Saturday, September 25, 2021


The Lost Provenance of My Father's Fishcakes

Codfish, potatoes, onions, salt and pepper.   Ground in the mill that was otherwise used only once a year or so to make corned-beef hash.  Fried no doubt in lard, and served most often with beans.  A torn-off piece of bread might have sopped up the soggy remains.

I am sure that my dad picked up the formula from his own dad, but beyond that nothing is known in specific.

It was a staple of the fishermen even at sea.  It's easy to understand why.  By the time the fishermen made it back to Gloucester or Lunenburg, their schooners were laden with roughly 800,000 pounds of fish, gutted and salted and/or on ice.  If a couple of hundred pounds were consumed by the crew within hours of having been caught, the success of the voyage would not have suffered by it, rather rendered more economical.

Once on dry land, did the able-bodied men swear off fishcakes and beans for a time in favor of pancakes and bacon?  If so, they would have been lured back just as they were lured back to the sea, as surely as a child to his mother's prized strawberry chiffon pie, and before very long.

This culinary extravagance part of the elaborate cultural web that tied us and ties us still to the good people of Nova Scotia.


If only I could return my spirit to "The Waters of March," which are, after all, in the Northern Hemisphere, "the waters of September" --

Friday, September 24, 2021


Carl Jung, if Not in His Own Words, At Least in Words that Have Been Mediated Only Once, and Only by Me

He wrote a very contemplative essay, collected in his "Modern Man in Search of a Soul," on the stages of life.   He says in it that men, who mirabile dictu are mostly masculine, expend most of their masculinity in the first three of life's four stages, and hence in the final stage their femininity comes to dominate; they become soft in body and soft-hearted, in relative terms.  Not a bad thing.

Women likewise expend much of their femininity in the process of fecundity.  Late in life a latent practicality and hard-heartedness often presage a late blooming in the theatre of business and industry.

And, he goes on to say, many marriages founder upon the collision that takes place when the spouses meet in the middle, and in what lies after the collision.

More profound than this, Jung believed that to be truly integrated and psychologically healthy, one must be goal oriented, and that the only authentic and positive goal in this final stage of life must be Death itself.  But Death as an abyss will not do.  The goal must be to survive it and carry on.  He seems to say, in other words, that we must embrace an afterlife not because it actually exists, but because we need it so as not to live in a kind of (often camouflaged) madness and nihilism in the last decades.

This belief-out-of-utilitarian-necessity seems wrong to me in principle.  And yet I find it more easy and natural now than when I was young to pray, albeit in an idiosyncratic way, and indeed even if my prayer consists only in saying, repeatedly, "Why have You forsaken me?"

Friday, September 17, 2021


Cobalt and Sawdust

Anthony Hopkins was approached to play the lead role in the film adaptation.  This even though the real life protagonist was a woman, a Dr. Nadine Millar.  When he refused the part, the producers turned to Charlize Theron, who had prior experience playing a monster and who indeed did it exceedingly well.

Most of us know the story now, from the tabloids.  Dr. Millar (of chiropractic) spoke with her patients on their visits to her office as a hair-dresser might, and over time she got to know them well.  They confided in her in such a way that she felt that she understood their inner lives probably better than their spouses and siblings did.  And, in some cases, their inner lives were wretched.  These few in fact truly, in her view, would be better off dead.   What lay before them were years of misery, made more miserable still by an onset and progression somewhere along the way of terrible disease.  The light comfort that she was able to give them in her work was insufficient to the task of turning them toward contentment.

Suicide -- one response -- comes ordinarily with intense anxiety in the run-up, she thought.  Murder, quick and unforeseen, does not.

In school, Nadine had been taught both how to crack a neck and how not to crack a neck.  The latter instruction shared a lot with a small part of a lesson given to US Navy Seals in early training, except that they are told to do it when the moment so calls, without hesitation.

The first time, with Wallace  the postman from Framingham lying face down on the table, was messy.  There was a gigantic "Ow!!!!," and she had to put her right hand over his mouth as she snapped at it again, more vigorously.  After that (four more times in all), death was almost instantaneous, as she intended.

Then there was the problem of how to dispose of the bodies.  In this she took instruction from Walter White in "Breaking Bad" but, notwithstanding her physical strength and fitness, it was difficult to get her victims into the tubs, and then to get the tubs into the basement.  It helped that her therapy table could be raised and lowered and that it was on casters. 

The principal chemical that she used in this disposal exercise was a brilliant, cobalt blue.

Her last victim was a wiry little guy who called himself Chicky Belmondo.  In his 50s, he lived alone.  He was in truth an erudite man, largely self educated.  He seemed to have collected thousands of factoids, and not dull ones, and beyond that almost never to have forgotten one.

That's how it came to pass that Nadine had this epiphany while still holding Chicky's head between her strong hands, that every one of those factoids must have been coded somehow, physically, in his brain.  (She was, after all, a strict materialist, not a dualist or other philosophical romantic.)  Now that he was instantly dead, they would still be so coded for a little while, but it would be impossible to access them.  Maybe someday, she thought, scientists would figure out not how to transport them to another brain, resting in formaldehyde on a laboratory shelf, but how to upload them into silicon at virtually the moment of death.  With this passing thought, Nadine absolved herself.  Clearly she wanted the best for mankind, even if some would say that her methods in critical respects were unsound.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021


The Peasants Sounded a Hard Vengeance

Their pitchforks once rusted shined now clear and clean.  They pointed at every compass quadrant and at all of the interstices between.

The children formed a busy hub around a maypole that they themselves had erected.  They handed cider out in tin cups, from a central horses' trough, cleaned especially for the purpose.

Everyone waited in stillness for the battle to begin.


The TV Indians used to snap an arrow in half, as a sign of peace.

Thursday, September 2, 2021


A Nearly Biblical Rain Last Night

The remains of Hurricane Ida.  They came into our neighborhood, strangely, on an east wind, not south or southwesterly.  Does that imply some residual strong rotation?

My poor little emerald green skiff will be full to the gunwales with water that was scooped up last week in the Gulf of Mexico, east of the Yucatan, only to be deposited in a river that runs into the Gulf of Maine.  Lately the currents in the river have run, I'm told, to seven knots, which seems possible only if the astronomical high tides got a boost from the overflowing river runoff.

Who said "The Fire Next Time?"

Wednesday, September 1, 2021


In a Prior Life

For an act both noble and reckless, on a promontory in the far southwest, in the time of Cromwell, my wrists were bound tightly together behind a wooden post with thin straplets of raw leather.  (Rubber did not yet exist, except as a white sap that bled from the trees in the Amazon and in the land that we know now as Indonesia.)

My executioners -- there were three of them -- bore heavy crossbows and wore metal helmets hung with mail to better disguise their faces.  

Someone -- I know not who -- shouted out that I must "Take [My] Punishment Like a Manne!"  The core personality on display being the same as the one that I carry today, this could never be possible.  I squirmed against the post like a maggot, and my bowels turned to mush.  The crowd -- including children in the crowd -- accordingly lost all respect for me in my last hour.

And then the heavy-headed arrows flew.  And then, as the book foretells, my soul was finally "unclenched."


It is a law of nature that the remorse will be felt that is not felt by the remorseless.