Month: May 2014

can’t live without favorites

in a recent chicago tribune “sunday magazine” article a noted fashion designer waxed eloquently about the twelve “favorite things” he said he cannot live without.

among the items listed were his custom-designed yacht made of a special material that absorbed the light in different ways and would change the color of his boat. he was also proud of his collection of emile galle’ vases and owning several patek phillippe watches. additional “must” items included his ferraris — testarossa and maranello models.

ah and so, such are the high priced belongings of the jet-set beautiful people. however, after reflecting on the “tribune” magazine piece, i composed my own list of graybeard favorites. of course my starving artist economics most definitely influence more simple tastes. also, my advancing maturity provides a strong argument against the acquisition of additional material belongings. there is absolutely no sense in collecting anymore “stuff” that eventually someone else will have to toss in the dumpster.

“splake favs”

1)      garlic — since i rarely dine out, i make the most of my meals at home. i cannot remember the last time that i did not use garlic as an integral part of my basic bardic menu. i feel that garlic enhances the flavor of my cooking, as well as provides a “lived in” culinary aroma for my kitchen. i do have to admit that a wedge of prime sharp cheddar cheese is a close second to garlic for my meals.

2)       pilot “razorpoint ii” felt-tip pens — these are a writing must, and i purchase them in boxes of a dozen pens each.

3)         mead 4×6 “spiral” composition books with green covers — i constantly shop the groceries, discount stores and pharmacies for these memo books. i feel a distinct absence if i forget to carry one when traveling.

4)         hannah and her sisters — occasionally i forgo the powerful films like “citizen kane,” the “godfather” series, french ‘new wave’ and italian ‘neorealism’ movies. this woody allen film possesses the ability to cure an occasional fit of blackass funk that sometimes comes over me. i enjoy the ability of the film characters to pursue goals, fail and yet pick themselves up and continue pushing toward a successful conclusion.

5)         cold water — it is a special enjoyment to slake my thirst drinking with cupped hands from a small backwoods stream, or a watery seep flowing from a “cliffs” opening. however, a warm leninkugel red label is a distinct rival.

6)         silence — i must have silence in my personal life and particularly when wrestling with creative works. the silence i have experienced during the early winter mornings while hiking and climbing in the “cliffs” is especially intoxicating. yet, the rock-and-roll oldie “rock around the clock” by bill haley can still set off a rush of teenage nostalgia. also there was once a time when daily i would listen to carl orff’s “carmina burana” once, twice or several times.

7)           mysterious island – traplines north – starbuck valley winter — i have acquired and reread the jules verne, stephen meader and roderick haig-brown books that were my literary favorites when i was young “tommy.” as a young boy growing up i still miss not having the adventure of running my own trapline, but ah, mother.

8)         north face down vest — i have already worn out and thus retired my north face down filled parka. however, my vest is a very handy piece of wearing apparel for upper peninsula winters. it provides a great deal of flexibility for arm and upper body movements while tending such tasks as hiking, shoveling snow and cutting wood.

9)         black wool watch cap — the “yooper” natives joke about the upper peninsula weather, saying there are two seasons in the north, july and eleven months of pretty tough sledding. my dollar store wool watch cap works extremely well keeping my brain-skull cavity safe from frostbite or worse.

10)     mountain lion tattoo — i have been quite fortunate to view four mountain lions during my hiking and climbing in the “cliffs.” i celebrated my first mountain lion sighting with a jeff stroud tattoo. “free bird’s” outstanding body artwork is most definitely one of my prized possessions.

11)     hiking in the “cliffs” — hiking and climbing the trails in the “cliffs” gives me the opportunity to find momentary clarity in my creative life. for a brief moment i feel that i am one with nature, enjoying wild animals, birds, trees, streams, and the usual wilderness surprises.

12)     .357 smith-wesson magnum — the .357 “maggie” is my bluecross and blueshield insurance policy.

 

maggie

maggie

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the mystery of the poet tree

early last sunday morning i drove out to the “cliffs” trailhead and built a bridge across brautigan creek. afterwards i hiked and climbed to the old cliffs mining location on the “cliffs” summit. upon reaching the escarpment edge, i was surprised to discover my “poet tree” had been cut down and chain-sawed into small pieces.

of course this graybeard poet wondered who did the cutting and why was the only tree felled on the “cliffs” summit my “poet tree.”

however, on the ashes of the old white birch, a new “poet tree” was created. now it will be interesting to see how long the new “poet tree” will last.

 

old poet tree

old poet tree

new poet tree

new poet tree

new poet tree

new poet tree

spring

motorcycle fevers – nightcrawlers – dandy lions

yesterday morning my neighbor sam olsen and his son bill were getting their motorcycles ready for another season of riding,

watching them charge the batteries, check air in the tires, clean sparkplugs and revvvv their bike’s wild cc’s, i enjoyed from a distance a mild case of motorcycle fevers, a springtime affliction that fortunately is rarely fatal,

i thought back through the splake-smith history to the 60’s and 70’s when many of my students at kellogg community college in battle creek, michigan, were returning viet nam vets, and motorcycles were their choice for campus transportation, the college parking lot was full of a colorful array of machines, suzuki, kawasaki, triumph bikes predominated, however, i recall a couple of norton motorcycles and someone rode an exotic moto-guzzi,

besides the influence of my younger students, the short-lived television show featuring michael parks “then came bronson” also fueled the motorcycle fevers of a young college professor and father of ted, a year old son and his brother michael brendan who would be born two months later,

in the television program, parks portrayed jim bronson, a disillusioned newspaperman who quit his job and took to the highway on a motorcycle to renew his soul and search for a meaning to his life,

this was pretty heavy stuff by the measure of any age and generation, even today i can close my eyes and hear the theme song of “then came bronson” echoing in my consciousness,

with the generosity of the calhoun county school employees credit union in battle creek, i purchased my first bike, a bridgestone 200 cc motorcycle in the spring of 1970, and being a neophyte on my first ride i panicked, hit the front wheel brake and dumped the bridgestone bike on top of me in the front yard of my bellevue farm,

the doctor on call at community hospital in battle creek told me “i hope that you wrecked your goddamn machine,” and, i replied “no,” and added “i couldn’t wait to get back on it and go riding again,”

such is the mad electricity and insane attraction to riding a motorcycle with the exciting rush of several hundred cc’s jazzing your cojones, the first few minutes on a bike you are afraid of going too fast, and a few minutes later you can’t ramp the rpm’s fast enough while fish-tailing the knobby bike tires on rural dirt roads,

i truly believe that an experience with a motorcycle is an integral part of coming into manhood for most boys of any age,

a couple of days before being the voyeur of the olsen neighbors, i drove out to the “cliffs” trailhead to check out hiking and climbing possibilities, i slowed the “hi yo silver away” ranger pickup on the sharp curve bending around the north shore of lac la belle, and after looking at the water declared that it was time to do some serious fishing soon, so now i have a dozen nightcrawlers nestled in a plastic tub in my fridge, and this coming sunday morning if the early morning is dry and the temperatures fair i will see if i can wrestle up an early spring tiger trout or three,

finally, while checking my backyard in order to get mentally prepped to rake the winter residue of old leaves and small tree branches, i noticed a couple of early yellow dandelions poking through the ash street soil,

ah and yes, the noxious weed that others with their house beautiful mindsets try to exterminate is my precious springtime posey and poem,

so with the advent of motorcycles, nightcrawlers and dandy-lions, it is impossible to deny that spring has finally arrived in the keweenaw peninsula’s farther northlands, hurrah.

 

 

motorcycle

motorcycle

motorcycle

motorcycle

motorcycle

motorcycle

motorcycle

motorcycle

motorcycle

motorcycle

tiger trout

tiger trout

rods reels nightcrawlers

rods reels nightcrawlers

splake book cover photograph

i am extremely pleased to have a photograph of t. kilgore splake chosen to be the the front cover picture for the new book by alan catlin, “books of the dead: a memoir with poetry.”

 

Books of the Dead combines prose narration and poems revolving around the life and the deaths of my divorced parents. The first section is The New York City Book of the Dead which centers around Room 641 of the Martha Washington Hotel for Women in Midtown Manhattan, where the refuse of her life collected during seven long years of schizophrenic isolation.  Beginning on the worst day of my life, entering that room and searching through the often knee high piles of junk for vital papers,  the book moves backwards in time, showing our relationship and the various stages of her madness coming full circle back to where we begin, at the end.  The second section is “The Central Florida Book of the Dead” deals with the sudden death of my father and the lingering terminal illness of my step-mother and the dreaded phrase, “according to Florida Law.” This section is a kind of a breathless blur, reflecting a five month odyssey that had us commuting from New York to Florida to deal with estate matters, matters that became so complicated, there was not time for grieving. This is a handsome trade sized paperback of nearly 220 pages and unlike any memoir you have ever read.

 splake photograph for "books of the dead" by alan catlin

splake photograph for “books of the dead” by alan catlin

 

for those interested in purchasing “books of the dead” the price is $13 and post the book order to:

 

alan catlin

143 furman street

schenectady, ny 12304

poet tree – lost – mountain lion

ah and so , the old adage of my distant childhood used to be “april showers bring may bring may flowers” however, climatic conditions in the keweenaw peninsula farther northlands operate on a slightly different schedule, recently very cold, gray spring rains fell across the peninsula for ten consecutive days, greatly discouraging any serious adventuring in the “cliffs,”

waking on a friday early to clear blue skies and a bright warm sun quickly warming the day, i declared it time to refurbish the “poet tree” on the “cliffs” summit for the new ’14 season,

turning tranny miles north of calumet to the “cliffs” trail head i hummed the lyrics of the once popular johnny nash ballad,

“i can see clearly now the rain is gone,

i can see all obstacles in my way

gone are the dark clouds that had me blind

it’s going to be a bright bright

sun shiny day”

     crossing over brautigan creek, past the pointer clearing and hiking up the dogleg rise around the old gray mine ruins, i quickly jettisoned the trickster monkey, quieting his naggy “hey dickhead, you don’t really want to do this” whine,

with the morning quickly warming, a light sweatshirt was comfortable for climbing, all around me wild birds were flit-fluttering here and there, trilling their poor little hearts dry,

swinging left at church junction to continue hiking to the “cliffs” summit, i thought next time i will bend right and take the red tibetan prayer flag and hang it up at point betsy and see if it will last through the spring and summer without someone thieving it,

at the path leading to the “cliffs” mine shaft opening and “poet tree” location on the escarpment edge, i was surprised by the amount of winter deadfall that had accumulated, alas, somehow i missed a zig and zag and it suddenly dawned on me that hey, splake, you are not particularly lost, but for a brief moment i didn’t know exactly where i was,

after a few minutes of cross-wilderness brush stomping i came out at the ledge on the “cliffs” where the “poet tree” was located, i found that the winter had been just as severe on the “poet tree” as the rest of the “cliffs” forested timberlands, all that remained on the “poet tree” from the past fall were some cloth packets of tobacco,

quickly i hung a new prayer flag on a tree branch and attached some fresh poems and ‘arty’ postcards to the tree, after that i snapped a couple of digital pictures to give me some “cliffs” trekking bragging rights, then quickly i was back on the trail retracing my steps to the ground zzzzero starting point and my ford “hi yo silver away” pickup truck,

while hiking a gradual incline about halfway down from the “cliffs” summit i noticed movement on the trail ahead of me, what i first thought were wind blown leaves dancing across the trail, on closer inspection turned out to be my third mountain lion sighting,

its coat was a strange mixture of dark brown and lighter gray colors, definitely not a beautiful walt disney or “wild kingdom” wild creature, and there was absolutely no denying the long black loopy tail that verified this was indeed a mountain lion and not a rogue coyote or lone keweenaw timber wolf,

when i reached the spot where i initially spotted the lion, the “cliffs” wilderness became totally silent, the once melodious sounds of wild birds were no longer echoing in the “cliffs” spring foliage, a very eerie and dicey feeling,

in my mind i asked myself “hmm, is this the day that i might die,” and i remembered the don mclean “american pie” song lyrics,

             “bye bye miss american pie drove my chevy to the levy but the levy

               was dry and them good ‘ol boys drinking whiskey and rye singing

              this will be the day that i die, this will be the day that i die,”

     anyhow, i picked up a good-sized piece of deadfall and christened it my “bardic cat whacker,” so if necessary, i could give a good account of myself, with a few more glances over my shoulder than usual for a”cliffs” visit, very shortly i was back at brautigan creek and the “cliffs” trailhead pullover,

later at my calumet bard res’ i reflected on a marvelous friday, i restored the “poet tree” after getting momentarily lost in the woods, and experienced the exciting rush of meeting a mountain lion on the trail,

not too shabby an outing for a graybeard poet and “the cliffs dancer,” hmm, hmm.

 

 

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree

poet tree