Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

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

It’s Your Move Antonius Block

April 6, 2012


  Know how your best ideas, your strokes of genius, never come when hailed, but when you’re doing something else?  Well there’s an interesting new book about that phenomenon titled Imagine – How Creativity Works  by Jonah Leher. And no surprise, to me anyway, that it brought to mind something, uh, weird.

  In the book Leher recounts the random events that led to the coining of the Nike slogan “Just Do It” and you’ll not find it surprising that the story hasn’t joined waffle irons in the annals of Nike lore.  It has more to do with a scythe than a swoosh.

  Turns out that the dude tasked with the development of a crisp and pithy turn of phrase had earlier in the day been discussing a new book by Norman Mailer – The Executioner’s Song – about the tortured and torturing life of Gary Gilmore which ended with death by firing squad.  Gilmore’s last words were: “Let’s do it.”  See?

  OK.  Not long ago, but long enough, wife and I were in the throes of a heated unpleasant argument.  Can’t remember what it concerned, but do that it had been protracted and had accompanied us through the evening news and into bed.  We’d not yet perfected that don’t go to bed mad thing.

  Anyway, we paused for a moment as our eyes adjusted to the moonlight beaming in through a window.  At the exact moment we reengaged, a bat that had somehow found its way in and flown up the steps rounded the corner into our room.  Gave the phrase “sound of wings” a whole new meaning.

  We both went silent and looked at each other for a moment.  There was no question in either of our minds that rectification of that sort of situation was more part of my job description than hers, but we both got up.  Not though without considerable trepidation.

  It flew back down the stairs and we followed.  I located a couple tennis racquets while wife kept track of the creepy creature.  It flew into oldest daughter’s empty bedroom.  I followed and wife closed the door behind us.  Thing hung upside down from short curtains at the top of the window.

  After a quick flick to the floor, I trapped it on the carpet.  Wife slid a piece of construction paper underneath which I hoped wouldn’t tear as I applied pressure with my hand.  Hard against the strings, it writhed an awful dance macabre while squealing just within the range of perception.  Released at the front door it disappeared into the night.

  Shaken by what we’d conjured up, we looked at each other and spoke not one word more that night.   Tossed and turned for quite a while before falling off and into an incredible dream with a Bergman flic – The Seventh Seal – as the setting.  Max Von Sydow playing knight Antonius Block challenges Death to a game of chess and a chance at a reprieve.  Block jostles the chessboard prompting death to say “You won’t get off that easily”. 

  Death replaced the pieces as they’d been and they played on to his victory, but Block’s real purpose had been to distract Death and prevent him from spotting husband Jof (me) who had seen Death and wife Mia (my roommate) who thinks Jof is nuts.  At the film’s end Jof watches Death lead Block and others away.

               I see them, Mia! I see them! Over there against 
               the dark, stormy sky. They are all there. The 
               smith and Lisa and the knight and Raval and 
               Jons and Skat. And Death, the severe master, 
               invites them to dance. He tells them to hold 
               each other's hands and then they must tread the 
               dance in a long row. And first goes the master 
               with his scythe and hourglass, but Skat dangles 
               at the end with his lyre. They dance away from 
               the dawn and it's a solemn dance towards the 
               dark lands, while the rain washes their faces 
               and cleans the salt of the tears from their 

He is silent. He lowers his hand. His son, MIKAEL 
(played by our dog Sauger), has listened to his words.  
Now, he crawls up to MIA and sits down in her lap. 

               You with your visions and dreams.

    How could I make this up?

All Ok

March 23, 2012


  The thing about sailing is that you’ve got to pay attention to the wind.  Ya, I know, duh.  But it’s that the more time you spend on the water, the finer your attention becomes.  Minor changes in course or sail trim can make for a huge change in progress – upwind or down.  And careless disregard, especially downwind, can “do considerable damage, up to and including bringing down the mast”*.

 Everybody on board pays attention – whether it be with the top of their mind or a few synapses back.  All can but notice if they’re getting the crap shaken or welcoming the more smooth interludes.  Life under sail is an incredibly refreshing, invigorating step away from the quotidian.  Whatever might transpire.

  Recently for example yours truly, in an incredible display of skill and prowess, managed to foul the dingy line.  Twice.  First time was a real mess.  Daughter voiced concern as the yellow polypro line tightened around her arm as other end wrapped around the propeller.  Someone yelled to kill the engine before it dragged her under.

  Examination with mask and snorkel found a potentially serious problem.  The line was not only tightly cinched around the propeller, but shreds were also drawn into its coupling with the shaft.  An inability to clear it would have had us adrift until rescue.  Or grounding.

  Son, son-in-law, and I took turns holding our breaths and using an assortment of tools in an effort to clean things up.  It was easy to saw through the exposed coils, but the stuff wedged in proved problematic.  The extra buoyancy of the salt water helped by holding us against the bottom of the boat while working.

  After some progress, we heard a banging on the side of our boat – the “Buff”.  I surfaced and was told breathlessly that there were a bunch of barracuda about.  Sure enough there were a dozen or so of the snarly looking fish grimacing at us.  They were about a yard long and only sort of menacing, but their jagged under bite was hard to miss. 

  After quite a bit of time and effort and bursting lungs, it seemed like we’d gotten it all.  Fired up the engine, engaged the prop, and bingo! Forward and reverse both worked just fine.  So much more satisfying than working on computer problems, dealing with the TV remote, or “recalculating”.

  Shut it back down, hoisted sails, and made for the next port.  Dropped anchor and let out the prudent five times depth rode (chain).  Watched landmarks on shore to make sure anchor wasn’t dragging.  Seemed ok, but crew member donned mask, snorkel, and fins to make certain.  All okay.  Time for a glass of wine. 

*Nigel Calder’s Cruising Handbook

The Importance of Grocery Stores

March 2, 2012

  I have always loved the grocery store.  Fondness for their aisles probably began in my youth when Mom would take my two brothers and me to a big bright new chain store Sundays after church.  It was a bit of organic joy after a somber hour in the hard pews of our grand cathedral.

She’d give us each lists of items to retrieve and we’d race to return first, forgetting (for the moment) our itchy wool trousers.  Years later I’d do the same (well, the grocery store part) with my kids only with more, uh, vigor than Mom ever allowed.  Wife did most of the shopping and appreciated my help when I did, but wouldn’t accompany me/us for fear of embarrassment.

I loved to juggle produce and found citrus to work best because apples would bruise.  I only tried eggs once.  Kids thus in a dynamic mood, I’d send them out in search of the makings of one of their mothers fine meals while I’d cruise the produce with my shiny rolling collection point.

Much to my surprise such tutelage instilled in my progeny more than just the usual bad habits.  Youngest daughter is working on her Masters in (Elementary) Education.  Here’s part of an essay she wrote followed by professor comment:

“For me, I have found grocery stores to be incredibly enjoyable…I can connect what I am learning at the store to other environments…In school, I am able to take my conversations and information from the grocery store and discuss ideas with my classmates or use the ideas in my teaching.”  “Grocery store as a literate environment is a new one for me – very clever.”

I enjoyed doing homework with all three and began to realize I’d miss my role in their education as the time approached for the last to go off to college.   When she did an important part of my consciousness went into withdrawal with troubling results and ramifications.

For example, back in the supermarket recently, I spied the item pictured below.  Looking about I couldn’t believe my good fortune as I watched brother approach.  “Hey man, I left my glasses in my truck, could you read this to me please so that I can be sure to take home what wife hopes for?”  It was awesome!

*The title above was shamelessly purloined from daughter’s essay…


February 24, 2012


  Hear about that horrible fire in Comayagua Honduras this week?  Daughter called to express concern.  She taught third grade in that city 2003-2004.  We visited. Flew into Tegucigalpa where the landing strip is too short for a big jet and thus its nose protrudes over the edge of a cliff when it finally comes to rest.  Everybody claps.  Beat up truck tows it back to “terminal”. 

  Bus from the capital city to Comayagua was a used yellow school bus from the US still sporting the name of its alma mater.  Several hour trip not for faint of heart.  While passing another bus going uphill around a curve the driver’s accomplice leaned out the door to beat the hood of the sensible with a baseball bat while laughing uproariously.

  Going downhill was even more disconcerting because of the increased speed and noise from the chickens as we rocked and rolled.  I put my feet up on the back of the seat in front of me, but the copilot pointed at them with his slugger.  Don’t know if I’d committed some sort of cultural faux-pas (er, paso en falso) or if he was insulting my manhood.

  Relieved to arrive alive we made our way to the Hotel Casagrande.  Daughter had given us two choices – “a really nice, but sort of expensive place that would be convenient or one further away that would be less expensive”.  “How much for the expensive place?”  “$25.00/night with breakfast.”  No foolin’.

  Daughter speaks Spanish – obviously – but purpose of the Escuela was/is to make the students Spanish/English bilingual.  It is a private school for the children of the local elite and expensive by Isthmus standards.  It was clear that her students loved her and vice versa.  She worries after them these years hence because of the oozing of the drug trade down from Mexico.  Hope none of her former charges were in that hoosegow* conflagration… 

  We traveled around the country for a week ending back in Tegucigalpa.  Went up to visit the Galeria Nacional de Arte, but were initially disappointed to find it closed.  Shot the breeze with the guards a bit and ended up getting a private tour.  The space was a converted colonial building made all the more interesting by its lack of most modern museum accouterments.

  Daughter hailed a cab to see us back to the airport.  Driver was worse even than that of the aforementioned bus and used sidewalks and green space as passing lanes.  Hija spoke to him sternly and fury immediately blazed in his eyes.  The taking of instructions from a female was not part of his life experience.

  I couldn’t believe it, but curbside at the airport daughter told him to wait while we embraced and goodbyed.  He’d drive her to the bus station to start her way back to Comayagua.  Oh lord.  I told wife if she hadn’t made me have kids we’d have a whole lot more money and a whole lot less heartache.

*From the Spanish: juzgado – courtroom

**Piece above is “Pasion por Amapalo” (Passion for Poppy) acrylic on canvas by Jorge Restrepo.  cf Show was called “Urdimbres” (Waves) and was up in the Honduran National Gallery of Art 15 to 30 April, 2004

***Ironically, the Honduran island of Roatan is often mentioned as a beautiful and muy barato place to retire.  We visited and agree.

Final Answer

February 17, 2012

  In the Science Tuesday section of the 2/14/12 NYT was an interesting article about novelty seekers*.  Heretofore a positive answer to questions like “Are you easily bored – do you thrive in conditions that seem chaotic” were linked to problems like attention deficit disorder, alcoholism, and worse.

  New research suggests that “Novelty-seeking is one of the traits that keeps you healthy and happy and fosters personality growth as you age… is a crucial predictor of well being… can lead to antisocial behavior, but if you combine this adventurousness and curiosity with persistence and a sense that it’s not all about you, then you get the kind of creativity that benefits society as a whole…”

  They call it “neophilia” and describe its role in the evolutionary success of our forebears.  We’d never have left the shade much less Olduvai had we not, at least some of us, a healthy dose of curiosity.  And novelty-seeking combined with two other traits (persistence and self-transcendance) turns out to be “a crucial combination… in people who flourished over the years… [and have the] greatest satisfaction with life”.

  There was an online quiz accompanying this article and I figured I might as well take it.  Tone was set with question #1.  I wanted to answer no to “Do you ever speed” but unfortunately I’d won a $168.00 speeding ticket earlier in the day.  Suffice it to say that the final results indicate that I ought to live forever and be quite happy**.

  Such knowledge couldn’t come at a better time since, after thirty-five years at the same job (no sick days) it is now time for plan B and my roommate and I are excited.  In case she reads this and takes the quiz though I must hasten to add that I didn’t get a ‘perfect’ score.  To the question: “Away at a convention a gorgeous married colleague from another city suggests a rendezvous, you…” 

  I checked C “You feel insulted”.  Final answer.

*”What’s New? A Penchant For Novelty Has Benefits” by John Tierney

**”You tend to enthusiastically approach the new and different as potentially rewarding and downplay any risks involved.  You may live too fast and die too young, but you also explore, experiment and otherwise push the envelope for the rest of us, often in productive ways.  You’re innovative, adventurous, and extravagant but also apt to be impulsive, irritable, and overindulgent regarding food, alcohol, drugs, and other temptations.”