Thursday, 10th. This evening the wind is high. It is turning the weather — two shifts in a day. The morning was bright, and I spent it exploring these two hundred acres of the Putnam farm. The afternoon turned to thunder showers and, between, clammy mists. I shopped for food, and used the rest of the late afternoon looking through the books upstairs. I shall have to build some good shelves and sort things out. Now summer is blowing away in scuds across; the moon.
The farm is various. In the river-yard, to the right, is a raspberry patch; to the left, a patch of blackberry bushes. There are a few apple trees as well, but most of the land is clear of everything but high grass and milkweed.
Steep banks go down to the river, which is tidal, and trees run along the top edges — several kinds: oaks, pines, and cedars. The tides have undercut two cedars, about fifty yards apart, and they are growing almost straight out from the bank, over the water. One can climb out on them and sit. I've found an old, heavy plank boat lying in a corner of the barn, and next summer I'll put it in shape, launch it, and tie it up at the biggest cedar, which will be my pier.
The river makes an S-curve not far to the northwest of the house and barn. Uncle John's land extends quite a way beyond the curve. Most of it is woods, but back of the barn are fields that once were pasture.
On the other, eastern, side of the house is the road, and the town cemetery where Uncle John lies is up the road, not far from the dooryard — one can see the headstones up a dirt path off the main road at the first curve; the road makes an S in reverse, so that it and the river, if seen from the air, must form a wishbone, with the farm in the stem.
There are a good many Putnams in the cemetery, some of the stones dating — when one can make them out — well back into the 18th century. My mother once told me a branch of the family immigrated here after the great shame of Salem, where the original Putnams settled, and where some of his progeny pointed out the road their neighbors were to take to Hell. I don't believe she ever talked of that again. It's not something much spoken of in my mother's family.
Across the road from the dooryard is the millstream at the bottom of a deep gully filled with alders. Up the stream a way is a falls, where the foundations of a shingle mill can still be made out among brambles and roots. The stream drops down off Blind Man's hill from the bogs five miles distant. Where the road once followed the river, it now follows the brook. The falls are small, but beautiful, hidden away, as they are, from passing traffic by woods. Uncle John's property stops at the falls.
The stream crosses under the road, through a large culvert, below the house, not far from the village, such as it is. Where the stream emerges from the culvert, on my property, are the shambles of a grist mill: three huge round grinding stones and the fallen rock foundation.
If one stands in the kitchen door and looks across the gully, one is faced with a domed hill, also mine, covered with maples, pines, and oaks.
The old well is up there, still partly filled with water — it used to be full, and it fed the house by gravity till the new spring was dug down by the river's first bend.
They say an Indian fort stood on the bluff in the riveryard overlooking the confluence of the millstream and river, commanding the prospect downriver toward the Kennebec, which is fed by our smaller waters. This was Abenaki country.
I've browsed in the books a bit. There are about two-hundred volumes dating from the late seventeenth century to the Civil war. Someone last century had an excellent collection — geographies, histories, religious books, volumes on astronomy and other sciences — Bowditch's Navigator is one; books on law — mostly the laws of Massachusetts, of which Maine was originally a part; literature, husbandry. Truly remarkable.
One of the books, by "Mr. Salmon" and published in Edinburgh in 1771 is called A New Geographical and Historical Grammar. I looked up "New England" in the chapter on British America. I found the old Esses that look like effs confusing at first. The article mentioned prominently the trade of shipbuilding, and there was, in fact, a shipyard on this land, at the mouth of the stream, on the other side where the flat land starts. A 19th century print on the wall of the parlor shows a schooner being built there. As I read on I came to a passage that mentioned "the Dutch and Hamburghers" — the word brought me back with a jolt, It all sounds so impossible, and yet so likely. I must begin to think about my own book. It is midnight. I miss Norine and Melanie. The capital H and the small h must be exorcised.
Friday, 11th. It has been clear, bright, and crisp today. Here and there, on the old-well hill across the road, the upper limbs of maples are turning to autumn flame.
In the barn is a stack of lumber, salvaged from the demolition of an outbuilding or two, I imagine. This morning I went out, picked some good boards, and spent the rest of the morning into early afternoon building shelves upstairs. I've always liked working with my hands when I want to mull something else. This is a very different life from the one I've led for ten years…classes, exams, student problems, faculty meetings and committee work, and, lately, all the unrest and violence. There's not even a television set in the house — which reminds me that I haven't read a paper lately. I don't know what's been going on out there these past few days.
If I had known what ease there is in merely turning off, I might have tried it long ago, The world seems irrelevant — as my students would say — here in this place.
And I wonder whether that will be good or bad for my novel. I know who the protagonist is — Nothus, myself. It will be set in the years when I was a younger man, just out of high school, and a sailor. The days of the Cold war and the beginnings of all the unending complications of this frenetic, fanatical, space-age, super-everything "civilization."
Nothus will be found, at the beginning of things, in the middle of everything, searching for himself in others.
As I envision it, the novel will really be a prose epic. There will be the traditional voyage — in this case, a real one: the world-cruise of the aircraft carrier U. S. S. Hornet, aboard which I served for two years, following the track of the New England whalers. But as he moves through the world, Nothus will meet people who tell their stories — Chaucer won't mind. There have been Other pilgrimages.
Looking back over what I've just written, I wonder if my having been a professor of English hasn't destroyed me. It all sounds so artificially literary. But I've felt the novel in me, like a fetus, and, if I don't know where I'm going with Nothus, I must at least find out if there's someplace to go. So I'll begin it tomorrow, and I'll use the weekend for writing.
Norine, I think, believed at last that I'd never write it. But Cara knew better, even after we had stopped our affair. She hadn't just been putting me on, or putting me on a pedestal, God knows I'd written enough else in those ten years — poems, articles, textbooks, a few stories. The royalties and Uncle John's bequest will keep me, barely I guess, till the book is done.
I even have a title: The Book of the Black Heart. Perhaps
I'll dedicate it to Catch.
The shelves are finished, and I've put the books up. I've browsed a bit more. In one volume, Dr. Chase's Recipes or, Information for Everybody — the 10th edition, published in Ann Arbor in 1866, there's a tremendous recipe for "Tomato Wine," which Cara would love, and an even better, comment on the product:
It makes a most delightful wine, having all the beauties of flavor belonging to the tomato, and I have no doubt all its medicinal properties also, either as a tonic in disease, or as a beverage for those who are in the habit of using intoxicating beverages, and if such persons would have the good sense to make some wine of this kind, and use it instead of rotgut whisky, there would not be one-hundredth part of the 'snakes in the boot' that now curse our land.
"Dr." Chase, it appears, used to be a merchant with a sweet-tooth:
I have destroyed my own teeth, I have no doubt now, by constantly eating candies, while in the grocery business, before I knew of its injurious effects; and I believe it to have destroyed the first teeth of all my children which were born during my candy-eating propensities. What say our candy-eating gentry to the above?
He was a self-made physician, I take it —
Many persons will stick up their noses at these "Old grandmother prescriptions," but I tell many "upstart Physicians" that our grandmothers are carrying more information out of this world by their deaths, than will ever be possessed by this class of "sniffers," and I really thank God, so do thousands of others, that He has enabled me, in this work, to reclaim such an amount of it for the benefit of the world.
A very good sense of ego.
To bed — Catch is waiting for me. I can feel him sitting on the floor behind my chair. Tomorrow I begin my work. I will lay my carbons into this journal so that someday I'll be able to see how it all was, as a single entity of time.