Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Past New Year's Eve in Lidgerwood

May your coming year be full of hopes fulfilled and dreams realized.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Saturday, December 27, 2008


While we lived as though we were poor people when I was a kid, there were a few things we never were without and fresh fruit was one of them. Oranges and grapefruit all winter long and apples in spring and fall and strawberries and watermelon and grapes all summer and other delicacies like pears and peaches and cherries when they were in season. Waiting for the store bought pears to ripen is a sweet suspense to see if they will turn out creamy and sweet or gritty and bland. But during the wait, they are a visual and tactile delight.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Dad's Trees

He had them moved in with a tree spade and watered them in and fertilized them and pruned them and weeded them and watered them some more. It wasn't that long ago, yet it was.

Happy holidays. May yours be filled with joy and the company of fine people and good memories.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Scenes from a Winter Walk

We gripe and moan about the cold and the inconvenience of the snow but we don't mean it. Well, okay, we mean it, but we wouldn't give it up. Okay, we would sure give it up if we had the chance, but sometimes, we do see a good to it. This trail along the river is beautiful in spring when there are buds on the trees and frogs peeping and wildflowers under the trees. It is pretty in the summer with trees in full leaf and birds flitting about and lush ferns in the woods. It is gorgeous in the fall when the leaves are yellow and orange and the air is rich with organic scents and the grasses turn various shades of tan and brown. But in winter, layers of beauty add dimensions that cannot be imagined in warmer seasons. Depending on the temperature and the wind conditions and the snow cover and the humidity in the air, there can be frost or hoarfrost or snow clinging to branches or ice frozen in crystal droplets from branch tips. The river itself can be solid and covered in snow or glaze ice that reflects the blue sky or icy chunks piled up along edges of a flowing center. Tracks of animals and birds tell us there is still life out there and berries glow red against the duller colors of the bare branches and seed pods show bare and sculptural from stems along path. The trail in winter varies from day to day in subtle ways that only those with the spirit and attitude to get out there anyway will enjoy. Be one of them and bundle up and get outside today!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Asleep At The Wheel

I drove the route again a while ago and tried to find the place. I had no luck in my search because it had snowed another many inches and the big trucks with their long armed blades that plow the snow well past the shoulders of the road had been out. My tracks had been snowed over and plowed away, but I did see many mail boxes and sign posts that I could have smashed into. I saw utility poles and trees that I could have wrapped the van around. I saw stone walls and metal guard rails that I could have sideswiped and careened off into oncoming traffic. I saw ditches deep enough to roll a van into and others so steep that I would have ended up far from the road in the valley below after how many flips and tumbles? When I awoke at the wheel, steering myself back onto the roadway as ice and snow flew past my windshield and across my side window, and as I was thrown into the opposite lane by wheels apparently turned too sharply to the left, with traffic far enough down the road to allow me time to adjust back into my lane, I was lucky indeed to have been on one of the few stretches of the road where such a correction was possible. Driving the route again, seeing the obstacles and conditions of the shoulders of the winding and hilly Wisconsin roads, I was impressed more deeply than ever with the truth of what one friend said, which was "You are lucky to be alive" and with the even graver truth of what another friend said, "You could have killed someone!"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hundreds of Tiny Rubber Chickens

Actually, for the purposes of absolute truthfulness, they are plastic.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Over and Over and Over and Over and OFF!

I am a sad blogger. My laptop is broken. It froze. Like a deer in headlights. Like a Dew left in the car in winter. Like the nozzle of the Super Glue the next time you try to use it. So I restarted it in some special mode and ran some recovery stuff. And some more recovery stuff. My son tried to feed it some CDs. I reset some stuff and cleared some stuff. Now when I try to power it up, it pops up this crude looking window that says something about a password not matching and starts the start up process over until it gets to that window and starts the start up process over until it gets to that window and starts the start up process over until it gets to that window and starts the start up process over until it gets to that window and starts the start up process over . . .
So I have few posts scheduled and I might log in from the laptops of others, but don't count on any comments getting approved quickly or any clever or biting emails from me or any regular posts or any brilliant new Power Point presentations on natural landscaping or the aesthetic principles of art. I am down for a while, a blogger without a laptop, one whose social like depends on email, and whose news comes from online news magazines and various blogs that point me to interesting stories. It is different world, unwired. Not better, not worse, just . . . different. I miss it. But I will maybe read some books? You know, paper books, maybe some of the good kind with hard covers and those annoying dust jackets that slip off. Maybe I will get the artwork for the compass rose for the slate tile done. Maybe I will clean the accumulated piles of riffraff around the house. Maybe I will catch up on napping. Maybe I will solve the remaining questions of physics. Maybe I will call my "PC Medic" again and get the damn thing fixed.
"Thank you for your patience and understanding."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Light from Candles

Season's Greetings

What do we celebrate at Christmas when the religious message has lost its meaning?
We can still celebrate family and how you can always count on people called family to love you and support you and protect you and care for you even as they make gentle fun of you for your flaws and weaknesses. The gatherings we remember, the gatherings we share this season, and the gatherings we look forward to in future years are a celebration of that family support and a visible sign that it is and will be.
We can exchange gifts and get together for luncheons or parties with friends who are almost as supportive and necessary to our lives as our own families. We can tell such people how much they mean to us under the guise of holiday greetings in words that would make them blush in a less emotional season.
We can celebrate the beauty of the nature of the season, the snow, the drops of water frozen into icicles, the evergreen greens, the branches of the bare trees, and the seeds and berries and pods that represent the potential for life that spans the cold and only-apparently barren winter.
We can celebrate the bounty that is ours that allows us to be safe and warm on such cold and blustery days of winter.
Even when religion has been sifted out for us, there is still plenty to celebrate and enjoy. May the holiday season bring you blessings of nature and of family and of friends.

Wisconsin Prairie in December

Garfield Conservatory in January

Lake Lida in Late Afternoon on New Year's Eve

Ludden Jail Break Out

He didn't do any of the things they charged him with. But he had no alibi. It isn't his fault he likes to sleep under the stars in his pickup truck box in whatever back road shelter belt or corn field he happens to be near. And yeah, the guns all have reasons for being in there. You'd find hunting licenses in his wallet that explain every kind of weapon he had and anyway, there's nothing wrong with having a few extra as a hobby. And he hadn't been drinking either, no matter how many cans and bottles were on the floor of his pickup. He does feel a moral obligation to pick those things up off the roadside, and no matter how many times we tell him to put them in a garbage bag in the back, he still just tosses them on the passenger seat floor. And no, he was not speaking incoherently. When he left us, he was talking about some new article on some physics project in Australia about bubbles and how they expand and how that relates possibly to the expansion of the universe and that may have seemed incoherent to the sheriff's deputy, but it was not. Just because the local law enforcement does not follow physics is no reason to charge our friend with all the open cases in the county. Well, we realized there was no way he was going to beat all those charges they had stacked up against him and and he couldn't afford the kind of lawyer it would take to even try and anyway, he was ready to move on to a different state, so we had to bust him out. It is surprising how secure those little town jails can be. We left a couple hundred dollars on the desk under a rock to cover any damages to the door frames and locks, and I hope it was enough. We gave him the rest of our cash for gas money and some of the holiday goodies we had in bags and boxes and tins and let him take any warm clothes we had in our cars and sent him on his way. One of us gets a postcard from him now and then. I think he was in Utah, last anyone heard.

Friday, December 5, 2008

December Afternoon

Trees cast long purple shadows across the flat snow.
Cats pounce on voles in the waving sunlit yellow grass.
Red barns share hillsides with white farmhouses.
Flocks of birds surge and swerve against the blue sky.
Rust prairie patchworks with lines of dark corn stubble.
White layers cap the almost black branches of evergreens in rows.
Horses stomp and breathe out bright white steam.
Ginger leaves cling to oak trees at the edges of woods.
At dusk, clouds of amber and apricot and smokey blue grey slide in.
These are the colors of Wisconsin in winter.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

He Died One Year Ago Today

Ah, he was our hero, we four children, the two corn farm sisters and our best childhood friends, the brothers who were sons of our parents' best friends. We heard of his exploits and to us, he always succeeded, never failed. There were no broken bones or hospital stays that WE would admit to, only daring and fabulous accomplishments, each one greater than the last, more, higher, faster, longer, bigger, better, MORE!
We played outdoors at one or the others' house on a Friday or Saturday night as our parents visited inside. We played hard, making our own adventures, standing high, walking on the side of the rolling 55 gallon drum, some probably dangerous castoff from ag chemicals, or at best, from grease or oil for powerful farm machines. We found planks to make ramps to ride bikes over, sometimes stolen from walls of the barn, probably encrusted with lock-jaw infested rusty nails. We played war, hiding behind opposing 55 gallon oil drums and dashing out to imaginary-machine-gun each other, or we lined them up in the ditch facing traffic on Highway 1, dashing out to lob imaginary grenades along with our bursts of imaginary machine gun fire. We lobbed balls over the house and ran like hell for some purpose demanded by the rules of various lobbing-balls-over-houses games which are long forgotten by my too-adult brain. There were bases and teams and 'its' and outs and we never really played quite by the rules because the rules meant the game eventually had an end and winners and losers and we just wanted to play and play and play until our parents called us in for 'lunch', that snack that can be eaten at any time of day in rural North Dakota, but most often, around 4 in the afternoon, and about 9 pm, served to guests visiting in ones home. If the visit was anticipated, there might be fresh-baked cake and pop or if the visit was a surprise, store cookies and Kool-aid. We didn't stay inside long, roaring back out the door with smeared faces and sticky fingers. We had adventures to pursue with a vengeance. And Evel Knievel was our inspiration, our role model, our big dare. It mattered not that Knievel's stunts were of a particular nature and demanded a power motorbike: We were of the mindset that he was the king of all adventure, all things daring, all things risky and potentially disapproved of by parents. That is why my sister and I never did these sorts of things in the light of day when our attentive mother might pop out into the yard at any minute to inquire as to what we were doing and comment on the safety level. No, we saved these things for when our parents were distracted, partying with their best friends. We had these adventures with our best friends, the wild boys, and often, under cover of darkness. Out there, with them, inspired by Evel, we took risks, had real or imagined adventures, worked up a sweat, ran like hell, and maybe even scared each other a bit. We were each others' best friends for many years, growing apart, as friends of opposing genders must in junior high, and especially when entering the big school in the bigger town where cool was of greater importance. One of the 'boys' is gone now, for several years. I had to choose between his funeral and that of a great aunt's sister, and well, buds is buds, even after 30 years. It was a big funeral; he had tons of friends I didn't even know, who probably shared greater adventures than Annie I Over and popping wheelies on banana bikes: Teen-age adventures and then adult adventures, and some probably even on the far side of the law. And now, Evel, our hero, is gone too, for a year now. He inspired us to play harder, run faster, scream louder, stay up later, hide harder. We thought his first name was Evil and that made the allure all the greater. Thanks, Evel. Our childhood was large because of you. Ride on, ride on.
ABC News: Iconic Daredevil Evel Knievel Dies at 69
"No king or prince has lived a better life," he said.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Big Oak Tree On My Street

It shades the roadway and sheds acorns on the shoulder and the ditch and the lawn beyond. It dropped a huge branch on the street once in a storm and the city crew picked it up but refused to trim the jagged butt that was left on the tree because it is the county's right of way and of course the county will never notice it. Squirrels scamper about its limbs and birds sing from it. It is across the street from my mailbox, so it is the thing I see as I wait for traffic to clear so I can leave my driveway. I watch the seasons unfold on this tree.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Turkey Suicide

Was it a tom-tom-hen turkey love triangle? Was it a turkey-crow star-crossed lovers thing? Did this one finally figure out that his missing friends from previous Octobers and Novembers were not living happily on a farm in Iowa? What drove this poor turkey to take his own life in the highest limbs of a tall tree? It breaks the heart to drive this patch of 33 between Reedsburg and LaValle and see this sad carnage. Won't somebody cut him down and give him a proper resting place? A small stone slab carved simply "Tom - Called Home."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Ode to the Stonemason

My friend and neighbor in Mineral Point was working on the stone wall of the building right next to mine, so I wrote him this little thing and posted it on the window, facing out. so he would find it when he was on his scaffolding the next day:

The Ode to the Stonemason

Warm of heart and rough of hand,
He builds the walls
That grace our land.

He is one lifetime on this earth,
But his art will stand
And grow in worth.

His challenge to each to do their best
That their works too
Pass what time will test.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sunday Driving

You never knew where you'd end up or what you'd end up doing. Sunday drives could lead anywhere and end anywhere. They were unscripted and full of potential. Sometimes, Sunday drives were just that, driving about on a Sunday afternoon, on a circuit that took us past some of our fields so our dad could gauge some level of growth or weediness or need for fertilizer or readiness for harvest. But sometimes they were farther ranging and sometimes they included a stop. That stop might be to hike across rolling hills through pastures in the sand hills where we might find a wild tiger lily, the remnant of some long gone majestic prairie. The stop might be to walk down to the dam over the Jim River where the water rushed, powerful, surging, over the spillway and we had to talk in shouts to be heard. The stop might be at a friend or relatives house where we might get to see pigs or milk cows or a new dog or a monstrous new piece of farm machinery. We might end up invited in and offered games or coloring books to amuse us and there might be some sort of sweet snacks involved. Often the drives and the walks and the stops involved stories from my dad. He was not the kind of guy you could put on stage and say 'Tell us a story.' No, that would just elicit a joking around and never a serious story. He had to be inspired by some sight or some question or some memory. And then he would be off. Telling about how something came to be or explaining how something worked or remembering how something used to be. Those were magical moments when my dad was at his best, talking with a sincerity and seriousness that was always tinged with optimism and hope and what might be in the future. "Let's go for a ride." was an invitation to adventure and spontaneity that we never turned down. That Sunday drive could lead anywhere.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I say this every year, so apologies to those of you who will find this a repeat. But Thanksgiving pisses me off. Everyone ponders for a bit the things they are thankful for and the religious say a prayer or two to thank God for those things and then we move on. Well, what a bunch of bull hockey.
What is the point of that prayerful thankfulness. If you believe in an all-knowing God, do you think your list is anything NEW? Sure, it might be good for YOU to list those things and feel some grateful emotion and it might make you be nicer to certain people in the future. But if you MEAN it, why don't you thank the people you are actually thankful to? Thank your family for some specific things. Thank your neighbors for being neighborly. Think of the thing you most value each of your best friends for and thank them for it. Thank your kids' teachers and your co-workers and the guy who fixes your car. Thank your favorite cashier at the grocery store and the people who keep your favorite club going and anyone else you might have listed in you thank you to God. But thank them directly. Leave God out it it. Send an email. A quick note in the mail. Make a phone call. God probably doesn't care to hear it. They will.
There, I have done my annual Thanksgiving venting.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Iron Way

There’s this place in Kentucky called Via Feratta. We happened upon it by chance many years ago on our ill-hatched plan to go rock climbing outdoors during spring break. It was something the kids could do. Kids were supposed to have an adult with them when they climbed and I was absolutely terrified of heights. But it was a slow day and the kids managed to convince Mountain Mark that they were experienced rock climbers and could handle it without an adult supervising and I apparently impressed Mountain Mark as not the suing type. So they got to go. I sat bundled up on the patio watching from afar and taking an occasional picture. It never occurred to me that I’d ever do such a thing. Never. No more than that I would strap on a backpack with a tent inside and hike into the wilderness to set up my own tent and sleep there. For several days in a row. Never. Ever. Well, 2 years later, after a few days backpacking in the Daniel Boone National Wilderness, I was in a climbing harness on that wall, doing it. And . . . it was fun! Thrilling! Challenging! Exhilarating! Hard! Awesome!
You wear a climbing harness, and the route up and along is steel rods formed into a step that are glued into the rock face. Along side the route is a steel cable bolted to the wall. Your climbing harness has two sets of clips. They are clipped to the steel cable so that you are secured to the cliff wall. When you get to a bolt along the cable, you move first one of your clips to the other side of it, then the other, so that you are always secured by at least one of them.
On the Wilderness trip, we did the Via Ferrata after several days of backpacking, so I was a bit worn out already, so my family went back again on Columbus Day weekend, which is when these photo were taken. It is a truly amazing experience for someone who was formerly absolutely terrified of heights. It is not easy for me: I must pause frequently to calm the panic. But it is empowering to be able to do that and the views are amazing!
Anybody want to go back?