Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Email to My Editor

Teresa and I are in Tennessee visiting her sister and her husband. Faith and Aaron moved here 20 years ago to be close to their kids. 

  I'm going to make a fool of myself here with my snap judgments of the South but you're used to me doing that. 
We are in the middle South, in the little town of Gibson which is just a few miles from the much bigger town of Humboldt, and the much bigger city of Jackson.
Spring is in the air, the birds are chirping, the blossoms hang white or purple... it's nice. We had freeway or four lane highway all the way to within 20 miles of Faith's. This last stretch was quite 
narrow, a step back into the old South. Traffic was light as we buzzed past viarious architectural styles: classic high pitched cabins, small brick ramblers, kudzu covered trailers...the Skime of the South. The road was up and down and curvy, little chance to pass. Wetlands, pastures, small tillages. Not the magaculture like up in Missouri. 
 After lunch Teresa asked Faith if there were places to walk nearby. "Only if y'all hope to be cut down in the prime of your life," Faith said. "The road is narrow and the ditch is deep. Now why don't you just relax here and have a nice gin and tonic." Teresa opted for a glass of warm wine, but once her wine was gone she still wanted a walk. Faith said "OK, chile, how about I give you a tour of the area and then we'll stop by the liquor store for some Guinness."  Faith is making corned beef and cabbage and we're having a late St Paddy's Day celebration. What a great sister in law!
 So we take this tour of the area. I'm driving. Just one g. and t. under my belt. "Now what t have to understand about the South," Faith says, "is you'll see a mansion next to a trailer house. It's part of southern gentility. You don't want to put yourself above your neighbor. I thought it would hurt property values, but people here told me, 'No, we don't mind having a mansion next to our trailer house.'" 
Faith pointed out a collection of yellow brick ramblers built in the sixties. The houses were shaded by mature trees on hilly plots. Some were well kept, others obviously abandoned. "Gibson Country is depressed," Faith said.  She pointed to one, a burnt-out shell. "That was because of a boy who lacked parental guidance."  I thought I saw movement inside, but it was just the wind.

Sent from the Road

Friday, March 17, 2017

Care Befull

  If you're not careful you will fall eventually. The Romans knew that. The Latin verb for an unforeseen happening is accidere. And they went on to have the biggest fall of all time. The websites for the ageing say that you're going to slip in the shower or doze off while driving, etc., etc. These things will happen but you can work around them. Munch on candy as you drive. Wear your boots in the shower. But you can't remove all risk if you intend to have fun. Go to Europe! Go to Laos, or Machu Picchu! Just be back in your hotel pub before the youth gangs begin to prowl.

The Accident

 Listening to people's ailments makes me ill, in sympathy, so I'll keep this short. Last Sunday we were out walking on the perfectly smooth river ice. During the thaw two weeks ago, the river came up and the ice went out. Then the temps dropped to zero and the surface froze. Beautiful! But as the water ran out, the ice began to collapse to it's normal depth of one foot. To get onto the river you had to climb or slide down a sharply angled ice floe. This is where members of the party started to fall; nothing worse than a whacked funny bone for we were padded against the cold. When we reached the bridge we began turning over the floes by the shore, marveling at the patterns formed by the river on their undersides.
  At last it was time for hot chocolate by the warm stove. When I stepped onto the ice in the ditch, the goddess of gravity grabbed my ankles and thumped me on my back like a freshly caught halibut. My companions gathered round and helped me to my feet. I hadn't hit my head and my limbs still worked, but my inner works were all ajangle. My lungs felt too flat to take in air. My voice was thin and wheezy. My spine felt fine but the affiliated ribs were not happy.
  Once back home, I popped a couple of pills and sat quietly and thought of people in car crashes and running backs blindsided. I thought too of soldiers and hand grenades until I convinced myself things could be worse. I had promised to grill that evening, and a glass of wine settled the shaking in my hands. Matt fired up the coals and supper was served on time.
  By coincidence, I had a physical scheduled for later in the week. The doctor said I'd be fine. He told me he was in the middle of inventing boots with studs that would retract into the soles when you went inside so you didn't tear up the floor. I told him to put me on his list.

Beneath the floes. Beautiful, cold; indifferent to you.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Open Road

  Toad of Toad Hall loved the open road. He described it thus: "Here today, up and off to somewhere else tomorrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that's always changing! But Toad wanted to travel in a gigantic horse drawn gypsy cart. I prefer to travel with a toothbrush and a change of underwear, relying on public transit and the kindness of strangers. The idea of life in an RV gives me the fantods. A ride in a semi-trailer truck from point A to B with no strings attached would be a different matter. My mother told me my first sentence was "Big, big truck," and I've been fascinated with the big rigs ever since, with no desire to get behind the wheel. I've watched the trucks pass a half mile to the east of our place for over forty years. I can tell which are loaded by the vibrations passing from the cracked highway, through the open field, and into my couch.
  Last winter I convinced my editor to join me in a truck count in Roseau. For several hours we sat just south of town counting the trucks that came and went, following the occasional one to see where in town it went. If you know my editor, Mr. Steve Reynolds, you know this was more interesting than it sounds. But it was a bust because Polaris, the town's largest employer, was closed just then for its winter lay-off, so truck traffic was way off. Nevertheless, I published my findings in The Raven.
  Soon after, my friend Bob Aronson called. Bob drives for Byfuglien Trucking. He had seen my story and wondered if I'd like to ride along on his daily run. Bob picks up parts for Polaris in Bagley 100 miles to the south, and is back home by mid-afternoon. "Of course!" I replied. As life whirls towards its end. it's good to be checking things off your bucket list. I imagine this list as slips of paper in an actual bucket. Mine is full to overflowing.
  Bob picked me up in Wannaska on a cool and sunny March morning not long ago. I was wearing my work boots rather than my usual sneakers. I had my mug of coffee and a couple of muffins. You never know what can happen when you leave home. Do you know why they call the big trucks semis? I looked this up. It's because the trailer has wheels only at the rear. If it had wheels at the front end too, it would be a trailer, but it doesn't, so it's a semi-trailer, pulled by a tractor. But not a farm tractor, though it will have the same engine used in farm tractors. Whew! I'll call the tractor the truck from now on.
  Bob's International truck looked brand new to me, but he said it was a 2011 model with over 700,000 miles on it. He keeps the truck at his home just east of Roseau. Every morning, Monday through Friday, he runs over to Polaris and picks up his empty trailer then heads for Team Industries in Bagley to pick up transmissions and differentials for Polaris's ATV products. "People ask if I don't get bored driving the same route," Bob says, "but I don't. I see something different every day." Driving semi is Bob's retirement job. After 33 years in Polaris's engineering department, Bob felt the need to keep doing something useful. Byfuglien Trucking had him shuttle trucks around Roseau for awhile before putting him on a day route, first to Detroit Lakes and now to Bagley.
  I had always wondered how smooth the ride would be, after all you're sitting directly above the engine. My seat was comfortable and the cab seemed well insulated, but I did feel every bump. Bob knew all the bad bumps and slowed before we reached them. I was also aware of the powerful engine beneath my feet and was glad I had my hearing aids cranked up to catch Bob's conversation. He had grown up in my neighborhood and I learned much interesting area history. Twenty years ago we bought a piece of land that Bob's father had once owned. There was a rusty old truck body on the land and Bob told me who put it there. Bob also told me of two old bachelors who had lived one after the other in flimsy shacks on this piece of land. I did not know that. There is no trace whatsoever of those shacks.
  It's a cliché that you see more from the cab of a truck. I have driven this road to Bagley many dozens of times, but today I could see the hills beyond the hills. What a pleasant way to see the world. We arrived at the loading dock before eleven. Bob opened the trailer doors and pulled a lock pin that held the gang of rear axles in place. From the cab, he was able to move the rear axles to the very back of the trailer. This made the trailer more stable for the fork lift loading the heavy pallets of transmissions onto the trailer. Twenty minutes later, Bob pulled away from the dock, closed the doors and moved the axles forward. The further forward the axles, the tighter the turning radius for the whole rig. I never thought of that before.
  We drove over to the new Cenex truck stop and had lunch. Warm sunshine poured through the big south windows. On Thursdays Bob picks up print jobs for Polaris at Richards Printing in Gonvick. Today was a Thursday so Bob asked the foreman to give us a tour of the shop. They had printing machines costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I was intrigued by the obsolete machines here and there that they keep running for the odd customer who still wants things done the old way. That is so sympatico.
  Bob had me back to my car by 2:15. Yes, I do love the open road. I'm willing to sleep in a hostel or even a frightening bus station if necessary, but there's nothing like my own couch when the approaching nap alert begins its gentle dinging.

Rush hour on the Gully Road


Monday, February 27, 2017


  They say all the trouble in the world is caused by man's inability to sit quietly in his room. That's true, but even the greatest mystic has to stand up and stretch now and then. On Saturday Teresa went to the annual Fiber Fest in Bemidji with her good friend Sue. I hadn't been on a jaunt with Steve for awhile, so I called him from my room.  He was sitting quietly in his room staying out of trouble but said he was up for a ride in the country.  I asked him to pick the destination. He thought it over and named Flom. He said he would call his friend Lyle and get us an invitation for lunch. Now Flom truly is in the middle, not of nowhere, but of little traveled country. The citizens of Flom love the place but there are not enough of them to make an impact on the world. At least when I try to tell people where we live I can say we're right below that little smokestack on the top of America. If they don't get it, I draw a  map in the dust and that always jogs their memory.  But Flom is hard to visualize, located 36 miles northeast of Fargo and just west of the White Earth Reservation. Most little towns hug the highway but Flom is set back a mile from the east-west Highway 113.
  Flom is 127 miles mostly south and some west of Palmville so we would not be able to explore much if we were going to make our noonish arrival. The big atlas said we'd have to do some backtracking to reach Flom but the more finely grained gazeteer showed the gravel roads we could zig and zag on to save miles. This part of the state is mostly low hills with winding streams cutting deeply through the hills. We would drop into these heavily wooded ravines noting the old farm buildings sinking back into the earth. It takes many fewer farmers to work the land now than it did even fifty years ago. The gazeteer does not conform exactly to reality and we tend to get a little lost when taking a short cut.
  Lyle's wife Margit was stirring a pot of what I assumed was soup when we arrived. Lyle is a jolly fellow and a good story teller and gave us coffee as Margit continued stirring. The soup turned out to be rømmegrøt, a Norwegian milk and flour pudding. You pour sugar and cinnamon and butter on it and eat it before your meal. It's delicious and after a couple of bowls you don't  really need a lunch, but I ate a couple of sandwiches to be polite. Lyle and Margit believe that if you put pictures in an album, you'll never look at them, so they've dedicated themselves to covering every inch of their walls with things to look at. They were stymied at first by the sloping walls upstairs, but the discovery of a stickum product allowed them to empty a couple of more albums. After a tour of their house you realize that even the most empty seeming country has a deep history.
  We left Flom around two p.m. knowing we'd have time to wander the countryside. You always see interesting things even in tourist-free zones. Just a few miles down the road from Flom we spotted an unmistakable silhouette. Yes, yes, it was Bigfoot!  What was Bigfoot doing here in farm country? He usually lurks among the lakes and forests to the east. Maybe he just felt the need to get out and about, like Steve and me. He froze as we approached. He didn't dare cross the road, and now people were coming out of the house behind him. I was able to get a great pic with my phone but felt bad invading his privacy. As we drove away, the people in the house were taking pot shots at him, but it would take a lot more than a gun to kill Bigfoot.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

We're a Four Remote Family Now

  The last technological breakthrough I was fully on top of was the videocassette recorder. And that was because I had a burning desire to master this alien technology. I loved movies and always dreamed of having my own film library. No more waiting for the art-house theater to bring back my favorites. Just being able to go to the video store and pay a couple of bucks to rent a cassette was magical. Next I bought a shoulder busting VCR camera to record the antics of our kids. By hooking the video camera to the VCR I was even able to edit my films. This was the height of my expertise.
  But technology moved on as it always does and left me and my glory days behind. Video cameras got much smaller, but I already had enough videos of the kids. I never watched them so why make more? Then came DVDs.  I felt no need to adopt this new way. The video store had a cassette for every disc they rented. But my friend Steve, pitying me, gave me a DVD player. But I was not messing with all those strange cables. A high school friend got it up and running. Now the problem was in coordinating three remotes to go from TV to DVD. It was not all that complicated, but movies by now had lost their allure and between screenings I would forget the remote drill and have to spend several minutes pushing buttons before I could get the bloody thing to work. And God help me getting back to TV mode after the film.
  And then came Blu-Ray. I ask you, is Blu-Ray enough of an advance to justify getting a new machine? No I say . Blu-Ray is creepy looking. But Steve, God love him, gave me a Blu-Ray player. That was three years ago. I would need a thing called a HDMI cable to hook it up. The old DVD player was still working fine. Every Blu-Ray film is also available in the old format. I dragged my feet. Every so often Steve or more especially his movie-mad wife would ask if I had gotten that Blu-Ray player going yet. It was embarrassing, but I could take it.
  It took Bill Bryson to get me off my butt. He wrote a book called "A Walk in the Woods" which we loved. Last year Robert Redford turned the book into a movie. Jackie bought a used copy of the film and offered it to us. "But it's Blu-Ray," she taunted. Teresa said, "Either hook that thing up, or give them back the player." "OK, OK, give me a break." I dug the player and remote out of its box. It was tiny compared to my other gear. "I'll have to order a HDMI cable," I thought. I pulled out my TV to make sure there was a place to plug in the cable and son of a biscuit if there wasn't a cable already plugged into the TV. "Hmmm. Where did that come from?" All sorts of sorcery can happen in three years.  I plugged in the unit and turned on the TV. It started searching for Wi-Fi. It found Wi-Fi. Teresa was watching now. The screen said we were ready to watch movies or Netflix. "Netflix!" Teresa said. "You mean I could have been watching Netflix on the TV all these years instead of on my laptop!"
  "Let's be positive here," I said.
  I felt pretty darn proud of myself until later that evening when trouble arose. I had just constructed a beautiful strawberry shortcake and was about to chow down when Teresa called, "The TV's not working here." She was right. There was no signal from the Dish Network. I have called the Dish Network for help in the past. You don't want to do that. It's a killer. There was a black cloud over my shortcake, but it helped me think as I spooned it down. "Eureka!" I may have shouted. I surmised that when I pulled the TV out that morning, I may have dislodged something in the rat's nest behind the entertainment shrine. Everything that's plugged into the TV looked fine. I began tracing down all the lines. Aha, the connector to the Dish receiver had come out. We were soon enjoying our nightly ration of TV drivel. And the next night we watched "A Walk in the Woods." The book was way better.

Monday, February 20, 2017

More Bang for Your Box

  There was a news story during the holidays about thieves driving around the suburbs stealing packages from porches. Some people put cameras on their porches but it was tough to ID the crooks. Some people put fake packages on their porches with wiz-bang bombs inside. The camera caught the thief running back to his or her car with pants soiled, but otherwise unhurt.
  I think this is a bad idea. One of these people will have a heart attack and die. Well deserved you may say, but consider the heirs. Their lawyer will get his or her hands on the video and soon the thief's ne'er-do-well family will be living in the victim's house.
  I don't know what the solution is.  Living in the country, I don't have to worry about packages being stolen off our porch. In fact, the UPS guy usually puts the package inside the door which we leave unlocked. My city friends say I should not announce on my blog that my door is unlocked or even say that I'm on vacation. Well what good is a vacation if you can't boast to your friends about it on Facebook. I know my friends would not rob me, but there's the problem of Facebook creepers. These people roam from page to page for hours at a time (I did it for 20 minutes once. Fascinating). They can't read my posts, but they can see from my pics that I'm in some locale less exotic than Wannaska.
  But I don't worry about creepers either, because we live across the road from the Roseau County Rottweiler Academy.  The dogs sometimes chew through their fence and end up at our place. The dogs love us because we give them smoked squirrel parts. Anyone they find here who is not us, they search for squirrel parts until they find them.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

White Dog Ghost Dog

 Just finished a week babysitting in Boston. In Marshfield really. My son and his wife were having a bit of trouble finding day care for the evenings. Joe works on a tugboat and is gone two weeks a month. Ashley manages a restaurant and must work three evenings a week. We offered to help out if they were desperate and they took us up on it.
  I am always up for a good road trip and Boston is on the top of my list since three of my siblings live there. So in a seven day period I would be on duty for about 30 hours. That would leave 138 hrs to party. That sounds so juvenile but there you have it. As much as I love my grandkids, the icing on the cake was the Patriots win, their spectacular comeback win in the Super Bowl. Rumor has it Trump had a hand in this thanks to Secret Executive Order X, but I'm willing to swallow my pride this once. So I get there and everyone goes to bed. I felt the dogs should be let out at midnight before I turned in. The male always stays around, but the female takes off, so she has to have a rope on. She seemed so desconsolate that I decided to let her out without the rope. When she drifted into the neighbor's yard I knew I had made a mistake. I tried to ease up on her but she kept just out of my reach. She was toying with me so I decided to play along. It was foggy and I got a little nervous whenever she faded into the odd patch of woods. I learned where the expression whistling in the dark comes from. There was no traffic. No wind, but I was glad to have my hat and heavy coat. I could hear the surf. There was a big storm brewing. I was very lost. The dog was heading further from home. I turned us toward the surf and a black street leading to the beach. It was a test of wills and she yielded. After that it seemed we were heading towards home with many side trips. She led the way home and was glad to get into her bed. I myself had work to do.