Six O’clock Song


These days I wake at 6 a.m., specifically to take my dog Sophie for a walk. There are two reasons for going this early; summer heat and Sophie’s intense dislike of other dogs. She had this lovely trait passed down to her by her mother, a full blood Malamute. Her father, a full blood Husky gave her unbounded energy and a curiosity of nearly everything. Together these things make her a formidable dog. She’s beautiful, with streaks of gray, black, and white and Sable around her ears and nearly white eyes. At 115 pounds with her outgoing personality she scares most people who don’t know her. I’ve never been able to teach her not to jump up to look you in the eyes. Mostly, when she does that it’s to smell your breath to see if you’ve eaten anything good recently. Her appetite matches her energy.

This morning we head West and cross Highway 3, two blocks from our house. Traffic is not a problem at this time of day, only a car or two to watch out for. In another half hour, it’ll be rush minute in our rural town. We live in Northfield, Minnesota, a town of about 20,000 people 40 miles south of the Twin Cities. Northfield’s claims to fame are the ending of the career of The Jesse James gang, and Carleton and St. Olaf colleges. We moved here two years ago when we bought my mom’s house, the very house I grew up in. Since that time my mom and my wife have both died, and now it’s just me and Sophie. Just when you think you know what you’re doing, life has a way of telling you you’re wrong. Onward and upward, they say.

Sophie and I head for the path that runs between the dog park and the Cannon river. We walk different paths nearly every day so Sophie has new things to sniff at and the scenery change keeps us both interested. The river has been high all summer. We’ve had copious amounts of rain this year and the trees and foliage along the river is lush and green. Various wildflowers poke their heads up here and there and wildlife is abundant. There are plenty of cottontail rabbits and squirrels to keep Sophie interested. If they get too close she lunges, jerking my arm and shoulder with her sled pulling power. At 7 1/2 years old she’s lost none of her youthful exuberance. Me, on the other hand, at 62, I wonder how much longer I can hold her back. We cross the river on the walk bridge and I notice the water level has come down some. The part of the path that has been flooded for much of the summer is visible again, now covered in mud. We head past the Kwik Trip and Walgreens and cross Highway 19. Crossing Highway 3 again, we walk along Ames park. The park is where the carnival for the Defeat of Jesse James Days sets up. The rest of the year it’s empty. Inhabited by Canada geese whose crap is everywhere, it’s not a popular park. The geese, more wary than ducks start running for the river the moment they see us. If dogs can smile, then Sophie is smiling, thinking she’s successfully run off all the geese. Another job well done.

Ducks on the other hand, are not so easily scared away as the geese are. We have several Mallard families living along the river and some days they barely get out of Sophie,s reach. Then they quack indignantly as if to say, this is our park buddy, leave us be! Among the Mallards there are at least 3 pure white ones. The internet tells me this is the result of wild Mallards breeding with domestic ducks. Another page said that most domestic ducks are Mallards, bred for certain traits, like the plain white color so these could be escapees. Who knows. With the considerable rainfall we’ve had this summer part of Riverside park has become a wetland. There has been permanent water in a large swath of it and the city has not mowed it. The ducks love it and this is another park that doesn’t see much use. I’m all in favor of the wetland, I hope it stays.

This morning we walk past Ames mill. Construction on the mill began in 1856 and was owned by John W. North, the founder of Northfield. In 1917 the Campbell’s cereal company bought the mill and the company wanted to make a hot breakfast cereal that would be different from the cream of wheat and farina cereals of the day. Adding Malt to wheat cereal produced Malt O Meal and the Ames mill in Northfield is the only place in the entire world where hot Malt O Meal cereal is made. Another claim to fame. The Malt O Meal company produces some of the most wonderful smells in the air. It reminds you of the smells of baking cookies or breads. When they’re making chocolate cereal, it’s even better. Crossing the river at Bridge square, we take a break on a park bench. On Bridge Square is a large fountain donated in part by the Sheldahl company, another Northfield claim to fame. Sheldahl, originally spelled Schjeldahl, the founders last name, has made aerospace products including material for the Apollo lunar landers and the Space Shuttle program as well as early satellites and many military applications.

Leaving Bridge Square we head down Water street just in time to see a fat Raccoon waddle up the street. Seeing us, it heads for a clump of thick bushes and stays there. Sophie will chase any animal that runs and they all run. There is a leash ordinance in Northfield and I’m a strict follower. I wish everyone felt that way. One evening Sophie and I were sitting on the deck enjoying the evening air when a family came walking with their dog. The dog was not on a leash. It charged into our yard right at Sophie who was on her cable. Sophie wasn’t having any of that and proceeded to tear up the dog pretty good. The next day a policeman stopped to ask for my version of the story. Apparently the family had to take their dog to the vet for stitches. I felt badly for the dog but my dog was tied up so we didn’t get into any trouble. Hopefully they will use a leash from now on.

We work our way back through the park and finally arrive at home. Before we moved here we lived on a lake near Faribault, a town about 12 miles away. My wife worked overnights and I would be dressed in my scrubs and ready for work when she came home. She felt safer with a big dog in the house while she slept. Ann would play really rough with Sophie, who loved it, growling and barking and rolling around. She misses that, I’m sure. After a big drink and some breakfast, Sophie settles down for a nap and I head to the computer for some writing. My being retired now, Sophie gets all the attention she needs. As I write this the heat of the day is rising. The temperature will approach 90 degrees today with the dewpoint at about 70, which is considered tropical. Today, we’ll stay inside.

Life moves in strange circles. Everything changes. In the 7 1/2 years that I’ve had Sophie, there have only been a handful of times that we’ve missed our morning walk. And yet each time we go something is always different. Trees, grass, shrubs, and wildlife are always there. We pass the occasional jogger or bicycler. Sometimes there’s a beaver along the river or like this morning, a raccoon. Ducks and Geese all summer and rain or snow in Winter. I enjoy our walks as much as she does, for the solitude and the scenery. Birds of various kinds, including eagles and hawks are sometimes seen and all these are indicators that our environment, at least for now, is still in good shape. We’ll keep walking for as long as we can and eventually, that will change. As with the seasons, lives change too. We will take it as it comes and adapt, for what other choice do we have?

Advertisements

Life As It Comes


Pain is a constant companion. On November 24th, 1972, I was involved in a car accident. I was 16 years old, a Junior in high school and I fractured a few of my lower lumbar vertebra. The swelling was so bad that my spinal chord was squeezed to the point of my not being able to move or feel from the waist down. After about 3 weeks I slowly got the feeling back but standing and walking was extremely painful. I had to wear a brace with big steel bars up the back for support. I spent a month in the hospital and another month at home before I could return to school. I have suffered with back pain and sciatica ever since. Regaining the movement that I had until then taken for granted took many more months. I have learned to live with the pain.

Now in my 60’s, I find that I’m getting arthritis. My grandmother on my dad’s side had it so bad that she could barely move on her own. I often wondered if I could inherit that. I’ve had it in my lower back for some time but within the last few years it has developed in my hips and hands. I play hand percussion and fool around with bass guitar but as time goes on those things are becoming more painful. As I am well familiar with pain it is not a surprise or necessarily a burden. Because of my back I have always had to be innovative in how I do things. So the new pain just presents more challenges for how to get things done with the least amount of suffering. I don’t like taking medication so I find other ways of working around it. Some days are just too much however, So I take pain reliever like Ibuprofen.

The joints in the fingers on my left hand make a crunching noise when I make a fist. Some days they hurt so bad I can’t make that fist. I know I’ll have to go to the Doctor soon and probably will take meds to alleviate some of that. I’m not so much worried about the pain as I am worried about the loss of movement. I really like my hands. And I like using them. Who doesn’t, right? And the pain in my hips may not be arthritis but a deteriorating joint. Yay, that sounds better! It is said that age and experience brings wisdom which is great but they leave out the part about your body falling apart. And of course, with the wonderful state of our health care system and insurance, it’ll cost more money than some countries GDP. Can’t wait for that.

Physical pain is a natural part of life. So of course, is emotional pain. All of us have to deal with pain of one kind or another. How we deal with it is important to our overall physical and emotional well being. I think of pain, physical and emotional as a natural part of existence. I don’t think of it as something to be avoided, but something to be dealt with. I, like most people, want less pain so I do things or don’t do things accordingly. Or I change how I do things. Sometimes the change is drastic, like not playing bass anymore. I only started playing bass about a year and a half ago but pushing down on the strings is really getting painful and to continue doing it will only make things worse. I like playing bass, but it’s not something I’m going to be able to continue with. Sometimes changes are not as drastic as that. Like changing how I pick things up. Using my middle finger as opposed to my pointer. I don’t mind change. It keeps the mind sharp.

All this I guess is to say that change happens. Looking at something not necessarily as bad, but different, can contribute to a more stable emotional well being. Pain is not bad, it’s just different than not having pain. Good and bad are just concepts that you agree with. If you can view something as different instead of bad, it helps you think about it in a more constructive way. Now I know that the pain I’ve suffered has not been debilitating. That’s not what I’m talking about. If I ever reach that point I believe I’ll figure out how to deal with that as well. Dealing with pain for me is like dealing with anything else. Whatever comes my way, I look at it, study it and figure out what to do or not do about it. If I can get the pain to go away, that’s great. If not, I’ll figure out how to live with it. What else can you do?

Wait


In anticipation of an event, I wait. I wait for the plumber. I wait in line. I wait for news from a friend. I wait for a call. I wait. We all it seems, wait an awful lot during our short lives. Wait for the harvest. Wait for the school bus. Wait for your plane to arrive. Wait for that package. We wait for Spring. I can’t wait, you say. But you can. You have to. You can’t always get what you want. You have to wait. What a complicated thing, life is. We’ve made it that way. Society, money, love, taxes, government, work, play. All complicated. And you must wait. Wait for it all to happen. You can’t just jump in the car and leave when the weather gets cold. You have to wait for your vacation. Wait for a promotion, wait for a lover. Wait for the game. The game of waiting. And what do we do when we’re waiting. As much as we can squeeze in. Because there’s so much to do. Bills to pay. Food to buy. Things to fix. Snow to shovel. Friends to see. So many things.

Our lives are filled with things. Material things and ideas. We have to manage it all. Get it all done. And then, more things appear. As soon as you finish one thing you were waiting for, you have another thing to wait for. And more. Always and forever. Until the end of your life. And what did you do with your life? You waited. It seems that you should be able to get paid for waiting, seeing how you do so much of it. Unfortunately most of the time the things you are waiting for are things you have to pay for. Waiting for the doctor, etc. Doesn’t seem right some how. Complicated. That’s what it is. We wait for the weekend, those who work, anyway. So we can enjoy time off. And then we grocery shop, and clean, and do laundry, and take the kids to their events. And then Monday morning we go back to work. And wait for the next weekend. Or vacation. Or whatever. We look forward to things we’re waiting for.

Well, the plumber came. That’s what I was waiting for. Now I’ll wait for a clean drain. And to pay for it. And then I’ll wait for the next one to clog up. But that’s okay. I can wait.

Ramblings about nothing, or maybe…


Today, is one of those days. There are times when I can go for days, weeks or even months without having any desire to write. I go about my life, doing whatever I choose (a benefit of being retired) and have no need or desire to write about anything. I like to write because it’s expressive. Normally I have myriad thoughts rambling through my head and suddenly one will set off an alarm and it becomes like putting out a fire. I have to write about it. I have to get that thought out and record it and share it. It’s an urgency. But not always. Some times I don’t have that. Thoughts pop in and out, going along their merry way and I don’t give a hoot about writing any of them down. Today however, the bells are clanging like a four alarm fire but they’re not connected to a thought. It’s maddening because I really want to write, really want to express myself in this way but there’s nothing to express. There’s no world shaking theory, no life or death idea screaming at me from inside my head. And yet something is telling me to write. “Write, damn you! Write now,” it screams! So I’m writing. But I have nothing to say.

It’s a strange world inside my head. Loads of ideas all hanging out, expressing themselves to me, to each other, as if they have a life of their own. Sometimes one idea will give a sideways glance at another idea and yell, “Sod off, you!” And that’s it, the second idea will slink off to sulk by itself and lick it’s wounds. And the first idea, now crowned Kind of Ideas, will scream, “Get to your computer fool! Write me down!” And so, impulsively, I rush do just that, before it gets tired of waiting and disappears around a corner. And then other times, all the ideas get together and have a party all by themselves, leaving me completely out of it. Ignoring my pleading for something witty and wise to write about. “Look at that fool,” they say. “Begging us to present ourselves to him so he can have his way, twisting us into his idea of something we are not. Nuts to him! You’re not getting us!” And they shake their tiny fists at me in defiance. Then they set off the alarm. “Write, Write, Write!!! clang the bells, and then the ideas hide and snicker to themselves as I search in vain for what drove me to the keyboard. It’s a wonder I don’t drink. Is this normal, I ask? Do other writers suffer so? And what does one do, when you have a desire to write but nothing presents itself? Make up farcical crap about the inside of my head, I suppose.

I was never a brilliant child. Never had great or lofty ideas about life or love or anything, for that matter. I played with toys and friends when I was young. Got interested in music and girls as a teenager and basically frittered most of my life away, looking for a good time. It’s only been in the last twenty years or so that I have become interested in the world at large. But that having a good time thing, keeps pulling at me like a long lost lover, wanting me back. I guess I’m kind of selfish. I do things I like, I have fun. I do what I enjoy and avoid what I don’t. I stick my nose into the real world long enough to write some crass crap because I like to pretend I know what I’m talking about and then fade back into my cloistered rendition of reality. (Wow, I’m starting to open up here and I’m not sure I like that.) What the hell? Where is this coming from? Guilt, perhaps? My age creeping up on me? Am I thinking I should have done more with my life? Or maybe I should do more now? I don’t like where this is going. So I’ll stop. You know, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the post office….

The Meaning Of Life


What is the meaning of life? Here is a question that has kept sages and clerics and ordinary people busy for most of human history. What is the meaning of life? It is a question that has kept me busy as well. Why? Because I want to know. Just like millions and probably billions of other people, I too want to know if there is any meaning to life. There are lots of opinions as to the answer, but has anyone really come up with it? Douglas Adams, one of my favorite writers, has his characters in the classic, “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” ask the question, “What is the answer to the question of Life, the Universe and Everything?” A super computer, built for the sole purpose of finding that out, took 10 million years and came up with the answer, “42”. Everyone was quite disappointed, having waited 10 million years to get an answer they didn’t understand. When they consulted the computer about the answer it said, the answer to the question of Life, the Universe and Everything is 42. The problem being, they didn’t actually know the question. This sent them on another, millions of years quest to find out what the question was. I think Adams was trying to tell us, that there’s no answer to that question. Not that that has stopped anyone from asking, however. Inquiring minds want to know. What are we doing here? What is our purpose? Is there any meaning to anything we do? Lots of people have theories. Lots of others claim outright that they know the answer. But do they? How do we find out?

You can ask anyone the question, “What is the meaning of life?” and you’ll get answers from, “I don’t know, to “The meaning of life is to love God” and just about anything in between. I’m going to postulate a theory here. This is it: There is no such thing as life. Now, before you go banging your head on the computer, or cussing me out, stop and think about this. What is the “life” that we’re wondering about. If we can ask the question, “What is the meaning of Life?” then “life” must be something tangible, that we all belong to or are a part of in some way, right? It’s like asking, “What is the meaning of a NASCAR race. Before asking that question, we should know what a NASCAR race is. Once we know that, we can fathom the meaning. Like “The Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy”, we won’t understand the answer if we don’t know the question.

So what is life? I’m postulating that life, as we think of it, doesn’t exist. Now some of you are probably thinking I’m going to get all metaphysical on you. That’s not it. But I’m going to show you why I think “LIFE” as we have come to think of it, doesn’t exist. Here goes. Consider all life on Earth. Human, plant and animal, right? Since science tells us that humans are the only life form capable of reasoning the question of life, we really don’t need to think much about animals or plants. Like this: Does a Fox question the meaning of life as she hunts her prey? Does a Bee wonder why it’s attracted to flowers? Science tells us, it’s only humans who ask those kinds of questions. So let’s concentrate on them.

Say for a moment that we could remove all humans from the Earth. Snap! Like Thanos, except 100% of all humanity is gone. Right before the snap happened, someone was contemplating the question, “What is the meaning of Life?” Now that all the people are gone, where is the “LIFE” that this person was wondering about? If we are all part of life, and we can contemplate its existence and meaning, is it not then, tangible? Can we not then, so to say, put our hands on it? Or, and here comes the messy part, Does life only exist because we think it does? Now I know what you’re going to say. Of course life exists, because I’m alive, you are alive, my dog is alive. That however, is not what I’m talking about. Yes, life exists. Rene Descartes said, “I think, therefor I am.” Proving that life is tangible and real. But, is that the same as “What is the meaning of life?” I don’t believe it is. Now if we make one small change to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” to “What is the meaning of MY Life?” Now were getting somewhere.

Each individual has a life. There is my life, there is your life. That is how life exists. There is not, an entity called life. So there is no answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life.” Because there is no “life”, there is no meaning. But there is, MY life. There is, YOUR life. And those things have meaning. People have searched for the meaning of life since life first began. Finding an answer to that question has given birth to religion and philosophy and consumed people, some people for their entire lives. But really, shouldn’t we be asking, what is the meaning of my life? And why aren’t we asking that question? Why aren’t we looking deeper into our own lives as opposed to looking for the answer to a question that’s unanswerable? If we turn the question of meaning to our own lives, then we have to start taking personal responsibility for their meaning. We must be in charge. We must decide what, if any, meaning there is to the things we think, do, and say. And that can be hard.

To take conscious responsibility for every aspect of our lives isn’t easy to do. We have to constantly monitor ourselves and look deeper into the meaning behind every thing we think, do, or say. Rather than thinking of “life” as something “out there” that we can’t control, asking the question, “what is the meaning of my life” puts the responsibility of answering that, squarely in our own laps. And it’s a big responsibility. Watch the news on television or read the paper. Look closely at all the horrible things people do each and every day. What is the meaning of their lives? Is it to screw people over? Is it to take as much as they can? Is it to hate, or is it to love? The only way to improve “life” in this world is for each of us to ask ourselves, what is the meaning of my life? What am I meant for? What am I here to do? They are much smaller questions than asking, what is the meaning of life, and yet the answers put upon us much greater responsibility. We are now faced with answering that question and then acting upon it if our lives are not meaningful. If we can answer these questions for ourselves then we have found the meaning of life.

The Sword Of Freedom

bloody sword
As hands are brushed together, dead bodies fall like dust
and a girl in a dress called freedom whirls and twirls
but makes no sound but the sound of a mothers cry.

With the constitution in one hand and a bible in the other,
flames suddenly leap and turn them to ash and
they blow away on the wind called justice.

Crowds leave the synagogue, cathedral and mosque and file
into the furnace while factories make more furnaces
and governments send more children to burn.

The minds eye is blind and feeling it’s way to find
emptiness and sorrow where love once lived.
Time turns backward to other wars with the same stench.

Liberty’s crack grows wider and the clapper has
disappeared to be replaced by the
sword of freedom, and a mother cries again.

And do we watch with hands folded in laps and on
our knees pray to a god who doesn’t listen? And do
we tell our children that this is righteousness?

As our world disappears in flame and ash do
we wish we had done the right thing? Do we say the
words that will set all to right, or collect our pay?

As the wars rage on and refugees muliply we go to our
jobs with blinders in place and plugs in our ears and
pretend we do not see the girl dancing. And bleeding.

And as she falls to the ground her wounds ooze into
the sand and she reaches out to be picked up but
we turn away, not wanting to get our clothes dirty.

With clean hands and clothes some walk away, but
some stoop to carry away the hurt and their
voices are being heard. Quietly now, but getting louder.

Spring In Minnesota

Well it seems that Spring has finally arrived. We’ve had temperatures reach over 60 degrees F every day this week. Everything is greening up and budding. My tulips are blooming, the catnip is up and my rhubarb is growing nicely. I had to mow the lawn last weekend and it looks like I’ll have to do it again soon. In the summer, it grows so fast I sometimes have to mow it twice a week which is a pain because it takes me two and a half hours to do it. I have a three and a half acre piece of land that sits between farm fields and a lake. I love it in the country and don’t ever want to move back to town, but the maintenance on a big yard is time consuming and hard on my back. I guess sometimes we just have to suffer for what we want.
047
Tulips and Dandylions

As soon as the rhubarb is ripe I’m going to pick it all, cut it up in small slices and freeze it. I’ve decided that this is the year I’m going to make wine. I’ve thought about it for years now but I always seem to find an excuse not to do it. I may even pick all the catnip and dandelions and make wine out of them. You can make wine out of virtually any fruit or vegetable or weed. I’ve made a new friend on line whose name is Ari, and she makes wine. Check out the WordPress site, “Wine by Ari.” If you type that in a search bar you can make it all one word. She’s making wine and blogging about it and it’s very inspiring to see others doing it. So I’m going for it this year. with the coming warmer temps, it should be ideal wine making weather.
048
The Rhubarb patch
033
The house and part of my yard (Taken from the top of Shit Mountain–the septic hump.)

Our oldest granddaughter turned 13 in March but today she’s having a pool party at the community center in town to celebrate. We have taken her with us on our annual vacation every year except one, when she had strep. We keep a cabin rented on a lake about five hours North of us and go there every June. The weather is usually beautiful, and the fishing is great. I taught her how to fish when she was three years old and she has loved it since. Last year she learned how to clean sunfish and loved that too. This year I may teach her how to throw a fly line and maybe next winter when we’re bored I’ll teach her how to tie flies. She such an inquisitive child and really wants to know how to do everything. She told me once, “Grandpa, I have dolls, and sometimes I play with them, but mostly I rather be outside fishing or hunting!” She doesn’t fool me though. She likes pretty dresses and is learning to use make up. When it comes time for boys in her life it’s going to be hard for her to find one that can keep up. That’s okay with me.

So that’s the news from North country. Not much to tell, really. I hope this finds whoever reads it well and happy See you soon!.

Time

To whom do I owe the pleasure?
To whom ever I choose.
To whom do I owe the time?
To the time keeper, tic toc tic toc.
The stage seeths with the emotion
of the players and yet, it is empty
waiting, waiting.

The life lived is especially precious,
the life given is gone.
To whom do we owe the pleasure?

Given in great numbers to gods and
goddesses, lives, none spared,
none redeemed. Who can know the truth?
Tic toc tic toc, the timekeeper
taps his watch.
Time to face your personal hell,
time, time.

And to this life, I do sing, glasses
raised all around. Bodies swaying, dancing.
The stage rises and the players fall
one by one leaving their mark soon forgotten.
No one puts flowers on their graves anymore.

Summer Weekend

pop bottles

Discarded pop bottles along the river
turned in at the Red Owl, nickle a piece.
Enough for the Saturday afternoon show,
25 cents, a dime for popcorn.

We see the “Three Stooges” or “Mighty Mouse”
and then the show, a western or war movie.

Walking home after, down main street,
old men in overalls sit on the bench
in front of the corner bar,
chewing and spitting, drinking.

Teenage boys in cars whistle and honk
at girls, and we think they’re
crazy, us not ten years old.

Men gas up at the filling station
because tomorrow, everything is closed.
After church we’ll play baseball
in the street or ride our bikes.

We’ll watch “The Wonderful World Of Disney”
on TV Sunday night, go to bed
and dream of far away places.