Monday, my eldest son and I are off to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for a short (four day) trip among the lakes in the extreme Northeastern part of Minnesota. The Boundary Waters are just that, it is easy to take a wrong turn and end up in Canada. It is, by definition, a canoe area, motorized vehicles and boats are prohibited throughout most of the area, and strictly limited in a few shared-use zones. The Wilderness part is what is often left off. BWCA is the common acronym, BWCAW is the proper one. It is a wilderness, with no buildings, roads or amenities. It is, along with the Quetico on the Canadian side, a place of nature where one is forced to accept its terms. Moose, bear, wolves and even the secretive Lynx will be our neighbors, although we will probably not cross paths at this time of year (deer are another situation- we'll almost certainly see them, it is mating season and one hopes not to cross paths with them on the highway!)
It will be a chance for me and my son to get together in a way that perhaps we should have more when he was younger. Stuck in a bad work situation, the boys and their mother spent several vacations without me. A parent always seems to think that he or she never did enough. In his case, I just tried not to get in his way. I've done a little dabbling up north, he's made literally dozens of trips- including winter camping (-35°!) Next month, he leaves for field work in Antarctica (his 2nd stint.) I'm just a homebody by comparison.
He sent me a list of things to get- of those items the LED headlamp is the coolest- I'll be able to read my Laxness in the long evening. Wool, Poly, and even Silk clothing, with Neoprene waterproof boots and rain gear round out my apparel. Even underwear- which I haven't worn in years. Civilization = no underwear, wilderness = underwear. Oh well, we'll be sharing a tent.
I should be back by next week-end, with pictures and stories. Who knows? I may even run into Mark Trail !
Word of the Day
It was Time's morning,
When there nothing was;
Nor sand, nor sea,
Nor cooling billows.
Earth there was not,
Nor Heaven above
The Ginnugagap* was,
But grass was nowhere.
*"yawning gap", abyss
-The Voluspa, prologue to the Edda
"Who is calling?'
"Who am I speaking with?"
"I think you have the wrong number..."
"No I don't, who am I speaking with?"
"To whom am I speaking?"
"Look, you have the wrong number."
"Is Donny there? Let me talk to Donny."
"You definitely have the wrong number. There is no Donny here!"
"Who am I speaking with?"
... and who was it who said that communication is a lost art?
Who Are You?
The consciousness behind the lens, the eye of god? Or just the caprice of a friend, a house-mate with nothing to say, hoping that the camera will create its own eloquent expression.
And what of this moment, a visual aspect captured to what end? Will it disappear, or just lie dormant for years, only to resurface in some new context, in some unimagined medium for the eyes of those yet unborn?
Are those the looks of distrust, doubt, disgust or merely impatience with the cook, whose pancakes still aren't ready?
Will they be burnt again?
I really don't want to know
... a bundle of love-letters...
How many arms have held you and hated to let you go
... from someone in her past, an older man...
How many, how many, I wonder, but I really don't want to know.
... I had seen a picture of him once, in with some vacation snaps...
How many lips have kissed you, and set your soul aglow
... and now he had passed away, his kin sent them back...
How many, how many, I wonder, but I really don't want to know.
... she never spoke of him...
So always make me wonder, always make me guess.
... and it really makes no difference...
And even if I ask you, darling don't confess.
... it could be the plot of a tragic romance novel...
Just let it remain your secret, But darling I love you so.
... or the lyrics to a sad love song...
No Wonder, no wonder I wonder. Though I really don't want to know.
... but now forgotten, as if it had never happened...
Artist in Encaustic
At a gallery opening last night, I met an artist who works in the ancient medium of encaustic- a method of painting using fused, colored wax. Her piece (it was a group show) stood out with its almost savage appearance. We got to talking, comparing notes about our past life experiences. We had been in the state college system about the same time, with some overlaps, we just missed knowing each other by a year or two at a couple of schools. She mentioned how funky those days were, how "the kids now don't have to deal with that..." I concurred, stating that in education "everything is planned out to the last detail." We had taken classes in buildings that were surrounded by potato fields and had mud for a parking lot, worked in darkrooms that were in old, rundown apartment buildings (one darkroom was a former bathroom, it still had the toilet and tub in situ.) We got by, it was part of the whole deal, if the facilities were a bit shabby (Shabby? Some of those places ended up being condemned!) it didn't stop us from learning. And we were still at it, thirty-seven years later, a lot of life had gotten in the way in the meantime, but the heat (molten wax?) is still there.
I ate a dish (prepared with loving care by the Weaver) that had black olives in it. It was some sort of noodle-ly pasta thing, and for the first tie in my life, I actually found myself enjoying the taste of the little buggers. It must be the stress- twelve hours of work today, with no more than a couple of 5 minute breaks. It is getting better, however, and I spent the evening buying cold-weather camping gear for the upcoming canoe trip with my eldest son in ten days.
My life is full.
I just received the soundtrack album for Screaming Masterpiece, a 2005 documentary on "One Thousand Years of Icelandic Music." The movie itself was a bit disjointed, but the soundtrack is an excellent distillation of the experience, with 16 full-length tracks including "Hrafnagaldur" (Odin's Raven Magic)- a thousand year old poem set to music and performed by an orchestra that also included Sigur Rós, a large choir and a pair of stone xylophones! It was a shorter track on the CD, however, that really caught my ear- Odi et Amo by Jóhann Jóhannsson, a haunting blend of strings, altered voice and keyboards that stopped time for me; taking me away from my rainy day doldrums. I'd seen Jóhann last year in Iceland, performing with three different ensembles, in three different venues, in three different genres. This track shows yet another side of the man. Worth seeking out, there's a live performance of it with a harmonium introduction by the man himself here.
Peter Michael Goetz
Character actor, teacher, survivor.
My acting 101 class was in the attic of an aging building on the University of Minnesota's main campus. Peter was the instructor, he was also a regular actor at the Guthrie theater, known even then (1970) as a versatile performer. It was a thrill to be taught by someone active in his field, who mixed the philosophy of acting with practical stagecraft (need to cry in a scene? Try memory of emotion or pull a few nose hairs before going on stage.) His assertion that one should not only try different things, but must in order to pursue an acting career has held true for me for other fields as well. We did small scenes in class, I found myself swept up in one of these playlets, he had us do it again, alas the magic was lost. That was the end of my dramatic career. His cv is here.
Up On The Roof
When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I can remember being this stressed out before, but it has been a long time.
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space
I've been working on the house all summer, and some painting on the dormers has been bugging me for a while.
On the roof, it's peaceful as can be
And there the world below can't bother me
It means getting out the roof ladder (its a steep roof, and high enough to kill you, if you fall off.)
Let me tell you now
I've been dreading it, although I've done it before.
When I come home feelin' tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet (up on the roof)
So today I just went and did it, it went well.
I get away from the hustling crowd
And all that rat-race noise down in the street (up on the roof)
And it was nice up there- pleasantly cool, I got the work done.
On the roof, the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so
And my worries? It's just my nature.
Let's go up on the roof (up on the roof)
Up On The Roof- by Gerry Goffin and Carole King
With the jukebox blaring a dismal bar-rock tune, the man in the suit collapses to the floor after one too many; in the side room Hurricane Vern does the soft shoe while explaining the finer points of the art of Johnning- "you gotta feed 'em first, them girls like that, feed 'em a nice dinner, and then you'll be set for the night." and then everybody dances- "Jackie Wilson Said: bop-shoo-bop- a bop- shoo bop- shoo bop" don't need no coffee in our cups, man we're all wired up, outside the rent-a-cop gets tough with Little Tommy Tucker and breaks his head and his life, the music doesn't stop, the waitress who was screwing the owner has got a little bump in her belly now, it's closing time, it's desperation time, and I get on my bicycle and ride home over the Hennepin Avenue bridge and let myself in, take a shower and crawl into bed- "How'd it go tonight hon?" I fall into sleep, trying to forget.
Who Was The First Hippie?
Why that thought has been running through my fevered brain is beyond my understanding (maybe something I ate?) Many candidates- Alan Ginsberg, Gypsy Boots, Neal Cassady, Wavy Gravy (Hugh Romney), Donovan?
I'll go back a century further: Walt Whitman.
Aug. 2, 2007: American News
Bill Holm, the poet/writer/teacher from Mineota, Minnesota, spends his summers in the North of Iceland. He has written a poem about the I-35 bridge collapse, and what it means, from this distant perspective.
Nikki and Marlys
It was an old four-plex, with a crooked stairway that led to Marlys' apartment. Marlys was a natural homemaker, with a seemingly effortless way with a kitchen. The place was just off Franklin and Chicago avenues, a marginal neighborhood then, but not yet the addict-infested corner that it would become in the eighties. Nikki was a kid who lived in the next flat, she could smell the stickybuns that Marlys was baking. She just walked in, the door was open, I suspected that they'd played this game before. She ate in silence, Marlys was content with that, just to see this urchin eating her baking was communication enough. When Nikki finished she just said "bye" and ran out the door. We resumed our conversation, about art and school and nothing at all.
Three Weeks of Madness
The Fall season is upon me, with a vengeance. Like the lazy grasshoppers that infest my garden, my summer of idleness is over, with my every spare minute accounted for. The topper came when some "good neighbor" thought I should get a write-up from the city inspector for not having finished my house painting. Hmmmph. Work at my job is starting to pick up and I have to get my gear (and act) together for a BWCAW canoe trip in October. If my posts here become infrequent or even more incoherent, please excuse me. It will be better someday. Maybe.
My summers as a teen-ager were spent in constructive frivolity. The neighborhood tennis court had been constructed in the thirties, a WPA project, made of poured concrete, which had settled unevenly. I was almost impossible to play a proper match of tennis, the ball would take odd hops, its nets were broken, it was seldom used, so by default it became sort of an existential playground of sorts- we would enact our strange rituals there, sometimes with a tennis ball and a baseball bat, other times we would just wander about, talking about things, taking pictures, or just enjoying the space. This picture was probably made in the summer of 1968, the world was in upheaval while we remained oblivious in our childish pastimes.
I Can See Clearly Now
Cheaters. Readers. Half-frames. Granny Glasses. I got a dozen of 'em. I thought I'd try "real" glasses. I went to the eye doctor (there's a first time for everything), who said I was OK except for accommodation- I just can't focus the way I'd like, a common affliction of age. He wrote me a prescription and I zipped over to the mall, checked out three optical houses, and ordered up a $400 pair of progressives. They were ready the next day, I paid and headed out into a brand new world.
I had never thought much about what it means to wear glasses all the time, people do it because they have too; I've been most fortunate in that my acuity is very high. After wearing the glasses for a week under various circumstances, I found that with them on, I couldn't see a thing properly! Distance vision had chromatic aberration (color fringes on the edges of things), middle distance had a field of view of about 5 degrees, and close up had one small spot where I could read two or three letters, maximum. All fields had a warp thing going on, good for inducing sea-sickness. Driving at night, I had ghosts dancing throughout my field of view. I took them back.
I'm back with the cheaters, so if you see a slightly comical old man with three pairs of glasses in his pocket, it's me. But I can see clearly now, without the psychedelic distortions. Benjamin Franklin invented bi-focals- he simply sawed two pair of glasses in half and glued them together. I think his pair might have done me better than the latest technology.
Today marks five weeks since the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed. These five weeks have seen a colossal PR campaign where almost every story, interview or feature in the media has been spun to minimize the horror, protect the guilty and/or further political ends. With the notable exception of Minneapolis columnist Nick Coleman the media, indeed everyone in power has been trying to avoid placing responsibility for this incident. The Governor has had his hacks (including the already disgraced Dick Day) in all the media outlets shilling for him. The Lieutenant Governor, Carol Molnau (who is also the Commissioner of Transportation) has, after one petulant press conference, effectively disappeared. People I've spoken with who actually work for the City of Minneapolis state that the inspection program of the State Department of Transportation (responsible for the I-35 bridge) was extremely lax and the department was not run in a professional manner.
The last injured person will leave the hospital this week, facing years of therapy. All of the survivors are depicted as "lucky." And so the story will fade away. Without any expertise in the area whatsoever, I can just about guarantee that the final report on the collapse, which will be released after the 2008 election, will conclude that a combination of events led to the collapse, and no one is at fault.
Sickening. That these people are still in power, that they haven't been indicted, and, in the Governor's case, is using this sad affair to boost his own political fortunes, is revolting. This collapse was not an accident. It was the logical result of a political dogma that is child-like in its thinking: That the least amount of government is the best government. The world is a complicated place, and requires a complicated, coördinated, and, yes, an expensive approach to maintain a modern society.
I heard it was you
Talkin' 'bout a world
Where all is free
It just couldn't be
And only a fool would say that
And only a fool would say that
Only a fool...
- Walter Becker and Donald Fagen
Gathering Of The Flock
It's that time of year. You see them swarming, on street corners and playgrounds. They've been spread out all summer, each spending his or her summer in different ways. But now, with the passing of August, it is time for the fall migration. Their cries echo throughout the neighborhood. In their colorful plumage, it is easy to spot them.
School starts today, and the flocks of local children make their annual migration back to classes:
Art school for the working class consists of two semesters at the community college. The paper you draw on is the same as that used at the "name" schools, as are the pencils.
With luck you can get a teacher who is there because she loves art more than the tenure game.
With a little more luck you can find a kindred spirit.
With just a bit more luck both of you will forget where you came from and where you are going.