Friday, December 30, 2016

Flash Blog

  I've missed out on a whole genre of literature called flash fiction. As a former English major, this is embarrassing. According to an interview with David Galef the author of "Brevity (A Flash Fiction Handbook)," these 500-1,000 word stories have been around since 1986 and got a big boost with the internet. This genre of fiction goes back even further with Hemingway's "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Then there's Aesop and the Bible. In the interview Galef says flash fiction should be visceral, a punch in the gut. He writes about people in trouble or wounded or about to be wounded.
  The interview was conducted by the website Electric Lit. There's stuff on the site about Flash literature, but if you become a member for $5 per month you can read new flash lit every month and submit four of your own works per year. I think they pay a little. While I mull this offer over I'm working on my 2017 submissions. I'm leaning toward the micro side of flash fiction.

"A footprint the size of a tractor tire slowly filled with water. His dog thought they'd be fine if they could get back to LA.
He knew better."

"She had the drop on him, no doubt about it. Perhaps he could distract her with a walk by the lagoon while the eggs cooked."

"He groaned deep within. He had just learned that people had been picking up gold in the streets for years. Literally.
"'Don't worry,' she smiled. 'I know where there's more.'"

"The little devil asked the boss to open the window.
'Why?' was the answer. 'A little smoke never hurt anyone.'"

Monday, December 26, 2016

Kiss Your Cousins

  Geneticists say we're all related. That guy eating roast marmot in Mongolia is at least my and your 50th cousin. "Hey Guyuk! How ya doin'?" It would be a friendlier world if we kept in mind that everyone we meet is a cousin. We tend to be extra nice to cousins, though I do have a cousin, Crazy Louie, who disappeared 30 years ago. No one in the family wants or expects him to show up again, though if he reads this blog he may call home.
  I have a trip to Chicago coming up and plan to meet my cousin Michael Jordan at his downtown steakhouse. I imagine the maître de will ask me if I have a reservation. I'll just ask him to let Michael know his cousin Joe is here. I intend to start wearing one of those "Hi, My Name Is..." tags to save embarrassment. Michael meets lots of new cousins everyday. I don't expect him to remember us all.
"Hey, Joe. how ya doin'," Michael will say. After some getting to know you chat, Michael will ask if I want to meet some of his teammates. Great guy that he is, Mike has offered jobs to any of his teammates who have fallen on hard times which is surprisingly quite a few. "I thought you guys got a great pension," I say. "We do," Mike says, "but it can be turned into ready cash which can disappear pretty quick." The only other Bull besides Mike I can think of is Dennis Rodman. "Is Cousin Dennis available?" Mike hangs his head. "Unfortunately, Dennis made use of the new live video feature on Facebook. Why don't you check back in a few months. Call first."
Mike said they were featuring a Chicago style New York Strip Steak today. "Do you want the 32 or the 48 oz. dinner?"
  I should have asked him for a souvenir before he went back to the kitchen. I'm sure he won't mind if I take a fork. What else are cousins for?


Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Twittings of @jmcdonnell123

  When I first started reading newspapers, my favorite section (after the funnies and sports) was the Editorial Points at the bottom left side of the editorial page of the old Boston globe. Every morning there'd be a neat little collection of ten or twelve zingers. I don't know if one genius was responsible for them all or if everyone lent a hand. It amazed me that they would appear there day after day. I don't know when they disappeared, but they're gone now. I remember only one of them, not for it's brilliance, but because it shocked me. It appeared the day after JFK's assassination. It said, "Our only consolation is that there are at least 50 people capable of running the country today." It probably said "50 men," but I'm going to update it. I  wish one of those people was taking over next month. What shocked me was that it was not foreordained by the Lord that LBJ was necessarily the best person for the job.
  Ennaways, this post is about gnarly thought bombs. Succinctness. Aphorisms, maxims, proverbs, Just Enough Information. When you cut the good ones they bleed. I'm a sucker for books like "Greatest Aphorisms Ever." They are always short books. You can read them through in an hour. They're full of things like, "Some lies are so cunningly told, only a fool would not believe them." That's a French one  I believe.
   I never thought I'd be an aphorist myself, but I am. When my excellent friend Mr. Steve Reynolds and I started The Raven twenty years ago (he and Jackie now do 99% of the work) it came out monthly. There was endless white space to fill. That's when my proverbial self surfaced. These things always arise from the fog of thought. They're as unpresentable at first as a newborn child. It took weeks to work up my first one: "Three views of knowledge: LaoTzu- 'He who knows does not speak.' Montaigne- 'What can I know?' Sergeant Shultz- 'I know nothing!'"  Because it feels so good to produce an original thought, I didn't care what anyone else thought. It was my baby and I loved it.
  After that first one, they started gushing out. One of the old time local papers, The Badger Rustler  used to have a section called Squibs From the Township. A squib is a tiny firecracker so I adopted that heading for my squibs in The Raven. I am proudest of the one that my mother said she liked: "Rhetoric is the Greek word for b.s." That has the virtue of brevity and does not require footnotes like the above crack.
  But sadly, as the Raven became more elaborate, production slowed and without a deadline, the squibs dried up. The one bright spot for me from the recent election is that it reignited my aphoristic fire. The upcoming head of the free world uses and abuses Twitter. I have a Twitter account. I would start plugging away as a counterweight to the looming nightmare.
  Yes I've had a Twitter account since 2009. I don't understand how Twitter works. I could get one of those Dummies books but they tend to confuse me even more. Between 2009 and the election I had 13 mostly fumbling tweets. I'm up to 90 now. I used to have five followers (all as moribound as myself) now I have 14, two of whom actually read my tweets. I can tell because they "like" some of them. I'm at the same stage I was at in my early Facebook days. I had a handful of friends but my page was dead. By posting occasionally, I got more friends and now the page is so busy I have Teresa curate it for me.
  Maybe the same thing will happen with Twitter. I tweet almost daily, but it's lonely. How do I get to the point that I no longer have time to look at it anymore? Baby pics helped my FB page take off, but I don't think that will work on Twitter.
Here are some of my best.

Political ones first:

My sin was taking him for a grotesque clown. My penance is to be determined.
I scorned his reality show, but I'll be a rapt watcher of the real show.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Let Toby Do It

  There's a character named Uncle Toby in the novel Tristram Shandy who every morning for forty years vows he will oil the squeaky door latch sometime that day, but he never does. I like this novel because it's pretty much one big digression and I love digressions, tangents, TMI, etc. I also like Uncle Toby because he proves there are worse procrastinators than myself in the world.
  Putting things off till tomorrow is definitely a problem that can cause missed flights and other heartaches. The best explanation for procrastination I've found is that we're more like a parliament squabbling over policy than a king issuing edicts. I find this comforting because I can blame the Tories for dragging us to perdition.
  There's a latch in my own life that needs attention. It doesn't squeak, rather it jams. It's the latch on our wood stove, the wonderful Jøtul model 118. My only complaint about this stove is that the bolt that holds the door latch gradually backs out. Eventually the latch gets so loose it slips off the lip that it sits on when the door is open and ends up hanging vertically from the bolt. Not a major problem except that when you lift the latch up, the bolt screws into the door and you can't get the latch past the lip. The bolt is too hot to back off with your fingers and now the fire starts to rage as you rush for a screwdriver to back out the bolt so you can latch the door. Then you screw the bolt back in to it's original position and you're good for a week or so.
 The obvious solution is to screw a nut onto the bolt inside the door and clinch it in place so it can't back out. I should just go get the nut, but some back bencher in my parliament always finds a reason something can't be done. "You're going to have to bring the bolt to the hardware store to get the correct size nut," he said. "This is a very special bolt, probably made in a little factory up a Norwegian fjord. There's a good chance you'll lose the bolt and it could be six months before you can get a replacement. Meanwhile, no fires." Another member chimed in: "There does not appear to be enough clearance between the bolt and the inner lip of the door for you to get a nut on the bolt. Why not try Loctite?"  Hmmmm. Loctite is a threadlocking adhesive mechanics use in high vibration areas to prevent nuts and bolts from coming loose. You can supposedly still get the nut off if you need to. Heat will burn off the Loctite so there are three grades: Don't Waste Your Money, Should Be About Right, and This Baby's Never Coming Off. I should have gone with the last one and been done with it, but I'm always second-guessing myself. What if I don't get the bolt adjusted just right, or suppose I need to remove the bolt for some unlikely reason; so I got Loctite number two. And it worked like a charm for about two weeks. I tried a heavier application and got 16 days.
  I could be like Uncle Toby and live with it, but I was determined to one-up him even if he is just a character in a book. Getting the nut was an adventure in itself but I won't bore you with details. A socket wrench would have been best to tighten the nut but I perceived there was not enough room for a socket so I used pliers. This worked about as well as Loctite, maybe a bit worse. By a narrow vote parliament ordered me to go get the socket wrench. There was enough room after all. I got that nut really tight: Three weeks and counting.

Mission accomplished.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

On the Eighth Day Before Christmas

  When you go to a town like Roseau, MN pop. 2627, you run in to lots of people you've met over the 40 years you've lived here. About a week after Thanksgiving these acquaintances start wishing you a Merry Christmas, however they usually phrase it, "If I don't see you, Merry Christmas."
  I wondered at exactly what point they would simply say "Merry Christmas." Well today, December 18th, an acquaintance stopped at our café table to exchange pleasantries. His family had already headed for the car. He held up his key and said, "They'll wait for me," and then he wished us a simple Merry Christmas. So there you go. Eight days before Christmas is close enough for people not to worry about whether they'll see you again. And for the most part, they wouldn't miss you if they didn't. Ever. Though they might come to your see their many acquaintances.

The present, my friend, the present.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Barracks Life, 1970-1

  I've been getting GIFs from friends lately. GIFs are those little two second videos that keep repeating endlessly. Yesterday I got a sparkly wreath. Today it was a set of hands pouring stars into another set of hands which pass the stars to a third set, or is it just to the first set again?
  Ennaways that GIF reminded me of an incident from my Navy days involving a lava lamp and five shipmates. I was never on a ship during my four year hitch, but I still consider my fellow tars as shipmates. One of my fellow shellbacks received a lava lamp from his mother to add a bit of charm to his barren barracks cubicle.  There were two double bunk beds in each cubicle, but there were enough cubicles so that only two swabbies had to share a cubicle. Almost everyone slept on the bottom berth and hung a sheet from the upper to provide a bit of privacy, though a sheet did not protect you from the idiotic dj blaring from your neighbor's wireless at six a.m.
  Back to the lava lamp. Most lava lamps had a lightbulb in them. Jim's device however sat on a heating element and once it got warmed up, you could remove it from its base and if you were foolish, you would allow your fellow sea dogs to pass the cylinder from hand to hand as they stood in a circle. These lamps contained colored oils and it was hypnotic how the colors mixed and unmixed as we passed the tube around and around until we got very very sleepy and  someone let the cylinder fall from his hands. One of the bluejackets was of Hispanic origin and he said either ¡Ai Caramba! or ¡Ai Chihuahua! I can't remember which. It was a slimy mess either way. Amazing how the magic can rush out of a thing so quickly. Jim was kind of a crazy guy and eventfully received a discharge for mental health reasons. I hope the loss of his lava lamp had nothing to do with his breakdown, for Jim was a fine circumnavigator.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


(Click on image, please)

  I've been looking at this painting, "Fog Warning" by Winslow Homer, for sixty years. My father bought it (just a print, not the original) at the Woolworths  in Roslindale, Mass. and hung it in the front hall. My mother didn't like it there so it went to my room in the attic. I can understand my mother's attitude. She didn't love boats or the sea and this is kind of a scary image. The lone fisherman has had a successful day and is ready to go home, but his home seems to be sailing away from him. Also a huge fog bank is moving in. The guy looks to be in trouble.
  I asked my father about this and he said everything would probably be fine. The fisherman was in one of several dories that had been dropped off earlier to set a trawl of hooks (see keg).  They were after cod, haddock, or in this case, "just for the halibut." as my father could not resist saying. The schooner off in the distance was making a circle, picking up dories as she went. Yes that fog bank is worrisome but chances are good the fisherman will be picked up so he can spend the next few hours gutting and icing down the catch.
  I took the painting with me to college, but not into the Navy. That would have been overkill. After the service I lived for a year with my parents. The painting was on the wall of my bedroom. I left it hanging  there when I got married, but eventually got permission to move it to Minnesota. It sat in storage till we built the Shêdeau where it now hangs in the workroom/art gallery/storage area. I should touch up the frame but I doubt I will.
  While thinking about this blog, I looked up "Fog Warning" on the Internet. There's a three minute YouTube video in which a man and woman analyze the work. They paint the fisherman as a goner. In the comments section people argue about whether he's rowing vainly after the schooner or if the boat is coming back to pick him up. "He should row to land," someone says. I wanted to stick my oar in and say "land is 90 miles away," but what's the use? At least no one suggested he call an Uber. Even the Museum of Fine Arts which owns the painting says on it's website that he's trying to row to the schooner. Am I going to believe some museum flunky who's never seen his life pass before his eyes or am I going to go with my father? There's a no-brainer for you.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Luther Was Here

  Luther was like a guy walking across a dam who notices a bunch of other guys digging away at the bottom of the dam. He yells at them to quit but they keep digging, even throwing things at him. The dam breaks, people are killed, and Luther himself is washed up into a little backwater where he spends the rest of his life railing against dam busters. But it's too late. In fact Luther sees things are better with the dam gone and rails against those who try to rebuild the dam.
  My analogy is as leaky as an old dam, but it was inspired by our visit to the Luther exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. In 1517 Luther got upset with the selling of indulgences.  He wrote up 95 theses or debating points and nailed them, so the story goes, to a church door. He just wanted to have a discussion, but all hell broke loose, lots of people got killed in wars and the world got changed.
  So all the places in Germany that have Luther artifacts planned to put them in storage while they spiffed up their venues before the hordes arrived next year. Minneapolis has Lutheran hordes of its own and got the idea to borrow the artifacts for a show this winter.
  Teresa and I got tickets from our good friend Carole Wilson. She's a high-echelon member. They let a new group of visitors in every 15 minutes to keep the flow moving. Even so, the place was packed. A clump of people listening to a guide would be blocking one passageway while the other route was full of Slow Moving Lutherans, many with walkers. It would take all day to examine everything in the exhibit. I focused on the more outstanding items.
  Luther's pulpit is there. He preached his last sermon there in which he told the congregation he didn't feel so well, then went home and died. He was only sixty-two.

Luther said praying to saints was useless, but he allowed the painting of the Blessed Virgin to remain on his pulpit. He had a healthy respect for women.

  There were several items from Luther's home. His kitchen table was full of deep gouges. Luther had said that the relics of saints were worthless, but until his table was moved to a museum in the early twentieth century, pilgrims felt it couldn't hurt to have a souvenir splinter from the great man's furniture.  Peter the Great toured Luther's home in the 1700's. People used chalk for graffiti in those days and Peter wrote his name in Russian on the door. Everyone else's name but his has been erased. In fact people traced over his name making it extra fat.

  My favorite item was a curved chunk of metal: one of the handles from Luther's coffin. It seems that back in the late 1800's a couple of the caretakers in the church where Luther was buried were sitting around drinking beer and talking about the old days. During one the wars after Luther's death the Catholic army was approaching. People thought if the Catholics ever took the town they'd dig Luther up and desecrate his grave. The rumor was that his body had been moved to a secret place. The caretakers decided to dig Luther up and check. Sure enough there he was. Dawn was breaking as they got everything back the way it was when, "Gott in Himmel, Hansie, ve forgot to put back one of der handles!"
  The exhibit had many antique bibles and all kinds of moth eaten vestments, but give me an artifact from an old Two Stooges show any day.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

À la retraite

  Many people told Teresa that adjustment to retirement would take six months, maybe longer. When she retired on September first, I took her on the road for two months. We explored the nooks and crannies of the United States.  It was wonderfully diverting, but on November 1 she had to face reality.
  She says that on some days the hours between breakfast and supper yawn like an abyss. Which to me is odd. When I sense a yawn I take a nap. My days are filled with lots of little jobs, sweeping the front steps, checking the mouse traps, keeping up with the mags, lathering butter and honey on English muffins, boiling tea. The days are chockablock full.
  I know Teresa will develop a routine, but right now she's in the twilight zone. Just yesterday she accompanied me to the barbershop. Unheard of! Not that I 'm embarrassed to have my wife telling my barber what to do. One of the joys of getting old is that you give less of a rip what people think with every passing year. It's just that going to the barber has always been a very masculine thing for me. My father took me to my early visits to Tony the barber. Tony had a wedge shaped shop on a busy avenue a five minute walk from our house. There were two barber chairs but only one Tony. Perhaps his partner had retired, maybe his father. Tony was from Italy. A mandolin hung on the wall. Maybe Tony plucked it when business was slow. Tony was a quiet man. He always looked like he was on the verge of a burp. "You wanta the bangs?" as I settled in his chair and "Thank you," when I handed him my dime were all I ever heard from him.
  Teresa has always been more concerned about my appearance than I am. She's generally dissatisfied with the jobs my various barbers have done. I have tried beauty shops but that always felt so inappropriate. She herself is constantly switching operators because they never listen to her.
  I think Teresa enjoyed her visit to my male precinct yesterday. I have this phobia about sitting in a barbershop waiting for others to have their hair cut. I think it goes back to Tony's shop where ladies of the night leered at me from the cover of The Police Gazette. So I always get to the shop at 7:50 a.m., ten minutes before my barber, Brot by name, arrives. If I arrive at 7:55 there will already be some other joker sitting there in his pickup. Teresa pinged me about having to sit in front of Brot's darkened shop. "What if he doesn't show up?" she wondered. I kept my mouth shut. At 8:03 the OPEN sign flickered to life and I dashed to my swivel chair, making some lame joke about my companion.
  Sure enough two more heads arrived and a five way banter ensued. Teresa said my main problem at the moment was my unruly cowlick. Brot said the problem was that my head was like a weather map full of lows and highs all swirling together over Saskatchewan. But he was sweet about it. He said he'd trade my four cowlicks for his bald pate in a heartbeat. Then he burped.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Paper's in the Snow

  I'm going to ramble here because I'm a bit disoriented after the recent election. I'm trying not to get overwrought. Once, when my father was on his way to vote, I asked him if his candidate ever lost. "Sometimes," he said, which surprised me because I thought he was always right. Wisdom says you can't win 'em all. When you're down you make the best of it and look to the next race. You don't want to behave like Mrs. Parkman.
  Mrs. Parkman was a rich old lady my grandmother worked for in Brookline. Brookline is a town almost surrounded by Boston, It resisted absorption by Boston because it wanted to maintain an enclave where rich people could avoid the rough and tumble of the big city. Ennaways, my grandmother Alice, who came to Boston from Ireland in her twenties, worked as a housekeeper for Mrs. Parkman. Mrs. Parkman had married a descendant of Francis Parkman, the famous historian of the early United States. When Mrs. Parkman eventually died, we went to the estate sale. We got some nice china, a pair of long wooden skis, and other things. I liked to imagine Francis Parkman exploring the Oregon Trail on these skis, but that was a delusion probably.
  But back to the election. At the grocery store yesterday a pre-election tabloid screamed "Hillary Crazy!" The photo was not flattering. My one consolation, and it's an unworthy one I admit, was that soon Trump will be looking nuts by the checkout counter. And the white trash will lick it up and call for more. [Stop it Joe!]
 To tie all this in with Mrs. Parkman (and by the way, my grandmother was in her seventies at this time), my grandmother's first task at seven a.m. was to make Mrs. Parkman's breakfast and carry it upstairs to her bedroom with her copy of the Boston Herald. After finishing her chores on this particular day, Alice headed for home. But there in the bushes by the front door lay Mrs. Parkman's Herald, pitched out the bedroom window. Also, it had snowed the night before. The headline read "JFK DEFEATS NIXON!" Alice let the paper lay since it was the Republican paper.
After all these years, I know myself now how poor Mrs. Parkman felt.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Drumlins I Have Known

  A friend gave me a book called "What Should a Clever Moose Eat?" by an ecologist at U of M Duluth. It's a collection of essays about the North Woods. He starts off talking about how the landforms of this immense area were created by glaciers thousands of years ago. He presumes a basic knowledge of science so I keep a web browser open.
  Glaciation is complicated. They're still trying to figure it out. I like drumlins because they're easy to grasp. They're elongated hills in the shape of a half buried egg. They average a mile in length, a quarter mile across, and up to 150' at their high point. Now my childhood home of Boston is not quite the North Woods, but it was under a mile of ice at a time when my ancestors were steaming mussels in their stone huts back in the old country. In fact the word drumlin is Gaelic for littlest ridge.
  There are several drumlins in Boston Harbor, my favorite being Bumpkin Island off of Sunset Point in Hull. The current Google Maps satellite view shows the sandbar connecting the island and the point. When the sun and the moon are working together, the bar is exposed. It's a ten minute hike to the island and you've got close to two hours before you have to get back. When the sun and moon are in opposition, the bar is awash at low tide and you must not dally on the island. Of course with cell phones, you can always dial 911 if you get trapped.
  The aboriginal Bay Staters used to hunt on the island and harvest shellfish until the white man drove them away. The new Bay Staters farmed the island. Later a philanthropist built a hospital for crippled children so they could exercise in the fresh air. The military took Bumpkin over during WWI as a training base. The hospital burned in 1945 and eventually the island became part of the Harbor Recreation Area.  There are several campsites and a ferry runs over from the mainland in the summer.
  But ferries are for sissies.  It's low tide twice a day. We visitors to Hull check our tide calendar and bide our time. The tides walk their way around the clock following the trek of the moon.  If it's low tide at noon today, in a few days it will be low at six p.m. (and six a.m.).
  This past September we were in Hull and decided to hike out to Bumpkin.  It was the time of the month when the sandbar was awash. The tide was still falling when we headed out from Sunset Point, some of us in boots, others in sandals. It's a weird feeling to confront that expanse of water.  The bar is wide enough that you're not going to fall in, but it's still weird. The gulls took off in front of us and settled down behind. It's always lunchtime for them.
  On the island we swapped our boots for sneakers and headed up the "road," once a strip of smooth concrete for the wheelchair kids. The ruins of the old hospital are at the top of the island, just a heap of red and yellow bricks. A side path leads to the ruins of the powerhouse. The best preserved building is a stone barn from way back in the farming days. It would take some smart digging to find signs of the original folks. 
  As you're enjoying all these sites and panoramic views of the harbor there's that nagging thought of the rising flood. I check my watch. "We're fine," I reassure the group, but even I pick up the pace back to my trusty but not especially tall boots.  Walking back is slightly weirder. The day is windless and we can see the remorseless waves of the tide rippling across the bay.  And the water is slightly higher now than when we walked out. But we make it just fine and, like the gulls, start looking for lunch.

Bumpkin Island, we'll be back!

Friday, August 26, 2016

No Satisfaction

  Whenever I get the urge to ramble but don't want to spend any money, I go for a paddle in the canoe. I keep the canoe on the bank above the river. It's a narrow river and shallow this time of year. Sometimes I have to get out and pull the canoe over a sandbar.
  This morning I put on my boots and grabbed a paddle. As I approached the canoe I heard a buzzing and saw hornets in the branches overhead. I retreated to the stern of the canoe and flipped it upside right. Hornets poured out of the nest they had built in the bow. I retreated around the corner of a nearby building.
  I might as well do something useful since I can't go canoeing. As I painted some trim, my wanderlust kept bugging me. My mind wandered to a beautiful campsite overlooking Hayes Lake. There's a fire ring there with a grate. I could cook myself some lunch and enjoy the ambience. My thrifty self said that the lake is ten miles away and a day pass to the park costs five dollars. It was hot painting the trim and I imagined the cool breeze off the lake and the smell of my hot dog as it roasted on the grate.  OK, OK, we'll do it!
  I finished my job, washed the brush and gathered some supplies in a canvas beach tote, some firewood, some sauerkraut and mustard, some matches. I had bought some hot dogs last month but accidently grabbed a package from last year out of the freezer. Or it might have been from two years ago. Hot dogs keep forever though they do eventually revert to their essential element: hoof of cow.
  The park was deserted on this Tuesday afternoon. The ranger station is only open on the weekends but there are envelopes for you to leave your fee. There was little chance I'd get caught if I didn't pay but lately the vision of the heavenly scales weighing my good vs my evil deeds has been coming into clearer focus so I did the right thing.
  There's a main campground with electric hookups etc. but I headed a mile or so down a dirt road to the primitive campsites. Then it's a five minute hike to the bluff overlooking the lake. There was a good breeze but it was blowing from the wrong direction and the mosquitoes had at me. Fortunately I had packed some spray. I got a little fire going and swung the  grate over the flame. The grate was an inch thick and would take some time to heat up. The lake was pretty but it was stuffy in the woods. The tops of the trees swayed in the wind but the air was dead in my camp.
  I tossed my hot dog on the grill and realized then that it was from the ancient package. I threw on more firewood, scraps of 2x4s from a construction project. A thick black smoke coated my lunch. How many carcinogens am I adding to those already in the hot dog? The cast iron grate was absorbing all the heat. The mosquitoes were getting through my defenses. I slapped the meat on a bun, dressed it and choked it all down.
  As I drove home I conceded that my excursion had been a flop. But I also conceded other trips had turned out much better than I had expected. You just need to keep on rambling.

                              The lake is lovely dark and deep
                                But I've a bloody blog to bleep

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Nostalgia of a Nun

  I had an adversarial relationship with the sisters of St. Joseph at Holy Name School. They wanted to instill knowledge in my mind. I wished to remain as I was. Thanks to their persistence and support from my parents, I learned reading, writing and enough arithmetic to send me down the line I was to follow. These nuns were formidable presences in their flowing veils, their black serge tunics, and their stiff white aprons and clanking rosary chains. Even the class bullies and toughs backed down. You messed with a nun and you were replaced quickly and permanently by the next kid on the waiting list.
  When I told my parents about the rigors of life with Sister Conese or Sister John the Baptist, my father would say you're lucky you never had Sister Eubestrabius. This woman had been a mule skinner out west before entering the convent and our dad said that after eight years under her thumb, WWII had been a piece of cake. A piece of cake that sometime blew up in your face, but still preferable to camping with Sister U.
  One day in fifth grade, sister was talking about goldenrods. They were in a poem I think, and sister lowered her book and said, "What do goldenrods make you think of, girls and boys?" No one ventured a guess. Even Joseph R. and Mary C. the honor roll kids were struck dumb. "This is easy." sister said. "What do they remind you of?" Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Finally she had to tell us that they should remind us that the school year was about to start. Mary nodded in assent and Joseph simpered yes, yes.
  Now sister had grown up during the depression when goldenrod took over the idle fields and shuttered factory yards, while we students lived in a manicured suburb where the goldenrod was relegated to railroad cuttings and the yards of the mentally ill; places we were forbidden to go. We associated goldenrod not with sweet sorrow but with danger. And beyond that, none of us could imagine sister as a child dreading the approach of another nine month stretch in school. To me, she was the face of this punitive system that was wasting my youth.
  I don't know if sister was chagrined that none of us shared her nostalgia, but after that day she stuck to trains travelling east at 60 mph and the glorious exploits of the Crusaders retaking the Holy Land for a century or so before losing it to the Saracens once again.

                       Shot with an iPhone 5S by Chairman J.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The One Egg Joe

In this blog, I claim to have invented a new way to make an omelet. For me a well made omelet is the height of cuisine. The interior of an omelet should exhibit baveuse This is French for bovine nasal discharge. Disgusting oui, but apt. As a youth I made a lot of scrambled eggs and it took many years to break that habit. I watched others make omelets; I watched YouTube videos; finally I saw a chef on a cooking show make a one egg omelet an a gigantic pan. That's it! Keep it thin.
I favor the one egg omelet. I'm watching my cholesterol. On the other hand, I like lots of stuff inside, cheese, veggies, ham, etc. But my thin omelet can't handle the load. It rips apart as I try to get it onto the plate. It's edible, but ugly. In a flash of inspiration I realized I could slide the egg and melted cheese onto my plate then add the preheated stuffings and fold over the sides. Beautiful. Someone else may have come up with this method as well.  I don't care. I developed it on my own. It's like the guy who developed the theory of evolution the same time as Darwin. He gets credit, though no one remembers his name.

                                            Step one:

                                            Step 2


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Lime Jimmy

The Catholic Church says a child reaches the age of reason at age seven.  I don't know about that. When I was eight someone told me my cousin Jimmy was exactly twice as old as me. I reasoned that when I was 50, Jimmy would be 100. When I was 150, Jimmy would be 300, and so on. Children also think they live forever.
Jimmy was one of those rare teenagers who take an interest in kids so he was my hero. He had a sailboat and he took us sailing, but not as often as I wished. One day I begged him to take me out for a sail and he said Introibo ad altare Dei. He said he'd take me sailing if I could tell him what that meant. He was an altar boy and had the Latin mass memorized. Though I'd been hearing these words weekly for years I didn't realize it was the opening line of the mass. In my fantasy life I said "I will go to the altar of the Lord, Psalm 42.  Let's go sailing!"  In reality, I was stymied.
When Jim was in college he had a summer job delivering mail in the town of Hull south of Boston. Hull is a five mile long peninsula. Along most of the main road you can see the ocean to one side and the bay to the other. One hot day while riding my bike, I came across Jim delivering mail and magazines to the cottagers. He had the full USPO uniform and heavy leather bag, with the dropbox key chained to his belt. I followed along, chatting away until we reached the local drug store. Break time. Jimmy bought me my first lime rickey. Ah, delicious on a hot summer's day.
Jimmy thought I would leave him alone after that, but no, I was ready to go the distance. He was too nice to tell me to beat it, but he did give me his jacket and asked me to drop it off at his house a couple of miles away. I don't know about this next part for sure, but I can imagine him returning to the drug store to call his mother. "Joey will be dropping off my jacket in a few minutes. If he plans to rejoin me give him a lime rickey."
"A what?"
" I mean a glass of ZaRex."
Indeed, when I reached the house, Aunt Anna offered me a glass of ZaRex which I accepted.  ZaRex was a sweet fruity syrup you mixed with cold water. I just learned that Babe Ruth used to pour it over chipped ice during his time with the Red Sox. When he was sold to the Yankees, Ruth said it was the one thing he missed about Boston.
Aunt Anna offered me a refill, but I declined. "I have to go home and study my Latin," I said.

Friday, August 12, 2016


Declutter! Simplify! Why? I rather like the clutter. I feel comfortable in its midst. It makes me feel secure. Yes there are times I get stressed when I can't find an important paper or a tool, but with the help of St. Anthony, it always turns up. Had I been the decluttering type, I might have thrown it out.
As the guy who wrote Winnie-The-Pooh said, untidy people are always making interesting discoveries. For example, the other day someone sent me an email with a picture of a fly in amber. That reminded me that I had a fly in amber too. I had thought of it many times since I packed it away 16 years ago in preparation for a total remodel of our house.
I had bought the amber at the Agassiz Natural History Museum at Harvard with the kids a few years previous. After several hours of hard thinking at any museum, we always reward ourselves with a memento from the gift shop. The kids usually opt for something like a chocolate dinosaur while I go for the fossils. The pieces of amber on display were very expensive; those with regular sized flies in them. These flies had been going about their business millions of years ago when they got stuck in a resin flow and were fossilized. I found a small piece I could afford. The fly within was tiny, but there was also the wing of normal sized fly.
Once back home, the piece of amber went into the "museum." Our museum was initially the area in front of the books in the built-in bookcase, one of the few pieces of furniture I ever made. In fact the only furniture I have ever made has been bookcases.  Our museum contained Civil War bullets, worry beads from Greece, small vases made by the kids in art class, small pieces from toys that had been broken, e.g. the plastic motorists who survived the crushing of a parking garage. The small vases soon filled with smaller items, tacks, paper clips, morning glory seeds. The main treasure besides the amber was a graffitied chip of the Berlin Wall which Matt had bought during his post-secondary tour. It came with a little stand and a certificate of authenticity.
Where was I? Oh, yes, the email that made me think again about my own piece of amber. This morning I went out to the garage. There atop a tall cabinet were three small cardboard boxes. I lifted the top box down and blew away the dust and dirt. On the box in my handwriting was the word "Museum." Inside was the chip of the Berlin Wall and a small box containing several Minie balls and more items too numerous to name. I took down the second box, also labeled "Museum." This box contained mostly gnarled but decorative pieces of tree, also some kids toys but no amber. The last box was larger than the other two. I spotted some fossils inside, a good sign. Some worry beads, a cup full of foreign coins, a small plastic box with a magnifying glass in the cover for examining insects, and inside this plastic box, the amber, as bright as it had been that day millions of years ago.
And people tell me to declutter!

Friday, July 8, 2016


Blessed be the handymen, for they shall do the work of the world

 My father had four sons. Two handy, two not. I am oldest and am not handy. Number two son is a carpenter which is another name for being handy. I will not declare number three son unhandy, but I do know he prefers to pay a handyman to do a job which leaves him free to study the Civil War. Number four son is a tugboat captain in New York harbor which requires its own kind of handiness.
 A handyman can be a SOB and people tolerate him because they need him. The unhandy person must compensate by being affable, a good host with drinks always on hand. He must suffer fools gladly, often to the point of seeming foolish himself.
 This is all introduction to my latest do-it-yourself quandary. Teresa complained that the bathroom door was squeaking. It's funny how a tolerable squeak at noon becomes like a trumpet blast at midnight. I've fixed squeaks in the past. Pop the hinge pin out with a hammer and punch, spray it with WD-40 and you're good to go. Except it didn't work. I pulled the pins again and tried bearing grease. No good.
  I could call Number two son for advice. Or I could resort to YouTube. YouTube is a blessing and a curse. It's full of seemingly effective solutions, but they tend to contradict each other. I watched a few "squeaky door" videos. They all recommended various lubricants, grease, graphite, Teflon. Finally I came across "donnydoors", a grandfatherly fellow who gave his instructions in a leisurely but precise manner. His video was over eight minute long but there was something relaxing about watching him construct a little pocket out of a paper towel to catch any drips from his spray lubricant. But before he did anything, he said to check for loose screws in the hinges. Aha! I discovered several screws were loose in my hinges and a minute later, no more squeak. I may go on to watch Donny's sagging and sticking door videos just for fun.

                                  Silent as the grave midnight

Saturday, June 25, 2016


Comes with doors and a plow

It's a sad day when a man resorts to using his blog for commercial purposes, but I need the money. Two years ago I bought an all terrain vehicle, a Polaris Ranger 570. There's room enough in the front for an adult and two grandchildren. That was the fantasy. We have lived the fantasy and the Ranger sits in the garage, mostly unused. I imagined I would use my Ranger for jobs around the place, or that I would drive it over to my friend Steve's for coffee. But my pickup can do any chore the Ranger can, and it's much more comfortable to drive my car to Steve's.
  So after two years I've decided to cash in my investment. Steve put an ad on the employee website at the Polaris factory and I've been running an ad in the local shopper paper. A couple of people called but they were looking for a model that carries three adults.  I'm not desperate but I do need to advertise more widely. Just this weekend a neighbor who lives along the highway offered to let me put the Ranger in her front yard. Hundreds of cars pass by each day. And then there's this blog. I know of one person who checks daily to see if there's anything new, but he doesn't need a Ranger. I should put a link to my blog on my Facebook page. I have over a hundred friends, only a handful of whom are zombies.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Bare Ruined Choirs

  Yesterday Teresa and I took her dad to a Swedish Midsummer festival held in an old Lutheran Church out in the country east of Kennedy. I usually weasel my way out of these events, but it was Teresa's birthday so I offered to go along. We picked up Einar at noon in Roseau and headed west.
It was cool, windy and rainy. Teresa was sipping coffee and halfway there said, "I suppose I'll have to use an outdoor outhouse." 
  We arrived about twenty minutes early. I noticed the church bell was sitting on the ground by the steps. Those things are heavy and it's good to take them down before they fall down. Inside the entry, a steady stream of water was pouring down from the steeple into a hole in the partially rotted floorboards.
"Do you have a bathroom?" Teresa asked the guy who appeared to be in charge.
"An outhouse?"
"What do you recommend?"
"You can use the church in Halma."
"Is that the church we passed?"
"I don't know."
"We came through Halma."
"Then that's it."
  We got Einar settled and drove the six miles to Halma. We got back to the church at 2:05.
"We haven't missed much," Teresa said. Indeed. For the next hour, we stood around and watched four people make two big wreaths out of daisies, yellow clover, peonies." These wreaths were to be hung on the maypole that would be erected outside, if the rain ever quit. The maypole is a symbol of the new growth of summer. To me it had phallic overtones, but Wiki said no. To Germanic peoples it's just a symbol of vegetative growth. It was other peoples that dragged in the phallic overtones.
  The festival was sponsored by the Agassiz Swedish Heritage Society, average age of its members: 82. I mingled with the festival goers. It was cold and damp in the church and I was tempted to sneak a cup of coffee from the kitchen, but was told the coffee was for lunch after the maypole was raised.
I knew a few of my fellow festival goers. There was old Eddie, wearing a Trump button. I let it go since Hill has Minn in the bag. The festival is held in a different location each year. The folks trying to preserve the church had offered their venue to collect the free-will offering to defray church related expenses.
  Finally the wreaths were done, but it was still raining. We all sat in the nave and sang songs in Swedish and gradually in English, accompanied by a mandolin. The church seemed basically sound, but age is creeping in at the edges. The society president announced that the rain had quit and called five young men to set up the maypole in front of the church. I, at age 69, was tapped to help. The maypole was basically a 20 foot mast with a crosstree with hooks at the ends for hanging the wreaths. We stood the pole up and the president slipped a Christmas tree stand under the base. On a perfectly calm day this setup might have worked, but the wind was gusting at 25 knots. A wreath blew off. We lowered the pole and rehung it. Someone ordered us to move the pole close to the church where he would tie it to the railing. He had a whole box of baler twine I noted. As we moved the pole, the other wreath fell of. These wreaths were well made, because they held their shape despite this rough handling. As we lowered and raised the pole I was relieved that no society members were bonked on the head.
  At last the pole was secured to the railing. Traditionally, you're supposed to dance around the pole while someone plays a fiddle or mandolin. This would have been awkward enough with the pole tied to the front steps of the church, even if we had been disposed to dance. No, we wanted our ration of coffee and traditional Swedish baked goods.
  In the dining room the hot coffee seemed to make everything jollier. On one wall hung one of those big, many-paged picture albums common in Lutheran churches. Unfortunately 90% of the pictures had been removed. However, there were newspaper clippings describing the 75th, 100th and 125th anniversaries of the church. I learned that the church had been built on 10 acres donated by the Great Northern Railroad in the 1800s. By 1964 the church had to close due to waning membership.  A handful of weddings and funerals were held into the seventies. Now, except for the wind, the old church stands silent from one season to the next. The people who have childhood memories of the place are now in their 60s so the church could linger on another twenty years or so. But one day the wind will take it, or fire, and that will be that.

                                   A rare bit of prairie that's never been plowed

                                                 There will be lunch. 

                                             Time consumes all things.

Monday, June 20, 2016

"I Was Attacked by a Rabid Woodchuck!"

  A couple of weeks ago Teresa went out to her father's isolated farm after work to plant some broccoli in the garden there. Einar lives in town now, but likes to plant a few things every spring.
  Teresa: "I was still in my work clothes but fortunately had switched into my sneakers in the car. As I got to within ten feet of the garden I noticed a woodchuck at the far edge. I clapped my hands and yelled at him but he didn't move. Woodchucks usually run away, but this one started running right at me. All I had with me was a small trowel and the broccoli plants. There was a metal tomato cage with three flimsy legs on the ground so I grabbed that and swiped at the woodchuck. He rolled over but came at me again. I couldn't get to my car. He would have caught me, so I kept swiping and tumbling him over. When he paused for a few seconds, I ran onto the porch. I could try to get the hidden house key but what good would that do? The phone was disconnected.
  "The woodchuck came charging up the two steps to the porch. I swiped again and flipped him into a flower box. He landed on his back. I used the cage to flip him out onto the lawn. By the way, I was screaming as loud as I could hoping to scare off the woodchuck or attract the neighbor's attention. The neighbor farms the land and I saw his pickup by the shed. But then I heard his tractor and knew he wouldn't hear me.
  "By now the woodchuck seemed dazed and was wandering off towards the garage. 'Oh, crap', I thought. I had left the entry door to the garage open and he was headed that way. I ran after him and he veered off into the woods.  My chest hurt from screaming and I felt traumatized. I left the broccoli at the farm for someone else to plant and called my brother-in-law to come and shoot the thing."
  Chairman Joe hearby awards Teresa the Courage Medal for standing up to the presumed rabid woodchuck. When she got home that day, still distraught from her ordeal she said, "If I had a Zanax right now, I'd take it." She had to settle for a glass of wine and a hug. She had also acquired a good story.

Postscript. The man who mows at the farm was warned of the woodchuck, and the next day put it out of its misery. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Stillwater Jail

I am a bonded highwayman, Cole Younger is my name
Through many a temptation I led my friends to shame
For the robbing of the Northfield Bank they say I can't deny
And now I am a poor prisoner, in Stillwater Jail I lie

~~The James and Younger Boys

  The song goes on to tell the story of the James and Younger gang making its way to "the godforsaken country called Minne-so-teo."  The folks back home in Missouri looked upon the gang as modern day Robin Hoods. The Swedes up north hadn't heard about that and fought back. Cole Younger was badly wounded.  Frank and Jesse James split up from the others and got away. Jesse later came to a bad end. Frank moved to Arkansas and raised rabbits. A posse caught up with the three Younger brothers and shot them up pretty good without killing them. Next stop, Stillwater Jail or Prison, as it was officially called.
  When I moved to Minnesota forty years ago, I wanted to visit the place the Youngers had been imprisoned but figured the old prison would have been long since demolished. Last winter I was in Stillwater and tried to figure out exactly where in town the prison had stood. Indeed the original prison was gone, but the warden's house on Main Street just north of downtown was still standing. It's now the headquarters of the Washington County Historical Society. Unfortunately, the place is closed in winter.
  I was  in Stillwater just last week and took my two grandsons Sam (11) and Luke (9) on a tour of the warden's house. A sprightly young man told us we were just in time for the next tour. Our guide told us that the two story limestone house was built next to the new state prison in 1853, five years before Minnesota became a state. When the new prison was built in South Stillwater in 1914, the warden took all his furniture with him so everything now in the house came from donations.  The museum attempts to chart the history of Washington County, not just the history of the prison
  Our guide kept the boys' attention during the 45 minute tour by asking them  engaging questions and telling corny jokes. Did you know the pop-up toaster was invented in Stillwater? Yes, in 1921. The original model was right there before us. A heavy-duty appliance intended for restaurant use. "It still works," our guide said. The good thing about having a guide is that you don't have to read all the index cards, plus there are jokes.
  We learned about the great timber boom of the nineteenth century. Logs were floated down the river and sawed up in Stillwater's mills. The trees were gone by the turn of the twentieth century and Stillwater lost half her population over the next forty years. It took another 40 years for the town to recover.
  The highlight of the tour was the room devoted to the prison. There weren't many prisoners in the early days, but newspaper reports of the day complain about prisoners being able to escape at will.  There were always factories in the prison, the warden getting a share of the profits from prison labor. A later warden allowed prisoners' wives to spend the night. There was also a restaurant and a friendly prostitute in residence. This warden lasted less than a year.
  The Younger brothers Cole, Bob, and Jim arrived in Stillwater after their trial in 1876. They had been sentenced to life imprisonment. One wall in the "prison room" has two large photographs of the Youngers. In the first, taken just after their capture, they look terrible, perforated as they were by bullets. In the other picture taken a few years later, they're wearing suits and look like leading citizens. Bob was close to death from tuberculosis and the warden has allowed the brothers to go uptown to have their portrait made.
  Cole and Bob were paroled in 1901. Bob killed himself a year later. Cole was given a pardon on condition that he leave Minnesota and that he not make a profit from his notoriety. Well it was just too tempting. He was a celebrity after all, and went on to have a successful career as an author, lecturer, and performer in a Wild West Show. However, he did manage to stay away from Minne-so-teo.

                                        Sam and Luke in front of the Warden's House.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Veiled Worry

  My fear of being buried alive began when Sister Eubestrabius told us the story of a man who was being considered for sainthood. The Devil's Advocate ordered the candidate's body exhumed. Hair was found under the corpse's fingernails. It was surmised that he had come back to life in his coffin. Naturally enough he went mad and possibly cursed God. Sainthood denied. You really shouldn't tell stories like that to young children. In fact I feel bad repeating it even now.
  Then our scoutmaster read us Edgar Allan Poe's The Cask of the Amontillado about a guy who gets his rival drunk and walls him up in the depths of his wine cellar. When I told my aunt about this she asked if I'd heard about the soldier who'd been found walled up in the fort on Castle Island in Boston Harbor. It was surmised that his enemies had done away with him. His disappearance was dated back to the time that Edgar Allen Poe had served as a soldier at the fort. Not that Poe was involved, but he probably heard rumors which inspired The Cask.
  I was just a kid, but I was already worried about being buried alive. My mother said that in these days of embalming, there was no way a person could survive the funeral. But lately I've opted for cremation to save money. Now I picture myself waking up as my coffin is being conveyed into the furnace.
  There's a school on the shores of Lake Superior where you can make your own coffin. I'm going to install a little popup flag that can be operated from inside. My will shall specify that no one gets nothing till someone from the family witnesses my coffin reduced to ashes.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Red-Neck Summer Camp

  The lead article in a recent New Yorker said that Donald Trump won the Republican primaries because he tapped into white discontent. Certain whites, those who jumped into marriage before college, and now find themselves old, divorced, and poor; have but three choices: alcohol; opioids; and suicide. The New Yorker calls this despair. But to those living it, it's just another day.
  David Brooks, the columnist, admitted in a recent column that he had been blindsided by the Trump triumph. His explanation to himself was that he had been hanging around too much with people of his own ilk. He wanted to do something about this but did not say how. Perhaps he'll lunch at Manhattan's Country & Western themed restaurants.
  Getting in touch with the lower depths takes time. It may be too late for Columnist Brooks. But not too late for his children. At the least, he needs to send his kids to Redneck Summer Camp. I know it sounds scary. But your child can start gently, in a Red county in a Blue state: e.g. Roseau County in northwestern Minnesota.   Your child will spend his or her week with a certified and screened family of the redneck persuasion. You'll surely shake your head over the duct tape hammocks  your child has crafted, and possibly throw up over the redneck truck stunts gone wrong your child took part in. But hey, your kid made it home, albeit with a first degree sunburn. As you sit by your child's hospital bed, there'll be time to debate with them whether liberalism is or is not a mental disorder.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Out of the Tar Pits

If you ever get out to Los Angeles, be sure to visit the La Brea Tar Pits. They're amazing. I first learned of them in a comic book at age ten. I already had a fascination with quicksand, but with quicksand, you can always grab an overhanging vine and you'll be ok. In the tar pits however, your a gonner. It was mostly mammoths and saber tooth cats that sank into the pits. Also dire wolves. Many dire wolves. As well as every other creature that roamed the area.
  Most animals are too cautious to step into a pit of bubbling tar. But during the winter the pits would crust over. Leaves would blow onto the crust and soon the pit had it's next victim. This was all shown in my book. First the mammoth would get stuck, then the saber tooth cat would attack the struggling mammoth and he was a victim too. Pathetic.  I resolved to visit La Brea even though my home at the time was 3,000 miles away.
  When my son passed through LA I insisted he visit LaBrea. He said it was just ok. He hadn't read the comic book at the right age. It took three trips to LA before I finally managed a visit to the tar pits. Our friend Ana was living in LA at the time and she got her dad to watch her three little girls while she drove us to the site. I imagined the tar pits would be off in some deserted part of town with just a road and a small visitor center, but I was wrong. The tar pits were surrounded by one of LA's many downtowns. We had to use a parking garage. Only a few acres remain of the original extensive tar bogs. Within a fenced area you can still see pits. A big museum displays the reassembled fossils. Out back there's active excavation going on at Pit 91.
 A photo in the museum shows the scene in the early 1900s. It was then the desolate scene I had imagined, with several oil drilling rigs in the background. For many years people had been using asphalt from the pits to patch boats and roofs. In the early 1900s scientists finally figured out the bones in the pits were ancient fossils. Animals had been getting stuck in the pits for 40,000 years. Most of the fossils were retrieved between 1913-14. They focused on the large animals and birds. In the late 1960s they started excavating again, concentrating on smaller animals, rodents, seeds, etc. It was cathartic for me to understand how all this came together. Only one human has been found in the pits. But probably the most haunting image was the dozens and dozens of dire wolf skulls lined up on back lit walls as though they were precious art objects, which they are.

Would you walk out here for a $100 bill?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Listen To Your Expert

  There's a non-descript little reed that grows in the shady lowlands of the woods that I usually ignore until the time of the black and white world of winter when I am able to cross the frozen river. Then I walk the deer maze trails through a miniature forest of 24 inch drinking straws. I've always wondered what the name of this plant was and recently uprooted one and took it to the local DNR station. The first guy I asked said, "Show it to Larry, he's our plant guy." Larry was in his cubicle, busy on his computer. "Horsetail," he said, barely glancing at my sample. "This doesn't look like the horsetails I've seen," I said, but Larry didn't seem to hear me. The horsetail I knew was fernlike. This was more of a rat tail.
  Someone had told me about an app that can identify plants. I checked the app store. One app was free and had three stars. The other cost ninety-nine cents and had five stars. I got the free one and took a picture of my sample. "Don't know," said the app, but it did make some wild guesses. I took a picture of some kale. "Salad lettuce." How about this blooming Christmas cactus. "Christmas cactus." One out of three isn't very good. "Would you like to ask an expert? Only $1.98." What the heck, I submitted my pic and password. "Please submit another pic from a different angle." I took a full length pic next to a ruler for scale. A couple of hours later the expert replied: "Since your picture has nothing to indicate scale, we can't tell what you have, but here are some possibilities for your area." Guess my second pic never arrived. My expert listed four types of horsetail of various heights. Horsetail number two, the Field Horsetail is 28" tall. So where's the fern? I checked Wiki. The female field horsetail, what I had, produces spores which then grow into the ferny males. The ferns can be made into a tea, good for diarrhea.
  A bit later I got an email from the app itself, asking me to rate this app. I think I'll leave them guessing.
Horsetails in Winter

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Literate Emoji

"University of Minnesota Research finds Emojis can often be misread."--Star Tribune

  Early Emojis were homemade: :) for happy, :( for sad, <<< go away. I refused to use these because I hadn't thought them up myself. It wasn't long before ready made yellow Emojis began appearing everywhere. The worst were the gifs, the moving ones, the laughing, the crying, the barfing ones. No way would I condescend. But then I noticed an emoji key for my texts and emails on my phone keyboard. The party animals I know would send three to four wineglass emojis. OK, I'll try one wine glass. Just one. Well my life didn't suddenly get worse. Neither did it get any better. At least no one showed up to confiscate my diplomas. I actually found the smiling emoji useful to terminate an exchange of texts that was going nowhere. 🙂  How do you respond to that? You don't.
  Now I read this study from a prestigious university saying that a smiley face sent from an Apple device may be received as a frowny face on a Google device. Son of a biscuit! Not only that, some people perceive a smiling face as patronizing or smirky. You just can't win.
  From now on, I'm going to spell out my emojis. e.g. "smiley face here," or "empathic face," or whatever the situation requires. Words are more subtle, more flexible than images. I can describe a smiley face with a quizzical, or querulous left or right eyebrow. My empathic face can also say, that's all well and good my friend, but shouldn't you really get a job? 🍷🍷

Friday, April 8, 2016

Palmville Joe

                         In The Middle Country

                                       (Sculptress unknown)
  I am usually content to enjoy life here in Palmville Township (pop. 42), but in early spring, having survived a long winter, I grow restless and long for the open road. I usually leave home early on my birthday (March 26)  and drive west into Dakota country. This year my birthday was on Easter weekend so I set my trip back a week.
  Now that I'm on the retirement track, I can come and go as I please. I started looking at the long range forecast which I know is mostly guesswork. Wednesday, April sixth looked sunny out west, though it might be raining at home. I'd be driving into the sunshine. Next I consulted the live music schedule at Laughing Sun Brewery in downtown Bismarck, ND. Bismarck is exactly 400 miles from Palmville; as far as I care to drive per day when I'm supposed to be having fun. Laughing Sun is a great little place if you like freshly brewed beer. They also have live music almost every night, mostly blues, folk, jazz, etc.  On Wednesday "Boston Steve (the last of the hippies)" would be performing. I gotta be there! I grew up in Boston. I pictured myself handing this guy a beer during the break and saying, "Hey Boston Steve, what part of Boston are you from?" As a hippie, he'd be around my age and maybe he'd be from my neighborhood and we'd swap yarns about good, old Rozzie and catch up on who was above ground and who was not.
  I got up early on Wednesday, kissed my wee lass goodbye, and fired up old Nellie, my 2006 Corolla with 180,000 trouble-free miles on it. Always an adventure. The long-range forecast for Roseau County was dead on: it was snowing and there were two inches of the wet, heavy stuff on the ground that will flip you in the ditch without thinking twice. I kept my speed to 50. I was the first set of tracks on the road to Strathcona and I was amazed at all the deer tracks in the fresh snow. I slowed to 45.
  The first signs of day appeared as I crossed the Red River at Robbin. I can't say the sky was streaked with light. It was more like a 15 watt bulb encased in wax. At least the road was clear as I persisted on through Grafton and Park River. It was rush hour now for people going to work in these prosperous towns. Beyond that I began passing through the not so prosperous towns. Most of these towns were settled a hundred or so years ago and they were important to the people who lived in and around them. Few people owned cars back then and the roads were terrible, so each town needed its own churches, a school, a bank, hotel, hardware and grocery stores, cafes...everything a person could need within a seven mile walk. As the roads and the cars improved, many of these towns sank into obscurity. Through some Darwinian struggle one town in the center of a 50 or 60 mile circle would emerge the winner and people would drive there for their needs. The weaker towns would gradually lose all or most of their attractions. The bank was the first to go, then the school would consolidate in another town. Next the grocery store would close and last and most lamented, the café would give up. But I'm painting too bleak a picture. Many of these shrunken towns still support a bar where you can get a pizza or a pickled egg. The church still has Sunday services with a circuit riding pastor, and almost always, the Senior Center will  have a few cars parked out front. As a senior myself I find this encouraging and sometimes stop in. There is always coffee on and the denizens are delighted to see a new face.
  I never like getting up at 4:15 a.m. but by the time I passed Adams and headed south, criss-crossing my way along less travelled roads towards Devils Lake, I started getting into the trip. I had left behind the flatlands of the Red River Valley and the rough country that edges the valley and had emerged on that high rolling country where you can see in all directions for many miles. This is where the cobwebby thoughts of winter get blown away and a health-giving peace settles upon my brain.
  Devils Lake is a most prosperous town. It even has Amtrack service. It was busy with kids headed to school. I passed out of town on the amazing causeway that was raised a few years ago above the swelling lake. Numerous birds rode the whitecaps that covered the lake. I thought I saw a distant flash of sun on the hills, but it continued overcast in my vicinity.
  I stopped at ten for breakfast in Harvey. When I stopped here last year and asked for directions to the café, I was told that there was a really good café in town, but that sadly it had just burned down. But they would be rebuilding. I found the place this day in a new cinderblock building on a side street. It looked like they had salvaged the sign from the old place. That sign was the only cozy thing about the place. The interior resembled a small auditorium. A radio talk show buzzed out of a bad speaker, possibly saved from the fire as well. There were only a few diners at this odd hour. "Coffee please." Ah, they have half orders of biscuits and gravy. I am a connoisseur of b.& g. I eat them all over the country, awarding stars (up to five) based on my own unique standards. This café received three stars. The biscuits were forgettable, and I only recall them to write this review. You can't just heap on the gravy in hopes that people won't notice the sadness of the biscuit. The gravy itself was pretty good, and it contained a small bone fragment. I awarded points for this as it indicated meat from a real cow.
  From Harvey I went out of my way a bit up to Anamoose in order to take new to me back roads into Washburn, home of the Fort Mandan Interpretive Center. Lewis and Clark built a fort near Washburn in 1804 and spent five months waiting out the winter. If the local Indians had not shared their food, the expedition may well have foundered. There is a replica of the fort nearby, though no one knows exactly where the original stood, the site probably now being under the meandering Missouri. The interpretive center is well done, very most interesting. The Lewis and Clark expedition took place over two hundred years ago, and though there were many, many artifacts sent back east, the vicissitudes of time have swallowed up many of them. Those that remain are jealously guarded. This interpretive center only had two. One was a button from an army coat, found during the excavation of a nearby Indian village. It is presumed to have belonged to a member of the expedition, possibly even to Clark. The button did not make the entire trip. The other artifact however did travel to the Pacific and back east. It is a small brass hasp from one of the journals used to record the trip. These several journals ended up in a scientific society in Philadelphia. In the late 1800s a scholar was given permission to take the journals home so he could edit them for publication. Crazy! This joker pried off several of the hasps and gave them to his buddies as souvenirs. Somehow this particular hasp made its way back to the authorities who kindly granted it to the Washburn Center where is sits under glass in a place of honor. That little hasp is the kind of thing I'll travel 350 miles to see.
                                                 (Boot of Clark, replica)
                                                    (The hasp, authentic)
  But Boston Steve awaited another forty miles down the road. I checked into my hotel at 3:30 and took it easy till showtime. The sun came out! Great. I liked that, because I planned to walk the 1.8 miles downtown so I could enjoy my beer with a clear conscience. At 5:30 I headed for town, but as I went out the door I banged my hand and my knuckle started bleeding. Dang! I returned to my room to staunch the flow, then noticed my whiskers needed trimming. The snipped hairs bedecked my clean shirt so I removed it. I was going backwards here. Then I heard a terrible rattling on my window. A heavy shower was drenching Bismarck. Now I was glad I had wounded myself. I would have gotten soaked. The rain soon quit and I carefully shut the door as I went out. There's a gentle downward slope towards the river and my path went through the grounds of the state capitol, a pleasant place to walk unless it starts to thunder, as it did now. I scooted through the grounds and headed for an alleyway, hoping I could duck under a carport if it started to rain, which it did with vigor. I spotted a three car garage with a wide overhang and scrunched myself against the door hoping I wasn't triggering a security light. A car passed up the alley and turned into its own garage across the way. Ten minutes later the rain quit and I continued on my way. One point eight miles is a long way when exposed to passing showers. I was still a good half mile from my goal when the rain began again. I was now in the older part of town. The houses had big porches, but there were lights on inside. I spotted a big spruce with tent like branches and darted in there, invisible to the world and perfectly dry.
  Now the sun came out for good and a beautiful rainbow as well. I made my way to the Toasted Frog, a place I know well, and ordered my favorite Vietnamese shrimp. "Sorry sir, we don't serve that anymore." I was disappointed, but I'm a trooper and got the scallops instead.
  Now it was time to meet my old Boston buddy. Laughing Sun Brewery is long and narrow inside, with tables along its length, and a short, low bar and small stage up front. You couldn't get more cozy. I took a seat at the bar and ordered their darkest, freshest brew. Boston Steve was just about to start, accompanied by a fellow guitarist who I'll call Bismarck John. Someone mentioned that Merle Haggard, age 79, had died that day. A hush fell over the crowd, then someone called for "Okie From Muskogee." "I don't have the words," Steve said. He motioned to an older gentleman, a regular obviously, to join him on the stage. With some effort this fellow got onto the stage, took the mike, and made Merle proud, if he was looking down on us just then.
  That was the last truly Country song of the night. Steve had a lyric book thick with pop songs of his and my day. He was pretty good on the guitar and John was even better. During the break I grabbed their mugs and got them refills. "So Steve," I said. "What part of Boston are you from?" "I'm from Portland, Maine, actually," he replied.
  OK. I get it. Maine Steve sounds like he's saying he's the main man. And if he went by Portland Steve, he'd be disappointing all the Oregonians. I suppose from Bismarck Portland looks like a suburb of Boston.
  I had a pleasant and dry walk back to the inn. Slept well. Had surprisingly good biscuits and g. at the inn's continental breakfast (four stars). Even talked to the chef. "I doctor up the canned stuff," she said.
  And so I hit the homeward road, enjoying the sun-kissed buttes and listening to my favorite road tape, "Dead Souls" by Nikolai Gogol. That great epic of the road.

                             (Cloudometer, downtown Bismarck)

  --Thanks to Joe Stenzel for encouraging me to add color to my blog.