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Black Lamb


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Shine on, harvest moon

February 1st, 2014


My short stint as a part-time, semi-professional musician began in the early 1980s, when I worked as the manager of Wilbur Hot Springs, a country inn and hot springs resort in Colusa County, Calif. Wilbur Springs was (and still is) twenty-five miles from the nearest town. Wilbur was a wonderful place to live and work, so long as I remembered that it was more a romantic interlude than a lifetime commitment. I worked hard managing the hotel, the hot baths, the grounds, and the cook-it-yourself kitchen. There I learned how to rely on lists and schedules, how to remember the names of thirty or more guests each weekend, how to manage a staff of twelve, and how to cope with weather. The weather in the Wilbur winters consisted of rain and mud. Woodstoves and hot baths. But in the summers Wilbur Hot Springs was a place of hot days and hot nights.

At Wilbur I reconnected with the moon. I learned her phases and welcomed them all. The place used no electricity, so nights were dark on the ground and brilliant in the sky. On moonless night the stars dazzled and danced over our heads. Then as the month marched on, the moon took over, first as a waxing blob already high when the sky turned dark, then growing fuller and fuller, rising later and later, until it was plump and enormous as it rose over the hills in the east as the day wound down. This phenomenon of the rising of the full moon got better each summer month until we approached the autumnal equinox, when the ambient sunlight had dimmed and the moon appeared brighter, bigger, more warm and golden. I still can’t think of this sight without hearing, as a pleasant earworm, the chorus of “Shine on, shine on harvest moon.…”

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Daniel | Link to this Entry

January 2014 in Black Lamb

Volume 12, Number 1 — January 2014

January 1st, 2014

Eleventh Anniversary Issue

In this our 11th Anniversary Issue, Terry Ross examines the notion of anniversaries. In an article from our Best of Black Lamb archives, Cervine Kauffman tells a story of semi-requited love in Throwing in the towel. In Penmanship, our Pen Man, Dean Suess, admits that his handwriting is atrocious. Lane Browning says that she has practically given up — of all things — sitting in Embracing the vertical.

In Anticlimax, Elizabeth Fournier only partially regrets forswearing big city thrills for her quiet country life. Toby Tompkins proposes a cure for food shortages in Long pig. Into the mountains is the fourteenth installment of Lorentz Lossius’s 2007 Turkey diary. John M. Daniels reveals why one particular birthday is memorable in Twenty-two. A second article from our Best of Black Lamb archives is First and last Xmas, Lorentz Lossius’s lovely evocation of Christmas in Norway. Susan Bennett continues her tales of animal life in Fish story.

Our Honorary Black Lambs column honors two more figures from the world of literature: Swiss dictionarist Peter Mark Roget and English novelist W. Somerset Maugham. Bridge columnist Trixie Barkis gives the ingenious solution to some new hands. Our monthly lamb recipe is for Ragout of Lamb Chops with Chestnuts. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall again offers her impeccable advice. And Professor Avram Kahn proffers another challenging Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Eleventh Anniversary Issue, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Throwing in the towel

January 1st, 2014


When my friends met Jerry, they were appalled. Some of them even used the word “slumming.” But I liked to call it “towelling off.” I was climbing forth from the muck of yuppified eunuchs and video game slackers and rolling myself up in a real man. And it felt good.

womanhanginglaundryI met him while I was having a shake at my favorite diner and watching a guy unloading stacks of towels from his trunk. When the guy came in, I told him that he must want the Inn a Minute just across the parking lot, but he said no, he had just left there. Then he took a stool a few places down and started sorting his towels. I say “his” towels but they really belonged to the motel. He saw my brow furrow so he explained how the hospitality business works. He said that motels have to jack up their prices to make up for the towels that end up in people’s trunks, so guests, in turn, have to steal more towels to make the price of a motel worthwhile. It didn’t make much sense to me, but something about the conviction in his voice made me keep nodding. A couple of shakes later, I felt that I’d known Jerry for a week. When he suggested a road trip, I rolled up a few toiletries in a towel and got in the car.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Eleventh Anniversary Issue, Kauffman | Link to this Entry

Embracing the vertical

January 1st, 2014


I've given up sitting.

I spend my days upright now, like a solid old piano, a sturdy fir, a non-leaning tower of no pizza. I read standing up, I write standing up, I eat standing up. Other than when I’m in bed, or when I’m in the bathtub, I stand for all but an hour or so every day. I do sit down when I talk to clients at my desk, because standing would seem too preacher-posturey. For all other things, though, standing seems appropriate, even “natural,” and I don’t know why I sat all those years. Now I have space around me, because chairs and couches don’t clutter the area. I can change positions while standing. I can balance on one leg; I can tap dance, I can lean or stretch. I can slouch. I can shift my weight.

I can see farther than I did when sitting down.

Most of my work is done at a computer, so both my so-called “work stations” are set up for standing. I didn’t buy or build anything; I stacked boxes. Function over aesthetics. I have to say, I like it a lot. It’s been many months now, and I really like it. Going back (or down) would seem really odd. I think, having taken a stand, I am committed.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Browning, Eleventh Anniversary Issue | Link to this Entry

December 2013 in Black Lamb

Volume 11, Number 12 — December 2013

December 1st, 2013

In this December’s issue, Terry Ross reviews Frans de Waal’s latest book on primate behavior. Elizabeth finds that middle-age ain’t for sissies in Nel mezzo del cammin. In Trash talk, Toby Tompkins discusses what human beings do with their garbage. Lorentz Lossius continues his Turkish travelogue with Hagia Sophia. In Bad weather makes good neighbors, John M. Daniel reflects on the paucity of subjects of conversation in his small town. Evelyn Bartlett describes her efforts to find work in A woman of a certain age. In The Cherokees and I, Dan Peterson lays out his Indian lineage. Brad Bigelow reviews a biography of Charles Ives in The sound of America. M.A. Orthofer reviews Donna Tartt’s latest book, and Terry Ross continues with a second edition of The Black Lamb Manual of Style.

Two more prominent figures from the world of literature — English poet Thomas Gray and German novelist Peter Handke — are welcomed into our gallery of Honorary Black Lambs. We offer a tempting Literary Sampler of extracts from writers mentioned in this issue. Bridge writer Trixis Barkis makes two game contracts in Major triumphs. Our latest yummy recipe is for a simple meal of Lamb with Asparagus. In Xmas again, advice columnist Millicent Marshall reiterates some of her classic holiday wisdom. And Prof. Avram Khan gives us another challenging word puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Trash talk

December 1st, 2013


I just got back from a run to the dump, or as it’s called now, the Recycling Center. Today, Peterborough is an island of progressives, conservationists, and wildlife protectors in New Hampshire’s sea of conservatives, real estate developers, and gun-besotted Bambi and Tea Baggers, but its shift to environmentalism is of fairly recent vintage. When my wife and I bought our house here, in 1988, the dump was still a dump. You tossed your trash and garbage into the reeking pit of other people’s crap and forgot about it. Out of sight, out of mind — only the trash wasn’t entirely out of sight. Some of the paper and plastic wound up in the Contoocook River that runs through the center of town, washed up on the banks or floating merrily down the stream.

And there was worse stuff in the river, because the dump pit leached all manner of toxic fluids into the ground, and it all percolated into the water. At the end of summer, when the river was low, there was often an iridescent slick on its surface. The Contoocook never actually caught fire, the way Cleveland’s Cuyahoga did in 1969, because it runs too fast. But it stank, and if you stood next to it for any length of time, your eyes would smart and your nose would start running.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Tompkins | Link to this Entry

November 2013 in Black Lamb

Volume 11, Number 11 — November 2013

November 1st, 2013

The All-Europe Issue

In November’s All-Europe Issue, Dean Suess sums up his four visits with the sentences I came. I saw. I ate. In The poor people of Paris, Greg Roberts argues that Europeans live like peasants compared to Americans. Emily Emerson says in C’est quoi, Obamacare? that for medical reasons, she’s glad she lives in France. Toby Tompkins gets to appear in a scene from one of his favorite books in St. Serendipity in Palermo. In Wild rides, John M. Daniel describes a scary brush with drug trafficking. Rod Ferrandino says in I dare say that the youth of Great Britain sound a great deal more articulate than their American counterparts. In Travel cuisine Elizabeth Fournier describes her search as a girl for junk food in Europe.

Two more figures from the world of literature — American novelist Kurt Vonnegut and Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson — are welcomed into our gallery of Honorary Black Lambs. In Keep your hands to yourself! advice columnist Millicent Marshall criticizes the new American penchant for inappropriate hugging. And Prof. Avram Khan gives us another challenging word puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Europe Issue, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

The poor people of Paris

Compared to Americans, Europeans live like peasants.

November 1st, 2013


In the 1970s our family worked for rich people who kept summer homes near Three Lakes, Wisc. Yard work, housework, boat and pier work — we were the avant garde of today’s Mexicans. Not exactly; we were good friends with the boss, a bank president, and he invited us to many an elaborate cook-out with porterhouse steaks the size of Frisbees and glasses of port from the 1930s.

skullscatacombsparis*Jack, the banker, loved fishing and hunting in the British Isles, and during one of his many trips there he bought some springer spaniels. He imported not only these goofy, high-strung animals, he also brought back the gamekeeper and his wife. They would stay on for the summer to train the pups and help set up a pheasant run on one of Jack’s properties.

Alan, the Englishman, visited our house one day and was amazed at what he found. A Ford pickup, a Buick Park Avenue, boats on trailers, snowmobiles, and fine shotguns hanging on the living room walls. He was pole-axed by such wealth in the hands of people who did the same kind of work as he. “Good Lord, everyone is rich in this country,” he said, as if it were leprosy. And later I heard his wife mutter, “Our last big dream was to buy a sewing machine, and we saved the whole year to do it.”

That’s Europeans for you. In spite of the Magna Carta, they never had anything and never will. And they seem to be getting worse. A bicycle ride to the cafe, an espresso and cigarette, and a conversation on Twitter. Man, that’s living! And now it’s time to pedal back home to Mama and Papa, to the same crappy apartment and small room you grew up in.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Europe Issue, Roberts | Link to this Entry

October 2013 in Black Lamb

Volume 11, Number 10 — October 2013

October 1st, 2013

In this October’s issue, Toby Tompkins reports on New Hampshire’s notorious blackfly in State bird. In Civic boondoggle, Gil Johnson outlines a recipe for disaster: the convention mega-hotel. John M. Daniel gives us the second part of his three-part series on his European travels, Schlepping my ego.

On his own in Denver, Benjamin Feliciano encounters a goose in Dying. In London, Dan Peterson relates how the English capital beckons but he prefers Milan. In Junk pile, Elizabeth Fournier describes homemade shelters called Earthships. Karla Kruggel Powell describes that with her two birds, Life is song. Brad Bigelow reviews an excellent early novel by Christopher Morley. M.A. Orthofer reviews two novels by the Italian mafia expert Leonardo Sciascia.

Two figures from the world of literature — English travel writer Jan Morris and American novelist Norman Rush — are welcomed into our gallery of Honorary Black Lambs. In A little prudence, bridge writer Trixie Barkis shows the benefits of caution. Our delicious lamb recipe is for Stout-Braised Lamb Shanks. In Put a sock in it, advice columnist Millicent Marshall criticizes people who advertise their ailments. And Prof. Avram Khan gives us another challenging word puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Month summaries | Link to this Entry

State bird

The not-so-merry month of May

October 1st, 2013


In New Hampshire, May ought to be the best month of the year. October is exhilarating, certainly, with the maples dressed in their glorious colors and the temperature brisk and bracing, but the color and the temperature are reminders that winter is just around the corner. And winter lasts forever, or seems to, in the Live, Freeze, and Die State. November’s a bleak misery, the landscape reduced to grays and browns and the cold rains soon giving way to sleet and snow. December, January, and February are all deep freeze. March is aptly known as mud-time, with thaws producing slush and sticky muck, until the temperature plummets, the mud freezes again, and a blizzard or an ice storm sets in. April’s a mocker: the sun warms a little, peepers pipe up in the trees, and the migratory birds wing in from the south, singing of spring. But the promise in their song is empty, for there’s usually sleet or even snow before the month is out.

And then, at last, comes lovely May in all her lush and tender beauty, warm and sweet, with flowers in her hair. The ground is soft, the garden’s ready for planting, the shaggy green lawn needs mowing, and winter-deferred projects around the house and grounds are all planned out and ready to go.

blackflyUnfortunately, in New England May is a queen held hostage by cruel savages, very small but implacably bloodthirsty, whose tribal name is Simuliidae culicomorpha. They’re common all over North America, known by various names, buffalo gnat and turkey gnat for two. In New Hampshire we just call them black flies, and some people consider them the real state bird, despite the purple finch’s official status. (I can’t remember ever seeing a purple finch in the twenty-six years my wife have had our New Hampshire house, except in a bird book.)

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Tompkins | Link to this Entry

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