Saturday, February 28, 2009

Who would guess their descendants would be cousins? & "the great battlefield tour"

Family details can be an absolute mess ....

I am fortunate in the sense that I have had relatives who devoted a considerable amount of time delving into genealogical records. One of my father's cousins traced the male lineage (young ladies, do not blame me for that) back to the 1500s. If you want the precise date and location, tell me, and I will pull out my copy of his papers and check.

On my father's side, I have a direct ancestor who fought in the Civil War. Meanwhile, moving on over to my mother's side, I have three non-direct ancestors who fought in the Civil War. Now then, who has the edge in that competition, indirect ma or direct pa? (All wild-eyed northern boys, by the way.)

Another absolutely, positively fascinating element (at least, to me) in this maze is on my mother's side of the coin. One of those ancestors who participated in the Civil War did so only briefly before becoming a volunteer in a militia unit riding against the Dakota in the wake of the 1862 uprising in Minnesota. At this time, I should like to mention that I have a relative married to an individual who carries Dakota blood, as well as another relative whose spouse has French-Canadian/Ojibwai ancestry. Beyond that, I have been a participant in an Assinaboi initiation ceremony, have sat in a few sweat lodge ceremonies and been among the honored guests at a wacipi. This simply is to say I have extended family members among the Native American community, and am aware of some of their customs and beliefs.

Back to the story before I forget it. This 1862 rider of vengeance later returned to the regular U.S. army cavalry. He did not last long. He was among troopers killed on a patrol in Kansas by a party of Sioux and Cheyenne in 1867. (The Seventh Cavalry on a search and destroy, with George Custer in the lead, discovered the bodies.)

The element which makes the events uniquely special to me is that I visited the exact site (no more than a few meters away, at the most) of his death during what I designated my "battlefield tour." Have you ever stood on the ground where an ancestor went down fighting nearly 150 years ago? Then, scarcely before you have taken another breath, wondered if the ancestor of a modern-day relative might have done the killing? Ain't life a mystery?

Maybe I should have signed on as a deckhand ....

Whether you know or not, it snowed in Minnesota on Thursday. I had about six inches of heavy, wet stuff to throw from my driveway into my neighbor's lawn. He does not care, since his boys build forts and caves in the heaps of snow. Here is a glimpse of my neighbors. Sorry, Diva. (I already told her this one.)

On one side, my neighbor is 97. She still shovels a path through the snow to her mailbox by the street. On the other side, my neighbors have two little boys (nine and four), who frequently are trying to sell me things, mostly stuff from their dad's garage. I usually buy it. Real bargains. A dime here, a quarter there. Is there more to these stories? Never mind. Write the endings yourselves.

Now, where was I? I certainly have a tendency to drift off topic.

Snow. And, cold. (Three degrees Fahrenheit above zero this minute.) Winter has returned to me again and, again, I have become immensely bored with it. The last time this happened was during the winter of 2000-2001. (Time flies when most of it has been spent in the same routine, as mine has, for a couple of years now.) In February 2001, I briefly toyed with the idea of flying to Florida for a week of sun and whatever. I was within the punch of a keyboard button to close the deal. But, I did not.

I decided, instead, to save the money and to spend it (and more) on a "decent trip" that summer. In May, I took an "unpaid sabbatical" from work, departed Sanctuary/Refuge and left on a driving tour (the aforementioned "battlefield tour") that ranged from Canada into Mexico and lasted until well into October.

Much camping with many nights under the stars, a few good motels, a few bad motels, much canoeing, much brandy, some days spent walking and some nights spent sleeping on old battlefields from the days of the "Indian wars." Too much tequila, dancing and a bar brawl across the Rio Bravo del Norte in Ciudad Juarez. (We won; locals, including me, against outsiders. Weird, hah? You fit in where you fit.) Too much money spent on gasoline and potato salad, many historic sites seen, kissed the Alamo, a great sun tan and uncut hair bleached blond once again by the sun -- well, you get the picture. Free Bird.

This is the most beat-up by winter I have felt since then, and I continue to wonder if this, again, will be the year of the traveler. (Do not panic; I think I may have passed beyond the bar brawl stage of life.) Greece and the "wine dark sea" of Mediterranean waters linger on in my mind.

I think if I could be age 18 again, I would skip the Marine Corps, skip college, skip newspapers and a few other distractions, and sign on as a deckhand on a Great Lakes ore carrier. Once upon a time, after an hour or so of drinking beer and mingling with a group of Great Lakes sailors in a Lake Superior waterfront bar, I was asked "what ship I was from." To me, that was an enormous compliment, and another occasion of fitting in where you fit.

Music Note: Listening to 38 Special ....
Specifically, "Live at Sturgis" ....
("Hold on Loosely" -- wanna dance?)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Thinking of grandfather & re-evaluating art

Happy birthday, grandfather of mine ....

Today is my grandfather's birthday, on my mother's side. He was German, and loved being German. He is long gone now.

This evening, I will eat a German meal: Pork chops, potatoes and sauer kraut, washed down with beer. That was among his favorite dinners.

I will remember him as he swiftly seemed to become an old man, listening to polka music on his radio on Sunday afternoons: In the winter, sitting in own father's chair, his stocking feet on the oven door of an ancient wood/coal-burning stove, reading; in the summer, sitting in that same chair, outside under the shade of a tree, reading.

I'm not certain if most grandfathers are beneficial or not to their grandchildren, but I think he was for me. He turned his daughter, my mother, into a reader, and she passed that along to me. He gave me my first dog when I was four, telling my mother that all boys need dogs. (My mother went along with it.) He gave me my first shotgun, one of his, and trusted me enough to turn me loose with it when I was 10. (My mother went along with it.)

He showed me how to be patient, but he also taught me how to roar. When I was a teenager, he would pass a few dollars to me for gas money so I could visit my girlfriend in a neighboring town. More than anything, he was a man and he knew the score.

He knew things only an old man could know from years of experience living life, and he offered them to me as I moved through my teenage years. I listened to him because, even then, I understood that as his life was drawing down, he was giving me an honest gift: The benefit of knowledge he had earned from living through depression and war; through manual labor under scorching sun and in raging blizzard; through the loss of loved ones. He had crystal clear vision.

Can old art be re-born through technology?

A few nights ago, I saw more in the paintings of Henri Matisse than I had seen before. I think it was more the hypnotic music and the superb, creative video used to display the paintings than it was the actual work of Matisse which brought about this feeling, but .... I really do not know. Believe me, I have a few relatives who are art majors and who practice their art and who actually make some ridiculous amounts of money selling their stuff -- so, I am not a newbie to art. Explain to me then, why am I seeing today what I was not seeing yesterday?

When I wrote about Robert Louis Stevenson last night, I saw more in the painting of his face and his eyes than I ever had seen before in a photograph of him. I think I saw his actual persona and understood him. I also saw the frailty of his body. It seemed obvious to me he wanted to show it, as if to say it was his mind that really counted. Is all this massed together in the painting the extension of him .... or is it a particular talent of the painter who produced the portrait .... or is it some insight within me I did not possess only a few days before? Does this mean art is catching up to me and running me to ground? Sort of fun to consider.

But, before I collapse completely, allow me to regain my former composure and Spartan masculinity by once more quoting Stevenson: "I wish to die in my boots; no more Land of Counterpane for me. To be drowned, to be shot, to be thrown from a horse -- ay, to be hanged, rather than pass again through that slow dissolution."

Yes, that is more like it.

Music Note: Listening to Cinderella ....
Specifically, "Night Songs" ....

("Nobody’s Fool" -- you better believe it, baby)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Born too late to cross the Plains ....

Robert Louis Stevenson. He traveled across America.

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Robert Louis Stevenson
From: "Requiem"

From Scotland to San Francisco & beyond ....

I finished a book a few days ago and was reminded yesterday (coincidentally, not intentionally) that I had not started another. So, I pulled out a book I purchased a few months ago, but had not yet opened: "The Travels and Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson." It is proportioned into three sections, "The Amateur Emigrant," "Across the Plains" and "The Silverado Squatters." The book first appeared in print in 1892. My copy is a later edition -- 1899. (Love old stuff.)

My assumption is there should be no need to explain what Robert Louis Stevenson is primarily noted for, but many people do not realize he was a prolific traveler as well as a prolific writer. In fact, he died far away from his birthplace in Scotland, on Upola, one of the Samoan islands. He is buried there. Between birth and death, Stevenson's travels included crossing the Atlantic Ocean by ship and journeying from New York to California by train and stage coach.

There should be no doubt this trip across America was made in part from the love of traveling, but Stevenson also was on the trail of a married woman, and that involved an even deeper love. While exploring France in 1876, Stevenson met Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne at the artists' colony of Grez. She was ten years older than Stevenson, and from San Francisco. (That city just keeps showing up out of the blue.) It was apparently love at first sight for him. He returned to England, but promptly went back to France, where they began "their life."

(Break time: Lynyrd Skynyrd with "Free Bird" came on the radio. Stop. Time out. Listen. Close eyes. Drift on the clouds.)

Back again: Fanny returned to America in 1877. Stevenson did a walking tour of Europe. By 1879, Stevenson must have decided that enough was enough (that expression is my personal property), and he set out after her (so is that one). She was divorced by the time he arrived in San Francisco. They married in 1880. The book I am about to open is Stevenson's account of the sea voyage (Amateur Emigrant), of traveling the breadth of America (Across the Plains) and of a summer-long honeymoon at an abandoned mining camp (Silverado Squatters).

In 1888, the Stevenson family began three years of cruising the Pacific Ocean on a chartered yacht. He suffered from bad health, which was the primary reason he bought property and settled on an island in the Samoan group. No winters. (Yes-s-s-s.) Stevenson died in his home in 1894 at the age of 44, probably from a cerebral hemorrhage.

The reason I bought this book is because I particularly wanted to read the "Across the Plains" segment. (I think I will start in "the middle" of the book with that story.) I keep a lookout for first-hand accounts about 19th Century travel from the Mississippi River to Montana or to the West Coast. You see, I want to know what I missed by being born too late to experience the Plains country wild and natural.

Music Note: Still have the radio on a classic rock station ....

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Law, order & I can't get no satisfaction ....

There are lawyers and there are lawyers. Some of my personal favorites have been the assistant district attorneys on the television series, "Law & Order." Clockwise from the upper left are, Alexandra Borgia, Connie Rubirosa, Jamie Ross, Claire Kincaid, Serena Southerlyn and Abbie Carmichael.

Legal beagles come in all shapes & sizes ....

We have here a possible culmination of days and weeks and months of serious thought. The only television program I watch with regularity is "Law & Order." The original series, I mean. Until I started watching "Law & Order," when I thought of lawyers, I thought of gray-haired, old men. (If they were full of themselves, they also wore their hair long and probably in a ponytail.) I did not picture attractive, young ladies as attorneys.

As I review the many episodes of "Law & Order," it becomes obvious that even deciding which young lady -- I mean, which attorney -- to interview as a candidate for a position on my "personal legal team" would be a very difficult task, for sure.

But, with the current atmosphere of sue here, sue there, sue anywhere, I have been thinking that it might be beneficial to have a beautiful, brainy, sophisticated, female attorney on retainer. Please understand, I am thinking in a purely practical sort of way. I'm trying to be intelligent about this which, as anyone who knows me will testify is extremely difficult for me. (Did that come out right?)

I know at least one person who occasionally stops by my blog has been inside a court room. Maybe others have, too. I know for sure that I have been. While the person who stops by here has worked in a court room, my presence was not by choice. I was among a group of people sued, collectively and individually, for $44 million. Yeh, really. Can you believe it? My reaction upon being served the papers was laughter, but the case actually went to trial.

Never fear. (Or should that be, no fear?) The day of my appearance on the stand, I donned my best suit, carried reading glasses and a copy of "War and Peace" in my left hand, and brushed my teeth twice. I practiced my smile in the mirror for 30 minutes, with an occasional wink or two. Consequently, thanks to my dignified, intellectual, good natured appearance, and to my eloquent, confident, forceful testimony, we won the war. Or, perhaps I should say the plaintiff 's lawyer struck out entirely, completely, with finality, when he interrogated me. (How many ways can I say that?) What I mean is this: Imagine how the case might have turned out had a stunning, gorgeous, vivacious young lady been the attorney for the plaintiff rather than a bald, grumpy-looking, chubby, old man who was vain enough to think he actually could rough me up on the stand? Please, be honest.

Another true tale, but now back to our discussion for today. If I were to choose from among the many assistant district attorneys who have appeared on "Law & Order" in recent times, which would be the wisest to pair up with, at least for an initial interview? They all are radiant, smart and not afraid to stand their ground. I suppose it just might come down to whichever one lists canoeing as her favorite recreational activity.

Rock & roll blues: Part I

I once ended up at a particular location on the map because a friend of mine from the Marine Corps lived there. He had grown up in this town, and we thought it might be good for us to hang out together for a while. He had been shot through his legs, and spent a few months in a body cast. He gets around all right now, unless he tries to run or to walk any real distance.

He still is living there, in the town where he grew up. I did not stay very long. A career beckoned to me, and also more than a little restlessness. You understand? We continue to exchange notes and photographs via email.

Neither one of us is satisfied with the way things are. How do you explain that? I am moving around and experiencing and learning. He is hunting and fishing and getting drunk on Saturday nights at the Veterans of Foreign Wars club. I really do not know which of us is better off. I really, really do not, in terms of personal contentment, satisfaction, achievement -- all those sort of things we grade on our personal score cards.

Other than that, Semper Fi, and keep your kids at home. No, I did not say those last few words. I did not mean that. To each, his own, but make certain each of your kids understands the possible consequences from earning the privilege to say the words, Semper Fi, and is prepared to pay the piper if he comes calling. The burden, for some, is heavy.

Music Note: Listening to Chicago ....
Specifically, "The Very Best of: Only the Beginning" ....
("Searchin' So Long," et al)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Riding the "Superior" surf & chasing girls ....

"When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;"

John Keats
Some lines from: "When I Have Fears"

Racing & canoeing have one thing in common ....

I would consider myself to be a "sort of" stock car racing fan. I watch a few races on television during the course of the season, and one of the items on my "bucket list" is to see a race at Talladega in Alabama. Better track than Daytona, I think. Race speeds there once topped 200 mph (that is as in miles-per-hour) until political correctness caught up with racing and restrictor plates to limit the speed to around 185 mph became required there. The single lap speed record at Talladega is 216 mph.

When I first started watching stock car racing in the 1990s, "my driver" quickly became Ernie Irvin. He skipped his high school graduation so he could drive in a race. Reminiscent of my own youth, but I at least attended the ceremony before heading out for Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie (that's in Minnesota for you far-awayers). Never mind why. Ernie was a California boy, by the way, and had the words, "No Fear," painted on his helmet. He retired from racing after a pair of near-fatal crashes.

This has been the long way of leading up to the subject of conquering one's own fears. A young lady asked via email how I overcome fear when canoeing on Lake Superior. This was my answer:

How girls, women, ladies, do it (overcome fear), I have no idea. With guys, it often is peer pressure. I'm not just talking about little boys, either. Liquor often has something to do with it. Showing off for girls frequently enters the picture. (Yep, right, I'm not just talking about little boys, either.) How does one master fear when there are no peers, no liquor, no girls around? By doing, but by studying and practicing on gentler ground (or water) before doing the real thing.

When I arrived at a newspaper on the shores of Lake Superior in mid-winter and mentioned that I could not wait to get a canoe into the lake, one of the reporters wrote my obituary as a joke. I learned that the children of a very prominent family had drowned in a canoe accident at some ridiculous date like 1910, and that had done it for canoeing on the lake in that region ever since.

I have to admit, Superior is big water, and it did make me nervous simply because of its sheer size, its rapid changes of weather and waves, the unpredictability of winds, its chilling water temperature, not to mention the looks of doom on the faces of people who knew of my plans. Cutting to the chase, I first launched my canoe on one gray and cloudy day in April, with a stiff wind and three- to four-foot swells running -- much larger than any I had previously encountered with my canoe.

I went out about a half-mile offshore and lay down in the canoe. That is a Native American maneuver, as reported by an early Minnesota fur trader. Lie down to distribute your weight evenly, and allow the wind and the waves to carry you to safety. Lying there, it appears as though the waves will come down into the canoe and right on top of you. They don't, but it is an "interesting" position in which to watch them. Within 10 minutes, I no longer had any fear of the lake, and I began to "play" with it.

I learned how to surf on the waves with my canoe, how to run with the waves, into them and parallel to them. I took my canoe into the sheer rock cliffs, and learned how to gauge the rebound action of the waves off the cliffs, and to navigate beside the rocks without smashing into them. I could not have done these things without having considerable practice behind me on small lakes and in rivers. Inside of a few hours on a single afternoon, I had fallen in love with Superior, and the lake had become "The Lake."

Plenty of respect, yes, but no fear. I recall one time when, within the span of five minutes or so, gentle swells had become five- to six-foot waves. And, there was no wind. The reaction to an earlier storm 150 miles away had reached my side of "The Lake" without warning. “She, The Lake,” is a living entity, and always requires her lovers to treat her with respect, as well as affection.

Within a matter of months, it was not unusual for 10 or 12 others to join me on weekend canoe trips on "The Lake" or on area rivers. The newspaper-types among us sometimes wrote our own obituaries for entertainment bravado and competition at our evening campfires. Some boys forever will be boys ....

How can a guy chase girls if ....

I have no consistent pattern to exercise. I'll do it for a few months, maybe a few years. Then, I'll stop doing it for a few months, maybe a few years.

Sometimes running has been the primary drill. I've never been a fanatic about it. I'll do it for a mile, three or four times a week, and maybe work it up to five miles before I say enough is enough and take a break. When I was a smoker, it was not unusual for me to begin the run with a cigarette in my mouth.

Only once did I belong to a gym. That lasted for a little more than two years. When I started, I did four routines over the span of about 15 minutes, and then spent 45 minutes visiting. By the time I said enough is enough, I was up to 20 routines lasting two and one-half to three hours, three or four times a week. It is amazing to me why any of us often turn a simple activity in a time-consuming, complex, ritualistic near-addiction.

Normally, my idea of exercise is to do a few pushups, a few sit-ups, a few other odds and ends over the span of about 20 minutes, five or six days a week. I have no desire to replace California's governor, either politically or in the movies.

Why do I mention this? Because, tomorrow I resume my exercise routine again. My last pushup or sit-up was the week of Thanksgiving. Three months is enough of a break this time. Besides, how can a guy chase girls if he cannot keep up with them?

What if the word verification system fails?

I tried leaving comments at a couple of blogs on the other side of oceana maximus Monday evening, but the word verification system was not working for me. Either that, or a few people were telling me to get lost all at the same time. Anyone else ever experience this sort of problem? Any suggestions?

Tuesday evening ---- it's all better now ....

Instead of music ....
John Keats ....
The entire poem: "When I Have Fears"

When I have fears that I may cease to be

Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,

And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love; -- then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A walk on the ice, nest building & some ouzo after work ....

"Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow."

Robert Frost
(San Francisco born)
Some lines from: "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"

Could winter ever become fun for me again?

When I moved back to Minnesota, I rented a house by a lake for several months. Sunday, I drove out to that lake, parked in the driveway of one of my former neighbors, talked with him for 30 minutes and then went for a walk on the ice.

I have spent a fair amount of time walking on the ice, starting as a boy playing hockey and going hunting. I had not been on it for a couple of years now, and I had forgotten how much I enjoy walking on it. I have lived by lakes. I think that is one reason this winter has been harder on me than most. I live in town, not in the country by a lake or a river.

I have not walked on the ice under a full moon for a long time. I have not heard the ice and the water beneath it "talk" -- gulping, gasping, swallowing, roaring, rolling, cracking, crackling, the sounds reverberating, coming and going, beneath my feet -- for a long time. That is another "end of the earth" sensation. True winter is something to be enjoyed, and that does not happen when winter has been reduced to shoveling sidewalks and driving on ice-covered roadways.

Sunday, my ice walk was in daylight instead of moonlight, but it still had a familiar, comfortable feel to it. I really am in need of wind, water and sun, very much so. But, maybe after a few years of such living and then settling in the "right" location, it would be possible for me to enjoy winter once again.

Women, and the desire for nest building ....

When you cannot sleep, what do you do? I have been up pretty much all night for two nights in a row. This is not insomnia, either, at least in the usual sense, and this is completely unlike me. I normally fall asleep within two or three minutes of my head hitting the pillow. (Once asleep, the slightest "unusual" sound awakens me, but I sleep right through even the loudest "familiar" sounds.) These two nights, I think, have been the result of dwelling (too much?) on thoughts about once more changing directions in my life. Which direction to go now?

This seems to be a common dilemma running through many blogs. So many individuals are experiencing change or seeking change in their lives. I said once before, and I quote myself now: "There is so much wonder in the world, to see and to know. My choice would be to have experienced 1,000 jobs in 1,000 different locations before I 'cash in'."

The essential question here is, do I accept the fact that to do this, to continue seeking new experiences and new country, means that I most likely will do it alone? Or, do I actually think that maybe, possibly, I will randomly encounter a woman who could love me and would have the same nomadic attitude toward life as I do? It seems to me my position is in direct conflict with the innate instincts of a woman. If that sounds chauvinistic, so be it, but are not all women nest builders?

Ouzo on the beach, but only after work ....

New idea: I have participated in two archaeological digs as an amateur volunteer. (That means no money and a lot of grunt work.) One was at a battlefield site (hiking up and down a steep hillside, up and down, sweeping the landscape with a metal detector -- uff da). I was there for two weeks. The other was at a prehistoric Native American campsite, near which had been uncovered an ancient dugout canoe. That was my first such venture, and lasted a week. Really fascinating.

Anyway, "Archaeology" magazine contains advertisements for such projects round the world. At least it once did; I signed up for a subscription again last night after an absence from it for a few years. I'll soon learn if such projects continue to exist. Possibly, this would be a sensible way to begin a trek around Greece.

I can envision myself on my hands and knees for a couple of weeks, digging and sifting dirt. Then later, sipping brandy on a sandy, secluded beach (all right, in this case probably ouzo), and cooling myself in the "wine dark sea" of Odysseus. That would be an appropriate reward to come after "the dig."

Maybe ideas like this are why "true love" is difficult to find. Good idea? Bad idea? Thoughts?

Music Note: Back to the radio, listening to a classic rock station ....

Sunday, February 22, 2009

20,000 leagues under the sea; well, almost

"Let's toss a bumper down our throat
Before we pass to heaven,
And toast: 'The trim-set petticoat
We leave behind in Devon'."

Harry "Breaker" Morant
Some lines from his final poem

Diving was a single chapter for me

My voyage across the sea of blogs drifted over a diver the other day, which is to say, a "scuba diver," as in the underwater type. To make things more interesting, this diver was British but underwater in the Red Sea. Such an experience must have been a real treat for an aficionado of the "silent world."

I'm not certain how many people don scuba gear during their lifetime, but certainly it must be an ever-increasing number. I bought my first tank, used, and a minimum number of accessories, while still in high school. Working around rules comes easy for a teenager (at least, it did for me), so I did not take formal training until college. There, a physical education class provided me with the path to eventual certification. One-half the instruction was in a classroom, the rest in a pool. One dive was in a sort of muddy lake. I already was well practiced in muddy lakes, but never had worn a tank in a pool.

My experience expanded with a three-week class provided by the U.S. Navy. The Navy frequently feeds Marines and hauls them around, always doctors them and, sometimes, teaches them useful skills. That instruction included classroom, pool and the most-amazing Pacific Ocean. I could tell you a couple of stories, but ....

I never really got back into diving when civilian life rolled around until a friend of mine said he would like to try it. I broke out my old high school gear and bought my first wet suit. We both lived on Lake Superior at the time. (Well, not on, rather, next to.) Within a matter of a few weeks after his introduction to the underwater world, he was buying the gear and had signed up for instruction.

We did do a few fascinating dives, including some on shipwrecks off Isle Royale. My ears never did like depths much below 20 or 25 feet, and during this time I also starting having inner ear problems. Consequently, other than infrequent warm-water snorkeling and occasionally dumping a canoe, my under-the-water time pretty much ended.

I really did not miss the underwater experience after I left it. Like "they" say, I'm glad I tried it, but it was meant to be a single chapter in my life, not an entire book. To be honest, other than exploring old wrecks, I found diving in inland lakes sort of boring after a while, and I never seemed to be at the right place at the right time to try anything else.

My friend, who learned how to dive with my gear, continues to be an enthusiast. When he married, he convinced his wife to join him, and they have made a Caribbean trip to explore the underwater world there. He also joined a dive club, bought a dry suit and partakes in a few excursions below the ice of Lake Superior every winter. Diving, for him, became more than a single chapter.

Music Note: Listening to Boston ....
Specifically, "Don’t Look Back" ....
(My all-time favorite band)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A queen! A queen! My kingdom for a queen!

Queen Sibylla is very lovely, indeed. But, can she paddle a canoe?

As one search ends, another begins ....

I am sorry to announce that I have ended my search for Ms. Perfect.

I have been informed, by a reliable, trustworthy, non-partisan, unbiased source, that Ms. Perfect has been won over by Mr. Perfect. (That scoundrel!) She no longer is available.

There is, I also have been told, a distinct possibility that there might be a Ms. Best-For-Me just waiting for my arrival, somewhere. With this thought in mind, I further announce that my search for her will be launched immediately upon the completion of this commentary.

Might I even find an actual queen? How many of them are on the loose these days? The last one I remember seeing was in a movie about Jerusalem with Crusaders and Moslems and big siege machines. "The Kingdom of Heaven." That was it. Queen Sibylla ran off to France with some guy at the end of the movie but, who knows? Maybe they got divorced, or maybe he went off on another Crusade, or maybe she's on vacation by herself in Greece.

It probably would cost a lot of money to keep a real queen happy. I'm sure she'd always be wanting more jewels and expensive clothing. Could be worth it, though. Just look at her in that outfit. Really nice. Exotic. Beautiful. Stunning. All right, cool off, boy.

Expensive? I suppose but, on the other hand, if she came with her own retinue I wouldn't have to worry about cutting the grass or shoveling the snow or feeding the camels. Her servants could attend to those chores.

Whoa, now. Not camels. If I remember right, she liked riding horses. She could ride far better than I can. I guess that would be OK. I’m pretty sure I can paddle a canoe in a straight line better than she could do it. If she'd be willing to practice her canoe work, I'd be willing to start riding again. Opposites might attract, but they don't last. I managed to figure that out.

I remember something else. Queen Sibylla liked dogs, too. All the better. There are some possibilities here. Something to think about.

Computers, cameras & suggestions?

Only one suggestion each so far regarding computers and cameras and Greece. Either no one is reading here or no one has any suggestions. Oh, well, such is life.

I did contact a friend, who is a programmer for Intel, regarding suggestions about middle-of-the-road computers (price, that is, not politics) and two friends, one who is a photography hobbyist and another who is a professional photographer, about possibilities for cameras. Never-the-less, I would value advice from anyone who has experience, good or bad, with a particular product. Any ideas?

A guy has to earn his banana cream pie ....

I don't know what it's doing in your neck of the woods (country talk for "your corner of the world"), but it's snowing here, with a cold wind pushing it. Winter returns. There are three to four inches down. I think it is done, but the wind might pile it up.

That means there are a driveway and a bit of sidewalk to shovel. Yes, shovel. At the risk of offending someone, snow blowers are for old folks. So are riding lawn mowers. I've always looked at shoveling snow and cutting the grass as forms of exercise. (Well, maybe not when I was a teenager.) It's no fun, but it's good for you (and it's good for me), and it reduces feelings of guilt about sitting down with an entire banana cream pie now and then.

We are what we eat, so I guess I'm sweet.

Music Note: Listening to Foreigner ....
Specifically, "Classic Hits Live" ....
Featuring, "I Want to Know What Love Is" ....

(Me, too)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dreams, Democrats, Greeks & Trojans ....

"…. he lived
Through that which had been death to many men,
And made him friends of mountains; with the stars
And the quick Spirit of the Universe
He held his dialogues: and they did teach
To him the magic of their mysteries;
To him the book of Night was opened wide,
And voices from the deep abyss revealed
A marvel and a secret. — Be it so."

Lord Byron
Some lines from: "The Dream"

A dream ends; a building never does ....

Before I meander away from the notion of reincarnation and transmigration of souls, I want to touch on a thought residing just on the other side of that doorway: The implications of reoccurring dreams. Ever have one?

If I've ever read any material regarding reoccurring dreams, it has passed from my memory. But, I have experienced one, as well as another, shall we say, odd, sort of series of dreams.

The reoccurrent dream: When I was around 11 or 12, I began to have a dream that I was rolling and rolling on the ground while being shot at by a man in a military uniform. I could see him clearly, distinctly, his face, his weapon. I could see the landscape between the two of us, and behind him. I always woke as the rounds seemed about to catch up with me.

I had the dream probably once or twice a year for several years. Possibly, I had seen one too many "war movies" as a boy but, for whatever reason, I never had that dream again after my time with the Marine Corps.

The odd dream: I cannot count the number of times that I have had a variety of dreams that all take place in the same building. The building is an absolutely huge, log structure, in the style of a house, with three stories. But, the settings and the scenarios of the dreams differ vastly.

This building has been on "main street." I have been living on the second floor, while there has been a newspaper office on the first floor. People from both my past (some now dead) and my present, have been there working. We have discussed work and personal matters.

This building has been located in a bog and woodland area, such as one might see in northern Minnesota, where it was my residence. I was moving about on both the first and the second floors, preparing to defend myself against a "home invasion." The door was being battered. There was a woman also present. I knew her, but never saw her face, and now no longer recall who it might have been.

This building has been a hotel with a beach setting, and I have been a guest occupying the second floor, with the lobby being the first floor. Adjacent to the lobby is a bar (of course), where I have engaged in conversations with a number of people, some known to me in actual life, some not.

Those are a few of the "odd dreams" I recall. The building does not look like any I ever have seen, and never have I been to the third floor of the structure. The only elements always consistent in these dreams are the physical appearance of the building when looking at it from the outside, and inside on the second floor. Any dream interpreters out there?

No doubt, liberals rule the media ....

I spotted a newspaper poll yesterday in which readers were asked to pick the "best" president in the history of the U.S. The newspaper included three choices from among the four who are on Mount Rushmore: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. The other four presidents nominated by the newspaper to select from were all 20th Century Democrats, only two of whom even merit an ounce of objective consideration.

Even petty things such as that cause people to lose faith in journalistic integrity.

Missolonghi, Heraklion & where was that place?

Any recommendations for places to hang out in Greece? I'm really beginning to get my head turned in that direction for a "scout," a "recon," an "inspection tour" this summer. I do want to visit Missolonghi, where the poet Lord Byron died and which has a museum commemorating his one-time presence there, and Heraklion, the grave site of writer Nikos Kazantzakis. Other than that, I'm only thinking wind, water and sun. Such is my mantra.

Exit Trojans, enter Vikings ....

I'll stir Trojans and Vikings into my mix today. I recall reading a supposition a few years back that the "Old Trojans" became the "Old Vikings." Seriously. The article was published in "Archaeology" magazine. It offered evidence that after the destruction of Troy by the Greeks around 1200 BCE, the survivors from the region began a journey that lasted a few hundred years, migrating north and west.

Some stayed in what today is Germany. Others gradually continued on to modern-day Denmark, eventually going on into Sweden, and finally into Norway. Evidence cited was based on linguistics, religious patterns and a variety of other elements. Maybe my great-grandpa and great-grandma to the 100th power (please, do not check my math) witnessed the clash between Achilles and Hector. Where are your roots?

Music Note: Listening to Roy Orbison ....
Specifically, "The All-Time Greatest Hits" ....
(Dream Baby & In Dreams)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Time for buying & for learning about you ....

I've got shopping on my mind

I'm thinking new computer, maybe; new camera, maybe; new firearm, maybe; some new music, probably.

My primary computer is a bit over four years old. The monitor for my backup (1991 model) went to computer heaven a few days ago, and it could be time to turn this one into the backup. Any recommendations?

When I bought this computer, I also purchased a pretty basic digital camera to go along with it. I've never been a particularly good photographer, although I bought my first camera at the age of five (plenty of practice) and I've frequently hung out with photographer-types at work (plenty of expertise available to teach me). It could be time for me to get a "decent" camera. Any recommendations?

It might be time for a new rifle or pistol. My "gun habit" is to buy, sell or trade a few every year, so the number grows gradually. I do not suppose many life-long metropolitan dwellers would understand this idiosyncrasy, but I am a country boy and received instruction in the use of rifles, shotguns and handguns the summer of my tenth year. For the next few years after that, my life revolved around hunting and football. Then, I discovered girls, and my interests blossomed.

In case there are any "gun nuts" out there in never-never land, my most recent purchase was a "Thanksgiving present" for me last November. It was a Fabrique Nationale 6.35 mm (.25 caliber) semi-automatic pistol. This type was called a "Vest Pocket" pistol back in the good old days. It's small. They were manufactured between 1905 and 1940, plus a few later presentation pieces.

There is no complete serial number record to track these pistols but, through bits and pieces of information, I am relatively certain mine was manufactured in 1919. The most fascinating factor about this pistol, to me, is that it was made in Belgium and, by contract agreement, these particular firearms were never available for sale new in the U.S. That means mine had to travel some considerable distance before arriving here. How? Who knows? Maybe in the luggage of an American tourist or soldier returning from Europe?

Me and "old stuff." What can I say?

Before the Vest Pocket, I had gone since last February without a gun purchase. That was a Winchester Model 94 (which means this model was first introduced in 1894), .30-30 caliber, lever action with a tang sight. There are conflicting databases regarding serial numbers for Winchesters. One puts my rifle at late 1940 or early 1941 manufacture; the other at 1942. Sort of old, no matter which date is correct.

My routine is to drive a car on day-to-day business. But, when weather dictates or when I travel, I drive a Suburban. And, in my Suburban, there always dwells what I call my "truck rifle." This old Winchester became my new truck rifle, replacing a Ruger Mini-14. My truck rifle becomes my canoe rifle when I shift from roadway to waterway. (Remember, I have seen lightning strike the unprepared, and I would rather be accused of paranoia than be caught unprepared.)

As you might guess, I really do not need any recommendations regarding firearms, but I never turn down a suggestion. I have not kept track of what is happening in the arena of computers or digital cameras, however, and really could use some advice there.

What can I learn from you?

I have mentioned previously that I was first drawn to the world of blogs last August to read the writings of one particular individual. The next step did not come until sometime between Christmas and New Year's Day, when I started to browse the blogs. About three weeks later, I began one myself.

Even though I'm writing here day after day, the primary reason for my presence continues to be to explore the work of other people, and to learn from them and about them. Life is a mystery to me (if it isn't to you, please explain it to me), and there is nothing so fascinating as people. By that, I mean individuals who lived yesterday, as well as those who do today.

Some bloggers sort of chat about daily life, some chart their trips, some write poetry, some post photographs, some demonstrate their proficiency in the use of profanity, some talk about hobbies, some offer advice and support, some promote causes, some are peddling their wares. The diversity is amazing.

In any case, more than anything else, I'm here to learn about you and you and you. Just don't ask me why, because I'm still working on that. Part of the mystery, I guess. Partly innate and insatiable curiosity, I am certain.

If anything more comes from this "adventure" than learning, so much the better.

Music Note: Listening to "Guns N' Roses" ....
(Guns and roses -- the story of my life)
Specifically, "Use Your Illusion I & II" ....
(Can only stay away from this band so long)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Does earth end before the right arm fails?

"The sun turns black, earth sinks in the sea,
The hot stars down from heaven are whirled;
Fierce grows the steam and the life-feeding flame,
Till fire leaps high about heaven itself."

From the book: "Poetic Edda"
Specifically, from the poem: "Voluspo"
"The Wise-Woman’s Prophecy"

My arrival at the end of the earth ….

I have not attempted to write a single line of poetry since I was a "college boy."

The mother of a young lady I knew back then gave me that designation when her husband yelled from far inside the house to ask her who she was talking to in the hallway.

"It’s just Cindy, Harold," the mother shouted back to her husband. "She brought home a college boy!"

I think Cindy's father had visions of me mowing his yard while I was waiting for her to change clothes, while Cindy's mother, I am almost certain, immediately began planning a menu for the wedding reception. (All right, all right. I'll get back on topic.)

Don't panic and turn the page. I'm not quite ready to start composing sonnets yet, but reading the poetry of others has gotten me to thinking about it. Thinking about it led to consideration of possible events or milestones in my life that gave me pause, that stirred my emotions, that I might wish to memorialize.

Riding the prow of a ship, an event that I wrote about a few days ago, consisted of around 10 minutes that branded themselves into my mind forever. (It really was an actual event, believe it or not.) Maybe I'll try a poetic effort about those minutes. Or, possibly, I'll attempt putting to verse another event that occurred a few days later. Allow me to test the concept.

Imagine, if you would, Moses parting the Red Sea. (Surely, you've heard of that or, at least, seen Charlton Heston do it.) Transfer that image to fog instead of water: A ship is slowly cruising dead center through a "channel" of calm, blue-green water which is glistening in bright sunlight. The channel is, at most, a quarter-mile wide because on either side is a bank of thick fog which hides the vast ocean. Get the image? Instead of a path of land with water on either side, we have a path of calm, listless water with thick fog, perhaps extending a few hundred feet in height, on either side, hiding the endless sea.

Our protagonist (me), comes up on deck from breakfast below, lights his cigarette and walks to the prow of the ship (his prow, now; he has laid territorial claim to it, as males often tend to do). Since it is the light of day, he knows better than to duck beneath the guard chain, so he stands before it.

Abruptly, probably a half-mile ahead, a nuclear-powered submarine emerges from the fog, cutting across the channel of clear, calm water at about a 45-degree angle from the ship. About the time the first submarine reaches the midpoint of the channel, a second submarine breaks free of the fog, following directly in the wake of the first. Our protagonist (yep, me) watches the black creatures in absolute awe as they silently slide through the sunlit sea, end-of-the-earth predators stalking an unknowing target.

The images are locked forever in our protagonist's mind (still me). Within a few minutes, the first submarine has crossed the clear, serene channel and disappears into the bank of fog on the other side. A few moments later, the second submarine has trailed its companion into invisibility.

Our protagonist (yes, still me) knows he truly has arrived at the end of the earth, in time to be a part of the gathering storm which will erupt into the end of everything. It is the eve of Ragnarok, and he will be player in it. (He is a romantic, you see, and prefers the mythology of the Old Norse to the apocalyptic vision in the Old Testament.) Incidentally, did you notice that "end of the earth" can be interpreted at least two ways?

Whatever, I've been wondering how to translate that experience into poetry. It would make a good painting, too, except I cannot paint.

I believe in the strength of my own right arm ….

A visitor here a few days ago, Inanna, brought up the subject of reincarnation in relation to an 1883 pocket watch I purchased. A primary reason for buying that particular watch was because I felt an inexplicable attraction toward a woman whose photograph was contained inside the case.

Inanna said that if I believed in reincarnation, my attraction could be explained easily. The explanation being, I had known this woman in a previous life. I replied that I neither believed nor disbelieved in reincarnation. I said that sometimes it seemed to me I had an opinion on just about everything, but was convinced about very few things. Skeptical about everything; discounting nothing. I said a story told about a priest attempting to convert a Viking to Christianity might explain the structure of my personal system of belief.

I tried, but cannot recall the source of the tale, and have too many books to spend any amount of time looking for it but, in substance, this is the story:

A priest was attempting to convince a Viking to renounce the "old (pagan) gods" and to accept Christianity. After much discussion, the Viking still stubbornly refused to accept baptism.

The priest then asked the Viking what it was about the "old gods" that led him to believe in them.

To which, the Viking replied that while he did accept the role of the "old gods" in his society, he did not, himself, believe in their existence.

The priest next asked the Viking, "In what, then, do you believe?"

To which, the Viking replied, "I believe in the strength of my own right arm."

The story seemed clear to me. The man believed in what he knew with absolute certainty to exist, with what had been personally proven to him to be real -- something he could see and feel and test. Rather a nihilistic point of view. This might be considered a "primitive" position to hold today in the 21st Century, considering the "advancement of knowledge" during the last 1,000 years.

However, when one enters the realm of the "unknown," it seems to me that an individual basically has two choices. He must either choose between faith in an abstract concept or in acknowledgement of what is provable. A third alternative, when circumstances are applicable, is to be an agnostic and to admit you simply do not know the answer. You might have an opinion, but you do not know the answer. Possibly you will know some day, but you do not know right at this moment. I am agnostic about many things, not just religion. I do not know why so many people have a difficult time saying those words: "I do not know."

For me, one of the more enjoyable ways to spend leisure time is discussing personal beliefs with another individual. Generally speaking, people do less and less of this when they move out of the educational system and into the world of career employment. Too busy, they say. Sure, that is true, but more often, I think, too frightened or too narrow-minded. No wonder so many people end up alone.

The last couple of paragraphs of this segment turned out sort of klutzy, but what the heck.

Music Note: Currently listening to Pearl Jam ....
Specifically, "Ten" ....
(Not really a fan, but some of their stuff is good)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Searching again for the eternal flame ....

How could anyone ever forget Gillian Holroyd? Is she Ms. Perfect?

But I just know I've seen her somewhere before!

"I want to love you but I better not
touch (Don't touch)
I want to hold you but my senses
tell me to stop
I want to kiss you but I want it too
much (Too much)"

Alice Cooper
From his song: "Poison"

Where, oh, where does Ms. Perfect reside? Who, oh, who might Ms. Perfect be? When, oh, when will I encounter Ms. Perfect? What, oh, what will Ms. Perfect be like?

As you may have guessed, my thoughts are returning to my quest for the eternal flame, otherwise known as the "ideal woman."

I seem to remember one particular movie with one particular witch that I couldn't turn my eyes away from .... yes, Gillian. Yes, "Gil" Holroyd. The movie was "Bell, Book and Candle." Very attractive. Very bright. Very witch-like.

The idea of setting up camp with a witch is compelling. If you want to go canoeing and it's raining, just produce a box of chocolates and trade it with her for a sunny day. If you're overworked and underpaid, just ask her to plant an idea in the boss' head -- like a million dollar bonus -- and offer to split the cash. If you have an urge to eat Russian caviar, she'll probably go for the idea and there would be no necessity for an exchange. In fact, instead of snapping her fingers and bringing it to us, she probably would twirl her wand and instantly transport the two of us to a place such as Derbent. There, we could enjoy the "real" Russian caviar, chased with a (very large) sniffer of the local brandy. There, we could spend the day searching for the Gates of Alexander. There, we could sail the Caspian .... whoops, I'm allowing my mind to wander unfettered .... but, well, who knows? I might even start smoking again long enough to indulge myself with a cigarette or two of Russian tobacco.

All through the movie, I kept wondering if Gillian had a sister. I knew I'd seen someone who looks just like her somewhere before. The question still is nagging me. Did Gillian have a sister?

I know. She looks just like Madeleine Elster. You remember, don't you? Judy Barton. The woman in "Vertigo." Yes, remember the movie, "Vertigo?" Gillian and Madeleine/Judy just have to be sisters, maybe even twin sisters. I wonder if they're both witches ....

Well, back to the discussion at hand. I suppose finding a real witch would be pretty difficult these days. I suspect they have to lead sheltered lives and remain in the shadows to avoid the politically correct epidemic. Probably not a good idea to settle down with a witch, anyway. If she ever were to get angry at you, she might decide to transport you up the creek without a paddle.

Hark! Do I hear the Sirens singing their song?

More than one-half of February has come and gone. Spring is approaching (finally), and my thoughts dwell more and more on a change of scenery. At minimum, a lengthy vacation. At most, relocation to a sunnier clime. And, the direction I seem to be drifting is toward making a very large leap.

I've visited a few other countries, but never resided in one. (Military occupation does not count as residency, in my book.) Beyond the obvious, major news stories about this and that in foreign lands, I really do not know any details regarding the current state of affairs anywhere other than in the U.S.

I do know that I absolutely dislike what is happening inside the U.S. Economic conditions like those occurring right now do not develop overnight. Many people blame eight years of George Bush in the presidency for the problems America is facing, but anyone who actually has a sense of history knows we have experienced 16 consecutive years of fiscal irresponsibility, practiced both in the White House and in the halls of Congress, all the while with pretty much the same grandiose tax and spend policies being displayed by elected officials in state and local governments. Add to that corporate thievery and corruption, over-saturation of the market place, union greed and avarice, unlimited credit for any idiot who has any job, and two foreign wars to siphon away money needed at home -- well, add it all up and the course for economic collapse was clearly being chiseled in stone years ago.

Not since the Jonestown episode in Guyana has mass suicide been so popular. Fortunately, this time, so far, it only has been economic suicide. But now, with the Pied Piper in charge, my instincts tell me that the worst is still to come. Spending money that does not exist hardly is a viable solution for creating economic, political and social stability. All anyone who requires a road map need do is to pull out a copy of Edward Gibbons "... Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" to find one. Sounds corny, I know, but the truth often does.

Enough, enough. So, I'm more than a little dissatisfied with the "change" being initiated by the new administration to combat the problems created by the past two. So what? So, to borrow from the old cliché, "love it or leave it" -- I believe that I will, at least for a long, long vacation from it.

But to where, to where? That is the question. Somewhere with a distinctly more pleasant climate -- and, I'm not just referring to the weather. Somewhere around the Mediterranean? Those words have an appealing ring to them. Is that the call of the Sirens I hear?

Music Note: Once more listening to a classic rock station on the radio ....

Monday, February 16, 2009

How does one explain links to the past?

Fram's "somewhere in time" watch. It has a solid gold case and was made in 1883. It contains photographs of, presumably, a mother (visible) and her daughter. Remember, my photography is for illustrative purposes and not designed to be "pretty," so please don't grade it.

From "Somewhere in Time"
Until "Time and Again"

The movie, "Somewhere in Time," with Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour and Christopher Plummer, was on television Saturday evening. I've seen parts of it before, but on this occasion I spotted it just as it was beginning. I was hooked inside the first minute or two.

The movie is based on a 1975 novel by Richard Matheson. I've never read the book. Maybe I will now. A curious element to the movie was the use of the name G. Finney as a supporting character to Reeve's protagonist, Richard Collier. Finney is a professor whose students had included Collier. As the story develops, Finney explains his theory and technique of time travel to Collier. The curious element is that the theory is darn near verbatim to that developed by Jack Finney in his 1970 novel, "Time and Again." My assumption is that there was a gentleman's agreement between the two authors, otherwise the accusation of plagiarism most certainly would have been hurled.

One of the elements of "Time and Again" is a man traveling back to 1882 as part of a secret government project, and falling in love with a woman living back there/back then. The only element to "Somewhere in Time" is a love story. A young man meets an elderly woman, eventually learning they had fallen in love in 1912. He sets out to travel back there/back then to meet her. The technique for accomplishing the feat of time travel was the same in both stories.

"Time and Again" is one of my all-time, favorite books. I don't suppose academia will ever qualify it as literature, but it is in my mind, plus, it's a fascinating story. Finney's follow-up novel was titled, "From Time to Time." It is tedious, and not nearly so good as the first book. My impression is that the sequel was composed primarily of research material Finney did not use and had left over from "Time and Again."

I cannot say I've ever fallen in love with anyone from the past, but I once felt enough of an inexplicable attraction to a photograph of a woman in an old pocket watch to the degree that I bought it. Well, it's not quite that simple. I'm not exactly a collector of old watches, but I do have five old wrist watches and six old pocket watches, the newest of which is 1923 and the oldest of which is 1877.

My "somewhere in time" watch is an ornate, barrel-style, 14 karat hunter-cased Elgin that dates to 1883. I later added a chain, a $5.00 gold piece from 1843, a pen knife and a bezel to hold the coin, in order to make myself a complete "outfit." Like the watch, all the accessories are 14 karat. (Who thinks guys don't pamper themselves?)

The woman in the photo in the watch looks to be a typical, average, ordinary, 30ish housewife from that era. There is another photo in the back of the watch that has been damaged beyond recognition other than to be able to tell it was a portrait of a curly-haired, blonde girl, presumably her daughter.

This particular watch, I was told, had been in a safe deposit box for more than 50 years, and had been part of an estate sale. Other than that, no information was publicly available. This is an instance of "lost in time," at least for a generation. I had been planning to put together such a rig for a couple of years before I actually did and, consequently, had been keeping my eyes open for a watch "right for me." The selling point on this particular item was my attraction to the woman in the photo. Explain it if you can, for I cannot.

The name "Fram" fits me just fine ....

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages."

William Shakespeare
"As You Like It" Act 2, scene 7, 139-143

My "stage name" is Fram. I took it because it is the Norwegian word meaning "forward" and because it is the name of a much-traveled ship.

Fram is the wooden ship generally considered to have sailed both the farthest north and the farthest south. Fridtjof Nansen purposely allowed his Fram to freeze into the Arctic ice pack in 1893, hoping it would drift to the North Pole. It did not. Roald Amundsen, the first to reach the South Pole, used the ship for his Antarctic expedition of 1910. The Fram is now housed in a museum in Norway. Some day, I should like to stand next to it for an hour or two, and listen to it whisper its story to me.

Not having a ship of my own, I placed the name of Fram on my canoe which, while not having been in polar waters, has taken me on many lengthy river and lake excursions. My canoe has granted me permission to use its name for internet purposes. The name fits both of us well.

Music Note: Currently listening to a classic rock station on the radio .... in the mood for a variety of sounds this evening ....

Sunday, February 15, 2009

There is sarcasm and there is SARCASM ....

Ambrose Bierce in 1866. After the war, before the writing.

Spending an afternoon
with the master of the invective

There are days when I think sarcasm rules the contemporary world. Sarcasm, satire, cynicism, skepticism -- you get the picture. But then, I think of "Bitter Bierce," and I know everyone since him has been nothing more than a pretentious amateur.

The master of invective writing was Ambrose Bierce.

Here is a brief (and probably boring) biography: Bierce was born on June 24, 1842, in Horse Cave, Ohio. He was the 10th of 13 children. The primary influences in his early life were his father, his father's library and an uncle, General Lucius Bierce. He briefly attended the Kentucky Military Institute.

Bierce enlisted in the Ninth Indiana Infantry at the outbreak of the Civil War, just before his 19th birthday. His battle record is remarkable, and includes Philippi, Shiloh, Corinth, Stones River, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge and Franklin. He suffered a severe head wound at Kennesaw Mountain in 1864, and was hospitalized for months. After the war, he was part of a small military inspection group that, on horseback and by wagon, crossed Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana, and then turned south to California. The places he saw and the people he met on the way could fill a book, but he wrote hardly a word of this incredible journey.

His writing habits changed during the next four decades. Bierce wrote dozens of short stories (perhaps the best known is, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," hundreds of essays and a few thousand newspaper columns -- among other things. His most recognizable work probably is, "The Devil's Dictionary." He lived in England for a few years. For a few months, he was manager of a gold mine in the Black Hills of South Dakota. But, he spent most of his adult life living and working in San Francisco.

In the fall of 1913, Bierce paid a final visit to a number of his old Civil War battlefields. His plan was to enter Mexico, find Pancho Villa and witness first-hand the Mexican revolution. He passed over the Mexican border in late autumn, and wrote one last letter on December 26. Bierce then disappeared. He was 71 years of age. Despite the many rumors and hypotheses concerning his death, nothing substantial is known about his final living days on earth.

Some biographies of Bierce's life include: "Alone in Bad Company," by Roy Morris, Jr. (1995); "Bitter Bierce," by C. Hartley Grattan (1929); and "Portrait of Ambrose Bierce," by Adolphe de Castro (1929). One of the more entertaining (if not accurate) accounts about the disappearance of Bierce is a work of fiction entitled, "Old Gringo," by Carlos Fuentes. A very well done movie of that novel was made with Gregory Peck as Bierce. Jane Fonda and Jimmy Smits had supporting roles.

Now, why am I writing about Bierce? I have no idea, other than to say that for the past few days I've really been thinking about sarcasm, satire, cynicism and skepticism, and it's relevance to contemporary society and, once again, "Bitter Bierce" is the all-time master of the invective. Maybe someone will read this commentary and become interested enough in Bierce to read some of his short stories. He wrote a number of them I would consider classics.

He is such a fascinating and perplexing character that I would include him on my list of the three people from history (from "before my time") who I would most like to interview. All right. To be honest, by interview I mean to spend an afternoon with him, asking him questions and listening to him talk about his life, while we both proceed to get drunk. Guy thing; reporter thing; truth-teller thing.

From "The Devil's Dictionary," by Ambrose Bierce:

ABSURDITY, n. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one's own opinion.

ELOQUENCE, n. The art of orally persuading fools that white is the color that it appears to be. It includes the gift of making any color appear white.

CYNIC, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision.

CONSERVATIVE, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

Music Note: None; currently sort of watching "Somewhere in Time" on television ....

Saturday, February 14, 2009

It wasn't Valentine's Day, but that was OK ....

A tale of beer, bar stools & beauty
at the establishment known as Maynard's

"All the leaves are brown
And the sky is gray
I've been for a walk
On a winter's day"

"I'd be safe and warm
If I was in L.A.
California dreamin'
On such a winter's day"

There we go, or here we are, depending on the depth of one's perception. "California Dreaming" once was a popular song and remains a popular pastime, especially during a long, cold, snowy, northern winter.

It is time for another true story. For this epic tale, we will return to a bar I spoke of once before, Maynard's in La Jolla, California. At least, I think it was in La Jolla. Allow me to explain.

As you possibly surmised, my excursions in and around California were associated with the military. For a time, I spent most of my days at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, across the bay from San Diego. (Sometimes, the days were spent not so much on the base as in water -- in the bay or in the ocean.)

My initial off-base excursion began with myself and the three musketeers going into "Dago," boarding a bus and proceeding up the coast until we reached "friendly" territory. On the way, we had passed a sign that read, La Jolla. There, we "disembarked" the bus and "launched a reconnaissance patrol" along the beach, looking for a suitable location to establish our "base camp." All right, enough of that.

We found such a spot at a hotel, whose name I have forgotten, mostly because I promptly christened it the "Hotel California." Somewhere in the neighborhood was a bar which went by the name of Maynard's. I think these things were in La Jolla, but I have a tendency to lose track of precisely where I am when wandering in a metro area so, in matter of fact, I have no clue exactly how far up the beach we actually trekked before establishing our "perimeter." We spent more than a few weekends on the beach there, contemplating the nature of life, and in the hotel, searching the mostly abandoned floors for ghosts of days long past.

One Sunday evening, three of us were seated in Maynard's for a final beer or two before returning "home" to Coronado. For whatever reason (moody, I would guess now), I had left our booth and was seated at the bar while my two comrades remained in the booth. We three, along with the bartender and a man and a young lady in another booth, were the only occupants that evening.

I was sort of leaning forward with my elbows on the bar, looking sort of downward, clutching my bottle of beer with both hands, absolutely lost in thought about who knows what, when suddenly, without warning, an unknown object lashed me across my face, stinging sharply, and encircled itself round my head. It covered my eyes and blocked my vision.

My reaction was like lightning. I came off my bar stool swinging, my fists striking out wildly, here, there, everywhere. Then, I heard my compatriots' laughter coming from behind me. I reached up with one hand and pulled the mysterious object down from around my eyes. There, before me, on the bar stool immediately next to the one upon which I had been seated, was the young lady from the neighboring booth. She was stripping to the beat of the music coming from the juke box. The mystery object which had wrapped itself round my head and covered my eyes was her bra.

I stood there, in admiration and appreciation, watching her for a few moments. Then, the young lady's companion left his booth, came over, picked her blouse up from the floor, placed an arm around her bare legs (her jeans were by now down to her ankles), pulled her from the bar stool and slung her over his shoulder.

"Sorry," the companion said to me calmly. "Two drinks and she's off and running."

I untwisted the young lady's bra from my face and handed it to the companion.

"Thanks," he said, and marched from Maynard's with the young lady over his shoulder, her upper body still twisting and turning to the sound of the music, her bare breasts swaying, and the biggest, prettiest smile in the world on her face.

Music Note: Listening to Styx ....
Specifically, "Return to Paradise" ....
("Lady" .... when you're with me I'm smiling)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Spies, writing and step-dads on my mind ....

Here, in the photo to the left, we see Ziva making short work of an agent for a terrorist organization. That's her on the right, coming in low with the "knockout" punch. What a woman. Never have to worry about muggers with her around. And, in the photo to the right, we get a better look at her. Rather petite, but a guy does not want to get on her bad side. It would be nice if she'd be willing to leave the ball cap in the closet.

Ever dated an Israeli Mossad agent?

While my mind is in turmoil and I struggle to remain cohesive in the fog somewhere above San Francisco, I think it is time to turn my attention toward determining exactly what type of woman would suit me the best. (Yes, I know it's a two-way street, but a guy has to start somewhere, and this hardly is an exact science. It takes time.)

How about someone like Ziva David, a character in the television show NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service)? Ziva is an Israeli Mossad Liason Officer attached to the American unit. Her persona is that of a woman who has been around men all her life and is not afraid of men under any circumstances.

This is a young lady who can throw a knife better than anyone since Jim Bowie and can shoot a handgun better than anyone since Dirty Harry. She can take out at least three guys in 30 seconds in hand-to-hand combat, she speaks three or four languages and she looks great in an evening dress. On a quiet Sunday afternoon, we could go outside into the yard and practice knife throwing or a bit of judo. I'll bet the neighborhood kids would love to have someone like Ziva around to play with -- rough and tumble and cute. Many fine attributes, indeed. A Ziva-type has a lot to offer, however, this does not mean she would not also have to be a bookworm who loves history and has no fear of canoeing into the middle of nowhere.

Well, while I contemplate the Ziva-type, in days to come I'll think of a few other possibilities which might match up well with me. (This is more fun than thinking about politicians.)

I don't care what you say, writing is work!

When I began this blog, I had no idea whether it would last more than a single day. (I think that happens to quite a few people.) So, I decided that no matter what, I would write at least a few words every day for the first month. I think I will make it, and then maybe swing into a "write as the mood strikes me" pattern. That is how many, if not most, bloggers seem to be doing it.

Writing has always been work for me, never done for pleasure or relaxation, as seems to be the case for many bloggers. Writing under deadline pressure or being limited to a certain number of words to explain all the relevant details of a particular event can take the fun out of the exercise. That probably is another reason I periodically will scout around for a "mock sabbatical."

Remembering old "step-dad's" music ....

My step-father (an informal title in this instance) lived on Long Island in New York for a decade or so before returning to Minnesota and settling down in the "old home town." While in the vicinity of the "The City," he managed to attend a number of Broadway productions, mostly musicals, and also more than a few operatic performances. He particularly enjoyed stuff from the 1940s and 1950s. The music caught on in my head from hearing his albums being played once or twice a week. Tonight, his influence is being displayed through the music to which I am listening.

Music Note: Listening to Mario Lanza ....
Specifically, "The Student Prince" ....
(Drink! Drink! Drink!)
(To eyes that are bright as stars when they're shining on me)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

More truth in poetry than in news stories ....

Politicians & reporters. Do not trust either.

How many times have you voted for a candidate for political government office because you had "trust" in the person? I never have.

Perhaps that goes back to cynicism. Most certainly, it goes to the role and responsibility of journalists. Journalists are (at least, once were) trained to be skeptics, doubters, investigators, fact seekers and objective to the best of their abilities. It is very obvious some journalists are better at these things than others.

Television reporting, by-in-large, is pretty pathetic. Many newspaper reporters are more suited for producing fiction than for pursuing the facts. This has never been truer than it is today. Over here, for example, stands a Republican candidate. Over there, stands a Democrat candidate. Each is presenting his political point of view. Inside that view are personal beliefs, personal ambitions, dollars and cents, pressures from constituents, arguments from lobbyists and friends, and a host of other elements. Between them stands the reporter. How can the average citizen learn which candidate is telling the "truth" and is being "honest" when the reporter has abandoned traditional journalistic precepts and is allowing his personal feelings to enter the story?

Journalists and politicians must maintain an adversarial role, I believe. That does not mean the relationship cannot be friendly, cordial and polite, and even have a sort of friendship exist between individuals in the two camps. It does mean that the journalist and the politician both need to understand it is a reporter's obligation to check the facts behind every word that comes out of a politician's mouth. Increasingly, this no longer is the case. Increasingly, fewer facts are emerging from the spin. Increasingly, there is no one left to trust. Increasingly, people have no choice but to follow candidates blindly.

Returning to the beginning of this commentary: I never have voted for a candidate because I "trust" the person. I vote for the individual who I think is best suited for the task at hand in terms of the conditions that exist at that particular point in time, and this is becoming a more difficult task with every election due to the disintegration of American journalism.

Discovering Emily & rescuing Percy's heart ….

I have no idea how many people browse the "world of blogs," either idly or in a pattern searching for common interests, but it really is a fascinating pastime. My brief periods of exploration the past few days have centered on poetry.

A few sites I have visited are primarily dedicated to one or more well-known poets. The other day, for example, I found one where Emily Dickinson was featured. There was a photo of Ms. Dickinson. Although one of my majors was English, I do not recall off hand ever seeing a photo of her before.

The lead poem on the page was this:

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

Where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

The simplicity, yet the depth of those few words, is breathtaking. I think I have gained a new and greater appreciation for Ms. Dickinson through my exploration of the blogs.

My own studies of verse have revolved mostly around the British poets of the 19th Century. Byron, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Coleridge and their brethren, to name a few. English major snobbery, I suppose.

The only recent American poet I ever took a close look at was James Dickey, and only then because I consider his novel, "Deliverance," to be a classic -- a heroic tale told in contemporary style and language. Besides that, it is about canoeing and the "Zen of archery."

Speaking of novels and British poets, may I recommend another of my favorites? It is, "The Missolonghi Manuscript," by Frederic Prokosch. Lord Byron spent the last few months of his life in Missolonghi in Greece, where he died at the age of 36 in 1824. This novel is presented as if it were the memoirs of the dying man, written as he reviews his entire life. Byron, in addition to being an author of the first order, literally was the Sean Connery/Jim Morrison/Brad Pitt of his time. Among the ingredients of the novel is an account of the death by drowning of Percy Shelley, his funeral pyre and the snatching of his heart from the flames as a macabre memento. Something for everyone.

Music Note: Listening to The Doors ....
Specifically, “Absolutely Live” ....
(Another California connection, featuring the Byron of his time)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Beatles, Boy Scouts & mock sabbaticals ....

Quote the Beatles:
"You say you got a real solution"

One thing seems explicitly clear to me. Other than corruption, the economic problems facing the U.S. today stem from a "shop until you drop habit" by individuals and, most particularly, by government (local, state and federal). To compound the problem, the shopping has been done largely with credit rather than real money.

Now, the President and most members of Congress actually think that having government extend and expand the shopping spree with still more credit buying will solve the economic problems. Well, maybe, maybe not.

The fascinating (one of my favorite words) element here is that neither the leaders nor the followers can accurately predict what the end result will be. The design of the scheme reveals an obvious step toward the massive redistribution of wealth, and there is nothing new about that. The Greeks did it successfully; the Romans did not fare so well and suffered 100 years of civil war. (Had redistribution gone well for the Romans, Julius Caesar might not have been assassinated, therefore, Shakespeare would not have written his play and, therefore, we would not have his most excellent piece of theater to enjoy.) The U.S. did redistribute wealth to a moderate extent in the 1930s, the 1960s and, some would say, resumed doing it again in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Personally, I think a revolution has begun. I hope I am around to witness it fully to the finish, to learn what shape of government evolves from it. (This might take a few decades.) As historian and philosopher Will Durant put it: "Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be savages again."

Truly risky business and, for sure, the next few years could be absolutely, positively fascinating. In the meantime, my "real solution:" Buy gold and diamonds, and vote historians to Congress rather than attorneys.

Like a good Boy Scout, "Be Prepared"

A few days ago, someone commented that my words had a cynical tone to them. My response was to say that I was born cynical.

I don't suppose I actually was born that way, but close, and my opinion is that working as a newspaper reporter has fostered a deepening cynicism. Think about it. I've covered a couple of murder trials, been to numerous crime and accident scenes, and become of aware of many instances of corruption, malfeasance, incompetence and conflict of interest in government and business. Sometimes, as a general news reporter, you are a witness to the best in people but, more often, you are exposed to the worst.

Some people lead very sheltered lives and try to avoid hearing or reading negative news. They might go so far as to block out the words of someone who disagrees with them on political, religious or any number of issues. Fine for them, but between natural curiosity and a measure of cynicism born from exposure to the world as it is, I want to be aware of everything and anything which might affect my life. I know, from experience, that lightning does occasionally strike, harshly, mercilessly, sometimes in the form of nature, sometimes in the form of another human being. I want to be prepared physically and mentally as best I am able should such a thing happen near me.

I guess that means while some might consider me a cynic, I would say I utilize my cynicism as a tool to be a realist. Remember the Boy Scout motto.

It might be time for a "mock sabbatical"

Just to find out what is going on in the newspaper employment market, I checked out "" today. Six openings in Florida, six openings in California, no openings in Minnesota. This website has been filled to the brim with newspaper openings in the past. What does that tell you? It tells me that any changes for me might involve another "mock sabbatical," which, actually, would be welcome.

Music Note: Listening to Scorpions ....
Specifically, "The Best of Scorpions" ....
(One of my favorites, "Still Loving You")
(Deutsche kennen gute Musik)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lost some place between poetry, love and bar stools ....

A couple of days ago, I mentioned the "Sanctuary/Refuge" that once was mine but no longer is. This view of the countryside was taken from the deck of the house. My photography is for illustrative purposes and not designed to be "pretty," so please don't grade it.

Speaking of photography, and poets, too ....

Of the three best friends I have had in my life, one is a professional photographer. He does take graduation photos and wedding photos, but he derives a large portion of his income from selling photos to publications. He doesn't travel far and wide to take his photos, either. His range generally is about 200 miles from his home. He asks what I consider to be a ridiculous amount of money for his "snapshots" and, more often than not, he gets it.

Applying that concept to the "world of blogs," I see several photographers who have followers, but rarely see many (if any) followers associated with the bloggers who are offering poetry.

The difference between being an "average" photographer and a "good" photographer is, in my opinion, a short leap and mostly a technological leap, ranging from cameras and lens to darkrooms and computers. Sure, a good eye is required, but basically a bit of practice and quality gear can turn most people into excellent photographers.

The same is not true for a poet. Everything that has anything to do with being a poet comes from inside the person. Technology has nothing to do with it. This is why poets, so often the unappreciated and the unpaid, should be among the people who are appreciated (and, perhaps, valued) the most, I think.

This is not to detract from photography. Rather, it is to suggest we all might benefit from reading more poetry, thinking about those written words created from the depths of human psyche, and applauding the people who create them.

Friends & lovers, outside of marriage ....

I think it was Ernest Hemingway who said (or wrote) words to the effect that a man and a woman could not be friends without becoming lovers, as well. In high school, I was a Hemingway worshipper but, in expressing that notion, I believe old Ernie clearly was incorrect. (By the time I was in the midst of college, incidentally, I was discovering there were better novelists than he.)

Of the three best friends I mentioned earlier, one was a woman. Our friendship began in a typical way, as work mates, spending hours together most days. We came very close to becoming lovers on more than one occasion. It was something we discussed, also on more than one occasion. We agreed it might wreck our friendship if we became physically entangled as well as emotionally and spiritually so. We both were married to other people at the time, and part of our decision revolved around not wishing to risk hurting them.

We had great fun with our friendship. There were times we would start grappling with each other on bar stools (or another public setting) and then, abruptly, look up, look around, act startled, leap from the stools and run for the entrance. Outside, we would figuratively fall down laughing.

She is gone now. Cancer took her down and forever put her away. Sometimes, I think we made a mistake by not becoming lovers, too. Who is to say? I wonder how often all of us think we are doing the right thing and, unknowingly, we might be doing the wrong thing.

Music Note: Currently listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter ....
Specifically, "Come On Come On" ....
("Passionate Kisses" -- I'm retrospective tonight)

Something special ....