My research into Trillim’s life can be found here, here, here, here, and a recent book can be found here. This letter was just donated to the Trillim Archives in Beijing. It was undated, but its authenticity is beyond reproach. Handwriting analysis, stable isotope analysis of paper and ink, and most compelling, a mention of the letter in a letter from Babs to her mother (referred to as “that crazy junk drawer letter) all confirm it is real. On a small grant from the Trillim Studies Foundation, I traveled to Skjolden and confirm that a small farmhouse, which was owned by a family named Vermeulen, once stood on the site up the valley from the town.
I don’t know when I will be able to mail this. I am at the mercy of my neighbor Vegar’s good graces and the timing of his next whim to go into town. When he does, I will ride down with him and his sullen wife Disa and see if I can arrange this being posted. No doubt you wonder what has become of me after our tussle. First let me get this out of the way, I am sorry. Really. I am truly sorry. Take that as you are willing, but I mean it. Forgive me? Onward.
I am living near Skjolden, Norway. I’ve taken residence up the valley in an old farmhouse, a cabin really. I’m dying of boredom. It seemed like a good place to get away and since the owners, the Vermeulens, would be summering in Portugal, I’d have the place to myself. I met them in England. They are both retired literature professors from Belgium and we hit it off splendedly. They said they would be delighted to for me to spend the winter in their cabin and keep the old place warmed and lit. It’s been a disaster. I forgot it snowed in Norway. Silly me.
I was in England to visit Edith Scovell. You’ll remember I have always admired her poetry collection, The River Steamer, and her translations of the poetry of Giovanni Pascoli. Her husband is an ecologist of some note, Charles Elton. He captured me. Not so much my heart (although a little of that as well I fear), but because his love for voles was infectious. Voles! The little tailless rodents that mouse around meadows growing plump and languid. He sees the world as a festival of interaction, replete with connections that define and construct the world of nature. Sitting in his Oxford home, hearing stories about snowshoe hare and lynx populations entranced and captivated me. He told how the fervid mammals dance together in a sophisticated tangle of fouette en tournant around a pole of amicable balance. One that keeps either creature from dominating in the amagues and faints of life’s game. The feline and coney populations are linked together just out of phase as their numbers swing in contrapuntal motion growing and shrinking in response to the others’ scarcity or abundance. But these too are imbedded in a wild Yoruba-like gambol of multiple dancers moving to individual scores enacted by hosts of other creatures: jays, birch trees, beavers, paramiscus mice, mosses, woodpeckers, muskrat, trout, bears, firs, marmots, pines, mushrooms and stout and on and on and on and on, all tousled in whatever motions they’ve been given by their instinct, course, and inclination. Ever seeking survival.
His tales about the ways of life so captivated me that when I was offered this cabin, I could not turn it down. So up I came. I pictured myself enmeshed in natural webs thick and knotted, but I forgot that winter is not the most amicable time to make a study of the great outdoors. The snow is thick and smoothes out the landscape as if a nanny had thrown a thick white blanket over a child play toys, thus dampening all contours and hiding everything beneath it. It also turned out that to move through this Cimmerian landscape is exhausting. Even with my yew and reindeer gut snowshoes, I find myself less bouncing through the woods, than slogging in a damp sweaty heat of a type that would not normally envelop me until after hours of badminton play. But even that warmth quickly turns to chill if I stop for but a second, and then starting to move it is back to heat again with every exertion. So it’s an endless cycle of heating up beyond comfort followed by a freezing of blood and bone. The extreme back and forth between moods of personal climate end up sapping me of all energy and motivation. It is cold! Too cold for me to stop and consider my fellow creatures without quickly becoming impatient and discouraged.
I spent two days reading, but the library here is small and not well stocked and I found myself sunk in boredom so relentless that I was about to abandon the place and to make my way back to civilization.
But I was saved. I realized that there was an ecosystem I could study. Ecology is the study of the relationships among living things in an environment. The links extend not only among the plants and animals, but among the rocks, soil, and sky. For example a large stone might provide the door to a badger hole, or provide a launching point for an errant pine seed. A gap among the forest trees might provide a space that allows sunlight to stream to new and fragile seedlings stretching skyward to make the next generation of pines.
Well, there was little life in my cabin, but I found a place of relationships, strange and varied and it is to this that I applied my skills.
In every home, there is a drawer that serves as the catch-all for things that have no formal place to call their own: the junk drawer. The junk drawer is a place of mystery and strangeness and it is to this that I applied my fascination with ecology. So here is my study dear Babs. You already know I am strange beyond reckoning, but let me add this bit to your arsenal of evidence that it is so!
A Study Into the Vermeulen’s Junk Drawer in a Cabin Near Skjolden, Norway
The inhabitants: seventeen wooden pencils, two pins, six crayons, a small standard stapler, seventy-six paper clips, a spool of lead wire, twenty-four fishing hooks, a leather wallet, an expired ferry ticket, a tangle of reel to reel tape estimated to be two feet in length balled up and held tight by a rubber band, a cigar cutter, four finishing nails, a box of tacks, a very small ball-peen hammer, a pair of needle nose pliers, a corkscrew, a red rabbit’s foot, seven blue pipe cleaners, three red pipe cleaners, a tube of fly paper of the type to be stretched out and hung by a red loop, a postcard from Disneyland, eighteen bottle tops each from a different kind of beer, one hundred and six pale yellow rubber bands, seven large red ones, one nine volt battery, two mouse traps, one small leather dog collar, seven loose playing cards, two ten-ore coins, one fifty-ore piece, one Swedish krone, a carabineer, three skeleton keys on a ring, two loose standard keys, two spools of thread—one green, one black, a mini-bottle of Masquers English Vodka, a vinyl 45 rpm of Italian singer Timi Yuro singing Dolore stuck (maybe glued?) to the bottom of the drawer, three match books all from Norwegian Hotels, two empty film canisters, one compass, three German volksmarch medals, three corks, a small candle-wick burned, and a cabinet hinge.
Interactions: Fishhooks seem to act as a kind of parasite. Their topological configuration, as designed with the barbs resisting the withdrawal of something penetrated, allows them access to the inside of other objects. The wad of reel-to-reel tape has suffered the worst infestation. The point of three of the hooks have entered into the thin membrane and embedded themselves inseparably. One of the hooks has wrapped itself around the rubber band binding the soft ribbon and could be removed, but like all good ethnologists, I will not interfere with the system. Who is to say that the hooks have no more right than the tape to engage in their particular way of being in the world? I will not.
The wallet is huddled in the upper left corner, and its height has prohibited the pencils from mounting its leather covering and it sits alone, almost. A daring bottle top has secured a purchase on top of the billfold, anchored by its rough corrugated sides. The cap’s hold on the wallet has also allowed two rubber bands and a pipe cleaner to negotiate an agreement to keep them topside and secures them from falling.
The dog collar has formed a ring enclosure within which are diked the vodka mini bottle, one of the volksmarch medals, three bottle tops, and the skeleton keys on a ring. The collar is of such quality that this trapped cozy collection seems quite stable, although one of the pencils seems to be worming its way through the gap along the side of the drawer—the proverbial nose of the camel into the tent.
The hammer has pinned two of the playing cards to the floor and provides a barrier that has trapped the pliers, rabbit’s foot and corks. As if to show its worth, the corkscrew has joined the hammer in damming many of the objects into the upper right corner—ironically including one of the corks, the object of the corkscrew’s desire. A pipe cleaner is breaching the barricade by mounting up the nine-volt battery trapped behind the hammer-formed palisade. A pen trying to vault the obstacle, but has only just begun. I have confidence that it will succeed, although perhaps not during my stay.
The many rubber bands form a substrate, which give a kind of soil and texture to the drawer. Many object rest upon them and they seem to provide friction and resistance such that they add stability and structure to the bottom of the drawer, restricting movement and providing directional currents of item motion.
Only the film canisters and the candle seem to range freely, rolling hither and yon with every opening of the drawer. They jump the barriers from time to time by the skill imparted to round things, and by the dexterity conveyed by their momentum. Although, sadly, despite their potential they seem to cling to the front edge in a way the brokers a lack of imagination and a deficiency of pluck.
The compass points to magnetic North, as is its nature.
As I look at my object ecosystem. I cannot help but wonder what is it like to be these things, each jostling for position, each negotiating with their neighbor for what they will do next, which state of configuration they will enter. Each object is as much a part of the drawer-world as the next. All equalized in importance in the space in which they exist. And what do they make of me? In their non-perceptual perceptions what sort of cause am I? My disruptions? What legends come of them? What tales traverse the drawerosphere when I open the thing and my motions are translated into actions that reverberate down though the ages of drawerdom? Not human tales of course, but the tales the objects tell in object manifestations. What new world-configuration comes into being from the first seismic tremor that cascades out from my blundering efforts to unstick the stubborn resistance of the closed drawer? When my sudden tug on the knob propagates through the dovetail jointed wood? Am I a kind of fate? A destiny that is written upon all that follows ever after? How strange to think that I am a part of the strange ecosystem. Perhaps even a keystone species.
All of the drawer inhabitants were designed by humans for purposes. But the drawer has nullified that. They are no longer available for human uses (thinking of the drawer as a kind of tomb). They are dead for the most part in that sense. Yet they go on interacting in that little drawer space. Powered by the vibrations that propagate due to the occasional drawer opening or when something new is tossed within. But once in motion they must settle their quarrels and make their alliances. They must adjudicate their place and position. They must open to or rebuff what offers they receive by other entities making demands. They network and parley. It is a dynamic place that drawer. All done without sentience. Without perception. Without a modicum of apprehension. Yet full of drama. The junk drawer is a mad house.
Well Babs, I must go. This will seem quite ridiculous and silly I’m sure. But then you know me well enough.
As always I am your,
P.S. Do the deists among the paper clips shake their knobbed ends at me, cursing my name for my disruptions, or do they bend their wire in petitions for grace? I wonder.