Mysterious Sound in my neighborhood...

At about 1 am, I was working out in the screen porch when I heard a strange noise coming from the woods. At first, thought it was odd, but I assumed it would go away. It didn't. Eventually I grabbed one of the school's H4N digital recorders and when out in the front yard to record it. I took Irie.

I recorded about 12 minutes total. I removed the first few minutes of me fumbling with doors and the drone of the window fan in our bedroom above. I also cut out twenty seconds between the last cry and Irie beginning to woof. Then I cut out another full minute from the last sound Irie makes to me telling her to come in. I ran a noise reducer over the whole things to cut out my breathing and the sound of me peeing my pants.

Baby bear calling it's mother? Heron-monkey-from-Hell? Bigfoot? Forest spirit? Drunken crow?

bear cub?

Update: Things Are Looking Up

Sorry I haven't updated in more than a week. It's been so overwhelming that every time I sat down to sum up, I felt like I had more questions than answers. Things are looking up, for the most part, so here's the news:

The House

The house is pretty much gutted now. On the second floor, they removed the wood floor in the hallway; the sheetrock in the hallway, the girls' bathroom, and the exercise room; they are pulling up the carpet in the girls' rooms, the exercise room, and Tab's office; they are taking out the tile floor in the girls' bathroom. Essentially, every room up there except the master suite has been reduced to bare studs and subfloor. On the first floor, they pulled up all of the oak floors in the dining room, living room, and hallway; they're pulling up the floor tile in the kitchen and guest bath; they removed the sheetrock and ceilings in the dining room, living room, guest bath and part of the kitchen, they pulled up the carpet in my office. They will be replacing the treads on the staircase. Additionally, all of the built in bookshelves, the murphy bed, etc. from all rooms except the master suite and the family room have been removed to be refinished--that goes for many of the kitchen cabinets, too. They're also replacing the kitchen countertop and the vanity in the girls' bathroom.Eventually, they will have to refinish the oak floors in the family room, too. All of our belongings (except clothing and a few odds and ends we stored in the master closet) are packed away in storage or being refinished at the furniture medic or tested at the electronics restoration place.

When all is said and done, in three months, we'll have new carpets and oak floors in most of the house. They will paint every wall in the house. Plus, we'll have new tile floors in two bathrooms and in the kitchen and a new countertop in the kitchen.

We'll also have a new furnace--though that cost is on us since it was just a coincidence that the disaster happened to reveal that our furnace was on it's last legs.

Much of the wiring that was not damaged by the water will have to be replaced since the demolition revealed that it had been chewed in several places by mice. That cost is on us, too.

We chose to go with State Farm's preferred contractor for the rebuild. They're not local 🙁 but they have an excellent reputation and they guarantee their work (and that of all their subcontractors) for FIVE years! We should be ironing out details very soon on particulars like pain colors, tile choices, etc. The reconstruction is supposed to take two to three months. We fully expect it to take a little longer.

Our Living Situation

State Farm has been taking good care of us. We've been living at the Common Man Inn for a week now and will remain here until Friday. It's a pretty posh hotel for these parts and we have been pretty spoiled for the last week. At the same time, even with one room for us and one for the kids, it gets pretty old living in a hotel. Tonight we met with a local guy who owns a FABULOUS house up on Texas Hill Road. He agreed to rent the house to us for three months (and more if we need it). It's a gorgeous place--a giant log home with views of Plymouth Mountain on one side and a view clear up to the notch on another. We move in Friday. What's more, the place is fully furnished (even pots and pans and dishes), so we don't have to go down to Manchester to dig our stuff out of storage. We can't wait to get there and cook for ourselves for a change.

We're all doing fine. Maya has had some rough days (she feels very much adrift), and Tab and I worry about how much this will cost in the end, but by and large we're all just rolling with it. It could have been worse: we could have been uninsured, or insured by a lousy company. As it happens, we're feeling very well cared-for.

Many thanks to all who have written or commented or called...I'm sorry I haven't gotten back to most of you. The day to day details have been pretty daunting up this point. Our friends have really gone out of their way to support us--inviting us over for home-cooked meals, to offering rides for the kids, temporarily adopting the cat, and my friend Phil, in particular has spent hours serving as technical advisor, ambassador from the world of contractors, and part-time project manager. I owe that guy a beer... I owe a LOT of you a beer.

This summer, we'll have a big BBQ at our new house and we'll try to dish out some payback. You'll have to take your shoes off, though...new floors don't you know.

And your banjo too

And my banjo, autographed by Del McCoury, did not escape either. This photo doesn't show it too well, but the steam warped the head of the banjo pot (the "skin") right away. In a few days, the neck and head will probably warp too.

Bye bye banjo

Bye bye banjo

The House on Soggy Lane

Just as finals were winding down (and grading was reaching the fever pitch) the heating pipes on part of the second floor froze up. It took a team of plumbers four days to get the heat back on (and they informed us along the way that our wonderful TARM dual-fuel furnace--it's got a HEMI--was a piece of junk on it's last legs). The final bill came to several thousand, but no worries--we were fully insured (minus a $1000 deductible) and anyway it could have been worse. At least the pipes hadn't burst and flooded the house, collapsing ceilings, ruining walls and our hardwood floors, and generally damaging or destroying our furniture and belongings. At least that hadn't happened.

And then it did.

We got back from our Christmas trip to Illinois on the 31st of December. On New Year's Day, we opened our gifts to each other at home, then packed the car to drive north to visit Tab's folks in Littleton. Since the weather was turning nasty, we planned to spend the night rather than drive back down through Franconia Notch (a treacherous pass in the winter time).

When we got home at noon on the 2nd, I opened the door to a wall of hot steam and the sound of cascading water. I cursed, Tab began to cry, and Maya went into a full-fledged panic attack. Steam had condensed on every surface, every possession on the first floor. Our kitchen floor was a puddle of hot water. The dining room was destroyed. And so on.

The dining room/sauna

The dining room/sauna

The kitchen ceilings in the steam

The kitchen ceilings in the steam

Within 15 seconds, I had the camera and was taking pictures while Tab contacted our team of plumbers and our insurance agent, however the steam was so bad that the camera fogged up. This was typical of the first pictures I took.

When the steam had cleared (some 30 or so minutes later), this is what it looked like (see below).

flood 016

flood 014

flood 050

The family room with all of the furniture we could salvage crammed into it and one of Service Master's industrial dehumidifiers in the background

The family room with all of the furniture we could salvage crammed into it and one of Service Master's industrial dehumidifiers in the background

We have wonderful friends, though. Within 20 minutes, Cathie, Liz, Jeanette, and Phil were there to help us move furniture and china and other belongings from the wettest parts of the house to the driest parts. Later that night, Robin, Phil, Ruby, and Cathie came back with pizzas and made us eat and offered to take Maya home for a sleepover (she happily accepted--Brianna had long since fled to her best friend Devon's house). Also, I should say that our plumbing team was there within minutes of our call and they did a great job of stopping the leak, fixing the broken pipes, and even tearing up some of the saturated carpets and throwing them out of the second story windows.

Our insurance company had us call ServPro to handle the cleanup and recovery. They were rude. They didn't return phone calls. We called State Farm again and asked for someone else. They suggested Service Master. They are saints. They dispatched a team IMMEDIATELY. Paul and Junior showed up and went to work right away--the first thing they did was make sure that we knew we were in good hands--that they were going to clean, remove, strip, assess, pack...everything but cook for us. They were remarkable. They were able to get the two inches of water off of the basement floor and remove the saturated insulation from the basement and dining room ceilings even before they left that night. They were back "with reinforcements" this morning to continue the drying out and to begin the thorough assessment.

And us? We're in a hotel -- one room for Tab and I (and Irie), one for the girls. We've got what clothes we could gather, and books, and DVD players and etc. We're OK.

We're covered. We'll be out of the house for a few months while the place is first stripped to the studs, then rewalled, refloored, re-etc. But for now we're dry and safe.

that's why all the folks on rocky top get their corn fom a jar

DSC_3838

It was another bittersweet day. More than anything, I regret the things I said and did when Brian and I argued at the end of our trip. With Andrew and Chad's help, I had trimmed the argument scene from the play down to a much faster, much angrier, and much more accurate portrayal of that fight. That Nick and Thomas (and Jen and Jenna) played their roles so splendidly made it that much harder to watch and listen to...take after take.

Then again, they turned in great performances today and we wrapped the shoot on time and on budget (I think).

After we left the set, in ones and twos a few of the crew gathered at Chad and Jen's place. We drank the better part of a quart of moonshine and encouraged Emily to tell us more stories from Breathitt County. I was writing them down when Andrew, feeling the corn liquor, narrowed his eyes a little and drawled across the table, "Boy, when we're talkin' around the shine WE don't take notes."

As eager as I am to see Tab and the girls tonight, it was hard to leave this morning. Jen has been so gracious and generous while I've been squatting in Dylan's room for the past two weeks. And Andrew has become like a brother to me--not just because he FELT this story so strongly, but because I could sit and talk with him for hours.

And especially because Chad and I, who have always shared a loss, have spent the last two weeks handling it again. And because all of us, working together, brought something of them back.

Night for Day

DSC_3623
Today...

Chad and Andrew and Tommy loaded a camera worth more than all of my possessions into a flat-bottomed boat today so they could shoot and shoot and shoot from the water. John and Angela and Ian stood in the water to hold the boats steady and in position.

It was, finally, sunny. Brilliant. Perfect for shooting "day-for-night" with filters and low angles.

At lunch, Emily told the story of one of her mother's elderly patients who, on her very first visit to a hospital, complained to Emily's mother about the food in her hospital room. "There's something wrong with that Kentucky jelly. I tried some on a biscuit and it just tasted terrible."

The news crew canceled out of consideration for the scenes we were shooting today.

One of the interns, a great guy named Kenny, took my camera out in the canoe so I could have a shot of the four cast members out on the dock (in the "wish" scene). I was asked to back his car out of the way of the shot. I told him that if he didn't get my camera in the lake I wouldn't put his car in the lake.

All four of the actors nailed that scene.

Nick (as "Scott") howled as he threw the typewriter out into the lake. Angela and John retrieved it from the water. He threw it again and again.

Jen ("Tab") told me that she once owned a dog that would never come when it was called. Her mother named it "Godot."

Nick had to change clothes for the scene in which he is finally revealed to also be the "narrator". We stood on the dock and talked about his lines. He was covered in mud and I poured lake water on his head and down his back. When we were alone, he asked me what the lines meant, what I really wanted out of my brother. I told him.

Andrew called action and I poured another bowl of lake water on his head and leapt out of the shot. Nick shouted "Swim, Goddammit! Swim!." He screamed it out over the lake. He wept and howled and screamed it again and again and again.

When that was over, Chad and Andrew took a break as DP and Director and came over to sit in the beached canoe with me. You would have thought none of us already knew how this ends.

Also, Jen and I watched a finch landing on a cat tail at the lake's edge. It plucked a wisp from the ragged end and flew off to pad its nest. It kept coming back for more.

Day for Night

DSC_3568
After a beautiful day shooting the hiking scenes at the pinnacles yesterday, today they shoot the lake scenes. The accident (they won't actually show it) is the first series of shots of the day. They are shooting "day for night" which means they darken it in post-production. Catchy phrase.

I'm uploading photos while they shoot those first several shots, then I'll head back to watch the dock scenes (in which "Scott" throws the typewriter off the dock, and the fantasy scene in which the four are reunited on the dock). At some point this morning, a TV news crew is coming. That will be weird. After the newspaper story last week, I'm a bit nervous about talking to a television reporter. I don't want to misspeak again.

Echo chamber

Yesterday, I spent most of the day in the recording room with Nick and Andrew, and the "location sound" guy, Brendan. Nick was recording the voice-over parts (mostly the narrator's lines) and I was along to assist as best I could.

First, let me just say how strange and gratifying it is to listen to someone read the words you wrote. Since some of the stuff Nick laid down was poetry, that was especially thrilling.

Second, let me say how hard it is to read poetry out loud. I've been doing it for as long as I can remember--and I think I'm pretty good at it. I can even read other people's poems out loud pretty effectively (I love reading Liz's poem "Inshallah"). But even actors struggle to read it with emphasis, shifts in tempo, caesura... Nick did a great job, but it must have been frustrating to him to have Andrew and me stopping him all the time.

And that brings me to my third point. I can't say enough about Andrew's direction on this film. He knows every word of this script. If you poured all of them onto the floor, he could put it back together again. He's also climbed in and explored the cavities and spaces between the words. He understands not just what each line means. But what it also means. And also means. And also means....

What a privilege it is, as a writer, to have someone who fully inhabits your work.

Herons, Typewriters, wishes

I lay in bed for a long time tonight/this morning thinking about that last post. That question still dogging me.

Thursday or Friday we'll be shooting the lake scenes. Obviously, one is the accident.

The others are fantasies.

I forget now what the various stages of grief are supposed to be. One, I'm sure, is the blind acceptance of pop psychology. Another is anger. The kind of anger that makes you rave against the dead. Or hurt the living. Or throw typewriters off a dock...as we will do later this week. This scene is daydream rage. Rage against Brian, against Wendy, against God, against lakes and water and mud and night. Here's a poem that is daydream rage too (but read on after the poem, also):

Heron

1
In tangled hemp and scrub oak, I watch a heron
fall from a branch into a heavy glide
over the Missouri. By now, I know how a frog
or a sunfish freezes him in mid-stride
and I can guess which silence
turns his head, which ripple
will bring him sailing to the shallows.
Stillness isn't camouflage: to break a heron's back
requires careful, random movement; step when branches
scrape the levee, when the river shifts
a stone.

2
My brother's laughter flew from stream
to leaves when the wind lifted the dry flies
from my box into the water. One leafless branch
opened ragged wings and fled downstream.
Brian stopped laughing long enough to watch
it disappear. I searched for my lost lures,
recounting a friend's haiku: Heron following
river following heron...
Brian whipped his rod, back and forth, settled
the fly onto the surface. He said herons
scared the hell out of him. Madness.

3
The plan won't work--the heron feels me
watching. When branches click, I plant
a toe; when a carp's back rolls on the surface,
a heel. I stop thinking and become a tributary
winding down between the bluffs. A heron's vision
is nearly 200 degrees. It meets your gaze
from almost any angle. When my foot meets water,
the heron's eyes shoot wide; stumbling into flight,
he stretches out his neck, leaps into the air.
I throw sand, a broken clamshell,
and kick the waves.

4
Who's stupid enough, in rain and fog, to load a boat
with beer and friends and row until night
takes the shore? Factor in one affair
for each couple, one betrayal apiece.
Factor in two married mothers, two bachelors.
They huddle together in an unseasonably cold 53 degrees
and surely someone suggests they pull anchor,
pull oars, pull the hell out of here.
Factor in two who can swim, two who can't.
My brother exhales smoke into fog, lays
a hand on the oar and laughs.

5
Head drawn between its shoulders, one leg
hovering slightly forward, my heron studies
the current. For three days, concealed, dreaming
of nets spread in the overhang, wire snares
weighted in the shallows, I've watched
his shadow unfold in the river. Lately,
I imagine similarities in the accurate gravity
of beak and fist. When he strikes,
his body pours it's long neck and face
into the river: Ciconiiformus Ardea
Herodias.

6
Kicking the boat and the dock they couldn't
reach, shouting and weeping for Brian's lost
eyeglasses, which were presumed hidden
in the lake, I prayed.
Great God,
you vicious son of a bitch, tell me
one thing you love, and I'll destroy it,
and be done.
Somewhere in a clear darkness,
coursing up the long rigid trachea,
shuddering out the beak, a heron's cry
rolls across the water.

7
Assuming the attitude of the dead, I float:
breathing when the river breathes, pushing
away from snarls and the levee until at last,
above me, the heron glances away
from a corpse. I catch the base of his throat,
and rising--both of us--out of the water,
I snap him hard, right and left,
his sharp feet clawing my thighs and belly
until with both hands, and all my weight,
I hold him under. Choking, convulsing,
his wings beat uselessly on the current.

We'll be filming another fantasy, too. When we met in New York to work on the script, I made the first of several important friendships that have come of this project. As we worked on the final pages of the script, Andrew asked me what I would have wished for Brian and Wendy and all of us. I've been in a state of rage and loss for so many years that I had rarely considered such a question.

We're going to film the four of them, alive, on that dock, on that lake, laughing and having fun. Uncorrupted. Clean. In love with each other.

I don't know what I expected or wanted from this film when I wrote the first drafts. But Andrew helped me unearth something in the story that I had never seen in it before. Instead of chasing them into the void with anger and pain and guilt and loss, I get to send a wish after them--a snapshot they would have loved.

ring the bell

I spoke to Roger on the phone tonight for the first time in several weeks. I haven't mentioned Roger by name in a single posting. Not on this blog. Not on the Rocky Top blog.

Roger was Wendy's husband. He was, and is, one of the closest friends I've ever had. I proposed to Tab on their couch. I called him at 2 am on several occasions to read him bad poems. I held their son, Jhett, when he was the size of a loaf of bread. Even before I lost one brother, I had found another. After the accident, we called each other across the country and around the world to howl our agony.

We talked about this film--really talked about it--for the first time ever. That conversation is between us. However, it made me keenly aware that my family and friends--especially those whose lives were changed by Brian and Wendy's deaths--are watching the whole thing unfold again.

Later, as I watched TV with Chad and Jen, I was asking myself why I'm doing this. Why am I putting Tab and Roger and our kids and siblings and parents and friends through this? What is there to learn? What is there to gain?

I don't know. I can only say that sixteen years ago a hammer struck and I am a bell that's been ringing ever since. I don't know how not to.