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.
ain't what they used to be. For years I refereed basketball and worked in the post office. Both required 20/20 or better vision. Both of which I had. But Old Dad Time has robbed me of some of my eyesight. I used to be able to crack a flea off a bull's butt with a ten-foot bull whip. Now I'm lucky if I can see the bull."
"The multi-talented Bruce Miles has added photography to his long line of accomplishments," Ivan reported. "Miles took a picture of the As the Bladder Fills Club. The picture is a study of men in deep thought. Miles framed the picture and it now hangs near the As the Bladder Fills Club logo on the north wall of the Second Cup Cafe. It can be seen on your way to the restroom."
"Martin Gretchel was the early morning waitress at Paul's Cafe last Thursday morning," Ivan said. "Kendall Nichols was trying to eat his breakfast and talk cattle. Martin kept interrupting. Finally Kendall says, 'Martin, is there anybody else in here that you can bother?' Martin said, 'Yes, but I'd rather be botherin' you.'"
"Bill Holden asked me where I went to college," Ivan said. "I graduated in the top ninety percent of my class from Hard Knox University."
"I went to the seventh grade football game when Smith Center played Beloit last week," Ivan said. "Beloit lined up on offense. I looked out there and they were lining up in what looked like the double wing. I hadn't seen a double wing since Carl Firebaugh tried to introduce it to Smith Center back in '37 or '38."
"Casey Edell and I found some common ground to talk about last Friday," Ivan reported. "Casey said wives always talk when they are looking at a wall or are walking away from you. Says you can't hear nothin' they are saying. I don't know about your house, but that's sure true at my house."
"We - we, meaning the majority of the As the Bladder Fills Club - was wondering how the Jr. Hi game that was held in Norton on Thursday came out," Ivan said. "We knew that the Second Cup Cafe is a full service cafe, so we dispatched the waitress, Mary Beth Lambert, to call the school and find out. She came back to report that the seventh grade won and the eighth grade lost. We didn't ask what the score was. We figgered we had prevailed on her good nature enough. I do know that one of the McNary twins was closing in a thousand yards rushing for the season."
"I heard about the Methodist Men's Breakfast at aerobics Friday," Ivan said. "The breakfast was held on Wednesday. Now the way I heard it, and I got it directly form the participants, things went like this. Buck McClain cooked the meal - eggs, sausage, whatever. Donnie Hughes, who admits he is no cook, does have a dish-washing talent so he washed dishes. Kenny Schwartfeger ate. So everybody done what they do best."
"Casey Edell tried to remember the name of the guy that ran the grocery store in Lebanon before Bobby Smith ran it," Ivan said. "Started trying to remember the name at 8:15. All he could think of was Greene or Brown. At ten minutes to nine he blurted out, 'Marion Gray.' By then we had forgotten what he was trying to remember."
"It used to be," Ivan said, "that if you saved enough box tops you could send in for a pair of Roy Rogers ivory-handled six guns. It wasn't real ivory - it was plastic. Back then there was Hoppy, Gene, and Roy. Side kicks were California, Frog, and Gabby. Horses were Topper, Champion, and Trigger. And there wasn't no girl kissin'."
"Gene Conaway was a tellin' about attending a dance in Hastings," Ivan said. "Said he and the Mrs. didn't care much for the band. Gene said the beat was somewhere between a waltz and a polka. That would be kinda hard to dance to."
"A prominent member of the As the Bladder Fills Club told this one to me last week," Ivan said. "The ladies group at the church asked the pastor if he would speak to them on sex. He said he would, but he told his wife that the ladies group had asked him to speak on sailing. He spoke. A day or two later, his wife asked one of the ladies how her husband had done with his talk. The lady said, 'He done great.' His wife said, 'I don't know how he could - he had only done it once and he got motion sickness.'"
"The cold snap last week brought to mind that chili weather is rapidly approaching," Ivan said. "First off, let me remind you that it is just chili, it isn't chili soup. If it's soup, it's soup. Chili is chili. Chili can be made with white beans, black beans, navy beans, or without beans. Some people make it with tomatoes and tomato juice. Some with just tomato juice. Whatever you prefer. If you are a new cook or are an old cook looking for some new way to make chili, you can go to the Extension Office in the courthouse, lower level, and whatever kind of chili you have in mind Extension Agent Sandra Wick can lay her hand right on. Just remember - it's just chili, repeat, not chili soup."
"Oh," said Ivan, "did I tell you that Bob Levin has over four thousand fossils on display at his house. Well, some of them are across the alley in a building he built. Four thousand fossils is a lot of fossils. Someone said, "That's more fossils than we got living in Smith County.'"
"Darn it," Ivan said, "I'm getting to where I can't hardly see the screen on my computer. It just ain't as bright as it used to be. But I can still drive."
of Not Native Fruit, I am guest-editing the November-December edition of the online magazine qarrtsiluni. The theme this time is "First Time." We are now inviting your submissions. This is the way we describe what we're looking for:
First time. There's a first time for everything. The obvious: first kiss, first love, first sex. The first day of school. Less obvious: first time around the block, first poem, first loss, first Christmas you remember. This first time for everything theme is wide open, so we don't want to limit you with our suggestions. Surprise us!
We are looking for memoir and essay, for poetry, fiction, photography, artwork. For a form that perhaps we'd be seeing for the very first time.
Submissions may begin immediately and will be considered through December 15, for publication throughout November and December. The word limit remains at 3,000.
Qarrtsiluni is "an experiment in online literary and artistic collaboration. The title comes from an Alaskan Inuit word that means 'sitting together in the darkness, waiting for something to burst.' Qarrtsiluni began publishing on September 20, 2005." Along with Lorianne of Hoarded Ordinaries, I've previously guest-edited the "Finding Home" theme for qarrtsiluni. "First Time" will be the ninth theme explored at the magazine. The managing editors for this excellent venture are Beth from Cassandra Pagesand Dave from via negativa.
Information on how to submit work for our consideration can be found here. First-time contributors are especially welcome. Send us your best stuff!
a bit more than a week in Ft. Collins, Colorado with our daughter Jessica and son-in-law Tait and now it was time to say good-bye. Jessica had been hospitalized for treatment with radioactive iodine, and I wanted to be there for her when she got out. When she got home Tait had a super-hero costume ready for her:
which stands for "Radioactive Girl." Last Saturday we got some family pictures with Jessica in her super-hero outfit, and then it was time to say good-bye.
RG, the new superhero.
The RG Super-hero, "flying." Photo by Tait Brink
RG, the Super-Dog Bear, husband Tait, and Bodhi.
RG & the Grumble Bear. Photo by Tait Brink.
It's interesting that the Dad in all this, who hoped he was going to be of some assistance while he was there, actually got treated awfully well by his recently hospitalized daughter and her husband, including several trips to the ice cream parlor. Thanks, you guys!
Yeah, saying good-bye was tough.
Western Nebraska. Blue-collar "Big Sky" country. The jagged greyness overhead, the jagged landscape. This is not the middlewest. Yes, they might grow some corn, but it is not Iowa corn. There is more sagebrush blowing across the road than corn husk. The land is cut with gullies and steep ravines and other signs of wear and erosion. Nothing stays where you put it.
Jagged sky, jagged landscape.
The larger towns hang on surprisingly well. Alliance and Chadron (pronounced Shadron, I'm told) are longer and wider than you'd expect for towns out here. McDonald's and Subway and Pizza Hut have firmly established themselves, yet is is difficult to find the old-fashioned Mom & Pop cafe in either community. There are some empty storefronts in Alliance and Chadron, but not as many as I'd expected.
McDonald's and China House in Chadron.
Grand old building in Chadron.
Elevator in Chadron.
Part of the difference between the middlewest and the west, I suppose, is that the middlewest once supported a much larger agricultural population than the west ever has. And with the decline of the rural population in the middle west, the small towns suffered. The more you have, the farther you're going to fall. By comparison, communities in the west had smaller populations supporting them, and less to lose.
The wind out here. The tawny color of the landscape. The jaggedness of everything, including the raw-boned people who have to bet everything every day to make anything. Or that's how it looks to a fellow who knows what an Iowa corn crop looks like.
We don't have skies like this in Wisconsin. Is it that trees change the nature of clouds by changing the wind? Is it the long sweep of emptiness out here that creates the jaggedness of sky? Something is different. Something is very different.
This is a difference. The Pizza Ranch in Chadron has the brands from 79 ranches in the area burned onto pieces of raw wood and nailed to the walls of the dining room. I have eaten at a lot of Pizza Ranches, but this is the only one with such decoration. There is nothing more local than a rancher's brand. And here were 79 of them on display like works of art. Which, in a way, they are.
The folks eating at the Pizza Ranch did not look "western" - no cowbody boots, no cowboy hats. A lot of folks were in coats and caps for Chadron State College. Maybe some of the cheerleaders were having supper, and some of the football team. One fellow got up from the table and it was clear that my arms weren't long enough to wrap all the way around his chest. I think he was a running back. I think he'd run for maybe 279 yards that afternoon.
Several other people in the restaurant wore the garb of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. You want to belong to something.
On my way to Chadron, I'd stopped at Carhenge. Carhenge stands three and a half miles north of Alliance on Highway 87. You wonder why it's there. This is the second time I've stopped to see it. Perhaps we need to make a mark such as this on the landscape, a human mark, to stand against Courthouse Rock and Jail Rock and Chimney Rock, which are also found in western Nebraska, nearer the Platte River. Here in the great open emptiness, perhaps we have to raise our arms to the sky in supplication in any way we can. The emptiness is not so fearful, one supposes, if we can raise something against it, anything.
Carhenge near Alliance, Nebraska.
Yes, this is Carhenge.
When I was north of Alliance on Highway 385, I saw a huge sugarbeet storage operation and stopped to take a few photos. I had to assume it was sugarbeets I was seeing, for none of the trucks were marked "Sugarbeet Haulers of Western Nebraska." I got confirmation later, when I saw a newspaper talking about the sugarbeet harvest and showing a photograph of sugarbeets. Yup, that's what they are.
Unloading sugarbeets near Alliance, Nebraska.
Now that's a pile of sugarbeets.
I was angled towards home, yet I also wanted to spend some time in the Sandhills. I wanted to stand again at Mari Sandoz's lonesome grave site, listening to the wind, to what it has to say. There is nothing so lonesome as wind over a graveyard, the vast emptiness filling with a moan. Mari Sandoz was a writer I admire. Standing at her grave for a bit, to honor her memory, perhaps I'll recognize once again that this is what it comes to, finally: the empty lonesomeness of the grave.
The Museum of the Fur Trade and the Bordeaux Trading Post, a few miles east of Chadron on Highway 20, was open on Sunday morning, and I stopped to take a look. The museum has extensive information and exhibits about the fur trade, including maps with locations of every American Fur Company and Hudson Bay Company trading post in North America, all the way to the Arctic Ocean. There was a surprisingly thorough display about the history of fur trading in Greenland. A special exhibit about "Mountain Men" runs from August 2006 through August 2007. There were 200 at least muzzle-loading rifles and pistols in the "gun room," as well as the many weapons in the various displays throughout the museum. I like seeing the displays of clothing and especially the Hudson Bay blankets from the one point size to four and a half points. The museum gift shop has an extensive selection of books about the fur trade and fur traders (as wel as Hudson Bay blankets for sale, and other goodies), and I think I saw a library through another door, with several shelves of volumes that might be available to the serious researcher. The Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly has published an extensive set of collection of materials.
The Bordeaux Trading Post was out behind the museum - the warehouse, the trading post itself, and the robe press used to bundle hides in packs of ten. The Bordeaux post operated from 1837 to 1876. Standing there among the remnants of it, I felt the strong insistence of history; across the fence from me, a herd of ordinary cows and a couple of horses.
You'd have to be a pretty dull fellow not to find something here to interest you.
Crossing the Niobrara River south of Rushville, Nebraska, along Highway 250.
Soap plants in the Sandhills, along Highway 250 south of Rushville.
Open sand in the Sandhills, along side road between Highway 250 and Highway 27.
Decrepit shed in the Sandhills, along side road between Highway 250 and Highway 27.
Marker honoring Mari Sandoz, along Highway 27 in the Sandhills, not far from the Old Jules homestead.
A little snow in the Sandhills, not far from the grave of Mari Sandoz.
Turn here, to Mari's grave.
You want it to mean something. You want it all to mean something. I am here in the Sandhills at Mari Sandoz's gravesite. The wind is blowing. Yes, there is a little snow in the air, a chill at the fingertips.
The grave of Mari Sandoz, and the enclosure to keep cattle off it.
Marker on Mari's grave.
The view from Mari's grave. Old Jules' orchards used to stand here in the foreground.
I would speak of the immense silence, yet there is a steer nearby sounding a mewling sort of beller. There is the rustle of wind among the grasses and dry prairie plants. There is the schrrr-schrrr-schrrr of my own imagination. And there is the essential silence of the grave.
We are like the wind, here but for the moment, then we are gone. Like a rabbit taken by the hawk. Like the hawk taken by time. Like Old Jules, Mari's father, and the other homesteaders who settled these Sandhills - gone. So soon gone.
One must make his mark. One must claw his message onto the pages of history. This moment should not be forgotten. These people should not be forgotten. Mari should be remembered and cherished. This place, the smell of it, the wind in it, the sense of loss here. This should not be forgotten.
The poet's task is to sing Lauds each morning, to sing praise again and again. To hold the small common things of life up for notice, to make them objects of astonishment, to cherish them and commit them to memeory, and finally - yes - perhaps to say good-bye.
If I didn't have loss and longing, what would I have to write about? I don't know. I have driven down six miles of dirt track to sit here at Mari's grave and listen to the wind, and I ask myself: why do I do it? What is to be gained? What do I want to take?
There is nothing I need. Rather, I feel that this should not be lost, this local moment, the history of this place, our memory of the writer who recorded it, Mari Sandoz. I can only hope that someday some poet will sit at my grave site thanking me for recording my local moments, and that at some day beyond that another poet will sit at his grave site to honor him, and that this line will stretch forever, the line of us grateful for the poets of our local moments.
Wind claws the grey sky. The sun breaks through and then is gone. The least flutter of snow appears and disappears. The sound of the grasses and the immense silence. The emptiness and fullness of everything.
I sit here writing Wind shakes the car. All I really want to say is: Thank you, Mari.
Thank you, Mari.
Mari Sandoz wrote, and managed a living at it. In contrast I am almost pathologically unable to write something that sells, as if selling it will spoil it. I want to write what I see, as I see it, with no temptation to alter it so I can make money from it. It's a strange predicament I've put myself in - I have to write about what I see, yet I am reluctant to offer it for publication for fear that in doing so the essence of it might be lost. I am fortunate to be in a position that I can write what I wish while Mary takes care of the bills. That is a tremendous gift from her to me, and I doubt that I show enough gratitude. Thank you, Mary.
Why do I feel as I do about my writing, this need to protect its integrity so fiercely? I think that even when I am writing prose - journal entry or essay or memoir - I am fiercely a poet about it. My prose is like my poetry: it cannot be sold; it is art, not commerce that I am embarked upon.
Yes, I know, it's a pretty silly writer who writes and resists publication. At least publication on someone else's terms. Publication on my own terms is fine.
Now I'm driving south through the Sandhills on Highway 27. Snow is flying at the windshield. At Mari's grave, I talked about what I do, what I'm doing, what it means for me to be a poet here, now, in this place, in this life. Yet one should not talk about what he's doing, so much as he should do it. Sometimes in these sacred moments, however, sitting at Mari's grave, for instance, we may consider what it is that were about. We can take the time to ruminate and to weigh what it is we're doing. These are holy moments.
I have to admit that when I look at this land and at the evidence of people trying to make a living in this place, out of these resources, I really don't know enough to make judgments about whether they should be puitting angus out in these bare Sandhills or not. Somehow the Sandhills seem sacred, yet what is holy doesn't count for much in the economic equation of everyday life. There are people here. They will continue to live here because this is their place, the place that owns them. Who am I to say No, you shouldn't irrigate so you can raise corn or alfalfa, you shouldn't overburden the land with grazing cattle. I don't know enough at this point to make such judgments.
In any case, I am not one to argue about what should be so much as I am one who has been put here to describe what is, what we have had, what has been lost. I think there is an essential difference between those who witness what life is, versus those who are here to argue that life could be different or better than this. I'm here to say: "This is what is."
I am on Highway 27 headed south. The road does not go straight. I think I know why. It follows the lay of the hills, old animal trails, the trail of people who walked through here a long time ago. It follows the natural course of things marching across the landscape. I'm content to follow it, this old pathway, this road.
A road bends through the Sandhills.
And then I followed Highway 2 and Highway 92 across Nebraska. Folks, on the railroad tracks along Highway 2, between Highway 27 and Highway 92, I saw AT LEAST 15 trains. Trains headed east. Trains headed west. Trains sitting on a siding, waiting. It was almost nose-to-nose trains for 200 miles. Mostly coal trains. Those headed east were loaded with coal; they had two or three engines moving them. Those headed west were empty; they were longer and had a single unit powering them back towards the mines. One train headed west was made up of an engine pulling four other engines behind it. Trains. I've never seen anything quite like it.
I met poet and publisher Greg Kosmicki in the Old Market area of Omaha. Well, actually, he met me. He came up behind me and said "Tom?" I was standing near the corner of 12th and Howard, in front of Delice, a French bakery and deli where we were going to have lunch. Greg was walking over from work two blocks away. I turned. "Hey." We shook hands and went inside.
I ordered the chicken pot pie, which is not at all like the chicken pot pie you learned to eat in school. It's not near so juicy, and has more biscuit than crust. I also had a bowl of sweet potato soup that was terrific. And a glass of iced tea.
Greg ordered something equally as tasty, I'm sure, and a glass of iced tea. We found a table and sat down to eat and talk. Greg had an hour for lunch, then had to go back to work. I would be heading straight home from Omaha, an eight hour drive.
I tell you - an hour is not nearly enough time when two old poets get together. We'd never met before, and indeed hadn't had any contact before I published this appreciation of Greg's newest book, Some Hero of the Past, so we had a lot of catching up to do. We made the most of it - talked fast, we did.
I was going to take Greg's photo for posting here, but forgot. Sorry.
And then it was 12:30 p.m., time for Greg to get back to work, time for me to head for home.
LAST DAY OF CLASS AT OXFORD SCHOOL 1874-2006 by Janet Kult
[My friend Janet Kult sent out an e-mail yesterday about the last day of school at Oxford Elementary in Oxford, Indiana. The school is closing and students will be attending a new, consolidated school, Prairie Crossing. Something has ended. Something new has begun. This is Janet's report of the last day's activities.]
What a wonderful morning I spent today! I wouldn't have missed it for anything. It started out at 5 till 8 AM at the school.
Today was the last day at Oxford Elementary School. Each of the kids had a new blue t-shirt that read, "I Closed Oxford Elementary School 1874-2006". The teachers & aids all wore them too.
Since [my husband] Joe graduated from there in 1960, and he couldn't be there because of work, I decided that I really needed to go; also to take pictures for the Historical Society (and I took 3 rolls of film).
The Principal Mr. Jake Kukartz let me go to each classroom and take photos of the kids till we went outside where a large group picture was taken with all the kids and teachers etc. I think someone said there were 174 students.
At 9 AM everyone came to the gym as well as community people for a final tribute. Many speeches were given, and of course, Mr. Atha had to give the Oxford "yell"and gave a lot of the history of the school and the previous schools in Oxford. Another former principal, Mr. Schneck was in attendance and gave a speech.
The oldest person in attendance graduating from Oxford in 1931 was present and that was Lorene Griffiths. She stood up when Mr. Atha announced her name. Channel 18 was there and at the end of the speeches, the reporter interviewed Mrs. Griffiths and also Mr. Atha. I was sorry that our famous Oxford person and historian, Mary Cross, was unable to attend. Thelma Glaspie is typing up all of Mary's stories to be published in a book.
Mrs. Brooks led the kids in one final song. Refreshments of cake and punch were next to a table that held year books from 1957, 1967 and other years.
There were a lot of stories told by members of the audience from years' past and quite a few tears.
A new chapter is just beginning for these students.
In the afternoon today at 1 PM, they are being transported to the new school Prairie Crossing for just an afternoon of looking around and getting acclimated. The actual first day at the new school is this coming Monday, October 30 where they will be joined by the kids from the Fowler Elementary School.
I finished at 10:30 and then came back to work.
So much fun and enjoyment for this perfect "fall" day. I loved doing this.
Some haze, but blue sky defiantly behind it. Each morning we rise and re-create ourselves. Sleep is a kind of death and, rising, we are new beings. How many of us fail to take advantage of each new day's freshness? Perhaps it is easier to roll along in a rut, more of the same-ol'-same-old.
Yet this is not to say each day must be different. Instead, whatever it is, we must embrace it freshly. The issue is that we don't choose. Or rather we choose not to choose and then complain because we feel victimized. If I don't embrace today as mine, of course I shall be a victim, beat upon by the winds of fortune, rudderless in a tossing sea.
What you give up is what you get. How many of us believe that?
I shall be changing vehicles from now on for this drive to work. I am putting the pick-up to pasture, for occasional use, and will be driving a Geo Metro 4-door. How shall the change of vehicles change my perceptions? Undoubtedly it will have some effect - the vehicle is part of the environment I'm paying attention to. I'll be interested to look back on the pages and see if I can discern a difference.
The flag at the cemetery is at half-staff, blowing south to north. A clutter of starlings on the power lines. Trees are such amazing machines, intelligent enough to go south in the winter if they could. Instead they get naked and hibernate, a wisdom I do not begin to understand yet perhaps I should explore.
I will be in Iowa next week, and some the following week. What shall I find? The stuff of a book?
There is harvesting being done of corn and soy beans these October days, but there seem to be many fields still standing. Are the farmers behind schedule; are they waiting for the crops to dry some more in the fields; or am I mistakenly anxious for them to be getting their crops in? I don't know. As I head to Iowa on Monday perhaps I'll draw a standard of comparison.
It has been cool enough some mornings that our furnace kicks on - a sure sign summer is gone. The house goes back to humming its tune in the key of G. That's one thing you have to say - this house plays in G.
In the full light of day, the grey haze has evaporated and we have blue sky, a still surface to the pond, a cool nip to the morning air. The day screams to be here and I am glad to be here too.
There has been a car with a Missouri license plate in town most of the week - someone's son or daughter come home to visit, I suppose.
The smell of wood smoke and moisture and sunshine all together in the air north of Fairwater. The smell of cornstalks and soybeans and the grasses in the ditch.
The red-tailed hawk flies at me above Highway E as I head north. It breaks off, turning to the east, into the sun.
Now the great cabbage patch is entirely empty. Only an awful smell remains, like sauerkraut working.
Workmen are back this morning along Highway E north of Five Corners. I have no idea what they shall be doing, other than standing with their hands in their pockets and yawning.
overhead but sky is visible behind it. A quiet, cool morning. Settled, like a good meal; like a dog down for its nap.
I am eager with anticipation to go back to Iowa on Monday, to see if you can go home again. I shall be walking the ground I grew up on - Curlew, Mallard, West Bend, Emmettsburg. What shall I see? What remains? How shall it compare to memory?
The flag at the cemetery hangs at half mast.
The haze at the rim of earth in all directions takes some color from the sun - purple or rose or golden.
The cabbages are nearly all gone, all but the few rows that are being harvested now. The field is littered green with cabbage leaves and the remains of plants and a few broken heads. It looks like a war zone.
Leaves fall as if they have given up all hope. Tromp, tromp, tromp. It is pleasant to face the uncertainty of the grey day - yes, it could bring sorrow, yet it could also bring joy.
What you get is already pretty much determined by who you are. If your heart expects darkness, you'll get it by the barrel.
There is dew on the windshield of the pick-up. There are birds about. They are talking. The blackbirds are the most certain of what they know and you will not change their minds. Not this morning, not ever.
Windows lay piled by the edge of the road, providing a view to nowhere. At the cemetery, the flag hangs wet and loose. In the country, fog closes down the view a quarter of a mile off. It is not a good day to be a goose trying to migrate.
At Five Corners, a rich, musky smell of the earth giving itself up to the season. A blind man could sniff the world and know it is autumn.
weekend. We held the memorial at the farm on Saturday for Karen, our sister-in-law who died of cancer last month. The colors in the trees could not have been brighter. Karen's ashes are set to earth there beside M.'s father's and uncle's. There is no more peaceful plot of earth than those 120 acres of sand. I'm sure Karen is at rest. Good-bye, Karen.
Leaves have fallen with some vigor. The sky is grey but calm. The surface of the pond is dull and untroubled.
No moisture on the windshield of the pick-up. The exhaust fumes are grey and move away to the north.
A mile or so north of the village there is a strong smell of corn stalks drying in the field. It is distinctly autumn.
More harvest of cabbages this morning. Perhaps the men and machines in the field will finish the task today or tomorrow?
Orange leaves. Grey clouds. Pumpkins on a lawn.
There are four highway workmen back along Highway E just at the edge of Ripon. They stand with their hands in their pockets, yawning. Now what? I wonder.
the pitchers who are all wind-up and no pitch. And perhaps you've seen the other ones, those who take all day to wind-up and who can throw too. I think of Warren Spahn - it was a long time before he got his arms and legs all unfolded and the ball released, and when he did it would be quite a pitch.
Greg Kosmicki writes that way. He is the Warren Spahn of poets. He's never in a hurry to get the point of the poem out there, and when he does it's worth waiting for. These are not "talky" poems, these poems in his recent collection, Some Hero of the Past,* but neither is there the urgency and compression you come to expect in poetry. Kosmicki lets the poem take its own good time. Folks who get scared off poetry because it slaps them up right off will appreciate Kosmicki's manner. He lulls you into the poem. Usually I don't have much time for poetry that isn't strung tight, but Kosmicki's poems convince me otherwise: the going itself, the journey to the point, is part of the point in his poems. These loose-limbed lines couldn't be more different from the kind I write, yet I am enchanted.
The opening poem gives it away. "12 Below, Morning" has a rambling start - "Coming out the door this morning I heard the bird / I can't remember the name...." He had once asked his friend Jack what the name is, but can't remember what Jack said, either. In any case, "... the name we call this bird... means nothing to that bird." And Jack? "His name / fits him somehow, / and this is what I heard / this morning."
Then we find two pages of ramble about a building being torn down: "stairs going to nowhere, green wall, / pink wall, green wall, some picture frames, / doorways opened to nothing...." What's the point? Kosmicki always brings us to that moment when the poem shows itself: "Maybe that building coming down reminded me / of my own death somehow...."
"OK," he says in the third poem of the book, and he's off to the races for twenty-six lines. Where do we end? "Because these are things to praise let us praise them."
It is easy to see that you couldn't just stop by Kosmicki's house intending to drop off a book quick-like. If he were home, no doubt he'd have to tell you a story, at least one story, in technicolor. You know the kind of fellow I'm talking about - he gets your attention and sets the hook, and then just keeps reeling you in. "There is something in the cool night air that makes you more alive / somehow than what is in the air at any other time except maybe early // morning." It's a feeling "of expectation of the beginning or the fulfillment of something. It's / what they call immanence...."
But under the streetlights you think of your father, that cold morning
duck hunting at Dewitt's place, knocking at their door to get permission, yellow light in the blue snow, the winter after your brother wrecked and died
in the car and your whole life changed, before you knew it had.
You're filled with expectation, the feeling of immanence, and then Kosmicki hits you with the magnitude of his loss. Your life does change forever when your brother dies; you may not know it at the time, but nothing will ever be the same. Some part of you is torn out and the wound never heals. You cannot even begin to imagine what it was like for your parents, losing a child.
Kosmicki was writing a poem at work, on his lunch break, and some lawyer somewhere might think that the poem therefore belongs to his employer, the State of Nebraska. "If the State of Nebraska wants the value of the poem when I become famous for having written it," Kosmicki says, "then the State may have it.... If it were easy, or paid anything, or had any value, well then it wouldn't be poetry."
The poem "C's Sister" is langourous, like it's subject, "... just fourteen / but she had the sexiest, deepest // voice of any girl / I had ever / heard...." The lines move so slowly they hardly move at all and you don't know where the poem is going and then it's gone:
there was no way we
could know what would happen to her older brother
years later in Viet Name and that
summer got over like every other
And finally I think I'm starting to get it. The long wind-up, the conversational pitch, exact detail piled on the exact detail, all these are put in place to fend off loss. Has something been lost in every Kosmicki poem? Are we never going to get it back? You might convince me, because that's the way I'm leaning. Loss is everywhere.
Yet Kosmicki wants to take the long view. "Koz Zen" starts to tell us that everything is somehow important. Kosmicki is doing the laundry:
It is in doing what I don't want to do that I will become a better person if I do it happily, I think. ... I know that if I can remember this several thousand times more that some old Zen master will turn and smile at me across a million years' worth of laundry, his hand on the other handle of the basket.
When you're writing a poem after talking a walk, Kosmicki tells us:
You want art. You want something permanent, something for the ages something that one might read some dark night and decide against death. Words a person might shape her life around, words that surface like an ancient artifact through ice, strong and purposeful as a handmade tool. But all you get is this walking around.
And what you find, in poem after poem here, is the ordinary stuff of our living. Where we live is where Kosmicki pulls his art from. He doesn't gussy it up, but shows it as it is, as plain as our lives. That is beauty enough. It might be mowing the lawn after dark, popsicles, still life with moon and trees, waking his daughter up. It might be that he and his wife are talking "until / years fall down like rain." Might be a squirrel, a dead cockroach, his high school yearbook. Crows and crickets and cars.
There are still moments in Kosmicki's life, moments past which have become eternal for him, without which he would not be who he is. That walk back from swimming, their towels over their shoulders, her white thighs flashing, with that girl who had the husky voice. The moment his older brother who died in the car wreck put his arm on the shoulder of the poet as a young boy, "the first / and last time he ever did."
The poems are so very much in the present tense, even when they are concerned with things of the past. In the act of poetry, Kosmicki has to grab at as much of the life flowing past as he can get, get hold of all that around him. He so much needs to write it all down, to fit it all in, else this too will be something lost, another emptiness in our lives.
It's a chant. Pay attention, Kosmicki is saying. "That squirrel // might be saying 'Welcome! Human! Friend!'" The crickets might be saying "yet and yet and yet and yet." The meadowlarks are "calling to me the world's first name." He might be remembering that shelterbelt, "Purintan's Trees," and admitting to himself:
I never realized till I was driving into town the day of Fred's burial how much the landscape changed, without those trees.
And finally you do understand. All things are holy. Kosmicki is teaching us to see. He is pointing to this and this and this, to all of our everythings, saying "This is a sacred moment. This is holy." The heart of Some Hero of the Past, for me, is found in the poem "Looking Out on the Morning Street, Writing Retreat, Last Morning," the center from which all the other poems emanate, and to which they return. If all the Warren Spahn wind-up in Kosmicki's poems comes to anything, this is the reason:
Lots of cars heading to the school, then two buses. Sun shining across the Farmer's Bank. Makes it look like a painting by Belotta.
I'm making oatmeal in the microwave, coffee's perking, I've taken all my pills. I remember when I was a young writer
all these things would have seemed to have a significance, just by writing them down. Now I see they have significance
whether I write them or not.
What is there to say beyond that, except to be grateful, as Kosmicki is. From "Earth Smell:"
... I'm glad for him and me that he wrote this music that is seven minutes long to watch stars come out by, to drive back home by, to smell the earth smell by, and to breathe it in.
-------------------------------------------- *Some Hero of the Past by Greg Kosmicki. 2006. Word Press, PO Box 541106, Cincinnati, OH 45254-1106. www.word-press.com . $17.00.
last night, from Missoula. We went down to the airport to pick her up. Her plane was forty minutes late. I didn't get to bed until late yet work at my usual hour - that habit is set.
Perhaps we felt frustrated the plane came in late. Perhaps our daughter was frustrated with the long layover and maintenance problems in Minneapolis.
Perhaps we ought to remember how far she came - as fill 24 hours driving in a modern automobile on modern Interstate roads, weeks and weeks and weeks of travel a hundred and fifty or two hundred years ago. Our expectations have been raised. Now we expect speed and convenience. Perhaps occasionally we need to be reminded how tough it used to be. By comparison sometimes we sound like whiners.
I shall talk about poetry for half an hour on the radio this morning, yes, right here in Deer Camp, Wisconsin, a little poetry. This is assuming I remember to stop by the radio station instead of heading directly to work, which is my habit and a distinct possibility if I'm not paying close attention. Sometimes I think I am no better than a cow heading to its stall for milking.
It is an overcast morning. Clouds have moved in from the west, I believe. It is mild. There are lady bugs on the windshield of the pick-up, there were more last evening on the windows. Does that mean it will be a mild winter? I'll watch.
Down the hill along Main Street in Fairwater there is a big tree being taken down. Limb after limb has been removed and now only the great stalk of a trunk remains. The house it always shaded looks empty now.
The hawk is in the hawk tree, a good omen for the poet. It is facing south.
Cabbage harvest again this morning. About a quarter of the field remains.
The fields stripped of corn look naked. Autumn eventually brings us the naked truth of things. That is its power, the unblinking look at the heart of things.
If I am truthful, I will have to say it looks as if the roadwork on Highway E north of Five Corners is now completed.
Blue sky. I have been busy and am behind schedule. The rush of life calls one out of the moment and demands that we be distracted. I pause an instant at my pick-up before pulling out of the driveway. There is no frost on the windshield. There is sunlight on the lawn. There is a still surface to the pond except where a fish kisses it from beneath.
A ragged chunk of clouds is spread along the western sky higher than the horizon. It lays dark and steely against the blue behind it.
A very long chain of geese crosses Highway E above me. The geese are headed west; the sun is on their butts, pushing them.
Men are at work harvesting cabbages, harvesting corn. Men from the Highway Department are back this morning to finish work north of Five Corners. The sun is not on their butts, pushing them.
shiny as a brass button. Another day to live and love and carry on. It would be so easy to fall into a pattern of "same ol' same old" if you let yourself. For in the overall sweep of our days it is their similarity that stands out. However, if one examines the individual instants, if one lives in each moment, no two days are ever alike, no instant is like any other. The question for most of us is how do we find the buzz of the moment, the here and now, this particular time and place, this lay of light, this breath I am taking.
It is so much easier to brush your teeth and go to work and swing wide of all such nonsense as I would chase.
A smooth pond. Moisture on the windshield of the pick-up - almost frost, some of it frost. The very edge between "is" and "is not." Sun in all the trees' colors. A moment. This breath showing in the air. Spiro and Spero. I breath and I hope.
In downtown Fairwater, the sharp smell of corn silage. No wind in the flag at the cemetery. Wood smoke in the air. North of town now, I see geese in the sky to the north. Part of a field of soy beans has been taken. There is so much to see and make note of - choices, choices, choices. The smell of pig manure. Say yes. Say Amen.
North of Five Corners highway workmen are already standing at their shovels. Shall they finish the shoulders of the road today? Their history says No.
Ivan said, speaking of Redman football, "but I am a little concerned about the good field position teams are getting on our kick-offs. I know it won't make any difference in the next four games, but after that it could cause problems."
"If you want to see someone under pressure," Ivan said, "just watch a Smith County farmer when it rains at wheat plantin' time. A Smith County farmer has been born, bred, and led to never ever complain about too much rain. You just don't get too much rain in Smith County, Kansas. But right now, they won't tell ya, but they are wanting some clearing skies so they can get some fall work done. But you won't hear a one of them complain about too much rain."
"I am really living an exciting life," Ivan said. "You can find me either working, having a doctor's appointment, going into the clinic, coming out of the clinic, going into the drug store, coming out of the drug store, struggling to get into my car, struggling to get out of my car. That's it. 24-7. Some people don't think I have a very tough life, but I've got my nose to the grindstone, my shoulder to the wheel, and my eye on the ball. Let's see you try to work in that position."
"Just as soon as the fields dry up," Ivan said, "the county roads are going to be bumper to bumper truck traffic. They will be cutting beans and milo, picking corn, harvesting sunflowers, and drilling wheat. The men will be bragging and complaining. The women will be working without a whimper."
Two bits Four bits Six bits A peso Ivan says, All for the Redmen Stand up and say so.
"Dog gone it," Ivan said. "One of my favorite people in the whole wide world had some hard luck last Tuesday. Jared Hayes got his ankle broke in two places and is in Kearney, Nebraska, for surgery. I remember the first time I saw Jared, it was at a basketball game in Clay Center. Smith Center was having some problem and the coach sent in this kid who didn't look like he had reached puberty yet. Her was a spindly-shanked kid who didn't have enough rump to fill out his basketball pants. It looked like the coach was throwing the Christians to the coyotes. The kid didn't look nervous, but I weas nervous for him. So what does he do? First off, he throws a couple of passes to the open man and has two assists. Then he starts playing defense and he acted like he had kinda been waiting for this moment. Ever since, Me N Momma have been watching Jared. I don't care how long it takes, I just hope he heals completely. I am kinda worried about what is going to happen, but I suppose some other spindly-shanked kid will take over and he will act like he was born to take over the job."
"Kendall Nichols came into Paul's Cafe last Saturday morning," Ivan reported. "He sat there and kinda sulked. We wanted him to talk. But he sulked through his breakfast. Then someone hit a vocal nerve and the words came a tumblin' out. He was tellin' us about some guy trying to cheat him. But he wasn't gonna get the job done. After a graphic description of the alleged cheating, we came to the conclusion that there is a fine line between cheating and outmaneuvering. It was kinda like a soap opry, but there was enough money involved that all the people sitting at the table were hoping Kendall would win and buy coffee all around."
"Last Friday," Ivan said, "I was following my wife down the hospital hall and I said, 'I didn't know your shirt had a Redman on the back.' She pulled the front of her shirt away from her chest and said, 'It don't. I've got my shirt on backwards.' Fortunately she was going for a mammogram, so she could twist her shirt around in there and nobody would ever know she wore it half the morning backwards."
"I said Stockton don't have a chance against Smith Center," Ivan said, speaking again of Redman football. "Some of those old Johnny Come Latelys to Smith Center would say, 'Those are the kind that jump up and beat ya.' I've just got two words to say to people who think Stockton can beat us - non sense. I could pick eleven men out of West Plains Village that could beat Stockton."
"Mike Hughes was a tellin' about the two antennas that got married," Ivan mentioned. "He said, 'The wedding wasn't much, but the reception was good.' Then I told em about the cannibal who passed a missionary in the jungle. They didn't get it."
light lays lightly upon the trees. It is morning, another one.
We can imagine our way into the future; we can grab hold of small bits of what's there and bring it back with us. That's how we change, small bit by small bit carried back, incrementally. Technology can seem to zoom the process somewhat but in the end we can change no faster than our animal part will allow. Our bodies hold us steady in the crosswinds of which way to turn by not allowing us to go anywhere too quickly. Celebrate the body part of us.
I am starting to sound like a conservative.
There is a light frost on the windshield. A roar of morning in the air. Is it the distant sand pit in operation? Is it a truck on the highway? Is it simply the morning sky come alive? The day roars on.
At the canning factory in downtown Fairwater steam rises, a small cloud, sun behind it and through it and in it. In the country, geese are a black slash in the northeastern sky. The light on the corn stalks, like a carefully worked painting. You can almost see veins of green in the tawny dry stalks and leaves. The harvest of cabbages continues. There are two semis out in the field, waiting to be loaded.
A shimmer of reeds bending in the wind, they shine like a blanket on the clothesline, flapping. A blackbird in a bush oversees them, and the morning.
I'm headed west. Tonight I shall have supper with my parents in Faribault, Minnesota, and will stay the night with them. I do not see them as often as we would like, of course, and I cannot miss this opportunity, since I pass nearby on my way to Sioux City. Mom, I'll be there by suppertime.
Then tomorrow I'll drive the rest of the way to Sioux City, where on Wednesdsay I'll meet with two writing classes at Briar Cliff University to talk about "place" and my memoir of the place I grew up, Curlew: Home. In the evening I will read from my poetry and prose for the Briar Cliff community and the public.
Bright and early on Thursday I will head west to Fort Collins, Colorado, for another visit with my daughter and son-in-law (you may remember reading about them here). My daughter will be finishing a short hospital stay when I arrive, and I will help out there as needed and enjoy their good company until they get tired of having me underfoot. They are very patient with me, but when I start getting in the way more than I'm helping, I'll head east.
Along the way home I intend to see "Carhenge" at Alliance, Nebraska, again, and the Sandhills in the northwestern quarter of Nebraska; perhaps once again, too, I will visit Mari Sandoz's lonesome and wind-blown gravesite in the heart of those Sandhills. Mari is one of us, a writer who looked after the particulars of her own place first, to hell with fame and fortune.
Then, before I cross into Iowa, I'll try to meet up with poet and publisher Greg Kosmicki in Omaha, Nebraska. We don't know each other yet, but maybe we should - we're both of us lumbering ol' grumble-bear poets. By then my appreciation of Greg's newest book, Some Hero of the Past, will have come up here (on October 15) as part of The Middlewestern Bookshelf feature. You'll see that I call Greg "the Warren Spahn of poets;" read the appreciation to find out why. (If you don't know who Warren Spahn is, your education is sorely lacking.)
And then home to Mary. It's about eight hours from Omaha to Fairwater. Mary, patient and eternal, will once again be holding down the fort in Fairwater while I'm gone. Perhaps she'll be glad to see me when I return?
Of course you will find the usual features here while I'm away: "Lines" each morning, and the "Morning Drive Journal" entries. Tomorrow there will be another report from Ivan Burgess's Echo Echo, and next Sunday my remarks on Greg Kosmicki's book.
So, as we used to say in an earlier, less frantic time:
late Saturday afternoon, enough to turn the ground white. It did not stay on the lawn for long, yet it rattled the notion loudly that winter is not far off.
Sometime on Friday workmen finished up along Highway E north of Five Corners. You might say I was surprised the job got finished. How long has it been in progress? Since September 13, according to my notes. That's nearly a full month for a simple piece of work. Now I can shut the hell up about it.
There is a thick frost tight against the windshield of my pick-up this morning. There is sun against our red house, a great round gleam of it in one of the windows. Everything, today, is everything. The air is chilly around me. Leaves hang with an end of season curl to them.
We have the kind of blue sky today you'd like to fall in love beneath. The flag at the cemetery blows sternly west to east. There is a crust of ice on a puddle of water in a field just north of the village. The field of alfalfa a mile north of Fairwater is frosted almost white.
North along Highway E the air is suddenly strong with the smell of soy beans. The field is off to the west an eighth of a mile; the smell of ripeness is right here, right now. The strong smell of autumn.
A semi load of cabbages has pulled off the cabbage patch. At Five Corners, it turns east, heads of cabbage white in the bright sun.
I must correct myself: the roadwork north of Five Corners on Highway E is not done. The shoulders still need to be graded smooth.
I have a friend who writes knowingly of crows. The most I can do is make tentative notes. He sees crows as a metaphor, perhaps. I see them as skid marks on the sky. I think my friend has quoted me.
and what maps represent, you notice these things - how towns follow the railroads and the rivers, how communities today migrate towards the Interstates. You notice rivers, yes, where they go and where they don't go, and how they get there. I noticed the Sheyenne River the last time I was in North Dakota. In Rugby I had observed that the melting snow didn't seem to want to flow; it just stood there letting you look at it. So I got out my map to try and figure out why. I found that west of Rugby, the Mouse River which comes down out of Canada also flows back into Canada. North of Rugby, the Ox River and the Willow River flow into the Mouse, and hence into Canada. East of Rugby you are almost to the Red River before you find any kind of river. And to the south of Rugby, there is the Sheyenne, which starts in Sheridan County and meanders east and south and east and back north before joining the Red River. Meander is a good word - water finding its way. At one point not far from the origin of the Sheyenne, the James River also starts up. At Harvey, North Dakota, the James bends away not even five miles from the Sheyenne, bends away but then runs a parallel track for an awful distance - parallel until the Sheyenne turns east and then back north. The Sheyenne flows into the Red River and into Lake Winnipeg, and perhaps eventually into Hudson Bay. The James River flows down into South Dakota, joining the Missouri at Yankton, which joins the Mississippi, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
Who we are is shaped by the land and by the water, so one needs to look at the rivers if he is to understand us. Robert King knows that. His book, Stepping Twice Into the River: Following Dakota Waters,* follows the Sheyenne River and tries to gauge who we are. Who the Dakotans are, specifically. King worked on the book during the last of his twenty-three years in North Dakota; his wife had taken a job in another state and King was working one more year in North Dakota before moving, too, into early retirement. The book was perhaps King's farewell gift to North Dakota, and perhaps North Dakota's farewell gift to King.
King one day found himself standing at a lake in the center of the continent, affirming for himself that he wanted to use that final year "to discover something.... thrilled at being in the center of something." You want something to matter, and King wanted an understanding of North Dakota when he left. That night he spread out his map of North Dakota, looking at the Sheyenne:
I stared at the leisurely sprawl of its blue line, a finite river beginning in particular, taking its time and space around Dakota, and ending in particular - a little alpha, a little omega, a little territory between.
That night I promised myself I'd follow this ordinary stream I hadn't greatly noticed in a landscape I took for granted. I would read and study and, next year, discover anything that happened to be along the way, any local truth true in general.
And that's what King did.
He set about following the meander of the Sheyenne and getting to know the landscape it was part of. He started at the river's headwaters in Sheridan County - indeed he had to struggle to find the headwaters - and he worked his way downstream. Some people might say that North Dakota is a Great Empty Nothingness, and without fail they are people who have never spent any appreciable time in North Dakota. As he promised himself, King read and studied and he learned about the geology of the region, the history, the people. The lesson of geology is that where we are is a matter of when we are standing there. And like me, King spent a lot of time in cemeteries, which is where one tends to find the ultimate meaning of things. Ultimate meanings, and dates you can't seem to find anywhere else - date of birth, date of marriage, date of death.
"Life is like a river," Forrest Gump might say. And exploring a river you explore the lives of the peoples who have been touched by those waters, their histories. Rivers are quiet, generally, and talk softly if they talk at all. So sometimes King had to go off to the nearby towns in search of human truth. I wish he had done more of that. This is an excellent natural history of the Sheyenne River and a history of General Sibley's campaign against Native Americans in the region, but I would be interested in a little more of the current backstory. When he stopped for coffee in some of those small town cafes, I wish King had asked more of the kinds of questions I like to hear the answers to: why are you here, and what are the current conditions and what has been lost, and what does the future hold? Stepping Twice Into the River suffers to some extent from the same fault I found in William Least Heat-Moon's River-Horse: when one is riding on the water, it is difficult to see up over the riverbank to connect fully with the life beyond. Yet I criticize a Packard for not being a Pontiac, huh? Why am I complaining? This is a good book.
There are surprises:
"You don't know what it's like," my daughter Lynn said on the drive back from rescuing me out of the tangles of the Sheyenne bottomlands, "to watch your father, almost sixty, disappear around a bend in a canoe heading off to God knows where."
And in this case, King did have to be rescued. It was either give up and have his daughter come get him, or carry the canoe and his packs all the way downriver, because along that stretch the river wasn't going to take him.
I like that King set off without any guarantee of success. That's what it's is like when you choose to write local truths which are also somehow universal - you never know beforehand if these particulars will mean anything greater. I will sit an evening on a small town's Main Street, to write down everything that moves and muse on what it means. I will stand an hour at the depot in Rugby, waiting for AmTrak to come through and pick up its passengers, and wonder what that tells me about the world. We never know, when we set our attention, whether what we find will mean anything.
Yet, as King does, we must keep setting out attention. Stepping Twice Into the River is a model for paying attention to local materials. King knows that North Dakota is not some Great Empty Nothing. What happens in North Dakota, what happened in North Dakota, these are important, telling, human moments. To lose them is a great loss. To lose them in North Dakota, in South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, or anywhere else is a great loss.
In closing, let me point to an exemplary moment near the end of King's book. This is local writing that rises to the big truths. He is visiting a home "built in the 'Russia Ukraine style' around 1900 by Daniel Winter, a German Russian settler."
I stepped in, marveling at the thick walls, a good two feet, and how earth and water and wisps of threshed stalks could withstand the snow and winds of ninety-five Dakota winters, spring, melts, blasting summers. It would be cooler in the heat than a frame building and perhaps warmer in winter, but it was still small - I stepped it off at about 18 by 26 feet - and I tried to imagine it as my house, but cramped with how many other family members? And how far away from any others in the prairie solitude?
I thought of where we lived - apartments, old houses, new subdivisions, pits in the earth, the detritus retreats of Caddis fly - and what happened to us where we lived and after we went away. Putting my hand out, I felt the chill of the wall. This was it, my last stop, unplanned and unforeseen. I'd followed the current of a river from spring almost beyond fall through an ordinary countryside, finding a mystery here, a tension there, the truth a combination of harmony and conflict that made me almost helpless. Heraclitus went in search of himself, or at least Plutarch said that he did, and John Neihart claimed, after his rough Missouri trip at the beginning of what we call the century, that he had discovered another part of himself. I wasn't sure I'd found myself - only Everything Else.
The least a fellow can do, like King, is to look, and keep looking.
-------------------------------- * Stepping Twice Into the River: Following Dakota Waters by Robert King. University Press of Colorado, 2005. $19.95.
to work early again today - another meeting. It seems as if I spend all my day talking with people and very little of it actually doing anything. That's the nature of my work, I guess. I am more father-confessor, sometimes, than manager; more often dealing with the "soft," people issues rather than anything that actually makes books. My job has made itself, and in that I am fortunate. I don't have to fit a template that is foreign to me; the template is fit to me.
Lucky fellow, huh?
It is so dark out now, at this hour. We let light and darkness serve as emblems of our internal weather. Yet it is more than an emblem; sometimes, I think, it is physical reality - think of the suicide rates in dark, northern countries; think of seasonal affective disorders cured by spending time under a lamp. The metaphor has its basis in physical reality.
What is the basis for my autumn longings, that loneliness? The waning light contributes. The brown dryness of the grasses. The shredded cornstalks littering a field. The apple chill in the air. The slowness of the waters.
Stiff wind at the flag in the cemetery downtown. Some dawn showing behind clouds in the east. Mostly I am writing in the dark. That may be a metaphor for my existence - "mostly writing in the dark."
Blustery and cold says the weatherman. Snow showers tomorrow.
Already this morning cabbages are being harvested. We should hire those fellows to finish that work on Highway E. that is still undone.
In Ripon I turn east towards work - an icy knife edge of cloud faces me.
cloud cover overhead. A very cool morning, and it will continue cool. Cold, actually. Possibly there will be snow tomorrow, or Saturday.
It has been snowing out west. It is only seven degrees some places in Montana. We cannot fool ourselves for long - the seasons march on.
The roar of a truck in the distance, a reminder that there is no free ride through this life. We've got to pick it up and carry our part of it - assuming we ever find out what our part is. Some of us never do. Some of us remain victims. Some of us let ourselves be battered by the winds of fortune as if we have no choice in the matter, as if we cannot choose to accept or to walk away. I hear a lot of excuses, but excuses tire me these days. If what you've got is not what you want, either want it, or get up the gumption to get something else.
I suppose that's an acid American middlewestern version of the world, eh?
Birds on the power line just north of the village have plumped their feathers: I cannot tell what species they are, at this moment they resemble nothing I know. Geese to the west are a black mark against the grey sky.
More corn has been taken. The soy beans still stand in the field. Patient life. In nature's way, the individual is not so important. The part is not so important. One or some can be sacrificed that all are not extinguished.
More cabbages were taken yesterday. Equipment sits in the field and more cabbages will be taken today.
North of Five Corners, a blue jay on a power line. Electric in the grey morning. Nearby, a lawn covered with pumpkins, such vividness.
The tides of our lives enchant me. What stirs our passion today may not turn even a casual interest a year from now. We change. How do we change? What wanes, and why? How are our passions formed? Do we have a single-snapshot-instant image of the world that is at our core? Sometimes I think I do. Sometimes I think each day is another opportunity to uncover a bit more of that image, to understand it a little better.
crisp like an apple. Everything painted with sun and shadow. A chill loveliness. Autumn.
No work at all was completed yesterday on Highway E north of Five Corners. I suppose the workmen were called elsewhere. I shall not even try to guess what they were doing: it would only frustrate me.
Heavy dew. Clear sky. One's breath chills in the air, visible as love.
There is but a lazy flap to the flag at the cemetery this morning. Out in the country the sky goes on forever, pale and almost palpable. A vivid livingness.
Several rows of cabbage were taken yesterday, but nearly the entire field remains.
The trees, a crow, and everything - alive.
At Five Corners the flowers are hanging on.
There are no workmen this morning at the road bed of Highway E where the task remains unfinished. I guess I have cursed them too soundly under my breath and will have to live with this road unfinished as a result.