I spent Saturday morning blogging and catching up on some important business, like applying for next year's health insurance. Kiddo got pressed into service to give my parent's car another jump start, it always amazes me that that's possible but it hasn't failed so far. There seemed to be some kind of electrical problem with the car, and later in the week RM diagnosed it as being a slow drainage through the power lock circuit which was "solved" by pulling a fuse. In the afternoon I dropped by to visit my neighbor AH who gave me a deer shoulder from his freezer. He's an expert hunter with bow and arrow and muzzle-loading black powder rifles, and also a great storyteller. He told me about his recent bear hunt down east, offered to let me try some bear meat next, and praised the virtues of bear oil for frying. Apparently there are black bears in this area, neighbors with trail cameras down by Dry Creek have caught some photos of them. We talked about wild turkeys, and he told about when he was nineteen and worked on a team to catch them up in the mountains and reintroduce them in other parts of the state. They would bait an area and wait in a blind to deploy something called a cannon net which can shoot out and catch a whole flock at once. Hunting turkeys is an old man's pastime, he told me, and now he understands why, because it's much more exciting than hunting deer. I admired his truck, which a local artist hand-painted with a remarkably realistic late fall landscape of tangled oak trees and boulders.
After that I headed over to the garage and did some work on Kiddo, tightening the bolts on the intake manifold and resetting the computer, one or both of which seem to have greatly improved but maybe not totally fixed the engine misfires. Anyway the throttle is very responsive now and the only practical issue is that Kiddo refuses to do any work until warmed up a little, which me too. While I was hanging around, E showed me the back deck and attic above the garage, which will one day be turned into an apartment. I caught up with TM, who was out planting shrubs here and there around BH
Farm. A few more parts arrived for Punkin and I did a little shop work before heading back to the tent. The evening's reading material was a wonderful longread called Castles in the Sky by Christina Lalanne. The story is lovely and I really admire the writer's persistent, dedicated, loving drive to preserve and uncover the past.
Sunday morning I was back in the garage as soon as I finished breakfast. After weeks of digging cat holes in the woods, I found out that there's an outhouse right outside the garage! And not just any ordinary outhouse, this one has a beautiful stained-glass window and a number of clever touches. It's like a little church of pooping. With the warm sun pouring in through the big south windows of the garage, I listened to O Magnum Mysterium and puttered around with new parts. I reinstalled Punkin's gas tank with fuel lines and a petcock (no really that's what it's called), which is a little lever that lets you switch to the "reserve tank" which is really the same tank but it pulls the gas from lower down. Back before fuel gauges were common you would just ride the bike until you ran out of gas, then switch to the reserve fuel supply and drain the bottom part of the tank while looking for a gas station, and a lot of dirt bikes and retro bikes still work this way because it's cheaper and simpler. It was a lovely sunny day, so I took an extended lunch break to walk around BH Farm to see what had changed, and wound up crying up on the hill by the grave of BL, who died last year. Her memorial stone, under a little cedar pagoda, is inscribed "More often than not, truth is found in silence..."
In the afternoon I cooked up a stew with the deer shoulder, brown rice, garden greens, and other vegetables. Back in college I spent a long weekend helping build a stone wall up at Turtle Island Preserve (which I believe is the very one in the background of the photo on their contact page). We ate a venison stew and I remember Eustace telling how traditionally people would keep a stew pot boiling on the fire and just add in water and whatever ingredients were handy when it got low. I was always intrigued by the idea, and it's very practical for my current lifestyle, so it was fun to finally try it myself, and the smells of wood smoke and gamey deer fat brought back memories of that time. While the stew was cooking I caught up on the phone with SE, who moved to Montana in October and seems to be thriving there. After eating the stew, I headed back to the garage and tried using an app to decipher the instructions that came with the engine I bought, which are entirely in Chinese. But there were social distractions I couldn't resist, and I wound up going over to DO's place to taste some delicious squash fritters he'd made and chat with folks from opposite ends of a picnic table. RM told me that he doesn't actually enjoy the physical parts of mechanical work: getting dirty, ordering the wrong parts, the inevitable discomforts and frustrations, but he puts up with them because he loves the problem solving so much. I reflected that for me the purely physical parts are a pleasure, and it's the little roadblocks and the mental frustration that I put up with. Maybe it's that I do so much abstract problem-solving in my job. But by observing the way RM works I think I'm learning to slow down and enjoy that part as well. Or at least that's my goal!
Monday was unpleasant weather, very cold and rainy, and I was stuck in the tent for most of the day. But my new guitar arrived, which is tiny and has a carbon fiber body and detachable wooden neck. That inspired me to get the tent nice and warm so I could set the guitar up and play it. So I stoked up the stove to reheat some stew, steam a dozen eggs, and make a hot water bottle. Then between tuning up the new nylon strings, which always take a long time to stretch out fully, I started to learn Polaroids by Shawn Colvin, a song that popped into my head and I listened to a lot back in Sea Level. I guess it's mostly about getting older and relationships ending, and parts of it just made me break down in tears while singing them, which was cathartic. There's something about actually playing and singing a song that's different from just listening to it; the song becomes my own in a way. It was going to be a cold night, so I put some time into optimizing my bedding, which is now both of my sleeping bags one inside the other. I fell asleep to the sound of the cold wind high in the pines.
Tuesday was chilly again although not rainy. I really didn't want to spend another day stuck in the tent so I went and worked in the garage, which wasn't super warm but was warm enough that I couldn't see my breath, which felt luxurious by comparison. I played guitar on my lunch break, enjoying the acoustics of the large space. In the evening, after a dinner of more stew, I went back to the garage and learned how to replace bearings on motorcycle wheels. I got the front wheel entirely back together, with cleaned parts and brand new brake shoes, and it felt like real progress and was thoroughly satisfying. RM showed me how to use his rocket stove, which heats the whole garage with a remarkably tiny amount of firewood. It got so cold in the tent that night that my phone refused to charge.
On Wednesday I went to Durham to hold an unmarrying ceremony with HW. JH also attended as a witness and fellow griever. We went up to the spot at Penny's Bend where we got married, at the top of the field under a big oak tree. I could almost see that October day in 2007 superimposed there, the fine weather, the rows of friends and family sitting on straw bales, RB's booming voice, and two kids in fairy-tale costumes so full of big dreams. Now in 2020 all but a few leaves had fallen, and HW and I held hands and talked about happy memories from our marriage, the things we were thankful for, the things we'd learned, the things we regretted, and our hopes for the future. JH read us a poem she'd written about the last time she'd spent the night at our house, and sang one of my songs that I'd all but forgotten but that was strangely perfect for the occasion. HW and I dug a little hole and buried our rings and our house keys. There was a lot of crying all around, and hugs, and a few laughs, and it all felt like exactly the right thing to be doing. Afterwards the three of us took a long walk by the river.
Thursday was my long-awaited appointment at the DMV to get a drivers license. I spent some time in the morning grooming for the photo. My trimmers had run out of charge so I had to use them plugged into the solar battery, which was tied to a tree underneath my spare scooter mirror. Using my poncho as a barber's cape, I gave myself a haircut and then shaved with with hot water in a bean can. If anyone had been there to see, it would have looked ridiculous, but the results were good, at least from the front (which is the only part they take a picture of). We got the correct insurance form figured out at the last minute, and I headed to Carrboro Plaza and ate a takeout bento lunch from the Japanese restaurant there. The process of getting a license was incredibly smooth, since I'd already taken the knowledge and eye tests for my permit, and road tests are currently waived in favor of a driving log. When I mentioned that I wanted to get a motorcycle permit, they let me take the knowledge test right then (I hadn't prepared at all for it but still passed), and scheduled me to come back get the permit on Friday. Which I did and can now legally ride any type of motorcycle at any time of day in any state for a year (as long as I don't carry a passenger), so the country is my oyster! I also ran into a fellow Ruckus owner who'd done some modifications: floor cover taken off for a naked look, big windscreen, big tachometer, aftermarket carburetor, air intake, and exhaust. It was still a stock engine but he said he could get it up to 42 mph on flat ground. Kiddo came off a little boring in comparison, but maybe once I have another motorcycle as a backup I might attempt some flair. I took advantage of the warm weather Thursday afternoon to organize the tent, wash dishes, and dig a third latrine trench, and joined the family for a little happy hour at sunset, which was a bit shorter than usual due to wet firewood and a hyperactive but very tired toddler.
It was quite a week. And lots of motorcycle parts have come in the mail, so I'm looking forward to spending a good part of the weekend with wrench and wire strippers in hand!
Things I Learned
- I've been told there's a new TV show with the same format and feel as The Great British Bake-Off but it's about blacksmithing. I can't seem to find it with a quick search but it sounds fun.
- When you put live kimchi on hot food it kind of crackles and pops like Rice Krispies.
- Butane lighters just stop working if they get cold enough.
- Alternators need to be powered to set up a field before they can make any power, like priming a pump.
- Back in the day, some motorcycles had manual ignition timing levers that you had to operate along with the throttle. If you failed to do it properly the engine would start knocking and fail catastrophically. I imagine how challenging it must have been to be a trials racer using all four limbs to manage clutch, throttle, ignition, front brakes, and rear brakes while balancing and steering up the sides of rocky gullies. Across Scotland. For five days straight.
- Chatting casually and unhurriedly with friends.
- Petting affectionate dogs with floppy ears.
- Being helped by friendly and helpful bureaucrats.
- Listening to an audiobook with only my nose poking out of the sleeping bag.