Life thoughts—Musing

Hunter Thompson once said, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving in a pretty well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a ride!””

 Not too long after that, if I recall, he had his ashes blasted into space, actually just the air, by some homemade cannon all to the cheers of a few friends. Believe me he was worn out. Admittedly, drinking off a bottle of Wild Turkey while campaigning for the mayor of Aspen added to being thoroughly used up.

I rather thought, maybe even today, that this attitude might have some merit but possibly slightly toned back. I know I’m down to puttering around the holdings, maybe flopping my one-man craft into the local lake for an afternoon of fishing, or sitting leisurely by an evening fire tipping back a fine beverage, or just sitting by the old stove reading my latest book Portrait of Ignorance. Certainly none of these acts in and of themselves could be deemed “in a cloud of smoke” but not bad for an aging dude who might be feeling sorry for himself.

 I guess what I am up to is a little self-evaluation, maybe reflection on how this ‘trip’ has gone down. I know ‘trip’ is rather a hippy thing but then, I was sorta there, on a trip by all measure down Twain’s metaphorical river.

Looking toward the Never-Summers. Photo Trudy Haines

I’m not pontificating on my final cannon shot, nor on my visit to the back side of the moon, not even a dirt nap, but just thinking about the ‘ride’ the wonderful ride I, and I should say we have been on. Having just spent ten days frolicking in the Never Summer Mountains of Northern Colorado, and maybe more importantly, picking apples and putting the garden away right here in the backyard, I’m feeling pretty good even if the grand kid did ask me to go for a limp, which is his way of saying a hike but making a reference to my mode of movement.

No sooner after spending a few moments staring mindlessly into space, my wife recited a quote from Epicurus.

“It is not the young man who should be considered fortunate, but the old man who has lived well, because the young man in his prime wanders much by chance, vacillating in his beliefs, while the old man has docked in the harbor, having safeguarded his true happiness.”

I’m not sure I related to ‘docked in the harbor’, I definitely like to think I have rustled up some true happiness but I am still on the ‘move’, but then it is not at any great speed nor drowned in a cloud of dust, maybe skidding broadside though.

After more reflection on my ‘trip’, I saw myself as Marlin Brando in On the Waterfront, when with his brother he passionately said, “I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody. “  Things were getting rough around here, not only because I ain’t no Brando, but now I seemed to be questioning myself while ‘safeguarding my true happiness’. Oh, I guess I was somebody, maybe not a contender but I was a second team all-conference football player and I have been to a few county fairs—and to the arctic. Most importantly I had fun.

But now the days grow short, I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine from fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs and it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year.”

Frank sang that one and I guess it is rather summing it up right now as the sun shines on a glorious 73 degree day in late October right here Amherst.

Not so funny but I thought I would throw it in.



The young, helpless bird was brought to us by way of compassion, I guess. Dropped off by the grandkid and a friend not knowing what to do with this pathetic gray, beak-agape fledgling. Turned out it was hardly a fledgling but more like a runt pushed out of the nest to make room for the more robust.

Being human with humane intentions, the hardly-feathered desperado was brought inside because we were not about to just shove it ’out on the ice’ like past primitive peoples might have done to members of our own species.

It had the usually act of opening its rather large mouth the minute any one passed. Like good parents, he was offered handouts ranging from apples to hamburger but ultimately settled for puppy food. Didn’t take long before he was imprinted on us.

Now, initially we thought of the efforts made by the Crane Foundation where the surrogate parents, compassionate humans, would do everything from dressing up like cranes to making crane puppets for feeding so the birds didn’t get to thinking humans really amounted to something. In the end, we settled for making squawks because we ultimately learned he was a blue jay. There was no way we could look like a jay, even though we had been warned about jay walking.

It grew, and squawked and eventually, maybe two weeks, learned to fly but once out of its youthful-home laundry basket, his navigational skills appeared limited but not unlike some nature-bound fledgling one sees careening through late summer bushes. Of course, it had no fear of us and even appeared to appreciate just hanging out listening to cool jazz.

Ann would eventually round him up and plop him back in the basket thinking he might, with his tiny brain, identify this as a ‘natural’ home environment.

By now Jayzee was flying around the house, testing wings, exploring places to hang out maybe actually looking for a safe havens. Still, the laundry basket was home, and the locale for comfy food where he took to hankering for the $10 dried meal worms and suet balls, but would also eat seeds and other human leftovers.

Eventually, maybe three weeks into this surrogate blue-jaying, the basket home was put outside to see if Jayzee might relate to nature and maybe find a few relatives to listen to. But, we were his food source, and unlike chickens, he had no food gathering skills of his own but depended on our handouts. Man, even young children would do better than this thing.

He became noisier, demanded attention, acted like a teenager and did grab food wherever we placed it on cupboard tops or sideboards. We really wanted him to feed himself.

After a month, he was free to fly about outside and appreciated the freedom like any teenager but always came back at dinner time like any child would. He was in the trees, on the roofs, in the grapes but not hanging with the other jays, just us even as we tried to eat outside to encourage him. He’d sit by the fire, talk, listen to rap music and seemed very vulnerable, maybe an easy mark for every predator.

One night we let him out to see if he might survive in the wilds of the backyard. In the morning, he showed up in my workshop where I had left the door open. He squawked when I walked in excitedly announcimg his presence.

Clearly, he had become human and we had not become blue jays—even though my brother’s name is Crow. Also, Jayzee could really squawk, mostly at his patient ‘parents’.  Just endless open-mouth squawking. Delighted, we noticed he was picking up the tasty meal worms and suet balls carefully placed around. Maybe this was sort of ‘in the wild’. We just couldn’t seem to think of a way to get him to leave ‘home’. We couldn’t just buy him a car, or send him off to college, or introduce him to some delightful, attractive Ms. Jaylow.

After having a fireside discussion one evening, he shot off through the back trees for what we considered to be a night out. In the morning, he did not return, which surprised us. He was gone. Either found a better hand out, or actually got his act together. Oddly, it was hard to take. One month and gone. No good-byes.

We kept hearing squawks that sounded like him but no intimate visitors. He had flown the coop. We were chest fallen to say the least because it seemed so abrupt, maybe dangerous. But then I thought of my grandmother who left Sweden when she was 16 and came to America alone, I thought of the Irish, who out of necessity fled Ireland never to return. The civil war soldiers who at 16 or 17 went off to war.

What we did seem to notice was the local area now appears to be almost over-run by jays squawking endlessly as if they had been trained by Jayzee as a way of getting attention. Maybe that was his legacy. Was it him, was this just us?


I’m Being Bugged!

Why is this bugging me?

Maybe I am wrong on this but maybe I am not. Apples have always gotten my attention and I don’t think it is just the Johnny Appleseed story.  I learned from Michael Pollan that in the past apples were of great value not to just up and eat but rather to gather, hopefully the sweetest ones a person could find, and then ferment the juice. They were after apple wine and if clever, once fermented to completion, they would allow it to freeze. The accumulated ice was tossed and the remaining liquid was the beloved apple jack, a liquor of higher alcohol concentration. Whoopee!

We all know that apples are and always have been subjected to the onslaught of insects, who like humans, loved the sweetness and thus punched holes in every apple found. The bugs, knowing them, probably even ate the ones slightly fermented for extra fun.

As a result of this competition with mankind, we very clever humans, made poisons to eliminate the bugs, and we were real good at it. However, there are yahoos like me who, while having been once employed to kill insects, prefer to not eat sprayed fruit. This invariably meant we had to cut away the enemy while making apple sauce, more work but no poisons.

Well, it would seem we have had a change in events because now the Wolf River apples on the kid’s tree next door are, all by themselves, bug free. They are flawless, round, robust and delicious and not a hole to be found other than that one where some enterprising squirrel thought he, probably a she, would have that one big bite. Confounding situation, I thought. Last year there were a few holes, this year none.

Interestingly, the apples I gather from a secret spot, the fruit with the red meat and ample sugar just right for sauce of the highest grade, are also bug free, I mean bug free. Even the ones laying on the ground are unviolated after a week of relaxation. What?

It is absolutely staggering after all these years, nature has found a way to poison out the insects so we can have this wonderful fruit just for the taking. Think of the money saved, not to mention the kitchen time cutting away those ugly little worms.

As I processed the apple sauce, yes, the beautiful pink applesauce with just the right sugar content, there was a distant murmuring in my head. “Was this really a good thing?” Are there other implications to this profound lack of apple-eating larva?

I have also noticed the robins are now using the bird feeder and appear to be eating suet. To top it off we have had three, and I say three, pileated woodpeckers on the feeder at one time—and that is right here in town. In the past the only pileateds seen, those pterodactyls, were skirting stealthfully around in dark forest. What is with these birds—robins on a feeder!

That suet is the closest thing to a worm those insect eaters can find, that is my guess. Just this year I saw grosbeaks eating potato bugs and don’t remember seeing that before. Potato bugs? The ones feeding on the leaves of a nightshade. While I have personally not eaten a potato bug, the very sight of them tells me this is not top fare, but maybe, like a turnip, it’s famine food.

It doesn’t take an entomologist to conclude that these, and other noticeable insect disappearances are becoming rather profound. I could, rather quietly, even mention the absence of mosquitos in my back yard. Oh, I will get push back on that statement but—-.

On the other hand there are other observations that, while delightful and intriguing, also got my attention. This year I, and a number of rural friends, saw giant swallowtails, not the fairly common tiger swallow tails but the darker, more dynamic giants. These beauties, in my book are rare and I was beside myself trying to photograph these majestic visitors. Turns out they favor the citrus family and are found mostly in the south but with the climate changing, they are now being see cruising zinnias, and eating prickly ash.

We are all aware that the count on monarchs has plummeted and as a result I find myself dodging them while driving, and speaking of driving, I can’t remember the last time I had to clean bug splat off my windshield.

Only a couple of years ago the swarm of delicate mayflies that followed the canoe ride left us breathless. This year we were quietly alone out there. No insect companions. But I did note leaf minors on the velvet leaf, and the pasture thistle I let grow in the garden did attract numerus insects including the radiant tiger swallowtails. I didn’t miss the June bugs bouncing off my head as we sat by the evening fire, or did I?

Remember how the swallows used to dive and swoop around intersections picking the bugs off the paused vehicles, hundreds of them. I must say, this is all bugging me. Something is up!



Like every yahoo around, I have been noticing that there are some changes taking place out there in our natural world. The most obvious being the climate, but, of course, there are plenty of other disruptions that are new to me in my now almost eighth decade. Clearly every little or not so little blip that occurs in the normal scheme of things causes another proverbial head-on collision for humanity.

All over the world there are water shortages, and that includes in our own southwest, while some other river basin is flooding with a once-in-a-thousand year event. To top that off, some areas are being toasted with temperatures in excess of 125 Fahrenheit. These events are enough to make anybody take pause—even for an individual like me who appears to be full of pauses.

As a biologist with a hankering for insects, it is not hard to notice that nighttime streetlights are no longer surrounded by swarms of confused bugs, like we used to see as kids. I haven’t even cleaned my windshield all summer where not long ago it was a daily job to remove bug splat from our windshield. On and on, we hear of habitat loss (how many Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited pleas can I possible get?) along with diminishing biodiversity reports.

To top it off, there are groups of folks almost intuitively realizing these same issues, and go bonkers trying to blame somebody else or some other group for all of these disruptive changes. They are fighting mad and in some cases latching on to authoritarian politicians who claims they have all the answers (they don’t) which on occasions means getting rid of the science that made us who we are, or in some extreme cases, loading weapons of war. It just becoming a mess.

During the heat, it’s harder to go outside, so I did a little research and found a word that possibly represents an idea that might prevent me from adding to the many issues banging relentlessly at us. The word most commonly found, and the one Nate Hagans from the University of Minnesota uses is ‘simplification’. By this he means, I need to just take it down a notch and not consume so many things because, as he points out, all the ‘stuff’ I use from nature is finite and the more of it that’s used, the less is left for future generations, AND many bits of consumption are becoming disruptive to the natural world.

I kicked it around and had a hard time envisioning something different than what we have been doing for so long. It seems I, and maybe many of us humans, might want to look at a new form of development, not necessarily associated with material growth.

Having recently been in Europe (I know, burning jet fuel), it was very visible there to notice a number of glaring differences in their lifestyles, and this is a life style that I was informed consumed one half the amount of energy and materials per-capita we do. They don’t have a lot of ‘stuff’ but rather have events and social outings where folks get together and just hang while sipping wine and nibbling cheese.  One glorious evening we WALKED to a sixteenth century cathedral to get drenched in a wondrous choral performance.

In Ireland we did walks-about and marveled at the scenery, the colorful people, maybe the fishing fleets along with some legendary dolphin who fancied entertaining tourists, and then in the evening drifting to a pub to play music and tip a beer.  Life was slower there for the old men sitting under a street side stoop, gesturing wildly and telling stories about the little people.

Going be tough I suppose, but I thought I would start by not driving 200 miles to go fishing, maybe trying to ride my bike to the bakery, attending the children’s musical tonight (where I exhausted my smile muscles), and admittedly talking to the rutabagas in the garden. Still, it is not hard to notice how so many of us have consumed so much that all of the mentioned problems are being caused by too many of us using too much stuff. So, if some local were to be seen around town being real simple, let it be known I have taken notice of the growing situations and what you are seeing is a legitimate effort at simplification—and it ain’t easy. Talking to rutabagas should no longer be seen as antisocial or a sign of mental collapse.


Natural Solutions

It seems almost every year, but possibly more recently, the robins somehow spotted the big strawberries in the garden. Initially, they pursued the garden for the worms and bugs, which in my recollection is their normal food. But for some reason, maybe lack of their favorite bugs, they drifted toward the patch of just-ripening berries where they would extract a large single slice out of our spring-time desserts. Never did they eat the entire berry but rather just went from one to another and taking one large beak full as if exploring for strawberry worms. It had gotten to the point where fifty percent of the berries were scarred and violated.

Truth is, we still ate them but not happy about sharing them with the wildlife that seemed really uninterested in actually consuming them. Initially, I tried putting net over the entire patch but discovered it was no fun trying to free the damn birds form the netting, much less having to move it every time we needed berries, which was every day. I even found myself tangle in the stinking netting looking like a giant carp trying to extract one more dough ball from the bottom of the river.

I was telling this story to Carmen just last week as the berries for this year began to ripen and I was seeing numerous robins eye-balling the red fruit. “Listen, all you do is find some round stones and paint them red, put them on the edge of the patch right where they can see them. Couple of whacks at the rocks and you’ll see those suckers head to the dentist with a chipped beaks,” She offered.

It’s been a week of eating unmolested strawberries. Interestingly, as a biologist and gardener, this got me thinking about other possible non-lethal ways of solving similar problems.

I recalled another individual who, like Carmen, had a great imagination by the name of Edward Abby. He lived in a rather broken down abode off in some distant Arizona desert (the same guy wrote Desert Solitaire) who on a non-stop basis, had a mouse and pack rat problem. He puzzled over the issue for some time and didn’t like the “nuclear option” of killing them with traps, or more particularly poisoning them only to kill every predator around who managed to get ahold of a sick rodent. Like many of us who have had to run a substantial trap line to control the rural pests, he began looking for a more natural solution. As a naturalist, rather like me, he found by placing a large bull snake in his house, the problem of rodents quickly disappeared and the snake, it was rumored, went from 4.5 ft. to 6 ft. in a single year, and was free to come and go, but was always welcomed.

In a fit entrepreneurial spirit, it occurred to me that I might be able to generate income by employing natural solutions to other ever-present problems. How about taking a serious dent out of the fly, or even mosquito population by selling and propagating insect eating Venus fly traps and pitcher plants. Each, if I recall, exude a subtle stench, not unlike rotting meat, or maybe a stinking human, that attract pests that target humans. Plant these fascinating botanical wonders all over the yard and problem solved.

Norwegian Deterrent

In a bit of historical contemplation, it also occurred to me that some groups of people have used similar rather natural methods to hinder human movement into their communities. It has been rumored that a group of people referred to as Norwegians developed a process of ‘preserving’ fish, I believe mostly codfish, to make it such that their neighbors would never intrude on their sovereign space. The legend has it, they were targeting Swedes, my people, by soaking the aforementioned fish in lye and then encouraging microbes to do their work. This created “a product” (lutefisk) of such objectionable nature the peoples of this Norwegian persuasion were seldom bothered. Through time those same folks actually learned to like “the product” as a consumable food. This is one of the reasons why when one finds one Norwegian, we find more. History has found this to be most clever and really a win-win for that ethnic group.

30 pounder read for work.

I no sooner was reviewing this historical tidbit, when Glenn of Colorado called and went to great length to describe how his daughter had parked her hybrid auto for a tiny two hours only to find on her return, the catalytic converter had been cut off and stolen. Now there is a tough one but maybe there was a natural solution. Initially, it occurred to me that it might be possible to make a cage, under a car, very close to the converter that contained either a 30 pound snapping turtle, or a poorly fed badger (a great Wisconsin solution). If the converter was violated, a trip wire would drop the beast on the thief. Well, a car owner would have to maintain the animals and that might require staff and special feeding, so while it is innovative, I opted for a small hornet swarm that would be easier to maintain. I realized that the vibration of the auto would keep the insects in a high alert state all the time and once the trip wire was dropped the outcome would be spectacular.

The most important aspect of the suggestion by Carmen, is that the robins have been held at bay and we can fully enjoy the shortcakes. The other ideas, be they historical, or just brilliantly innovative, are just mind exercises and may not represent total reality, still, it is hot outside and the mind has to be activated.

Side note: I have not been bitten by a wasp, bee or hornet in years, but leaving the post office I go nailed. Message?



Entropy, 2nd law of thermos dynamics.

Just today I was working on a column to be titled Entropy or the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. I chose this topic because I have been finding that everything around me has a way of deteriorating the minute I don’t stay on top of it. The garden without constant attention just morphs into weeds and disorganized rubble. If I don’t feed the chickens or give them water they become obnoxious and ill-behaved. If I don’t exercise my muscles, the ones I have left, just go to sagging and looking foolish. Even my mind if not infused with activity and a flood of information, begins to wander off in space and nonsense. The asphalt driveway will crumble under the push of weeds and ants.

I am not alone it turns out with entropy. The financial markets are subject to it as is our energy supply, our water. Most alarming, entropy also affects this column and that was becoming the issue as I tried to write. I was about to quit and take a month off. But, wait, why should I let entropy get me down? I thought and looked for answers.

So I read this, “Entropy is simply a measure of disorder and affects all aspects of our daily lives. In fact, you can think of it as nature’s tax. Left unchecked, disorder increases over time. Energy disperses, and systems dissolve into chaos. The more disordered something is, the more entropic we consider it.”

Oh great! “Albert Einstein referred to entropy and the second law of thermodynamics as the only insights into the workings of the world that would never be overthrown.” 

Even Yeats had it figured out as he wrote, and this is before all those fancy physicists began pontificating.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
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;

Here is a simple illustration to what entropy does and I don’t necessarily like it. 

Entropy Explained

Then it occurred to me that this entropy also might apply to human relations.  And, believe it or not, the damn covid thing has played a role in this. It has made it so, in our fear of getting the plague, we have been denied many of our usual human get-togethers. That is, we have not been allowed to gather as groups around our tables and in our homes to blather and raise a glass to the usual friendships. These relationships take energy and effort and if not constantly applied, like the diagram above, things dissipate. ‘The centre cannot hold.’

After all, in thermodynamics it is a LAW. It is like the speed of light at 186,000 miles per sec. That is a damn scientific LAW. It can’t be changed. No court can overturn these laws, so I tell myself to get over it.

Then there is this: “the second law of thermodynamics says that entropy always increases with time.” That is just great. In truth, I ended up writing this column when I had just thought my ambition and creative energy might have dissipated. It may be true entropy is tugging at me, and I really was noticing it today. Tomorrow I believe it is time to pull those dissipating little imaginary balls of the illustration back to a closer, tighter organization and weed the garden, buy beer and invite some folks over to defy entropy—- and even defy Einstein if we have to.


Forest Bathing

Forest Bathing?

There has recently been community chatter, now referred to as ‘trending’ behavior, for the common delight of walking in the forest as a way of ‘cleansing’ one’s soul. In the very recent past humans could indulge in simple bathing in water by taking a shower or possibly a bath in a tub. I suppose one could take a sand bath like chickens do where we would flop on the ground, usually in the sun, then literally thrash our wings’ in such a  way as to throw sand all over our fully clothed bodies, but this has never proven successful to my knowledge and might lead to a loony-bin visitation.

Certainly, it is possible to bathe in one’s own self-importance much like some chest thumping, incessantly babbling politicians or a self-proclaimed big shot. That hasn’t always worked well for me but every once in a while it can be ego boosting, that is until a few years ago when the grandkid pronounced I had an inflated eagle.

Recently, but unannounced to me, sociologist, anthropologist, behaviorist, maybe a bespectacled psychologist or two and no doubt cosmic sky pilots have decided a walk in the woods can have huge therapeutic advantages. This now is “forest bathing”.

French Impressionist Forest Bathing–have to look closely

Some years ago, a walk in the woods with your girlfriend was called a woodsy and I don’t recall it ever involving bathing even if it did include a skinny dip in the local pond. In Wisconsin deer hunting might be an obvious form, but in my case there would be derogatory comments about my inattentive forest napping. With eighty percent of American citizens now living in urban and suburban settings it would seem, from my clinical point of view, that this suggested activity might be aimed at that demographic—rural types forest bathe like this all the time.

So as a botanist by training, it seems fitting I should be able to pontificate on this topic, possibly with great introspection. Forest bathing might consist of just a simple walk on a path for a starter session. Once accomplished, a person might move to having discussions with favorite trees—surely to be followed by tree hugging. While this may seem a left handed poke at liberals, this doesn’t have to be the case.

Anyone can talk with a tree for advice. “Hey, Mr. Tree (Locally, a Norwegian maple is preferred because they are not very intrusive, and a touch shy), I have been having trouble with my focus group—like I am out of focus.”

 The tree could respond (hypothetically but remember I am a botanist), “I don’t want to bark at you, but we can try to get to the root of the problem. If you listen carefully, possibly something can flower. Maybe from this tender encounter you might take your hominid brain and branch out. You can’t be a sap, and certainly, you will need a stout trunk. Buck up you blithering idiot and maybe we can plant a few seeds in your feeble mind so you don’t screw up the entire environment.”  (I couldn’t resist that.)

Advanced sessions of forest bathing could include climbing trees, even living in one for a weekend.  Then once a certain expertise is achieved a person could go to nude bathing in, say, a pine forest but this too probably should be confined to the young. While the inhabitants, other than human, might not mind folks in the youth category, the sight of an elder nudist forest bathing might cause alarm because the genetic package of most living things is not programed to deal with deteriorating human forms. As a reminder of this issue, this example might be given as a warning to the aging crowd—and it involves wild scavengers. In my later stages of riding my road bike, ( I was not nude cycling this time) I had the unpleasant experience of stopping to rest while on County T only to look up and realize some underfed vultures were following me—just longing for that one last face-plant of a fall and easy pickin’s for those stinking buzzards.

Advanced Forrest Bathing with cycle.

I can’t imagine the reaction of the wolves, coyotes, crows, and meat eating shrews once I was spotted forest bathing in the nude. The saliva drooling wolf on his smart-ass phone would be calling the pack, “Come on down. Lookin’ a lot like a party in a few hours. Kinda sinewy and maybe a bit into decomposition already, but still, a hot meal. ”

Alright, alright, so things can go off the rails. Forest bathing? I get it and sounds like a fantastic idea for a few of us but come November, might want to stay away from my deer stand, even if I am sleeping again. Still, all things wrapped in a package, with no real cost in dollars, and no chance of doing any damage to the forest, it is possible to see why this is trending both for individual and group therapy. For once, here is a beautifully simplified human activity that may benefit all species involved and make us into tree huggers and nature lovers. And, we would be cleaner for it.


Fire good!

Fire Good!

In a cave in France, two early men, Cro-Magnons if you will, were sitting by a fire. Lothar, who has a small spattering of grease dripping down his massive face, looks over at Gumbas and says profoundly, “Fire good”. Gumbas slowly lifts his heavy brow ridge and with a knowing sly, partially toothless grin, confirms, “Fire good”. Even then some seventy thousand years ago, the early hominids had it figured out. “Dis buffalo rump tender and fun to chew. Fire cook good.”

Lothar nodding while nibbling a dandelion root, “Yup, yup even nasty root soft and yummmmy. Better dan hard raw wild carrot,” Fire make tasty.

Other members of the tribe gathered around the fire, moving more closely. “Fire warm. Sleep better, No freeze toes off again”. Mauba the patriarch of the tribe sidled up to Lothar, “Tell story about mammoth almost take you for lunch.”

“I like stories around fire even if fake news.” Said a snot-nosed teenager as he fiddled with his small ivory carving and at the same time took notice of Gumbas’s twelve year old daughter. This midlife activity for Yaysha, the teen, was comforting and he, like the others, knew the communal value of the fire there in their luxurious cave. Unknowingly, like the Neanderthals of the same region, they were imbedding in their developing genetic package the incredibly important instinctive attraction to fire. “Fire even keeps those damn saber-toothed cats away from my girlfriend. Just hate it when tiger got Dansolla.” “Fire good, human eaters hate fire”.

So there you go, tucked away in our DNA there seems, from my amateur evolutionary biologist point of view, the theory that fire (and that includes bonfires in the winter wind out behind the Jensen Center) has a natural attraction that goes all the way back to Lothar and Gumbas the Cro-Magnons—-and no doubt way before that.

For years we have watched the grandkid, and other children build fires at every opportunity, even in the middle of snow storms.  No sooner is there an open fire when every passing individual will gather around seeming to warm themselves, or possibly push some food, be it a marshmallow or a fat steak into, or over an open fire. The open fire simply has a magic and it’s not just in youth but in everyone it would seem.

It can be a small fire or a roaring bonfire as we recently experienced behind the Jensen Center, the one sponsored and advertised as a way of driving away the winter and bringing the community together. Various groups arrived and almost to the person, individuals slowly rotated themselves like vertical rotisseries around the fire all the while marveling at the radiant heat. There was even a brave individual, who obviously in his best paleo throwback effort, attempted to inflame a marshmallow, then dash back to chocolate and gram crackers.

At a safe distance from the inferno, the toils of winter, the insidious plague, and lack of social involvement was bantered about as would be expected around any open fire. There were others, like children, just stared at the flames looking for imagined dancers, maybe answers, maybe just wanting to feel heat in a way they hope will linger. I’m sure there were others sent dreaming of a medium-rare steak much like Lothar back a few generations. There was a sense of security, and of community associated with the open fire.

Were any of us more comfortable because we knew none of those sneaking saber-toothed tigers were being kept at bay, maybe.  No boogie men out here, but there was one politician, mostly it was just a gathering of the tribes exercising the call of our DNA, the same as the call of the open fire and all that it offered all those thousands of years ago. It was a good call then and it is still a good call today.

I found myself contemplating fire, maybe while feeling all that heat and realizing, wondering if it was a setting like this that set off humans on their great adventure of really using fire. The intense energy possibly triggered innovations that have travelled with us in these more modern times. Did we confine the fire in a structure for greater warmth? Did we imagine that one day by burning a barrel of oil, we could accomplish the labor of one person working for almost five years?  

Almost seems strange that we could go from seeking simple comfort and community, making foods more available and palatable, and warding off predators with the innovation and application of the simple open flame, to, in just a few thousand years take over the world with all that energy of the flames from oil. So, Lothar, fire good?


Keeping it Simple—Sugaring

Here we are on a mild, almost abnormal spring day with the temperature touching sixty. The maples have been bumped around so far with disrupted temperature throwing confusion on the sap flow. However, here and there the nectar has flowed, not on all trees, but some lucky ones in unsuspecting places. Jake and I have our taps out but it is true we may have jumped the gun, or is it the drill bit. Until today most maples, silvers, reds, and Norwegian have pretty much told us to buzz off, but today, after a nice night frost, normality returned and the buckets were filled. We also chose today to do our first meager boil not wanting to have the sap linger too long stored in barrels where there might be tendency for the local yeast and bacteria to decide on a little picnic in what shall become out precious syrup. So, for one more year, it starts and we are off to the races.

The chickens also were let free today and like any good hen, they all found themselves in a mound of feathers dusting and taking in the noonday sun.  


Splitting Wood

Splitting Wood

I suspect we all know that firewood heats us many times. There is the cutting, the hauling, the splitting, the stacking, the trucking of armloads to the house, and finally cleaning up the mess, the chips, the bugs and the ashes. None of this is any secret and none is unanticipated. It is all just part of the deal, and that deal is the unbelievable comfort of sitting next to the old stove warmed by the radiant push of nature’s captured sun.

While my lust for warmth, of comfort, now seems paramount to my daily life, and it may have to do with age, those other activities also have their merits, from exercise, to pursuing a worthy cause, maybe the drive to organize, or possibly even to fulfill an ancient drive to survive in a long gone Paleolithic past.

While, like Ronald Reagan, I not only can’t resist spitting wood but genuinely relish the total experience. For Ronnie, his handlers would absolutely go into fits when he was found in the backyard banging away at the woodpile instead of communists. He could have been injured but he would continue, stating it was part of his well-being. I suspect they took his woodpile and axe away.

Seeing as how I am not needed to fight commies, and always have a woodpile, the game goes on. So what is it with this splitting—or all the rest that goes with it. Tony loaned me a book because he, like me, relishes the very touching of wild wood. The book is titled Norwegian Wood—Chopping and Stacking—The Scandinavian Way. It was not written by the Beatles but by an actual Norwegian, Lars Mytting. I would have preferred it was written by a Swede because it would have been better yet, still I settled for the ancestral neighbor.

The book got me thinking, mulling if you will, about this affliction, maybe even wondering if this desire was, like many behavioral patterns (say fire watching), buried in my genetics. Are there certain patterns of behavior in folks of northern European ancestry, the same peoples who for thousands of years had to fight the cold of the north? Is this innate, ingrained? Did we evolve to seek out a source of warmth and energy that kept us alive? The draw appears strong, maybe subtle, but after all, one hundred thousand years of struggle in the wintery north certainly must have favored the rough beasts known as Homo sapiens who sought out the best wood. Why would Ronnie do that? And me, and now the grandkid?

So the bigger question might be, just how far does this wood lusting, this innate fascination, this possibly hoarding desire go? It is not simply the grabbing of any wood, throwing it on a pile, then waiting for the cold or for roasting a mammoth steak. It appears more fine-tuned, more engulfed in nuance.

For instance, and this may just be me, there is a tendency to evaluate each piece of wood. “Nah, I’m not gonna mess with that damn white cedar.” I might think, but then the grandkid says, “I’ll take it because it is great in the early fall when I want a low fire, and it is easy to split.” Really! The white oak can be difficult and requires a little extra push of the maul. Still, it is easy to feel the heft of it and know the energy that is within, just like the black locust. It seems my mind is doing a subtle but necessary evaluation of energy invested to energy returned. I move toward the red oaks because it splits easily and stacks well. The maple is lighter, but adequate, not like the willow which has less energy than a fresh buffalo chip.

The working of the mind does not end just in the practicality of each species but there is also a strange draw to the nature of each type of wood. Our grandson favors those woods that allow him to just swing away wildly with his three-quarter weight Hudson Bay axe, almost as if he is playing golf. Is he seeking out the easy pieces, maybe the ones that could have been split with ease by his Cro-Magnon ancestors? He wants a lot, he wants it now and he knows that while it is wet at the moment, in two weeks it will be dry and useable. There is an evaluation of all wood it seems. Ignore the difficult, the nasty joints. I have been ‘ordered’ to cut out the knots and leave the straight grained pieces of the red pine or polar so kindling can be made, I noticed, with great pleasure.

While this discussion could go on and on, one more notable aspect of wood has to be mentioned. This also may have to do with the knowledge of wood and what each species can do. It is the scent. It seems that each species has its own odor and many are interestingly enjoyable, pleasant if you will. Possibly, this developed as a way to identify different woods for different uses, maybe just for aesthetics for all I know. In any case, this is an allure that draws memories and possibly rattles the Paleolithic mind. 

A couple years ago, while pounding away at some cantankerous white oak, I noticed a very distinct odor lifting from the cut pieces. On lifting it to my nose I realized it was the faint but tantalizing scent of fine whiskey. I can’t talk to Ron Reagan, so we’ll have to leave it there.

Hans Borli may settle it here;



 The Slow Lane.

Berry picking, and I don’t really care if there are stink bugs on them, always drew my attention, even when I was a snot-nosed kid of 10. If a berry showed up, even a tomato-like ground cherry (an elegant nightshade} or a prickly dew berry on the sandy open fields of Marquette County here in Wisconsin, I ate ‘em. Just plopped them in my waiting mouth as if I were a hunter/gatherer back in the day, you know twenty thousand years ago when my people were drifters.

I suppose it was my Old Man, though born in New York City and raised in Chicago, was always doing it as if he too was just out Africa following his Cro-Magnon genes. Hell, he’d even chew on wheat grass grains. As a result my parents foraging habits, if it was a thimbleberry up north and a half, a wild raspberry, a cantankerous blackcap, into my young mouth they’d go. “Hey kid, look at these huckleberries.” We’d scarf ‘em. It’s never changed.

I’ve got the grandkid doing it now, just like our kids did, and he hunts them down like a Neanderthal looking for a noon meal of grubs and berries (an old favorite I am told). “Hey gramps there’s a bunch of gooseberries in Merlyn’s front yard. What should I do?” He looked at me as to imply the neighbor didn’t know about it and he had a hankerin’. “Better ask.” I said with lifted and twisted brow.

A person can only hunt and gather so much in these modern times, so this last summer, our raggedy troupe hit the commercial berry patches and secured one hell-o-a-lotta berries, big puppies and froze those suckers up. That is why today, in a cold-adverse state, I made a pie. To top it off, part of the sweetener I used was some freshly made maple sugar. Sweet Jesus skipping across the tundra on a rubber crutch, that pie was good.

I know this was not done as if we were still hunter-gatherers, but it was still by our own hands gathered from the land. That is my thought for the day on keeping it simple. Just remembered we had ground up northern pike a few days ago, and the squash Jake grew. Life is good in the slow lane.


It’s not too late to go back to the river.

Dropping into the hardware store to grab some suet for the waiting woodpeckers or get a paint brush, is a common experience. This is usually accompanied with some chatter, maybe gossip, very possibly advice and a chance for me to offer some under-appreciated life coaching.

In a small town this exchange is important, invariably because there will be someone there I know or someone who needs to be relieved of some fishing information. Standing by the minnow tank it’s possible to hear an angler mumble a few leading words, “Ya, been getting some nice bluegills over on Mykl—b—s.” Pointing an ear, I like to sidle-up, maybe looking at the fan belts up high. “Where you been gettin’ those gills?” “I been getting a few on Brek—, but a little slim picken’.” A subtle inquiry.

I might add that don’t think I’ll be getting out again but just trying to get a feel where they’re at. He might say he’s been getting some good ones on the river. “Ya just out from Plover.”

Well, I heard a ‘mi’ sound in the first exchange and after he leaves, I’ll go to the next source. “Mark, d’you here what Elmer said?”

It just goes like that, unless of course, Elmer just flat offers it up.

So, the other day I went in there for two paint brushes and furniture oil. If I recall it was too cold to fish, I was too lazy, and my mind was generally afuzz. At the back register, and not far from the minnow supply there was a younger gentleman unknown to me who was making an enquiry about percussion caps. “You a black powder shooter?” I questioned, not that it was any of my business. He had a twinkle in his eye and after a short discussion, he told a story about having two very old flintlock black powder pistols he recently purchased. Of course I was all ears, and probably starting to drool over such an exciting find. He was clearly looking to put them back in shooting condition, but not for dueling.

The talk went on and I admitted that our family had been involved in mountain man reenactments and had once upon a time enjoyed blasting away with ancient muzzleloaders. As I was about to leave he asked if we had ever been to the encampment over west next to old man river. “No,” I said we still have all our gear but just can’t seem to get to it.”

As he was about to slip out the back and I out the front, I motioned to him, “Have fun with those pistols.” He paused and said, “It’s never too late to go down to the river.” I walked out the door almost rattled, “It’s not too late to go down to the river.”

I wasn’t sure where that came from but yes, it could mean the Mississippi rendezvous but my suspicions, all tangled in this age of mine, was running too many algorithms through my hard drive.  I knew there were religious connotations there but there was also some history wrapped in my younger years.

I could see Springsteen soulfully singing The River.

“That night we went down to the river
And into the river we’d dive
Oh, down to the river we did ride……”

This is not a pleasant song about small town living to say the least, but the river still was a place of some sort of salvation, a place to hide, maybe a place to cleanse.

There was another country song out there that went,

“I’m going out to the country, gonna bury my head in the creek
I’m gonna jump in that water, baptize both my feet
‘Cause everywhere I’ve been walking, I’ve been getting in trouble deep
I’m going down to the river, gonna wash my soul again”

I tried to discard the songs because I, for one, didn’t think I was a sinful man needing a cold bath. I had to shy away from the tunes. There was just too many of them and I found myself singing that religious number from Oh Brother, “ As I went down to the river to pray, studying about that good old way…” I was going religious right then and there and I could almost see myself back in the church choir, loving to sing—- and snapping the bra strap of the cutie in front of me—was that a sin?

That’s when Huck Finn came to mind, Ya, Huck Finn floating down the river—and this shopper was talking about the Mighty Mississip. Right? There it was the river of life, the flow line to adventure, and the stream of wonder for an aging man just like as it was for a young ratty kid full of what was to come.

The guy was a messenger from Huck Finn telling me it ain’t over yet. Forget about cleansing anything, get a boat in the water, don’t sit around procrastinating and complaining, get on with life, start a motor, you don’t even need to be clean. Maybe I’ll even rewrite the sad song from Bruce.

“This morning we went down to the river,                                                                  and to the river we did hike, went down to the river,                                                         down to the river for pike.”

That sure felt better and my mind now, not rattled, has settled and will ramble and flow on forever.




Determination comes in many forms and is probably not confined to just human behavior but to all living things. For those organisms less conscience of their own being, like the liver fluke or the ragweed down the street, I’m thinking it might have more to do with survival and proliferation. But, for humans, the top of the animal kingdom, it can take on another meaning that I suppose is more complex and all-encompassing.

After just receiving a phone call from Glen, who at that very moment was standing on the shore of Lake John in the mountains of northern Colorado, I found myself asking some questions, almost about his sanity, but also about his actual motives. Why this determination?

He explained he had the entire lake to himself but admitted the ice along the shore, the 30 mph wind and maybe the 36 degree weather was the cause of no other fishermen. He was also very excited about the eight pound brown trout he just caught. I asked, “Why didn’t you send a picture, you know how I get off on that? His response, “I tried but I couldn’t get the camera to work because my hands had gone numb,”

I paused. This guy, and I have known him for a long time, is determined to fish and to this day I’m not sure if it is his anthropological drive to provide food or if he thinks he will gain community prestige. He doesn’t keep many and he seldom struts about town displaying his monster catches. However it is, from my point of view an admirable trait.  

This almost reminds me of a story the great writer Farley Mowat mentions in his book Tundra. He learned that Eskimo men would commonly sit over a single open seal breathing hole for as many days at it took to spear that one seal. Worked for them, and had for ten thousand years. Determination.

The other day we attended a Christmas show at our Jensen Center and couldn’t but sit back and go, “Just how much work does it take to pull this off, not only work but talent?” It’s not that it was perfect because I remembered the last time I was in it, and my effort could not be called perfection, but still it seems a hundred folks were involved and probably 1000 folks enjoyed the four shows. At the heart of it was Janet, a fireball of determination. Unlike Glen’s fish the results seemed more a community thing but no less daunting.

Just yesterday I walked through the kitchen and there in the window was this ratty-assed prickly plant seeming to be fighting it out with life in a miserable unnatural setting, poor light and a confining pot. There on top of the spiky stem were a few small flowers acting as though they had real purpose. They intended to make seeds but in truth needed insects to help them along. Unknowingly to them, there were no insects, or I don’t think there were other than those four- inch cock roaches (just kidding). They were determined and a week from now they will still be there. I know that is an unconscious determination driven by that DNA, probably the same for Glen.  

I also thought of the Falcon Pride effort put on by the community to build and maintain a rather impressive athletic system realizing that many other schools in central Wisconsin can hardly field athletic teams. Here the roster and stands are filled, the crowd is smiling and hundreds of earnest youngsters are out tearing up the turf, smacking balls and running until it hurts. Many of us got a call from Gregg and I saw the promotions, all of it reeking of determination to make this a better place. Genetics?

Some years ago, Jake was in a dither, if I can call it that. He wanted soccer as an alternative, an opportunity that could still bring out more student involvement. Oh, he pushed and shoved and plenty of folks will tell you, “That guy has determination!” But damn, only a few years later we had varsity soccer and kids kicking the balls all over the grounds. He did the same thing with cross country skiing. It just happened. He probably spent his own money, didn’t even get a parade, but the area got one more amenity others do not have.

How does this all tie in, this individual determination? The word altruism comes to mind for sure. That would mean by definition, a selfless concern for the well-being of others and maybe in the biological world a behavior that benefits another at its own expense.  Hummmm. The community efforts make sense. The little stinking plant was just following genetic orders. Glen? I’m now suspecting the latter two are setting an example of celebrating all that is good, maybe with determination and a selfless love of life. It’s all a stretch, I suppose, but good things do come with effort.

It is the first of the year, the water is getting hard, the stove is warm and the books are most interesting. Just a little determination and many things will shine—even if one’s hands get little numb.



There in front of me was a plate, full of steaming, wonderfully garnished squash. Here and there was a spattering of crispness, all colored in handsome golden brown.  Steam rose from this main course much like a wisp of vapor from the geysers of Yellowstone and the aroma hinted of maple syrup and a magical touch of sage. It was a grand presentations rendering the making the vegetable both elegant if not regal. Denise, the quietly smiling cook, had in her way made a statement, almost philosophical presentation that seemed to say, “Here is the world as I see it.”

The first bite brought together all of the robustness of this fine dish. But, it was the sage that wrinkled my brain. It is the simple spice of the garden, and interestingly, wild prairies and woodland openings. It was just magic there nestled in the golden flesh of nature’s bounty, the squash, the gift of Wisconsin’s natives.

Ann with a sage smudge—not a giant doobie.

In truth, the dinner was also set off by the lifting of a few drafts of fine wine and that too also enhanced the overall ambiance. I remember pausing and reflecting on the Wild West we once settled on the high plains of Colorado. We had a tepee then and there was no way to avoid the wild plants and the many smells of the chamisa and sage, and the wild sunflowers of late fall. It was there we learned to use the grey-blue leaves of wild sage, to smudge the canvas lodge for a quick spiritual cleansing— more likely a crafty method of ridding the place of the smell of musty dogs and wet kids. It was an odor never forgotten and here it was on the squash.

With the plate full of squash consumed along with the other offerings, we drifted off to conversation possibly moved by the culinary delights. “Doesn’t that sage take your mind to drifting?” I said. Next to me, I think it was Rick remarked, “I suspect you just want to be a sage.”

 “A sage?” Well, that is not a bad idea but it was not where I was going.

I looked at him apparently puzzled but enjoying the jump of language. I’m sure I lifted an eye and twisted a lip but he held with an inquisitive grin. This is the guy whose favorite book is Crime and Punishment. Was I about to get sage stuff from him? I thought a sage was a positive sort of an individual, not some Russian literature-lover who enjoyed trudging through a heinous crime singing the Volga Boatman.

While whiffs of the seasoning and the faint hint of the Wild West crossed my mind’s paths, others heard the word sage being bantered about and out of nowhere a sage want-to-be at the end of the table, Jim of New Hope, leaned forward and with some fanfare made the following statement, “By all means marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.”  He thought it was Aristotle but later said Socrates. “Hey man, that was very sage like.”

All of us sitting the table round were old enough to be sages but had never really given it a real thought probably because there was not a real call for sages. Still? Pontificator?

In thinking about a possible new career, a sage did have a certain ring to it and the instantaneous recognition the Sage of New Hope had just garnered, certainly indicated that some community hierarchal gain might be available to a well versed pontificator/sage, even though there would likely be no financial rewards—free wine maybe.   

It was then while thinking of sagedom, Tom made knowledgeable references to Nepalese monks finding comfort in simple surroundings and non-materialistic life. I was sure the holy ones said many sagey things.

For a brief moment I suspect we all expected to experience a pause, a quiet moment and Tom would begin by saying, “Grasshopper.” He had our attention but probably sensed we were not grasshoppers. Thoughts flew around. Books were mentioned and we drifted off trying to understand the plight of man while still immersed in the smell of the sage infused squash and the fine taste of that well executed Old Fashion.

Being a sage could be rewarding and I am still working on it. Right now I will be sticking to enjoying the wonderful flavor over squash, the fancying the faint smell of sage drifting across a Wisconsin prairie, and contemplating the history and magic of burning sage. Then too, there are real sages offering us words to guide our lives, or at least to pause in reflection.

“If and when everyone is mindlessly stupid, will anyone notice?” Buddhist saying

“In this world shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without passport; whereas, virtue if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers.” Melville, Moby Dick

“Science reminds us that we dwell in a mystery that is ultimately more to be savored than to be solved,” Overbye

“From such crooked wood from which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned.” Kant

“Those that make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” M L King

“The highest form of bliss is living with a certain degree of folly.” Evasmus

“Men argue; nature acts.” Voltaire


The Fourth Estate

Somewhere in my meanderings, I learned that the press can be referred to as the Fourth Estate. While the phrase originated in England and may have drifted around historically, it would seem today that journalists and their publications are viewed as being as powerful as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government. As a result of this revelation, it seems only reasonable to view the Jensen Community Spirit and its fabulous writers as full-fledged members of that Fourth Estate.

Being one of those writers has definitely lifted my ego, as can be seen when I strut about town. This has put me in a position to pontificate and offer great insights as to how this place should be run or, maybe in a more subtle tone, hint in an almost covert way about what is right and wrong.

Up to this point, I have not really felt the power or the assigned royalty of this position, but rather just shuffled about marveling at the local fauna, flora, and colorful individuals frequently seen in our surroundings. Yes, I have glorified the local fish, even the walnuts (hazel nuts were incredible this year), and been known to almost disclose the location of some lady slipper orchids.

Armed with my new designation as a Fourth Estater in the darkness of my writing den and under the influence of Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Morrow, Chris Wallace, maybe Mr. Jamison, I have taken on a new responsibility right next to the Supreme Court.

What this community needs is another gifted individual to tell people what to do, even if I am self-appointed and not elected by anybody.

Interestingly, the esteemed editor of this Fourth Estate publication, one Brent, has by his sound judgment, allowed me to write here and even promoted me. [Editor’s note: While promotion may have been implied by the use of “esteemed” on the cover of the September Spirit, it was meant as a descriptor of columnist Wright, not a title.]

I know my readers are going, “For the love of God, man, no more ill-conceived pronouncements and political drivel. Just leave us alone.” However, and with great pride, I can say I have been a two-bit politician, was almost religious after my confirmation in the Methodist church, owned property, and always voted the right way.


I had no sooner mentally settled into my new position when Gayle, the spouse of another writer, sent me a quote from Roger Rosenblatt of the Write America Project. He said, “Writers, as you know, are not a group. We’re usually mavericks or hermits or worse.” What did he mean “or worse”? Just when I thought I was a Supreme Court Justice, I get this “or worse.” Did Gayle send this to slyly hint that Dennis and I were possibly worse?

Just when my sails were filling and after having a month off from my esteemed position in this Fourth Estate publication, I might be worser than I thought! So even though I am rested, my mind lifting with a possibility of a new assignment in the estate of journalism, I suspect I should actually go back to glorifying those little things that make me delighted with life right here in paradise. What it comes down to is maybe I should just be an “influencer” like those folks on the interweb. That’s right, an influencer from the Fourth Estate.


This morning, in the dew-covered shadow of the side garden, a huge squash blossom jumped out of the foliage close to the house.

It seemed futile, being September, because frost was maybe only three weeks away. It was a robust male flower, strong, well intended, anthers covered in new pollen, welcoming to all bees, wasps, flies, and moths. Nothing but an elegant display with no real future.

I suspect the flower was clueless, and maybe the female flower embedded in the vine across the walk was no better, but still willing. They were all participants, just acting out the dance of the agenda of their genes.

It was a waltz, I would think, even though one of the bumblebees seemed in a hurry. The dance of the bumble bee.

I stopped and, for a brief moment, marveled at the splendor, maybe the fall-time futility, and nodded, “Nice job. Thanks.”


Chickens—Backyard Entertainment

In thinking back, it would seem in our past life in the Wild West we had hardly ever been without chickens. They brought us eggs, some meat (I am not very fond of terminating what are almost pets), and most importantly entertainment.

As a side note and a cynical comment, I will also acknowledge that chickens are the single most abundant bird in the world and have effectively replaced much of the natural flocks of wild birds both in number and certainly in mass. There are environmentalists that scowl at this piece of knowledge realizing this continuing pattern does not speak well for future of wildlife. But, chickens in all their varieties do feed the masses. It appears somewhere along the line, humans decided we are essentially the only species that deserves most of the space on earth—along with our livestock. So goes it.

Chickens, like most birds, operate mostly by instinct and not from a schooling of learned behavior—some would say this is the result of having a brain the size of a match head. Take a chick (young chicken and not a young lady) and turn them loose and they instantly start scratching, stepping back and pecking, They dust, they roost, some crow relentlessly and they will eat almost anything including each other.

A chicken is almost impossible to train other than by the simplest of Pavlovian efforts. Sure, they might peck some switch to get a little grain, but even a human can do that after a week of practice.  

In my book, clearly the best part of chickens is in entertainment value. While my previous comments have been slightly critical of this fowl, we recently heard a story implying a possible greater mental capacity of this feathered miniature pterodactyl. This is, in a macabre sense, and in my rural mind, an example of the entertainment value of chickens.

Wayne and Patti once had a flock of fine feathered friends and each day they would let them out to scrounge in a protected run where they would have great freedom and do chicken things. I’m sure this included huge clouds of dust and endless hours of scratching and pecking. In the evening, they, out of instinct, would retreat to the rather nice hen house where they could hide from the usual toothed predators.

The new ‘chicken farmers’ having moved up from Chicago, found rural life comfortable but slightly different than city life, but never the less they were also easily entertained and loved the poultry. As they tell it, the flock of hens were delightful and offered a pastoral touch to the their expanding farmette.

They, like Ann and I, saw them as being just chickens, not very emotional in a loving sense, highly reactionary when a hawk skimmed over, dim witted, no real sense of humor, but beautiful and full of antics that offered the beauty part.

It seems that returning after dark from an outing, Wayne and Patti went to the hen house to find the hens all roosting but noticed the entrance, a drop down affair, had slammed shut at some point while the chickens were coming in for the evening on the roost. This obviously occurred because one of the chickens, probably in haste. had hit the stick that propped up the door. On closing downward by its own weight, the door had managed to catch the last chicken coming in, and it caught it right across its extended neck much as a guillotine got the head of Antoinette. There hung the chicken, body outside and the head on the inside—and yes, it was deceased, gone to the last roost in the sky.

Instantly, they looked around trying to solve the mystery as to how this happened. Knowing chickens as they did, they knew there would not get a peep out of them. However, what they saw was even more interesting. As they stared at the roosting hens, they instantly realized that most of them would not look at them straight in the face but turned away as if to say, “Don’t look at me.” Others put their heads down almost in shame, maybe with one eyelid lifted, “We couldn’t help it.” If I recall the story, one heavy hen on the end perch was looking skyward, “You talkin’ to me.” The farmers, Wayne and Patti, took note but no punitive action, stepped back and lodged the story into their minds. “Good God, let’s get to bed.”

Yes, this is a sad ending, but I have to say this is entertainment at its best. After one glass of a nice white wine, we about fell out of our chairs. Damn, this country living is full of surprises. and those chickens still give us eggs.

 And that is why we now have five new Olive Eggers, that is right, Olive Eggers. That is why we also still have our grand champion ribbon from the Elbert County Fair where we won the prize for the best pen of three pullets—all of which turned out to be roosters.


Strawberries, A Lesson of Simplicity.

I have decided to have a deep philosophical discussion on strawberries. The reason for doing this is primarily due to the intense pleasure I achieve when eating them. This simple consumption is a lip-smacking culinary adventure, an Epicurean delight, if you will. This act is an end in itself, almost a spiritual, life-centering experience that deserves my reflection.

To fully make my case, it is important to start from the beginning. From my self-appointed, authoritative point of view, the strawberry is the queen of berries. They are gloriously succulent, naturally sweetened, have miniscule seeds, and have no real need for augmentation, However, a modest dollop of honey, maybe a kiss of this spring’s maple syrup can be added for variety. The glistening berry can be held aloft, maybe judiciously inspected for the perfect ripeness, then in great fanfare plopped ever-so ceremoniously in my waiting, cavernous mouth.

To add to the richness of this experience I suspect one must live close to the growing, spring-time creation of the berry. One must become one with the efforts of nature. (I know I am saying this as if a sage and not a botanical buffoon, but bear with me.)

 The first part of June arrives very quickly and for us the strawberry patch is a barometer of sorts, partially because it is watched very closely and fluctuates with all the moods of the early growing season. The new leaves of spring want sun and rain. Sometime they struggle from too much cold, but seemingly still thrive in cooler weather. The arrival of early leaves brings out a growing desire. We wait in anticipation all the while being spiritually lifted. The first bloom is the beginning of spring’s rebirth.

Admittedly, in addition to the thrill of eating a single robust berry, I also relish other strawberry offerings, moments of great pleasure involving, say, oven-fresh shortcakes and festoons of whipped cream. For my snooty moods, there are simple ceremonies featuring a white, thin-lipped china bowl filled with the finest of red berries. To the side, a fine cognac rests in an exquisite crystal tumbler like the one I got at Goodwill. The light is best warm and maybe dimming in the evening after the left-over tuna casserole. A good book might be standing by, one filled with joy and comfort, of simplicity, say Travels with Epicurus.  If there is an evening chill, a small but warming fire can be lit in the kitchen stove.

As I sit with my Epicurean delight held comfortably in my hand, I enjoy a pause and enter into deep thought. My station in life is one of modest comfort, for the berries are plentiful and the refrigerator is well filled with many day’s supply. Whipped cream is cooled and fresh, short cakes are still warm.

It is in this moment of divine appreciation a story comes to mind, and while I know its source, I will tell it as a parable. It involves a man of great wealth, of which the world now has many, some of such unimaginable accumulations they are preparing their own spacecrafts and have boats of such opulence they need to have a tender boat to provide a helicopter pad to service the bigger boat. The story has it that one of these man of wealth was talking to a creative artist whose skill were profound, so profound that great wealth was a possibility for him as well. In the discussion, it was brought up by the wealthy man that with only a little more effort he too could move into the next level of worldly existence. He could have it all. After all, he was known to be well-educated, well-connected and capable in every aspect, even handsome and intellectually most capable.

“Listen, Kurt, with the slightest effort you could move to the next step. You could live as I do, a better home, boats, cars, be welcomed in the finest circles.” There was a pause, Kurt looked about from his modest, but well-appointed home there in the canyon and without a single flinch said, “Yes, that might be true. There are possibilities out in this world for sure. But I have something that you will never have.” Perplexed, the wealthy man pressed the artist. “And what could that be?” Kurt smiled, held up his modest wine, looked about and said, “I have enough. I have enough.”

I looked down at my berries and smiled thinking of that story. Hum, maybe this is enough. All of the ingredients contained in this bowl came from the local soil. Is it enough?

“It is not what we have, but what we enjoy constitutes our abundance.” (Epicurus some years) ago.


Yard sales to flea-markets.

I don’t know many people that can pass up a yard sale or a flea market. There is always a deal out there. Last weekend the village had profound collections all over the place and it included a wild assortment from dump-bound debris to treasures. I found the best sales tactic was to make much of it free and just move on with my life—time to clean up and purge the one-time important items. I didn’t get rid of my slightly bent racing bike due to its 45 years and no provenance due to my less than heroic history of racing. Looks cool and would nicely decorate a bar with all those Campanella parts—but no.

Still it felt good and all grinning participants had fun and met with friends to jabber and find out what life was like post covid.

For reasons still not clear, I along with three others didn’t quite have enough action with the local yard sailing/yard-sale-ing. We were forced to attend a ‘real’ flea market in Baraboo where the Wisconsin Steam and Gas hold the spring blowout market for individuals who need things made of iron, not modern steel but old iron, sometimes referred to as rusty junk. Such profusion of magnetos, worn-out farm implements left-overs from the dust  bowl, colorful painted metal signs festooned with thinly clad, and exaggerated ladies from the forties, complete tractors worn-out from plowing some rock-strewn sand lot in Adams county right next to Ed Gein’s old place, and wild assortment single-cylinder gas and diesel engines used for grinding depression era corn with the hopes of making it through another winter—or I suppose making corn meal mash for a backwood’s stills.

We were easily entertained by the flea-market auction where gawking individuals (and I will add most were persons of the male persuasion) bid on assorted relics from the last iron age. But, we never really took part using seldom-exercised judgment as our guide knowing we all arrived there in Priuses (Priuri). These autos, in their modern charm, were not particularly suitable for hauling much of anything. A nice three horse Fuller-Johnson weighing in at 640 pounds was simply out of the question even if it was suspected of having run at least once in the last 50 years. All four of us marveled at the good price (except Martin who thought we were all nuts right from the get-go), still we smiled and dreamed of another home-bound project.

This flea market is always the mother of sales for all old-stuff made of iron (Martin again noted that much of the collections were like brother Jeff and I—old and in the way)  but we prevailed and drifted through the rows and rows of things we found to be of so little value they would not even have been melted down during the most horrible of foreign wars.

Early on, we, Jeff, son Ian, and I had been attracted to a hodgepodge of metal piled on a flatbed truck. We had examined it, fondled the International M, 1.5 horse single-cylinder construct of rust that had obviously spent the better part of last century buried in mud. It had an inspirational draw, a calling if you will, asking us to bring it back to life even though it may have been better suited for an anchor for a steamship. We chatted up the owner from Iowa but initially made no indication we were actually willing to put out folding money for such a piece of Great Plains rubble. I suspect he could see the inner lusting.

We wandered off but on our swing back to our cars dropped by the flatbed from Iowa. It seemed I had brought down from my home two old water pumps from my collection and had intended on just leaving them with someone for their entertainment. It was then I realized I might be able to trade those two extremely valuable items for a reduced position on the International M. After some discourse, mostly intellectual, the owner said he could let the M go for the two pumps and $50. Martin mumbled something to the effect of, “For the love of God, man.” The rest of us, in a muted sense, felt redeemed, if not satisfied, to have instantly justified the time spent looking at incredible deals being offered up in this backyard of America—and it was only 350 pounds! What a day yard-sailing. No wonder everybody loves these outings. Sale on, or is it sail on?


“Plowing time again”

“Plowing time again.”

I was listening to Neil Young belt out “In the field of opportunity it’s plowing time again” and realized it was that time. Yah, winter was over and while there still was a remnant of snow in the parking lot pile, it was that time. It was then Tom Waits came on singing ‘Ya gotta get behind the mule in the mornin’ and plow”.

Okay, Okay I know that in this our modern times, these songs of my past life are metaphors not suggestions that I really have to get out in the fields behind some belligerent mule and prepare the land for crops. But, they are encouragements of a sort to do something, after all, life has opportunities and some drudgery—like being pushed and pulled by a stinking draft animal—or could it just be ‘the system’ that we all have to face.

So, I pondered the situation while reclining in my “self-upholstered chair’, the wing back if I recall, wanting to know just what to do with my life. Youthful spring was reaching out her warm hand calling. How would I respond?

At first light around 10:45 on an early April morn, work boots on hand, gloves fitted, worn and tucked in my pockets, I, the noble and well-meaning farmer embraced the advice to get behind the iron mule, the waiting roto-tiller.  I knew it had been well fed, so on the first pull of the ether-stimulated engine, life sprang anew and with the motion of a younger man, I stepped behind the rig and with the simple motion of the right hand nudged the whip to the beast. There was a hesitation, a hiccup, a snort of defiance as the gas-fueled, not oat-fueled, power plant spitted and chugged, then quit. After additional flogging, along with some colorful mule-skinner terminology most of it decorated with various words involving excrement and acts both socially unacceptable and physically impossible, the initiation of getting behind the plow came to a halt.

The iron monster just stood there, motionless, seeming to look back at me in disdain. Stepping back, my mind raced, or at least walked, maybe crawled, working through the pattern of behavior of this technological, but somewhat antiquated, tiller of the soil, this metal mule. Spark? Yes (it was metaphorically alive) because I could see the cute little flame come off the plug. Fuel? Seemed okay and the ether did give it a nice burst but the gasoline, the elixir of all life American, had been in the tank since last year where it could have rotted like good hay.

There was a flash of light, which is like a flash of insight, when it became apparent that a little food enhancement might be in order. I went inside next to a warm stove and poured a late morning tea to build my resolve and think like a mule. Sea Foam? Ya man, Sea Foam. It says right on the bottle that it will improve any fuel, making any engine come to life with minimal kicking and screaming. I took a huge gulp (just kidding) by essentially dumping a fine portion into the old stinking, water-filled gasoline.  

Turns out, you have to have good hay to get a mule to move. One pull on the harness and off we went looking for opportunities in our vast field of some twenty-five hundred square feet. It was plowing time again and I was behind the mule.

But, like all fields of opportunity (other than Bitcoin), that mule would take some additional handling to achieve a harvest of plenty. For the next hour or so the hooves of that jackass kicked up soil, last year’s buried chicken, remnants of sunflowers and squash vines and most interestingly some Virginia Creeper vines that managed to get entangles in the legs of the iron monster. This required some more of the aforementioned farmer talk, spiked with sailor terminology, which I learned some years ago while serving before the mast with Captain Ahab—don’t call me Ishmael.

Making agriculture life even more interesting, a few days later I developed a nasty rash. It now appears that among the Creeper vines was the vegetative remains of what is called, in the forester trade, poison ivy. The damn mule kicked it all over the place making sure some of the oil, the plague of woodland farmer, scattered ever so delicately on my person, and that would be, in the end, on places we do not want to mention in polite company.

Still, “You got to get behind the mule in the morning and plow.” because “In the field of opportunity it’s plowing time again. That garden better be damn good.  


Exploring Tree Personalities

The Grandkid said just yesterday that it appeared every maple tree seemed to have a personality of some sort. I had noticed that as he went around and gathered the buckets, he would, almost out of habit, sip the last few drops from the containers. Sometimes the weak sap would slosh over him much like I remembered having beer slosh over me while attempting to chug a pitcher. While my effort was out of juvenile misbehavior, or was it stupidity, his seemed to be more for a culinary, maybe scholarly, experience. He would pause, savor the fresh liquid, reflect as if sampling a merlot and then make a statement. “You know, every one of these trees is different. Those three red maples down in the hole at Wayne and Patti’s taste like watermelon–seriously. That one on the hill hints of walnuts. Man, Tom’s are really sweet and just pour out.”  “That one at Merlyn’s tastes weird.”

I don’t think these observations of tree personalities is confined to just him, nor just to maple trees. Interestingly though, after all the years of studying plants at school, I don’t recall any of those professors talk of tree personalities, or for that matter tree personality disorders. But who’s to say?

Now, I have had at least one individual tell me she talks to trees, in part to get their permission to, say, tap them for maple sugar sap. I have even caught myself talking to them saying things like, “If you could speak, I bet there are some stories here.” as I looked at a long horizontally extended branch that seemed to comply with myths about hanging trees. Or, “Look at you all spread out there in the thick forest of younger taller trees. What’s with that?” Then remembering the botanical teachings pontificating on open-grown burr oaks that had no competition so they simply spread out wide. They were the trademark of ancient oak openings or long-gone Wisconsin prairies. I suppose it is possible to still envision drifting buffalo under those same majestic oaks. Central Wisconsin forests are full of these huge spread out oaks left over from a time before white man.

In our casual conversations about tree personalities, I asked the kid about the one maple close to the road in front of the neighbor’s house, the one that never ran. He looked at me with slightly lifted eyes “I hate to tell you man, but you tapped a white oak. I thought you were some sort of botanist?” I had to remind him to keep a lid on that. It was then I recalled the heavy producing boxelder I tapped in Colorado only to later learn, under the stench of the boiling sap, that it was right smack over a septic tank. Mistakes are made but that is just part of rich texture of life in the sugar bush—and tree personality disorders. 

Speaking of mistakes, a week ago I was invited to sample Tom and Cindy’s grand maples in front of their home. It was a generous offer as the trees were stately, well-formed and showed no sign of mistrust. Plus, visiting them came with an opportunity to chat and even see a picture of Tom’s youthful ability to dunk a basketball. It was as if each tree or set of trees does offer more than just beauty and sweet offerings.

I rambled over in the morning, plopped out of the car, shuffled across the lawn and proceeded to punch a hole in both to find the nectar flowing in spectacular form. Tom walked up and I said, “Wow look at this thing go. “ He smiled and said, “You do know this is not my yard.” In a morning haze, I looked up and damn, it wasn’t. It was Rick and Maureen’s. Tom just smiled at my senile effort and calmly noted, “Ah, don’t worry. They left for Mexico an hour ago.” Tom’s were even better and the six taps combined boiled out seven pints of the finest light syrup of the year.

While this has not been a treatises on the nature of trees, it is an observation about our friendly, leaved friends that would indicate there may be a need at some point to seek an education, maybe a PHD on tree personalities. I can see it now, Norwegian Maple found to have multiple personalities, one featuring dark, almost purple year-long leaves and yet not self-conscious, but confident in its ability to produce a refined, almost nutty, sweet sap.  Not talkative, subtle, not invasive but forthright and suitable for front yard presentation. The grandkid may have found a calling.




This entire episode was a bit of a surprise. We had been led astray by all those days of relative warmth. Sure, there were a couple of months when clouds and sunless gloom prevailed on the walk to the woodshed but the weather was not biting, cruel, nor inhibiting. This arctic attack was an affront, not unprecedented by anyone of my age but still, a slap in the face.

It used to be this riffraff-removing weather simply was to be confronted with a fond embrace. Yes, I was told we must embrace this, stand tall, put one foot in front of the other, face to the wind and go out as if this was acceptable. It is life in the north and we are great warriors. To not take this tact was to be weak, to be soft, unfit and undeserving. The “bar full of elbows” down at the local watering hole have always said, “How can we know warmth if we have not known the cold?” I am now crying, but not publicly.

Camping in the subzero of Alaska

My itinerant son, the one living only miles from the arctic, for reasons unknown, and his charming wife have taken to the way of the Athabaskan and live, hunt and dream of nights of camping in the land frozen—- but they might say, wild and alive lands of Alaska. They send pictures to me of whiskey frozen, of tents engulfed in tundra cold. “Here old man, here is vitality, here is place to live and taste the world of a thousand years travelled by hardier men than you.” I cringed.

Damn, the whiskey froze.

I listened but try as will, what at the moment is of interest is WARMTH, the comfort of warmth, the delightful sensation of being genuinely comfortable, unhindered in any way by the bite of a winter’s day too cold for a soul like me. Yes, I do enjoy just a reminder of the fact it can be cold and uncomfortable but at this frozen moment, it is warmth I seek.

Just today, in pursuit of wood, I paused and thought of those that came before and strained to wonder if the warmth I have known ever really crept into their lives. What about the early settlers, the Native Americans, the Vikings, the cave dwellers of Europe?  Is this easily-to-obtain warmth the invention of modern man?

Because of my creeping age, it is easy to remember the days when in my grandparent’s farmhouse in Grayslake Illinois, the only room being aggressively heated was the kitchen. There are stories from Honey Creek in Sauk County of Ann’s ancestry having to put the potatoes under the bed hoping to prevent freezing in the wintertime. Ray talks of Native settlements on Sunset Lake right here in Portage County and lives they must have led. Warmth? Possibly in the summer with face to the sun on some spring morning, but winter? I just stood there for a moment in the evening asking how, how could they have known warmth? I suppose it is perspective. Maybe it was there but fleeting.

I remember leaning against our teepee at Fort Bridger in Wyoming during a fall gathering feeling the sun, hearing the sound of others chatting and dreaming. I was warm but I also remember being in the same teepee at Bents Fort in Southern Colorado for New Year’s celebration.  It was cold at six below. Still, our two thinly-clad children ran around the fire and dove into the Hudson Bay blankets. If asked, and I believe they were, they said they were indeed warm, plenty warm. Perspective I suspect.

In my return to the kitchen, the old wood-burning stove was in full heat as the grandkid had fired it up. He remarked how warm it was and sat close to it absorbing every aspect of that radiant heat. He, like me, will always remember that warmth.

In these cold winter times, this glorious warmth comes from the burning of oak, our once-regal maple and black locust. Recently in a moment of youthful reflection, the kid asked how people in eighteen-eighty living on the great plains of Kansas could stay warm when there was hardly a tree, nothing to burn. We talked of buffalo chips and corn stalks, maybe some cottonwood, sagebrush but realized reveling in warmth may not have been an option. Then came coal, then natural gas and oil, fossil fuel, the onetime endowment of solar power from those millions of years ago.

I turned my back to the kitchen stove under the smell of warm cinnamon rolls and took in the warmth knowing not everyone has had the continual access to the heat I enjoyed. We have had it all. I was thankful. If I could give any wish to a person through all of time, it would be warmth in these times of cold.

Axel the dog after a walk with our son Ian. Warmth?

A Nap with Music

Just today, I was doing research for this column titled Naps with Music. The contemplation/research (done during a light sleeping episode) was intense but a touch foggy, as I tended to drift off to grandiose images of myself actually being somebody. Prior to shifting into dreamtime, it had been my intention to mentally make a note of the pleasures that exist during a tidy nap in front of the old warm stove while in the company of soothing music. My research on this afternoon proved fleeting. I did not write anything down nor commit anything to memory—at least that I can repeat here.

Still, on my return to reality (whatever that is in these days of plagues and insurgencies) the topic was very fresh in my log-term thinking. It was there because I have always enjoyed these respites even though nothing really comes of them other than waking refreshed and sparkling with joy.

The day was perfect, overcast even more heavily than most days in the last fifty with no threat of the intruding sun. Some would say there was a gloom, maybe a pall of sorts, and no breeze. The chickadees and juncos were spending an inordinate amount of their free time casually flitting in and out of the brush pile. Many were taking a lead from me wanting to nap peacefully. 

The music choices for my anticipated naps seem to vary depending on my mood and hopes for the remaining part of the day. Seldom would I approach some eastern European concoction in D minor for fear of finding myself lost in frozen steppes of Russia or even skating across Lake Baikal in subzero weather. The music has to be inspiring and image producing. This leaves most vocal performance off limits. James Brown doing I Feel Good is appropriate for a nap wakeup but not for the power down.  

Bach Sonatas or partitas are pleasant but can be a touch nervous, maybe too many notes. Still something in D major can be refreshing, up lifting, a touch pushy, but mostly glorious. Recently, the magical tunes played on a Swedish nyckelharpa and accompanied with a Hardanger fiddle are found to be sublime, possibly because of my Swedish ancestry coming back, or is it a Viking thing. Because of my successful well-behaved sleep, I doubt the latter.

In addition to the well-chosen music, the actual initiation of nappy time has to be perfect. I like to have the woodstove warmed by oak, moderate but not hot. Importantly, the stove must be set up in such a way as to last unaltered for forty-five minutes, not rising in temperature, not cooling. Consistency in the name of the game. 

Not critical, but of value for optimal dozing, lights can be off. Now even at mid-day, this means it will almost be dark because of the aforementioned Wisconsin’s dreary clime. My personal choice for napping posture is to sprawl out on the sofa, feet extended away from davenport maybe a full three feet. This is all done while slouched in a sitting position so that as I nap my mouth gaps open but I can’t drool uncontrollably. While I find this comfortable, some tell me I look like a wounded civil war soldier taking my last ’nap’ against a fallen log. Others in the family also seem to think my breathing is affected by this position in that it seems I emit a ‘death rattle’ while flopped out in repose. Of course, this is nonsense because, in truth, I am only in metaphorical heaven.

There does have to be a little clarity here because while I am only describing my own pleasures; this activity is not for everyone. I don’t have to work. I am age challenged and have already spent 60 years working. It is also true this desire possibly might be set off by day-drinking, say a nice port at 2:00. My point being, don’t look at this as advice but simply as an anecdotal experience by someone who now has idle time, and maybe an idle mind. However, from my position of being a life coach, it can be said that an afternoon nap is a beautiful thing.

At the moment, the Midwinter Waltz is starting to play, and I’m slouching after the oak has been added to the fire. My eyes are struggling to stay open. There is no guilt.

Once awake, there will be tea, Constant Comment if I recall, a new snap in my giddy-up and just maybe the sun will return.


Rutabagas, A delightful culinary reality or famine food, or worse?

With Thanksgiving just around the corner and our larder filled with a significant poundage of rather robust rutabagas, and that means some pushing ten pounds, it seems an appropriate time to consider the fate of this root crop. For reasons unknown, this turnip variant had a year like no other, one where a Russian peasant farmer in 1910 would’ve seen himself as the savior of the continent. A few as twelve of my rutabagas could have fed his family of five, his three cows and one hog for a month. I don’t know what got into them, that would be the rutabagas, not the Russians, but they must have thought there was a famine coming.

But not one to look to ‘bagas for premonitions, but because I think of myself as a thoughtful individual, this windfall, or rootfall if you will, has to have some sort of a happy ending, or at least a genuine attempt to capitalize on this good fortune. The question is, could they be put to good use?

My wife of these many years, has for some time, viewed the act of growing “the damn” things as a waste of garden space and only useful for life styles similar to the one mentioned above or for the folks Karl Marx may have referred to as the ‘unwashed masses’. But, I have always been fascinated with them, not only for their taste in a nice beef stew, but for their willingness to grow under almost any condition. Plus, they do seem to have some nutritional value—I think.

This year the rutabagas were planted in left over places in the garden, or where other items had failed. Global climate change be damned, they took off like an Atlas missile, looking more like a redwood tree than a humble root crop. If I want to give thanks for them there has to be a justification. I don’t have pigs, nor a cow, not even a goat so just how do they stack up as a consumable crop.

It is easy to note that no one seems to grow them as they would in a giant potato field even though they would develop in great tonnage. They’re not bland like the pomme de terre (spud locally) but more dynamic, almost like a big radish. Maybe they need to be more of a platform for featuring a tasteful topping.

Ann just says, “I’ll eat a little bit of them but frankly, but I don’t need no stinking thirty pounds of famine food.” I usually remark, “Ya, they have that reputation, but could we just save them for the revolution. You know, ‘come the revolution’.” I am usually reminded to get a life, or maybe go fishing.

“Listen, we could live on this pile for weeks.” She might then reply, “Sure could—you and those three goats at Bill’s place.”

I deep-fried some, pan-fried others, stewed a small pile and even mashed them as if they were potatoes but while they did get eaten, it never got to the point where anyone will be praising them during our Thanksgiving feast.

 In a fit of desperation, I dropped a note to Eleonore, the local purveyor of tasteful exotic food, thinking she might be able to offer an intellectual discourse on the merits of this fine root crop. With a touch of history, mostly blaming Scandinavians (my people) for their introduction, her comment went like this. “Rutabaga, affectionately referred to as Swede and Snagger in the English Commonwealth, is the unfortunate lovechild between the cabbage and the turnip. Many believe this almost inedible tuber originated in Scandinavia or Russia. A Swiss botanist Gaspard Bauhin offered the first printed reference in 1620, where he notes that it was growing wild in Sweden.

 She then added,”Since childhood, rutabaga roots have brought a grimace to my face, however, in later years I have realized the leaves are quite palatable when paired with extreme hunger or a nice bottle of Scotch. These days my favorite use of the rutabaga is carving ghastly faces into them to scare away hoodlums on All Hallows Eve.”

Oh boy, It’s beginning to look like, try as I may to give them away to vegetarians, or to introduce them in to our personal diet, we will have to buy a goat, maybe a brace of odiferous Berkshire hogs, or dry them for firewood as proposed by our grandson, they will not be offered much praise at this Thanksgiving.


The Loon, Two Stories

I will ask the reader, the observer to go where you will as we relate the story of two loons. In our northern climes, these magnificent birds hold a magic of a sort. Their lonesome calls are the makings of distant stories, maybe myths not just of our times but for those that came before us in bark canoes. One can assume their wild intense beauty coupled with their strength and skills have always been a thing of legends. Are they a wishful role model, or even a metaphor? Clearly, they are our brothers and sisters in a world where we are all connected.

My story happened some years ago as we slowly passed over still water while moving through a lake on our adventure in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota. Unlike the previous day, the wind was still as we moved silently across the lake in our laden canoe. In a place like this, there was no reason to move with any urgency because the day was full, and the watery surrounds and fall-kissed landscape was teaming with life preparing for the next season. The local wild inhabitants all seemed to be moving, some storing food, others looking south, those deep in the water were hunting to fill fishy bellies with nutrition to sit out many days locked in a half torpor under the winter’s ice. Even the insects fluttered in a certain desperation needing to lay eggs to over-winter. The last swallows jetted about like small harriers snatching those same desperate insects in midflight. The sun, still warm and welcomed, had moved to the south pulling those destined to leave. We marveled at the drama of it all coasting through the fall-colored water. It was the passing of a season.

During a pause, a loon lifted quietly out of the water thirty feet to our left. Initially, I did a double take because seeing a loon so close was out of place. They are a wary bird, not one to approach a traveler’s canoe. I can remember myself saying, “What the hell are you doing here?” The elegant, possibly confused bird was unnaturally close. Almost in an instant I realized it was a young bird, maybe three quarter grown, not fully colored, but well-feathered and looking strong. It just hung there treading water, quiet. There was no frightened attempt to dive into the water. I am sure it watched us, even moving with us, not anxious to slip away.

“What’s up?” I thought, “Why are you still here? Its gonna freeze in no more than week, maybe two if you’re lucky.” I recall moving quickly, possibly raising my paddle as a way of startling the large bird. It still did not show alarm but glided through the water much as we were doing. It was then I recalled being a twelve-year-old explorer on White Sand Lake and seeing young loons in the company of their parents, spending endless hours flopping across the surface, half running, half-flying building young muscles to follow the other birds south.

Could this bird fly? Its feathers were not really fully developed, but it surely could dive and feed, but fly? I remember looking around for the adults, the ones who spent those long hours pushing and shoving these youngsters to flight. I saw none. Why was it following us? Looking, maybe asking a not-to-be answered question. My mind ran through situations and conditions wondering where this was all going. We pulled away with a few strong strokes maybe looking back thinking, “You got maybe two weeks my friend. You’re on your own. May the ice come late.”


 An acquaintance at the Necedah Wildlife Refuge had passed along a series of photos of a single loon preparing for the coming summer season. What mysteries did it have to tell as it reveled in open water still surrounded by late spring ice? Inspired by the natural dynamics of it all, my wife Ann the painter, in her way told another story.   


Staying Grounded

The Journal from the Heartland has opened up our page to our known writers to present short pieces of work that in one way or another relates to the present lock down, and shall we say isolation and solitude. They have been asked to wonder/wander about making whatever observation they might stumble on.

Alan Haney

            An observation the other morning as I looked out my breakfast window, amid continuing radio reports of the ravages and turmoil of the Covid-19 pandemic, eased my anxiety and steadied the ground on which I stand. There, on the top of the leatherwood bush beside the feeder, in brilliant sunlight, was an orchard oriole in all his splendor.  The virus, in spite of the unimaginable power and technology captured in human society, has emasculated the global economy, and caused us to cower in our homes.  Out our windows, however, nature appears unperturbed, a needed reminder that the global ecosystem operates with a wisdom beyond our understanding, but provides the steady assurance that life-sustaining rhythms  continue.

            While I am cautious about simply going to the local grocery store, the orchard oriole had arrived back in central Wisconsin, having spent nine months in his tropical home, somewhere between southern Mexico and northern Columbia, or northwest Venezuela.  There, in the humid tropics, he dined on fruit, nectar, and pollen, sometimes supplemented with insects and seeds. But how did he know when to begin his trip back to Wisconsin, where he will attempt to attract a mate and raise a family in a few brief weeks during the peak of summer. 

            Clearly, it is important that he arrive here at about the same time as others of his species who will be competing for mates and breeding habitat.  But he doesn’t want to be so early that cold weather, even late snow, prevents access to insects and flowers of maple and other early blooming trees on which he will feed until early fruits become available.

            For many species, including us, that live in temperate or polar regions, lengthening days stimulate their pituitary gland that, in turn, alters endocrine responses, including sexual activity. Anticipating spring, however, also probably involves warming temperatures, melting snow, and availability of food for species, such as birds, that do not rely on the grocery store. 

            Meanwhile, in the tropics, the orchard oriole is dining on orchid pollen, or an apricot, or maybe a hibiscus flower, only subtly affected, if at all, by the very subtle change in day length or temperature.  Moreover, why should he commit to the rigor and hazards of a thousand mile migration to a less predictable, even inhospitable climate? Orioles, as well as many other true migrants, originated in the tropics and evolved migratory behavior. Why?  The decisions about when to go,  why to do it, and how to find their way  are three profound questions underlying bird migration that have puzzled scientists for decades.  As with so much among the wonders of nature, the short answer is no one knows. Indeed, it is the mysterious in nature that provides the wonder and solace for our troubled minds 

            Research on these questions has not been completely fruitless, however.  Many species that live year-round in the higher latitudes are clearly triggered in their movements and reproductive behavior by photoperiod, temperature, and food availability.  For true migrants, such as the orchard oriole, evidence suggests that they are less affected by photoperiod, as one might expect, and, of course, we can rule out warming temperature as a trigger.  They appear to have an internal clock, an incipient rhythm, that informs them. German scientists have given the increasing restlessness preceding migration a name, zugunruhe.  This restlessness is contagious, triggering parallel behavior in other birds, at least of the same species. It is also possible that some true migrants may be triggered by star-gazing. I’ll come back to this, but first let’s consider why they migrate.

            The changing seasons at higher latitudes result in two things that are related to the reasons tropical species might migrate.  We need not remind ourselves that winters can be brutal in the north.  Living things in nature have to shut down tighter than a shopping mall during a pandemic.  Food becomes scarce.  As a result, many animals move south, and none can sustain a population level greater than that limited by winter’s extremes.  However, come spring, growing conditions permit an abundance of food, with flowering, fruiting, and insect populations rebounding all within a few weeks.  The surplus of resources, vastly exceeding what the overwintering survivors can use, has, over eons, attracted tropical species to take advantage of the surplus.  In their tropical homes, competition, and perhaps predation and disease, has limited their reproduction, but for a few weeks in the north, if they can find their way and time it right, they can bask in the surfeit, and feed their young.

            Perhaps even more of a mystery is how true migrants find their way.  Even young of some species, hatched in a northern habitat, can find their way alone to over-wintering habitat in the subtropics or tropics. Many of those young, if they survive the migration and over-winter successfully, can find their way back to their natal habitat the following year.  That’s where star-gazing fits in.  Some true migrants have been proven to orient themselves by stars.  Perhaps that’s why many migrate at night, when there is also less heat and less predation risk.  Birds also orient with the sun, and with magnetic fields. Less surprising, they also follow geographic features such as coastlines, major rivers, or mountain ranges.  Many true migrants can travel a thousand miles or more, some many thousands of miles, and find their way to the same back yard, or even the same tree where they nested six or nine months previously! 

            Seeing that orchard oriole, who probably had just arrived from Guatemala or Panama, was a wonderful reminder that the natural forces that shaped this wonderful planet are still alive and fully functioning. Our fragile, inept economy is nothing compared to the magnificence of nature. Stay safe, orchard oriole.


Down In The Lazaretto: Matt Geiger

The Journal from the Heartland has opened up our page to our known writers to present short pieces of work that in one way or another relates to the present lock down, and shall we say isolation and solitude. They have been asked to wonder/wander about making whatever observation they might stumble on.


Down In The Lazaretto:

There is an old Russian adage that people who are destined for the firing squad need not fear drowning. 

In the end, only one thing will get us, and all the thousands of other perceived threats we worried about during our rich and varied lives will ultimately fail to triumph over us. All these wolves that give pursuit will pull up short. All but one. 

     There is also a famous parable about a poor beggar covered in oozing sores, probably a leper, who grovels for scraps that fall from a rich man’s table. His name is Lazarus, and from his name comes the term “lazaretto” or “lazaret.” A lazaretto was a quarantine station for maritime travelers, an island or ship where people at the end of a long journey would be locked up in isolation for a period before rejoining the general population. The crumbling ruins of old lazarettos still stand on islands off the coasts of the many countries that had bustling ports during the Age of Exploration. 

     These days, it feels as if our homes have all been transformed into little lazarettos, into tiny islands from which we can see society but not quite walk its busy streets. In fact, these columns are starting to feel like dispatches from a weary sailor; journal entries about a voyage spent eating salted cod and swilling grog while the neck of my cabled blue sweater becomes threadbare and my beard sends out thick black tendrils as if a sea creature in search of light or land.

      I keep this in mind as I and my tiny crew make our way through each day; that this is an adventure we are on, and when we arrive at our destination, it won’t be long before we look back on this and yearn for more excitement, more voyages and lazarettos and times that defy normality. 

      I’m sure it was the same for those old explorers of the past. I’m sure they spent their voyages and their quarantines longing to return home. And I’m sure when they returned home, they longed for the adventures from which they had returned. 

     Journeys are strange things, in that way. Always terrifying in the moment, but after it is all said and done they are the thing we look back on most fondly. One time, many years ago, my future wife and I were riding with a friend who was driving to a restaurant in Boston. I knew the location, while the driver did not. It was a 40-minute ride, and it seemed like every time we approached a side street, no matter how small or how dead its end clearly was, the driver would take her foot off the gas and position her hands on the wheel as if getting ready to turn. 

“Here?” she said each time. “Do I turn here?”

“No, you can keep going straight,” I’d say. 

“How about here?” she’d quickly counter. “Right here?”

“Not yet. It’s still about 20 minutes away.”

“Left here?”


“What about Lakeman’s Lane?” 

“You can actually go straight until otherwise directed,” I said. “That might be easier than this.”

“So, turn right here?”

“You can just assume we aren’t turning until you hear something new…”

But if you don’t know where you are going, it can be hard to stay on course. 

If you are lucky enough to have read The Lord Of The Rings, you know there is only one truly sad part of the story. It is not when the hobbits and people and elves and dwarves are scared by beasts or haunted by ghosts. It is not when they are thrown into violent battle. The sad part comes at the end, when the little hobbit whose story it all is tries to return home and finds he can no longer find normality, and he must leave again. Because once you have been on adventure, you are forever changed. 

In our middle age, many of us find ourselves worrying about the various ways we change. We are not the same as we once were, and we wonder if that’s bad. But to have changed is often merely a sign you have been on an adventure, just as coming home is a sign you once left. 

As we sit here in our own little lazarettos, modern versions of old things named after a character in an even older book, we do sometimes feel the hot breath of wolves at our heals, even in our seclusion. But again, that’s just part of any good adventure, running away from things, and to them, even when you are sitting still, waiting to return to normal life.


Solitude, not Isolation

Solitude, not Isolation

Phil wrote a note the other day saying, “….there is a difference between isolation and solitude.” This set me to thinking because there were things about this shutdown adventure that were getting on my nerves. Maybe as a way of dealing with it, I needed to address some self-introspection, look around and see just how this is supposed to work, this being alone for most of the time.

Isolation has a sinister connotation, as if to say I am unclean, maybe evil, possibly diseased, or just plain undesirable. This social distancing leaves me cold, as if it is imposed by an outside force, which in the case of the Covid, I suspect it is, and that makes it very un-fun. We are being told to isolate. Without compliance, my reputation would be marred almost from a historical standpoint. A higher authority has told me what to do—but my own logic and training is also confirming this is a necessity.

Not wanting to be outcast, Phil’s mention of seeking solitude rather than isolation took on a higher meaning. For it seems solitude is almost revered as being religious, or at least spiritual as in the case of say a Gregorian Monk who chooses a life of introspection and solitude. My pursuit of being a monk disappeared years ago, actually it never occurred to me, but maybe by addressing this most recent, and present dilemma with a different mindset would be the way to get rid of all the connotations of isolation—I am not diseased, or unwashed. I do very much enjoy Gregorian chants.

With a drifting mind, Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire and Thoreau’s Walden Pond came to mind. I wondered if this slowed-down time could not be used in a positive way to enrich my disrupted life in the what was the fast lane of central Wisconsin. So, rather than calling it isolation, I would now, in grand style, embrace this biological disruption seeking insight and enrichment through solitude. This would be a self-imposed choice, not a mandatory obligation brought on by some government.

First off, there is nothing wrong with being alone, and when I say that I mean with my partner of over fifty years, but generally not with others typically found in my daily life of flitting around, but as a backyard solitaire. Leisurely, I can step outside with no particular intent, whatever goes down, goes down. I can choose to do a list of things, none of which I took time to do before. Oddly, in just standing there I’ve noticed at least four different tree frogs bleeping high up in a couple of maples, patiently hoping to attract another of their kind. The cardinals are running their pumping calls louder now because in part, other folks are not making the usual noises, but mostly because I am now taking time to really listen as if this might be the high point of the day.

In the late morning, I half-buried a half dozen fungi impregnated oak logs with great anticipation of having a summer supply of shitake mushrooms. There was no need to run off to the hair-stylist to deal with the mess on top of my head and while a Troy burger called, I simply addressed a peanut butter sandwich while sitting in the afternoon sunlight.

Because I cannot drift among friends, I am forced to take note of what is around me. I have wood to split but what’s the rush. Then, a cardinal landed on the feeder, looked me over and aggressively grabbed sunflower seeds. Minutes later, a robin, the one who eats suet, took to the feeder. The damn monstrous crow then tried to take the entire block of seed infused fat.  I yelled nevermore! This now is a feature of my life of solitude, but still I am not a mystic.

The chives are now up and looking for success. I’ve shuffled perennial flowers around and planted many annuals to accompany the birds and that family of rabbits, the ones betting on my vegetables during their days of solitude.

Little of this intimate observation, and appreciation, would I have done in the past, some, but it seems more available now, like there is new time. Maybe I am good at being a monk. There is a solitude about it. I am able to relax, and reflect on the moment. There is no rush in my solitude, and there is a limit to what I can do. I can’t just drive off to Madison for the symphony—there is no symphony. What there is right here, is now most important. I can canoe because the day is warm. I can read. Listen to bird music as if I was a backyard solitaire.  Maybe I can become a mystic.

Solitude in the arctic

I will admit it is still good that I know, as I am sure Thoreau and Abbey knew, that out there in the community are still friends and activities that will come back, or will be available once this time of solitude is over. But, if I should find that real solitude is needed, maybe I can visit my son, who in his arctic travels just sent down this photo claiming he was self-isolating—while hunting caribou.


My Mind in the Time of the Plague

      My Mind in the Time of the Plague

      You can hardly imagine the profound excitement I experienced today. It was just one of those things where, in a moment, maybe more in a prolonged tick of time, where the sheer joy of a much needed discovery showed itself like a Black Swan.

      We have been struggling through the plague, fearful of venturing out to make any contact with the unwashed masses. Each evening, we have been settling for a smaller and smaller portion of gruel fashioned from the last of the chicken scratch. It seemed the stove never cooled from the endless struggle to work the crushed, maybe bug-filled, grain in to a palatable mixture. Still, it was enough, and coupled with a few remnants of wild rice, and the last of the shriveled carrots we have maintained. But, because of our struggle for survival, this was a godsend of some measure.

     Only yesterday, I had suffered through Love in the time of Cholera and last week it was McCarthy’s The Road. Watching Road Warrior one more time may not have been a good idea but I had, in all honesty, felt I needed to prepare myself for this impending plague and the dystopian future that was sure to follow, and as near as I could tell, here in my sequestration, was already well advanced.

      It is difficult being so alone without the comforts of our lives here in the Midwest. Only yesterday, it rained with such intensity the fear of another thousand-year flood gripped us in our hovel. Where were the tornados we heard were now supposed to be crashing through in endless progressions? The thought of losing weight and having to consume down my accumulated personal storage, frightened me. The obscene idea of being thin and truly starving again was nerve rattling. I knew that squirrel from two days ago would not provide the protein we needed for long, even if there were still a few wary ones around. I had missed that dead one the dog killed the other day. My stomach was now withdrawn and grumbling in pain but I knew we still had some reserves but at this age, it all hurts. If only we could find more food.

      I had seen the neighbor’s cat creep by two days ago but the fifty caliber mussel loader was so damned noisy I didn’t want to alarm the folks across the way again. It was then I slipped into the garage to garner a little warmth when I dragged my hand through a dirt-filled, large pail, the one used to store some dahlias, just hopping I’d find a hidden carrot, anything. To my mind-boggling delight there, covered in dry soil was, what turned out to be, eight large rutabagas. Our troubles were over. One giant weighed a good two pounds and was solid as a rock—and filled with nutrition.

      I stumbled inside as best I could in my weakened state to share the news. “Look, look. Can you believe this? Rutabagas. I forgot they were there.” My head was shaking in disbelief as I held out the biggest one.

      Ann stood there, then reached for the wine bottle, a nice merlot if I recall. “I am not eating any more of your damn famine food, and Jesus, quit reading all the doom and gloom stuff.” “This is not the thirteenth century.” “And, by the way, put away the wooden wheeled cart and doing that Monty Python skit. For the love of God.”


Keep Your Distance


                This morning, I suspect late morning as time is now being shuffled, the first fragrant hint of maple nectar wafted through the kitchen. The windows steamed over as the humidity rose. The room was becoming a sauna. The wood burning stove added a touch of radiant heat and a hint of oaken smoke. It was overly warm in the room but so what. Finishing off the amber liquid, the first run, was the magical time.

                   While being outside among the trees and the returning birds has its welcomed spring-driven charm, this moment, this first scent of maturing syrup is to me is the reason we embrace this task.

                   On the first day the sap ran, a couple of sandhill cranes flew over, and a number of geese headed to the pond for a social. I also know in there somewhere I heard a robin. Walking through the uneven snow to retrieve the sap was slightly less than pleasant because of those failing ankles, but finding an overflowing bucket took away some of the pain.

                    Still, the warmth of the kitchen, and warm tea, the now sweet hint of nature’s close-to-home treasurers were the real gifts. It is easy just to sit there and breathe it in, but it is almost made better by stepping outside, filling the lungs with outside air, then, after the nasal sensors have been cleansed, walk back in to be hit with that intensity.

                    I know it is a childhood thing going back to Sauk City when I was six. The old man took us to a sugar bush, unbeknownst to us, and there covered in steam, was an engine with fire. But in that engine was this fragrant liquid and when poured on the snow it became candy. Strange, I suppose for a kid who hardly knew what a maple tree was, much less what lay hidden in its veins. It was there that this ‘edible’ fragrance was embedded in my growing brain. Do you suppose my parents deliberately did that knowing it would stay? I now wish I had the opportunity to ask them. But, I do suspect I know.

                   As the syrup bubbles and the steam lifts away the water, the intensity of this batch revealed itself much like each rendering does. This one is stronger than some because in one of my distractions outside, I failed to notice a back corner of the pan had been exposed and damn if it didn’t burn. Sure, the scent was in the air, and it almost hinted of candy, but slightly burned. The minute unheated sap was added, the batch sizzled but the developing syrup was now darker. Just the trials and tribulations, I thought, and moved on, embarrassed and defiant.

                    In a mind-drifting moment, I heard in the other room a song playing, not the classical incantation of a morning choice, or a tragic country song, but a light, melodic, upbeat tune called Keep Your Distance.  In a moment of awakening, I remembered we are now in a time of ‘social distancing’.  While I commonly work my meager eight-tree sugar bush alone, it dawned on me that my yearly visitation to the Sapp Brother’s sugar shack was probably not to be. This trio of comrades, the one bound by blood to harvest the maple’s bounty in spring’s awaking, may well be off limits. There was no room for six feet of separation. 

          It registered that while this act of touching nature close was also a time to be humans and celebrate this time as friends.

       After listening to the song about keeping my distance, meaning not going to the grocery either, it wasn’t difficult to imagine a couple of months down the line. Would I be grinding hen scratch for gruel, hunting wild spring greens, finding the beer gone! Then, there was the whisky that had arrived in a velvet cozy looking ever so regal but when examined proved to be in a plastic bottle and just reeked of dump grade.

As I reflected under the pall of keeping my distance, it occurred to me that while sitting tight and working on my memoirs for the third time was an opportunity to ‘find’ myself, but being without friends was going to be a real hardship, maybe the hardest I have ever faced. How about those long distant kids?   

     About the time, these desperate thoughts were rattling through my head, our son sent down a short piece written only a few days ago by a writer friend Seth Kantner, who had grown up in a sod hut close to the Beauport Sea above the Arctic Circle. Seth’s existence was the life of an Eskimo, frequently alone in a frozen land. While recently thinking of today’s plight, he wrote, “And any visitor was extremely valuable, and exciting. Animals like moose and wolves and stuff were normal, but people were extremely valuable because there weren’t very many. Down through the years I never have had much luck explaining that lack to anyone. I think some old people, lonely and alone, understand completely. Mostly I just gave up trying to explain what it’s been like for me to spend extended periods not able to or just not interacting with other humans–for one reason or another. Often it’s not been easy. Sometimes it’s been illuminating, and I have felt nature, all so busy around me. Sometimes it’s been very tough. Tough doesn’t mean bad, though. That’s a confusion nowadays. Tough means tough. Now, I’m kind of wondering how it’s going out there in America for “normal” people, most who have always had quite a lot of humans in their days”.   

Seth Kantner wrote Ordinary Wolves and Shopping for Porcupines.


Thanksgiving from Wisconsin

 There we were on the traditional Thanksgiving, a day when I’m not totally sure I’ve always been appreciative. Maybe because I was disgusted with the politics of the day, or because we are making such a mess of the planet, or because I was going through manapause, or I didn’t even see a deer while I hunted/slept in the woods. It just seems that at times, the world slips by and some important aspects of our daily lives go unnoticed or I take things for granite. We are Americans, and we, at times think what we have, has always been and always will be. So why get all sappy about giving thanks?

It’s true the meaning of this holiday is historically probably up for grabs because when researchers get to pushing and shoving there well may be some discrepancy as to the veracity of it all. Certainly, the Native Americans have another take and even if we could get a direct interview of the first invaders/settlers the details might look very different.

All that aside (which is our modern tendency), I figured I’d pause, really pause with the basic question of, “Just what do we have?” Because most of this material wealth is just embraced with little thought, hardly with even a whisper of appreciation, I thought I’d go beyond the manifestations of industrial society, the contraptions, the devices of pleasure, the massive recreational toys, the huge warm houses and pets, some of whom have their own insurance policy and savings accounts, and get serious.

I paused while marveling these material gifts, realizing the vast majority of the people living on this planet don’t have any of those things. When I say that, I don’t mean just the poor people of the earth, the unwashed masses, I mean almost all people. In Europe, we noticed homes were much smaller, there were no SUVs, no four-wheelers, no pickup trucks and on and on. Even the refrigerators and wash machines were much smaller and people simply walked everywhere.

But, I want to take it farther than those things, and mind you they are to be marveled, but there is in my country bumpkin mind, something else I’ve noted and while it’s not material, it’s a local wealth found almost nowhere else on the world—and not even commonly in this country.

When I say these things, it’s not that I want every reader to immediately tell others for what we have is ours because, unlike much of the world, there are few of us here.

So, as I paused this Thanksgiving in quiet appreciation, and here is what I realized.

On any quiet evening, my wife and I can walk three blocks and slip our canoe silently into the local pond gliding over peaceful water while watching the bald eagle grab a hapless fish of the surface. To the west, see a kingfisher make his noisy flight while a muskrat dips into his mounded rush home. There are graceful insects swooping and mayflies skipping, turning. To the north, a fish of some size jumps and the smell of the river, cool and comforting, roles over the canoe. We are alone on most evenings and the sound of the our small village disappear as the geese take over. This is a gift—and only part of that river’s gift.

Within a few minutes from our home, we can be on the shore of a pristine lake where a family of loons is trying out the new wings of the young, where huge frogs croak the calls of reptilian love, where the stately white pines lean away from the winter winds and leave perches for the green herons. Our friends laugh and, to a person, know the gift.

The roads about the countryside are less travelled and make pathways for cycling and the trails of the ice age paths are surrounded by hidden potholes left by glaciers, and even the uninitiated can count a dozen bird species with little effort. Along the water’s edge are the cardinal flowers, the Joe Pye weed, and native iris. 

The forests are inviting, and unlike most places in the world, and I mean world, I can take my old Wingmaster shotgun and hunt for wild game as it were a right and not a privilege. In France, I asked if a person could harvest a wild hog that was tearing up the town. I was looked on as a naive American because only the privileged could “hunt” the swine. At the same location it was not difficult to notice that the native vegetation was gone, consumed centuries ago by goats, wars and the trampling of human feet. No songbirds, no insects, probably no fungus. Here, we still have this flow of rich natural wealth.

Not to go unmentioned, is the community where I can purchase all of our needs, an artesian loaf of bread, a hot tea, or virtually any piece of hardware I might need. A medical clinic is within walking, as is a grocery where the folks are friendly and the prices right. Why, the mortuary is only two blocks away and while waiting to go there, I can hoist one of the finest brews in the land. I ask, How many places in this world can a person have all of that? And, this is just a very partial list. Where else? So I lift a glass and give thanks while listening to the graceful, but simply powerful  tune, called the “Heart of the Heartland”.

We hold in our hands earth’s gifts.

It is not as if they can be truly held.

They can be seen, felt, touched, shown to others.

But in the end, they are cast unto the stars,

then to other times, hopefully unaltered by those same hands that held.


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.  


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.


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.  




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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.




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.



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



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.


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.


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.




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.








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.




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.



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.


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.)

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.


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.


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.






Befuddled—–Board Games and Life

By Matt Geiger


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.



The Poet From Ireland


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.



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
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
1/2 cup heavy cream

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.