cherries. This is the best Oregon Grape season I have seen. If I wait another week on them, they will began to shrivel…
The rose hips are in and thick, but have been crowded out at this elevation by development, so I can look forward to four days spent on four mountains picking the annual bushel. I have 10 people across the country who use these rose hips and berries for their winter teas. It is helpful, for this slave-handed gutter gnome to have a purpose other than writing to lend an anchor to the ghostly ship of odd thought.
Writing is typically done here, from 9 to 11 in the morning, and from 2 to 4 in the afternoon, some time again from 6 to 8 in the evening. The norm is to do one fiction and one nonfiction each day, with some days only bringing fiction, and other days bringing 3 or four chapters, depending on the energy left to me by the day and the synchronicity between that energy and the subject; contemplation written in the morning, action in the afternoon, and reflection in the evening on those days that a third musing is granted.
The nightstand next to me hold the war club and coffee cup with the pocket calendar listing posts made. The night stand to the night holds the clock, the sleeping knife and the book The World of Odysseus, reminding me that better men have taken worse journeys and most of them remain unnamed, and that the least this piece of human driftwood can do is to channel them into a form that might in some future, inform a young man that he has had much silent company down this weird eddying stream of fate.
Notes
-1. For these two months my life is spent mostly between 6,000 and 8,000 feet, with two weekly trips to over 10,000 feet.
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