Saturday, November 10, 2007


He changed the life of his times, back when times could be changed by a writer. No writer of his generation had Mailer's ambition -- or, fortunately for his ambition and his readers, his range.

I was 13 or 14 when I first read him, Barbary Shore, whose first sentence --

"Probably I was in the war."

-- struck me then and strikes me now as a marvelous, frightening gambit, a hook that's also an existential jab, a signal that we are not embarked upon anything like a traditional novel.

Nor were we, nor was he.

The vastness of his gifts was matched by the acuity of his eye and ear: while the political writing is rightly celebrated for his sense of how things work, Mailer was also an acute social novelist and observer. The societies of which he wrote best in fiction and nonfiction -- ancient Egypt, the CIA, soldiers on patrol, the familial and social structures and strictures surrounding young Adolph Hitler, the astronaut /engineer corps in the summer of the first moon landing, marchers approaching the Pentagon, murderer and murdered in Utah, more -- were from his perspective and in his prose representative of the cosmic as well as the common, the divine as well as the bedeviled, the orgiastic and the disciplined, the brilliant and the brutal, the contemporary and the timeless.

He tried to get it all between the covers of his books, each of them different, each informed by a mind relentless in its pursuit of the ultimate, its sense of language, its adherence to the importance of writing not only well but also challengingly.

No less in the last year of his career than the sixty years of work and words that preceded it. He wrote once:

Every moment of one's existence, one is growing into more or retreating into less. One is always living a little more or dying a little bit.

His own moments now ended, his moment, that moment of history that was our times from The Naked and the Dead in 1948 to On God published a few weeks before his death, remains alive and lively, his voice ongoing in his books and his essays and all the rest, themselves though now artifacts of a time and of times when writing and writers mattered more to the culture than they do now.

Which itself doesn't matter: he did his work and did remarkable work, and through it all was engaged in an exploration the equal of any writer one cares to name, nearly every page reminding us of his commitment to a journey best described by one of his best narrators:

We sail across dominions barely seen, washed by swells of time. We plow through fields of magnetism. Past and future come together on thunderheads and our dead hearts live with lightning in the wounds of the Gods.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


We got a quarter to a half-inch of rain last Thursday night, the first real rain in over six weeks. Not nearly enough, and little on the horizon.

My neighbors, who farm for their livelihood, have already cut their cornstalks -- such as they were -- for what silage they can get out of them. They sure weren't going to get any corn. Their cows are already eating next winter's hay, and I've been hearing that some of the herds are about to be dramatically reduced to save feed (and money.) Some wells are starting to sputter and spit mud.

Our own well is doing... well.

As I write this, the Midwest is still trying to dry out from its floods, and Hurricane Felix is dumping up to 25 inches of rain on Nicaragua.

The hope among the farmers here is that we get a goodsized storm system that tracks up the east coast and begins refilling the land's water-coffers. Too late for this year's crops but for farmers, like so many of us, it's never too soon to begin thinking about next year.


A new site for small to midsize businesses got started last month, and I think it's pretty good despite (not because of) the fact that I write for it.

The site is from CMP and is relentlessly, intelligently and carefully aimed at the concerns of businesses with between one and 1500 employees. Particular focus is on the ways in which those businesses can use -- really use -- technology to be, well, mightier than employee numbers or annual sales alone might indicate.

I'll be blogging there on security issues, writing columns and occasional features. The people putting the site together know their stuff -- both editorially and in terms of technology and business. Early reaction to the site has been good.

Take a look and let me know what you think.

This has been a plug.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I assembled my new high-power but low-octane mower today, and gave it a quick test-drive (test-push?)

Quick because using a reel mower seems to take only a little getting used-to: I learned within a few feet what the mower wants to do, what it doesn't want to do, and how to respond to each.

But I also learned that you're just not going to do a lot of mower-pushing in this heat. couple of quick swaths was about all I could manage before
becoming sweat-drenched.

Nor should the grass be mowed in its current desiccated state. I've seen it dryer here, but only once in the last twelve years.

The mower sounds wonderful -- whitttrrr whitttrrr -- as the reel spins, but the grass sounds like ice crunching beneath your feet. My neighbors are cutting their corn already, in hopes of cutting their losses. Twenty days or so since there's been any rain, and not much to speak of in the twenty days before that.

But when the rain does return, and the grass gets some life back in its blades, the blades of this new mower will be ready. I'm thinking of calling it Mo.

Friday, June 01, 2007


Lynne Barrett and colleagues have launched a lively new site, The Florida Book Review that's worth more than a quick look, and not just because I was asked to contribute.

But I was, and did, and my feature on John D. MacDonald and Travis McGee (more on MacDonald than McGee) gave me the chance to re-visit, re-read, and reflect on a writer who was once terrifically popular and whose work once meant a great deal to me.

And still does in many ways -- other than for this article I hadn't read (or, really, been able to read) MacDonald for a decade or more. That inability was mine, as much a result of over-reading (and over-re-reading!) him for decades as anything.

But picking up a couple of dozen MacDonalds -- costiveness of production was not among his characteristics -- his virtues (considerable) and flaws (ditto) all came back in a familiar rush.

I was reminded -- not that I needed to be -- that the McGees, for all of the charms still offered by the Busted Flush, the clockspring plots, the still-sharp insights into American society and culture ca. 1964-1984, aren't the best of his work.

A half dozen or ten of MacDonald's standalone suspense novels remain about as good as commercial fiction gets, My picks: The Damned, The Crossroads, A Flash of Green, Please Write For Details, The Last One Left, Murder in the Wind, and Cry Hard, Cry Fast.

Add the best of the McGees -- the first, The Deep Blue Good-by, and the strangest, The Green Ripper -- and some of the short stories and there's a shelf of superb suspense fiction.

Superbly slick, too, every bit of it, which is one of the things I carp about in the essay.

But what do I know?

Other than that for a long time I loved John D. MacDonald as much as I loved any writer, and if that love hasn't lasted undiminished, what has?

Sunday, May 27, 2007


Rachel Carson would be 100 today, but don’t look for Congress to recognize her centenary or her contribution to our world: a bill that would have done just that is currently being blocked by Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (R.)

Coburn’s opposition rests on his assertion that Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring – which his website tellingly mis-identifies as The Silent Spring -- was based on “junk science” that turned the world against DDT, condemning tens of millions of people – many of them children – to death from malaria.

Coburn’s hardly alone in vilifying Carson, and using malaria deaths to do so. There’s been a large measure of such vilification, including plenty from Rush Limbaugh, whose loathing of the environmentalist movement which, in many ways Silent Spring catalyzed if not actually inaugurated, is all-but constant.

Tens of millions of deaths and the wholesale banning of DDT and other “benevolent” chemicals, all placed upon the shoulders of this thoughtful, graceful writer and thinker.

Whose crime was – what? The raising of consciousness, that’s what.

Despite the blogs and blasts and blather about Rachel Carson and Silent Spring bearing the responsibility for banning DDT and killing those tens of millions of humans, what she actually did was far less draconian – and far more subversive. She raised questions which in turn raised consciousness. She asked us to think.

Carson, it shouldn’t have to be pointed out, had no power to legislate or ban anything. She was a writer – nor did she in that role advocate or encourage the wholesale banning of DDT. Rather, she advocated for a more critical, careful, thoughtful, and research-based approach to the use of broad-kill pesticides in specific and our relationship to nature in general.

Such an argument, of course, requires thought on both sides. Understanding such an argument requires a careful reading of Carson’s book, as any serious book calls for care in its consumption. She was alarmed by trends that she found both in nature and in the scientific literature that had surrounded DDT for a decade and more before she wrote Silent Spring

And what’s all-but forgotten is that there was a time, not all that long ago, when a book—a book, one that you had to read! – could launch a debate, create a movement or, considering the four decades’ worth of Carson-bashing, both a movement and a counter-movement – but it could, at least back in the earlier days of television’s assault on our ability to read, which is to say our ability to think.

That ability itself seems an increasingly endangered species on, it must be admitted, both sides of the argument; on, it must be also admitted, all sides of every argument these days: all chemicals are bad versus all environmentalists are “wackos” (Limbaugh’s word not mine.)

That’s too easy on each side – and that’s why irrational invective has grown so pervasive. Harder to think – and even harder to think seriously.

As Rachel Carson did. Here’s what she had to say in one of the closing paragraphs of Silent Spring:

“Through all these new, imaginative, and creative approaches to the problem of sharing our earth with other creatures there runs a constant theme, the awareness that we are dealing with life – with living populations and all their pressures and counterpressures, their surges and recessions. Only by taking account of such forces and by cautiously seeking to guide them into channels favorable to ourselves can we hope to achieve a reasonable accommodation between the insect hordes and ourselves.”

Sound wild-eyed and fanatical to you? Me, either.

Happy hundredth, Rachel Carson – we’re all the better, despite our every effort not to be, for your presence here, and so is our world.

Monday, March 12, 2007


It's been about two weeks since my friend Steve Meador had to close, after fifteen or so years, the Glade Hill Quickette.

Like many independent "country stores," Steve's was as much social center as retail establishment, the place people went to for the latest news, gossip, jokes, jawboning around the heater in wintertime, on a bench out front in summer. The world's problems may not have been solved there, but they were certainly enumerated, often in hialrious and occasionally obscene detail.

I bought my onion sets and seed potatoes from Steve for well over a decade, and my daily stop at the Quickette for the newspaper and the non-print news had for years been an important part of my routine.

Gone, now, a victim of many things -- too much credit given to too many who never paid, cashflow crunches, shinier and larger competition across the street, changing times.

It's too bad, and it's more than that -- Steve Meador ran a good store, gave back to the community -- money for sports teams and fundraisers when he had it, a big smile even when he didn't -- and I suspect that in many ways he gave more than he got.

Now when I drive by the Quickette, what I get are memories. Good ones, and ones that I'll keep forever, but just memories nonetheless.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


A week last night since the last time we saw our pal Pumpkin, and while I continue to hope that he's indulging spring fever and will return, I'm having a hard time holding that hope close.

A few months old, P-Man was due last week to be neutered, and the fact that he was intact gives me what little optimism I retain: maybe he has found a lady.

But the woods and thickets at this farm and the surrounding ones are home to bigger cats, bobcats, and that's what I fear Pumpkin ran into last week. While there are coyotes in the county, as increasingly everywhere, I've not seen or heard any on our property or the adjacent ones. I haven't come across any evidence of a fight or struggle, nor have I seen any scavenger birds circling.

Also, P-Man's brother Oreo's behavior changed noticeably last week -- he doesn't fare as far, nor does he stay out at night, as had been his, and their, habit. He keeps close to home now, and I can't help but wonder if the change has anything to do with Pumpkin and, perhaps, Pumpkin's fate.

P-Man, our Pumpkin, was among the most affectionate animals I have ever known, and I do -- as best as I am able -- continue at least some of the time to hope that he comes home.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


This time yesterday we had already been told for a day or two that we were on the lip of getting our first real weather of the winter -- weather that had actually been "promised" to start in the morning. I had passed a long sleepless night enjoying those hours of anticipation of snow that have always meant much to me. Do such hours -- glances at the night sky to get a sense of the clouds, listening hard for the sounds of the first flakes or pellets coming down -- mean less as a result of the marketing of meteorology?

You know what I mean: SNOWALERT4! STORMTRACK8! WINTERWATCH7! BLIZZARDBLOG12!--- whatever the names and stations in your area, the result is the same: weather turned into television, weather forecasting become another way, and in some aspects the chief one, of hyping a station and transfixing its viewership.

Ten years now on this patch of Virginia soil and trees, hills and gullies, has taught me at least a couple of things, not least among them the higher accuracy I achieve by watching the skies, the quality of light, the feel of the air against my hands and face, than I get from the exuberance -- read: keep watching, it's going to be bad and more than that it's going to be real -- weather personalities on TV.

Not their fault -- TV is what TV is, and continues to become even more so by the moment, lowering the lowest common denominator index at an exponential rate. And there are indeed times -- severe, violent, fast-moving weather -- when I am grateful for the radars and graphics and computer models and even -- less often but still occasionally -- the meteorologists (some of them) and on-camera personalities/personae (almost all of them) and their commentary.

But mostly I resent what they do, which is to set up expectations (and anxieties!) for more television -- tune in for updates -- rather than awaken the audience to the wonders of weather. In the case of this week's non-snow "event" (and there's another word they use that really frosts my French fries) we ended up, according to one of weather-things this morning with around "1/24th" (sic) of an inch... but the main commentary was about a) why the forecast had failed, b) how angry the viewers were that schools etc. had closed because of the forecast and c) even more viewer commentary about the failure of nature to live up to what television had promised them.

While I'm glad we didn't get the icefall that the TV-things began promising (almost desperately, I thought) last evening after the day's snowfall failed to arrive, I will admit to wondering about something: If the trees fall in the forest and bring down the power and cable lines during an ice-storm, does anyone know the TV weather warn-ers are still on?

Now I have to go retrieve my car from the spot up the hill and down the road, where I parked it yesterday in advance of the storm which -- walking with Holly, my Siberian, back through the forest, feeling the flakes of the first (and it turned out, only) flurries, watching the skies, enjoying the silence -- I knew wasn't going to last. There wasn't going to be much more snow than those few fat flakes for those few moments, anticipated for so many hours, and I treasured them until they passed.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Real cold tonight, the first of the winter -- below 20F is the word. Not too bad up here in my unheated office yet, but will be before long, at which point I'll move back downstairs near the first and work on either laptop or legal pad.

Probably legal pad. With a pencil. And no Internet.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007


What little weather we have had here this winter -- it was in the 70s ten days ago -- came a few days ago in the form of a bit of ice. Power stayed on without even a flicker, and no trouble getting up and down my steep shady drive. I had been hoping for a snow, a real snow, but so far nothing.

Last year was little better -- one good snow that was immediately crusted by ice/sleet, leaving us powderless though not, thankfully, powerless. That time my drive did freeze and stayed so for more than a week. I parked at the top of the hill beyond the evergreeens and hardwoods that shield my little valley, and came to enjoy the walk to and from the car -- about a quarter of a mile through those woods -- when I had need to go out.

It has snowed here as late as March and early April, but I'm holding out no hope this year. It will or it won't and I'll deal with either.

Ground still not frozen; have been putting in some time in the garden and vow, this year, to do a better job of cultivating it... and this blog.