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?

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Choosing Happiness


Now that I’m finished with writing about my trip to Ireland, what’s next? I could just take a break and not write anything for a while. I’ve definitely done that before. But I don’t feel like that. I don’t really want to take a break. Something I do almost all the time is observe people. I’m fascinated by what makes people tick, as the saying goes. Psychology and Philosophy are two of my favorite things. So I’m a people watcher, and I listen to people’s words. What they say and how they say it. It reveals a lot about how a person thinks, and how they think is fascinating. This morning, I was thinking about happiness. What makes people happy and why? I had a conversation with a friend recently and he asked me, “What makes you happy?” I thought about this for a while. I knew the answer immediately but I was curious how he would respond to it. To the question of what makes me happy, I answered, “Nothing.” He gave me a look of surprise and said, “But you seem to be pretty happy most of the time, and yet you say nothing makes you happy. I don’t get it.” So I responded with this: “The word ‘nothing’ is derived from two words, no and thing. No thing makes me happy. I, make me happy. I’m happy because I’ve decided that I want to be happy. Period.

Now you might ask, “Aren’t there things that make you unhappy? Things that really make you mad? Sure there are. And when I say that nothing makes me happy, That’s not quite true. There are a lot of things that can make a person happy, or sad or angry, jealous, envious, joyful etc. All those emotions are stirred by lots of different thing. The problem is that feeling emotional about something is temporary. Someone says something that really riles you up. You get really angry and then after awhile you settle down again. Or you become really joyful about something but after awhile, that settles down too. So by that definition, no thing can make you happy. Because the happiness you get from things and from people is always temporary. Lasting happiness comes from deciding that you’re going to be happy. Is it that simple? No, not really. In order to choose to be happy it takes a certain mind set. So let’s explore that.

One of the reasons why people are unhappy comes from their prejudices. And believe me, we all have them. Prejudice can be about anything. We can be prejudice over people who drive expensive cars. We can have prejudices about race, politics, or about the choices people make. It goes on and on. If you give honest thought about what your prejudices are I’m sure you’ll realize some of them. I know I have. Choosing to be happy means in part, getting rid of prejudice. To shed the things that make you unhappy. To realize that most of the things that we care about really don’t matter. My mom was a worrier. She worried about everything, all the time. If you weren’t worried about something, she would worry for you. When she reached her 80’s she told me that she finally realized that she had wasted a lot of her life worrying about things that really didn’t matter. She regretted doing that. This is what I’m talking about. Being happy means getting rid of the things that get in the way of being happy.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get angry. There are plenty of things a person can justify being angry about. Look at our politics today. But being happy means that your base line is happiness. That’s your starting point, and that’s where you return after feeling other emotions. Realizing that all emotions are temporary and shouldn’t be clung to can help you shed a lot of emotional weight. In order to have happiness as a base line you have to let go of the things that get in the way of that. And you have to realize that no thing can make happiness for you. Let’s say you buy a new car. It smells great, everything is shiny and new, and it runs great. Four years later it’s dirty, banged up and repairs cost a lot of money. Your feelings have changed about the thing you used to love. All things and people cause emotions to arise and feeling them is fine. In order to be truly, lastingly happy we cannot cling to our emotions. Feel them and let them go and realize that because someone made you really happy today, and maybe they will make you really happy tomorrow, they are not where true lasting happiness comes from. It comes from inside yourself.

Depression can get in the way of happiness. And if you have depression, you can’t simply get rid of it because you want to be happy. But just like other illnesses, depression shouldn’t define who you are. When you are introduced to another person, are you introduced as the illnesses that you have or are you introduced by your name? A person can still choose happiness as a baseline even when they have depression. My wife did that. Sometimes her depression was debilitating. But she would rally herself and come back to a basic happiness. I’m not a doctor or a psychologist. I know there are lots of things about depression I don’t know. I only know about the things I’ve experienced with the people I know who have had it. And I know that not all cases of depression are the same.

I’ve told the story about one of my granddaughters who went to Honduras. There she met children in an orphanage who basically lost everything. No home, no parents, etc. And yet these kids were happy. They were so joyful that American teenagers would come so far just to see them. They played and laughed without a care in the world. How does that happen? They haven’t been indoctrinated into believing that they shouldn’t be happy. You can see it in all children. Most kids are pretty happy all the time. Sure, they fall and scrape their knees and cry, but soon they’re up running around again. They haven’t been convinced that happiness is not normal. Children don’t care about what color someone is or how many studs or tattoos a person has. They don’t care if you’re gay or care about your past. If you play with them and love them, they’ll love you back. True happiness. We are born with it. But as we live our lives, lots of things get in the way of our happiness. We can however, find it again.

A Leaving


The bitterness of his reproach
for what she gave but wasn’t wanted
lies on her skin, a filth
that washing will not remove

The heat that rises
from the foulness of his disdain
The prickles of sweat
as she turns from him

Having given what he
needed to hear
was all she could do

The sound of his house
key hitting the table
where she drops it,
the dull metallic
discordant note
of cheap metal

Happiness


My wife Ann who died of cancer in 2017, was a happy person. She had depression and anxiety throughout her life and endured much suffering because of that. And yet she was happy. I have known others who have had depression and anxiety but I can’t speak for them. I only know what I’ve experienced myself. I know that Ann was happy against all odds, against debilitating depression. Against fear inducing anxiety. Even dying from cancer didn’t take away from the happiness she felt. It was obvious to those who knew her that she didn’t want cancer, didn’t want to die so young. But throughout the whole ordeal of CT scans, MRI’s, biopsies, PET scans, lab work, chemo, and radiation she maintained a calmness, a ready acceptance of what was next. Knowing she was going to die from this, didn’t change her attitude. She would be happy.

It wasn’t always like that for her. She suffered for years being unhappy. Family issues, a failed marriage, and many other things caused her much grief. Somewhere along the way she realized that happiness, true, lasting happiness doesn’t come from outside of yourself. Owning things, having money, friends, family, situations, none of these things brings lasting happiness. They bring you a high. Like taking drugs gets you high. But like drugs, the high you get from a new car, or from praise, or from having money doesn’t last. It wears off and leaves a hole where it once was. It leaves you wanting more. This is something she came to know. Something she embraced. If she wanted to be happy, she’d have to do it herself.

The self help industry, for an industry is what it is, is huge. It’s a billion dollar industry. Books, magazines, DVD’s, websites, You Tube videos, all there to tell you how to improve, how to be happy. Most of them however, are only telling you how to get high. Choose this diet, get the sculpted body you’ve always craved, buy this new car, wear this make up and look twenty years younger, believe in this religion, buy my book for the secret to wealth and fame, etc, etc. Not that any of these things are bad, in and of themselves, but what they are selling you is a high. Diets are healthy. I could stand to lose some weight. More than a few pounds, actually. But it won’t make me happy. I can be just as miserable weighing twenty pounds less. So why do we seek these temporary highs? Because many of us don’t know where else to look for happiness.

We make the mistake of thinking that happiness comes with achievement. If I could just lose twenty pounds I’d be happy. If I could just get that job promotion, I’d be happy. If I could just get that new car, that face lift, that new hair style. Then I’d be happy. Some of us spend our lives seeking that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow thinking we’ll be happy when we find it. If I could just win that lottery my troubles would be over. All we end up doing however is trading one set of troubles for another. We prove to ourselves every day, that these things will not make us happy and yet we keep running after them like a hamster in a wheel. Someone once said that the simplest explanation is usually the right one. And yet we don’t believe it. Happiness has eluded us for so long that we feel the answer has to be complicated. And so we run, and seek, while holding the answer to what we seek in our hands, and not seeing it.

We need to realize that only we can make ourselves happy. All by ourselves. Ann decided she was going to be happy, even though she was dying of cancer. Each day she was happy for one more day of life. One more day to be with her friends and family, one more day to enjoy a sunrise, or a good conversation. She was happy just to be. This is a lesson all of us should learn. To be happy simply to exist.

One of my granddaughters has been to Honduras a couple times for mission trips. They spent time at an orphanage with the children there. These are kids who have lost their families, their homes, basically everything they had. And they are some of the happiest children she has ever met. They are happy just to be alive, just to be. They have no material goods, no parents, none of the things that the rest of the world values. And yet they are happy. How do children know the secret to happiness? They haven’t yet been indoctrinated by what the world sells as happiness. They haven’t been told that they shouldn’t be happy. They haven’t come to believe that their inner joy is not enough.

But it is enough. Our inner joy, even though it is attacked by depression or anxiety is still there. Ann found it. Even though the world tells us that we can’t be happy unless we are striving after something, our inner joy is still there. We just have to realize that it is and find it. And it doesn’t cost a thing. We have to realize that the things we find value in, if they are external, are not valuable. The things that are valuable, like love, happiness, and joy are things we already have. We need to find them.

On The Importance Of Remembering That All People Are Important, All The Time


Recently, our president and some Republican congress people have tried to use the fact that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a bartender and waitress, to imply that her work as a congress woman can’t be taken seriously. It’s meant to be demeaning. To say that certain people who hold certain jobs are “lesser than” others. All this has done for them is to reveal the ugly classism they partake in. They couldn’t be more wrong in my not so humble opinion and as usual, I’ll tell you why.

When you really want that after work drink, after a hard, stressful day of doing what you do, a bartender becomes an important person. When you have to use a public restroom, a janitor becomes an important person, making sure the restroom is clean. When you need someone to pet sit for your dog because you’ve been called away suddenly, the pet sitter suddenly becomes an important person. At those moments, those people become important to you. You become thankful for the jobs they do. Jobs that you may have never done. Jobs that you wouldn’t want to do. But think about this. For the two minutes it takes for a bartender or a barista to make your drink, that person is important to you. But that mixologist makes many drinks every day. That person wiping the spilled drinks off the bar is an important person to many people, not just you, throughout the day. The janitor who keeps the restrooms clean is as important to me as they are to you when we both need to use that restroom. Whether they think about it or not, all those who use a clean restroom find the janitor to be an important person.

The point is this: All people are important to many different people for many different reasons every day of their lives. This makes us all important. As soon as you leave the coffee shop with that drink you love so much, mixed by the only barista who gets it just right, that same person is now mixing another drink for another person who appreciates the work they’re doing also. That barista is an important person, all day long. When they go home at the end of their shift, they’re important to their family. They’re important to their dog or cat. They are important. To think of someone as “lesser than” because you feel that your job or position is way more important than theirs shows a complete lack of empathy and compassion and a hugely inflated ego. Try using a filthy public restroom sometime and see just how important a janitor becomes.

Realizing that all people are important, not just for you but for others as well, opens up your heart to a much more compassionate way of seeing the world. Knowing that a janitor or a former bartender or a plumber can think and feel the same as you can, even if you’re the CEO of a large company or a congressperson makes you more human. We’re all on this planet together, all trying to make our way, in our own way and we need each others help. Looking down on someone for who or what they are creates division and harm. So try to remember that when you deal with others. We are all important.

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….

She


And now I sit alone,
with reminders of her everywhere;
rocks and pictures and paintings.

And now I sit alone,
not lonely, but sad.
Sad at the loss of her,

who shared my life
and sang with me in the car.

She who shared my bed,
and my most intimate moments,
is gone now, forever.

She, who’s laugh made me laugh,
who’s tears made me cry,
is gone now, forever.
I don’t sing in the car, anymore.

The First Time

There has never been anything
quite like a boy’s first slow dance
with a girl. The feeling of her breasts,
pressed against your chest.
The warmth of her body, held close.
Her breath, tickling the hairs on your neck.
And the lovely smell of her freshly washed hair
filling your teenaged senses
with indescribable feelings.
The song you danced to didn’t matter,
and it was over way too soon.
And the only thing you could
think at that moment was that
you wanted to do that again.
And again, and again.
No, there has never been a feeling
quite like that.
And there never will.

Four Minute Meditation

Having a busy life is something all of us seem to share. For those of us who practice meditation, it can be hard to set aside time to do it. I did a four minute meditation a couple weeks ago (I steep my tea for four minutes) and it was really nice. I posted this on Facebook and got a few good responses. If you’re a tea drinker, give this a try some time. I turned it into a poem.
tea cup
While steeping my tea this morning,
I remembered the tea field workers who
pick the green leaves on mountain sides,
two leaves and a bud
in China and India and Africa.
I thought about the people who work the
magic turning the green leaves
into my favorite tea.
And the buyers and sellers and
truck drivers and ship captains and
their crews, store owners and cashiers that are all
involved with my being able to enjoy a cup of tea.
And I thought about the bees that pollinate
the tea plant flowers and the workers who
harvest the honey that I use to
sweeten my favorite tea.
No worries about money or politics
or anything else. And I enjoyed my tea
more than usual for having thought about
the hundreds of people it took for me to have it.
We are all one. Black, White, male, female, gay,
straight, religious, non religious. All the same.
It’s a beautiful world. Let’s work to keep it that way.

Another Year

candleEvery once in a while I fall into the trap of reflecting on my life. This usually happens at the end of the year. The Gregorian calendar, the calendar which most of the world uses, says that today is the last day of 2015. Named after Pope Gregory XIII and introduced in 1582, the Gregorian calendar was a “fix” of the Julian calendar, named after Julius Caesar to add 0.002% to the year to keep Easter at relatively the same time every year. The year end is just a date however, and one would think that a better time to start a new year would be to coincide it with the beginning of a new season, like Summer perhaps. But I wasn’t in on the making of the calendar so my ideas don’t count. Anyway, reflecting on your life is something uniquely human. My dog Sophie, couldn’t give a hoot what happened yesterday, or last week for that matter. The only thing that matters to her is what’s happening right now. Which, if I was following the Buddhist teachings I’ve learned, should be all that matters to me. Ah well, no one is perfect.

It is amazing to think about how things change. Falling back on Buddhist teachings I find that everything changes. The human body has somewhere between 50 to 75 million cells which are dying and being replaced all the time. So technically, you are not the same person you were yesterday. Everything changes, all the time. Especially feelings, thoughts, likes and dislikes. We are not the same people we were when we were 20 years old as we are today. When I was twenty I would be preparing for a night of drunken partying on December 31st. Today I am lounging around my house in sweat pants and thinking about getting pizza for dinner. Woo Hoo! And I want to make sure I get back home before the crazies go out drinking and partying. Hey wait, that was me once!

I know for a fact that I have done and said a lot of crazy things over the years. I don’t regret any of it because it has all come together to make me who I am and I kind of like who I am. There’s always room for improvement however, but I seem to be doing alright. Would I change some things if I could. Undoubtedly. For like everyone else I know, I have made mistakes. I’m not going to list them here because I don’t dwell on past mistakes. What happened, happened and there’s no going back. There is only today, and so far today has been pretty good. Buddhism embraces reincarnation and the idea that what you do in this life affects how your next life will be. I’m not so sure about that because I’ve seen no evidence of past lives that I may have lived. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try my best to live a good life however because I do believe in the saying, “What goes around comes around.” I think if your life is filled with hate and fear, that’s what you’ll see and experience. If you are a good, decent and happy person, that’s what you’ll see and experience.

So generally for me, reflecting on my life is not unpleasant. I have lived and loved, laughed and cried. I have gained and lost and gained again. Many people have passed through my life. Some of them are still with me and some are gone. I know what happened to some and wonder what happened to others. I’m sure that what I’m describing is typical for most people but I like to think about it. I’m not living in the past, just remembering what was and wondering at how it has changed. Life really is amazing. There have been times when I didn’t have enough to eat, and times when I didn’t have my own place to live. I’ve slept on peoples sofas, and went through a day eating only a can of soup. And then there have been times of plenty. I’ve never been in a war or had my life threatened. The people in Palestine and Somalia live lives I couldn’t imagine and I’m grateful that I haven’t. But I do my best to bring awareness of these things to others like myself who don’t really have a clue.

So on this last day of the year I am sending out good thoughts and blessings to all the world. (Why limit myself?) I hope that everyone thinks about the good and bad things that have happened and I hope that the good has outweighed the bad. Please remember those whose lives are not as good as they could be and do something (even if it’s just writing about it) to help make a change for the better. Peace.
Mr bean

Becoming

tree person
The rocks and the earth they speak, in
a voice as quiet as a windless night.
The water and the wind call out,
beckoning me to become like them.

Walking in the grass with bare feet
my toes press into the dirt and grow
down in the ground like roots.

I stretch out my hands and branches
and leaves sprout from my fingers
and I become a growing, living thing
of the earth. I am.

I become beauty and love and give
these things to the longing world
and birds alight on my limbs.

today

mexico border wall
this is our country
god’s country
we’ll build a wall
keep them out
i’m not paying for that

dead child on a beach
what’re those people doing
i wouldn’t let them in either
who could feed all them
why don’t they go home

take an oath
break an oath
your rights end
where mine begin
i believe

what’re they saying
plotting planning
why can’t they speak english
this in our country
god’s country

why should we be the
caretaker of the world
why do we have to pay
i pay my tithe
i pay my taxes

wait a minute
why are taxes and tithes
and language and rights
and gods and countries
more important than people

why are the things
we have made
the barriers we have wrought
more important
than loving one another

why don’t we love each other?

A Moment In Time

My hometown, Northfield, Minnesota, is famous for stopping the Jesse James Gang from ever robbing another bank. We celebrate “The Defeat Of Jesse James Days” every September. Another reason for fame here, but less so, is that Northfield is the home of the Malt-O-Meal cereal company. I went to work there in 1975 at the age of 18. I did a variety of jobs there but one in particular I remember with fondness. I was part of the cleanup crew. Now you might think, “clean up crew?” Doesn’t sound like much fun right? What that job did for me was to allow me to wander all over the plant cleaning up cereal spills. The plant had a vacuum system and I carried a long flexible hose into the various departments, plugged my hose into the vacuum outlets and sucked up the cereal that had spilled onto the floor. In doing this job I was able to chat with just about everyone who worked there. It was there, and at other jobs I had as a kid that allowed me to start collecting stories that I can tell now as a relatively mature adult. Relatively.Ames Mill Malt O Meal sign
The Ames Mill Malt-O-Meal plant

Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice were the two original cold cereals that Malt-O-Meal began producing in the early Seventies. It was discovered somehow, (there are various stories as to how) that rice and wheat, when super heated and pressurized and shot out through a small hole into a cooler and lower pressure area would puff up into what people know of as “puffed wheat and rice.” This is how Malt-O-Meal made their early puffed cereal. There were four “Batch Guns” (see the picture) that sat half way into the floor. Rice or Wheat was introduced into an internal chamber in the “gun,” the cap was sealed and the gun was rotated while heated. A gauge kept track of the internal pressure and when it was ready the gun was stopped and a sledge hammer was used to hit the “trigger” which would open a small hole in the bottom of the gun. The rice or wheat would blow out of the hole, puffing the cereal grains as they fell into a hopper below. This process was repeated many times throughout a work shift and that’s how you get puffed cereal. Today of course, the process is all automated.
Batch Gun
Batch Gun

The point of my story is not to tell you about cereal or bank robbers however but about a moment in time that took place while I worked there. There were four batch guns and two operators. Both of the guys who did this job were large men who drove down from Minneapolis every day (about 50 miles one way) to swing sledge hammers all day and collect their pay. And they were both black men. The younger guy was about 25 or so, smiling and jolly and easy going. The older one was about 60ish and mostly kept to himself. As the clean up guy, I went to their floor a couple times a day and talked with them while we worked. I mention that they were black because I grew up in small town white America and had little interaction with people of color except for a couple of black students in high school. I often wonder what they thought of me.

One day as I went into the locker room at the end of my shift, the older batch gunner was getting dressed after showering. He hadn’t put on his shirt yet and I noticed two long and rather ugly scars on his abdomen and chest. It was obvious that he had been cut by something and sewed up badly. He saw that I was looking at them, looked down at himself and back up at me and said, “The knife do it’s work.” I said, “Yes sir, it sure did.” He smiled and put on his shirt. He clasped his hand on my shoulder as he left the room, giving it a little squeeze. That an elderly black man who had obviously seen some darker sides of life and a young, dumb white kid like me could share a moment of understanding was important to me and I have never told this story to anyone until now. That moment was pivotal in that it helped me learn that beneath our clothes, beneath our skin, we are all just people. Take away what we wear and what we believe and we are all the same, seeking love and understanding.

All I knew of this man, I have written here. I doubt that he ever knew what he did for me and how it has helped shape me as a human being. And he really didn’t do anything at all except show kindness which helped shape my life. I would thank him, if I could.

An Evening

Fluttering leaves of Aspen trees,
applause to the wind.

Ripples of water sparkle and flash.
Cigar smoke keeps the bugs at bay.

Memories of a girl, a long past love affair,
torrid and short.

A smoky room, mattress on the floor,
the smell of us.

Evening light with spirea in bloom
and shadows long upon the ground.

Grocery Store Chatter

hands of color

Overheard in the grocery store checkout line: “I don’t know why those Somali’s can’t learn English. How do I know they’re not talking about me?” Since I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut under certain circumstances, I said, “Do you think that Somali people have left their war torn country, left famine and torture and death, left their families and friends and everything they have ever known to come half way around the world and stand in a grocery line just so they can talk about you? Do you really think they don’t have anything more important to say than that?” To which I got a scowl and no reply. I guess I should be thankful that I am not so jaded that I am still surprised by the idiocy of some people.

My online blogger friend Audrey Kletscher Helbling wrote a really nice post about Somali and other people of color on her blog, “Minnesota Prairie Roots” which I re-blogged a couple of days ago. I could not agree more with what she has to say. Everyone in this country except Native Americans either came from, or has ancestors who came from some other country. We cannot blame people for wanting to come here and start a better life. If we have an issue with our government immigration policies then by all means we should be going after our politicians to change them. But to hate, dislike or despise people who come here just because they are different is wrong. I think the biggest issue is that a lot of people have a hard time with change and with accepting people who look, dress, talk or worship differently than they do. I think this would be a pretty boring world if we were all blond haired, blue eyed English speaking Lutherans. Or dark haired, brown eyed Spanish speaking Catholics.

Diversity is what makes our world great. I love meeting and talking with people from other cultures and counties. I grill them with questions about their homeland and customs. As soon as you ask a Mexican or Somali person about their respective countries they open right up and tell you all about it. In my line of work I meet people of other nationalities every day. I try to engage them in conversation as often as I can. I hope that it makes them comfortable around me. We all live together in this increasingly small world. We need to get along.