Friday, November 9, 2018

BEAR WITH ME...

Those of you who’ve followed my ramblings here on One Man’s Wonder and my travel blog, El Viajero Contento during the past few years know I’ve embarked on a new wonder-based enterprise: Shades of Autumn – lampshades handcrafted from pressed autumn leaves.

My work’s been accepted for the big, juried American Craft Council Craft Show in St. Paul in April, so I’m going to be busy, designing and producing enough shades to exhibit a range of styles—not to mention creating an elegant booth and all my promotional materials.

So-o-o-o, I’m afraid I’m going to have to take a hiatus from blogging for a while to focus on that project. Thank you for your loyal following! I’ll be checking in from time to time to field any comments on past posts. And you can always follow my comings and goings on my Facebook page.

If you’d like to see my lampshades, here are a few. More will be on display on my Shades of Autumn website, due to be up and running in early 2019. And please, if you're in the Twin Cities area this coming April, stop by my booth at the American Craft Council Craft Show taking place at RiverCenter in St. Paul, April 5-7, 2019. Hope to see you there!


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Fresh-mown grass painted on pavement by recent rains takes on new life as a bounding cottontail. Or perhaps you see something else?


Monday, October 1, 2018

KARMA CHAMELEON – Nature’s Optical Surprises

As you should know by now, I’m constantly awe-struck by Nature’s small wonders. But as I’ve ramped up my botanical-lampshade-making craft over the past year or so, I’m discovering new surprises every day.
 

I’m experimenting with all sorts of leaves, stems, seeds and berries, to discover how they act when held up to light. One of the surprises is Nature’s incredible witchery with color.

          It turns out the skin of those deep blue 
          berries isn’t really blue at all.

RED TO GREEN…AND BACK AGAIN
For example, I found that an autumn grape leaf—a sort of muted gray-green to first glances—turns a luxuriant burgundy when I put a light behind it.

The ornamental grass in a pot on our neighbor’s patio turns that chameleon feat around; when you pick a blade, you’d swear it’s color is something like maroon or oxblood. But hold it up to the light and it turns green.

As I play around with ways to create natural “gems” of bright color to accent the more muted browns, golds and rusts of most leaves, I’m experimenting with various berries. One of them, that of the Solomon’s seal plant, is dark blue.


I wondered, what if I cut those berries in half, scraped out the seeds and goo inside and filled them with clear-drying acrylic medium. Would that give me a nice, translucent, bright blue “gem?”

Well, it gave me a gem all right. But as it turns out the skin of those deep blue berries isn’t really blue at all. It’s a brilliant emerald green.


So the search continues. I’m thinking, what color berries must I look for to serve as my red gems? Green ones?

AND YOU?
Can you recall any of your own such surprises from Nature? Where what you thought you saw turned out to be something very different? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Friday, September 7, 2018

LIFE AND LIMB – The Healing Embrace of a Cottonwood

Today I visited a dear old friend — one with many limbs and five trunks.

Years ago, during my recovery from neck surgery, I would take tentative walks around my Saint Anthony Park (St. Paul) neighborhood. Doctors orders.

Besides the therapeutic benefits of just walking, I found many healing influences on those outings, especially around the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota—the so-called ag campus. Among them, a certain cottonwood tree which, at first glance, appeared unremarkable.

        I would stand in that living enclosure...
        and feel blessed.


But as I walked past it, it spoke to me. Like so many cottonwoods, this one comprised multiple, distinct trunks. In this case, five of them arranged in a neat circle, each separated from the next by just a few inches of turf, leaving about a four-square-foot patch of ground in the middle.

I would step into that living enclosure, lean back against one of the massive members, and feel utterly enveloped in a force—a spirit—that made me feel blessed. I’m convinced that tree helped me heal.

For years after that lonely, painful period, I would stop every time I passed that tree, step inside, profess my gratitude and refresh my soul as I did that first time.

MINI DISASTER 
Flash forward to this morning. Our sweet little miniature schnauzer, Sylvia, remained in the throes of a nasty infection or poisoning of some sort. She’d been throwing up every few minutes for 36 hours with no end in sight. Yesterday I’d taken her to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Clinic’s emergency room to see if we could find out what was going on.

Sally and I have been consumed with worry about her. She’s so little, so helpless, so precious. Neither of us knows what we’d do if anything happened to our sweet little girl. Since Sally’s had to work these past two days, much of the burden of caring for her has fallen on me. I’m glad I'm able to do it, but it’s been an incredibly stressful and emotional time for me.

  I suggest the lack for them may lie not with the 
  trees’ capacity for communication but their own.

This morning, seeing no improvement in Sylvia, our concern grew still more acute. So she and I paid a second visit to the ER, where they did more tests and gave her some sub-cutaneous fluids and an anti-nausea injection. It seemed to help right away. Guardedly, I felt the first ripples of relief.

A FLAKY NOTION
As we’re driving home I notice we’re passing the block where that old cottonwood used to live. I look to my left and there it is. I pull over, put my flashers on, and walk over to it as if greeting a dear old friend. Then I notice. One of its trunks is gone, apparently the victim of thunderstorm winds. 


Somehow I sense we understand each other's vulnerability. Once again, I step into that knowing embrace. And again I feel its acknowledgement, its grace, undiminished despite the amputation.

                      

I look up at the wrinkled fingers of the enormous hand that's holding me. A deep breath upends the anxiety that's had its foot on my chest the past two days. All at once a wave of emotions crests over me: relief that sweet Sylvia’s responding to treatment; the joy of having this precious creature in my life; and gratitude for the deep blessing Nature bestows on all who will let it.

A tree that understands and communicates? I know some may find that pretty flaky. But I suggest the lack for them may lie not with the trees’ capacity for communication but their own.

ARTICLE ON TREES AS SENTIENT BEINGS


UPDATE: A day later, as I finish this reflection, Sylvia’s still not out of the woods. The anti-emetic is keeping her from vomiting, but this morning just before she was due for her second dose, she was again retching. We can only hope and pray the vet’s best guess—that it’s a viral infection—is right, and that it will soon give up the ghost.
Meanwhile, I may just go back for another session of my arboreal anti-anxiety treatment.
SECOND UPDATE: It's now a week since Sylvia showed the first symptoms of her illness. And I'm delighted to report that she's back to her wonderful, normal self. Thanks to all for your good wishes for her!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

THE SOUND OF MOONLIGHT – Sensing the Pulse of a Late-Summer Night

I’m inspired today by naturalist Jim Gilbert’s column in yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune. It’s about crickets, specifically the ones whose effervescent chee-chee-chee chorus bejewels these precious late-summer nights.


RIBIT OR CRICKET?
I’ve wondered about crickets my whole life. Not that I’ve done much about it. Mostly, as with so many of Nature’s ubiquitous small wonders, I’ve come to take their amiable background music pretty much for granted. I should do better.

One question I do ask myself is, is this really crickets I’m hearing, or might it be tree frogs? Here in east-central Minnesota, though spring peeper frogs sound quite similar to crickets, they generally sing only—as the name suggests—in the spring or early summer. Crickets are harbingers of late summer.

There’s also a difference in the quality of sound emanating from the two singers. Frog voices are a series of smooth notes ranging from sharp, bell-like dings to longer whistles, each one rising slightly. Cricket chirrs, on the other hand, because they're produced by rubbing its upper, serrated wings rapidly together, have a high-pitched grating quality and maintain nearly the same tone throughout each note.*
        House and field crickets are known
        more as soloists than choristers.


Another question: are these night-chorus crickets the same ones folks are used to finding in their homes? You know, the stocky mostly black or brown ones thought by many to bring good fortune? Not likely. Those are either house or field crickets known more as soloists than choristers.

The most common of our night-singing crickets here in the Twin Cities is the snowy tree cricket. They’re delicately built and mostly green.

             Listen to the Snowy Tree Cricket Sound

PART THERMOMETER
Snowy tree crickets definitely sing en masse—though just the males. With their individual songs blending into what sounds like one pulsing strain, it’s hard to tell whether there’s dozens or hundreds of the critters…or just one really big one.

Tree crickets are the ones thought to gauge the air temperature through the rhythm of their song. (Just count the number of pulses in 13 seconds, then add 40 to find the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit. By the way, I tried this last night and they were spot-on!)

    Here is a tweet we can—and must—believe.

Enough with the phenology. Though the facts are fascinating, I’m also moved by the intangible qualities of this summer-nightly cricket chorus. The peacefulness. The poetic possibilities. The reassurance, with this sweet sound’s constancy in my life, that somehow everything must be okay. That perhaps there is still hope for my own species…for this world.

And, certainly, as sinister forces do their damnedest to render suspect so much of what we once knew to be good and true, here is a tweet we can—and must— believe. If we're to save this precious planet from ourselves, we must notice tiny creatures like this, know their names, care about their well-being.


So are you as moved as I am to tune in your senses to cricket sounds? Why don’t we listen first to the whole ensemble, then zero in on one individual, track it down and shine a flashlight on it. Say hello to this incredible little performer. Thank it for the constant reminder of Nature’s astounding, eternally fragile beauty.

Let’s do it tonight!

   If moonlight could be heard, it would sound just like (crickets).
    
NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE

* Cricket song is a result of stridulation, an insect’s rubbing particular body parts, called stridulatory organs, together to produce sound.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

ONE SQUARE INCH OF SILENCE – Hearing the Whisper of Nature

The other day I listened to an NPR interview* with Matt Mikkelsen, an audio technician and recording specialist with the nonprofit One Square Inch of Silence.** The organization was founded by Mikkelsen’s mentor, audio ecologist Gordon Hempton.

Mikkelsen points out that, sadly, there are fewer than ten places left in the U.S. where one can spend 15 minutes without hearing a single man-made sound.

IMAGE: U.S. Forest Service

This doesn’t surprise me, and it makes me quite sad.

      He saw that expansive spot of quietude as    
      powerful enough to affect entire ecosystems.

EXPANSIVE QUIETUDE
Tuning in after the piece was well along, I thought at first that the challenge had been to find an area of ground as represented by a square inch on a map. But the real concept may not be that much different.

Hempton felt that if one could find a mere square inch of actual ground where true silence survives, the effect of that tiny locus would surely radiate out for a considerable distance—miles, in fact—all around. He saw that expansive spot of quietude as powerful enough to affect entire ecosystems.

Symbolically, he located one such spot, in the Hoh Rain Forest in Washington's Olympic National Park, and marked it with a single, approximately one-inch stone which he’d painted red.

PHOTO: Wikipedia

For the interview, Mikkelsen led writer Samir S. Patel to the spot. As they approached it, Patel was urged not to speak. He was first to spot the red rock.

PHOTO: Amanda Castleman
Then Mikkelsen left him alone in the silence. For an hour. And the effect on him was quite amazing. He soaked in the pure beauty all around. He reflected on the recent death of a loved one. He felt both utterly insignificant and all-powerful at the same time. A profound sense of gratitude moved him to tears.

PROFIT AND LOSS
I suppose it takes a certain kind of person to open himself to that kind of affect. For listening is about not just what you hear, but how you hear. Like other kinds of sensing, real listening is an act of generosity.

In this age of constant stimulus, instant gratification and seamless interconnectedness, such moments are indeed rare, and it’s hard to see how they won’t soon vanish entirely from the human experience.

All the more reason to resist the brazen, visionless oligarchy that’s overthrown our great nation—a nation characterized as much by its traditional affinity for wilderness as by its constitution—and is evidently bent on appropriating every inch of public land for private gain.

       My fear turned to a prayer, and I knew
       I was getting reacquainted with my inner 

       strength.

A ROAR OF SILENCE
I encountered my one square inch of silence in Minnesota’s precious Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness about 30 years ago while on a solo canoe trip.

My second night out, I lay in my tent immersed in both total darkness and utter silence. My ears probed, like a sweeping radar dish, for some sound—an insect, a breaking wave, a whisper of air through pine needles, anything. It’s hard to describe if you haven’t experienced it, but the depth of that silence caused my brain to invent a sort of roar.

That deafening void, the sense of alone-ness, was so profound, my mind even stumbled into thoughts of possibly not being able to stand it. I mean was it even safe to be so completely alone?

It took me a few minutes to realize that, as anxious as I may have been to hear the sound of a human voice, its absence had put me in touch with other voices, ones ever fewer of us are privileged to hear any more. My fear turned to a prayer, and I knew I was getting reacquainted with my inner strength.


I awoke the next morning at first light, not sure what it was that had roused me. I was still shrouded in stillness. As my senses tried to get their bearings, I wondered if the eerie noise I was hearing was another imaginary one. A chill rattled me as I realized it was a pack of wolves, awakening with me and musically greeting their day on the other side of the bay.

Would that sound have affected me that way if it hadn’t emerged out of total silence? Would I still have let it feed my inner strength? I don’t think so.

HOW ‘BOUT YOU?
So when was the last time you experienced 15 minutes listening to the unadulterated, calmly-empowering voice of Nature? Has it happened even once? If it has, I’m guessing you remember it well and invite you to share it here.

I also urge you to speak up in protecting those precious gifts a couple of generations of wise and prescient Americans chose to set aside for all future generations: our National Parks,*** where most of the nation's remaining square inches of silence tenuously survive.

* SAMIR PATEL’S NPR PIECE   


** ONE SQUARE INCH  


*** NATIONAL PARK FOUNDATION

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.


BENCHED 
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 SOUND AND THE FURY
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.

PATCHING IT UP
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.


TEQUILA BOTTLE STOPPER
– 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.)

SPINNING CORK VIDEO

YOGURT LID
– 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

A GUEST IN NATURE'S HOUSE

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.

PIKE SURGERY
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.


APPROACH / AVOIDANCE
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.

THE CANARY LIVES
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.

A CHORUS IN THE SANCTUARY
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.

PHOTO: OwlEnchantment.com

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."

OPEN HEARTS, OPEN DOORS
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.


PRACTICALLY TRANSCENDENTAL
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.


THIN SPOTS
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

FREE AT LAST

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

ANTICIPATION

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.


FOOL ME ONCE
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.


STRANGE, GLOWING ORB
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.


Friday, February 9, 2018

TELLING THE TRUTH – How to Outlast the Fake News Scourge

HOW TO TELL THE TRUTH (FROM THE B.S.)
If a person claiming to tell the truth includes any reference to either God, the Bible or patriotism, chances are their convictions come not from fact, nor from any rational thought process, but from belief. Same goes for Allah, the Koran or Sharia Law, or any other religious or nationalistic reference.

Though I’m a great believer in the power of positive thinking, beliefs are not 

facts. Without any impartial standard of veracity, anyone’s beliefs are as valid 
as anyone else’s.

      These folks are more interested in the cer- 

      tainty of knowing than in learning anything 
      they don't already think they know.


Beware the tellers. These are the people about whose ideas, after you spend a couple of hours with them, you know a great deal, but who’ve not thought to ask a single question of you. These folks are more interested in the certainty of knowing than in learning anything they don’t already think they know.       

Anyone who’s absolutely cock-sure about everything they say is not to be trusted. Tune them out. (If such a person is your friend, you’d be doing them a great favor by letting them know you’ve done so.)

Be suspicious of generalizations. When someone issues any kind of blanket statement, whether in support of or opposition to your own beliefs, your first reaction—after conspicuously rolling your eyes—should be “How do you know that? Show me the facts.”

Don’t even listen to absolutes. The truth is hardly ever black and white, but various shades of gray. Depending on your point of view, the very same facts can be seen to support differing truths. This is because folks rarely have open enough minds to explore any more than the angles that support their beliefs.



(If someone’s open to acknowledging the imperfection of his/her “truth”—which an ideologue or inveterate liar won’t be—this shades-of-gray notion may be a good place to start a balanced, respectful discussion.)

Pathological liars tend to be bullies. When their version of the truth is challenged, they’ll often double down on the lie, repeating it, amplifying it, perhaps discrediting you for being either stupid or smart—they might call you “elite.” Liars in positions of power will routinely try to intimidate you if your calling them on their falsehoods threatens their agenda.


    It’s like coughing uncovered in a crowded 
    elevator and claiming it’s everyone else’s fault 
    for making you sick in the first place.


They'll often attempt to preemptively discredit your pushback. This is why the current U.S. reality-star president, as cover for his routine, reckless dishonesty, throws his “fake news” accusation out there virtually daily. It’s kind of like coughing uncovered in a crowded elevator and claiming it’s everyone else’s fault for making you sick—and obnoxious—in the first place.

Try to look between and through a person’s assertions to see exactly how loosely they’ve played with the truth in the past. If she or he is in the public eye, have they conducted themselves with decency, credibility and class? Or have they, their lawyers and their public relations shills spent an inordinate amount of time and money trying to put out the fires of their deceit?

If any of these is true, chances are very good this person knows no other way of communicating. There is little if any truth here.

Finally, when you wonder about someone’s honesty, follow the money. Anyone—especially a politician—who advocates for a position or policy that benefits him/herself and small numbers of her/his wealthy patrons at the expense of most others is not very likely to be interested in the truth. 



LAST BASTIONS
So, with all these caveats, what is one to believe?

We have only a couple of ways of determining whether one person’s “truth” is any more true than another’s. (None has anything to do with whether or not one agrees with the other unless there is a discussion based on verifiable facts.)

One touchstone of truth is science, which, though far from incorruptible, has a long, mostly honorable history of observing and measuring not what someone hopes or prays will happen, not what bolsters one’s existing beliefs or serves one’s personal interests, but what actually happens. We would not have gotten as far as we have in understanding how the universe works if science were not worth its salt.

If some blowhard refutes scientific consensus, hold their feet to the fire. Ask what other discipline they rely on for their facts—and prepare to laugh and walk away.

The other way of finding out what really happened—or what someone really said—is through one of the very pillars of our great democracy, a free and independent press.

        You might be tempted to say that the 

        ultimate guarantor of truth is having 
        actually witnessed the purported event 
        with your own eyes. But you’d be wrong.
 

Determining exactly what is free and independent is getting difficult these days. During the past couple of decades journalism’s fringe elements have mutated into monsters of misinformation, deliberately spewing whatever their political base wants to hear. In those circles there is no longer the slightest shred of journalistic integrity—no attempt to independently corroborate assertions or purported quotes; no impartial oversight by editors, no professional discipline, no accountability.

But there are ways to more or less verify what a reporter or news medium says happened. Google it; see if there are other sources—including some you know to be relatively unbiased—reporting the same thing.

Check out one of the reputable fact-checking sites like PolitiFact, Snopes or Fact Check.  These and a few others have proven they have no axe to grind.

You can also refer to this wonderful graphic mapping dozens of media by both their political leanings and the rigor of their reporting practices: MEDIA BIAS CHART.  I now temper my trust of most news reports with a glance at this chart.



BELIEVING IS SEEING
You might be tempted to say that the ultimate guarantor of truth is personal observation, having actually witnessed the purported event with your own eyes. But you’d be wrong.

Countless studies have shown that even direct real-life observation is fraught with errors—of both commission and omission. As much as we may think that seeing is believing, the fact is that quite often the opposite is true; human beings have a strong tendency to see what they want to see. In other words, what their beliefs suggest they should see.

And this takes us full circle, back to my initial suggestion that, if a person can’t convince you of their truth without referring to their higher power, some unassailable allegiance or other requisite of blind loyalty, that may be the only clue you’ll need to tell the difference between opinion and fact.


                   

Saturday, January 20, 2018

THAT ZINKING FEELING – My Losing Battle To Avoid The Creeping Crud

Like just about everyone I know, I’ve been under the thumb of some crazy sinus/respiratory bug the past couple of weeks. Some, I hear, have been there for a couple of months.

I don’t know if it’s simply a cold or some other, much tougher virus. Either way, I’d been living in deathly fear of catching it. Because every time I’ve done so in the past six years or so, it’s turned into full-blown, chest-rending bronchitis. Those repeated assaults have permanently damaged my bronchia.

HAVE PURELL, WILL TRAVEL 
So in late December, knowing I’d be spending Christmas in Boston with a couple of prolific little carriers—not to mention flying back and forth in a veritable flying sick ward of sneezers and hackers—l bolster my defenses as never before.

I wash my hands every time I’m within walking distance of soap and water. I carry a little bottle of Purell in a holster on my belt. I hydrate like it’s going out of style. I even wear a serious N-95 surgical respirator while on the plane.

PHOTO: James Gatheny / CDC

Despite my best efforts, a few days after I get home I come down with a sore throat. So I employ phase one of the emergency-response plan my ENT and I devised. First, it’s a five-day course of the steroid prednisone. I also start on Zycam, the homeopathic remedy even my ENT doc agrees can fend off, or at least shorten, the common cold.

For now, I hold off on phase two, the antibiotic tablets I keep with me at all times like someone allergic to bee stings carries epinephrine. (I’m nearly as afraid of becoming antibiotic resistant as I am of getting bronchitis.)

But a few days later the disgusting globs I’m coughing and blowing have turned a muted gray-chartreuse. Damn, my cue to start the doxycycline.

   It makes my tongue feel strange, like someone’s
   stapled a tiny sheet of aluminum foil over it.


HEAVY METAL

All this time I’m also taking zinc. Lots of zinc. Not just the usual 25-milligram supplement I normally take daily, but 50 milligrams. Now I step it up even further, popping zinc-rich Airborne chewables like candy. Plus the Zycam, both lozenges and nasal spray, which I’ve now been taking every three hours, round the clock, for two weeks.

One interesting side effect of taking Zycam, whose instructions call for its being dissolved slowly on the tongue, is that it makes my taste buds feel strange, like someone’s stapled a tiny sheet of aluminum foil over my tongue. Nothing tastes right.

Flash forward to last Sunday morning. I’m on just my second day of the doxy, still inundating myself with zinc. I wake up to a wave of nausea, run to the bathroom and vomit.

The spewing continues all day. While any thought of food is a non-starter, I know I at least have to stay hydrated. But even sipping a quarter cup of water is like adding fuel to a fire; I erupt.

Around 6:00 PM, I assume the position yet again. Oh, my God, there couldn’t be anything left to throw up; this is going to be just dry heaves. Nope. I heave about two  quarts of clear, colorless water.

Now my wife gets concerned, even more than I. We’re wondering what has hit me. The flu? Everything we find online says that usually involves a fever, not vomiting. But I don’t have a fever, nor any of the overall body involvement one expects with the flu. Food poisoning? But I haven’t had anything at all to eat since last night.

Out of ideas, I ask her to Google “zinc, poisoning.” Turns out Wikipedia and most reputable medical websites acknowledge the metal’s toxicity, but only in massive doses—about twice as much as I’ve been taking. Symptoms include vomiting and several other effects I, thank God, am not experiencing.

Almost all the articles refer to “a metallic taste in the mouth” and possible deadening of the taste buds. Some say the Zycam nasal spray can permanently damage one’s sense of smell.

     Is the presumption that one can have any 
     control whatsoever over one’s health perhaps 
     a little arrogant?

BEGGING THE QUESTION
With night approaching—a Sunday to boot—and no certainty one of those storefront urgent care services would administer intravenous fluids and electrolytes, we head to the Regions Hospital E.R. After a series of brief interactions with various nurses and technicians over a six-hour period—believe me, I understood that auto accident, gun-shot and drug overdose patients were outscoring me in triage—I finally get my I.V. and some anti-nausea medication. Within an hour, I’m headed home.

So what did I learn from this miserable, memorable day? That I didn’t have pneumonia. That I probably had gastroenteritis, quite likely unrelated to my sinusitis. That zinc, while it may have contributed to my nausea, probably wasn’t the main culprit. (Nonetheless, I'm in no hurry to start taking it again.)

I’m happy to report that my sinus/respiratory infection feels like it’s on the way out. I celebrate that I’ve managed to avert another case of bronchitis.

Still, I’m left wondering: Has my less-than-stellar experience with zinc proven not only that my obsessive efforts to stave off colds just don’t work, but that they might actually hurt me? Is wearing a surgical mask while flying even worth the discomfort and embarrassment?

And, perhaps the most important question: is the presumption that one can have any control whatsoever over one’s health a misplaced hope, perhaps a little arrogant? What does this say about one’s faith? These thoughts are just beginning to percolate in my mind. What do you think?