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The Meager Apple.

I occasionally find myself noticing apples laying or hanging about untouched, the ones on roadside trees or others plopped on the ground unmolested by human desire. And yes, they may be in the backyard of some home owner who for reasons unknown have lost interest or was simply overwhelmed by the pure tonnage of the fruit. My interest in this food source is peaked because many of these untouched apples have real and genuine value, other than, say, feeding the local wildlife.

It’s as if they are going to waste when in them dwells apple pies, apple bread, apple sauce and maybe Apfelkuchen. Admittedly, some of these feral apples are not totally desirable because a dozen squirming, but content, worms have tunneled through them having their own thanksgiving. In addition, the lively larva’s mining operation have introduced microbes with ill intent causing oozing decay. Other fallen apples have been feasted upon by meandering deer, who for reasons not understood, prefer but one bite of each apple, apparently dreaming of finding that one perfect “golden” apple but in the process leave deer drool over the fruit.

Some apple trees are in the odd locations because they were unintendedly put there as a result of a core being tossed from a car, or by some workmen who just chucked the last remnant back to the soil not thinking of planting anything. These wildings, while apple trees by birth, aren’t necessarily of any real value because their fruit may be the result of some radical cross breeding. Thus, the fruit may be tiny, misshapen, and taste more like a dried up mealy rose hip than a Granny Smith. The point being, one has to be selective while foraging for feral apples. Still opportunities arise, and that’s the object of my eye.

So, back to the adventure of apple salvaging as a way of providing culinary excitement and nutritional opportunity. All apples I’ve seen lying about have sugar in them but some more than others, meaning, from my point of view, test them, sink a tooth, lay a lip on them. If your plan is a hard cider, chose the ones with the most sugar because sugar equals alcohol. However, for those baked goods, it’s a matter of balance between tartness, sugar and general flavor.

Most of the found apples are organic and never sprayed with anything, are gluten free and the act of gathering can be fun even if a person has to make a clandestine run into a neighbor’s yard in the deep night—or just go ask if the pilfering is ok. A big bag of robust fruit is a job well done, a rewarding adventure by any standard and a chance to stay close to the ground—tree if they’re still hanging.

For me, the antique peeler is a trip to nostalgia land because the hundred and twenty-five year old device is a marvel. Its existence shows how at one time apples were more important than today, at least in the rural setting. Running my grandparent’s hand-cranked device at full bore throws the peels about providing the reward of seeing man’s ingenuity first hand. Old Lonnie and Thyra had an orchard. I remember fetching fruit and running the various apples, worms and all, through this contraption just to see the peels fly and dismembered bugs writhing on the remains. I was easily entertained. The simple apples are made naked in seconds. Once rendered skinless, the apples can be cored with a simple contraption that only needs a little pressure and the slices just drop to the sides ready for use.

From there, the sections can be distributed into baked goods like pies, bread and whatever that Apfelkuchen is, or just cooked to applesauce.

Simply said, a good apple should not go unturned. Allowing it to just lay on the ground or hang despondently from a lonely tree is possibly a sin, a travesty. With my full sack in hand, I feel vindicated of all guilt.  

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Musky Fishing: The Struggle of Life Itself

In Wisconsin, and I suppose other northern localities, fishing for the monstrous, and intimidating, heavily toothed, rather prehistoric musky has always held a certain fascination. I’m not sure there is a Moby Dick symbolic message about it, but maybe. They are the ultimate conquest here in the North Country. Can I compare this adventure to Hemingway’s struggles in The Old Man and The Sea, or to Herman Melville’s epic?

In order to get myself in the literary position to make such judgement, like both Ernie and Hermie, it was necessary to seek adventure and to go ‘down to the sea in ships’. This I did in great fanfare and in the company of three other river travelers that I shall call shipmates, not the match of Jackie Tar, nor Ishmael, but indeed, weathered souls of some age possibly referable to as old men, for not a hair among us was of a color other than white.


The day was little different than many others where clouds hung low over the river and cast a certain confinement on the moving water and enclosing forest. The moisture took away the details of the landscape and only allowed a few colors of the changing fall to creep through. There was an impressive foreboding in the darkness of the water as we slipped the drift boat into the Chippewa.

If ever there was a moment to confront the masters of this water, today was that day. The muted light, the mist of morning and the unlit, clear river made pursuit of the monsters more a reality, it seemed. My shipmates and I could, in our determined way, be stealthier, more secretive knowing we could hide under the softened light. In quiet tones, we mumbled little thoughts on how the muskies might also view this day in a similar manner for they too could hide crocodile-like among the fallen branches and foamed-covered eddies waiting for the lazy bullfrog or juvenile muskrat to blunder into sight and instant death.

It would be a game like always, where we, with our giant flies glistening like leftover Christmas tree ornaments, hoped to overcome the mysteries of these monsters, some four feet in length, and feed our self-impressions of worth as providers. With all the clarities of a sun-filled day absent, we set forth to capture one of the last remaining obstacles in a freshwater fisherman’s life.

While my shipmates had their own struggles with the day, I will relate but my own, for that is what I will have to live with from day to day. As we floated down the river, sometimes through the raging rapids and other times through softened waters, our huge flies flopped on edges of forest litter, against abandoned beaver dams and under overhanging trees. Occasionally, there would be a tug or a giant swirl letting us know the denizens of the deep were there and willing to test our aging medal. We struck, we cursed the failures but stayed the course as if it was a test of life itself. We had failed before only catching water-logged branches, hidden rocks, and an occasional fish of lesser fight.

 “There has to be one there. My God, look at that structure.” I would mumble in frustration as I cast my six inch fly, my tinseled, bug-eyed, pinky-dink, to a hole where muskies have been living since the last ice age.

 The sparkling lure sank for a brief moment. I stripped the line hard to imitate a wounded fish. Then, in a violent flash, the lure literally disappeared. The ferocious tug almost loosened my grip. The rip of line burned my left hand. “Fish on!”  I yelped, as if Moby Dick had been struck. The huge musky did a powerful roll on the surface, probably seeing the boat and the Ahab-like fisherman standing proud. Seeking the push of the current, the leviathan headed down stream. The anchor dropped and on board the shipmates yelled advice. “Hold him over here. Watch out for that damn log. Look at the size of that thing.”

Due to my injuries from other battles in youth, my legs began to shake. After ten minutes of struggle, with a flyrod bent half over in agony, I wanted to sit down, or somehow be helped, but it was my struggle. To have given in would have been a sign weakness, failure, and left my ego crippled, flaccid in embarrassment. I pulled hard to bring the massive fish close to the boat to be netted by the now floundering crew who had already failed on numerous attempts. Each time the musky detected the net, it bolted to fast water.

“Ya gotta get him over here. He’s damn close to four feet. Pull, you old coot.” Then in an exhausted moment, the fish disappeared into the giant net and held. A great yell went out as the captain of the ship who thought the Pequod would be finally heading home all loaded in glory, celebrated.

I fell into the chair. “Look at the size of that monster.” Came rolling out my stalwart shipmate.

“I can’t believe I did that. Christ, my legs are still quivering and my shoulder’s pounding.“  I thought. The others had great smiles and offered fists of victory.

Quickly, as the fish was lifted from the water, pictures were taken in a rather unceremonious manner and the monster, the ultimate goal of a fisherman’s life, was quietly returned to the Chippewa. The fish was one of those monsters in life that require a fight. But, once tackled there is a certain satisfaction in just letting it go realizing maybe it will be a struggle for someone else, when it is bigger, stronger. Maybe that person will fall overboard, break his equipment and fail, but maybe also win, or survive to fight another day.

———————————————————————–

Reminds me of an old saying from an outhouse in Jasper National Park that said, “I used to struggle to find out where it was at, but now I realize the struggle is where it is at.

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The Perils of Gardening

A fine selection from our garden. Think Scorpion!

The Perils of Gardening

     It seems that one evening we were invited to a friend’s home, ya, it was my brother Crow’s place, for an evening of banter, fellowship and delicate cuisine served there among love-struck song birds and screaming flush of summer flowers. I went deep into a spiritual discussion on the merits of gardening noting the many fine features of their farming efforts and, of course, criticizing the weaknesses such as the puny, poorly committed pepper plants and the less-than-spectacular browned-out tomato foliage, too limp to have serious production status.

     It is well known in our family, it is good to be critical of an individual’s efforts as a way of raising one’s own ego or self-esteem whichever comes first. In other words, it has value to lambaste any little thing out of order, or that which is not a picture of agrarian success. In truth, by my careful observation, some of his vegetables showed little promise or lacked much redeeming value even to the glutinous, over zealous, tooth-heavy, woodchuck, but admittedly, other vegetables, like the onions and carrots were rather spectacular (painful to admit that) and the flower selection along with the corn was awe-inspiring.
     In my world, it is also fair game to pilfer some of their efforts by simply grabbing the produce and consuming it on the spot while doing a critique of that particular vegetable, because, after all, some items simply look good but have no character (just like people). Again, the purpose is to find fault and then belittle failed efforts—–and yet compliment, if ever so lightly, the successes.
     There in the miserable area of his garden was this despondent, stunted pepper plant that oddly had on it some rather colorful red peppers of a smaller persuasion. They were not recognizable as being of a hot sort but one probably of a sweeter demeanor and therefore worth testing in a gentlemanly, and heart-felt manner.

     Prior to the pepper consumption and with my belly tight to the the finely set table, I commented, somewhat in jest, on the throngs of biting insects and diving fruit bats all festooned and infested with various parasites—even-though the truth was quite the opposite. This simply was a way of implying my urban setting was more pleasant, even if we do have more Norwegians. Again, there is this need to make one look superior, and noting the vermin in another’s holdings, is a good place to go—I believe.
     While I had in hand a nice brew of my own making, I took a small nip on the end of the selected pepper and found it to be most pleasant, sweet, flavorful, reminiscent of our years on the Mediterranean while in the company of Ernest Hemingway. “I’m impressed with this fine looking pepper even if it came from that half-rotted plant,” I noted. Crow nodded, basking at an actual compliment.   

     “Why thank you. I believe I selected well on the plant choice.”

Lifting the red jewel in a half salute as if a fine cognac, and in great aristocratic confidence, I took a great bite consisting of most of the four inch beauty thinking to follow it with a gulp of my excellent brew.

     Sweet jumping lizards skipping across the tundra on a rubber crutch, I made a mistake! I have never been wrong before, but I have made mistakes and this was one of them.
     My head fell back and my eyes rolled into their sockets, my tongue swelled and burned much like it had when tortured in the war (the Big War when I served in a British Thermal Unit)–it was the hot iron on the tongue gambit. My breath was short and my pulse increased to 2000 beats. The only solution was the beer and I had no choice but to use it as a coolant much like ethylene glycol is used to cool a motor. I couldn’t swallow the beer and it began to boil. My eyes were half closed and while I was unable to speak, numerous profane thoughts passed through my now inflamed mind.

     My fist hit the table and my knees quivered as I started to go into a frothing catatonic fit of some sort. I wanted to cut my tongue out even with a dull spoon. A sweat broke out as I faced a near death experience. My glorious, maybe delusional, life, flashed in front of me.
    I tried crackers and cheese and vegetables (no more peppers) and was about to start eating grass when it finally began to dissipate. Through blurred, with still steaming eyes, I looked around thinking someone had run for help, cream cheese, the garden hose, maybe a moist cold cloth with ice cubes. The others, including my wife, sat there covering their collective mouths fighting laughter, emitting not one ounce of sympathy, had made no motion for help. No, not one. Only laughter and derision, and accusations of theft, and disrespect, of weakness and even of stupidity.
     I was deemed a loser, a man of weak character. Personally, I think it was a trick, a way to make me explore compassion, an appreciative individual who will never say another critical thing about anybody’s garden.

    Well, my mouth is better but my mind is not very apologetic. Imbedded in me is a standing desire that one day that brother Crow casually harvests one of my Scorpion Peppers and then in a thoughtless moment touches his naughty bits.  

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Comfort

Comfort.

The cook stove and reclining cup of tea

     At the moment, I am sitting on a leather sofa right up tight against a one-hundred year-old wood burning stove. My feet are covered with some hand-knit socks made by my charming wife. My toes are so comfortable, they are smiling and occasionally dozing off. The radiant warmth is like sunshine, on a spring morning, flooding on my face. The Earl Gray tea is especially delightful with the carefully chosen amount of fragrant, locally-produced honey. I am in a position of comfort and I am aware of it, not just accepting it, but actually reveling in the glory of it all. That is to say, I am profoundly thankful.

     In this position of extreme comfort, it is possible to look outside and see the wind howling, snow whipping over huge piles of frozen winter. One can sense the ten-degree temperature that the local Chickadees sitting on the feeder are having to endure, their little feathers lifting with each gust as they cower behind the bouncing wooden feeder. There is no sign of comfort there. I watch from my privileged position and reflect.

    One might say, “Oh, birds don’t even care about comfort. They always live out there and like it. It is what they do.” But I remember an obese chicken we had, one called, Heavy Hen, who when given the opportunity, would sneak into the shop, actually, I let her in, because she would beg, would strut across the room and plop herself on the arm of the old raggedy stuffed chair right next to the wood burning stove. She would do this even if Brown, our hound dog was in the chair lounging. Like that lush-of-a-dog, that bird knew comfort and sought it out.

     So in a fit of thinking and reflecting from my privileged position, it seemed appropriate to visit comfort, say the comfort of mankind, or better yet the history of comfort. I wondered how long has this more-than-pleasant situation been around? Do we have more comfort than any generation gone before?

     The bigger question becomes, how much comfort have people, and I mean average people, known through history? Sixty years ago in my childhood home, we heated with coal and I remember being comfortable even though if it was below zero, the house was not always toasty and I can recall lying on the floor heat register as a way, like Heavy Hen, of absorbing comfort. It has to be assumed that elsewhere in the house, it was not exactly comfortable, at least not like today where every room is climate controlled to accommodate our changing moods.

     This last year, we clamored through an unoccupied “apartment” of a castle in Italy and noticed that each small room had a rude fireplace. This particular residence had not been occupied since prior to World War II and many artifacts were still laying about. This picturesque castle village had been there and occupied for 400 to 500 years—and was still largely occupied. It was not hard to imagine living there, cramped, totally cold as the place was clearly impossible to heat, unless using modern equipment and fuels. To top it off, the landscape obviously had been stripped of most wood hundreds of years ago. They must have used lumps of coal, sheep dung, maybe twigs right up until the war. Little imagination also indicated the place had to be filled with vermin of all sorts. It simply seemed improbable there had been much comfort in this life style.

     In reading bits and pieces on early Wisconsin settlement, fascinating tidbits of information show up that make me ponder even more. They talk of mattresses filled with straw, and coarse wool blankets spun at home, and again the open fireplace. Iron stoves, of the type that bring me such pleasure, didn’t show up until the mid-eighteen hundreds. Prior to that, all folks needing warmth, possibly with the exception of the Scandinavians and their masonry stoves, had to huddle around an open fire during the big freeze.

     I have read of potatoes stored under the beds to prevent them from freezing, and it was implied they still froze—what does that say about the temperature of the place? There were no over-stuffed sofas, no down jackets. Insulation was unknown even in the 1910 house we live in now. No stove could have kept that structure warm at 30 below. Comfort must have been like candy. A person could just get it once in a while sitting, face to the summer sun. 

I recall being at my wife’s family farm in the mid-sixties and realizing that in the winter only one room was being heated, the kitchen. Yes, there was comfort next to the cook stove and next to the small glass of schnapps that grandpa Otto seemed intent in finding as we huddled about in the warmth of fire and friendship.

In going back in time even farther, people lived in bark-covered huts with nothing but a pit fire and a mound of skins—filled with how many bugs? At twenty-five below, I am not sure comfort was even a word that crossed the lips of a single soul. I suspect that is why on this day, as I sit here with unbounded comfort, without a hunger pain in my stomach, not a single bug bite, I have not a miniscule of doubt on the nature of my good fortune, and that is why I am marveling at this tick of time, here in this western world, when every day, we live in total comfort.

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The Snows came Today.

The Snows Came Last Night          

The snows came today, not just the flood of simple flakes dropping delicately from the shadowless sky, but with the hard push of windblown pellets fired by February’s fury. In the morning, it was thirty degrees and seemingly non-threatening but the wind, yes the wind,  was hell bent on ripping snow-loaded branches from every tree, especially the mature White Pines on the back side of the garden. We never heard them crash this early morning because it seemed more reasonable to lay low in the down-covered bed reveling in profound comfort, the land of no guilt.

Without paying much serious attention to what was really going on in the backyard, or anywhere for that matter, we quietly marveled at the howling wind as if it was a musical interlude or at least just a passing expression of the newly minted climate situation now passing over the globe. Usually, we listen for the morning freight trains and never fail to note how they sound like approaching tornadoes but then, in their passing, fade Doppler-like into distant farmland. This morning the howl of the western wind over-rode all other sounds as it surged and scattered through the winter trees leaving the heavy trains undetected.

While glancing out the window on the way to a cup of Russian Tea, we noticed in the garden the startling view of  newly fallen branches, a couple of considerable mass obviously the victims of weighted snow and that west wind. The scattering branches attested to the velocity at which the broken mass plunged to the frozen ground—thankfully not targeting the cars for playing their role in creating such weather. But, then it was us that drove the cars. 

Out the backside window, the bird feeder stood covered with three inches of new wet snow. Four doves worked the edges trying with determination to break through to where they knew sunflower seeds hid. The doves seemed frantic, frustrated, maybe desperate we thought, after all, where else could they find food other than from the hand of man. They were not meant to over-winter in this now seedless landscape.  Interestingly, they had found what has become generally warmer weather good reason to linger this far north. I could not help to think again of those emission-spewing cars.

One could say, the fallen tree was just novel, maybe a curiosity in that it represented potential damage, but the Morning Doves in their efforts put a certain rush into my at-the-moment minimal ambition. They looked our way as they detected movement in the house. There was no plaintive call of springtime, no cooing in contentment just a glance from a side eye, no derision, no visible pleading but we still felt the tea could wait.

In order to make the morning right, and the tea heart-felt, I armored-up, put on the boots and stepped into the ten-o’clock backyard to clear the covered feeder and pour forth a full measure of the finest of oily seeds wanting to make sure my morning beverage was in good conscience and the feathered friends could wait-out the western wind, warm and unthreatened in the shrouded pines.

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Never has there been a day when I have done so little.

Never has there been a day when I have done so little.

Sitting here writing may be the high point of the day for in reflection it seems little has been accomplished today, to the point of getting my attention. This morning I did retrieve enough wood to just get through the day but three arm-loads carried through the new snow was far from a day’s work. I then read a number of items but nothing that rattled my cage, not Melville to take me off to sea, no Kafka to make me insane, no Ayn Rand to make me shrug, just drivel on the supposed downfall of our civilization due to leadership failures and the perils of global warming. There was nothing to get my attention today because I already knew all of that. I suppose I was looking for something important, something earth-shattering.

After feeding the disgruntled chickens around eleven and piling up the sunflower seeds for the local birds, it was back inside to fret over the hearing aid I managed to lose right in the house—I just couldn’t hear it. It is like losing my glasses and not being able to see them right next to me.

The doves did swarm in making for excellent bird watching but even they were rather routine, if not pedestrian, in their bouncing and flopping. These weather conditions have made them less high-falluting, so it just ends up all business and none of the usual squabbling. The busy-body chickadees grabbed seeds and flew off to embrace their task, single seed consumption. The cardinals grabbed a few sunflower seeds, while looking through the fallen snow seemingly happy with the day.

One other high point consisted of preparing a noodle kit for lunch. It is not common for us to revert to packaged food but being of such sloth, it was easy to boil water, and watch that, then add the ingredients in great fanfare. Watching that process as the seasoning dispersed itself into the now boiling concoction proved unrewarding similar to watching paint dry or a stink bug walk across the floor—which one was. Fortunately, the kit of unknown content but similar to noodles, did not end up as some glutinous mass resembling mucilage. After downing the last of the pickled herring, the uneventful noodle kit was served up in a most graceless manner not unlike what I would do if homeless.

Still unable to hear, and tight up against the wood burning stove, a nap came easily and brought with it a comfort not to be found in the finest spas of Rosholt, the one’s visited by the one-percenters. Unlike many such naps, I did not slump forward like a local drunk but leaned mostly backward with my mouth agape. I do not recall once waking due to excessive drooling or obnoxious noises commonly referred to in my family as a death rattle. The thoughts of half sleep were innocuous and not filled with heroic deeds, nor erotic adventures just the pleasure found with extreme comfort. I recall slightly adjusting my body angle to absorb an even more tactile advantage. It was a beautiful thing—but of no real value in a capitalistic sense. I was one with pleasure as the evening closed off the few rays of defuse light.

In a small flush of guilt, I remembered that only yesterday I was challenged to a snow angel contest and while I had performed well in the past, I was not able to rise today frightened by the snow depth and the sad realization I probably would not be able to exit from the eighteen inches of powder—and if left unfound would become this year’s first angel fatality. I simply sat emotionless inside not even slightly interested in being a celestial deity nor deceased.

Into the troughs of nighttime, I turned to the poetry of Yeats only to learn,

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Before turning to this writing, I sauntered to the refrigerator to secure a handful of chocolates. That was when I realized being idle, while rattling my Protestant work ethic, for one day does not have to be a travesty nor action packed. I turned up the music, stuffed the friendly stove with more wood, listened to the wind howl outside.

There is a time to hold close to the fire,

when the world slows to a simple comfort,

when the wild birds are face to the wind,

and the predators only dream of prey.

Words simply rattle the drowsy mind

Into believing all thoughts are kind.

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Area Artist Presents near-perfect Snow Angel

Area Artists presents near Perfect Snow Angel

Artist, Jerry Riederer, recently presented his version of a Wisconsin Snow Angel on the Snow Angel Limited (SAL) website where it received a tremendous reception. He had titled the piece “The Dazzling Blue Snow Angel” and put it in contention for this year’s Best of the Best. His initial score was impressive at 9.2 however when it was determined it was executed at the balmy temperature of 8 degrees F, it was downgraded to an 8.8. by little-known, but renowned artist David Wright.

After observing the piece on Assbook, Wright challenged Mick Jagger-like strutting Riederer to a small, but minimally consequential, competition thinking he could better the effort, but with an understanding that he would have to be handicapped due to pre-dirtnap age and still-festering wound he took at Gettysburg. He was graciously granted a 1.2-point handicap and then proceeded to create a piece he called Glaring White Angel (named after his first wife). He stated the piece left him speechless (he speaks two languages, Profanity and broken English). As reported to the press, the likeness damn near put him into another drooling, catatonic fit much like the time he found Our Christ pictured on a heated tortilla.

It was pointed out by one Kernel Peterson, there were some rules in this smack-down that had to be addressed before a final determination could be made for the award, The Great Golden Ding Dong. He emphatically listed the importance of the overall presentation, coupled with edge crispness, dismount disruptions, digital manipulations, single stroke execution, and latent re-entries/penetrations. He also insisted that air temperature as well as wind speed be considered, meaning points would be added directly proportional to decrease in temperature. In other words, a piece created in a warm 8 degrees, as was Riederer’s, be docked accordingly compared to one initiated by Mr. Wright at minus 8. He noted that at minus thirty the maximum points would be administered. Throw in a wind spread of thirty miles per hour and not only would death be an option (but death is a good career move for an artist) additional points would also be added in a directly proportional manner.

Wind might add a certain ephemeral aspect to the work of art, but that is the nature of art, like, say, Jackson Pollack, here one minute and gone the next. In addition to the above factors, it was noted alcohol is allowed if not required. Interestingly, there is an Adult X Division that can include nudity and appropriately placed found objects—nothing profane like is seen on children-available TV. SAL does not condone this category due to previous frivolous lawsuits involving frostbite, thus heinously colored extremities, including naughty bits, however let creativity be your guide. Both Wright and Riederer were not considering this latter option due to previous misfortunes but some individuals in Rosholt were embracing it.

As a result of this exchange, the competition is on. Shown here on the front page are both Riederer’s and Wright’s work. In a brief interview Jerry Riederer stated, “I have put a lot into this, an hour of a discussion with a very encouraging Mr. Jamison, a sincere effort changing into my cool running tights, and a great deal of existential thought. I believe I have here a work close to the ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring.”

Mr. Wright, said, “I have doubts on that claim even though I will admit the 8.8 was deserved. He has administered a great crispness for the 8 degrees, excellent dismount and no latent penetration.”

“Mine”, he stated, “showed a more robust upper section but a weakness in the dismount due to the ball I took Gettysburg.” “My wife noted the head region was rather empty.” Wright felt he was just a touch light headed due to the four Mud Puppy Ales leisurely consumed for breakfast. “It is a good breakfast beer.” Wright noted.  In any case, the Wisconsin chapter of SAL will be looking for other applicants during this small chill presently blowing over the area.

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The Struggle of Ice Fishing

It is difficult to know why any modern member of our esteemed species, particularly those ruminating the issues of age, would allow themselves to walk out on avery frozen lake, amid the constant push of a gentle breeze, to sit for many hours, back to the wind, in an attempt to catch an eight-ounce fish. While it may seem I have a derogatory tone in this inquisition, that cannot be the case because it was me that made the long walk, all bundled, all stiff, all tucked in my confining cocoon.

Even at twenty-two degrees, it was just matter of time before the cold crept in and begin the nagging push to force me away from this Zhivago-like adventure, this arctic trudge that would likely hold no sense of accomplishment at the end. I do not live in some gulag archipelago and could be home comfortably tight against the warm wood stove dreaming of other, maybe distant, outdoor conquest, or casually consuming a fresh, still-warm cookie, or smiling with amorous intent at my always-suspicious wife.

However,the cold held off and from one hole to another we moved wanting to find the magic, the school of keepers that would provide sustenance for our notably well-fed families. The wind, or was it a breeze, obviously non-threatening, bit as we faced into it, thinking the better school of bluegills were to the west in what we calculated was a deeper more productive hole. I shuffled as an older man, but little different than the others all bundled, bulging and confined in thick clothing  For me, maybe more as truggle since I had my legs shot away in the big war, when I took a mini-ball at Gettysburg—so it is rumored. The cold does work a man’s mind and as we sat there, it was not difficult to recall other years, maybe long ago before my time, when this lonely adventure was more crucial, more a task of desperation.

These thoughts still did not answer the question, the one mostly beginning with the word why, yes why. After finding no fish and embarrassingly venturing within inches the dreaded hypothermia, I returned shuffling, confused, almost stumbling to the warm vehicle with my head shaking in doubt thinking it is a younger man that needs to walk across the frozen landscape to embrace his beloved metaphorical Tonya or secure a few paltry, but delicious fishes. My more appropriately-equipped companion caught fish, a few meals and at no time struggled with the cold December breeze, the foreboding clouded skies, or the modest weather that was my demise.He is not even Norwegian and still smiled as if the world was complete– and he was the master of the pond, the triumphant angler—which I jealously suspect, at that moment, Jim was.

Still chilled, maybe despondent, I ask,  why do I choose to do this?

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Froggy went a Courtin’

Froggy went a courtin’

The bullfrog looked at me out of the corner of his wet eye. I was off to his right and four inches behind him. Initially, I hadn’t actually seen him but had simply been attracted to his deep penetrating croaks.

He was, by any measure, gorgeous with his side discs all shown off and dripping with early more dew. He was a piece of work to say the least. I love the spring and perusing the weedy shoreline looking for one special “bull”.

Froggy hanging cool

He turned quickly toward me in a swift singular motion showing off his, what appeared to be a grinning face. His thin but massive lips did not quiver but showed the emotional constitution of a mature frog, unrattled, confident and not subject to emotional outbursts. I like that about a strong frog. Great patience, maybe nerves of steel, a frog of commitment.

I moistened my eyes and was momentarily distracted by a dragon fly, a Green Darner,that had decided to make this his morning rest. In an uncharacteristic motion,I gently hopped forward bringing my now partially closed eye with in an inch of this denison of the swamp, the stalwart stallion of the sedges on lake’s edge.His eye followed me, and then he unexpectedly gulped, then bursting forth one of the most romantic sounds I had ever heard. It bellowed across the now-still pond reverberating and echoing a song of love. He slowly lifted his small but well-meaning front leg, as if to say, welcome.

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Writing— Considering Whiskey

 

 

There are legends out there in many places that writers, maybe not all writers, but let us say torn writers of passion, the ones fighting dragons, or demons—or those just struggling while trying to lay word to some distantly perceived, muddled thought that has in the long hours of their daily fight introduced them to the warming glow of whiskey. Faulkner was rumored to have lived in a world of bourbon-induced thoughts, all the while tripping through southern swamps seeking the wild black bear. Joyce, one would suspect, allowed the Irish nectar to dredge out his guilt and at the same time induce him to fondle a language into a world of confused beauty and barely comprehensible gibberish that only the pedantic, self-possessed could gleefully hope to consume.

For me, I think on those writers, wondering if I  were to take on, say, more than a wee dram, would I be able to travel among the Harrisons and Hemingways?  I’m not one to normally nonchalantly rattle my limited ability with alcohol-induced confusion but it seems fitting, at this late hour to seek a modest bit advice by having in front of me, a serving of Jamison, the Irish claim to a yeoman’s whiskey. Fresh from an afternoon of Erin fiddling, a handsome tumbler now sits quietly and pleasingly to my right, resting on an ancient table constructed not far from the home of Herman Melville.

Sitting unconsumed, it is a clear liquid, unassuming but for the distant tone of well-processed alcohol. It offers no hint as to its ability to make me write, or not write. As I learned one night in Dingle under the watchful eye of the bar keep, a bit of water has been added, and not the ice I tend to favor in my often-provincial hand. As I sip, the angel’s breath is drawn in and drops into my chest and in passing tenderly kissing the delicate nerves of a welcoming nose. In this elixir, there is only a faint hint of the bogs of Ireland. It is more an earthy tone of grain roasted, of a malt of youth we found in milky shakes.

Initially, I am not drifting up the west coast of Clare but do see myself as being younger, maybe not much younger because I still remember the experience with the mirror this morning, an indelible image I will not forget for some time, a time after most of the bottle has been consumed and my aging eyes are well-blurred. But that is not the point, the point is about my writing, about the history of whiskey appreciation and writing.

A few sips in and I am thinking more clearly, maybe realizing I will have to have just a wee bit more to make me into a James Joyce. In fleeting moment, I am recalling the my wife’s Wild Turkey pie we devoured only an hour ago. Yes, the all-feathery, elegant, locally harvested Wild Turkey.

My mind reeled as the words, “Wild Turkey” flew by! Good God, its Hunter Thompson in front of me—and his endless bottles of Wild Turkey that made him go gonzo. It is the Hunter Thompson whose chair I briefly occupied at the Woody Creek bar those many years ago in Colorado. It is coming to me now. Its working, The whiskey is working. I am channeling but I wanted more. I wanted Steinbeck, maybe Faulkner. Not Joyce for I have to be understood.

And so as the evening is swallowed by the fleeting music of resting sparrows, and the bucolic mumblings of so many distant fairies tucked endlessly in some deep and darkened hollow waiting for the comforting  singing spring,  the story ends—for this evening as the last Rose of Summer Fell, my fancy turns away and another dram is poured.

 

 

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Winter’s Stove

Winter’s Stove

Almost fifty years ago, the stove came to us from Adam and Eve, not directly but through Nellie over in Kiowa, the once frontier town where cowboys gathered and Indians raised deadly hell protecting their homeground.  It seems the stove had been around this short-grass prairie hangout for many years for on the cast iron side stood the year 1885. No doubt, it rode the rails on the now long-gone tracks and then headed overland on a horse drawn wagon as it wound its way to some far ranging ranch. Who knows what families sat comfortable around the stove as it glowed from the fragrant Ponderosa, and the more subtle but exotic Cottonwood.

The stories we were told back then, back those fifty years ago, would certainly let one’s mind see wandering Native Americans drop by some isolated, almost desolate ranch house to sit there in warmth while outside the autumn chill crept in.

When Adam and Eve purchased the stove remains a mystery, but we first saw it proudly sitting in the middle of their small home, there on the dusty Main Street in Elizabeth, Colorado those many years ago. The wood smoke lifted from the stack and drifted over the town casting about the sweet and alluring sent of the local pines, the fragrance of the Wild West.

In the early fall the wild Sunflowers bloomed along with the Chamisa and sage, adding another subtle odor to the surrounding grasslands and community.

One day, as they say, the stove had moseyed out of town and been replaced by a more convenient, less aesthetic gas stove. Some said, this was due to the aging couple’s accumulating years, and to neighborly fears of uncontrolled fire. Still, Adam and Eve lived their peaceful life as they had which included moving about their modest home quite naked. The community simply said little other than to give the couple the moniker we all knew. Not long later the duo, brother and sister it was learned, moved to the springs, newer, younger, more modest occupants with curtains moved in and that tick of time disappeared into the prairie night like the last of the buffalo, which ironically occurred about the time the stove arrived in Colorado.

It turned out Nellie in Kiowa got the stove and quickly put it up for sale as a token to the past, an antique of sorts, but still pristine and useful,  one waiting for newly-arrived pilgrims that might once more heat a home with all the Ponderosa now going to ground. So, with wild eyes on visions of the old west, and a good nose for a subtle but penetrating warmth, the stove became ours, and with it stories of our own, and imagined stories of its wandering life on the short-grass prairie. .

This is the same stove that to this day is the center of our living room and in a winter way, the center of or lives as it was for others years ago.

 

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Winter’s Wood

Winter’s Wood

This year the old Silver Maple in the backyard had to go away after an extended stay that probably began in the beginning of last century, a time when trees were few and tortured. Its ancestors had been systematically consumed by the advance of land-hungry settlers all thinking the forest were endless, and that their God had ordained them to feast upon the land. It was out of self-interest they acted and not that of the earth’s. It is just the way it was.

Now the tree is down, scattered on the lawn, as if so much litter. In its own way, it had become abusive in that our house was being threatened. The winds of November are stronger now, and the tree’s falling would not play well on human ambitions,  our coveted property. The old Maple is now wood in a crude form waiting to be gathered and split.

Each species has its own characteristics that needs to be understood, not just in handling but in storage and burning. It lays there in great round reels, almost intimidating in its mass. Like diamonds rough and uncut each section has to be analyzed, for trying to split it by running a wedge down the middle is a fool’s errand meant only to rattle an aging brain that does not need to be rattled. In this maple’s case, blows of the splitting maul must peel sections off the edges avoiding  knots and fissures for they are trouble and very much like to argue.

Maple, unlike white oak, has little appeal to the delicate nose unlike the dense oak which cast a distant smell of fine whiskey or aged wine. A barrel made of maple would lay a cold and unpleasant nose on those sacred nectars. So this maple, this silver maple is destined to become warmth in a winter’s fire.  One would suppose that not being of oaken charm and embedded heat, it could be deemed a disappointment but piled deep in carefully chosen rows of winter’s wood it is a monument to all the years spent guarding the childhood yard and picnic dreams.

Music by Ann Herzog Wright, Tony Albrecht, Ann Huntoon, David Wright

 

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Dimming of the Day

This is a small piece I put together after canoeing on the Tomorrow river. We had seen versions of this all summer but as the fall took over there were changes, some subtle others more pronounced.

Dimming of the Day

 

Into the last of the evening light, the canoe slips through the still water of the quiet River. In that dimming, the Kingfisher makes its last half-hearted effort. His world of the transparent water, has been cut off by the disappearing evening light. Eastward on the weedy back bog, the forlorn frogs serenade into the quietness out of habit for it is fall and thoughts of love are distant and not to be fulfilled.

At canoes edge, delicate mayflies cruse in measured pace as if to ride the invisible slipstream of the moving craft. In learning to fly, which one would suppose was many millions of years ago, and now locked in tiny genes among the spiraled DNA, the technique is to bounce in a  rhythmic pattern moving noticeably up and down while still proceeding ever forward. It is as if they take three wing strokes, and for reasons unknown, pause for the time of three more. One has to wonder if this odd pattern is ingrained in this species as a way to avoid some forgotten predator. Does the trout, the ones we have sought, know this pattern or do they simply wait them out knowing their lives are short and soon will spin dying to water’s surface.

Why they choose to accompany the canoe cannot be embedded in those genes, for the boat, in genetic time, is too recent upon the waters.  Are these pulsating flights simply an opportunity to ride the metaphorical rails, much like a dolphin rides the bow pressure of a plowing boat, or the eagle seeks the ever-lifting warm air. It is a quiet music of a visual sort on the river journey home at the dimming of the day.

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A Cardinal has a bad Day

 

There plopped on the back driveway, among all the fallen leaves and pine needles was a brilliant red-colored form. The cardinal laid there not dead but shaken, rather bobbing his head and seeming to have taken too many drugs. One wing reached out while the other was held in. Clearly, the bird was in trouble and hardly made a motion as it was picked up and held gingerly.

It was a sad thing to see such beauty in trouble and we wondered if it was a victim of some bird flu but Eleonore scanned the surroundings and noticed the outline of tiny feathers, red feathers, attached to the garage window left there as a telltale. The impact had been sufficient enough to dislodge the delicate red colorings and enough to knock the bird to the ground. As we used to say on the field of play, he had his bell rung.

cardinal

We took turns holding the trembling bird making small apologies for the clear glass and the obvious misfortune making note of man’s inventions and how they do not always play well in the natural world. The bird obviously thought the window was an opening and willingly flew into it.

The pathetic bird shivered in trauma. Its head bobbed as if controlling his nervous system was not a possibility. As is said, “He had a six foot stare in a hundred foot forest.” The bird, after examination for broken parts and finding none, was placed in a bed of pine needles where I personally thought it would quietly fly off to the final frontier, but at least in comfort.

As the afternoon passed, the Cardinal remained alive and seemed to become more responsive while feebly and desperately trying to hop and flap its wings, but still there was a haze in those terrified eyes, an unknowing.

I recalled a time in Colorado many years ago when visiting an office building and finding, there lying scattered like dry leaves about the building, a dozen dead Bohemian Waxwings. They had been eating dried miniature apples and then seeing another tree in the window, headed off after it. Silent death. Some observers felt they were intoxicated by the partially fermented fruit and simply ran their cars into the metaphorical light post.

Wanting to wish away a silent death, and reflecting on enjoying the Cardinals this year, I ultimately put the bird, now showing still more improvements, into a cardboard box made comfortable with a nest of the pine needles, and placed it in my studio where the creeping winter frost held no sway. It had occurred to me that one of the silent cats that seem to peruse the area, frequently hanging by our bird feeder trying to take down more song birds, might find the weakened bird and see it as another easy meal. Safety and comfort in my infirmary was the call.

The top was shut, while quietly thinking the morning would find it deceased or still lost in the haze from a serious bird concussion. Still, if I remember right, I always had come out of my concussions and the damage wasn’t real detectable—I don’t think, but I never did learn to fly.

The bird’s pathetic misfortune came up in our household discussion in the evening after our neighbors had headed home, themselves reflecting on the possible loss.

cardina 2l

There is always a certain quilt associated with seeing a life snuffed out by something that is not natural, say a speeding car or even that cat, which was never a part of our real world, taking some hapless unsuspecting bird.  It is one thing to hunt, to be respectful of that process and then consume that game with an understanding we are part of a natural world in that way, but to see things poisoned, crushed or indiscriminately killed by an unnatural process is discomforting.

I walked into the studio this morning thinking it might be a lead-in to a burial, but then just maybe, in the time in quiet repose, his neurons had realigned and all his instinctual attributes had returned. When the box was touched, there was a shuffle that sounded of conviction. There was intent and just maybe the box was not appreciated in its confinement. The  cardboard infirmary was taken outside and opened carefully. Then in an instant the Cardinal lifted straight out of the box and headed out into the sky probably thinking that was one hell of a night. He seemed to look back but I suspect only in confusion and terror.

I put tape on the window and filled the feeder with sunflower seeds wanting very much to see the bird back but if he did not come, I would understand.

 

 

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The Big Maple—Saying Good-by

The truth is, cutting down the big Silver Maple in the backyard is much like putting down a wonderful old dog. So many thoughts run through our minds many of them more complex than dealing with a suffering canine that has simply worn out.

The tree, now incredibly massive, was probably the result of a planting, on purpose or voluntary, at the same time the home was built over one hundred years ago. Through time, it has had a cable placed to hold its three trunks upright and had numerous cuttings to prevent it from tumbling on all-too-close houses. It is a monster that has taken over the backyard. Cutting it back has only encouraged it to throw out more lean and hungry branches that shoot skyward at ten feet a year.

Then, there are those historical pictures from the turn of the last century that clearly demonstrate that after white man’s short presence, there were few trees standing. That can give pause to a person willingly planning on taking this old brute down. It came from a time of few trees and now I am about to put it down.

It is a Silver Maple, a weed in the mind of some tree elitists, but it has cast much needed shade, provided the home for numerous generations of squirrels, a host of birds and generally added to the flavor of the well-treed community.

To top it off, yesterday a pleading came over the airwaves to grow and protect trees for they are the one thing capable of removing the CO2 from the atmosphere—and it did it on a day when it was eighty-six in September, twenty degrees above normal. But, the tree is mature and its apparent spot-rotting branches hang to some degree over two houses and should it fall, the price to pay would be painful and unappreciated.

Last year the crease in the trunk grew a flush of mushrooms, usually a sign of greater problems and possibly the hollowing of the tree. The hired cutters reminded me, and not out of need to work, that the winds in these warming years have also been more extreme and one good blow could be the old maple’s last. We have had visions of being skewered by some extended branch maybe as a way of taking vengeance for all the environmental harm we have caused in our brief time here on this land.

This year the tree I commonly punched in seven sugar taps, no sap flowed. There was virtually none as if to tell me the game was over; maybe the tree was tired and wanted a last unmolested spring. However, the summer leaves grew strong with the flood of rain.

This same tree also has cast its long shadow on our garden making the broccoli grow long and rangy and the peppers ae struggling to find the sun they deserve, at least that is how they put it. The sunflowers are eight feet tall. The raspberries are so long in branch, they droop and in the closeness to the ground rot before we can turn them to winter’s jam.

That long shadow, particularly in the morning also blocks our solar panels and keeps the batteries wanting. While we try to help the environment with power from the sun, the Silver Maple, the one feeding on carbon dioxide, is hindering our effort, almost slapping our collective hands trying to say something.

While not one to wallow in guilt, this damn tree is rattling my cage. But like the old dog who still may be trying, the maple has to be put down. It has had a good run, there is still some syrup in the cabinet from years past and the wood will heat the house for a couple of years. Like the old fireside dog, it will be replaced possibly making a story for someone else down the line.

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The secret world of the artificial fishing fly

Recently I received an artificial fly used to “allegedly” catch the biggest, badest trout around. While I am very aware of a long list of Wooly Bugger designs and configurations, this one came with the name of Mink-tailed Supreme Wooly Bugger labeled by me as a MTS Bugger for easier discussions, and I like acronyms. I am not able to give a more accurate description of this well-crafted fly due to it being the handiwork of a friend, commonly referred to as Rick. To disclose the true nature of a lure of this magnitude would border on the verge of a national travesty subject to a Grand Jury investigation or a Trout Unlimited full disclosure request.

It wasn’t but a day after receiving this beauty, and after having mightily demonstrated the shear effectiveness of this fly by catching an unmentionable amount of large trout, that I received another creation called a Super-Deluxe Pinky Dink (SDP Dink). While I was unable to confirm its prowess (it was rumored to have prowess) due to a fast moving storm, I was able to float it on a local pond as a way of getting a feel for it. The beauty issued delightful floatage, with a delicate touch of natural ambiance, coupled with a flash of pink, sassy but not pretentious, all meant to entice the most cautious fish.

After marveling at the SDP Dink and the MTS Bugger, I remembered last year I bought a couple of Modified Chernobyl Ants in Wyoming. These puppies look like giant ants with white legs, black foamy bodies and iridescent wings. Clearly, an ant that had close contact with some U238 or was it bomb grade U233. The thing was obnoxious, and possibly made to frighten fish, maybe irradiate them—and it was misshapen as if the meltdown had altered its genetics. Word had it they worked on the North Platte River and like a Russian Oligarch, I bought a couple while humming Watching Ivan Glow, and an old Ukrainian folk song in D minor.

A local favorite that I first saw in Alaska was a Purple Egg Sucking Leach, but it was more commonly called a Lawyer Fly. Now someone needs to come up with a Bodacious Giuliani, which is a bigger lawyer fly and makes a gurgling incoherent noise as it imitates a massive leach about to be eaten by giant carp (not political but just an observation).

So after reviewing some catalogs filled with various feathered flies, I found others with entertaining names including Galloup’s Butt Monkey, (might as well have called it Rick’s Ass-Clown). There on the steamer page was a Meat Whistle fly which I thought was creative but I don’t think it made noise like the B. Giuliani. Still, this fly had a nice implication as it might provide sustenance. It was then I found one called Sex Dungeon at $6.95, which must have been targeting migrating fish, you know the ones that swim upstream for a little action. I wasn’t that attracted to it even though swimming upstream still has a nice metaphorical ring to it.

There were other flies that looked like giant centipedes, the kind that drop on you when you are trying to sleep in some third-world prison. You know, they walk across the damp concrete ceiling and then lose their grip and fall on you. I can remember not being able to move even slightly because they would lay down a vicious bite at the slightest provocation. It is an uncomfortable eight inch lure but one that could be used to keep swimmers out of your trout hole.

It was then I realized I had purchased a number of really massive flies for fishing the mighty Musky and they must have had names but I didn’t recall hearing them, other than big honking fly, or something like that. These things are nine inches long, weigh half a pound wet, and require three months of weight lifting to enable the caster to chuck one of these things to distant holes. Mine ( pictured above)  has most all the feather of an entire chicken including the wing primaries, half a Guinea foul, three parrot hackles and a sparrow’s breast feathers for a delicate touch,  not to mention a special canted hook previously used for great whites. I’m modestly calling it a Womping-Stomping Deep-Diving Winky-Dinky, Goat-haired Lip Ripper. The other one, the truly large one, the one that looks like a muscled-up Norwegian rat, is a Horse-nippled, Flatulence-spewing, Short-haired Mousy.

What this all comes down to is that fishing goes way beyond just securing that one giant trout but also exercising the art of accumulating lures and even occasionally spinning a slight fabrication for the purpose of entertainment—particularly when one doesn’t really want to tell folks where or how to secure the big ones like I catch.

 

 

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Aging in Place

A couple of days ago I learned something new that had a profound affect on me while at the same time potentially adding a new categorization system for various forms of behavior.  A gentleman by the name of John, a new acquaintance from Minneapolis, like me, was a touch age challenged. It seems someone asked him what he was doing while he was sitting leisurely in a most comfortable lawn chair, smiling foolishly for no apparent reason, and like a Buddhist monk, clearly taking in the afternoon as if he was one with life. His reply was, “I’m Aging in Place.”

“Absolutely profound,” I thought, “Enlightened”.

Of course, one cannot spend the rest of his or her time “Aging in Place” in such a matter but that does sum up his time in the lawn chair and I am sure, left his questioner speechless.

What did occur to me is that this outlook on life might have other almost academic applications even though I did not want to spend the rest of my life sitting in the front lawn like Bruce Dern in the film Nebraska waving at all passers-by saying, “Looking good.”

I thought,”Wow, this simple set of words may well be an inspiration for those studying aging, even make a topic for my PHD”.  As a brief note, I would suggest that some of the younger readers not rip-off this thinking, for as of this presentation, it is copyrighted and in order for you to use it in an academic setting, I will have to be compensated like any copyrighted idea. One case of Muddy Puppy Porter will do.

It works like this. If an individual is plopped in his favorite easy chair, say a lazy boy, and is watching pornos this would be aging in place (AGIP) but for clinical reasons could be called AGIP-N. The N being for naughty and connote a dirty old man.

On the other hand, the older person who insists on riding a bicycle at speed, could be said to be AGIP but due to the activity might be seen as AGIP Cat. 5 Ex. The Cat 5 is for category 5 and the Ex for extreme, meaning that the aging here is life threatening and from a clinical point of view borders on idiotic if not insane—potentially self-induced rapid aging.

There, of course, are many in between options to this system. Let’s say I am Aging in Place by sitting in a favorite chair accompanied by a nice single malt Scotch. AGIP-S1 would fit here with the S1 representing special level one. This designation could be amended with, say, Mx for maximum if the beverage was served by a spouse who would say, “Dear, could I prepare an appropriately selected beverage for you?” AGIP-S1-Mx seems fitting.

Aging in Place can take many forms but in the proposed thinking it has to be leisurely and pleasurable which could include a wide range of activities, some of which will not be discussed here, but in this day and this age of non-uniformity, could require a PHD study of a sort all unto its own.

So, we have had the AGIP-N grouping which has negative connotations, but still commonly found, and the positive grouping more to my liking, and easier to talk about in this format. Fishing from a comfortable seat in my boat, on a windless slightly overcast day, in full possession of a Point Special, cleverly attired in my second-and, but handsome Orvis shirt could be AGIP-Cat S3-Mx.

Another category for Aging in Place, and maybe the most important of the bunch has more of a group setting, or we might say a community setting. It could go like this. A content individual is Aging in Place by sitting on a tidy beach on a local lake. The chair is uncommonly comfortable. The person, yours truly in this case, is relaxing after catching a 20-inch bass, a fine wine properly chilled is gracing my hand, I am surrounded by no less than 20 individuals all Aging in Place by chatting (AGIP-C), not necessarily about my caught fish but about the pleasure of life in this community. There are a number of younger folks around (not necessarily AGIP), all of them still contributing graciously to my Social Security fund, some children, all handsome and above average, are there admiring the older AGIP adults and in their hearts intent on taking care of our world. My eyes are partially closed, my mouth in a subtle smile and nothing hurts. I am Aging in Place very nicely and in optimal position. Categorization for this is AGIP-Cat5-S5-Mx 5. It would seem there is this need to designate this condition and take pride in Aging in Place.

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Visitation

VISITATION: While this word almost sounds like something one does at a facility of some sort, say a hospital or a mental institution, it also can mean nothing more than a situation where one person visits another, or one group visits another group. In our case, it means the children and the one grandchild coming to town for a visitation. However, if a person were to witness these events, the vision of a mental institution quickly comes to mind. It’s not an Ed Gein facility but just a loony bin of chaotic characters, much like in The King of Hearts, all full of nonsense and gibberish.

While it is not possible to demonstrate, or discuss all of the buffoonery that goes on, I will offer but one as a way of not defending my family but one that offers insight.

It seems we were on the way back from Madison after visiting friends and other relatives, themselves questionably not totally intact, when we stopped at the ice cream shop all wanting that one big delicious cone. While most of us chose traditional flavors, the twelve year-old kid decided on Blue Moon. We adults looked at each other with a certain level of disgust knowing the flavor was derived from bubblegum, or some lab-produced ester we used to concoct in Chem. 204 at the University.

No sooner had the kid laid a lip on the double scoop, when he was asked if the flavor was Tidy Bowl. Now Tidy Bowl is a color, but also I suppose, has a flavor, but seeing as how it is used to perfume up a toilet bowl, the visual was not enticing.

The cone melted and dribbled up and down the kid and colored up the parking lot as well as making it smell like a facility for relief. It was then the group went mental. Besides the mess, Tanya, our daughter and Jake’s mother, suggested the flavor might be called Luscious Latrine or Porcelain Pony Pop.  The kid grimaced but kept up the pace trying not to be grossed out.

He headed off to a pond of stagnant water looking for his long-sought-after  Bugle-Mouthed Salmon better known locally as a carp. We assumed he was eyeing-up a possible dumping ground so I let fly, “Don’t throw that thing in the water. It will kill the damn fish.”

Jake responded “Knock it off. This is the best and I’m not sharing. You guys are bunch of chum buckets. Scumbags.” Alarmingly, it appeared much of the cone, in this eighty-five degree day, had done some serious migrating about his self and clothing. We reluctantly hopped in the car with all the adults appalled at the sight—and realizing a painter’s tarp may have to be hauled out as well as the six hp power-washer.

Back in the car, the kid kept lapping on the dribbling, artificially colored cone while the rest of us had trouble staying close to sane. “Hey, how’s the Porta Potty Blue going?” was one comment. Then “Porta Potty Periwinkle” followed by Ann’s Eau de Toilette. Everyone in the car was bent with laughter, cringing at the associations and gastronomical implications, maybe a certain disdain, and clearly all fraught with general chaos.  Folks passing by as we left town certainly must have wondered what was going on when they heard the howling coming out of our lunatic filled car. It was a moving Cuckoo’s nest with a grim-faced kid still trying to engage his ill-chosen double-dipper feature cone. The ice cream dribbled wildly. Tanya claimed she had found the perfect name—the final entry in the naming contest, Ice Cream ala Commode.

Jake, the soiled kid, announced he had a belly full and was tired of the Tidy Bowl nonsense. A couple of the critics took a final lick as a confirmation of judgment and jettisoned the remaining mess out the window in a final fit of disgust making note that while the thing was vile, it was probably organic and would quickly return to the soil where it belonged.

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Woodpile Envy

Woodpile Envy—Maybe Jealousy.

Is it jealousy, or maybe just green envy that rattles my cage when I see a well-constructed woodpile? Jealously has a personality weakness connotation and I don’t really find myself wanting to push someone’s pile over but rather stop and admire—then maybe twitch with envy, thinking everyone should have one of these—particularly me. I have always burned wood but don’t recall ever being serious about stacking, then again I lived in the dry west and I do not recall an indigenous, wood stacker culture.
wood teppee

Here in industrious Wisconsin the situation is different. If a person casts a wonder eye, it is easy to spot some rather impressive monuments to man’s relationship to wood—and work.

Rick, the Pendleton-clad woodman, boasts a rectangular style, meaning a conventional stack all laid out in parallel rows as if trying to make a statement of organization and convention. He clearly has a solid fixation with one-hundred eighty and ninety degree alignments, and featuring piles to a height of 4.5 feet, but extending lengthwise some 20-30 feet and 10 feet deep. This method would allow one to calculate cubic feet and thus the cordage—thereby pleasing the Chicago School of Economics and mathematicians studying fractals. What is most admirable is the precision of the presentation. Each corner is cross stacked but the interiors are laid on each other horizontally creating a wonderful texture. It is a thing of beauty but rather hidden in the forest and I am sure makes a nice chipmunk condo. Placed by the road it would be a hazard and might create admiration crashes.
wood jim

Jim, in an act cleaning up his woods of windfall, prefers yurt shaped piles with the pieces being stacked on their ends or on some occasions horizontally. The top has a taper of maybe 25 degrees and makes the entire effort look like a Mongolian yurt—even though he is decidedly Irish. The master works of log lugging range in size from 6’- 12’ feet in diameter with a fluctuating edge similar to me after a couple of fine local brews. One standout pile incorporated an upright, and live, oak as if he needed some natural assistance.

I ran into another dramatic style north of town sitting ever-so comfortable up on the hillside next to the road. This endeavor was conical with each piece of hard wood laid against the side in a flawless manner until the finished work was a perfect teepee. However, the biggest surprise was hundred yards up the road and to the south, where there in a field was maybe six pieces of piled, yet to be pilfered, artworks. One of them so large it could be seen from space—say from Nelsonville. All were perfect in effort with the final precipice making the perfect tepee. For the life of me, it didn’t seem possible that a man on foot could assemble this. A ladder had to be used which did beg some questions, like how many person-hours had to go into this prize? There had to be 10 cords in this mound all of it placed in the most deliberate artistic way.

Like I said, I have woodpile envy, maybe some jealousy, so questions had to be asked as to why folks do this. Considering the extra work, there has to be a profound motive. Yes, some people like to be organized, they enjoy having things in place so they are easy to find and use. This may account for some of the efforts. Others are a practical sort who have concluded, maybe by some distant tradition, that by doing it a particular way will encourage drying as the water will run off in a very organized way not promoting fungal growth.

Still, there has to be something else. Each one of these three have an aesthetic touch and that is why I marvel. They are immensely appealing and I am sure every passer-by notes the effort. Still, everyone of these individuals, and this includes me with my scatter schizoid piles loves doing the work, they love being outside, embracing the weather and probably making note that cutting and storing wood warms them multiple times. This includes cutting, loading in the truck, then unloading, splitting, hauling, stacking, toting inside and ultimately cleaning the house from the messes (which very well may be done by someone else.)
wood

The final kiss is the smell of wild wood, drifting smoke, and of course, that radiant heat.

So, the admission here is envy got the best of me, not in a big way, but some and I had to prove my worth. After all, most of the above merits appeal to me. I thought possibly I could take it the next step, a one small step for mankind, and make a holz hausen I had seen while researching woodpile aficionados.
In a fit of labor, and a couple of glorious fall days, the hausen formed with my pride-and-joy of bark shingles. For this winter, I am full of myself, maybe not up to the others but watch out next year.

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In Love of Walnuts

In Love of Walnuts:

By David Wright

I was once young, an eight-year old, and by any explanation that was some time ago, in this case embarrassingly close to sixty-five years. This time span is not child’s play and for reasons, not totally apparent, I can’t account for the speed which has consumed that span. Fortunately, there is still a certain lucidity in my mind so that it is possible to recall some things from that time, not only recall them but, most interestingly, to have sensations and vivid memories pertaining to smell. The sensation, I suspect, is only part of it because with the odor of certain items or situations comes images that, while somewhat ethereal, are still, to this old mind meaningful and rich.

We returned here to our home ground 12 years ago. That first fall on our return to Wisconsin, and really, every year since, we have almost without effort, managed to round up at least some walnuts. Initially, I recall simply finding one in glorious repose under a tree. It was unmolested by the resident squirrels as it sat their half buried in the duff like a lost golf ball. Almost instinctively, I lifted the light green orb to my nose. I knew hidden there was a crisp pungent odor of the earth. I knew there were memories, maybe ones lost from living in the west all those years. Like every person, there are childhood experiences associated with distant odors, be it faint hint of a mother’s perfume, or secret smell associated with Port Orford Cedar, the wood used to make our own arrows or the smell of fall as the western Chamisa and sunflowers bloomed on the August prairie of Colorado.

In this case, it was the Black Walnut. Like flying birds rattling through my brain, I was taken back in Sauk County there on the Wisconsin River. In the distant haze of magical memory, I recalled, almost seeing our band of foragers flopping from the car in disarray, gunny bag in hand, heading for some known Walnut tree where waited the green nuts ready for grabbing.

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In early October, we would get packed in the old ’36 Chevrolet, in a fashion probably not much different than the family dog, who in glee would hang from the window, jowls flopping in the breeze with spittle running wild, and head for the Baraboo Hills.  While we two kids might have been slugging it out in the back just out of the reach of the old man, I would not be surprised if we two ratty-assed kids were also face to the wind, head out the window yelling and drooling. It was adventure time.

Duward’s Glenn rings a bell as does Parfrey’s Glenn and from there our disheveled troupe would scrounge around looking for all sorts of things including walnuts—but I still recall distant stories  of watching for Timber Rattlers—and hearing the old man excitedly carry on about how he almost put his hand on one—to that we paid attention.

The trip was a family thing and a chance to touch and smell all things wild. I didn’t know then my father was born in New York and raised in Chicago, so in looking back I’m not sure how he managed to become so engaged in this country life. Maybe it was the quiet presence of my mother who had been raised in a more rural setting in northern Illinois. What is now very clear is they had a genuine love for the countryside, the uninhabited, the quiet settings of the forest and fields.

I know at the age of maybe eight, I was already fascinated by the newts, frogs, butterflies and wild growing food my parents were showing us. The smell of the walnut was impossible to miss. Just the slightest scratch of the hull and from it came this rich, earthy odor only found in that one species.

I don’t doubt, knowing our families later history, that it was there we learned to throw things at each other—like fat walnuts. It wouldn’t even surprise me if the my father started it. Later in life there were many childish, rowdy fights with acorns, walnut and apples accompanied by pock-mark wounds, and a few tears all of which that were met with little sympathy. It was the old man, I’m sure.

So therein lies the memory that still drifts around in my head. Scratch the newly fallen walnut and there in front of me is a soft spot, a vision of a family picnic and a sack of walnuts—maybe the burn of being hit by a 65 mph fast (ball) nut from my lousy brother. It is all just good.

Of course, this is not the only wafting odor that sets off the winds of memory, but it is a pleasant one, and one I could wish on any one.

In the last few years I have taken it farther than just momentarily dwelling on the gift of smell but also harvesting local walnuts, hulling them, slowly picking the meats out and then in the great glee of an easily impressed child, introducing them into pancakes and cookies. When the first cookies were made, I noticed the taste of the nuts also rang one of those tiny bells in my brain, not the ones damaged by a few too many concussions, but silver bells of a warm kitchen and still-steaming cookies.

walnut meats

The walnut holds a dear place in my life and due to their abundance around here, we are now able to enjoy every aspect of them almost every year—and that is, without throwing them at aging, still-mouthy brothers—not that we wouldn’t try.

 

 

 

 

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Befuddled—–Board Games and Life

By Matt Geiger

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My favorite activity is gathering with friends to talk, for hours on end, about whatever we please.

The conversations can be about anything – hopefully Peter the Great, competitive axe throwing, or my daughter – but they all have one thing in common: they are freestyle. There are no written cues, no cards, no dice and no board determining what we can and cannot do or say. And, aside from the general kind of social scorekeeping we all do in our heads whenever we’re in social situations, there is no one allocating points.

Nothing brings these enjoyable evenings to a screeching halt as quickly as party games. They always makes me feel like someone who, on the verge of a spontaneous romantic encounter, sees his partner head to the hallway closet and return with a vast assortment of gear, complete with special chairs, whips, handcuffs, Viagra and other aides.

“Shouldn’t we at least try to do it ourselves, first?” a reasonable person would respond. “I mean, shouldn’t all these things be a last resort if we find out we can’t get the job done on our own?”

These games come in many forms, but they tend to have names like “Befuddle…” or “Incoherence!”

They have subtitles that only serve to further confuse me: “The card game where you learn the mating calls of each state bird!” or “The board game where nouns are verbs, and adjectives are golden tamarin marmosets in estrus!”

I try avoid them the way most people avoid contracting malaria, and I often check the closets at friends’ houses to see what awful nonsense lurks within. Many parents, I’ve been told, ask other parents if they have any firearms in the house, and if so if they are adequately secured, before bringing small children over for playdates. I do the same, but with these dreadful, colorful affronts to the fact that we all have a limited amount of time on this planet.

My wife, Greta, says I dislike them because I always lose, and therefore am not acquainted with the sweet nectar of party game victory. She is only partially right.

 

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The Poet From Ireland

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Mr. William Yeats in Ireland

 

Travelling to other lands is always a lesson of sorts, not just to see the scenery but to experience the lives, history and way of life of others outside of our own personal space. While some of these characteristics may be known to us, being up close and personal with the very land from which sprang their culture and their view of the world, is not so easily perceived until one is almost standing in their shoes, if only momentary.

In those lands totally outside our western world, it is, of course, almost impossible to grasp much of anything in depth.  But in a place like Ireland, a land from which many of us have ancestors, and a land that has a common language, the task has more prospect.

Being in Ireland presents many new opportunities to experience, however briefly, the outcomes of their life patterns. Here is a land that has faced multiple starvations, internal revolutionary struggles, and the confrontations of living in a tired land, one overrun by swarming people trying to gain sustenance from a thin soil. There is a certain sadness in that.

Still, from all the struggles came a culture rich in so many ways, maybe not as obviously material as our own, but still an endowment rich and enlightening.

So, it was during a recent visit, that I ran into Mr. William Yeats. Like many of us, I had known him before, but not while standing on his home ground, among his people, looking over the “terrible beauty” of Ireland.  William Yeats is celebrated as a hero, as an intellectual giant, and currently, an economic attraction. As a result of the latter most interesting aspect, his work is ever present as we explored Ireland.

While Mr. Yeats has not been around sicse 1939, his words have endured.  While jumping from pub to pub, from Cork to Sligo, it was almost impossible not to be confronted by his musings. The delightful quotes were even on pub walls, the marquees of banks and written on sidewalks.  I could not help reading the words, some scattered and out of true context, others complete, many causing me to pause and maybe reconsider my own worldview—which I suspect is the intention of poetry.

On one page, I found the following line taken from a poem titled The Cloths of Heaven, “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”  I found myself wanting to make a change to that because at the age of 73, my dreams for just myself are waning as I am facing limitations. But then, I would suppose my dreams are now very much including those that will follow me, my children’s children. Tread softly. Does that mean the activities of humanity, the relentless hammering of the earth for financial gain? Is it a warning, an insight by a gifted mind? Damn poets.

Alternatively, does it imply a request to a lover—but is that not the same? I suspect that in the poem “The Cloths of Heaven” it can mean many things – maybe moderation, sensitivity, almost the Golden Rule. It is but a simple request.

So “afoot and light hearted I took to the open road” and had a few conversations with Mr. Yeats, wanting to discover the land on which I was now standing. I bought a book of poems to learn of the Emerald Isle through his eyes. I found a poem the following day after listening to the sound of the Uilleann pipes at Crane’s Pub in Galway. It was a musing on the sighting of swans right in Galway County just a few miles from last evening’s frolic.

He wrote:

But now they drift on still water,

Mysterious, beautiful;

Among what rushes will they build,

By what lake’s edge or pool

Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day

To find they have flown away?

 

Like many great poems, this required me to think and wonder why the question mark after the last statement. He marveled the sight of swans but implied one day they might be gone. Was he discouraged by what he saw, thinking the presence of swans was fleeting? I had seen a swan during the time we were there, so his concern may have been unfounded even though Ireland has long ago lost its natural environment to sheep and cattle, there are still swans. Was the statement an insight? Was the swan a symbol of a lover?

For the days we were there, Yeats was always about, and I’d like to think offering me a glimpse into a great mind from a distant land.  Along with the visual delights of emerald green fields enclosed in ancient stone walls and music trickling through the evening streets, the words of Mr. Yeats accentuated the place called Ireland. While the tendency may, in these times, be to only see those things pleasant, the history has other stories and as Yeats said in a poem called Host of the Air, “Never was piping so sad and never was piping so gay”—-insightful words assembled to prod the brain into reflection and introspection.

Travelling is that way it would seem, a chance to live outside our own shoes. To see the world through another’s eyes. For that, I am grateful.

 

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Rituals of the Hearth

by Eleonore Hebal

Several weeks ago, a very loved and very worn cookbook, entitled Ritual of the Hearth, was generously bestowed upon me by a dear friend. As my fingers slowly wrapped around the tattered binding, a wave of tingles washed through my hand and opened up my heart. . . what a treasure. As I flipped through the pages, recipes for some of my favorite dishes passed by: Whole Wheat Challah, Lavender Eggplant, Pumpernickel Bagels, Falafel. Completely enchanted, I laughed as I read the colorful back cover, “Suitable for a picnic by moonlight, a seaside supper, a banquet of colors, an “Oriental Dream,” and Aquarian feast. . .”

I am a most fortunate woman to be receiving such magical gifts as the autumn winds slowly transform the lush, green forests of the heartland into a shimmering mosaic of crimson and gold. Below is a favorite passage and two traditional recipes by Roberta Sickler, sure to enrich the long, spooky October evenings awaiting us.

While we drift in sleep an autumn chill penetrates the night.
Ripe fruits fade and shrink from clinging night shadows.
Apples drop from mother trees, and take their seed to the earth.
I wake at dawn to cool cinnamon smells of mud and overripened fruits.
New morning of an aging year, green forests transformed so soon to scarlet orange.

Pumpkin Soup
Ingredients:
1 small pumpkin (4 cups cubed fresh cut into 1 inch cubes)
1.5 cups boiling water, salted
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk, beaten
3 cups milk, scalded
Black pepper to taste
1 pinch cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Croutons
1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions:
In a heavy covered pot, the pumpkin is cooked gently in boiling, salted water, until tender, about 1 hour; it is then pressed through a sieve. The beaten egg yolk is added and the mixture is stirred into hot scalded milk, and seasoned lightly with fresh ground black pepper, cloves, and nutmeg.

Croutons are prepared by browning little squares of rye or wheat bread in a skillet with plenty of butter. Hot Pumpkin Soup is poured into a large tureen, and garnished with whipped cream and croutons.

Ginseng Clove Tea
1 tablespoon minced or powdered ginseng root
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 thick slice of orange
1 quart boiling water
4 small pieces of orange rind

The ginseng root, cloves, cinnamon, and orange slice are steeped in boiling water for 15 minutes. The tea is poured into 4 cups, each garnished with a piece of orange rind, and served hot.