Saturday, June 10, 2017

Training for My Half Half Half Half Marathon

  As a kid, driving with my father along Boston's Emerald Necklace, we'd spot a guy dressed in short shorts and a tee jogging along in his own little world. It was always a skinny, long-legged  guy. Even in winter, the only addition would be gloves and a cap. "He's training for the Boston Marathon," my father would explain. My father had run track in high school and respected these guys. Back then only a few hundred runners entered the marathon and Boston's was one of a handful in the world. Now every little burg in the country has it's 5K race in which thousands of duffers puff along.
  My parents later moved to Sunset Point in Hull and my father would sit in the porch and watch the stream of joggers. He'd just chuckle and shake his head. "Crazy." I remember talking to him on the phone one time when he was around 80. He was exhausted. He had just dropped his car off at the shop and walked the mile home . "Maybe that exercise thing wouldn't be such a bad idea," he said. A few years later he was out for a row when the oars slipped out of the oarlocks and he landed on his back in the bottom of the boat. He could not pull himself up. A passing boat towed him to shore and helped to his feet. He was fine, but he knew for sure mortality was creeping up.
  That was when I started going to the gym at work. The experts said three times per week for half an hour on the treadmill was enough.  But after I retired it got harder to get to the gym. I began to backslide until I read an article saying four minutes of intense exercise every day was enough to avoid Kafkaesque scenarios. Even a brisk walk qualified. So a month ago I started getting up at dawn. The bridge on County Road 8 is exactly four minutes away. Once there I could gaze at the river while my heart rate returned to normal. After a couple of weeks I started to jog home. That's when the lactic acid hit the fan. I could barely get to the neighbor's mailbox. But everyday I pushed myself a bit further. I fell into a comfortable lope. My body found its incredible lightness of being. I can make it all the way home now, about a quarter of a mile. Will I push on? It's kind of addicting. If I can get to one mile, why not five or twenty-six? I know about all the diet and exercise gurus who died while jogging, but at least they died happy. Did you know that the only animal that can run long distances without a rest is homo sapiens. I'm one of those. I need a mantra: You can't make your dreams come true on your back. The best guru is you. I could create my own brand of cereal. I just need a catchy name and some wild hickory nuts.
Run Joe, Run

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Cliffs of Less

  Steve's wife Jackie told us about a road through the wild country south of Lake of the Woods. She said the road followed the Rapid River and for part of the route there were cliffs above the road and below it too, down to the river. Northwest Minnesota is mostly flat and boggy. There are incidental hills in these parts but I've never seen a Rocky Mountain style cliff around here. Rationally I knew Jackie's memories were improbable, but my imagination wanted the cliffs to be real.
  We were due for a sketching party. Many years ago Steve, our friend Marion Solom, and I took drawing classes from Marv Espe at Roseau High School on winter nights. In the past few years the three of us plus Jackie have started going on annual sketching parties. We'll pack a lunch and our art supplies and head for a scenic overlook within a 100 mile radius of home.  Jackie's cliffs sounded like the perfect venue.
  Last Wednesday was a great day for sketching: blue sky, 70 degrees, and most importantly, the mosquitoes were not yet out. We drove south to Grygla. I filled the tank (thanks Steve) and we headed east to Fourtown before turning north on the gravel. The Rapid River has it's source around here. The rest of our trip was in an easterly and northerly direction, our goal being the tiny town of Clementson on the Rainy River which forms the boundary between the U.S. and Canada. The gravel road grew narrow and bumpy befitting a trip into the outback. This was state forest land with occasional parcels of the Red Lake Indian Reservation larded in. The country kept switching from marshes of willow and tamarack to dark forests of aspen and black spruce. My phone switched from AT&T to No Service. We picked up the Rapid River. It was no more than waist deep and 20 feet across. Lethargic River would be a better name. The road turned into a grassy one lane track as it twisted and turned with the river. We were well on our way when I regretted not bringing my bow saw. A bow saw would be handy for removing any blowdowns across the road.  I consoled myself with the thought that there had not been any recent windstorms. A good blowdown would force our retreat to Grygla and disappointment. I was also happy it hadn't rained lately. Judging by the deep ruts, the road could get snotty when wet.
  Since I like to worry, I began to consider the age of my vehicle (11 years). In it's near two hundred thousand miles, my Corolla has never let me down. But if one of its crucial systems chanced to fail today, I'd have a long hike back to civilization. Traffic had been extremely light this morning.
  Jackie meanwhile was racking her brains wondering where her cliffs had gotten to. Any of us who has reached the age of seventy has had a number of personas. One of Jackie's was as owner of a supper club in Goodridge MN of all places. "Gooddidge," the locals call it. Her friends used to take her out along the Rapid to hunt. She'd be left alone with a gun and instructions to shoot any deer and pay no mind to the panic attacks. On nice days, these friends and she would continue on to the lodge at Waskish on Upper Red Lake. Jackie had four young kids at the time and she remembered how scared they were at the sight of those cliffs.  "Maybe the cliffs were along some other road to the river," she reasoned.  We stopped along the river for coffee and the muffins Teresa made before she kissed me good by. I hated to turn off the engine, but figured we could jump start the car if the starter failed. And there was plenty of water in the river should the engine overheat. We'd survive one way or the other. Jackie put a souvenir boulder in the trunk.
  The road left the river and straightened out, then found it again and turned curvy. Top speed was 25 for several miles. The sun rose towards it's zenith. Marion in the back seat said she was enjoying her holiday. After thirty-four miles of this we emerged into farm country south of Clementson. We hadn't seen a single vehicle along the river. A few miles later we were at the picnic area by Clementson, one of the prettiest spots in northwest Minnesota. And here at last were cliffs. Not Jackie's cliffs, but the spot where  the Rapid drops twenty feet into the Rainy. In thousands of years the river has cut  through the black rock of the Canadian Shield, tumbling boulders into the pools below. Several white pelicans sat in the pools and on the rocks catching fish.
Yellow part is Terra Canada
  After a quick lunch we settled down to sketch. A strong wind blew up from the gorge. The sun beat down. I drew rocks and pelicans and after awhile just watched. I think everyone else did the same. Steve wandered around taking pictures. I checked off another successful sketching party.
Total mileage on the day: 210 miles.
My sketch

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Raise High The Bumpers, Boys

  My brother's wooden bumper came to our place in the summer of 1978.  Bill had driven his 1966 VW out to Minnesota to visit us. He was living on an island in Maine, renting an old one room schoolhouse and making his living digging clams. He kept his car on the pier in the town of Stonington. The car had electrical problems. Sometimes it wouldn't start. If he could get it rolling he could jump start it. Once running, it would not stop till he turned off the key. He told of having to recruit bystanders to help get the car moving in the morning. He always tried to park on a hill.
  When Bill bought the car it lacked a front bumper. He found a nice piece of oak, cut a small heart out of the center and bolted it in place,
  Bill stayed with us for a couple of weeks and headed back to Maine on a cool. cloudy weekday morning. A couple of hours after he left, I got a call from a UPS driver. He had come across Bill, broken down near the south edge of the Red Lake Indian Reservation. He had blown a cylinder. I strapped our one year old son into his car seat and headed south. Bill was in fairly good spirits when I found him. After all, this could have happened in Ohio. I towed Bill back to Wannaska with a long length of rope. There were no VW mechanics in Roseau so Bill bought an old Ford sedan. We took the engine out of VW and put it his trunk. The plan was for him to get the engine repaired back east then reinstall it in his VW and start for home again.
  Well he never did get the engine repaired and so the VW sat in the backyard to be mowed around for several years. He said I could do whatever I wanted with the car, but asked me to save the oak bumper. The church in Wannaska held fund raising auctions for a few years. People donated stuff they didn't want. I submitted an index card with information about Bill's VW declaring the lack of an engine. I was surprised when someone bid a dollar for the car. Oh, the car also lacked front axles. I had let a friend cut them off for a log splitter. I was gratified when the new owner arrived with a trailer to haul Bill's car away. Off course I had already unbolted the bumper and stored it in the garage.
  We visited the family out east every year but our car was too small to accommodate the bumper. Bill finally visited again two years ago. I showed him the bumper. He had flown out and did not want to pay to check the bumper.  We drove to Boston last year. I asked Bill if I should bring the bumper. "No," he said. "You can keep it. We recently built a fence around our garden. The deer have been getting bad. We found the perfect place for Bill's bumper. He approved.

The sky is lovely, dark and deep

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

England Forever

  In high school I read an essay by an American living in England. He wrote of the Brit's cockeyed view of America. He was smug about his own knowledge of British geography so he challenged a friend to draw a map of the U.S. The result was ludicrous. Texas was up in Canada. Chicago was a state of its own.
  Now that I'm going to England myself, I realize I don't know Jack about where things are over there. I've read many English novels and never have known exactly where Oxford was, or Cambridge. I recently started reading a history of Great Britain. First the Celts pushed out a people we don't know much about. The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes pushed the Celts over to Wales and Ireland and up to Scotland. They still don't get along. The Vikings came down and plundered for a few centuries then went back. The French came next, or Normans, call them what you will. England's a bloody mess, no doubt about it. Oh, I forgot the Romans. They came for a few centuries too, then went away and left ruins.
  The Romans called the whole place Britannia. In later years the country was divided into places like Northumbria, East Anglia, York, Wessex, the Land of the Five Boroughs, etc., etc.  I haven't gotten to the part about how the present day counties or shires got their names. No matter. When I'm sitting in an English pub this fall and one of the locals says to me "So you voted for that fat bleeder did you." I'll say, "No, I did not." "Prove it," he'll say. "Give me a blank map of the English counties or shires or whatever you call them." He'll call to the publican and in a few minutes I'll have my blank outline map. I'll fill in the blanks, slowly, as his jaw drops.  I'll make a couple of mistakes, put Oxford where Cambridge goes, just so he can feel slightly superior.
  And that's how Anglo-American relations will muddle through.

Counties with attitude


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Wave

  A woman told me recently that her husband waves at every vehicle he passes. She says it's his way of offering loving kindness. If he did this in New York or Chicago, he'd soon be chased down and dragged from his car. Some people can't stand love.
  But up here where you can go for miles without seeing another vehicle, you can wave away without incident. It's like saying hi to people you meet out on the trail. In the woods you're assuring yourself the other person is not a murderous hermit. It gives you a second to check for that homicidal gleam so you can take evasive action. People don't realize they carry walking sticks not for balance but for self defense.
  On days I feel exuberant, about one in every seven, I too wave at everyone. But it's rare anyone waves back. I've caught them by surprise. They're daydreaming, or texting, or worse. If someone waves at me, such as the above gentleman, I never, ever have time to return his salutation. Once he passes (and it's always a he) I wave my whole arm in my rear view mirror. My wife screams as we head for the ditch. "Who was that?" she says as I return to my own lane. "Don't know," I reply.
  There are psychoanalysis sites on the Internet. I might run down some algorithms to figure out why my failure to respond to a random stranger's wave causes me guilt and shame.
  It's free and anonymous.

A Singular Wave

Monday, April 24, 2017

Senior Worker

  After twenty-two months of retirement, I am back in the workforce. I always figured I'd pick up a part time job if something appealing turned up. A few weeks ago Teresa went to the little transit company in town to get tickets for her dad. They asked her if she wanted to drive bus. No she said, but I might.
  I've had many jobs over my career and most of them had a driving component. Driving is the ultimate freedom for me, no matter where I'm going. The bus company was looking for a back up driver. I was looking for a job that wouldn't tie me down. I was surprised what a rigmarole it was to get into the system. Fortunately my commercial driver's license was still valid from my days on the farm. But I had to get a DOT physical. The man doctor at the clinic was said to be slap-dash while the lady doc was thorough. I booked the man. Call me chauvinistic.
  I also had to provide my driving record for the past five years, $9.00, as well as a drug free urine sample. Oh, I had to pay for the physical myself, $85.  No wonder they have trouble getting drivers.
  I only want to work one day a week at most, but during my training period I was working four days a week. The Roseau Transit Authority has four buses. There are six a.m. runs out to Greenbush and Warroad. The early passengers are disabled people going to their assisted workplaces. During the day there are two buses on call to pick up people and take them around town, to the grocery, to the department store, to the pharmacy, the bank, the hair dresser. These folks rank from the so called dregs up to the well off. What they have in common is a lack of personal transportation. Ridership goes up when the weather is nasty, which is fifty per cent of the year. And the weather is the main topic of conversation with my passengers, though one conversation began "When I was in jail...." A bus driver hears and sees all kinds of things.
  During my training, the regular drivers told me it could get slow during the day and I should bring a book. Well I think I'm going to like getting paid for reading a book. It will be compensation for not getting paid for my book reviews.
  This past week I started driving routes on my own. I have to pick up people in various places around Greenbush, Badger, and Roseau. At first it seemed daunting, but the supervisor is kindly and provides lists and maps of who is where. My fellow drivers are right, it soon becomes routine.
  Next week I'm scheduled for a half day on Wednesday and all day Friday. I feel like I'm providing a moral good for my fellow man, my synapses are getting a tune up. and I have a little extra cash for  trips to the spa.

The Bus Sees All

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Mud Below

  I know spring is here when my friend Steve tells me his truck is stuck. Steve has a 1986 Toyota four wheel drive pickup which he likes to drive around the roads he has cut on his tree farm. In the spring, when the frost goes out, the truck's knobby tires break through the surface and sink into the bottomless mud. It's too late to back out. That just throws more clumps of mud onto the watching trees.
  Last year he used his tractor to pull the truck out and got the tractor stuck too. So this year Steve was determined to get the truck out with his own brains and brawn. He called me in as a consultant. I used to work on the farm of a wild German. This fellow would look out his window and if it was sunny in Berlin he would order us workers to "Run, run!" and we would drive out into the field and promptly get  stuck. We all got very good at extricating our equipment without calling for help, because help was miles away and cell phones had not yet been invented.
  When I arrived on the scene at Steve's, his truck had been sitting for a week. I could see he had cut a bunch of brush and stuck it under the wheels. He said this was how our ancestors got mastodons out of tar pits. We had carried some 2x4s out to the site, a nine minute walk from the house.  Steve used his Handyman jack to raise the rear tires enough to slip the 2x4s under the wheels. As Steve warmed up the engine I said a prayer of release. The tires spun on the planks and clouds of wood smoke billowed out. I love that smell. The 2x4s squirted to the side and chunks of mud began to fly.
  Steve had some concrete blocks in the back of his truck and got the idea to slip a block under the tire. This involved jacking the truck up again and shoveling away enough mud to slip the block into place. Then I jacked the truck up a few more clicks to get the 2x4 between the block and the tire to create a smooth highway for the truck. The chunk of plywood under the jack groaned and creaked and sank further into the mud but we got our plan in place. Steve fired up the truck. I said my prayer and he almost got out. Well let's jack up the other side and repeat. About this time Steve's wife Jackie arrived with refreshments and we took a break. At length we got the other side jacked, blocked and planked. Now it was no problem. Back he went, but he had to keep moving till he reached high ground and the mud flew for fifty feet. Momentum had shifted away from the mud and in favor of Steve. Next year we'll get the job done in half the time because we have a proven method.

Annual ritual

Please release this truck

Pretty doesn't get you out
Let us celebrate!