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Sunday, 12 December 2010



Historic barn in Monroe County, Alabama

Historic barn, Monroe County, Alabama: photo by Carol M. Highsmith, May 2010 (George F. Landegger Collection, Library of Congress)

The busy squirrel's earnings securely

or not so securely tucked away, the granary

full, the harvest in the barn:

so time remits all labours then; or was it

death, and were the labours

sorrows? It's not easy keeping this straight.

Still, time remits all difficulty, or was that death,

again? And if so, when? And if not now, why not?


Red Squirrel
: photo by Reid2008, 2010

These are the questions the weary

farmer, the overtaxed squirrel ask

of fate. And what's fate saying?

If fate's saying anything, neither

farmer nor squirrel can make it out.

Barn, upper Michigan

Barn, Upper Michigan: photo by Carol M. Highsmith, April 2007 (Library of Congress)

And what's religion saying? And science,

what about science, once religion

is dead? Is science

saying, after that long quarrel with one's gods,

text me

when you get the test results

okay? And then we'll talk

if we can recall all the words there were to say

the things one meant to say

before there ceased to be a reason to be saying

any of them. So now there are all these

messages, many indecipherable.

The messages are stored up in the barn.

Seven Mile House - barn, Reistertown vic., Maryland

Barn, Seven Mile House, near Reisertown, Baltimore County, Maryland: photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1937 (Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South, Library of Congress)

No one's been in there for years.

And furthermore squirrels couldn't care less

about science

or religion, tests

or gods. When you can't find your nuts

or the bank's foreclosing

it almost gets so nothing else seems to matter.

Barn, Route 66, near Staunton, Illinois
Barn, Route 66 near Staunton, Illinois: photo by Carol M. Highsmith, December 2004 (Library of Congress)


Anonymous said...

I was having a conversation along these same lines last night, but not nearly as lucid (especially my part). You have found a red squirrel who really looks like he knows history and has it in perspective. The progression to winter is noted and about to be felt.

TC said...


The squirrels here have had a comparatively slender granary these past few years. Of course like everyone else's, their supply is ultimately tied to the waxings and wanings of the Big Granary -- the one owned by the humans, that is.

We had a next door neighbour who fed them peanuts for many years. They would carefully bury the peanuts in dispersed locations, seemingly in response to the natural impulse to save them up for hard times. But then later they would never be able to find them. A lot of bewildered scratching-about...

Of course after some years, the subsurface ground was thick with lost peanuts. By then, just about any place that was scratched would yield a peanut.

Perhaps this reflects a larger banking strategy, beyond our ken.

Since then the neighbour has passed away.

Now the major soft touch for food for the resident scavengers -- raccoons, possums, mice, rats -- is us.

But all of the above creatures are "in the moment", and don't have banking systems.

Anonymous said...

Beyond our ken, not theirs. I put a lot of confidence in squirrels. For me, the phrase "banking system" is fraught with difficulties. It's one of those things that seems to have been deliberately devised with devious complications calculated to confuse both amateurs and lower-level initiates. A former in-law of ours is considered a serious expert in it and the less said about her the better (especially now that the season of good cheer is upon us). Incidentally, I wanted to mention (since I've brought it up before) that I passed the test I was preparing for. The good news reached me a few days ago and definitely raised my and my extended family's spirits. I can now opine and pontificate in my chosen, licensed field in two major mid-Atlantic states.

TC said...

Curtis, congratulations are in order.

From a selfish point of view, as things are currently in a pretty low state around here, we can but wish this state too were within your licensed zone of operation, or should the word be jurisdiction?

For now however we shall have to abide in innocuous envy of those two major mid-Atlantic states.

From the sound of history these days, they are in any event likely to have enough business to keep you busy.

(Oh, and about the banking system, that film The Inside Job pretty much clarifies the meaning of that term: it's a "system" that ensures the vast wealth of the very few at the vast expense of the very many, a strategy, again, well beyond the ken of even the most cynical squirrel.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your kind words. I won't bore you with the details, but the exam was quite tricky and difficult (the "real world experience" of 30 years of actual legal practice could definitely get you in trouble in terms of answering certain of the questions, which to my mind is silly since the bar exam is supposed to test your ability to "think like a lawyer"). I was so drained by the time I completed it that I immediately drove over a low parking barrier and wandered around aimlessly for about 15 minutes. I will now get around to seeing The Inside Job. Immediately after you mentioned it, other people started to also. Your description ("the vast wealth of the very few at the vast expense of the very many") makes so much sense. As soon as I learned and understood how hedge funds operated, some of this became clear to me. And as I think I mentioned before, watching the Goldman Sachs executives make Congress look silly earlier this year (which surprised me mostly because of the context of their testimony, which I would have thought gave Congress an unbeatable advantage) made me realize who was in charge. The fact that I saw someone I knew (but clearly didn't know enough about) testifying was utterly bizarre, especially because I thought he was an extremely effective witness for GS.

But back to the poem, which I've been carrying around in my head all day through a long drive. It is very popular and admired in our house.

so time remits all labours then; or was it

death, and were the labours

sorrows? It's not easy keeping this straight.

We like this very much.


Tom and Curtis,

A pleasure to catch up w/ this string of five comments, going along as they do to all such things -- subsurface ground thick with lost peanuts, and squirrels scratching about, and wandering around aimlessly (after you drove over a parking barrier having finished that exam). . . . And to see that squirrel, these barns, and to read again "if so, when? And if not now, why not" (which is to say, "If it be not now, yet it will come"). Meanwhile ---


light coming into fog against invisible
plane of ridge, red-tailed hawk calling
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

signed lower left, selected
one of the subsequent

what time attempts to think,
that light, with what

silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
whiteness of gull flapping toward point

TC said...

Not so much thought as

what time attempts to think,

subsurface ground thick with lost peanuts, and squirrels scratching about, and wandering around aimlessly

drained by the time

(another lost night in red mist of city rain)

Robb said...

Loved this, Tom. Thank you. It brought much-needed foryn to my day — I forgot where I buried my nuts.

TC said...

Hi Robb,

I think they're probably buried down about a foot below mine.

But it's like they say, nuts for the natives, foryn for the foryners...

As long as there's time, though, let's keep digging.

Robb said...

Yes, let's keep digging. Grand idea. Perhaps we will also find some ingarys.