Thursday, November 3, 2011

A List of Things I Am Thankful For In 2011

I was recently challenged to list one thing I am thankful for for each of the 21 days in November leading up to Thanksgiving Day. I tried to do them one by one, but I just can't keep up that sort of thing, so here goes a list all at once and in no particular order:

My spouse who supports me in my crazy plans and even helps implement them with me. 
My sons who are not children anymore but competent adults with opinions and ideas and goals all their own, who are smart and kind and generous and creative and inventive and compassionate and who remember to call their mother on the phone now and again, and their father who helped nurture all those things in them.
Their girlfriends who value their originality and compassion and individuality and do things to take care of them when I can't anymore because we live so far apart.
Friends who support me even when I'm a jerk.
My artwork that has brought me self-confidence and satisfaction and fulfillment and has brought me the company of other artists and has lead me to Mineral Point, Wisconsin.
Nature, especially prairie, and my gardens at my homes and the people who have shared time with me in them.
Music and musicians and especially local singer songwriters that you can see live and up close and musical instruments, and CDs and electronics that allow you to take it home and on the road with you.
Wild Ones Natural Landscapers organization that promotes end educates about native landscaping and the friends there.
Amazing parents
An amazing sister
The seasons and the changes in nature that it brings. The cycle of a day that brings morning light and warm glowing later afternoon light and night that brings starry skies and cicadas and morning that brings fog and dew and frost and songbirds' song.
Health and quality health care and healthcare professionals and researchers.
Flowers and florists and garden shops and nurseries and growers that supply them.
Facebook and reacquainting with old friends and meeting new friends .
Books and used book stores and small book stores.
Cats - also lemurs, horses, otters, tigers, dogs, and other animals - the companionship offered by some and the gracefulness, playfulness, and beauty of them all.
Hiking and backpacking and paddling and trips to the wilderness.
GPS's that help me with my total lack of a sense of direction and geocaching with my kids.
Schools and teachers and opportunities for individualized education.
Boy Scouts and leaders and parents and how it shaped my sons.

Lakes and rivers and paddling in them and overcoming fears so that I can enjoy the company of other paddlers and the solitude of a solo trip on the water.

Wood and making things with it like houses and furniture and such.
Good food and fine restaurants and chocolate and olives and raspberries and pomegranates and asparagus.
My senses, the ability to see color and light and the ability to hear a voice and music, the sense of touch to feel warm breeze and cool rain, the smell of a damp woods, dry corn fields, skunk, rosemary, flowers, and the essence of a loved one, the tastes of good food and salt in seaspray.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We Become What We Do

We think we are formed, that we have fully developed personalities, value systems, and ideologies. We think who we are is fairly fixed and stable, that once we have achieved a certain status, become a 'good person', that we are that for all time. We think that we do things because of who we are.
But I want to suggest that it is the other way around. We are who we are because of what we do.
Another way of saying that is if you do not put into practice your principles, you may as well not have them. If you think you are a kind person, but do not do kind things, you are not. If you think you are a creative person but do not do creative things, you are not. If you think you are a fair person, but do not involve yourself in causes that lead to justice and fairness in the world, you are not.
We are what we do, and what we do shapes us. If you think you are the kind of person who picks up litter, yet sometimes you walk past it, you gradually become less the sort of person who does that. You become the sort of person who is not bothered by walking past litter. If you pick up the litter, you become a person who does that more often and values that.
Sometimes, we feel powerless to change a thing, so we do not speak up or take action. But in letting the situation that we do not like continue without any attempt on our part to make change, we become the sort of person who accepts that bad situation.
If we think ourself an artist because we have a degree or used to paint, we might not be an artist anymore. If we worked on a painting or sketched up some ideas in a journal today, we worked at being creative and we are an artist.
If we think ourself a good friend, a good family member, yet we did not interact with any of the people that matter to us, we might be on the way to disconnecting. If we worked at a relationship today, we are becoming more connected to the people that matter to us.
We might think ourself to be an adventurer, but if we have not just returned from, are on an, or are in the planning phases of an adventurer, we might have lost being that.
Our actions and words either build up or tear down. Which kind of person do we want to be? We become that person by doing things that that kind of person does.
You are what you do. What have you done lately?
Who do you think you are?
What did you do today that spoke that? What did you do today that denied that?
What will you do tomorrow to make yourself more the kind of person you want to be?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Land and Us and Time

It is the same as it ever was. At least in the frame of time that matters to us. The flat plains laid down by the waters of ancient seas, glacier carved and dumped and meltwater washed and wind swept. Flat flat plains and channels of streams and rivers, escarpments and tumbling hills. Its cycles are bigger than us. I talk to men and women who have seen its wet and then its dry and now its wet again. We don't know the true time of the cycles or the scale of any of it. We can only respond in our own lifetime, can only react in our own time line.

Hawks that we killed with our chemicals are back on the land. Coyotes that we trapped to near decimation again howl at the dawn. Little bluestem colonizes short stretches of ditchbank. Litter erodes into ever smaller pieces at the side of the highway. If we disappeared tomorrow, traces of us would be erased before the record of the sea, the glacier, the wind.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Paddling In The Rain

I hadn't paddled much since the Boundary Waters trip where too much wind and too high waves brought back a measure of my old fear of the water. But I resolved this week to get back to it, paddling some of the smaller lakes in the parks around Mineral Point.

It was raining this morning. I went for a paddle anyway. The light sprinkle of rain was just a little cooler than the air, making it refreshing. I put my boat into glass smooth water and paddled across the finger of lake to the far shore under the linden trees, along white barked aspen. Lime green pods of hops trees floated on the surface, hinting at stormier weather prior.

A pair of birds skirted the shore, darting from back and forth from tree to tree, so I paused a ways out, with a view of a ferny bank, and ate my lunch in a light mist. My bird watching reverie was interrupted with the sound of something crashing overhead, and I turned my boat to see a squirrel tumbling from branch to branch high in an oak tree. The return to silence after the violent interruption brought back the sounds of chirping and twittering birds. I finished my sandwich and soda and paddled on and the pair of birds flitted along just ahead of me for a while.

Huge yellow and black swallowtail butterflies drifted along between the shore and my route once the rain stopped. A patch of swamp milkweed at water's edge hosted three of them on the many dense clusters of tiny mauve flowers. Stout black dragonlies skimmed along about eye level to me.

At the end of the lake where the stream feeds it and the water is shallow, I carefully paddled though patches of floating water weed to where I could see Canada geese and mallard ducks and a great blue heron feeding. Soon, the geese took flight, right overhead, so that I could hear the whoosh of their wings with each flap.

The lack of any wind that allowed the glass smooth water also allowed for silence, except for the sound of my paddle dipping into the water and between strokes, the sound of my bow cutting across the surface. When I slowed to a near stop, I heard birds on the shore. An occasional test chirp of a cicada. A catbird mewing over and over. Crows! A low raspy caw and a higher more melodic one.

As I drifted farther into the dense mat of floating green, I heard tiny barely audible plip plops. Was the rain starting back up? No, it was bubbles rising from under water, popping when they reached the surface, the product of some mysterious underwater process. Splay legged insects hopped about the water surface and clusters of small black flies vibrated on the surface of the muck. Tiny amber damselflies landed on the gunwale of my boat and on my life jacket and once on my hand.

I watched the blue heron, standing tail feathers deep in water, as it moved its head this way and that, with long periods of waiting between movements. Finally, it struck with a darting dive of the head and a great rustling of wing feathers, then froze with a fish in its bill. After a shake of its head, it began lifting each long leg in turn, walking toward the shallows, where it finally swallowed the fish after a series of motions where it let go of the fish and darted its head forward to move the fish backwards in its long bill. Then it began looking about the water for more prey, slowly moving back toward the deeper water. But something caught its attention and it thrust its bill into the water, apparently catching smaller fish or frogs again and again. Once it let out a loud squawking and did a sideways wing flapping dance before resuming fishing in the shallows.

Soon, a bit of a breeze came up and pushed my boat sideways, plowing a wide clear swath through the floating weeds, finally pushing me aground in the muck. The heron was undisturbed by my slightly closer approach, but soon, as if on some signal, hundreds, maybe thousands, of cicadas, first on the near bank, then on the far one, began their buzzing. The heron kept its head higher after that, clearly less relaxed than it had been, and eventually with a great slow graceful flapping, took flight, winging just a few feet above the lake's surface until at the last minute, it banked sharply up to land in a skeleton of a tall tree. If I took my eye off the tree, I would lose it in the branches, until it moved again, revealing itself.

Soon it began to rain in earnest and a riffle of waves patterned the surface, so I felt compelled to head back, past the massive rock bluff and towering pines and a half dozen different kinds of ferns. Sumac were beginning to show their flower stalks, bright lime green where they will be burgundy later in the fall. Grapevines dipped into the water from overhanging tree branches.

A lull in the rain coaxed me down the other arm of the lake, where another inlet stream forms more shallows, and a brilliant display of pink Joe Pye weed was topped with dozens of dancing swallowtails, brilliant yellow in the low light of the overcast day.

I headed back in a light drizzle which seemed not to phase the ever present swallowtails, fluttering from one swamp milkweed patch to the next. The light rain held until I managed to get all my gear carted to the van and my boat tied to the top, and just as I made the left turn out of the parking lot, it began to pour.

It was a good day on the water.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My Father-In-Law

I shot a hole in the floor of his pickup truck.
He made fun of my 70's wedge shoes.
He handed me greasy Mustang parts to clean in a coffee can of gasoline.
He picked garden vegetables and passed them in a bowl across the fence to me.
He took me duck hunting with his son. I wore his chest waders.
He complained about my illegible handwriting.
He showed me his guns.
He asked me about my jobs.
He teased me for taking so many photographs.
He made me framed copies of his photographs that I admired.
He shimmied closer to his end of the sofa to make room for us in front of the basement TV.
He made things for my garden.
He held my babies and gleamed.
He told stories.
His chair faced the window, back to the door, and there was that flash of pure joy that crossed his face when you walked into the room far enough that he recognized you and smiled and said something like "Look what the cat dragged in!"
The advantage of marrying into the family is that I get to completely invent my own image of him. In my eye, he is possibly smarter and funnier and stronger and wiser and kinder and braver than anyone could ever really be, but I don't mind if my view is a little soft-focus and I don't think he would either.
Remember what inspires you and use it. Tell the stories that you think others can use. Tell them again and again. That's all we can do, let them make us be a little better than we might have been, and in turn, pass that on to anyone else that can take something from it. That's all we can do.