Cold rain falls in the river, flows down to the sea, gets into the skyline, circles endlessly. Same old rain on the wind, same old pain in my soul.

Monday, September 27, 2010


When first I met him, Ken was sixty-eight I believe. We were driving back roads looking for a house to rent, saw him in his yard and stopped. It was that simple and random.
Talk turned to coffee and coffee to stories. He and his wife Norma had moved to Kentucky from Alaska and like many of us, couldn't really remember a good reason for doing so. In his yard he had sled dogs with thick coats that seemed out of place in the hot southern sun, but I loved seeing them anyway.
He showed us the buildings he had constructed, their garden and other projects of great ambition, or at least to me. We became friends immediately.
Even at sixty-eight, Ken was a strong and solid man standing six foot-five, with a small pony tail that seemed strange to his conservative ways but perfect nonetheless. His mind was whip smart though he pretended otherwise and his humour was slow and smooth.

He had made his living overseeing the state park system in Oregon. Norma, the same age, was and still is, a great beauty- tall, smart and graceful with gorgeous red hair. They had been high school sweethearts but Norma's parents never approved and did all they could to firebomb the relationship. Only problem was, Neptune in all his glory with Apollo as side-kick would stand no chance in overthrowing them, and married they were.
They raised children, lots of them. Twenty-three, I believe, and a few of them were even of their own lovemaking.
They told us stories of state parks, young love, adoption, foster children and Alaska. And as I lived briefly in Alaska and held a deep affection for it, I hung on every word.

There was the time in the deep bush when there were no less than eight of them living in a tent while they constructed a small cabin. The children were mostly ethnic minorities that had come from bad inner city experiences.
I've since had the pleasure to meet several of them and they seem much better for the wear.

Ken's not much for sitting still. His way is to find a place full of nothing, build it up to something, then move on.
Alaska to Kentucky, Kentucky to Alaska, Alaska to Oregon, Oregon to California, then back to Kentucky. All in the seven years since I've known him. They now live one mile from the nothing they built up the first time and sold for loss. And once again, just a piece of grass not fit for mowing has barns and gardens and fences and animals and porches and much beauty.
I would go there and Ken would always have either a post hole digger gripped sweaty and dirty or a hammer that would never miss its mark.
I would implore him.
"Ken, you're not that young anymore, why don't you take it easy, maybe three posts a day, and contract out for that addition"
His only response was to look at me like he didn't understand the question

Why, just in this past year, they've considered another move, back to Alaska.
Where he is now is complete, so to him, there's no reason to stay. They even had the place on the market for another loss but times ain't what they were and a bargain's only a bargain if you have the money to make it so. He called real estate people "up there" and scoured the Internet. His eyes would light as he showed me pictures and dreams of possibilities out of nothing.
I don't really know if Norma wanted to move but she liked to see his passion and that made her willing.
But seven years is seven years and seventy-five isn't sixty-eight. This I'm learning.

The changes were somewhat subtle at first, more bewildering later.

He came to our house for his birthday. We sang happy birthday and he sang and laughed childlike, just a little too much so, and we all felt awkward as he clapped his hands to the candles going out.
He didn't get up as early either. The post hole digger learned rust. His jaw hung just a little too loose and Norma took over his sentences a little too often.
I now remember the headaches of two winters ago and wonder. But little matter, Ken finally went to the doctor.
Funny thing is, he knows but he doesn't. The doctors say with good drugs the next two years shouldn't be too bad.
He mostly just sits now and the place don't look as nice. Norma's worry of the days ahead is evident in new lines and gray as she takes over the care of the hobby farm. Geese, pot bellied pigs, goats, chickens, dogs, cats and now Ken.
There won't be another move, not one that Ken knows, anyway. And it won't be Alaska.
The man who all his life only knew how to build and care for, be it children or land is becoming a child who will need great care and can never be rebuilt. And it's painful to watch. Just ask Norma.

I don't yet know what I think about all this. I know I wish he would just die tomorrow while digging a hole or chopping a tree, but it's too late for that. I wish he had died in Alaska, but that chance too has passed.
I almost wish Norma would die to spare her the horror to come.
I think of suicide and how maybe it's not such an easy condemnation; better to fall on the sword than let the enemy take the final cut. I think of my own life and the shortness of days and sunsets unnoticed. I think of much but the answers elude me.
Mostly I marvel at a man among men so cruelly taken down by the worst disease he could know.