Thursday, September 29, 2011

THE YUCK! STOPS HERE – The Culture of Kids and Food

There's more to the splendor of this world than the arm's-length sort of experience we generally associate with discovery and curiosity. Some wonders we eat.

How do you feel about eating? Is it just another necessary chore for you? Do you simply consume your food, often on the run or while you're doing something else? Does healthy food appeal to you? Are you an adventurous eater?

I'm fortunate to be the son of a restaurateur, so I learned early and well to take my time appreciating good food and to enjoy trying new tastes. This, along with my passion for promoting everyday awareness, leads me to think quite often about eating, and to wish everyone could see it, not as just another task, but as an adventure, a nourishing, sensory experience.

Our attitudes about food and eating take shape early in life.

When I was a kid, a healthy, balanced diet and a sense of food adventure were both part of our family culture. No one ever gave me the choice of whether or not to eat my vegetables. Mom knew what was good for us and, except for the occasional bootlegged candy bar or soda, we ate and drank what she served. And, as far as I could tell, this was true for most of my friends too.

Dad, of course, was a student not only of the restaurant business, but of food and its meaning to people. Wherever we went, around town or away on vacation, he loved to try new restaurants and study how they did things.

Straight up from the plate it would go.

Even at home, my parents tried to make eating new things fun. Before I was three, I was convinced my Brussels sprouts were miniature cabbages and my broccoli fat little green trees. I sculpted my Cream of Wheat into a little pond and filled it with milk. For some reason, this simple imagery was enough to get me to eat these things back then—and I still do.

My dad had another trick. He’d pretend his hand was an excavator and the spoon its bucket. Straight up from the plate it would go. Chug-a-chug-a-chug! At mouth level, it would creak to a stop, shift gears and grind its way toward my mouth. I couldn’t wait for the chance to open the hatch!

Today, though, I have to marvel at the little food co-dependencies I see played out in so many American families. Parents start their enabling by asking their kids what they want to eat. Are you kidding me? Their kids, not yet capable of good judgement and having picked up the No-vegetables! mantra from friends and/or media, inevitably make poor choices.

Worse yet, some parents don’t even ask; they just assume their kids won’t eat anything that’s really good for them, and then do everything they can to fulfill their own prophecy. This little scam is then reinforced by the kids’ friends and their parents, and restaurants, which just assume the only thing a kid’s ever going to want is a grilled cheese or a hot dog.

And we wring our hands about the epidemic of childhood obesity!

Parents just assume their kids won’t eat anything that’s really good for them, and then...fulfill their own prophecy.

Not long ago I saw a TV commercial in which a young mother's standing in her kitchen, pondering a sort of holographic version of the nutritional food groups pyramid floating above the center island. She blithely dismisses every item on the chart that's green, thinking aloud something like, "No way my kids are gonna eat these things!"

The solution she and the sponsor propose: one of those engineered nutritional drinks originally prescribed medically for kids temporarily unable to eat solid food. So…I guess the message is if you can't beat 'em, join 'em! Hey, I've got an idea: take a lovely fish fillet, some brown rice and a crown or two of broccoli and compress it into something that looks and tastes like a potato chip. Come to think of it, why not just condense it all down to a pill and sneak it into that hot dog!

How sad that kids—with lots of help from all the wrong places—are losing touch with real, healthy food! For this wonder seeker, the worst part of this is seeing them robbed of their natural sense of adventure. Unfortunately, this is happening at the same time that kids are becoming more and more alienated from Nature. It's all part of the same invisible tragedy, one which will inevitably prove very costly for both a generation of children and for society.

What can we do to reclaim healthy, adventurous, wonder-full eating for our kids and grandkids? Probably the single best approach: turn off the TV. Decide for yourself what your kids should eat. Offer them a couple of healthy options—and then leave them with just one choice: eat one of these or starve.

Decide for yourself what your kids should eat...
and then leave them with just one choice: eat 
this or starve.

My daughter uses a couple of somewhat less severe solutions with her headstrong five-year-old. First, the good ol' dessert come-on: finish your veggies or no cookie. And, if it's something she's never tried before, there's the "no thank you" bite: eat at least one bite before you're excused from the table. This way, she at least has the chance to discover, for herself, if she might not actually like things her little friends are being taught to hate.

Parents: make the wonders of food part of your family culture. Think of your kids' nutrition in as uncompromising a way as you think of their safety. Start early. Set a few basic rules. Make sure the rules go with them to school, to friends' houses and to restaurants. Talk to your relatives and your kids' friends' parents about supporting your decisions.

Push the envelope a bit. No one learns anything without first venturing into unfamiliar territory. It's the same with food. Experiment now and then with dishes typical of other cultures. Travel as much as you can with your kids, and bypass the McDonald's in favor of places where the locals eat.

At home, declare at least a couple of evenings a week as family mealtimes in which you take time to really enjoy the food—and the company. Why not make one dinner a month a theme dinner featuring a dish—and perhaps simple decorations and music—from another culture.

Be flexible, but firm. Make it positive—all about opportunities, adventure, fun. Involve your little ones in some guided decision-making about what you're cooking, and then let them help in the preparation.

Travel as much as you can with your kids, and bypass the McDonald's in favor of places where the locals eat.

Some foods I now enjoy very much were among those I didn't care for as a child. If my parents had caved in to my complaints back then, I might easily have put those things into my "can't stand it" compartment—never again to see the light of day. As it turns out, my parents' de-mystification of those items left me free to try many of these foods again as an adult. This is how I developed tastes for oatmeal, black olives, cantaloupe, bleu cheese and liver, among others.

How would you describe your family's food and eating culture? Do you have some closeted food tastes? Have you ever given another chance to something you hated as a kid? Have any of your kids or grandchildren surprised you with the maturity or adventurousness of their food tastes?

We'd love to hear about your experiences!

Monday, September 26, 2011


 TIP #23
Hold things up to the light.

PHOTO: Steve Jurvetson

Leaf, fish scale, agate, maple seed. All have inner beauty—veins, cells, grains, layers, colors—revealed only in their translucence.

Let the sun or your own illumination be your x-ray, curiosity your power...and see deeply.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Google "mysticism" and you'll get a whole slew of references to complex belief systems in which the meaning of life and access to its most profound wonders is shrouded in mystery. In fact, the derivation of the word is from the Greek word myelin, meaning to close.

So, right from the start, the whole concept sounds pretty arcane. So is much of the content written about mysticism, which seems always to be couched in religious and/or academic jargon.

It's one thing to try to fathom what they're saying; it's another just to decide which mysticism we're talking about. There's religious mysticism, philosophical mysticism, practical mysticism, mysticism by faith, era, geographic origin...even country. You might think they were all competing to see who can make life's ultimate meaning the most unfathomable.

Most young children I've ever observed have struck me as being, without even trying, pretty successful little mystics.

So what is mysticism in terms the average person might understand? I like the definition I found at, the largest Catholic site on the Web: "...a religious tendency and desire of the human soul towards an intimate union with the Divinity." With the exception, perhaps, of the word "religious," that description doesn't seem all that unapproachable.

One dictionary definition calls mysticism: "a belief in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect." Again, not such a hard concept to get your mind around, right? After all, aren't these truths—isn't that union with divinity—something just about everyone would like to know?

Don't let the ascetics cow you. Mysticism is a way of connecting with the universe that each and every one of us (at least those of us with the luxury of being able to think of things other than mere day-to-day survival) can experience through nothing more mysterious than a natural capacity we were born with—our sense of wonder. Come to think of it, most young children I've ever observed have struck me as being, without even trying, pretty successful little mystics.

That meaning, far from being elusive and privileged, invites us to share the same space with it every day, everywhere.

Mysticism—at least my kind—is nothing more than believing that Nature and life are laced with profound meaning, and that that meaning, far from being elusive and privileged, invites us to share the same space with it every day, everywhere.

The reason this is mystical isn't that you have to spend your entire life in the Himalayas tracking down some reclusive lama, only to have him tell you the answer lies in the question. It's mystical because, at least for us adults, the mind and the spirit have to grow in order to make room for it.

So what does it tell us that an adult must grow mentally and spiritually to "get" it, while a child already has it? It says that this growth involves not years of learning, searching and sacrifice, but a process of unlearning—unlearning the fears, expectations and cynicism that build up in our lives, layer upon layer, eventually burying the free spirits we were as kids.

One way I've cultivated my own mystic spirituality is by realizing how much it revolves around Nature. By recognizing that connection, knowing that my "Divinity" is the earth and all its life, I find I can easily tap into that innate curiosity and wonder kids experience so effortlessly when they're in Nature.

Spirituality is no more or less complicated than we wish to make it.

Everyone has a spiritual side. Sure, it can be mysterious, hard to describe, elusive in practice. But, when all's said and done, spirituality is no more or less complicated than we wish to make it. Some people find their meaning in elaborate ritual, others in solitary prayer; some in simple silence, still others in beating their own backs bloody with chains.

I find my ultimate truth and beauty—my "intimate union with the Divinity"—in Nature. I see and feel it all around me, within me and in others with whose paths mine intersects. These natural wonders, while to some nearly as elusive as any religious truth, do not have to be so.

For me, simply being in the presence of those geologic structures and fellow organisms feels like home, as welcoming as family, as comfortable as a favorite chair. Yet they tap into something timeless, something profoundly enriching and empowering. It's a fusion of all those understandings human beings have always hoped to gain through their spiritual experience—truth, beauty, love, hope, understanding, gratitude and, of course, wonder.

How can you practice this kind of no-nonsense mysticism in your life?

First of all, as I've suggested, realizing your capacity to experience the mystical doesn't take anything that every single one of us wasn't born with. You don't have to be an academic or an ascetic to get it. It's not defined or governed by any particular religious construct; you don't have to be a liberal arts graduate or an NPR listener to fit in; there are no slick New Age buzzwords.

No, in my kind of mysticism, all you have to do is show up, pay attention, expect wonder and not be in a hurry to leave.

Notice I said "expect wonder." If there's one part of this people tend to get hung up on it's this. For this is the aspect of faith. By definition, it can't be proven; you have to take a leap. Skeptics will always be poor candidates for mysticism, just as they are for hypnotism. So, if you want to fall into the trance of mystery, wonder and oneness, you must expect it, be willing to recognize it when you see it, and welcome it into your reality.

Instead of searching for wonder, you simply prepare room for it in your heart and spirit…and then it finds you!

Oh, and there's one more little trick, one that can be tough for some people. The very things many of us have been taught all our lives are the secret to success—hard work, efficiency, control, contacts, competition—are what usually stands in the way of reaching that mystical union with the sacred.

In fact, the harder you try to find it, the less likely you are to do so. So, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, instead of searching for wonder, you simply prepare room for it in your heart and spirit…and then it finds you!

Try it! Make whatever time you can in your day—even if it's only 15 minutes of your lunch hour. Go outdoors and find a place that's fairly quiet and conducive to life—even if that's only your back yard, or under the trees in front of your office building.

Clear your mind of agendas, worries, expectations. In fact, try to turn off your mind. If you can't get rid of the thoughts and emotions, don't worry. Don't fight them; just picture yourself rising above them, observing them kindly, letting them pass as they will. Understand that they are not you. No, in this moment, this tiny slice of your day, you have better, more important places to go.

You must expect it, be willing to recognize it when you see it, and welcome it into your reality.

Once you do this, you'll find your senses will automatically open up; you'll experience things happening all around you that you may never have noticed or appreciated before. You may experience feelings you never knew you had—the sense that limitations are dissolving, or that everything that ever happened or is yet to happen is exactly as it should be. You might even get your first inklings of your connection with all of creation—not just with things that move and breathe, but with trees, rocks and sky.

So what do you say? Are you ready to dig out and reclaim your native mysticism? You can do this!! And please, won't you share your experience with the rest of us?
(For more on this subject, see my 4/5/11 post, DEMYSTIFYING MYSTICISM – The Down & Dirty Road to Higher Consciousness here.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

SOPHIE'S GIFT – A Lesson in Presence

The "wonder man" is out for a walk today. I try to do this every day, by myself, so I can meditate on my steps and whatever they bring me to around each turn. This time, though, I'm not alone; I'm with Sophie, the miniature schnauzer we're sitting for a month or so.

Here I like to think I'm this sensitive, aware, in-the-moment guy who knows how to relish every experience, who notices and appreciates every little thing.

Seems I'm about to learn a few things.

All I do is whisper the magic word, walk, and Sophie's nearly popping out of her skin with excitement. I have no trouble translating her exclamations from dog to English: Yippee!, Omygod!, and I think I make out one triumphant, fist-pumping YES-S-S!! She—all 15 pounds of her—yanks my arm out straight, dragging me out the door.

We start out on one of my usual routes, the beautiful walking/biking trail that runs along the high, wooded bluffs of the Mississippi here in Southeast Minneapolis. Parts of it are a grassy boulevard; other stretches butt right up to thick forest that plunges steeply down to the water. It's a surprisingly wild area, considering that we're in the middle of the metro.

From the moment I attach her retracting leash, Sophie's pulling with all-out enthusiasm. If I walk fast, she walks faster, her little legs a gray blur under her black chunk of a body. If I trot, she runs; if I run, she sprints.

What I can't see she obviously senses in ways I can only imagine.

We pass a few walkers, bikers and their dogs. And in the woods there are still some wild critters managing to eke out a living—squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, wild turkey, fox, even white-tail deer. I spot a few of the smaller, more conspicuous ones here and there, but every few minutes Sophie pulls up suddenly and rivets her attention on a spot somewhere deep in the woods. What I can't see she obviously senses in ways I can only imagine.

If my enthusiasm and eyesight fall a bit short of Sophie's, my sense of smell never leaves the gate. Vestiges of her shared ancestry with bloodhounds are clear as she sweeps the grass, nose to the ground, in broad zig-zags. Amidst the rich stew of smells—some of them left by feet that passed here days ago—one suddenly stands out, and she breaks the pattern to check it out…twenty feet away.

Even in those rare moments when Sophie's not darting madly this way and that, her eyes still are. They're caught by anything that moves…or just looks interesting. I kick a big, fat acorn which rolls ahead through her legs. Her body dips slightly as she considers giving chase, but by then something else steals her attention.

Of all the "locals" around here, the squirrels are the least secretive. As soon as Sophie spots one, she's off like a shot, every fiber of her being committed to the chase. She can't help it; it's like her legs are programmed to react this way. If the leash is taut, they still run in place, her tender little foot pads skidding, sanding down on the rough sidewalk. If there's any slack in the leash, she's up to full speed by the time it goes taut, yanking her into a near back flip.

The squirrels are merciless. They seem to know she can't get to them, and decide to keep rummaging nonchalantly though the acorns until we're close enough to see their mocking eyes. I'm sure Sophie can smell victory. At the last instant, of course, they run away. I swear a couple of them purposely duck only halfway behind trees, leaving their bushy tails out, twitching, taunting.

I don't think she ever worries about the future or the past or what she doesn't have.

I'd never, for a moment, wish to be dog. But there's much to be admired. Here Sophie's  got all the openness, the curiosity, the hunger for discovery of a young child, and, on top of that, she can run! What a perfect embodiment of pure joy!

Of course I'm amazed by Sophie's sense of smell, but I'm in utter awe of how she can apply that and all her other senses at the same time. It's like a finely-tuned, fully-integrated instrument of sensing. If it weren't for the leash, I'm sure she'd have tracked down a few things more interesting than squirrels.

I love the way she manages to have absolutely no other agenda but the adventure of the moment. I'm impressed with her purity of intention; there's no pretense, no guile. What you see is what you get. And I applaud the way she accepts life as it comes and appreciates every bit of it, just as it is. I don't think she ever worries about the future or the past or what she doesn't have.

We get home and we're standing at the door. I fumble for my keys and open it. Just before she trots in, Sophie stops, turns her head and looks back for a couple of seconds, right up into my eyes. Again, I understand exactly what that look means, and it just seems like a perfect, if improbable, ending to today's lesson in awareness.

I feel like a student, coming to the end of my favorite class—perhaps we all had an especially spirited discussion that day. As I head out into the hall, there's the teacher telling each pupil as he or she walks out, "Thank you!"

Imagine that, the teacher thanking the students! No, Sophie, believe me, the thanks are all mine!

Friday, September 16, 2011


Kids are natural scientists. It’s their job to notice, to explore, to experiment.

When I was twelve I went to Camp St. Croix, a YMCA camp on the St. Croix River, the serene, still-relatively-wild waterway forming part of the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

My cabin group’s adventure that summer was canoeing the St. Croix to its confluence with the mighty Mississippi at Hastings, Minnesota, and then 350 miles down the great river to East Dubuque, Illinois.

We learned a lot about water on that trip: respecting its power, managing large waves, using its properties to skillfully maneuver a canoe, and trying to keep it out of our packs and tents. Of all these lessons, one observation really struck me—though its explanation continues to elude me to this day.

I noticed an eerie glow on the trees on 
the other side of the channel.

One night we were camped on one of several narrow channels the Mississippi assumes along that stretch. After supper, our campfire gradually died out and it got so dark that there was nothing to do but go to bed. As we felt our way toward our tents I noticed an eerie glow on the trees on the other side of the channel, and stayed outside to investigate.

As I watched, the apparition would dash from side to side, then remain fixed in one place for a few seconds and, finally, vanish. This sequence repeated itself several times. By then, I’d put the light together with the faint rumbling I was beginning to hear, and realized I was seeing the navigation searchlight of a freight barge. (As an indication of the power of these beams, it took almost 15 minutes for the barge—running with the strong current—to reach us.)

How far...would the huge vessel’s displacement raise the level of one of the world’s great rivers?

I don’t know what made me think of it, but I was curious what a fully loaded eight- or ten-unit river barge and pusher would do to the water level. So, well before it reached our campsite, I pushed a foot-long stick into the sand at the water line. How far, I wondered, would the huge vessel’s displacement raise the level of one of the world’s great rivers?

PHOTO: Thomas R. Machnitzki

By the time the barge finally lumbered past our campsite, my buddies had heard it and come outside. They joined me in exuberant hoots and howls and, sure enough, the pilot noticed and turned the spotlight on us. I could’ve sworn I felt the heat from that blinding ray!

Despite the excitement, I remembered to keep an eye on my stick and noticed that, instead of climbing the shore as I’d assumed it would, the waterline had dropped—and not by an inch or two, but by more than two feet down the sandy slope. I figured this indicated a vertical drop of several inches! How could that be? I imagined taking any container of water and pushing any object into it. How could it possibly do anything but raise the water level?

The waterline had dropped—and not by an inch or two, but by more than two feet down the sandy slope.

Now, I could understand it if the water went down after first going up—the theory being that the barge pushes a hump of water in front of itself. But this isn’t what happened; the water line just moved down and then back up to its normal height.

I still get to watch the Mississippi, now within a block of my home. I’ve repeated my experiment countless times and, despite what common sense might suggest, the water level still drops every time a loaded barge goes by. When I Google the phenomenon, I don’t find a single reference to it.

If you ever find yourself on the banks of a major river with heavy commercial shipping, try the stick-in-the-sand experiment for yourself and let me know what you find. And you physicists and engineers out there: what’s the deal?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Little Tips

 TIP #65
Celebrate your own footsteps.

A whisper through crispy autumn leaves; the earnest crunch of dried acorns; the thin chatter of a kicked pebble.

Though they bear the weight of the world, let your feet proclaim their joy…not just in getting somewhere, but in the going.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

WITH THE FLOW – Day's End on the St. Croix

The bow of my canoe says hush-h-h!, carving into the muddy sand. I obey and get out on the small stretch of beach, grateful for the chance to stretch my legs. The damp sand, still warm from a day of full sun, feels good underfoot. I'm in no hurry; I decide to unpack my camp chair, sit and enjoy the last hour or so of a clear, quiet, perfect day on the river.

A few hours ago, as I paddled past this very spot, I'd surprised a confab of red horse suckers in the shallows, their flight churning up plumes of sediment like so many cartoon dialog bubbles: "Zoom!" "Whoosh!" I love catching red horse, so I bait my hook with a night crawler and throw it out to the spot and let it sit. I keep one eye on the hanging arc of line, while the other scans the river.

A vulture, working circles just above the treetops, casts a darting black dot in the reflection.

Here on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River, the sun's clicking off the last few degrees of its arc across a cloudless sky. As my little beach welcomes the shade, the forest across the way on the Wisconsin side glows with that rich, warm light that distills out of normal light just before sunset—the kind that artists love.

The northwesterly breeze, hazy with smoke from Canadian forest fires, has died down now, and the water's surface mirrors the golden sand banks and a hundred shades of green from the far shore. Even a vulture, working circles just above the treetops, casts a darting black dot just below them in the reflection.

A thousand insects have begun their evening chorus with a constant, high-pitched sizzle.

Instead of red horse, I'm catching bass— smallies. I'm surprised they're going for the weeks-old, nearly lifeless night crawlers I've brought. I play them for a minute or two, admire their elegant, muscular beauty and let them go. But for their obvious annoyance, I convince myself they're none the worse for wear. I wish they could tell me so.

From the woods behind me, blue jays scold, while across the river, a crow shouts them down. Still deeper in the forest, a thousand insects have begun their evening chorus, a constant, high-pitched sizzle. The percussion section chimes in—a throaty squawk that reminds me of a g├╝iro, the hollow, grooved gourd played like a washboard in Latin music. I've never heard this one before; some kind of katydid, I suppose.

Just as I'm starting to believe there's really two of everything on the far shore, a motor boat goes by, addling the reflection…and me.

As the colors on the Wisconsin shore deepen, a bald eagle works his way resolutely northward toward the high rock cliffs, his size and majestic wing flaps making the vulture look scrawny, awkward.

Just as I'm starting to believe there's really two of everything on the far shore, a motor boat goes by, addling the reflection…and me. I watch patiently as both gradually regain their composure. I'm grateful this boat is the only one I've seen today.

I visualize the one-foot-thick vertical slice of water that's passing me in this instant, and wonder where it will be tomorrow at this time, next week, next month.

Though the river appears very still, a few floating leaves and sticks betray its slow, silent power. This is the quality of rivers that moves me the way the tides move sea-lovers. Every time you look, it's a new river. I visualize the one-foot-thick vertical slice of water that's passing me in this instant, and wonder where it will be tomorrow at this time, next week, next month. Will it outrun sub-zero temperatures before they catch and detain some of it till spring?

Now, as the sun sets behind me, the mosquitoes come on in their blood-lust. I appreciate the dragonflies that dart around me, picking them off in mid-air. Once again I needn't test the potency of my 30-year-old army surplus DEET.

The shadow line crawls visibly up the trees on the other side, slowly snuffing what's left of the stubborn sunlight. As if on cue, the evening's first bard owl inquires in its inimitable cadence, "Who, who, who-who; who, who, who-whoo-o-o?" This sound echoes the very first sensation I remember when, as a child, I'd first come down to the river by myself at dusk—only then it didn't accompany this near-full moonrise.

 Might an Ojibwe or Dakota elder have stood in this very spot three centuries ago and experienced the very same sensations I'm feeling now?

The sun now departed, the day's warmth takes the hint and follows. A palpable wave of cool, damp, muddy-moldy-smelling air is pouring down the valley and envelopes me. And I wonder, Might an Ojibwe or Dakota elder have stood in this very spot three centuries ago and experienced the very same sensations I'm feeling now? Was this just another day at the office for him, or did he share the sense of wonder and gratitude I'm feeling now?

Taking this thought with me, I pack up, drift quietly back down to the landing and head home. But my reverie lasts, the memory of this last hour etched forever into my heart and soul. I feel so in harmony with the flow of the St. Croix and the ways in which it parallels my life.

Perhaps most importantly, it reminds me that I'm so much more than simply an observer of life's flow as it moves inexorably past.

I'm on it. I'm in it. I'm part of that flow, connected with other places and other times, with the rocks and sands that contain it, with all those slinking, swimming, soaring creatures that are drawn to it as I am, and with every single human being who's ever let himself be swept away by its wonder.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Summer arrived late in Minnesota this year. Our tougher than usual winter seemed to drag on till mid-June, as if ten feet of ground frost were slowly seeping out. With days still cool and wet, rivers stayed high, gardeners put off their much-anticipated plantings, and muddy fields threatened to swallow tractors whole.

PHOTO: Phil Champion -

Eventually, though, summer did manage to take hold as it always does, and the profusion of rich, saturated color, though a few weeks late, sprouted and spread over the grateful landscape. How I love all those shades of breathing green, the blankets of true, dense blue from early-blooming Siberian squill, the piercing reds of geranium and canna!

I made up my see all these wonders of color, texture and pattern as if I'd never seen anything like them before.

As this shortish summer strove to make up for lost time, I made up my mind—as my posts here on One Man's Wonder and in the social media implore—to see all these wonders of color, texture and pattern as if I'd never seen anything like them before. Perhaps it was the fact of that imploring that helped me to do exactly that. I must have stopped a thousand times, as it were, to smell the roses.

But suddenly here we are; another Labor Day is history, the State Fair's come and gone, and ragweed's got me stuffing my pockets with Kleenex. At least symbolically, summer is over. Our window box plantings sense the cooler, drier air and, seeing right through our best efforts to fool them into thinking it's still June, are starting to thin and shrivel. Everything else too—with the exception of that good old fall standby, the chrysanthemum—seems just about on its last legs.

So, as I set out on my walk along the Mississippi yesterday, I was feeling kind of melancholy, almost anticipating an experience of loss. I was already mourning all the shrinking, browning plants and spent flowers I knew I'd come across. What made me even more blue was the looming prospect of five or six months devoid of all that fresh, living, breathing color.

At least I'd have these poor excuses for the real thing to...comfort my color-starved soul till tiny buds pop once again.

Of course, this wasn't at all what I found. Summer is indeed still alive here in growing zone four. But, as if to convince myself of this, I brought my camera. At the very least, I figured, that would help me notice and appreciate even more the resolute colors of late summer.

What's more, even if the dead of winter were somehow to slam down on us tomorrow, at least I'd have these poor excuses for the real thing to document the fleeting summer of 2011 and comfort my color-starved soul till tiny buds pop once again.

I hope you'll forgive the indulgence.

PHOTOS THIS GROUP: Jeffrey D. Willius