Thursday, September 7, 2017

Just Looking Around

Destination, anywhere

I thought I knew all about the Roseau City Center. The center, a crazy mish-mash of design ideas which we've gotten used to, was built after the great flood of 2002, so it's been around ten years or more. I'm familiar with the building's museum and library, it's capacious public areas, home to galas, receptions and mega rummage sales. I've passed its smaller meeting area where nervous high schoolers await their driving tests. "Hope I don't get the guy with the mustache, he's the grouchy one." I've been upstairs to the city offices and looked through the remote learning classrooms. But today, as I walked to the mens room tucked behind the library, an elevator door popped open and a rider strolled out.
  I had known since I moved here 40 years ago that Roseau had grain elevators. And I'd heard of the elevator at the bank which is  used by employees only, to take the bank's bullion up to the observation deck for its daily sunning. But finding this new elevator gave me a mild shock. I chastised myself for being so unobservant. Now, as I walk the streets, I scrutinize every nook and cranny, half expecting, half hoping, to find perhaps an escalator running down to a subway platform, with fine tile mosaics...and rats.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Fair

New this year! World's largest portable Ferris wheel.

We just returned home from our annual visit to the Minnesota State Fair. We love the fair. It's amazing! Fantastic! But then, I had very low expectations to begin with. My earliest impressions  of fairs were unfavorable. As a child, I identified with the little pig who built his house of brick. The wolf is frustrated by his inability to blow our house down so he invites us to go to the fair with him. "Sure," says the little pig. "What! Are you crazy?" I say after the wolf is gone. "Don't worry," says the pig. "The wolf is coming at two to pick us up. We'll go at noon, check the place out, and be back home before the wolf gets here."  Just as I feared, when we get to the fair the pig screws around, going on rides, eating taffy, etc. To top it off he buys a butter churn which he makes me carry on my back. We're almost home when we spot the wolf coming up the road.  "Quick!" say the pig. He crawls into the churn, pulls me in behind, and claps on the cover. He's laughing so much we start rolling down the hill until we bang into our front door. No wolf. Turns out he thought we were some kind of monster out to get him. I swore off fairs after that.
  Later in my childhood when I was in college, I went up to New Hampshire with some friends to do God knows what. We heard about a backwoods country fair just across the border in Maine. It was quite a hike through the woods from where we left the car so the locals could say we had come out of the woodwork rather than vice-versa. The entertainment of the day was two tractors pulling against each other. We watched for half an hour then gave it up.
  So when Teresa and I got married, she had to force me to go the State Fair in St Paul where we were living at the time. She had exhibited her 4-H cows at the fair in her youth, so the place had happy memories for her. I was shocked that you had to pay an entrance fee just so you could spend more money. They also charged for parking, but if you parked far enough away and walked half a mile, parking was free. Did I mention I'm a notorious cheapskate and tightwad? Teresa must have been reconsidering her choice of mate at this point, but fortunately she's thrifty too. One thing that did impress me was the tiger run. People don't believe me when I tell them about the tiger, but this was back in the early seventies when you could still do crazy stuff with animals. You paid a few dollars to the tiger's keeper and he gave you a heavy hooded coat and a head start before releasing the tiger who always caught up to the customer and brought him or her down in the dust.
  After we moved north, we forgot about the State Fair and Teresa made do with the Roseau County Fair. After the kids were grown and we were rattling around the home place, Teresa suggested we check out the State Fair on a weekend. So we did. I was now a mature adult and could appreciate the pleasures of watching the ever changing parade of my fellow citizens. The full panoply of human types was on display, from youthful models for Greek statuary to the stars of My 600 lb. Life. There were  tee shirts to be read: "Grandpa's my name, spoiling's my game," or "You are the product of a billion years of evolution. Act like it!"
  We've been going to the fair for the past several years, sometimes with family or friends, but mostly just the two of us. It's difficult to move through the crush of people with more than one companion. Every year there are a few new things. There was a small black "Black Lives Matter" tent that seemed to silently say "Shame." I only saw one openly Trump supporter, a young man wearing a big Trump-Pence button and smoking a cigarette in a prohibited area.
  One place we always visit is the Arts Building, filled with two or three hundred paintings and sculptures. Most of the works are straightforward, some are weird, some are wonderful. We try to get there early in the day before the crowd grows massive. There's a gentle slope across the fair and as you descend it, you can see the heads of thousands and thousands of happy people bobbing up and down in the afternoon sun, while fragrant clouds of grease from the Blooming Onion stand waft across the scene.
  If the earth is purgatory, the fair has more of the paradisiacal than the hellish. But I still give butter churns a wide berth.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Theory of Brewing

 A man will not believe how easy it is to break a French press until he breaks one himself - Voltaire

I'm becoming a scientist in my later years. I've been inspired by a book a friend gave me about the North Woods written by a scientist who's spent his life trying to figure out why things happen the way they do. Why does a moose eat one kind of moss instead of another? When the voles go up, do the beaver go down? Who cares, right. I'm ok as I am, but no, I need to move beyond my primitive thought processes, satisfying as they may have been. Nature is very interesting, very intelligent, after all it came up with us. Now it's our turn to figure out how we got to this state.
  All the answers are right in front of us, but it's hard work figuring them out. You make a guess, then do an experiment, and if your guess is wrong, that's valuable data too. Then other people have to repeat your experiment and get the same results. Then you have a theory, which can always be disproved.  Absolute truth remains out there as a goal. Once we reach absolute truth, the game is up.
  My contribution to science should get us a bit closer to the perfect cup of coffee. Coffee drinking has done much to advance science. I will be using the French press in my experiments. There are numerous ways to make good coffee,  but the French press is cheap and simple. You can make rough French press coffee which is perfectly drinkable, but absolute perfection requires measurement. The thing I like best about doing science is watching other people's experiments on YouTube. Apparently the water temperature is important. Some people say wait 30 seconds after the boil. Others say 200 degrees F is the perfect temperature so I stick a little thermometer in the whistle hole of the kettle as it cooks. Another key factor is the amount of beans. I bought a little scale to weigh out the beans. The videos were putting in way too much coffee. I'm a cheapskate so I cut back on the beans. Tasted good to me. Gave me the boost I need to write up my notes, plus I have money left over for a muffin. The last factor is the grind. Medium coarse is needed. Some videos insist on an expensive burr grinder for an even grind, but another site said just pulse the beans in a blade grinder to get an even grind.
  The one thing I didn't like at first about the French press was cleaning the thing. There's always a thick clump of grounds in the bottom. After some experimentation, I learned to run water over the plunger while lifting it out of the carafe. I fill the carafe half way with water, give it a good stir, then pour it around the plants by the front porch. Please check the publication Science in a couple of years for my final results.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Old Nellie

What's wrong with this picture?
  There have been new cars in my friend and publisher Steve's family, but he let his wife drive them, then his daughter, while he always made do with junkers and hand-me-downs. His latest vehicle, a 1997 Ford Escort wagon, had 150,000 miles on it when his daughter gave it back several years ago. The car was just under a quarter million miles when he retired from the Polaris Snowmobile factory last month. Steve had nursed this vehicle along, replacing parts and changing oil as needed. It took him to work through summer heat and winter blizzards and also on jaunts to the recycling center down in Thief River Falls. He even went camping in the Badlands with it once.
  The very first time he drove it as a retiree, the engine blew up. Rather, the timing belt broke which allowed the pistons to bend the valves. He could get the engine fixed or install a rebuilt, but the car is not worth it. The local junkyard offered him $100. I counseled Steve to grab the cash and be done with it, but Steve said not so fast. He reasoned that the headlight assemblies he had just installed were worth something. And the alternator and the heater blower motor were both fairly new. Plus the exhaust system only had a few thousand miles on it. The fancy Alpine CD player must have value. Steve proposed to haul the Escort home and part it out, as the pros say. He could advertise for free on the local sell and swap site on Facebook. I warned him that his parts would get lost amidst the baby clothes and suggested craigslist, but he said craigslist is for predators. I fear the Escort will join his stable of ancient wrecks under the oaks along the creek, which is entirely his business.
  I am always happy to help Steve in his endeavors. He said he'd be able to get the Escort home on his own, but would appreciate my moral support. Last Thursday we drove to Jerry Solom's machine shop to borrow a trailer. The trailer was behind a tractor that we did not expect to start (it didn't). We removed the sides from the trailer, then Jerry used his loader and a chain to swing the trailer  away from the tractor. Steve had driven his '94 Toyota 4WD pickup to get the trailer, because the pickup contains every tool, chain or jack you would ever need to get a car onto a trailer.  But the truck was missing its right side mirror which Steve thought he'd need to back up the trailer to his car at the shop in Roseau. We pulled the trailer to Steve's place and transferred it to his '95 GMC conversion van. This van's not much to look at, but inside it's as plush as a Vegas bordello.
  We loaded all the tools we thought we'd need from the truck onto the trailer bed along with a set of ramps and tied them all down. Twenty minutes later Steve was backing up the trailer to his formerly faithful steed. The next time we load a car onto a trailer we'll do a couple of things differently. Number One: load the the front end of the vehicle first, so that most of the weight is over the hitch. The Escort had been parked front end first but we could have pulled it away from the fence to load it. Number Two: be sure the car is lined up straight with the trailer. It's really hard to make adjustments as you winch the car up the ramps, especially in reverse. We learned these valuable common sense lessons during the hour it took to get the car onto the trailer. Steve's puny lawnmower ramps impressed me by not collapsing under the weight of his car.
  Now it was time to chain the car to the trailer. It's embarrassing to have things fall off your trailer.  A jacket or a bucket of oil is one thing. But a red station wagon? Not good. Steve has this unusual chain for tough jobs. It's about 40 feet long, with two different sizes of links. There are hooks at each end and an extra hook welded on in the middle, plus a large steel ring welded on in the other middle. Steve has worked magic with this chain many times in the past, but I always stand aside when he gets down to it. Once the load is chained, you use a chain binder to take up the slack and prevent any movement. Steve had borrowed a binder from Jerry, plus he had bought another at Lee's Store on the way to town. You hook each end of the binder to the chain then throw the lever over and presto! your chain is tight as a tick. That's the theory. Steve struggled with this thing, but like Rubik's cube, it got the better of him. He tossed it to me and I scurried off to YouTube which only had videos of improved versions of our binder. Using more primitive technology, Steve finally got his car attached to the trailer and we drove home at 45 mph, hoping the State Patrol was elsewhere.
  Once home, we recruited Jackie to steer the Escort as Steve, his grandson, and I pushed it off the trailer. So if you need a headlight assembly for a '97 Escort (wagon or sedan) or your muffler is getting noisy, please check out the Roseau Area Sell and Swap on Facebook. Thank you.

Monday, July 10, 2017


A toast to the Captain Morgan, wherever she may be.

  Our oldest son Matt, his wife Heather and their sons, Sam and Luke are moving back to the South Shore of Boston.  After four years in Lindström near the Twin Cities, they are returning to the town of Hull. One thing Matt liked about Minnesota is that he had a big shop with room to display his Captain Morgan sign.  Back in Massachusetts, he will still have a shop, but it will lack room for the display of large tugboat name plates. Last month, I asked Matt what he was going to do with Captain Morgan and he said he was going to leave it behind, either sell it at the yard sale or just leave it in the shop. Wait, I could not let this happen. Matt was planning a trip to Wannaska and I said I would take it.  I wasn't real enthusiastic about the sign. I love all things nautical, but I still harbor an irrational prejudice against South Carolina for starting the Civil War. I've been to South Carolina. It's beautiful and the people there are most hospitable, but history is a burr I can't get out from under my saddle.
  Ennaways, the sign arrived this weekend and I was asking Matt about its provenance. Matt currently works for Reinaurer Transportation Company, a towboat operation based in New York City. He works for two weeks and has two weeks off. He's been flying to New York from the Cities. After the move, he'll drive from Hull to his tug.
  Before he started  on the tugs, he worked for Bay State Cruise Co. This outfit runs cruise boats from Boston to the Cape and does whale watches. It's mostly a seasonal operation, but the company does take advantage of opportunities in the off season. In 2003, a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier was planning to anchor off Key West to give its crew a week of R&R. Bay State sent Matt and a small crew aboard one of its vessels down to Key West where they would  shuttle sailors from the carrier to shore. About half way to Florida, Matt's captain received news that a storm was headed for the Keys and that the aircraft carrier was going to wait out the storm at sea. Matt's boat pulled into Charleston S.C. to await developments. They tied up in a disused Navy yard. During the day they explored the city and enjoyed the restaurants. Their boat had been stocked with several thousand cans of beer for the pleasure of the carrier sailors so Matt and his crew enjoyed some of that before it went bad. One evening they explored a derelict tug tied up near their boat. One thing led to another and soon Matt's Captain Morgan sign was under his bunk for safekeeping. The aircraft carrier never did visit Key West and Matt's boat went back to Boston.
  Matt and Heather had bought a house south of Boston too small to display signs in.  It wasn't till they moved to Minnesota in 2013, that the sign saw the light of day again. After Matt told his story we decided to do a Google search of the Captain Morgan. People badmouth the Internet. Yes it's a time waster and a purse devastator. It steals your identity and the trolls are wicked, but when you need some obscure facts, the good old Internet is right there. Matt and I were stunned as we read those facts. The Captain Morgan was built in 1906 in Newburgh, NY for the New York Central Railroad. She was unromantically named the New York Central No. 2. I imagine she shuttled rail cars around New York Harbor for the next fifty years until she was sold to the Bronx Towing Line and renamed the Colco. Here's where the story gets weird. In 1977, the tug was sold to Reinauer Transportation, Matt's employer! And what's more, she was put into service in Boston Harbor as the Arnold Lyons. A couple of sales and name changes later she received her final name. In 1999, she was "laid up" in Charleston. In 2004, the year after Matt visited her, she was scuttled as an artificial reef. The Internet does not say where. Perhaps that's best. We would like to know who Captain Morgan was. And Arnold Lyons too.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Dr. and Mrs. Spock Go East

  Obituaries in rural areas, especially those of old men, mention how the deceased loved spending time with his grandchildren more than anything. Is this just a pious eulogy point or did grandpa really love nothing better than dandling little Jackie and Clarissa on his knee for hours on end. There's a type of play among young children called parallel play and I think this may be what's going on with grandpa. The old codger sits on the porch watching the kids weed the garden. They get a sip of his beer for every row of beans weeded.
  I'm a bit cynical after spending, Teresa and I, 13 days with two of our grandchildren. For nine of those days we were on our own. Our son Joe and his wife Ashley needed child care for perfectly good reasons which I won't go into here. Two days after arriving in Marshfield, Ashley needed a ride to Logan at 3:00 a.m. As we loaded her car, the screen door locked behind us. Son of a biscuit! Luckily we were able to get Teresa to wake up and let us back in. This little mishap was symbolic of the coming week: a series of near disasters that in retrospect are morbidly funny.
  There's lots of clichés among grandparents: "I love them, but I'm glad I can give them back to their parents," or "It's a good thing we had our kids when we were young." But I know people who are raising their grandkids full time. The only way to make it work is to develop a rigid routine. It took us a few days to figure out a schedule that would work for our two charges. Isla is three and a half. She's beautiful, imaginative, and strong-willed. I tend to let this strong will exhaust itself. Teresa is more like, "We need to get out of the path of the semi that's bearing down on us RIGHT NOW! Both methods are appropriate in their place. Little Nash, 11 months, is an affable, smiley chap. He'll play nicely by himself for five minutes, then he wants to be held for five minutes. Up down up down, interspersed with periods of Isla sitting on him.
  It's always interesting trying to live in someone else's house, especially when they're not around. Ashley is a good cook. She likes natural and organic foods. Her pantry is full of exotic spices and flavorings. I'm a simple lug. Just give me my salt, pepper and maybe some oregano. On Day One I found one of those little picnic salt shakers, but it was almost empty. High up in the pantry was a jar of Himalayan salt chunks, good for your wildlife salt lick. Lower down I found French sea salt in the form of small pebbles. I could pulverize these with a hammer but it was messy and Nash needed to be picked up. On Day Five, while rooting around in the back of the pantry I discovered a one pound container of good old Diamond salt. I felt like a Roman legionnaire on payday.
  Understanding the sleep patterns of the kids was vital to our survival. If you kept Isla up late she would sleep till nine the next morning. Nash was trickier. He required a delicate balance between bottle and pacifier to get him to doze in his crib. We discovered that a sticky mix of rice and yogurt in the evening acted as a soporific. Teresa, bless her soul, volunteered to sleep in Ashley's bed adjacent to the crib. Two to three times during the night Nash awoke and Teresa would warm up one of the little bags of breast milk Ashley had left in the freezer. At some point Isla would crawl into bed with Teresa. At dawn Teresa found she could extend Nash's sleep by taking him into bed too.
  I rewarded Teresa's benevolence by coming up with fun outings every afternoon. On a couple of days we walked to the beach a mile away pushing Nash in his stroller and pulling Isla in her wagon. We had to climb an immense hill which left us shot for the time on the beach. Kids love beaches. I find them overly sunny and sandy. My brother and his wife, a saintly couple, watch their three year old granddaughter three days a week. We visited them several times. This is where I saw parallel play in action. Teresa's birthday occurred during our visit. We all went out to McDonald's to celebrate. It seemed most natural to eat in the car.
  I haven't mentioned the dogs: Raven and Aurora. Both are large animals, Raven black and loud, Aurora white and silent. Dogs make fine companions but are superfluous when you already have two little kids to care for and salt containers to ferret out. The dogs could be fed only when Nash was not crawling around. They needed to be let out to relieve themselves. Raven stuck close to home but Aurora likes to roam so she had to be tied. Raven barked at every passing squirrel so he had to be exiled to his basement dungeon. In an ideal world we'd take the dogs for long walks on the beach. They'd chase the balls we bounced on the hard sand and would refresh themselves in the waves. Spoiler alert: this did not occur.
  On our last full day of babysitting, My sister-in-law came over and watched the kids so we could go out for breakfast and visit Teresa's favorite thrift store. Very early the next morning Ashley arrived home. I didn't hear her come in, but my soul flooded with relief when I saw her shoes by the door in the morning. Not because we were no longer responsible for the kids but because we had kept them safe. No falling out of windows, no choking on wine corks, I don't even like to think of the possibilities. People ask if we'd like to have the kids over for an extended visit. Of course! The corn needs weeding, but don't put that in my obituary.


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!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Email to My Editor

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

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

Sent from the Road

Friday, March 17, 2017

Care Befull

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

The Accident

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

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

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Open Road

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

Rush hour on the Gully Road


Monday, February 27, 2017


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

Thursday, February 23, 2017

We're a Four Remote Family Now

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

Monday, February 20, 2017

More Bang for Your Box

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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

White Dog Ghost Dog

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

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Anatomy of a Butt Dial

  You get a call from someone you know. You answer, but they don't answer back. Yet you can hear them in the background, maybe talking to someone else. You call louder, but you're like a character in "Honey I Shrunk the Kids." You're like a flea trying to call up to the giant who's about to step on you.
  You hang up and the next time you see that person you say "Hey, you butt-dialed me," or if it's a sensitive person you keep it to yourself.  The last two butt dials I got went to voicemail. Hmmm. I listened in but it was just more background chatter. What are they saying? Why are they laughing? Are they mocking me?
  There needs to be an app to amplify these conversations. I'm not a voyeur. I'm just curious. One of my fondest wishes is to be inside someone else's mind for even a minute. Do they see as blue what I call red? Is their hot my cold? Do they think it would be ok to elect a psychopath as president? I doubt there'll ever be an app for that.

If you told me 80 years ago I could take a picture of your face
while I sent a call from your butt, I would have said you were crazy.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Baby Elephant in the Room


  Would I like a copy of the National Audubon Society's Baby Elephant Folio of Audubon's Birds of America? For free? You bet I would! After greeting Teresa's Uncle Vernon and his daughter Kelly at their home in Mesa Arizona last fall, the first thing I noticed was this magnificent tome laying horizontally on a shelf under the TV.
  We only had two days in Mesa so what with chatting with Vern and Kelly, hiking in a desert park under the broiling sun, and exploring thrift stores, I knew I would not have time to check out Audubon's take on the roadrunner, but I made a mental note for future reference.
  As we were packing up to leave, I was surprised to see Teresa lugging Birds of A. out to the car. "Vern wants us to donate it to the Roseau library," she said. I made a sound like an American bittern. I eyed my wife as a kingfisher would eye the great blue heron who had just eaten his breakfast minnow.
  I was sick I tell you till Kelly took me aside. "He wants you to have it," she said. It turns out Teresa had negotiated the library deal. Yes I have way too many books and where would I put this furniture sized volume when we're trying to downsize. And yes more people could enjoy the book at the library than if it was languishing in my private library. Vern sensed my mental state and announced that if the library didn't want the book I should take it.
  The bounce returned to my step because I knew how hard it is to donate even brand new books to the library. You have to get approval from regional headquarters and outside donations gum up their procurement procedure.
  But once we got home Teresa dutifully brought the book to the library. The librarian was amazed and gratified. "We'll set it out so people can enjoy it while I see if we can put it in our system," she said. We returned to the library a couple of weeks later and the librarian said that headquarters had rejected the book as too big. Ha! As I cradled the book in my arms I was reminded of the time we lost one of the kids in a big crowd at the beach. The child was only lost for five minutes, but you get the picture.

My benefactor...and his niece

Friday, January 20, 2017

Stiff Upper Lip, Steve

  I don't often read Plato, but when I do I find myself reading his description of the ideal state. He thought aristocracy best. All governments eventually fail because they go too far. Plato says democracy ends in tyranny or autocracy: "At last the wiliest and most unscrupulous flatterer, calling himself 'the protector of the people' rises to supreme power." That quote is from Will Durant's take on Plato. As one of those who did not vote for the winner, I foresee dark days ahead.
  I watched Reagan's inauguration and Bush's, but I left the TV off today. Instead I went over to Raven Global Headquarters to plan strategy with Mr. Reynolds, my editor. We have no firm plans as yet other than to be nice. But we were doing that before so we'll have be even nicer. Watch out!