Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Winter's Stove

Winter’s Stove

    Winter’s Stove
     Almost fifty years ago, the stove came to us from Adam and Eve, not directly but through Nellie over in Kiowa, the once frontier town where cowboys gathered and Indians raised deadly hell protecting their homeground.  It seems the stove had been around this short-grass prairie hangout for many years for on the cast iron side stood the year 1885. No doubt, it rode the rails on the now long-gone tracks and then headed overland on a horse drawn wagon as it wound its way to some far ranging ranch. Who knows what families sat comfortable around the stove as it glowed from the fragrant Ponderosa, and the more subtle but exotic Cottonwood.
     The stories we were told back then, back those fifty years ago, would certainly let one’s mind see wandering Native Americans drop by some isolated, almost desolate ranch house to sit there in warmth while outside the autumn chill crept in.
     When Adam and Eve purchased the stove remains a mystery, but we first saw it proudly sitting in the middle of their small home, there on the dusty Main Street in Elizabeth Colorado those many years ago. The wood smoke lifted from the stack and drifted over the town casting about the sweet and alluring sent of the local pines, the fragrance of the Wild West.
       In the early fall the wild Sunflowers bloomed along with the Chamisa and sage, adding another subtle odor to the surrounding grasslands and community.
     One day, as they say, the stove had moseyed out of town and been replaced by a more convenient, less aesthetic gas stove. Some said, this was due to the aging couple’s accumulating years, and to neighborly fears of uncontrolled fire. Still, Adam and Eve lived their peaceful life as they had which included moving about their modest home quite naked. The community simply said little other than to give the couple the moniker we all knew. Not long later the duo, brother and sister it was learned, moved to the springs, newer, younger, more modest occupants with curtains moved in and that tick of time disappeared into the prairie night like the last of the buffalo, which ironically occurred about the time the stove arrived in Colorado.
     It turned out Nellie in Kiowa got the stove and quickly put it up for sale as a token to the past, an antique of sorts, but still pristine and useful,  one waiting for newly-arrived pilgrims that might once more heat a home with all the Ponderosa now going to ground. So, with wild eyes on visions of the old west, and a good nose for a subtle but penetrating warmth, the stove became ours, and with it stories of our own, and imagined stories of its wandering life on the short-grass prairie. .
     This is the same stove that to this day is the center of our living room and in a winter way, the center of or lives as it was for others years ago.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Shameless Self Promotion of My Books

 I have not used this site to promote much of anything but what the hell. You see, I have put together  two books in the last couple of years and, while we have tried to do the book store thing, they are a fading breed, so we are now full gear into using the interweb, minus Amazon so far, to see if we can reach  those interested in reading work from Wisconsin writers. Our website right here explains everything---including an option to purchase at below retail prices. We are talking a great Christmas present. .

Presently we re looking for writers for the next edition that will be completed this winter. Please pass this on to writers in your circles. The site now has videos and some snippets of our work.

In addition to the written word, the books contains numerous plates of fine art, many by Ann Herzog Wright. Here is but a small snippet of my work after a day on the lake, drifting aimlessly, no I was after trout but this happened on the way home.

Please pass this site on.


Monday, October 29, 2018

Revolution Watch-----Is Donald Trump a Black Swan?

I'm back on the blog after a lapse of some time but the winter is moving in and my mind is adrift with fear and loathing.

Is Donald Trump a Black Swan?

The other day one of Trump’s less than-intelligent-sons made mention that his father was a Black Swan. That took a few folks back but the comment only lasted a moment in the news cycle, but it did strike me as odd. The term Black Swan is taken from a book called The Black Swan by Taleb. Its premise was that in history, many changes have come about by a radically unanticipated event, an event that may have very disturbing consequences. Previously, it was thought the all the swans in the world were white! That black one in Australia was oddly catastrophic in the ornithology world—and did offer for a nice metaphor. 

The one I remember best was the scene where there was a group of Native Americans standing on the eastern shore of the US, looking out and seeing a tall ship owned by Columbus. Initially they may have thought, “Oh look dude, there is a really big canoe maybe build by those pesky Iroquois.” Not really giving it much thought, they went back to weed the pumpkins. As it turned out, that was one hell of a Black Swan because in short order, most of the natives were dead or dying, or fighting, or just flat-ass running off. Life changed.

There were others mentioned and I suspect the killing of Archduke Ferdinand was one as it gave us a war and an accompanied pile of real dead people.
So is Trump the Buffoon, or as my son calls him Cheeto Mussolini, a Black Swan as his ill-informed Jr. suggested in a speech?

So I am thinking to myself, self, It is well known that the way we are living, that is the consuming yahoos we are, say me driving 200 miles to go fishing, or the guy next door driving 400 miles with his Tundra Super Conquistador pulling a $30,000 bass boat powered by 2 250 HP Honda Blasters, (or was it to Merlin aircraft engines?) has to at some point, go away.  This we intuitively know because fossil fuels, particularly that oil stuff, is a finite resource and to top it off it is giving off CO2, which is now warming the earth faster than Trump can rework his silly, wombat imitated comb-over.

These activities simply have to change, and we, that would be we Amurkins, have to at least get down to European consumption levels of one half (1/2) of our present gluttony. It is also known Dick Cheney was right when he said, “We can not do anything about the climate change because it will hurt the economy.” Well, shit, he was right and the economy as defined by everyone from Charles Buchannan to Milton Freidman—oh, and even Keynes, requires never ending exponential growth and that ain’t gonna fly in a finite world.

Because of this truth, it immediately seems reasonable to think that if we want to rectify the CO2 and other dandy greenhouse gasses, say methane that comes out of our bungs—particularly Trump, then we have to get rid of the GDP growth as well as population growth. The graph here shows that the only decrease in emissions we have had in recent years was in 2008 during the great recession. Jesus, there is a message I can even see.

So, while we are carrying on about changing light bulbs, making wind generators, and having fewer steaks, in Sconnie talk, it don’t mean jack because we still have this growth issue. I mean, how the hell are we going to off-set another million people every 4.5 days? We ain’t.

Here is where we get back to the Black Swan. One has to see that the only drop-off we’ve had in emissions was during an economic downturn like the great recession of ’08, and actually the fall of Russia when they went to consuming ethanol (vodka) and no gasoline.   

What this means, from my backwoods point of view, is we need a freaking recession/depression of some note, and then sure as hell the emissions will drop off in noticeable fashion.

Now if The Cheeto guy is a true Black Swan, he may be the trigger to get us where we actually need to go. This would also make Eric (The Red) Trump correct in his statement and also explain why his comment dropped of the news most pronto. In other words, do you suppose  The Trumpster may actually do some heinous, or not heinous thing that will trigger a collapse? Does this mean we vote for Trump to get a correction of climate change---or is there a humane way to get where we need to go?

Friday, January 5, 2018

Wood Envy and More

Woodpile Envy---Maybe Jealousy.

Is it jealousy, or maybe just green envy that rattles my cage when I see a well-constructed woodpile? Jealously has a personality weakness connotation and I don’t really find myself wanting to push someone’s pile over but rather stop and admire---then maybe twitch with envy, thinking everyone should have one of these---particularly me. I have always burned wood but don’t recall ever being serious about stacking, then again I lived in the dry west and I do not recall an indigenous, wood stacker culture.

Here in industrious Wisconsin the situation is different. If a person casts a wonder eye, it is easy to spot some rather impressive monuments to man’s relationship to wood---and work.

Rick, the Pendleton-clad woodman, boasts a rectangular style, meaning a conventional stack all laid out in parallel rows as if trying to make a statement of organization and convention. He clearly has a solid fixation with one-hundred eighty and ninety degree alignments, and featuring piles to a height of 4.5 feet, but extending lengthwise some 20-30 feet and 10 feet deep. This method would allow one to calculate cubic feet and thus the cordage---thereby pleasing the Chicago School of Economics and mathematicians studying fractals. What is most admirable is the precision of the presentation. Each corner is cross stacked but the interiors are laid on each other horizontally creating a wonderful texture. It is a thing of beauty but rather hidden in the forest and I am sure makes a nice chipmunk condo.  Placed by the road it would be  a hazard and might create admiration crashes.

Jim, in an act cleaning up his woods of windfall, prefers yurt shaped piles with the pieces being stacked on their ends or on some occasions horizontally. The top has a taper of maybe 25 degrees and makes the entire effort look like a Mongolian yurt---even though he is decidedly Irish. The master works of log lugging range in size from 6’- 12’ feet in diameter with a fluctuating edge similar to me after a couple of fine local brews. One standout pile incorporated an upright, and live,  oak as if he needed some natural assistance.

 I ran into another dramatic style north of town sitting ever-so comfortable up on the hillside next to the road. This endeavor was conical with each piece of hard wood laid against the side in a flawless manner until the finished work was a perfect teepee. However, the biggest surprise was  hundred yards up the road and to the south, where there in a field was maybe six pieces of piled, yet to be pilfered, artworks. One of them so large it could be seen from space---say from Nelsonville. All were perfect in effort with the final precipice making the perfect tepee. For the life of me, it didn’t seem possible that a man on foot could assemble this. A ladder had to be used which did beg some questions, like how many person-hours had to go into this prize? There had to be 10 cords in this mound all of it placed in the most deliberate artistic way.

Like I said, I have woodpile envy, maybe some jealousy, so questions had to be asked as to why folks do this.  Considering the extra work, there has to be a profound motive. Yes, some people like to be organized, they enjoy having things in place so they are easy to find and use. This may account for some of the efforts. Others are a practical sort who have concluded, maybe by some distant tradition, that by doing it a particular way will encourage drying as the water will run off in a very organized way not promoting fungal growth.

Still, there has to be something else. Each one of these three have an aesthetic touch and that is why I marvel. They are immensely appealing and I am sure every passer-by notes the effort. Still, everyone of these individuals, and this includes me with my scatter schizoid piles loves doing the work, they love being outside, embracing the weather and probably making note that cutting and storing wood warms them multiple times.  This includes cutting, loading in the truck, then unloading, splitting, hauling, stacking, toting inside and ultimately cleaning the house from the messes (which very well may be done by someone else.)

The final kiss is the smell of wild wood, drifting smoke, and of course, that radiant heat.
So, the admission here is envy got the best of me, not in a big way, but some and I had to prove my worth. After all, most of the above merits appeal to me. I thought possibly I could take it the next step, a one small step for mankind, and make a holz hausen I had seen while researching woodpile aficionados.

In a fit of labor, and a couple of glorious fall days, the hausen formed with my pride-and-joy of bark shingles. For this winter, I am full of myself, maybe not up to the others but watch out next year.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

In Love of Walnuts

In Love of Walnuts:

I was once young, an eight-year old, and by any explanation that was some time ago, in this case embarrassingly close to sixty-five years. This time span is not child’s play and for reasons, not totally apparent, I can’t account for the speed which has consumed that span. Fortunately, there is still a certain lucidity in my mind so that it is possible to recall some things from that time, not only recall them but, most interestingly, to have sensations and vivid memories pertaining to smell. The sensation, I suspect, is only part of it because with the odor of certain items or situations comes images that, while somewhat ethereal, are still, to this old mind meaningful and rich. 

We returned here to our home ground 12 years ago. That first fall on our return to Wisconsin, and really, every year since, we have almost without effort, managed to round up at least some walnuts. Initially, I recall simply finding one in glorious repose under a tree. It was unmolested by the resident squirrels as it sat their half buried in the duff like a lost golf ball. Almost instinctually, I lifted the light green orb to my nose. I knew hidden there was a crisp pungent odor of the earth. I knew there were memories, maybe ones lost from living in the west all those years. Like every person, there are childhood experiences associated with distant odors, be it faint hint of a mother’s perfume, or secret smell associated with Port Orford Cedar, the wood used to make our own arrows or the smell of fall as the western Chamisa and sunflowers bloomed on the August prairie of Colorado.

  In this case, it was the Black Walnut. Like flying birds rattling through my brain, I was taken back in Sauk County there on the Wisconsin River. In the distant haze of magical memory, I recalled, almost seeing our band of foragers flopping from the car in disarray, gunny bag in hand, heading for some known Walnut tree where waited the green nuts ready for grabbing.

In early October, we would get packed in the old ’36 Chevrolet, in a fashion probably not much different than the family dog, who in glee would hang from the window, jowls flopping in the breeze with spittle running wild, and head for the Baraboo Hills.  While we two kids might have been slugging it out in the back just out of the reach of the old man, I would not be surprised if we two ratty-assed kids were also face to the wind, head out the window yelling and drooling. It was adventure time.

Duward’s Glenn rings a bell as does Parfrey’s Glenn and from there our disheveled troupe would scrounge around looking for all sorts of things including walnuts---but I still recall distant stories  of watching for Timber Rattlers—and hearing the old man excitedly carry on about how he almost put his hand on one---to that we paid attention.

The trip was a family thing and a chance to touch and smell all things wild. I didn’t know then my father was born in New York and raised in Chicago, so in looking back I’m not sure how he managed to become so engaged in this country life. Maybe it was the quiet presence of my mother who had been raised in a more rural setting in northern Illinois. What is now very clear is they had a genuine love for the countryside, the uninhabited, the quiet settings of the forest and fields.

I know at the age of maybe eight, I was already fascinated by the newts, frogs, butterflies and wild growing food my parents were showing us. The smell of the walnut was impossible to miss. Just the slightest scratch of the hull and from it came this rich, earthy odor only found in that one species.
I don’t doubt, knowing our families later history, that it was there we learned to throw things at each other---like fat walnuts. It wouldn’t even surprise me if the my father started it. Later in life there were many childish, rowdy fights with acorns, walnut and apples accompanied by pock-mark wounds, and a few tears all of which that were met with little sympathy. It was the old man, I’m sure.

So therein lies the memory that still drifts around in my head. Scratch the newly fallen walnut and there in front of me is a soft spot, a vision of a family picnic and a sack of walnuts---maybe the burn of being hit by a 65 mph fast (ball) nut from my lousy brother. It is all just good.

Of course, this is not the only wafting odor that sets off the winds of memory, but it is a pleasant one, and one I could wish on any one.

In the last few years I have taken it farther than just momentarily dwelling on the gift of smell but also harvesting local walnuts, hulling them, slowly picking the meats out and then in the great glee of an easily impressed child, introducing them into pancakes and cookies. When the first cookies were made, I noticed the taste of the nuts also rang one of those tiny bells in my brain, not the ones damaged by a few too many concussions, but silver bells of a warm kitchen and still-steaming cookies.   
The walnut holds a dear place in my life and due to their abundance around here, we are now able to enjoy every aspect of them almost every year---and that is, without throwing them at aging, still-mouthy brothers---not that we wouldn’t try.  

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Talking to Mr. Yeats

Mr. William Yeats in Ireland

Travelling to other lands is always a lesson of sorts, not just to see the scenery but to experience the lives, history and way of life of others outside of our own personal space. While some of these characteristics may be known to us, being up close and personal with the very land from which sprang their culture and their view of the world, is not so easily perceived until one is almost standing in their shoes, if only momentary. 

In those lands totally outside our western world, it is, of course, almost impossible to grasp much of anything in depth.  But in a place like Ireland, a land from which many of us have ancestors, and a land that has a common language, the task has more prospect.

Being in Ireland presents many new opportunities to experience, however briefly, the outcomes of their life patterns. Here is a land that has faced multiple starvations, internal revolutionary struggles, and the confrontations of living in a tired land, one overrun by swarming people trying to gain sustenance from a thin soil. There is a certain sadness in that.

Still, from all the struggles came a culture rich in so many ways, maybe not as obviously material as our own, but still an endowment rich and enlightening.

So, it was during a recent visit, that I ran into Mr. William Yeats. Like many of us, I had known him before, but not while standing on his home ground, among his people, looking over the “terrible beauty” of Ireland.  William Yeats is celebrated as a hero, as an intellectual giant, and currently, an economic attraction. As a result of the latter most interesting aspect, his work is ever present as we explored Ireland.  

While Mr. Yeats has not been around sicse 1939, his words have endured.  While jumping from pub to pub, from Cork to Sligo, it was almost impossible not to be confronted by his musings. The delightful quotes were even on pub walls, the marquees of banks and written on sidewalks.  I could not help reading the words, some scattered and out of true context, others complete, many causing me to pause and maybe reconsider my own worldview---which I suspect is the intention of poetry.

On one page, I found the following line taken from a poem titled The Cloths of Heaven, “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”  I found myself wanting to make a change to that because at the age of 73, my dreams for just myself are waning as I am facing limitations. But then, I would suppose my dreams are now very much including those that will follow me, my children’s children. Tread softly. Does that mean the activities of humanity, the relentless hammering of the earth for financial gain? Is it a warning, an insight by a gifted mind? Damn poets.

Alternatively, does it imply a request to a lover---but is that not the same? I suspect that in the poem “The Cloths of Heaven” it can mean many things - maybe moderation, sensitivity, almost the Golden Rule. It is but a simple request.

So “afoot and light hearted I took to the open road” and had a few conversations with Mr. Yeats, wanting to discover the land on which I was now standing. I bought a book of poems to learn of the Emerald Isle through his eyes. I found a poem the following day after listening to the sound of the Uilleann pipes at Crane’s Pub in Galway. It was a musing on the sighting of swans right in Galway County just a few miles from last evening’s frolic.

He wrote:

But now they drift on still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

Like many great poems, this required me to think and wonder why the question mark after the last statement. He marveled the sight of swans but implied one day they might be gone. Was he discouraged by what he saw, thinking the presence of swans was fleeting? I had seen a swan during the time we were there, so his concern may have been unfounded even though Ireland has long ago lost its natural environment to sheep and cattle, there are still swans. Was the statement an insight? Was the swan a symbol of a lover?

For the days we were there, Yeats was always about, and I’d like to think offering me a glimpse into a great mind from a distant land.  Along with the visual delights of emerald green fields enclosed in ancient stone walls and music trickling through the evening streets, the words of Mr. Yeats accentuated the place called Ireland. While the tendency may, in these times, be to only see those things pleasant, the history has other stories and as Yeats said in a poem called Host of the Air, “Never was piping so sad and never was piping so gay”----insightful words assembled to prod the brain into reflection and introspection.

Travelling is that way it would seem, a chance to live outside our own shoes. To see the world through another’s eyes. For that, I am grateful.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Skippy, the Troublesome Chihuahua,

In relating this true story, shall we say anecdote, it must be said that this has no tie-in to anyone in our immediate community. The names have been changed to protect the innocent (except the offending dog) even though those innocent and the guilty live many hundreds of miles away.

On the occasion of the unusual event, a local yoga teacher was plying her trade giving lessons in her home studio. The participants were spread out on the floor, comfortable on their mats, and fully engaged in becoming one with their minds and bodies. Somewhat expectantly, the family’s aging Chihuahua, Skippy, drifted into the room clearly not acting its normal ankle-biting self. It was staggering and noticeably not in control of its normal physical skills.

The teacher, in a brief sideways glance, noticed the dog had dropped down into what looked like a Downward Dog position except its head was carelessly off to the side, its tongue lazily flopped out, and its front legs unnaturally splayed out in opposite directions. On a couple of occasions the miniature canine tried to rise but immediately slipped slowly back into this distorted, eyes-glazed-over, face sideward position. Clearly, the Chihuahua had a problem and the owner became concerned.

On the completion of the class, she ran the breathing, but somewhat despondent dog to the local veterinarian. Skippy was dropped off followed by a brief description of the dog’s unanticipated yoga participation, and she headed home to take care of her family. In the commotion, she called her husband, who was a local school principal, to ask him, on his return, stop by the vet’s office to discuss the prognosis of the family’s aging dog.

On his arrival, he learned the small dog had vomited only minutes after being dropped off, plopping a gooey plastic bag out on the floor. Bill was told the dog had apparently managed to swallow a plastic bag containing about a quarter ounce of marijuana buds. The bag, it turned out, had been punctured by the dog’s aggressive and excited chewing, so even though the entire plastic container had also been swallowed, the active chemicals of the weed had in time, seeped out, leaving the canine visibly impaired, to say the least. The glassy-eyed dog was simply stoned to the nines. The school principal initially was relieved knowing the dog, a favorite of his wife, was going to be OK after it had cleansed itself of the exotic chemicals.

The principal, in his mid-forties, had maintained a ponytail for all of his adult life, not so much as a statement of his affiliation, but rather it was just his choice. The local parents he served were simply oblivious to it because his performance had always been exemplary--- he was not some tipped-over hippy of ill repute. On his initial entry into the vet clinic, he had noticed the mother of one of his students was a receptionist at the front desk. So, with the still-visible plastic bag sitting on the table, thoughts began running through his head how this was going to be explained, knowing full well that in this small town the story of the stoned Chihuahua was going to be travelling about with considerable velocity.

In his mind, he realized it almost did not matter what excuse he might find, nothing was going to be believed because, that is just the way things go and people love colorful gossip.

He left the clinic after being told the dog should remain in house until it recovered, reasoning there may be lasting effects----such as the dog just staring at the wall and drooling for the rest of its life. It was reasoned that instead of running around biting peoples ankles and senselessly snarling,  it would lay about looking for handouts, barking in low tones, constantly eating all the snacks it could find, maybe even learning to look at the family with half-closed eyes and implying it just wanted to say things like, “That is really cool, dude. Like, just chill”.

On his return home, numerous things ran through his mind but mostly he wanted to know where the Marijuana came from because, in truth, it was not his, his wife’s, his kid’s, or anybody that had come to the house.

Being a Chihuahua, maybe it had been a trafficker from Mexico---no, they had had the dog for years and it wasn’t much for long travel. The dog did like to get loose and wander about the neighborhood, so that must have been the issue, and source. It was then he realized that next door there was a house full of Rastafarians who had been known to revel in the pleasures of the weed. Obviously, the dog had drifted over there and managed to score, by scrounging, the quarter-ounce, and then, glutton that it was, ate the entire thing in one session. 

Satisfied he was off the hook, and had a reasonable response to any inquires, two days later he returned to the clinic to retrieve the now cleansed canine. He was not sure the dog would ever again be normal, and he also was not sure he would be able to walk into the vet’s office with a straight face but he felt vindicated due to his analysis of the neighbor’s collusion in the episode. The minute he confidently walked into the clinic on the appointed hour, he noticed every employee was, in fact, positioned in the waiting room, all smiling. “Hey, Bill. Have any heroin laying around?” came out of the vet’s mouth.

So what is the moral of the story?

Post Script:  Skippy is a real dog, a beloved family dog but two days after writing this piece Skippy was hit by a vehicle and killed. He was old and not under the influence of any known drug.