Archive for the ‘Family’ Category


June 10, 2013


On the way to Acadia National Park recently, for another wonderful Artist in Residency, roommate tired of my line of BS and honestly actually told me to go to hell.  Taken somewhat aback, my little black angel Nellie and I went for a walk in search of exercise and relief while my mind drifted (for the umpteenth time) to thoughts of redemption.  And if you follow this space at all you will know that when I saw the sign above thoughts arose related to synchronicity and hope.

  Expecting an assortment of other untethered souls, I soon found that all throughout Maine “Redemption” indicates a venue at which empty bottles can be exchanged for dirty coins.  Oh well, we headed back to the artist supply store where our truck was being laden,  working up our best sorrowful eye routine.  Our artist rolled hers.  Best case scenario.

  Making our way north we stopped at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art to see a remarkable show of pictures and sculptures by “Scandinavia’s most famous living artist” Per Kirkeby.  The Dane’s words greatly informed the experience.  “The point at which art is found is the point where what is intriguing is dangerous.”  I totally buy that.  In every regard.  Art, on an easel or in a life, will not be found – or made – very far from the edge.

  “Where is the border between one and the other way to organize matter?  For a brief moment I saw geology as a worldview… A huge stream of energy and materials, which now and then converge in crystalline structures, a mountain, a church, a brief moment, a breath, a morning mist over the ever-flowing river.  The mountain-building energies were no less cultural than the energies of the church-builders”. 

  Brilliant. Consciousness as a force of nature. Tectonic even.  Those scientists in search of a grand unified theory should start with him.   New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote of Kirkeby’s work: it’s like being: “hit by an abrupt , mildly disorienting spell of self-consciousness, a kind of mental stumble: the Kirkeby effect”.  See?   Just like the slap upside the head with which I was graced by my artist as described above.

  Below you see his “Fram”.  It is at once “a poetic rendition of nature with a great force of color” and a demonstration of Kirkeby’s philosophy that: “A picture without intellectual superstructure is nothing”.  He has said that Fram draws from Caspar David Friedrich’s Das Eismeer (The sea of ice) which you see at bottom.  If you’re not familiar with the latter, make sure to notice the shards of a wrecked ship being crushed by the ice.  Fram means forward and was the name of the vessel used by polar explorer  Fridtjof Nansens between 1893 and 1912.

Fram 3


*Quotes, photos, and information from the exhibition catalogue: Per Kirkeby Paintings and Sculpture, Kosinski and Ottmann, Yale, 2012.  The show originated at the Phillips Collection and the only other venue was Bowdoin.  There through Bastille Day

You Know It Is Going To Be Something Cool…

April 19, 2013

Abby shot 3

  OK, as those few of you who occasionally visit this space can attest, I have a very short attention span and find it impossible to stay on the same subject for very long.  Nonetheless, it is necessary to return to one, a rather arcane one at that, less than twelve months after having first addressed it . * Rabies.

  You know it is going to be something cool when your kids call in the middle of the night.  Like about  3:00AM a few Saturdays ago.  Picked up the phone and youngest daughter – who I knew to be in Costa Rica – was on the line.  “Dad!  I’m freaking out!  I think I’m going to die!”  She had plenty of breath so I figured her demise was probably not exactly imminent so I asked what was up.

  “I’m staying in this open air hostel in the middle of the jungle and I just woke up with some sort of huge possum or rat biting my toe!  There’s blood everywhere.  Think I’m going to die?”  Well, I thought, she probably won’t exsanguinate if only her big toe was involved.  “Everybody’s got to go sometime.” I replied, “but I don’t think this will be yours.  You’re going to have to get rabies vaccination when you get home though”.

  After she hung up I messaged Dr Brother who agreed about the rabies series and said that she should organize some antibiotics.  Fine teeth of small rodents or marsupials insert bacteria more deeply with less likelihood of being easily washed off than, say, in the case of a dog bite.  Just as wife began to rub her eyes and make inquiries phone rang again and daughter asked “figure anything out yet?” 

  “Ya, I’m glad you’re on your own insurance.  When I got the rabies shots it cost me several thousand dollars.  Also, I talked with your uncle and he said that you should get some antibiotics or something in the morning.  Is there a witch doctor in the village?”  “Thanks Dad… I’ll find a pharmacy”, which she did later that morning and at which she discussed her allergies and arranged a course of ‘Ciprofloxacina’ with the help of her IPhone and Google Translate.

Abby shot 1

  She returned to her home in the mountains of Colorado without further drama where we visited her on part of a previously planned trip a few weeks later.  It was fun to accompany her for the first round of shots.    It had been a long while since she’d had an injection and she didn’t believe me when I said that they really didn’t hurt.  Much to her surprise then, the first of six – tetanus – brought a smile to her face.  “You’re right!” she said. 

  However, she wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of loading up her big toe up with gamma globulin which process you can see below.  I said that I wouldn’t be either, but that it was going to be much easier for me to observe than watching the orthopedic doc some years prior stick a big needle in deep behind her kneecap.

In the event, she did drop an F bomb, quietly, and the docs laughed happy to have counterpoint to my commentary.

Abby shot 2

    *June 15, 2012  “Exercise is stupid”

…Of Which Reason Knows Nothing

March 9, 2013

 Chair in fireplace

In the New  York Times the other day* there was an interesting article about Norwegian firewood.  Apparently the subject arouses considerable passion in the Land of the Midnight Sun.  There is a bestselling book – Solid Wood  – and a twelve hour television documentary that, through its course, catalyzed a string of invectives via text of which half complained that the firewood was stacked bark side down and half worried about what they saw bark side up.  Uhm, the denouement of this program was a live, fixed, close take of a hearth borne conflagration log after log after log.

  Thinking that perhaps related emotions were cathected into the Beatles’ tune Norwegian Wood, I investigated.  Probably not.  The lyrics most likely refer to cheap pine paneling in allusion to a venue of illicit love.  John: “I’d always had some kind of affairs going on, so I was trying to be sophisticated in writing about an affair…”  Really great melody in the key of E Major and was their first song to employ Harrison on the sitar.  Rolling Stone placed it #84 on the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

  But back to the bark.  If you need some firewood, let my little black angel help as she did in the photos above and below.  At top you see a kitchen chair she dispatched to the woodpile by gnawing through all four of the lower horizontal cross members.  It still stood, and I would have kept it, but wife was concerned for embarrassment should it one day collapse beneath a friend or relative.  Pulling apart its back I felt like how I imagine a surgeon does while making way through a ribcage.  In contrast, the seat fell with measured grace to my Scandinavian axe.

  The scene at bottom is another of creative firewood procurement and this one is special on two counts.  First, the painted shingles shorn from the front of our house add a certain sparkle to the fire made all the more special with the knowledge that they are no longer available.  Second, notice the exposed TV and Internet cable at lower right.  Service has lately acquired a special intermittency.

  Oh well, she has my heart  and as per Pascal: “The heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing”.

Missing Shingles

*NYT 2/20/13

** This is a wood cut by daughter of her friend Max



February 16, 2013

Valentine 1valentine 2


  Last month I read an interview with Alan Arkin in which he recalled observing a fellow actor synapticly filing away a bad emotional experience for future use.  “I had done it myself many times and it was one of the things I found horrible.  I don’t do it any more.  Until my late forties acting was my reason for existence.  Now it’s a reflection of my existence”*    The bit came to mind last week as I began to clean out my office and prepare for something new.**  It dawned on me that if Plan B was to be an acting career I had just hit the material mother lode.

  My father and grandfather were previous occupants of the office and my mother had been just down the hall.   The first thing I noticed when I started though the secure storage was the sheer scale of their work product.  Those people worked hard and long.  I felt guilty as I began to shred.  Had to call upon Dr Brother for support.  “Hey man, I’ve moved twelve times, get over it, it’ll be good for you”.

  Then I began to find stuff.  Oldest document, so far, was deed to a farm in Texas dated 1909 next to which was related correspondence with farmer.  I remember hearing about my great grandparents taking a month long trip down there leaving my sixteen year old grandmother in charge of the farm here and her five siblings.  Then found a file regarding mineral rights and thought of Dad’s zeal in related self education.  Farm was sold in mid sixties.

  My father’s settled estate is still in a cabinet in my office and so I’ve frequently touched it in the years since his death.   In the safe are documents related to seven others.  Two grandparents, four great grandparents, and my brother.  Middle brother’s been gone since a week before 9/11 and I hadn’t looked through that box since receipt of the AOK from the IRS.

   I kept everything.  Medical bills, receipts from a trip to Oregon to box up his affairs, emails I’d printed out from Dr Brother explaining the inexorable,  the will I vividly recall drawing out near the end.   Emotions rose with such force I was nearly overwhelmed and had to shut the door.  It was as if I’d gone back in time.  I realized fully what Arkin was talking about.  The idea of summoning all that forth to repurpose is sort of terrifying.   What if you couldn’t shake it?

  On another shelf I found an accordion file filled with documents and correspondence.  Dad’s report cards from elementary school, letters from his parents to him in college, a epistolary exchange between his father and brothers, a letter to him from my mother’s father, several from his soon to be brother-in- law in preparation for the wedding.

  Not all somber and purposeful though.  There are several  Valentine’s from my mother to him.  The one you see above was postmarked February 14, 1952.  I was born four months later.  Glad to know I had that goin’ for me!  They were younger then than any of their grandchildren are now.  Wow.


**Which is why my posts have been a bit irregular.  If you’ve missed them, thanks and sorry

And I Won’t Even Have To Send Her To College

October 19, 2012


  You’ll recall that some months ago (4/20/12) my little black angel had her way with our computer.  Well, now she’s not so little, wife is away for a spell, and thus the major occupation of my increasingly enfeebled mind is that of her energy management.  No small task.  She’s now an eighty pound bolt of black lightening.

  Raring to go at 5:00 AM every morning, a five or so mile run gets her down to about neutral for a while and it’s fun.  Today for example we crossed paths with a young reporter for a local TV station on a live remote.  She was cute, but for some reason evinced perturbation when Nellie attempted to wrestle the microphone from her grip.  More friendly are the folks at the coffee shop close to home.

  Worried sick about the inside of our house, I race home for lunch hoping to beat her full recharge.  So far the worst has been the demise of a phone book and package from LL Bean.  (Please don’t mention this to wife.)  Outside is another story.  While I’ve been changing clothes sweet Nellie has torn drain tile out of the ground and shake shingles from side of house.

  So, every day at noon I grab a quick bite and then take her for a drive to a hike in the woods and problems of a different sort.  There are more than 100 acres of timber where we go and first couple of times out she disappeared.  It’s deer season and some years ago old friend Sauger was ahead of wife and son in these woods.  They crested a hill to see a deer hunter with bow drawn and aimed at our (then) pup!

  We’ve seen (and chased) a few deer, but had no such incident.  However, several days ago I found myself, uh, bewildered in the Daniel Boone sense of the word.  For a good long while and in the rain.  By the time I made it back to our vehicle I had worked up considerable concern, but Nellie was there and I could tell she’d been concerned too because she ran the multiple tight little circles she does when exuberant. 

  The experience was good for us both, first because an approach to the razor’s edge is always invigorating and second, lesson learned, we now pay attention and pretty much stick together.  And finally, for the opportunity to feel such deep connection.  Like wise wife said (12/2/11): “Every dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart”.   

*Interesting.  Auto correct wanted me to substitute ‘that’ for the ‘who’ in the last sentence.  Take note couch potatoes, there is no heart in your machine.

No Neighbors No Electricity No Running Water

September 7, 2012


  In about 300 AD Lu Chi wrote in his Wen Fu(The Art of Writing): “The poet stands at the centre of the universe contemplating The Enigma”.  Well, that’s usually where my mind is.  Thinking big thoughts, asking the big questions.

  Not here.  I’d like to think that here I’m less of a stick in the mud.  Here it’s more like Louis Armstrong’s famous “If you have to ask the question you’ll never know the answer”.  Or, as poet Michael Carey put it: “Nature speaks to those who listen and those who listen when nature speaks rarely speak at all”.  (Seen that before?)

  Sitting in yonder house of the crescent moon, – door wide – watching the waves and whales and gulls and seals you realize that you’re not so very different, alimentary on down.  And who’s to say about relative emotional tone?  The feeling part is one of the brain’s oldest.  Hmm…  An outhouse experience here is far more edifying than the Sunday Times on the throne at home.

  After thirty-five years of figuring stuff out together, where better to celebrate than the shack you see up top and below?  We sorta wonder how the kids are doing at their four cornered points of remove and how the folks are faring back home, but what could we do from here?

  We do speak and listen and eat and walk the beach and two in a bunk when it feels right; draw water from the well, and solar shower out back to wash the salt off after a cold swim in the sea.  It’s been incredible.

  Hey Sally, look, Thar she blows!


Hudson Bay

August 17, 2012


  Broke out laughing on the subway deep in the bowels of Philadelphia a week or so ago.  Kids had finally convinced me to load music into my Iphone and I was listening to Beethoven’s Sixth as it ended and “shuffled” into Jimi Hendrix and All Along The Watchtower.  Yep, life in the big city fer sure. 

  I was there with great purpose toward which was made significant progress along with interesting new friends.  I enjoyed myself immensely as perhaps you could tell.  Nonetheless it was good to get home and empty my suitcase even though roommate and little black angel had made north.

  To Marine on St. Croix, MN they’d traveled for the latest in an incredible succession of artist-in-residencies.  Plan was for me to join them just a few days later, but I didn’t relish the thought of more time in the saddle so soon.  Reports were very good however, and I lonely, so en route I went.

  Seven hour traffic jam.  Last two miles took one hour.  I was furious and could only barely tone down my requests for directions to the off grid destination.  “Jeesh, I’m going to have to do this again day after tomorrow to get home.”  “Don’t worry, she chuckled, you’re going to love it!”    

  Finally there they were by the side of the highway on an unsigned barely perceptible path through the woods.  Drove the mile in to a modest dwelling at the edge of a cliff looking over the St Croix River.  No sounds but us, the birds, and the bees.  Been record hot at home, but got so cold that night we had to pull up the Hudson Bay.  It was glorious.

In the middle of the night, when we get up
……we look at each other in
complete friendship, we know so fully
what the other has been doing.  Bound to each other
like mountaineers coming down a mountain,
bound with the tie of the delivery room…
surely this is the most blessed time of my life*

* From True Love by Sharon Olds


July 20, 2012


  Often here and elsewhere I’ve referred to my fingers and toes while in the throes of some mathematical endeavor or other.  I like to say that one shouldn’t do math in public.  Anyway, honestly, seriously, there is little doubt in researchers’ minds that the popularity of the base ten system is due to the fact that we have ten fingers.

  You know, the mode of the place value system (invented by the Babylonians in about 2000 BC and of whom more in a moment) in which a number in one spot represents ten units of that to its right.  10 = ten units of 1. 100 = ten units of ten and so on. 

  Fingers AND toes.  Systems have been based on other numbers.  Like twenty.  In fact and to no surprise twenty seems to have been the most popular base, after ten, across cultures and history.  Vestigial remains of a base twenty system can be observed in French where the number for eighty, quatre-vingts, translates as four twenties.

  Another system with modern remains was that of base sixty used by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia. How in the world they arrived at that state of affairs is uncertain and subject to debate.  One researcher posits an intermingling of two cultures: one using base five and the other twelve.  The modern connections?  Units of time and degrees of a circle.

  And years in a life.  This one anyhow.  Just turned.  And had the sublime pleasure to spend a few days with five-sixths of my tribe at an exhilarating point on the map about twelve hours west of here.  During the course of a wonderful dinner one night I looked slowly around the table asking myself just how I came to be so lucky.  Boring maybe, but oh so lucky.

*Much of the numeracy above came from the fascinating book: The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio     


kids in the middle dog at our feet

June 8, 2012


  Ok, don’t ask me where this is, because I’m not going to tell you.  And you’re gonna want to know.  I guarantee it.  Subtly supernatural it’d be the perfect haunt for a New World Merlin or Gandalf.  Those who’ve passed through leave imbued with a sense of wonder not to be dimmed by triumph, trial, or TV.

  Roommate and I stumbled upon it as kids which is why it came to mind when we had several of our own.  We were graced with the recollection and thought that the spot would be a great place to camp with a young group because it offered a wilderness experience minutes from home.  No foolin’. I took these photos this morning on my way to work!

  Well, maybe I didn’t take the route a crow might, but uhm, my house is basically centre ville, yard abuts an interstate, and even so I was alone and nearly lost to the sound of water some five to ten minutes after pulling out of my driveway.  Not a park or public land.  Like I said, secret.


  It’s a place the glaciers missed as you can see from the rugged limestone escarpment in the video below.  There is thus flora and fauna not often seen elsewhere.  I would have taken photos of the red columbine, but it’s not out yet.  Bluebirds, orioles, crawdads, and deer – rare before the herd explosion of the last twenty years.  We’d take plaster casts of their hoofmarks in the mud.


  Many massive sycamore trees magnificent in their addition to the canopy.  They in fact cover and hide this section of the creek and the cliffs from all but the most intrepid passers nearby.  We’d be quiet until dusk and before a bit after the sun came up because uninitiated could pass that close and not notice our presence without an aural clue.

  We all felt a subtle power, possessed of special knowledge as we’d silently watch folks chatter by unaware.  It came as no surprise to learn that Native Americans considered such sycamore groves sacrosanct.  After dark, we’d have a scrumptious repast and a huge roaring fire to complete our rite. Then into the tent kids in the middle and dog at our feet.


Results Below

April 20, 2012


  This one is easy – you’re looking at our new friend Nellie.  Born in a barn on the day after Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, we took her home March 17.   Wife visited the farm many times in between and once asked mom Lucy which of her five to chose.  Owner was so impressed at the subsequent interaction that we got a discount.

  Our little black pearl slept through the night right off and whimpered at the front door appropriately.  We set up a baby monitor so as to hear her called to nature in the middle of the night.  It’d been fifteen years* since we’d had a pup and Nellie fit right in.

  She’s a morning person, uh dog, and is raring to go the moment she first hears or sees us in the AM.  Throw something and she’ll roar into action – bouncing off kitchen walls and cabinets like a cue ball struck on an empty table.  It’s hilarious to watch.

  Or was.  Few days ago while standing at the counter eating breakfast I accidently stepped on a squeaky toy.  Dark flash, chomp, rip, and there went the most expensive pair of pants I’ve ever owned.  I would never have bought them myself and had complained to she who’d brought them home when I saw the tag.  “But it’s your daughter’s wedding” she said.  Gone.

  I was headed for an important meeting, so changed quickly and ran down the stairs.  Dang if Nellie wasn’t around the corner waiting to grab hold again. Oh, no! Hadn’t even left the house, but I was a good way through next paycheck.  “Don’t be a grump!” said guess who. 

  That evening we were both tired, but she (Nellie) was so happy to see me that she spun about several times before nuzzling up.  I patted her a bit and onto her back she then rolled in hopes of a belly rub.  That patch of bare skin is so soft!  Oh well, we’re cool…

  Woke next morning to find an impressive archipelago of soft brown mounds arrayed across the kitchen.  She’d probably attempted to give notice, but the fact that she’d chewed through the intercom cord had short circuited her yelps.  Took her to the vet to learn that she’s hosting three different sorts of worms probably ingested onboard a raccoon waste nugget.

  None of this bothered wife in the least.  Until yesterday.  Sweet Nellie got in behind the computer during a precious Facebook session and chewed through the router, printer, and mouse cables.  All that stupid I can’t believe that guy’s a billionaire ‘Friend’ stuff disappeared.  Snarls were exchanged.  Results below.  

*cf December 2, 2011