Saturday, June 23, 2018

HURLING CAUTION TO THE WIND – My Entry in the Seasickness Horror Story Contest

Few topics are so sure to breathe life into stale cocktail-party chitchat as these: tornadoes, nightmare bosses, cockroaches…

…and seasickness.

I first realized I was prone to motion sickness when, at the age of nine, my parents took me and my brother to Mexico. As our driver, Jorge, wound his way up into the hills west of Mexico City, I started getting queasy. Before long I was hunched over by the side of the road—vehicles with whole families in them slowed to get a better look—heaving my guts out.

I stumbled back into the back seat. Dad assured me I’d be more comfortable if I kept my eyes on the horizon instead of reading or playing games with my brother. He was right.

With that lesson in mind, I’ve suffered very few recurrences of my car-sickness.

     I wasn’t even aware of any motion. After all,
     we were on a river…and still at the dock.

In boats, though, it’s a different story. No amount of fresh air or horizon fixation can spare me the ravages of seasickness. It’s so bad that I once got sick aboard a large, double-decker excursion boat on the tranquil, glass-smooth Illinois River.

It was a wedding reception. I’d just boarded, walked up to the top, open-air deck, and was enjoying my first drink when I first noticed the signs. I wasn’t even aware of any motion. After all, we were on a river…and still at the dock.

But sure enough, as I looked overboard down the side of the boat, I could see she was rocking ever so slightly against the pilings—apparently the tag ends of swells were working their way up the river from Lake Michigan. I don’t think it was more than a couple of inches, but it was enough. I got off, watched them pull away and spent the rest of the sightseeing cruise lying on a park bench.

          It sounded like the hull would surely
          splinter from the pounding.

The worst episode I’ve experienced—one that usually does quite well in the inevitable, “oh, that’s nothing, I….” contest at a cocktail party—occurred on North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound.

I’d been sailing for several days with my girlfriend, her brother and his wife, heading northeast along the Inland Waterway from Camp Lejeune to the charming Outer Banks town of Ocracoke. There we docked and spent a lovely afternoon, intending to head back the way we came the next morning.

But overnight, a big storm rolled in. At 8:00 AM, trying to cast off from the pier, we simply couldn’t budge the boat, held fast against the bumpers by the steady wind. Just up the bay was the Coast Guard station whose double-triangle flags informed us we were in the grip of a gale—meaning winds ranged from 39 to 54 miles per hour. We weren’t going anywhere.

The second morning, despite the continuing force-seven winds, our skipper, a Marine Corps officer, declared he absolutely had to get back to Camp Lejeune that day. So, soliciting help from the crews of nearby boats, we managed to separate ourselves from the dock and set sail—well reefed—across the 30-mile-wide Pamlico Sound for the mainland.

Even knowing we’d be on the Inland Waterway our whole trip, I’d been smart enough to bring Dramamine. So, half an hour before we left Ocracoke, I’d taken a full 100-mg. dose. Once beyond the relative shelter of the harbor, the boat was lifted ten to twelve feet on each wave crest only to plunge thunderously into the following trough. It sounded like the hull would surely splinter from the pounding.

And it was abundantly clear the Dramamine was not going to work.

Because Pamlico’s quite a shallow body of water for its width, the normal rolling swell from a storm there builds into taller, sharper waves, many of which actually break. I could barely hold my footing to vomit over the side, and, after I thought I’d emptied my stomach, I went below decks to lie down.

But that was just the beginning of my ordeal. My girlfriend had been thoughtful enough to bring me a plastic bucket. I don’t think she realized it was the boat’s bilge bucket, and that it reeked of diesel fuel. This, of course, triggered yet another bout of heaving, by now nearly dry.

The dry heaves continued unabated for another four-and-a-half hours, easing only when we finally motored into the marina. It took a full day before I started feeling normal again.

It was many years before I once again dared going to sea. My incentive: you can’t catch a marlin from shore. The reason it was even possible: my discovery of “the patch”—the transdermal version of the drug scopolamine (hyoscene).

I put a patch on that little bump of bone right behind my ear about an hour before hitting the water, and I’m good to go. In fact, the medication in one patch keeps reminding my inner ear that it’s on secure footing for three days. The only side effect for me is an all-day case of dry mouth.

Okay, now I’ll open myself up to a little of that one-upmanship. What’s your worst motion sickness horror story? Leave a comment here or lay it on me on Facebook.

Friday, June 8, 2018

WHAT’S GOING AROUND HERE? / Curious Things That Spin

What does a tequila bottle have to do with spinning?
More than you might imagine; read on...

Ok, a little free-association game: What first comes to mind when you hear the word “spin? For me, it’s spin the bottle, that mortifying little kissing game we played as kids.

Now if you were to approach this a little differently, the question might be, what’s the first thing a kid would think of to play with a glass bottle? Knock it over? Fill it with water or sand? Mold mud around it? But spin it?

Turns out there are all kinds of things that spin, including many you’d never think of unless—like the incurable kid that endures deep inside all of us—you just try them.

Among my most spectacular spinning discoveries:

THE LID OF MY FAVORITE SAUCEPAN – We have this one stainless steel pan—I’ve had it for forty-plus years—whose lid nestles nicely into a channel around the rim. When something’s simmering in that pan the escaping steam turns the lid into a sort of hovercraft; when I rotate the knob, the whole thing turns nearly frictionlessly, riding on the steam and lubricated by a coating of water in the channel. My record so far: 18 seconds.

– A friend recently gave me a bottle of Trader Joe’s tequila. Now I’ve emptied my share of exquisitely-designed tequila bottles, but my focus is normally on what’s inside.

That can change, however, when one has consumed a few caballitos of the stuff. With the Trader Joe’s nectar, what ultimately grabbed my inner child’s attention was the simple, pleasant-to-handle cork-and-wooden-ball stopper.

While chatting one night, I was idly fiddling with that stopper, and just happened to put it, knob down, on the counter and torque the cork as if I were spinning a top.

Not surprisingly, it did spin, but what I wasn’t ready for was just how well, how long and, well, how comically. (Be sure to watch till the thing stops moving.)


– I eat ridiculous quantities of yogurt. One day I took off the translucent plastic lid of a Dannon 32-ounce tub and set it down on the counter. I guess I must have glanced the edge of it while reaching for a bowl. It rotated quite easily. I tried it again, this time with more intention, and it kept going for well over 30 seconds.

My guess is that these lids are injection molded. One result of that process is a little nipple of plastic jutting up in the exact center of the circle. The thing is so precisely made, so perfectly balanced, that when the lid spins on that axis, its outer rim barely touches the counter. With so little friction, it just keeps going and going…and going.

So what spinning oddities have you discovered? Keep you eyes open and your 10-year-old’s appetite for play well whet and chances are you’ll come across a few possibilities.

Then, go ahead, just give it a whirl!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


It’s my first day this still-young spring/summer out in my canoe on the lovely
St. Croix River.

I love hitting the water on weekdays like this when fewer people are out here. Today, I’ve seen fewer than a dozen, most in quiet canoes and kayaks. Much of the time, there’s no one in sight—in fact, no sign this couldn’t be a mid-May day a century or two ago.

How liberating it is, how celebratory of life’s sweet privilege, flipping my trusty old Mansfield down to the water, stepping in and paddling away. I think I feel more comfortable, more competent, handling this little wooden canoe in the water than
I do walking on dry land. That’s how much at home I feel here.

Clumps of grass and other flotsam drape like Spanish moss from trees overhanging the bank. The highest of them bring to mind the image of waters, perhaps just a month ago, swirling six feet over my head. But today’s water level is perfect—low enough to expose a few small sand beaches and bars; high enough to afford access to shallow backwaters.

Today’s cast of characters out here is pretty much the same as when I plied these waters as a boy: great blue herons, bald eagles, beavers, muskrats, turtles, clams and scores of other critters seen and unseen. I wonder how many are direct descendants, perhaps eight or more generations removed, of the very beings I communed with back then.

All afternoon I’m buffeted by gusty southerly winds. Even against the current they nudge me upstream with ease. (Heading back again will be a different story.) The wind makes fishing a challenge; I’m barely able to get in one cast at some targets before being blown out of range. At this rate, I could probably just let my line out and troll without paddling a stroke.

Just the second cast of my Mepps buck-tail spinner fools a forearm-sized northern pike.
A nuisance really, but I can’t just horse it in on my ultralight spinning gear. If smallmouth bass are the grab-and-run foxes of the game- fish world, pike are the ravenous wolves. This one, like most, has engulfed my lure, which sits deep in its mouth, past rows of needle-
sharp teeth.
I’ve developed something like a surgical protocol for this clash point between my love of this sport and my empathy for the fish. Jaw clamp, mouth spreader and forceps working in tandem, I reach in and jiggle free the hooks. If that takes more than a minute or so, I perform the closest thing I know to pike CPR, moving the fish back and forth in the water to force water through its gills. I hold it till it swims away—the more angrily, the better.

               It both pleases and concerns me
               that the beaver’s not alarmed.

Heading into my favorite meandering slough, I escape much of the wind. As I coax my canoe around the first bend I’m aware of a presence. Twenty yards to my left, a young beaver lumbers unbothered down the bank and into its element. I anticipate the instinctual tail slap and dive.

Instead, the wet, furry lump swims toward me and then weaves side to side among felled branches, eyeing, at what seems little more than arms' length, what he must take as one strange vertical creature astride some kind of huge green turtle. It both pleases and concerns me that he’s not alarmed.

Muskrats, too, glide along the shore, some with mouthfuls of soft green grass to feather their nests. They take little interest in me. Mosquitoes, however, do. Even in broad daylight, even with a decent breeze, they’re out. I can handle a few, but this doesn’t bode well for my tender skin come dusk.

Working the rocky shoreline with well-placed casts, I hook up with several more voracious pike. I’m beginning to see this as another in a string of signs I’ve noticed over the past few years that the cold streams and springs feeding this river may no longer be up to the task of keeping it a cool-water habitat.

Like the growing numbers of large-mouth bass and sunfish I’ve been catching recently. These are warm-water species, ones one associates with weedy, bathwater lakes, not clear, free-flowing rivers.

But then I tie into a dapper, foot-long smallie, with those distinctive dark rays emanating back from its reddish eye…and then another…and another—this last one a real test for my four-pound-test monofilament. I’m encouraged, for I fear the disappearance of these handsome fish could signal the end of the St. Croix as I’ve always known it.

I’m spotting lots of waterfowl today: Canada geese and several strains of ducks. I try not to look threatening, but the geese posture and scold me anyway as I glide past, Then I notice the trains of little flaxen feather balls traipsing behind each pair. I hope they’ll be safe tonight as hungry coyotes prowl.

    Soon there are five voices—each distinct 
    in tone and cadence—wrapping me in their 
    haunting refrain.

As sure as gravity, the hours have pulled the sun down into the treetops, and I begin wending my way slowly back the way I came.

Dusk’s gradual descent has sapped the wind. I picture the air as a liquid, slowing, cooling, settling in pools throughout the woods around me. Now every sound is caught and amplified in its thick stillness.

The rhythmic anthem of a barred owl stirs that fertile air to my left. I do my best to answer, and another owl joins the chorus from my right. I continue my feeble imitation and soon there are five voices—each slightly different in tone and cadence—wrapping me in their haunting refrain.


I have—albeit rarely—heard loons on the St. Croix, but they’re not typical of the soundscape here. These owls, though, with their characteristic eight-note lament, come pretty close in their chilling, exotic effect.

On that sublime note, I’m ready to head back up to the Franconia landing and home. Now, with the cooling air concentrating the heat and carbon dioxide I exude, the mozzies have caught a whiff and are on me in force. I’ve not seem them this thick—or this big—for years. Before running the gauntlet, I break out my new Repel lemon-eucalyptus repellent.

I’m anxious to see how this botanical formula compares with the more controversial DEET-based repellents I’ve used. Sure enough, the pleasant-smelling stuff manages to keep the little buggers off, but just barely. Still, they swarm around me, hovering barely an inch from my skin. It’s all I can do not to inhale them. I wonder how other animals, without the benefit of chemicals or hands, cope with this version of death by a thousand cuts.

As I approach that last bend before river’s main channel, there’s Mr. Beaver again, atop a log perch. This time, he barely looks up from his green-willow supper. I extend my silent thanks—and, I hope, a blessing—to him and the other gentle beings I’ve met today. After all, this is their house, and I’ve been merely their guest.

I hope it’s not presumptuous to say I’ll be back.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

INTERSECTIONS – Where Intention and Magic Meet

As I continue exploring my inner and outer worlds for glimpses of what’s real, important and true, it dawns on me how much of significance in my life occurs at its intersections.

I see intersections as those times, places, events or states of mind at which whatever personal and/or spiritual energy we manifest coincides with that of other people or that of the Cosmos. This can and does happen accidentally, but it also happens deliberately.

Without getting all “new agey” on you, I do believe that many good things happen accidentally, but that we can cultivate this karma—if only we could stop trying so hard to make what we want happen...and simply let it happen.

James Redfield, author of the groundbreaking 1993 novel, The Celestine Prophecy, says it quite well:
"For centuries, religious scriptures, poems, and philosophies have pointed to a latent power of mind within all of us that mysteriously helps to affect what occurs in the future. It has been called faith power, positive thinking, and the power of prayer. We are now taking this power seriously enough to bring a fuller knowledge of it into public awareness. We are finding that (it) is a field of intention, which moves out from us and can be extended and strengthened, especially when we connect with others in a common vision."

Redfield refers to coincidence as the opening of doors. He says that when we are at our best—operating from our most secure, creative, aware inner cores—we give off a sort of cosmic “aura” of energy that everyone and every thing responds to, and that this causes those doors of opportunity to open spontaneously. For example, he describes how often, while searching for something—an idea, an inspiration or something more tangible like an ally or even just some help—that very gift has miraculously presented itself to him.

Another brilliant proponent of tapping the interconnectivity of the Universe for what we want and need is the great comic actor Jim Carrey. Carrey feels each of us creates our own universe, one in which faith is infinitely more powerful than hope.

He describes that faith brilliantly in a college graduation address he delivered a few years ago. Here's a link to some excerpts:  Maharishi University Speech 

     You sincerely put what you want out there
     for the Universe to digest, and it conspires
     with your own best efforts to make it happen.

So, are these just the Utopian ramblings of an eccentric man with the luxury of being able to ponder the metaphysical? Jim Carrey—and I, for that matter—are indeed so lucky. But to dismiss as idle whimsy our shared belief that celestial providence aligns many of the intersections in our lives is simply a denial of how things really work.

In our business and professional lives, success is most certainly all about intersections, about recognizing opening doors. Any successful  enterprise has to think long and hard about where its values and interests will intersect with those of their constituent/customers—both at the organizational level and personally. The best of them constantly look  to distinguish themselves by anticipating the future and being first to step through doorways that lead there.

And in personal relationships, even within the bonds of family life, being aware and responsive to some degree of serendipity is not only practical, it makes us kinder, gentler people, and the world a better place. You sincerely put what you want out there for the Universe to digest, and it conspires with your own best efforts to make it happen.

Many of the world’s most successful, inspirational people follow this mantra whether they realize it or not. Sure, a few fat-cat business moguls may eschew the Redfield or Carrey cosmic, touchy-feely interpretation, but you can bet they do believe in the power of having a vision and never letting go. Same thing.

       If one should happen to summon some
       players and powers from beyond the veil
       of earthly "reality," so much the better.

The 90-something mother of my friend, Charlie, posthumously, in her self-written memorial service, noted her belief that human beings—at least those of us open to the possibility—regularly encounter “thin spots” in the self-made barrier between our largely mundane daily busy-ness and other, more transcendental realities.

As a minister, Molly felt it was her job to encourage people’s awareness of those convergences, because, among other reasons, they are “good places to find God.”

Have you ever experienced one of those thin spots in your life? A place where different dimensions of reality inexplicably merge? Did you have any sense of being in the presence of your higher power?

Whatever our own hopes and aspirations, each of us should be in the business of helping other people also achieve theirs. I suggest that if we keep our eyes and hearts open for opportunities to do this—the opening doors, the thin spots—not only others’ dreams, but our own—and everything else that’s important—fall into place.

And if, along the way, one should happen to summon some players and powers from beyond the veil of earthly "reality," so much the better.

“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m the proof that you can ask the universe for it.” ~ JIM CARREY

Sunday, April 22, 2018


A month ago, this soil was frozen over three feet deep. Just last week it gasped under 16 inches of snow.

At long last, like so many eager chicks bent on freedom, spring flowers—daffodil, iris, Siberian squill—peck through earth’s crumbly shell, beaks agape for spring’s soft rain and sun. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018


It’s been a long, long winter in Minnesota—up here on what we like to call the Arctic Tundra. Both the first freezing temperature and the first measurable snowfall occurred in early November. Since then temps have fallen below zero Fahrenheit 24 days, and on four of them never climbed above zero even during the day.

For the season, over 78 inches (6 1/2 feet) of snow have fallen here—two-and-a-half feet above average—with this April already setting the all-time record for most snowfall during the month—and there’s still over a week left.

The ice-out date for most of the lakes around here averages early April, with the latest ever recorded at Lake Minnetonka May 5, 1857. This year, looks like we may be giving that record a run for its money.

          I plan on getting out there to soak up
          some radiant heat from that strange,
          glowing orb in the sky.

Statistics are interesting, but forgettable. What really sticks with us are the experiences. Like leaving for our annual month in Mexico during a raging blizzard, and then returning—with every expectation we’d come home to green grass and tulips in bloom—to another blizzard.

Like my underestimating the severity of a forecast winter storm and finding myself all but snowed in at my studio with no option but to take on nearly a foot of unplowed snow and near white-out visibility on my way home…twice. Each time, I managed to avoid hills, fend off other, inexperienced winter drivers, and maintain the critical head of steam through intersections that try to grab you like white tar pits, only to get stuck solid in my own driveway.

         Sunny days like today, finally starting to
         flirt with 60 degrees, are like morsels of
         food to a starving man.

Now you should know that we norteƱos start pining for spring sometime in February. By March, when the skating, skiing, ice fishing and our other questionable rationalizations for tolerating winter are winding down, the anticipation has built to the point of distraction—we call it Spring Fever.

My point is that this past winter, every time we’ve allowed ourselves the slightest hint of that delicious expectation of spring, it’s gotten smothered cruelly in yet another cold, white blanket.

So sunny days like today, finally starting to flirt with 60 degrees, are like morsels of food to a starving man. So I plan on turning off this glowing screen in about two minutes, heading home to grab the puppy, and getting out there to soak up some radiant heat from that strange, glowing orb in the sky.

And I hope—no, I vow—to luxuriate in every precious wonder-filled moment of this much-overdue spring and the coming summer. How about you? What’s your excuse going to be for making the most of the season?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

SEEING THINGS – Meeting the Invisible Halfway

Seeing this grimy sawtooth snowbank this morning reminds me how many
things in this wondrous world we can “see” only because of their effects on
something else.

Upwelling, wave-dampening “fluke prints” evincing a whale swimming out of sight below the surface. The jostling of larger subatomic particles by otherwise invisible “ghost particles,” or neutrinos. Tiny puffs of air on one's face from bat wings deep inside a pitch-black cave.

And this, a mound of snow poked by the invisible rays of a quickening late-
winter sun.

Though there's surely more to life than meets the eye, what a miracle how much more of it we can behold if our seeing is generous enough to meet it halfway.