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.
but that didn't keep the robins from going crazy at 5:00 a.m. They thought they had something to cheer about, obviously.
I think about "the long valley" we passed through on Wednesday going back to Missoula from Boise, Idaho. We were driving Highway 55. The mountains opened into a long, high valley. It was ranch country mostly - not picturesque, post-card ranches but working outfits where men and women were struggling to pull a living from the land. The long, high light laid a kind of sadness on the land and buildings in the valley. Life is work, you come to understand as you pass through such territory. There's no movie star loveliness to be found, only the persistent grit of those who labor.
Here, while I was away, farmers have been working their fields. The soil is being smoothed to an even consistency. It's a darkness that will soak up heat during the day, will give it back to the night air.
In Ripon, lawns have been mowed. It's only May 1 - it could snow yet this season, yet those neatly trimmed lawns that have already been mowed. A study in green and white.
at Paul's Cafe the morning after his 40th Anniversary," Ivan reported. "He said, 'My wife said not to even talk to you.'"
"Casey Edell bought coffee for the As the Bladder Fills Club last Monday morning," Ivan said. "Casey had spent a couple of days attending a Piano Technician school in Vermillion, South Dakota, on the campus of the college there. I hope you noticed that Casey is no longer a mere piano tuner, he is now a piano technician."
"I spent forty-five minutes in Paul's Cafe last Wednesday morning," Ivan said, "and all I learned was - the cool damp weather is good for the late-planted wheat. Lets it catch up. Hope I can remember that."
"When Lady Godiva rode naked down the streets of Coventry," Ivan said, "she was riding side-saddle. I think that was the origin of the yell, 'Hoorah for our side.'"
"Did you know that Bobbi Miles has a doctorate in Chemistry?" Ivan asked. "Since I found that out, I'll probably never be comfortable in visiting with her again."
"Doctor asked me if I had a cataract," Ivan reported. "I said, 'No, I got a Pontiac.' Me and the bank can't afford them high-priced cars."
"Thursday the 17th is the seniors two man scramble at the Smith Center Country Club," Ivan said. "I think you have to be 50 years old to enter. So you won't see me there. I don't have any photo I.D., and I sure don't look like I'm 50."
"If the temperature hits seventy degrees on Monday," Ivan promised, "I'm breaking out my shorts."
"Had several turkey hunters in town this past week," Ivan said. "All the local folks say they see huge bunches of turkeys. Those hunters say a wild turkey tastes better than a domesticated one. I find that kinda hard to believe. Of course I am not a road kill gourmet."
"The way I've got er figgered," Ivan said, "last week was winter's last hurrah. I came to that conclusion when I heard a male sparrow saying naughty things to a female sparrow in the sparrows' rite of foreplay. Then I saw a female cottontail wiggling not only her nose but also her cottontail at a male cottontail. Then lastly I saw a couple of male squirrels running and jumping and climbing a walnut tree. A female squirrel was sitting demurely on a branch watching. I think the one that could run the fastest, climb the highest, and had the biggest nut would be the one she invited into her boodwar. So, Old Man Winter, you might as well pack it in. You've had it. See you next November."
"I still would like to see a moseying contest on Old Settlers Day," Ivan said, "between or among Roger Barta, Jack Benn, and Randy Schultz. The winner would be the one that could walk a half a block in the slowest time. The third place trophy would be a jar of molasses. The second place trophy would be a ceramnic turtle. And the first place trophy would be a ceramic snail. The only rule would be that they had to be visibly moving at all times."
from Missoula. We are back from the mountains. We are back from a world of excess - shove of rock and curve of road and up and down. We've come back to our tidy squareness. We've come back to coolness and bright blue sky. It was reassuring to step out of the airport in Appleton last night and not be ringed by mountains. It was reassuring to see a flatness of light and darkness in all directions. The mountains are lovely to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.
It's a green, green world we've come back to - the lawns, the ditches, some of the fields. It's a green and blue and black world today - the grass, the sky, the soil. The harsh edge of winter has been softened with greenness all around. Even the trees are leafing out.
A red-tail hawk on a power pole north of Five Corners, its breast to the sun. It is an electric day. The hawk is prepared for anything.
in the Lebanon cafe say, 'I'm not only illiterate, I can't even read or write,'" Ivan reported.
"Over the years," Ivan said, "I've heard Gaylord people talk about people they called Bones, Poke, Derb, Shag, Peeler, Teak, Toad, Smoker John, Jimmy Pepper, Shug, Crab, Keno, Piddle, and on and on. I've often wondered if anybody in Gaylord was called by their right name."
"Some old Scotsman said many years ago, 'The best laid plains of mice and men oft go astray,'" Ivan said. "Had a classic example of that right here in Smith Center last week. Lynn at the Second Cup had a sign up that said, 'No soup until October.' Last Thursday morning, in the middle of the showery rain and with the temperature just barely hovering above the freezing mark, the sign was changed. The sign read, 'Today, Chili.' You just gotta go with the flow."
"I guess if you are not a farmer and dependent on the weather, there are some things that escape your attention," Ivan said. "Last Thursday I heard several farmers say 'We needed this rain.' They were talking about the pastures greening up, mostly."
"Kids must have been a lot smarter in my day," Ivan said. "I see where the modern-day students take forensics. Back in my day we took fiverensics. Some of the really bright students took sixrensics even."
"I have never heard so many people say they are getting tired of winter as I have this year," Ivan said.
"John Sparks," Ivan said, "was comparing our presidential election to a beauty contest in [fill in here the name of your least favorite northern European country, or of a neighboring state]. Someone asked how it came out. The man said there wasn't any winner, but one girl took third place."
of the Wisconsin Literary Bash during the Prairie Chicken Festival at the Mead Wildlife Area north of Milladore, Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Center for the Book honored the winners of its 2007-2008 Letters About Literature program. I have been coordinator of Wisconsin's Letters About Literature program since last summer so, as you might imagine, I was front and center.
The mission of the Wisconsin Center for the Book is to promote the culture of the book by celebrating books and the book arts, encouraging the joy of reading and writing, and honoring Wisconsin's literary heritage. Letters About Literature is central in our effort to encourage the joy of reading reading and writing.
The LAL program (as we short-hand it) is sponsored in Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Center for the Book, of which I am a board member, and on the national level by the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress in partnership with the Minneapolis-based Target stores, which provide a $50 gift card for each of our First Place winners.
To enter the Letters About Literature competition, young readers write a personal letter to an author, explaining how his or her work changed their view of the world or themselves. Readers can select authors from any genre – fiction or nonfiction, contemporary or class, prose or poetry. The program has three competition levels: 1 – upper elementary; 2 – middle school; and 3 – high school. It encourages young readers to explore his or her personal response to a book, then to express that response in a creative, original way.
This year, approximately 56,000 young readers across the country participated.
Nearly 850 of those young readers were from Wisconsin. Entries went to the national office, where its judges selected 79 entries as semi-finalists; these were returned to me to send to our Wisconsin judges, who selected our winners.
I am grateful for the good service of the six Wisconsin judges who named nine young winning writers as the best of the best. Thank you.
I am also grateful to Target for the gift cards, to Wisconsin-based Book World and its Ripon store for gift certificates, and to the Wisconsin Center for the Book for the checks. Thank you all!
Last year, in preparation for taking over the program from my predecessor, I attended the awards ceremony, which was held at St. Norbert College in Green Bay.
I went to the awards presentation thinking that the program was about books.
At the presentation, as the students read their letters aloud, it became clear to me that the program is really about life changing experiences – about the powerful difference a book can make in a young person's life, about the power of books in shaping our lives.
Yesterday we honored nine Wisconsin students - a First Place winner, a Second Place winner, and an Honorable Mention at each of the three levels - and we awarded their prizes:
For Honorable Mention: A framed certificate, a $5 Book World (Ripon) gift certificate, a copy of Tom Montag's The Idea of the Local, and a copy of Trinity's Fairy Tales & Nonsense CD.
For Second Place: A framed certificate, a $50 check from Wisconsin Center for the Book, a $10 Book World (Ripon) gift certificate, a copy of The Idea of the Local, and a copy of the Fairy Tales & Nonsense CD.
For First Place: A framed certificate, a $100 check from Wisconsin Center for the Book, a $50 Target gift card, a $15 Book World (Ripon) gift certificate, a copy of The Idea of the Local, and a copy of the Fairy Tales & Nonsense CD.
And the winners are:
LEVEL 1 WINNERS – 2007-2008 -- Honorable Mention: Sydnee Eckberg, writing about Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. Sydnee is from Appleton, Wisconsin, where she is in 6th grade at Highlands Elementary School.
-- Second Place: David Johnston, writing about Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli. David is from Racine, Wisconsin, where he is in 4th grade; he is being home-schooled.
-- First Place: Matthew Stokdyk, writing about the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe, specifically referencing "Evening Star," "The Raven," and "The Bells." Matthew is from Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, where he is an 6th grade.
LEVEL 2 WINNERS – 2007-2008 -- Honorable Mention: Abby Mickelson, writing about Jennifer Armstrong's Shattered. Abby is from Barron, Wisconsin, where she is in 8th grade at Riverview Middle School.
-- Second Place: Kimberly Klammer, writing about Marie McSwigan's Snow Treasure. Kimberly is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she is in 7th grade at Whitman Middle School.
-- First Place: Taylor Kurowski, writing about Wendelin Van Draanen's Runaway. Taylor is from Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she is in 8th grade at Parkview Middle School.
LEVEL 3 WINNERS – 2007-2008 -- Honorable Mention: D.B., writing about Travel Team by Mike Lupica. She is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where she's in 9th grade at North High School.
-- Second Place: Alexa Schultz, writing about Please Stop Laughing at Me by Jodee Blanco. Alexa is from Clintonville, Wisconsin, where she is senior at Clintonville High School.
-- First Place: Tracy Haack, writing about the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. Tracy, too, is from Clintonville, Wisconsin, where she is also senior at Clintonville High School. (No, the judges did not know they were selecting two students from the same school.)
Please join the Wisconsin Center for the Book in congratulating these nine students. And, indeed, join us in congratulating all the students who were part of this year's Letters About Literature program. Everyone of the students who submitted a letter is a winner in my book!
NOTE: Students and/or teachers who have not yet participated in the Letters About Literature program can get more information by contacting the LAL coordinator, Tom Montag, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 920-346-5235. Guidelines for the 2008-2009 competition will be available at the end of August or early September.
Yesterday the county was going to conduct its tornado drill. The weather obliged with a real tornado watch for us, so the drill was postponed. A great storm rolled through last night, but I don't think any funnels touched down in Fond du Lac County.
It's a grey, wet morning, about what you'd expect the morning after that kind of storm.
In the driveway and street, a red carpet of buds washed off the silver maples. The trees are no longer red-hued against the sky: all that's been blown out of them.
The temperature is down to 50 degrees. Coming from the other direction, we'd say it was warm. Coming from the heat we've had, it seems a cool morning.
I have been angry, and my anger is slower to dissipate than storm clouds. The fury of my internal weather has not found expression in its kind of thunder and lightning. Where the sun tries to break through the cloud cover in the eastern sky, there is no sun shining through my greyness. You have to get over it, yeah, you do; but you won't until after the storm has moved through.
in a straight row, shooting right through the moon about dusk. It was a clear evening, full visibility, everything bright and amazing.
A storm rolled through this morning - lightning and thunder and even some rain. So the streets are wet. Before the storm, the birds were crazy with noise, and now afterward they have taken up their business again. Their business is our business, though we don't recognize that fact as often and as widely as we should.
Along the garage - peonies reach up for the sky. They've shot up three inches since yesterday, some of them.
The wind seems to be from the east. The sky is grey. There is an even-handedness to the morning, however - it's grey, but not severe. Though the weatherman on the radio is promising "hail and damaging winds" later on.
were in the 80s across the state except in Superior where it was 46. You'd call that locally-heavy coolness.
It's a grey morning.
I saw a wood duck land at a lower hole in the same silver maple I'd seen the wood ducks in earlier. Now - is that two nests, or did one pair of birds change locations? Shall I ever know, and will it matter to the birds? Not one twit.
Two daffodils along the garage.
A spit of rain during the night - beads of it on the windshield. Every bird calls out this morning. A jet rumbles overhead.
Today is "bulky article pick-up" day in Fairwater and the village looks like a garbage dump all along the curbs. Everything is stacked up in a state of abandonment; residents have given up on these items,and resist owning them any longer.
A shurrr of tires on the wet asphalt as I head north out of town. Sound and sun.
It smells like a morning in June - that humus of earth and moisture and greenness.
On a street in Ripon, a shine of blindness where the sun hits a slick of moisture. I drive through it, beyond it; we all do. Every day we go beyond mere reflection into the realness of what is more than image.
from Wally Windscheffel," Ivan reported. "I think Wally might have been the worst golfer I ever played with - but that's a different story. His letter said: 'Dear Editor, In the latest edition of the Echo my old friend Ivan Burgess (I emphasize the old because he is older than I am) complained not once, but twice, about the quality of store-bought peaches and tomatoes. Well, don't get all upset and weepy about the poor man's plight. Last summer I invited him to come to Grand Junction, Colorado. To my eightieth birthday party. Knowing how much he says he likes Colorado peaches, I promised if he would come to my party I would personally buy him a whole case of them. This was not just any old Colorado peach but Palisade peaches, the queen of them all. Wally Winscheffel.' Now about Wally's golf. He and I and Bud Bierman were playing the Patty Jewet golf course in Colorado Springs. It was a posh place to play golf. We were on the back nine when the ladies of the club had an afternoon tea or something stronger. The ladies were all dressed in their finery. Large hats and gloves that ran up to their elbows. The tea party was held on the patio outside of the elegant clubhouse. Wally, on his second shot, hit it right on the toe of his club. The ball went straight to his right. The club house had exposed rafters. Wally's ball started bouncing around in the exposed rafters. All the ladies dressed in the fancy white dresses started jumping up, knocking over tables, spilling food and drink all over themselves. We were so far away that nobody even suspected anybody could hit a ball that crooked. We never looked or acted like we saw what was happening. We just walked on down the fairway. They never knew what happened. But I know Wally toed the ball and caused the commotion."
"Jeri Duntz said, and I quote," Ivan said, "'when the temperature gets to seventy degrees, I'm going to wash the windows.' Last week, when the temperature was getting uncomfortably close to seventy, she added these stipulations, '... and it's gotta be on a weekend. It can't be too windy.' And there was something else. I think it was she had to be in the mood to wash windows."
"Saw Doc Shep last Tuesday," Ivan said. "Shep made the observation that neither of us had winter-killed. I told Shep that I was going to come out and watch him play golf one of these days. He said his game was hardly worth looking at."
"At the last forensics contest," Ivan reported, "someone's cell phone went off right in the middle of a presentation. Judge Mike Hughes was really upset. I'll bet from now on all cell phones will be turned off. If they ain't, Mike is liable to take the cell phone owner down and sit on him. Bet the guy with the cell phone would make sure that didn't happen twice."
"I wonder," Ivan said, "if the ballots for president of the United States will have a place for 'none of the above.' I guess you could write it in."
"You talk about getting old," Ivan said. "Last Thursday at the As the Bladder Fills Club, Casey Edell came in, sat down, and said, 'There is one thing I want to know.' After forty-five minutes, no one - including Casey himself - could remember what the one thing that Casey wanted to know was, and no one could remember what the answer was."
"I think I heard Dennis Reinert say early last Friday morning that he was looking for cow/calf pairs," Ivan said. "Then I'm sure I did hear Dick Weltmer say he was taking some 3 to 5 year old cows to a sale. I don't know what all that means, but the people sitting around either did, or acted like they did. We have better actors right here in Smith Center, Kansas, than they have in Hollywood, California. The local actors always act like they understand what is going on when actually they don't have a clue."
across the state yesterday, well into the seventies here. We have blue sky overhead today, a bright sunshine, every possibility fully exposed.
I step outside. The very first daffodil is blooming along the garage, bright as the sun. Geese pass overhead. Yesterday as I walked across the parking lot to the office at work four geese passed very low overhead. The sound I heard I thought was strange goose talk, very strange, then I realized what I was hearing was actually the whirr of their wings. This morning, here at home, the killdeers have gone crazy. Why are they so insane? Are we all insane?
The wind is from the south; it blows away a long, dark line of geese.
The radio talks of trouble. There is trouble everywhere, you'd think. But for this brief, bright moment, there's no trouble here. Of course, as they say, "it's still early in the day."
clouds mixed up amongst each other. We were in Iowa for the weekend; Fairwater streets looked a bit wet when we got home, as if there had been some rain in the afternoon.
I step to the car. It is a lovely day - birds sing madly, tires whining in the distance on the highway, the pond a mirror.
North of the village - the haze in the distance - an African plain, early morning, lionnesses think about a hunt, smaller creatures thinking about moving on. About moving on or becoming energy in some larger creature's belly. We are all, ultimately, energy in some creature's belly.
a bit about her before, here, Miss Thunder 1-3-0, a Guild B30 flat-top acoustic bass made in 1988, serial number 130. I haven't told you that during spring break, on Sunday, March 16, I headed out of town, to pick her up from her curator in Alexandria, Virginia. I would become Miss Thunder's new curator, an awesome responsibility.
Because I had been getting pretty tired of our unrepentant winter by that point, I was hoping the trip would also be a trip into springtime for me, as I headed east and somewhat south. No such luck. It is an awfully grey travelogue I would have to put up. The matted lawns all along the way were still of uniform drabness. All the trees were still bare naked. And, surprising to me, I still saw evidence of snow in a lot of shaded areas between here and Washington, DC.
On the first day's drive, I got almost to Wheeling, West Virginia, before I stopped for a night's rest. I was scheduled to pick up Miss Thunder in Alexandria at 4:30 p.m. local time on Monday, an easy drive. Indeed, I had time to get myself a late lunch in the cafeteria at Mount Vernon (yes, that Mount Vernon), and to sit for an hour in the parking lot making notes in my journal. And to notice that, here at last, there was some greenness of grass in the lawn, and in the trees some urgent leafing. And some sun on everything, as if a blessing on my enterprise.
Near the appointed time, I headed the mile north, located the house where Miss Thunder resided, and parked my carcass in a school parking lot to await the resident musician's arrival at home after his day's work.
He did arrive, right on schedule.
He let the dogs out, then led me upstairs to a roomful of his basses - from a bright and lovely upright to a well-worn and well-loved vintage Fender, a six-string this and a fretless that, a four-string this, a five-string that, and the other. The room was like a shrine to the god that bass players worship, let me put it that way; and I was awed into reverence.
He took Miss Thunder out of her case and handed her to me, offering me a place to sit and try her out.
"If you don't mind," he said when I was done, and he took the bass from me.
He played her for three or five or seven minutes, I don't know. I felt almost as if I were intruding on some act of intimacy, his moment of telling Miss Thunder good-bye.
"Keep me up to date about what you do with her," he said as he packed her in the case for me.
"I will," I said.
I will spare you the l-o-n-g version of getting onto I-395 instead of I-495, seeing the Pentagon off to my left as I approached the Potomac, shortly before I-395 dumped us onto 14th Street in downtown Washington, DC, during afternoon rush hour. Suffice it to say that Miss Thunder was riding shotgun in the passenger seat, and I had no place I had to be.
This is the short version. I got to drive past the Treasury Department and the Holocaust Museum; I got to see the Washington Monument, and did I get a glimpse of the White House there off to my left, or did I just imagine it?
What a mess of traffic. You people are insane! I might have said at one point.
Yet I was having fun driving with the locals, watching their curious way of blocking intersections when the light was against them, so they could get through at the next light change, oblivious to the gridlock they were creating. Suddenly it was starkly obvious why I like Fairwater and rural Wisconsin. For us, a traffic jam is when three vehicles get to Five Corners all at the same time.
At some point, I moved over to 16th Street from 14th, and took 16th the rest of the way out to I-495 on the north side of the city, to I-270, to I-70, to Hagerstown, where I got something to eat and found a place to sleep.
On Tuesday, March 19, I drove from Hagerstown to Fairwater.
On Wednesday, as I headed to Ripon to get some groceries, I took Miss Thunder along, to introduce her to my guitar-pickin' friend, Doug Burk. Doug works second shift, and we had time to pick one before I went off to the store and he got ready for work. For the record, with me as her curator, the first song Miss Thunder played was "Bully of the Town."
Doug and I have played a few more songs since then, and Miss Thunder makes some terrific music with Doug's Mr. Martin. This winter and spring we have been working on eighteen instrumentals, trying to get them sweet and clean and smooth and pretty enough that we could even consider recording them. Well, we do record what we call the "practice tapes," even though the files are digital and get put onto a CD, which I bring home and practice to during the week. With our practice tapes, it is as if I'm playing music with Doug every day. And, with my diligent practice, I think I am getting better.
We get together most weekends and work at refining our songs, as we did yesterday, to which these photos of Doug and the Grumble Bear will attest.
Miss Thunder and the Grumble Bear. Photo by Geri Burk.
Doug and Mr. Martin. Photo by Geri Burk.
Right now we're content to work at perfecting our versions of eighteen songs (guitar and bass), and we're having an awful lot of fun. Doug says we have a ways to go. "Never say Whoa in a horse race" is what I say.
Miss Thunder may also appear in a few songs on the next CD that Doc Abbick, Dean Schechinger, and I record. We'll be getting together for a long weekend in May to start refining (and eliminating some of) the 17-18 original train songs Dean and I have created since our Fairy Tales & Nonsense album came out last October. As many of you already know, I mostly write the lyrics and play bass; Dean does most of the music for our songs, and sings harmony; and Doc mostly sings the songs, plays the front guitar, and serves as "producer." On the weekend of May 9th, 10th, and 11th, if you hear a ruckus coming from somewhere in the middle of the country, that'll be me and Doc and Dean, and we'll be working out the kinks.
Afterwards, likely, I won't be able to keep myself from telling you about our progress. You know how I am.
morning. A sheen of wetness where light should be. Sometimes I think I've been dispatched to nowhere, sometimes I just complain. Sometimes I need the code book to tell the difference. I can't always translate my own heart.
All the lawns in the village are so green against the greyness. The greenness is proof of progress - no matter the color of the sky, spring is coming. North of the village, some of the fields are showing a green tint of weeds coming up. In other places, the blackness of the soil snaps the grey sky back and away.
light grey and dark, and a blueness here and there that is not the sky behind showing through. What light we have looks clingy, as if it drapes itself on things, does not drill in. You prepare for another day; you have no idea what will come of it.
There is no mistaking the season as I step outside - the grass is green, the wind warm. I hear a mourning dove; I hear a woodpecker hard at work. Pussy willows at the end of the driveway are fat and fuzzy.
A powerline above Washington Street as I head east, beyond it a line of geese stretched north to south like a powerline.
Wind is from the south. We're promised even warmer temperatures than what we've got already.
If we had mountains, could we be a mountain town?
A hawk drops down behind a rise of land east of the Highway E. As I clear the rise, I see that the bird has found breakfast. We live, we die.
works long strands of dead grass loose for a nest. As it tries to fly, one strand yanks the bird back to earth. The bird works its load some more, then lifts itself successfully. Not a foot away a mourning dove looks over the selection of strands available, rejects one stem and another again and again. What - is it waiting for a certain softness? Desire has not yet come to need? Some of us take what we're given, we can't be choosy; what we've got, we tell ourselves, is what we want. Usually we are the happier fellows.
The smell of spring. A greenness now in the grass. The sky is slathered with clouds and patches of blue and clouds. The birds are busy cheeping, the sound of them overpowers the wind, the wind cries uncle.
Enough sun that it glints off the shine of windows in the village.
Perhaps the wind blows from the south. It doesn't blow away the haze hanging out in the country, however. Three geese come across above the road in front of me, they fly wing-tip to wing-tip, headed east, eyes full of sunlight. In the distance, trees and buildings disappear into the greyness.
it is not required that you pin a corsage on your date to attend the Seniors' Prom. It would be kinda nice, but if you slipped and went a little deep it would ruin the whole afternoon. Remember, if you don't dance, you are welcome to come and watch."
"In spite of the progress made in nearly all fields," Ivan said, "there seems to be a stalemate in something that directly affects me. I love Colorado peaches. I love home-grown tomatoes. Why can't science, with its superior knowledge in so many fields, come up with a winter peach that compares favorably with the August Colorado peach. And why can't science come up with a hot-house-grown tomato that bears a remarkable resemblance to a home-grown one? Just recently I was so overcome by the hunger for a juicy, flavorful peach. So I bought some. They were so hard that if you used them in a sling shot they could be classified as weapons of mass destruction. And I bought some red, good-looking tomatoes. The skin was so tough you could have used it for a pup tent. Now there is really no sense in this. Apparently the Colorado peach growers and the home-grown tomato growers have the scientists in their tree and on their vine. Or maybe in their pocket. I'm an old man. I've been patient about the internal combusion engine. I've been patient about the introduction of antibiotics. I've been patient about strong but soft toilet paper. But I'm losing my patience about these bullet-like peaches and tough-hided tomatoes."
"The politicians have really hit bottom," Ivan said. "They are now thinking about sending their prostitutes to the Virgin Islands for recycling."
"Made one of my frequent mistakes last Thursday morning," Ivan admitted. "Dick Weltmer sat across the table from me at Paul's Cafe. LeeDune, the waitress, took his order, then she looked at me with her pencil poised over her order pad. She was kinda busy so I said, 'Give me what he ordered.' Big mistake. When she handed me that ticket, I didn't know if I was paying for breakfast or paying the national debt. 'Course I should have known that Weltmer was one of them rich farmers you are always hearing about and I am on a fixed income. I wouldn't mind being on a fixed income if it was just fixed a little higher."
"Boy," Ivan said, "I'm glad I'm not running for president. Someone might remember when I was in grade school we were walking to a class picnic. I picked up a clod and gave it a toss and hit Lucille Draper in the cheek. She cried. I still remember it and I'd give anything if it hadn't a-happened. But when you are running for president they dig up those kinds of things. But I was grade school marbles champion when I was in the fourth grade. So far, that has been my only claim to fame in my entire life. I doubt if you will read a sign on the highway coming Smith Center that reads 'Boyhood Home of Ivan Burgess.'"
to go but work. What are you going to do but duty? I heard an owl calling earlier, now it's a silly robin in one direction, a mourning dove in the other, clouds overhead as if it's God who's still in charge.
One flag in town suggests the wind is out of the northwest, another flag suggests there's no wind at all. There is still no flag at the cemetery to act as a tie-breaker.
It is a Canadian kind of sky, with geese. Clouds hang down, jagged, grey spikes. The roadway shows a memory of some wetness. Geese come across the road above me, heading west.
Now I see blue sky through a small hole in the clouds to the east. The sun does not come through that hole but inflames the clouds a bit farther to the south. There is also a bit of blue sky near the far western horizon. Some days you take most any promise as enough.
You can enter it if you can find the doorway in. Good poets leave an entrance; good readers learn what all sorts of doors look like and begin to find their way in.
Heavy rain yesterday afternoon and evening. The snow - pretty much - is gone, except perhaps where it's heaped. A heavy fog this morning, a drippy sky, the streets wet though it's not really raining.
What can you use it for? That's the wrong question. If you love it, you'll write it, whether you've got a use for it or not. Someone has got to build castles in the air. If I don't do it, who will? And what will we have lost if I don't?
A mourning dove calls. It's a long, rounded, mournful sound.
In the country, visibility is not more than half a mile. A smell of skunk lingers in the car longer than half a mile.
Dim bulbs in headlights coming at me. What kind of planet would this be if such a fog were permanent? How different would our lives be in a permanent greyness?
When art is good, it turns to life, at least that's what is suggested on the radio. I'd add, when life is good, it turns to art.
Does the day's greyness make us appreciate all the rest of them - bright and blue and cheerful? Or do we slog through this, grumbling. For most of us, I fear, it is the latter.
outside, temperature in the mid-20s, sunlight on things, a nice day coming, either late winter's loveliness, or early spring's.
Every morning you'll rise and find what you are looking for if you stop looking when you find it. Most of us don't, most of us want a different flavor or color or version than what we're given.
There are green shoots poking through the tulip/peony bed. There is a thick, opaque layer of frost on the windshield. Early this morning, the scene at the pond - "A Perfect Calm." Now, the surface is rippled by wind.
A great emptiness north of Fairwater - not mindfulness, but my mindlessness. My full basket of fussing over the world. The world doesn't need my fussing about it.
thin enough perhaps the sun will break through later today. Patches of snow are gone, patches remain. Spring has not yet jumped out of the plane, but we can hear the plane in the distance; it's coming this way, we're sure of that.
No frost on the windshield of the car. My God - I think a finch has flashed across the driveway in front of me. Yes - there it is now on a branch, a little duller than I'd expect, but a gold finch definitely, a female, I believe.
Out in the country I see lines of geese in the sky, uncertainties looking for a place to set down to feed and gabble. A lone goose, a pair, looking for their fellows, taking the short line to a vee in the west.
and the surface of the pond so still the world sees itself, looking in. The world does not blink, nothing moves. This morning, this instant, this image.
In full daylight the scene out the window this morning is a winter picture postcard - blue sky, the village laid with a purity of white, sun on everything. A stillness and perfection.
Off to the northwest, a bank of clouds moving in. It will not stay picture-perfect forever: it never does. The world goes to hell faster than you can put it back together, even when you are a writer recording what you see, or what you think you see, or - sometimes - what you hope you are seeing.
Snow on everything, even to the highest peak of the rooftops, to the very top of the trees.
This is April. This is Wisconsin. It's not 20 below zero. What's the problem?
No flag at the cemetery as yet.
As I drive to work, it's obvious the sky is closing over. A glum winter morning now. The sun comes and goes, bright one moment, gone the next. A shivering light. Winter again.
very hard to satisfy," Ivan said. "I saw the thermometer was working on the bank clock and felt better all day."
"Larry Lambert reminded me of something I had forgotten about the March snowstorm of 1958," Ivan said. "Some of the country schools were closed up to two weeks. So those schools had school on Saturdays when the roads became passable. They went to school Monday through Saturday and got out at the right time at the end of the year."
"Elementary principal Kelly Burgess has been teaching for twenty-seven years and last week he had a first," Ivan reported. "Apparently a goat had drifted up from the vicinity of the sale barn and was in the school yard. Someone reported a goat on the playground. Principal Burgess went out and, by golly, there was a goat. At the time there was nobody on the playground, but a group was scheduled to come out soon. Burgess called a sixth grader and told him to go in and tell the secretary to call the police because there was a goat on the playground. The secretary called on her cell phone and asked Burgess if she was to call the police about a goat on the playground. He said 'yes' and she called the dispatcher. The dispatcher said, 'a goat.' One of the janitors was in the shop building. Burgess called him and said to come and help get the goat off the playground. Burgess thought the janitor would come around the building. He didn't. He came through the building and when he opened the door he was looking at a goat. He fell back and said, 'a goat.,' By then Burgess was looking over toward the sale barn and he saw the police circling the sale barn. He waved and finally got the police's attention. When the police arrived, the policeman said, 'I'm not putting that goat in my squad car.' Someone remembered that the goat owner was working on a house somewhere in town. So the police went and got him, and the owner came and took the goat home. Burgess said one time when he was holding the goat by the horns the thought occurred to him that 'I've got a master's degree for this.'"
"Sam McDowell," said Ivan, "told Nolan Hajny that if he was going to stop he would have to speed up a little bit."
"I just hate it when I'm wrong, but I always admit it," Ivan said. "I'm better than George Washington. George said he couldn't tell a lie. I can, but I choose not to. Makes me better than George. George threw a dollar across the Potomac. Think of the billions of dollars we are throwing across the ocean."
We got four inches of snow by nightfall yesterday - wide, fat flakes that fell like clumps. It didn't snow during the night but at first light a fine grit of snow returned. There is a blanket of white heaviness on everything but the streets, and a sifted fineness on top of that. Ho, what a fine joke on us.
The pond is somber, dark. The surface of the water is moved by the wind, yet the essence of water remains unmoved. Water has a kind of certainty that we lack. When we are gone, the water shall still be here, water. We cannot begin to imagine water's eternity. What does water care of sorrow? Why do we, so much? Birds are birds when they fly. When are we humankind?
The call of mourning dove. A caw of crow. Somewhere a Tower of Babel in the snow.
At the edge of the village, as I look north into the country, it is clear that snow is still falling, wide flakes of it now, it's not coming off the trees, it's peeling off the grey dome overhead. The geese in the sky encounter more resistance than they imagined.
By the time I get to work, the sky is making serious snow which falls heavily.