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 clich├ęs 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