The endowments and the foundations won't, but you can help support my long-term exploration of the middle west, Vagabond In the Middle. Any donation to help defray expenses will be appreciated. Send to Tom Montag at: PO Box 8, Fairwater, WI 53931.
that is, Sunnis killing Shiites and Shiites killing Sunnis, how is that, as Bush would have it, anything "like last century's fight against Nazis and communists?"
If you are going to start drawing historical analogies, consider our own Civil War, which is more like what is going on in Iraq, I think. Blue vs. Grey. Shiites vs. Sunnis. Irreconcilable differences. Untold horror.
Oh, except during our Civil War we didn't have the world's superpower involved, did we? And I don't think we would have wanted that, would we?
As soon as Rumsfield or Cheney or Bush start talking, I always ask myself: where did these guys go to school? Oh, they went to good schools? Did they sleep through history class, or what?
Grey overcast. Humid air. A peacefulness in the village this morning.
At the cemetery the flag flaps to the north. The haze hangs low in the country, visibility not much more than half a mile. A line of grackles on the power line along Highway E.
Last evening as I drove home from work a flock of sparrows rose above the road in front of me. One of them barely grazed the hood of the pick-up, just ever so slightly. It bounced on the road behind me, dead. This is a true story. This is a metaphor. What is the meaning of what I have witnessed? We'll think about that.
Just north of Five Corners there is a dead raccoon sprawled on its back on the road, belly exposed to the sky, soft parts open to those that would take them. And what is the meaning of that?
past the day into the month, the season, the year. What of the larger cycles we are part of? How shall I ever see and feel the advance or retreat of glaciers, how shall I ever know the sun's exhaustion? We focus so much on the moment. I am guilty like the rest. The great wheel comes 'round, this moment is gone.
The great wheel turns and I am gone. That should teach humility. Yet we are seldom humble before the click-click-click of seasons and eons, the birth and death of suns, the universe collapsing back upon itself towards a forward-blast of primal big-bang again.
To care and not to care, as the Zen Master would have it.
Love one another here and live for the next world, as true Christians would put it.
How many of us get trapped elsewhere, in some finite instant of pain, and never break free of it?
Dew on the windshield this morning. The smell of corn silage wafting up from the canning factory. Blue sky and bright sun. The red of our house - I want to fall into it, follow that red into the wood, follow the wood into the earth and the water, fall all the way back to the stars, to the stuff of stars. But not this morning, I think: it would make me late for work.
At the cemetery, a little wind flaps the flag from east to west. Out in the country, in the northwestern corner of the sky, a billowing thunderhead. Clouds lay lower from due west 'round to the north. One particular stretch of cloud hangs low and distinct like smoke. Is it the Black Hills burning? Why do I smell wood burning? This is no metaphor.
Then I am in Ripon. I find myself on Watson Street. I feel lost and far away. I am drifting untethered. I am not where I should be.
What does one wish to see? How does one's mind turn, day after day. Sometimes I think I am trapped by what I have already seen. Yet it's like fishing: if you don't go fishing you have no chance at all of catching any fish. These days, this drive to work - is there anything left to see? I wonder; I worry. Yet I continue to open myself every day to the possibility there is something new along my way.
I cannot believe I have not seen everything, yet I cannot believe there's nothing new left to see.
The same haze today as yesterday. The same hang to the air. You cannot say good-bye.
Now I have heard the Black Hills are burning. I have a friend who has gone out there trout-fishing this week, or so he thought when he left. He will have stories to tell about a land on fire.
One gets tired of the burning, yet forests have been dealing with this for millennia. the forests don't need us as much as we need the forests.
There is no dew on the windshield this morning. What has changed? What does it mean that it has changed?
The sun through the haze - it shines like it has holy significance.
In downtown Fairwater, men are working on or under the street. What are they doing? I do not know.
No wind in the flag at the cemetery. In the country, the haze closes off the distance about a mile away.
Last night coming home from work I saw the hawk on a power pole along Highway E near the hawk's tree. This morning, no sign of him.
Those tiger lilies north of Five Corners, like day lilies and lilacs, say "Here be civilization." Only wind now through an empty piece of ground, the people gone a long time, the farmstead gone, only a very old man's memory and such markers as day lilies - "Here be civilization."
Ivan said, "farming is getting to be like sex. You can get a long way behind and catch up in a hurry."
Arky and Meagan, waitresses at Paul's Cafe, were both having hip trouble one day last week," Ivan reported. "Some of the people they have to wait on would cause a pain in the hip or somewhere else in that vicinity."
"Tim Merriwether joined us at the As the Bladder Fills Club last Tuesday morning," Ivan said. "Tim made one of my favorite philosophical observations. After he graduated from college someone asked him what he was going to do. Tim said, 'I'm going to start knocking on doors because someone out there needs me.' Kinda like R.O. Gilpin once said, 'If you keep flipping enough switches some time a light is going to come on.'"
"Car quit again," Ivan said. "I know it is heat-related, because every time it happens I get hot under the collar."
"Someone complained that there was a lot about football in the local papers," Ivan said. "Well, heavens, yes, there is. You can go from Elkhart to White Cloud and from Baxter Springs to the Arickaree Breaks and when you mention that you are from Smith Center they say, 'Oh, yes, that's where the football teams come from.'"
"I said to a mechanic that maybe I better be thinking about getting a Ford or Chrysler product," Ivan reported. "He said, 'You better stick to GM products. If you don't, you are liable to have nothing but trouble.' What in the world does he think I am having now?"
"I need my Dunlop wedge back," Ivan said. "Check your golf bags."
"That cracking, popping noise you heard last Thursday might have been coming from the football practice field," Ivan said. "They put the pads on last Thursday. Smith Center football players don't put their football pads on just to look nice. They get to slobber knockin each other."
"At football practice I saw and heard the offensive line blocking," Ivan said. "None of that sissy pass protection blocking. I think we'll run more than pass."
"Roger Barta [the football coach] looked like he was in good shape," Ivan said. "He looked just like he did when school was out last spring. You can tell Roger is on the level because he has got his bubble in the middle. I go Roger one better. You can tell I'm on the level because my bubble is in the middle and you can also tell that I'm level-headed because I slobber out of both sides of my mouth."
"The radio said that Smith Center was in a flash flood watch," Ivan noted. "I've lived here eighty years man and boy and that is the first time I've ever heard that."
Osky wow wow Skinny wow wow Eat em up eat em up Yeah Smith Center
Rickity Rickity Shantytown Who can hold Smith Center down Nobody, nobody, nobody.
Don't let anybody tell you that Smith Center is dumb, Ivan said. And Stay ahead of the posse.
We had rain over the weekend, Saturday. The streets seem a little wet this morning, so we may have had more rain last night, falling lightly. I did not hear it. It is a diffuse light today, a small story without plot. I gather myself for another week.
At the cemetery in Fairwater, the flag doesn't worry at all, no movement. In the country, haze in all directions. Overhead here and there the overcast breaks to reveal blue sky behind it. The thick smell of decaying pea vines sticks to the humid air.
The ditch along Highway E has been mowed - perhaps for the final time this year. The season unwinds. The spool wobbles. Just north of Five Corners, the last two tiger lilies are gone now. Everything I want, I've got.
is like paint, bright on everything. Sometimes it is the patina on an old brass bowl. Sometimes, the gleam in a lover's eye. Today it is the smile of an old woman seeing her greatgrandson for the first time. Yes, sometimes our mornings are sugary sweet. We cannot, without closing our eyes entirely, deny the part of us that's sentimental. I won't do that. I'll risk being laughed at as a sentimentalist before I'll risk missing out on life, the full bite of it.
Some haze again. Heavy dew. Our world is green, sunlight spilled as drops of dew winking on the lawn.
Downtown a fellow drives an old farm truck towards me, his face lined like the bark of a tree. Only a little wind in the flag at the cemetery. Out in the country I can see of a mile and a half before the haze closes the curtain.
Birds on a power line. Is it time for them to flock together?
North of Five Corners, all but one or two of the day lilies in the ditch are gone.
in Fairwater Town. The light is dripping from the sky. Every day we rise and tomorrow we rise again to what the morning brings. Consider the alternative.
Think of a water course following its destiny. You never know - it might empty a mighty flow into the Gulf of Mexico; it might dry to nothingness in some desert. Life is good that way. The other side of every mountain is not the same.
The heaviness of everything this morning - my slow walk out to the pick up, the thick sky, the old neighbor across the street barely able to bend to pick something off his sidewalk. The weight of the whiteness above the pond down the hill.
Ta-Ta says a mourning dove. Well, no, that's not actually what it says.
Downtown it's "run, River, run."
The flag at the cemetery hangs limp. In the country, the fog is thicker than it was yesterday. You can barely see the spray of waste water in the air at the canning factory's field along Highway E. You hope no one stops suddenly in front of you; you wouldn't see them.
A Five Corners a school bus runs the stop sign and moves into the intersection coming at me. Its brakes scream; it comes to a stop before it hits me. I am a fortunate son.
in the afternoon. Branches torn off trees, trees blown down, including one in the middle of the field near the hawk's tree. Corn stalks down near the hawk's tree, too, laid nearly flat. Water rushing in the ditches, pouring full through the culverts. Swarming muddy water in the Grand River and the Fairwater pond. Electrical power was out in Fairwater when I got home after work, until well after supper time. Two and a half inches ten miles west of here, reportedly four inches in forty five minutes in Ripon. I don't know what we got, but it would be comparable.
Fog started forming in the evening in the low ground soon after supper. There is heavy fog out there now. It is a sky very heavy with moisture. I can barely see the surface of the pond this morning from our driveway. Moisture clings to the windshield of the pick-up and to everything else.
I turn my headlights on. "Go slow," I tell myself.
School must be starting back up today, as children wait in clumps along Washington Street for the bus.
No wind in the flag at the cemetery.
Visibility in the country is about an eighth of a mile. I cannot see the hawk's tree; I can barely see the tree that blew down.
The corn that is down yet is really down.
The world looks as if it has been whupped good. It will recover. Forests have been taking care of themselves for thousands of years before we started building houses in them. They will continue to take care of themselves long after our houses are gone. And this is not the first time that this place I call home has been whipped so severely by wind and rain and more wind.
Heavy air, a faint haze overhead. The angry bird outside again this morning. It was there yesterday, too. I cannot find it in the trees. It sounds unhappy. Why so many mornings of unhappiness, bird? What am I missing?
Some dew on the windshield of the pick-up. A quiet green surface to the pond. A morning sun trying to burn through the haze. Warm air.
The flag at the cemetery does not move. Oh, the haze in the country, not thick enough to be fog, too thick for us to see more than a mile. We have air this moist while Montana burns. Put your shoulder to another day. Accept that the smell of skunk along the way. Trust the world will collapse upon you - is there any other choice?
Every morning is a miracle, isn't it? You lie down to die each night; you rise anew to the new day. Hook your wagon to that cycle of turn and return.
Ivan said. "The only thing I remember was the old story about two students who were taking an English lit quiz. One of them said, 'Great Scott, I forgot who wrote Ivanhoe.' The other one said, 'I've forgotten who the dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities.'"
"Well," Ivan said, "I fixed my car - done er myself., Now you may not believe this, but I'll swear on a stack of Echo's that it is true. My car kept stopping. Don't know why. It run good when a mechanic was around. I got desperate. What do you do when you get desperate - you use desperate measures. I loaded Momma up and we drove to a used car dealer. I drove in the lot and parked my car where it could see us looking at a particular used car. We opened the doors, checked the mileage. All the while, the car was watching us. We kicked the tires and all that kind of stuff. Old Stop was a-watchin' us all the time. Talked to the dealer. Talked loud enough that Old Stop could hear. Got back in Ol Stop, started er up, and she ain't belched since. Hated to do it to er, but desperate situations call for desperate measures."
"I was standing in Monday morning's downpour just getting ready to get in my car," Ivan said, "when Paul Seemann yelled at me from the bone dry front door of his barbershop. I went to see what he wanted and he said, 'I see where you wonder who is going to be our punter this year. What I want to know is, who is going to be our long snapper.' He went on to say that 'that Hubbard boy has been our long snapper for two or three years.' I think what will happen is the quarterback will take the snap and he will turn and pitch the ball back to the fullback and the fullback will punt the ball. That's the way I've got er figgered."
"Lyman Attwood referred to the As the Bladder Fills Club as the Pee on the Seat Club," Ivan said. "Well, what he don't know is the members of the As the Bladder Fills Club are the kings of their kastles. That seat is up unless they want it down."
"Last Monday afternoon at the golf course," Ivan said, "Don Windscheffel said, 'It rained on Monday morning - that means it will rain some more before the week is over.'"
"Gene Conaway has been as nervous as a new bride in a thin-walled motel room," Ivan said. "He has been waiting for his tractor to be repaired. Last Tuesday morning he bolted a quick breakfast because he had been promised that it would be ready that day."
"I would like to see," Ivan said, "a bumpersticker that said I'm Proud of My C Average Student. Us average and below people need a little lovin' too. Some of my best friends were just average students."
"Usually," Ivan said, "the Smith Center football team gets an opportunity to open up with what for the past several years could be called a cup cake schedule. Not this year. Smith Center opens against Norton at Norton. The Norton football field sits down in a hole making breathing hard for someone who is not used to that altitude. But you can depend on the Smith Center coaching staff to have the Redmen prepared. The Redmen offensive line will rip the Norton defenisive line to shreds. The Smith Center running backs will rip the Norton secondary to shreds. And the Smith Center defensive line will rip the Norton offensive line to shreds. Three shreds equal one win."
"Sheila Stewart still has a bit of an English accent," Ivan said. "She pronounces half as hoff and calf as cough. She has a daughter named Glenda. Sheila calls her Glender, but she don't want anybody else calling Glenda Glender."
"The Hardly Used Shop was full last Friday morning," Ivan said. "Lots of young mothers were looking for school clothes. I stopped in to look for a belt. Must be only skinny people that bring belts into the Hardly Used shop. I wondered why that was. Then it came to me. Skinny people never wear their belts out. Us fat people put pressure on them right where the tongue, or whatever you call it, goes into the hole. That pressure finally splits the belt all the way across."
from Missoula. The city is ringed by forest fires in all directions and the air there is very smoky. Sometimes we couldn't even see the mountains that rise up at the edge of the city. The air in Montana is very dry. The landscape is very dry. Hence the tinderbox conditions.
We came back to Wisconsin and the humidity in the air smells almost like rain. The sky is blue this morning, and still the Wisconsin air smells almost like rain.
There is dew on the windshield of the pick-up, heavy dew on the grass. Ah, fortunate moisture.
The village is laid with shadows, hung with a vibrating greenness. The flag at the cemetery droops limply. Out in the country I see a haze to the west that surely has smoke from Montana in it. There is a yellow-brown tinge to the air above the western horizon.
A surprise of hawk close above a field of corn, nearly in the tassels. What do you suppose he has found? Another morning, certainly, and perhaps breakfast?
A field of beets to the west side of Highway E, the leaves turning purple. Once again, I am surprised. I had not looked closely and had assumed the field was beans. You think you are paying attention, and you're not!
that the only one with balls enough to rein in the bastards is FEMALE?
US District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor has just ruled that Bush's NSA wiretap program is unconstitutional. She said the program "violates the separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA and Title III.... The president of the United States... has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders."
My friend Gwen Lindberg of West Point, Nebraska, e-mailed me that Mabel Heineman just died. She was 75. The funeral will be Thursday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in West Point.
I interviewed Mabel, her husband Bud (Louis), and Bud's former boss, Cliff Johnson, in April, 2003, at the Heinemans' home on River Street in West Point. These are some of the nicest folks you'll meet. I am reprinting my notes of that visit with the Heinemans in full here, in memory of Mabel. This is the stuff of real life and a tribute to real people.
What more can one say? I will offer this: Rest in peace, Mabel Heineman. Go with God.
Louis and Mabel Heineman are modest folks
with a modest house on River Street, three blocks west of downtown West Point. I'd met both of them in October, 2002, during my brief stop at the Senior Center here. The couple is involved in the county historical society and Louis - whose nickname is "Bud" - had worked most of his adult life at the rendering plant in West Point.
My very pleasant surprise as I stepped into the house? Bud had invited to the interview Clifford L. ("Cliff") Johnson, the man who had co-owned the West Point rendering plant for so many years, the man who'd been Bud's boss. Cliff is ninety years old, he's not as strong as he used to be, but his mind is sharp and he can tell a good story. Bud is seventy-eight years old, and can tell a story too. Mabel is seventy-three.
I got two hours of wonderful talk on tape. After the tape recorder was turned off, all of us sat talking for another hour and a half and then - since suppertime was fast approaching - the only polite thing for me to do was get the hell out of their house so they could make themselves some supper.
Bud has worked hard all his life. He hired out on farms during his school years. In those days he worked for seventy-five cents a day, until one farmer thought he was doing a good enough job that the rate of pay was increased to a dollar a day. Those were tough years, the Depression, and people depended on each other, Bud said. His family always had food, Bud recalled, but he said he could probably have eaten another potato or two. The family kept a garden in those dry years, Bud said, watering it with buckets hand-pumped from the well.
Bud worked on farms, he drove truck for several months, he served in the Navy, and he worked at the rendering plant in Pendar, Nebraska, until he got a job offer from the rendering plant in West Point, Cliff's plant. Bud served in the Navy and he lived for months on one of those landing craft we know from all World War II footage - an open-topped, steel container eight feet wide, thirty six feet long, with two diesel engines on one end, the other end flopped down onto the beach so the dog-face soldiers could disembark, often into the teeth of the enemy's defense. Yes, Bud put the soldiers to shore on D-Day. Then soon enough he and his mates were ashore themselves, they had to trade their Navy uniforms for Army colors because the higher-ups didn't want everyone to know how far from water these Navy fellows were fighting. Bud survived the war, he made it home to marry Mabel, whom he'd met in Pendar where she waited tables at a restaurant.
Mabel was one of eight children born to a couple who lived on a farm that had been homesteaded by Mabel's grandparents or great-grandparents. Times were tough enough - Mabel was not allowed to go to high school; because her parents hadn't been able to send her four older sisters to high school, they couldn't send her. She regrets that she hadn't been able to get the schooling, she had wanted to be a teacher. Instead, she went to work as a hired girl for farm families in the area that needed an extra set of hands in the house. Someone told her about an opening for a waitress at the restaurant in Pendar, she applied for the job and got it. She had to get it, so she could meet Bud there, so she could marry him and have a family, a son and a daughter who still live in Pendar. Eventually she ran the restaurant in Pendar, even for several years after Bud started working in West Point some eighteen miles to the south. Eventually, as the children were getting older, Mabel realized she didn't have much time to spend with them. Restaurant work will consume your life. And the building that housed the restaurant was going to need an awful lot of work if it was to meet modern restaurant code. So Mabel gave up the restaurant, she and Bud and the family moved to West Point, they've been here ever since. She worked for many years at a drug store in West Point, she worked as a waitress for a while after she was injured and couldn't get her drug-store job back.
For the interview Bud dressed in bib overalls; you'd know that he had been a working man, a man who worked with his hands. Cliff Johnson was the boss, for the interview he dressed in slacks, not overalls; his shirt was of a little finer weave. But listening to Bud and Cliff talk, you recognize that Cliff is not the sort of fellow to ask his employees to do anything he would not do himself. Bud told me as much after Cliff had left. Cliff himself attributed ninety percent of his success in business to the fellows who worked for him; he credited Bud and two other men as keys to making his West Point rendering plant successful. Cliff made a success of himself despite having a hard beginning. He didn't know his father, who ran off. His mother died in the 1918 influenza epidemic. He was raised by his grandparents in Oakland, Nebraska.
Finally at his father's death, an uncle gave Cliff information about his father, that he had died in New Mexico. Cliff sent flowers to the funeral home and signed the card "Son, Clifford." The half-siblings in New Mexico that Cliff didn't know about, they didn't know about Cliff. "Son, Clifford - who's that?" they asked. Clifford was just as surprised as they were. Later, on a trip through New Mexico, Cliff stopped to visit a half-sister. He knew the woman's address. He rang the doorbell. A woman answered. She stepped backwards in shock. She said, "You don't have to tell me who you are. You look just like your father."
Later Cliff found out that he had a couple more half-siblings in California, and he heard he had a couple more in Nebraska whom he never met. His father was a rolling stone, a kind of Johnny Appleseed leaving a trail of children along the way.
Cliff learned to work hard. He married in 1931 during the fury of the Depression. In 1935 he bought a truck and started his own successful business hauling dead animals to a rendering plant. After a year he sold that truck and route, bought another truck, found another territory, and prospered at it. Eventually he found a partner and they established the West Point rendering plant, which prospered under Cliff's guidance, then his son took over the business and ran it until the plant was sold to a fellow from Omaha, who sold it to the conglomerate that shut it down recently.
Why, as a young fellow, would you choose the disagreeable work of operating a rendering truck? "In the Depression, you took what work you could get," Cliff told me. "You might be doing one thing today, tomorrow a fellow might call you to go pick up dead animals and haul them to a rendering plant. I learned from doing it that it was not such a bad line of work."
What does a rendering plant do? It takes dead animals that have been hauled off the farm in various states of ripeness and turns them into pet food or feed meal. The fellow who drove a rendering truck worked for himself. He picked up dead farm animals across his territory and took them to a rendering plant, he got paid per hundred weight of carcass he hauled in.
Who doesn't know what I'm talking about here? A cow dies on a hot July Saturday morning and "cooks" in the sun until Monday when the rendering truck arrives to pick it up and haul it away. The carcass cooks and bloats and gurgles and stinks, and the fellow with the rendering truck hooks a cable around the spongy cow and winches it up into the box of the truck. The dead cow farts and groans as it is moved and pulled into the truck, as liquid drips from its nose. Once the cow is up in the truck, the driver unhooks the cable, he'll need it again down the road, there's another farm, another dead cow or dead hog or dead horse that will have to be winched up into the truck.
This is tough work if you are not used to it. It is tough work even if you're used to it. The smell of death will gag you if you aren't accustomed to it, sometimes it gags you even when you're used to it. The sight of flies crawling in and out of nose holes. The baked glaze of the dead cow's unseeing eye. It is tough work, yet work that must be done. Honorable work that the rest of us would rather not think about.
The driver hauls his ripe cartage to the rendering plant where it gets unloaded. Dead cows and calves have to be skinned before the carcasses are turned into meal. Sheep have to be skinned.
Bud and Cliff were a team skinning cows at the West Point rendering plant. Cliff would always start at one end of the cow, skinning, and Bud would start at the other, and they could do the job start to finish in four minutes. Four minutes from the first slice into the skin til the carcass was naked as a steak in the meat counter. Nobody much liked skinning sheep because it was hard getting the knife blade down through the wool to make a cut, so Bud skinned most of the sheep that came into the plant. He could skin a sheep by himself in three minutes, a calf in two minutes. Cow and calf skins were salted and saved, to be tanned for leather.
The carcass gets cut into manageable chunks so it can be put into the cooker. A hog will get quartered, for instance, and tossed along with pieces of cow, horse, sheep, into a huge pressure cooker. The heat reduces the fat and much of the grease is siphoned off during cooking. Both grease and moisture get cooked out of the meat; as that happens, the meat becomes powdery. A good operator can tell by how the cooked meat feels when it is ready for pressing. Pressing squeezes the very last grease out of the meat. The result is a cake that can be put into the hammermill and turned to meal that is sold to manufacturers who make chicken feed and hog feed mainly. The protein content of the meal coming out of the West Point rendering plant was always about 50%, which was higher than competitors' meal; West Point paid attention to the mix of carcasses going into the cooker, and squeezed out more of the grease.
What happens to the grease? Most of the grease is sold to soap-makers and goes into soap like that you use to wash your face, Cliff and Bud told me.
Rather than being cooked down for meal, the fresher dead animals would be boned and cut up for pet food. After I'd turned off the tape recorder, Cliff told about the time he was called to Washington to testify about the proper labeling of meat scraps from rendering plants, scraps that were meant to be pet food but ended up being fed to humans. All across a swath of the middle part of the continent, from Canada down to Texas, Cliff had investigated what was happening to meat that was supposed to be dog food, and he had gathered signed affidavits from people who knew what was happening to the meat - some boned meat from some rendering plants was ending up on human tables, not in dog bowls, and Cliff was not happy about it. He could understand how people got away with it: take the labels off a can of stew meat and a can of dog food you might not be able to tell which is which. Cliff's evidence and his testimony helped get legislation for tougher labeling of such meat - "Not For Human Consumption."
So - how do you deal with the aspects of the work that most people consider disgusting?
"I know there are people who will tell you," Bud said, "that out at the rendering plant we'd sit on bloated carcasses to eat our lunch. That is not true. We never did that."
"The smell?" said Cliff. "You could smell it but it got so you didn't notice it."
"Cleanliness," Bud said. "Cliff insisted we keep a clean plant. When the day's work was done, we'd scrub down the floors with a tough soap. Cliff bought brooms twenty-four at a time. We'd clean everything off the floor, scrub it down with soap, we'd let the soap sit for a while, then we'd rinse it off with our hot water hoses, we'd run water and steam from the cookers together through our hoses to wash off the soap."
The state, too, was concerned about cleanliness and disease and at one point sent an inspector to check the plant. "What do you scrub up with?" the fellow wanted to know. Bud showed him the barrel of the caustic soap. "Open the barrel," the inspector said, and Bud did, and the fellow was going to put his hand down into the barrel. Bud stopped him. "You don't want to do that," he'd said. "If you put your hand in there you won't have a hand to pull back out." At that point, just the vapors rising from the barrel were enough to convince the inspector that the West Point rendering plant ran a clean ship.
It was not all grim reality at the rendering plant. The fellows enjoyed working with each other. Cliff had a sense of humor; Bud tells a story on him. A call came in from a farmer. He had a mule down that wouldn't get up. Would Cliff send a fellow out to shoot the mule and haul away the carcass? The fellow who went out for the mule came back without it. "When I send you out for a mule, I expect you to bring a mule back," Cliff berated the fellow. The driver tried to explain. He said sure enough the mule was down. He had backed his truck up to the mule, he'd dumped the end-gate of the truck down for loading, and the noise of the chain on metal spooked the mule which got up and ran away before the fellow could shoot it. "Next time," Cliff had said with mock sternness, "shoot the mule before you let the end-gate down."
That's probably good advice for life as well as for the rendering business: "Shoot the mule before you let the end-gate down."
at the County Road and Bridge Office, has been hobbling around for a couple of weeks or more," Ivan reported. "She had to wear a special boot for a couple of weeks, but last Monday she had on a pair of strap shoes. Wearing those allowed the large purple bruise on the top of her foot to loom up like it hurt. Tammy said she had dropped a trailer hitch on her foot and even after all this time it still looked like it was a-hurtin'."
"Smith Center's Taylor Jones, playing for the west squad in the Shrine Bowl [football], showed the east team how the boar at the cabbage," Ivan said. "He was named 'most valuable player' in the game. Michael Hubbard, also from Smith Center, laid a couple of slobber knocker tackles on the east ball carrier. Both Hubbard and Jones represented Smith Center in fine fashion."
"I was waiting for traffic to clear before crossing Main Street last Monday morning," Ivan said. "Here come Judy Tucker in the family pick-up. When she went by me she rolled down the window and said, 'Charley Beedy.' I immediately knew that was the name of the guy that I and J.C. Chance was trying to think of up at Paul's one afternoon last week."
"George Herdt said the other day, 'I don't drink, I don't smoke, and I don't chase women, and I want to live to be a hundred,'" Ivan reported. "Then George hesitated, 'but I don't know what the hell for.' I think George has only got about six more years to go. George came here from Russian when he was eleven years old. His parents purchased a railroad boxcar and rode that boxcar from their home to a seaport where they boarded a boat for America. George said they crossed a large area of Russia by rail. George and his wife, Viola, farmed in the Wakeeny area for years before moving to Western Plains."
"Don't seem like businessmen have nicknames like they used to," Ivan said. "Back in the '30s, we had Pick McCammon, Prod Baldwin, Static Stevens, Snipe Cocran, Jesse James, Star Barron, Skin Chance, Whistler Hommon, Limp Wall, Staff Hays, Tiny Griefe, Gunner Brown, and Tweed Srader. Some other natives were Greenie Mullen, Hook Mathes, Hog Jones, Cedar Post, String Niles, Shorty Moore, Hoppy Bowman, Tuffy Nelson, Horsey Prowant, Spike Campbell, and many many others. There wasn't a Sean or Shawn in the bunch."
"Quick," Ivan said, "who will be the punter for the Smith Center Redmen this year? May not know until the third game of the season. We probably won't be forced to punt until then."
"A couple of foxy-lookin' gals from Red Cloud stopped in Paul's Cafe for breakfast last Wednesday morning," Ivan said. "The two, Ardys Miksch and Jan Ferebee, were on their way to Dodge City to visit and take in the Dodge City rodeo. Must be something in the Red Cloud water. They both looked great. Ardys claimed to be 86 years old, and I've seen older looking college sophomores. One of the questions they asked was, 'Is this the As the Bladder Fills Club?' I explained to them that the As the Bladder Fills Club meets downtown at the Second Cup. One of the major differences between the Paul's Cafe group and the As the Bladder Fills Club is their method of adjournment. At Paul's Cafe, they leave because they have to go to work. The As the Bladder Fills Club adjourns because they have to go to the bathroom."
"My car stopped once on Tuesday and twice on Wednesday," Ivan said, reporting on his continuing saga of car troubles. "So if you see a white-haired old man sitting at a stop sign, don't get mad at him. What he needs is sympathy."
"SOMEONE, BY MISTAKE, PUT MY SAND WEDGE IN THEIR GOLF BAG. IT'S A DUNLOP LINEAR. I NEED IT. LEAVE IT IN THE CLUB HOUSE. THANKS. I.E. BURGESS"
"I don't know who is going to replace Taylor Jones and Michael Hubbard on this year's football team," Ivan said. "But it will be somebody. One of Roger Barta's major strengths as a coach is getting the right people in the right place. I'll bet he could even find a place where I could play if I would just keep my grades up."
"Last Friday morning, long about eight o'clock," Ivan said, "a man and his wife were riding bicycles down Main Street. They stopped, and the lady said she had relatives who had grown up in Smith Center and wondered if I might have known any of them. She said her dad was Skinner Starbuck.... Did I know Skinner Starbuck? Skinner was the best running back in the state back in the 1920s. For years afterwards, running backs here in Smith Center were compared to Skinner Starbuck. People would say about a running back, 'He's pretty good, but he is no Skinner Starbuck.'"
"One time, many years ago - make that two or three manys - I was crossing the alley between the Chevy garage and the big old tin barn that was used as a county barn," Ivan said. "I picked up something but I couldn't read what it said. At that time the Bonecutter body shop was at the east end of the building and it was run by Star Barron. Star saw me looking at the thing I had picked up and he took a look at it and told me that it was a valuable Mexican coin. I got all excited and took it home and showed my mother. She read what was on it. It said 'Osh kosh by gosh.' It was a button off a pair of overalls."
Many ponds are dry. The rest are green and mossy. Keep yourself hydrated, Ivan said, and Stay ahead of the posse.
The first six photographs in this post - of sunrise, the shoreline, Tom and Mary in the canoe, the campsite, the bear, and the trapper's cabin - are by our friend and sister-in-law, Susan Dickert. The two photos of the gnarly trees and the final photo of the two canoes are by my wife Mary.
It was "women's weekend" on Little Caribou Lake, there at the end of July, 2006. Of course, we didn't know that. The women in question were Marg (Margaret) Lawrence, Patty Baker, and Cindy Byers, friends from Thunder Bay, Ontario, who had come up to Marg's family's cabin, one of only a few such cabins on the lake. Little Caribou is on crown land, and you can't just buy a lot for a cabin here. Marg wasn't sure how her husband's family came to own their cabin on the lake, but it had been in the family for a couple generations. The three women know each other because they all volunteer at the recreation center in Thunder Bay. This is their second such weekend together. Marg works in a Thunder Bay hospital - in housekeeping, I believe she said.
This is how we met these women. Marg was motoring down the lake back to the cabin and stopped her boat where my wife and her brother were canoeing on the lake to get in the day's supply of water. She asked them, "Would you like a pickerel dinner?" She held up a stringer of fish. Pickerel is Canadian for walleye, ay?
Pickerel is the only fish these women want to catch, and the only fish they will keep. For the rest, it's catch and release. Especially the pikes. Pike is Canadian for northerns, ay? Marg's Rule: No pike in the boat. Which is just as well, for while Cindy loves to fish, she detests northern; if one gets too close, she'll clamber to the front of the boat. Cindy does love to fish, but she doesn't eat fish. Marg eats fish, but she can have pickerel pretty much whenever she wants. So when the women go home with their limit Patty will take the fish because Patty loves fish. And these women can catch fish every day. Today they had their six fish possession limit, so if they wanted to keep fishing during the weekend, they'd have to release their fish, eat them, or they could give them to us and start tomorrow with a blank slate. We had licenses to possess eight fish. We could eat the fish the women gave us, and increase our possession limit to eight again the next day. Fresh fish is one of the joys of Canada. And walleye! And delivered to us!
Mary and I had come north late on Thursday night, to rendezvous with Mary's brother Philip and his wife Susan for a week of canoeing and camping just outside the boundaries of Wabakimi Provincial Park about three hours north of Thunder Bay. Philip and Susan had already been in the wilderness for a week with several friends. We met at a bed and breakfast about six miles south of Armstrong, Ontario, about 4:00 p.m. on Friday, found supper in town, came back to the B&B for a night's sleep, then had some quick breakfast the next morning. Philip and Susan repacked for another week on the water with us, and about 11:00 a.m. on Saturday we paddled north on Little Caribou.
The campsite where we wanted to stay that first night was occupied as we came past, but it appeared as if the campers were packing up. So we paddled up around the next point and, after a decent interval, paddled back and took possession of the site.
That was where the women found us, fishless and relaxed, and they gave us those six pickerel on Saturday night. We learned they wouldn't be returning to Thunder Bay until Tuesday, so we decided to stay at the campsite to see if they would bring us more fish on Sunday. They did. They brought five pickerel for lunch, and we had pickerel tacos; they came back later with two more for supper.
Of course, you have to invite such benefactors ashore for a little nip of brandy and some conversation. We did that Sunday. And we were rich with Wisconsin cheese, so we sent the women home with a block of cheddar. The women shared some brandy with us, though Marg, driver of the small motorboat, was careful counting her swallows. She recognizes the water as inherently dangerous. She wears a life vest while on the water, and requires her passengers to wear them too. Marg knows why she wears the vest - she tumbled out of the boat turning it on a cold weekend in May when she was out fishing with her children. Her thirteen-year-old daughter caught hold of the motor and brought the boat around to pick her mother out of the water. When she hit the water, Marg said, the last thing she thought about was swimming - the water was that cold.
"See," she'd told her children, "that's why you wear the life vest."
The women had a nip of brandy with us, and some conversation. These are confident, self-reliant women - not afraid to go out on the water, the three of them; not afraid of the isolation, nor of the proximity of bears, for there are bears about. They like the water and sky, the trees and rocks. And they like fishing.
Marg is the outfitter for this women's weekend, you might say, she of the mop of curly dark hair and faded red baseball cap, the broad smile and hearty laugh. Cindy's hair is lighter of color, cut to a short shag; she is quick to laugh, too, and like the others she is not shy about saying what she thinks, ay? She likes to fish, yeah, but she doesn't like to eat fish. Patty wears a baseball cap with a pony-tail stuck out of the back of it. Her face is a bit more chiseled, angular like a piece of this Canadian shield where it comes from high above down to the water. None of the women look like your gung-ho athletes; I don't think they'd be models for an outdoors catalog. Yet they are the real thing, the real fisherwomen of Little Caribou on a long weekend holiday.
Marg loves to fish, but she's happy being outfitter for the weekend, driving the boat, netting the fish, taking them off the hook, and putting them on the stringer. She would be back the following weekend with her husband and children to do her own fishing.
As Sunday afternoon deepened into evening, we talked about fishing, and politics, and what-not. Susan asked Marg what her fellow citizens thought of the President of the United States.
"Oh, we don't like him," Marg said. "Of course, we have some politicians of our own we don't like very much either."
Marg doesn't like Bush, and she doesn't like pike, but of the pike she tells us she handles them gently when she takes them off the hook and puts them back in the water. One assumes she wouldn't do as well with Bush. "Who knows," she says, "twenty-five years from now it might be pike is the only fish we'll have to catch and eat, so we best take care of them now."
"Yeah," said Cindy, who doesn't even eat fish, "it might be the only fish we have - who knows?"
We talked about what they were catching, and where they were catching it. They named the places - "Five Birches" ("That's what my husband calls it, though there are more than five."), and "Johnson," the place where the lake narrows, and "Pickerel Rock" and such. They talked about catching the pickerel, about the pikes they don't keep, and about catching Canada.
"Yeah, that's when you snag a tree or the rocks on the bottom. That's catching Canada, and when you do, you have to sing 'O, Canada.'"
Eventually the women went back to their cabin. And we went to eating pickerel. Tough work, but somebody's gotta do it.
On Monday morning, the women came past on their way out to their hot fishing spots. "How many fish would you be wanting today?" Marg asked.
This is exactly why we decided to stay in this camp another day. "Four," Philip said.
"Okay," Marg said. "We'll see you later."
"I'll clean your pickerel, too, when you come back," Philip said.
It was about time to break out the Nalgene bottle of brandy when the women returned late Monday afternoon. They had our four pickerel. We had cheese and crackers on a makeshift table, and trail mix, and cups for the brandy. Philip cleaned all the fish, ours and theirs. They made really nice filets.
We enjoyed some more conversation. I love the broadness of the Canadian vowels. You know you're talking to someone when you're talking to a Canadian. What did we talk about? This and that.
You know that old cabin at the portage onto the big Caribou Lake? That's a trapper's cabin belonging to Marg's eighty-year-old father-in-law who lives in Armstrong.
"Hah," Susan said, "my brother has that cabin penciled onto his charts. I'll tell him I met the daughter-in-law of the owner."
That kind of talk. About kids playing hockey, and how it should be fun, and how too many parents make it into something way too serious.
About how the USA's requirement to show a passport at the border will mean the end to cross-border hockey tournaments for the 9-15 year-old Midgets from Thunder Bay. "How many kids are going to spend $100 for a passport so they can play in tournaments in Minneapolis or Duluth or Grand Portage?" Marg asked.
Yeah, how many?
And I wonder how many of the 9-15 year-old hockey players might be potential terrorists? Sometimes we paint with too broad a brush.
We told the women we thought that singing "O, Canada" when you catch Canada is a good rule in theory. Yet the problem with the idea in practice is that we didn't know the words to "O, Canada." We'd try to sing it, and it would end up "O, Canada, la-la-la-la-la-la."
Spontaneously the three women broke into song, confident voices singing their national anthem, full of quiet pride in the place they live. It was a lovely moment - unrehearsed and moving. The song rolled away across the water.
We agreed we should do this again sometime. "When is women's weekend next year?"
"It is always the weekend before our long weekend in August for the Civil Holiday," Marg said, which is the first weekend of the month next year. I got Marg's e-mail address.
"Maybe we'll see you next year," we said.
"Yeah," Marg said.
Then Philip was down at the edge of the water, holding the boat while the women climbed back aboard. We were saying good-bye. The last thing I heard Marg say?
a number of my books, so I cannot in good conscience review his new collection, Feeding My Heart to the Wind: Selected Poems 1999-2005* (sunnyoutside, 2006).I can, however, announce the book here and, I think, let my sense of the short poem collide with Kriesel's. Writing a short poem, I think, is like trying to drive a nail in with a single blow of the hammer. Either you hit it square and deep, or you hit a glancing blow and bend the damn thing irreparably. You make a single stroke, and it's right or it's wrong. You don't get a second shot.
You may have deduced from my interview with Kriesel last year that I appreciate his work. That would be correct. He is a fine Wisconsin poet, something of a hermit who is currently serving public duty as a member of Wisconsin's Poet Laureate Commission. He is a past winner of the Council of Wisconsin Writer's Lorine Niedecker Award. He enjoys a well-deserved and growing reputation.
And yet like the rest of us, he can stumble. I have to be honest about my sense of the poems in Feeding My Heart to the Wind, for - in terms of the short poem - I find my aesthetic is sometimes at loggerheads with Kriesel's. That's okay. We can differ in our understanding of where and how poetry occurs. Still, I want to mark some of the differences.
In some of the poems here, I think Kriesel says too much. In a short poem, you must say everything with less, not more. Here is his "Bad Knees," with my emendation:
Oak leaves bright as rubber noses tumble across the lawn
reminding me I'll never be a rodeo clown
Here is "Yellow" with my editing:
the wind is spending all September's coins
Some of the poems leaving me saying "Huh?" or "So what?" I'm thinking of "Heaven's Nail," which is good as far as it goes:
Hawk hangs like a nail driven into the sky
You've got the image: now do something with it.
And in the title poem, I'm concerned about where the metaphorical language is going in the final lines:
... and hope
that dandelion of the soul a river in the air that flows from me like seeds
A river in the air like seeds? I don't know.
In "Highway 52" Kriesel uses a construction which is unfortunately common in American haiku, an -ing clause whose real subject is other than the apparent grammatical subject:
Picking up cans by the road
someone ran over this snake...
Admittedly, someone picking up cans could have run over the snake, but I don't think that's what is meant. And, as I say, this is not just a failure by Kriesel, but by many American haiku poets. I always wonder - if one can't be clear about the subject of a clause, how can we expect the poet to be clear about anything?
NOW - let's talk about the poems that seem to me exactly the right size and perfect, those where the reach matches the grasp. A poem such as "Scrambled:"
White in a pale blue styrofoam carton
divided so they know the joy of union
And "Rented Room:"
Fall window sill the beer's cool
watching a maple I start to pay attention
to the light the way trees do
Poems like these are the reason Kriesel has appeared in more than two hundred magazines. This is the Michael Kriesel I appreciate. And you should too. You judge a writer by the best that he or she produces. By that standard, Kriesel is a poet we should continue to read, don't you think?
----------------------------- *Michael Kriesel, Feeding My Heart to the Wind: Selected Short Poems 1999-2005. sunnyoutside, P.O. Box 441429, Somerville, MA 02144. $6.00.
that means smooth sailing tonight as we head west to Montana. What a change the 1400 miles shall make. A change of landscape. A change in my soul? We go knowing we shall come back. What if we plodded west knowing we'd make a home there as the pioneers did? How would my heart be changed? How could it not be changed?
I clear dew from the windshield of the pick-up. Across the street, old men prepare to go fishing. One of them puts a bait bucket in the boat behind a pick-up. The other waits in the driver's seat, patiently, for these are slow old men and they are patient to the fishing and all the way to their chewing.
If you want to believe in God, walk barefoot through the morning dew on your lawn. Can you watch the sun rise and be an unbeliever? I don't know.
No wind on the flag at the cemetery.
A flock of sea gulls white against the green of alfalfa.
Another field of sweetcorn has been taken.
Why are swallows swallows?
There is a grey haze to the west, like smoke coming this way; it is low along the horizon.
this morning. Cool air has come into the house after a good hot afternoon yesterday. We are fortunate to have rain and heat and the cool nights, all. The humming greenness.
Soon we shall leave this behind. Tomorrow evening we fly to the burning mountains of Montana, to Missoula, for a week with our daughter and son-in-law. We'll see a landscape under stress, the dry conditions, the fires, the smoke. It will be a far place, quite unlike Fairwater is today.
There is a very unhappy blackbird outside, angry as a squirrel.
I am driving to work half a hour earlier than usual this morning. I can see the difference in time in the lay of light: the dew upon a field of beans turns the leaves of the plant a slightly greyish color.
Hazy to the west, cloudy to the north. Sun lays on Washington Street like a fresh rain.
If one gets up and follows his heart, he may not have to go anywhere. Is he where he wishes to be? Is he doing what he wants? Has he chosen what he has been dealt? You run from nothing so much as you run from yourself. Why do we not see that? Why do we spend our whole lives poking about looking for something else, something more, something elusive to value beyond what we already have? Searching anywhere but in your own heart is a fool's search. How can a fellow tell people this without sounding like he's preaching?
Dew on the windshield of the pick-up. Algae is thick on the pond. Some breeze in the trees. Some notions in my head. The beast is going to work.
It is a sticky sky to plow through this morning, not as thick as yesterday's. The flag at the cemetery flies to the east. Clouds are moving. Just north of the village, there is waste water being sprayed onto the field to my left.
No one wants to believe this is an endless track we go 'round on, but isn't it an endless track we go 'round on? Again and again. The same day repeated. Morning, noon, and night. Is not everything familiar?
At Five Corners - all the lovely flowers. Again this morning. Again and again, the beauty.
that her family had horse thieves climbing amongst the branches of the family tree. She would suggest that it was my father's family that took to appropriating horse flesh belonging to other folks. I'm only reporting what I see. I see a mess of my mother's brothers raising hell and tearing up and they look like the progeny of horse thieves to me. My dad's family - well, you know those farmer's sons you laugh at for never letting their legs see the light of day, they even get undressed in the dark? That, I think, would be my dad's family.
Why does it matter?
Well, when you get a wild hair, you'd like to know whom you resemble; and when you end up like me - upright and country-church square on the one hand, and rebellious as hell on the other - you'd like to know where that comes from.
Of course, yes, I know: nature and nurture. Some of it is what you got. Some of it is how you were shaped. And some of it, by God, is how you make yourself; the sum total of all the choices you've made, these, finally, make you. You can sue whomever you wish, I suppose, but finally I think each of us is his own damn fault. (That's probably the white-legged farm boy talking, isn't it?)
There must have been a spit of rain during the night. There is a greyness overhead. The humid air hangs.
A carpenter down the street is converting a building that long ago was a gas station into a residence. A big wide garage door at the front of the place is open. I see the carpenter take a big gulp of coffee.
The countryside is very hazy.; All of us have our lights on, or we should. I can almost smell smoke in the air. These looks like smoke from forest fires far off, at the edge of the mountains. It hangs low, catches on the corn, the trees, the heads of cabbage.
Weeds are a human disease.
Bound bounce bound goes a squirrel across a lawn in Ripon. The lawn needs mowing. The squirrel doesn't care, doesn't care at all.
What a dark and clammy morning. How far the fires, how close?
in Paul's Cafe early last Sunday morning," Ivan said. "Marvin didn't have time for chit chat. He had work to do. Marvin said he could haul water but he hadn't learned how to haul grass."
"You know," Ivan said, "a lot of people ask 'What would you do if you were rich?' Tell ya what I would do. I'd hire somebody to be sick for me."
"Heard the song 'Stardust' on the radio one morning last week," Ivan said. "You probably don't know it, if you are under eighty, but there has been more brazeer fasteners fooled with on the dance floor to the song 'Stardust' than any other number."
"Jim Franklin was tellin about the time when his kids were involved in the Fair," Ivan said. "They had a program in front of the grandstand and Jim said he and his wife didn't wear jackets and they froze out before the performance was over. Wouldn't have that problem this year. Young people won't understand this, but it was so hot one day last week that I saw a rooster chasing a pullet and they were both walking. A pullet remains a pullet until it loses its first race."
"How many men does it take to open a beer can?" Ivan asked. "None. It should be opened when she brings it."
Ivan talked about Smith Center football: "In the Smith Center offensive scheme, the snapper is the least recognized and one of the most important players on the offensive line. It's imperative that the snapper keep the defensive nose guard off the Smith Center quarterback. Whenever the Smith Center running game gets going the offensive line gets - and rightly so - a lion's share of the credit. But the snapper is there battling the best defensive lineman the opponents have to offer."
"When Donnie Hughes, up there on Park Street, went to bed on Thursday night, he had a six foot vertical tomato plant with 31 tomatoes on it," Ivan said. "When he got up on Friday morning, he had a six foot horizontal tomato plant. I think it might have still had 31 tomatoes on it. I'm not sure. But I do know the wind went whistling up Park Street."
"Car quit on me again," Ivan complained. "This time it didn't start back up for several times. Finally I turned her on. She groaned, moaned, and then she backfired. I didn't even know cars done that anymore. But it seemed to be enjoying the cooler weather Friday and it just purred right along."
"For years," Ivan said, "I've said that one of the best football players who ever played for Smith Center was Dean Grothaus. He played right tackle. When the ball was snapped, he would start blocking the opponent's left defensive tackle and he would go right on down the line and he wouldn't quit till he got to the defensive right end. He would stack defensive linemen up like they were cordwood."
"Last week," Ivan said, "for five straight days I couldn't get on the internet. Every time I would try I got 'this page cannot be displayed.' I got upset, then I got frustrated, then I got mad. For five days my stomach churned, my temples throbbed, and my movement schedule got out of whack."
"Read an article in last Sunday's paper that said if you are tired you should get more exercise," Ivan reported. "Said exercise reduces fatigue. What's that old story about the guy that said he got all his exercise serving as pall bearer for his friends who exercised?"
"Marie Belle Kirkendall told me one time that when she was in first grade she thought she was the dumbest kid in class because she was the last one to learn to spell her name," Ivan said. "She said she realized later that she was the only one that had twenty letters in her name."
"Lynette Welchel says she is getting 54 miles to the gallon on the hybrid car she is driving," Ivan said. "That's good mileage, and it includes hitting a deer."
"You know," Ivan said, "you turn on the news and all you hear is about the Middle East, the southern border, and politics as usual. I'm so old that I don't want to talk about the Middle East, the southern border, or politics as usual. Last Monday I drove up to the gas pump and put $45.10 worth of gas in my car. That got my attention. That is more money than the monthly payments were on the first car I bought. So let the young people figure out what is going on in the Middle East. Let the young people come up with an answer concerning the southern border. Let the news media talk about politics as usual. Me, myself personally I just want to drive up to a gas pump and fill my tank with twenty dollars with of gas. Is that asking too much out of the few brief years I've got? These large oil companies are just like going to Doctor Bendover. You know you're gonna get it and you know you're not going to enjoy it."
"Mike Hughes got hit by about the worst thing that can happen to a bingo caller and public address announcer last week," Ivan said. "He lost his voice. Mike said he never did feel bad, just lost his voice. He had his niece, Auriel, help him call bingo last Tuesday afternoon at Western Plains. Auriel was almost as good as Mike and is a lot better looking."
"I can remember - fondly - the Underwood typewriter," Ivan said. "The most complicated thing about it was changing the ribbon. Gas at eighteen cents a gallon. Radio playing big band music. A car being repaired in the shade of a tree. A complete set of golf clubs was a driver, brassie, spoon, mashie, mid-mashie, cleek, and putter. The most accurate weather forecaster was an arthritic toe. But now I'm in my golden years. I've got the years, but where in hell is the gold?"
The sky. I was reminded yesterday that place makes some of us botanists. It makes some of us biologists, geologists, geographers, or poets. It makes some of us run away, some of us put down roots. What's the difference? Why some and not the other? Even in the same family, some stay, others go off to find something else.
Cool air came into the house all night. Sleeping was as pleasant as that found on the sleeping porches of my youth, an uncle's house, the hot days, and I'm getting goose bumps at night on a cot with a worn Army blanket for bedding. Every day you thank your god and you do not complain.
There is dew on the windshield of the pick-up. There is a kind of muskiness in the air but I don't recognize it. The piss of a mountain lion, perhaps? That's unlikely here in Fairwater, but you get the idea. It's not decaying vegetation.
There are new houses going up in Fairwater's Mary Lane subdivision, one nearly completed, the other just a foundation. There is not enough wind to move the flag. The field of alfalfa north along Highway E has been taken now. I wish the hawk were in the hawk's tree: it's not. North out of Fairwater a couple of miles farther, there is wind enough to blow a flag atop a silo out straight from the west to the east. Just south of Five Corners, a field of beans has been harvested.
The summer toils on. "I've got to hurry," it says. "Good-bye," it says.
I did some exercise this morning before my shower. Now I feel like a physical beast again. It is good to be animal. Sometimes I am too much mind and I forget one's body is a reason to rejoice, the sheer delight of physicality. Hurrah!
Blue sky. I am expecting my parents to visit us. They are driving from Iowa. I have some questions for them - one always has questions. The reason I exist at all: a railroad track laid to the northwest out of Sac City, Iowa, cut my great-grandfather's farm in half. In disgust he sold the farm and moved to West Bend, Iowa. If he had not, would my grandfather have met my grandmother? Would my father have met my mother? My wife says "Think how different the world would be if the Black Plague had not ravaged Europe." Think how different the world would be if our chunk of the universe had been flung a little farther from the sun, or not so far. We are not an accident waiting to happen, we are an accident that has happened, and every breath we take is a fortunate breath. What if a different sperm had reached the egg?
Out in the country I see there are clouds to the north and west. There is not much wind to blow them in. Dew glistens on grass, on alfalfa cut and laying in windrows. A flock of sea gulls sits tight together on a bare worked field. At the Sina pig farm, the acrid smell of pig shit; it clears the sinuses.
Half a mile south of Five Corners, a spray plane wheels on a wing tip, drops down on a field off to the west. At Five Corners, the old farmer at his flowerbeds, his overalls a new, dark denim. They probably smell like new clothes the first day of school.