Archive for the 'Books People and History' Category

Crossing Decades with Health and Good Cheer

September 21st, 2010

I have always been amazed and heartened by longevity.  Not simply that things, or people, can be very old.   It’s something more about the fact that as we age, the history of the world goes with us.   That and the nature of how we age are simply interesting to me.

I was amazed to read today that the World’s oldest man has marked his 114th birthday in Great Falls, Montana.   How incredible!

Walter Breuning was born on Sept. 21, 1896, in Melrose, Minnesota, and moved to Montana in 1918, where he worked as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway for 50 years.

His wife, Agnes, a railroad telegraph operator from Butte, died in 1957. The couple had no children.

Breuning inherited the distinction of being the world’s oldest man in July 2009 when Briton Henry Allingham died at age 113. Allingham had joked that the secret to long life was “Cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women — and a good sense of humor,” according to Guinness World Records.

Now there’s some advice I could never imagine that would help to foster longevity!  Mr. Allingham must have lived a charmed life.  And hey, who am I to argue with success and a 113 year old sense of humor?

The Guinness organization and the Gerontology Research Group each have verified [Walter] Breuning as the world’s oldest man and the fourth-oldest person. Three women were born earlier in the same year as Breuning.

“Walter wasn’t in last year’s edition,” Young joked. “He was too young.”

The Great Falls Tribune reported that Breuning gave a speech before about 100 people at an invitation-only birthday party at the Rainbow Retirement Community, with a guest list that included Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and representatives from Guinness World Records.

Breuning was helped up to a lectern from his motorized cart, appearing somewhat frail but speaking with a strong voice.

He recalled “the dark ages,” when his family moved to South Dakota in 1901 and lived for 11 years without electricity, water or plumbing.

“Carry the water in. Heat it on the stove. That’s what you took your bath with. Wake up in the dark. Go to bed in the dark. That’s not very pleasant,” he said.

How simple and abundant our lives have become.  I think of the water he mentions, and what we take for granted today.  We flush the toilet a half a dozen times each day, take showers whenever we feel like it, cook, wash and clean using a seemingly endless supply of fresh water, use the hose to water plants and gardens outside the house, and even fill up the chickens’ and pets water dishes…

He [Breuning] said men and women may be able to enjoy life, but they can’t be content without a belief or faith. His parting message to the crowd was one of tolerance.

“With all the hatred in this world, in this good world, let us be kind to one another,” Breuning said.

Breuning has celebrity status at the retirement home, with visitors waiting in line to see him, Ray Milversted, 92, told the Tribune.

Before his birthday party, Breuning declined to name a favorite among the 114 years he has seen.

“Every year is the same,” Breuning told the Great Falls newspaper.

But he criticized one modern invention — the computer.

“When the computer came out, that was one of the worst things,” Breuning said. “They laid off all the clerks on the railroad.”

But, he added, “Every change is good.”

My goodness, what a spirit this man has.  Some of the notes about his life were fascinating too:

  • Breuning is in excellent health, even after a lifelong habit of smoking cigars, completely quitting in 1999.
  • He is able to walk, and eats two meals a day. He still maintains a sharp mind and accurate memory.   For example, he can remember his grandfather talking about his experiences in the American Civil War when he was three years old, and remembers the day President William McKinley was shot as the day “I got my first haircut”.
  • He has no prescription medications. In November 2007, at the age of 111, Breuning was fitted with hearing aids.
  • On his 112th birthday, Breuning said the secret to long life is being active: “[if] you keep your mind busy and keep your body busy, you’re going to be around a long time.”
  • In a recent interview, Breuning said, “Every day I exercise. Every morning I do all my exercises.”

During his 113th birthday celebrations, Breuning said:

“Remember that life’s length is not measured by its hours and days, but by that which we have done therein. A useless life is short if it lasts a century. There are greater and better things in us all, if we would find them out. There will always be in this world – wrongs. No wrong is really successful. The day will come when light and truth and the just and the good shall be victorious and wrong as evil will be no more forever.”

I can hardly imagine the things this man has seen and experienced. But I also wonder about his feelings for not having had children.

Obviously we don’t really know how long we’ll live, and truthfully I don’t have a feeling about that, other than to say I’d like to live a happy, healthy life that is long enough… whatever that may be.

Maybe that’s a timely declaration as I have lately become more interested in my health, and working to live a more constructive life.   I’d like to share that with others, especially my son, in terms of helping him to achieve a baseline of character strength and well-being that will carry him through his own life in a positive fashion.  He’ll be ten years old soon… and as time passes so quickly, the mark of his life will be up to him.

Our lives are filled with change. There is no other way. Like Walter, I strongly believe that change is good, in that we can embrace uncertainty. We can indeed move forward with courage, faith and the conviction that better days will surely come as we face the inevitable challenges that the years bring to our lives.

Walter Breuning is 104 years older than my son… just think, many of our children could live out their years spanning two centuries from Walter’s birth.   We can only wonder what the world will look like one hundred years hence.

Walter,  may we all share in your wisdom and age as gracefully as you have… and Happy Birthday!


Update:  Walter passed away into the next life on April 14th, 2011. He lived a full life.  Thank you for sharing your life Walter! :)

Seasons and Years of Change

September 14th, 2010

Beautiful weather after last week’s rain, and everything is growing once again. With late summer I have the joy of allergies kicking in for a few weeks…  the last Hurrah! as the grasses and goldenrod bloom. Which is great for the bees at least :)   Some years I don’t notice my allergies at all, and others it seems crazy and I’m sneezing all the time- like this week.   I could use a few days at sea…

Sometime within a week after putting to sea, you suddenly realize that your nasal passages are totally clear… the air at sea is usually so clean and fresh. Well most places that is, unlike the Persian Gulf where the dust storms would roll off the desert and engulf everything in a near brownout of fine dust particles for a day or two at a time. But the South Pacific was a different story!  I’ve been thinking of sharing few more stories of my past life (seems like “lives”), but I mostly want to share the beauty and experience of nature and our day-to-day life as it is now.  We’ll see.

The sedum flowers are also blooming, and the butterflies are enjoying the tiny flowers. The bees will follow when the flowers open a bit more.  Sedum is such a great plant… drought tolerant and blooming at just the right time in late summer when the insects really need them.

I saw a hummingbird the other day, surprised they were still here- soon they will depart on their migration south. The bees are incredibly busy now, which is a good sign.  I’m hopeful that the hives will build enough stores to carry themselves solidly through winter.

It was amazing watching the bees this afternoon, dropping through the sunlit sky, diving down to the hive by the dozens like tiny fighter jets… and then I stepped close to the front of the busiest hive, smiling as I watched a host of bees taking their first orientation flights outside the hive.   This tends to happen on warm afternoons, and is a good sign of a strong hive.

Bees spend about the first 3 weeks of their lives inside the hive, growing, building comb, acting as nurse bees to the young larvae- feeding and capping their cells. They must fly during that time, if only to relieve themselves,  and somehow they heed the call and head outside the hive to fly, becoming workers, orienting themselves with the sunlight and shadows, somehow knowing with amazing accuracy the exact position of their hive on the earth.

Honeybee on Sweet Autumn Clematis

If you move the hive more than a yard or two from its position, the bees will not know where to go…  I’ve read an old expression if you need to move a beehive:  Stay within two feet, or move it two miles!   I’m not sure about that, but I know if you do want to move it, you wait until after sunset and seal up the hive.  Then you move it to its new location, releasing the bees the next morning.  If it’s too close to the old hive location, you risk the bees flying back to their original location and not having a home to go to.

In the distance, I hear Captain Jack crowing, also enjoying the afternoon sun.   I went to collect the eggs from the henhouse, and picked up six of them.  Later on we gathered two more…  one of the first days that I’m sure each of the eight hens laid an egg.  Hooray for the girls!

I let them out into the garden for a good bit of the day… they love it.  In fact, Jack has figured out how to fly out of the run, and then fly back in if he wants to.  But the hens wait patiently, and after they’ve laid their eggs they deserve an outing to feast on greens and tiny critters.  One of the Barred Rocks was just running from the coop to catch up when I took this picture.  By the way- I thought our white “Snowy” might have been a Leghorn, but she doesn’t lay white eggs-  I think she might be a Wyandotte hybrid of some sort?

In the morning as we get ready for the day, the animals are ready to go too… the little kitty is becoming a holy terror within the house.  The yellow lab doesn’t seem to mind- she grabs his tail and he can’t help but wag it all over the place.

The shiba waits at the door for leftovers.  Anything the boy doesn’t eat the shiba gets to try.  Sometimes the chickens too.  I’m finding out that chickens love to eat just about anything!  So far it has been fairly simple to incorporate them into our lives and that of the other animals.

Here’s a neat photo from our trip last month.  We had a chance to stop at the marvelous national historic site of Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois.   Perhaps I’ll write more about it later, but as we walked from the first floor to the upstairs, the historian told us that the stairway railing was completely original to the home, exactly as it was over 150 years ago.

The young boy’s hand is there, and I’m amazed to think that President Lincoln- and his family- used that railing when they went up and down the stairs.   They had four boys… Robert, Eddie, Willie and Tad (Thomas). Only Robert lived to adulthood, and died in 1926 at age 82, buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Eddie died young at 3 years, 10 months, and Willie at 11 years. Tad reached age 18 before he died. But the boys did spend their happy childhood years in that house, listening to stories, singing, playing games, and holding that same railing.  I could almost imagine hearing their voices…

Poke Salad Annie

September 9th, 2010

Beautiful mornings with cooler temperatures. The days are becoming noticeably shorter, and the light just changes somehow. I love how the sun is lower in the sky, especially in the afternoons. Light filters through the trees and reflects off the pond in different ways, shimmering as the wind drifts across the water…

 The nights over the past week have been interesting too.  I’ve seen glow worms in the grass… I know, most people say, “Glow worms? There’s no such thing!” Ah but there is.   Really they are just firefly larvae, but most people have never seen them.

When you walk along at night, with dew on the grass at this time of year, you think you may be seeing things.  As you walk along you begin to notice little sparkles of light, almost like the stars above, yet twinkling all around you.   It’s natural magic I tell you…

As I write early this morning, Captain Jack is outside crowing like a banshee.  Or, um, a rooster I suppose.  Good thing we live a few hundred yards from our neighbors! If I listen carefully, there’s another rooster crowing a good distance to the south, so maybe he’s just keeping up appearances :)

I have to say the eggs these little birds give us each day are really wonderful.  I’m officially spoiled now with having fresh eggs and store bought cartons will never seem the same.  So in the name of enjoying such bounty, I’ve decided to encourage the girls to continue laying this winter by adding a little artificial light.

There’s a host of passions on the issue, but honestly the chickens I have are bred to be decent winter layers anyway. But I realized an extension cord into the nearby shed would be too simple, and perhaps it will give the girls a little extra heat in the winter. I’ll keep the light going for a few extra hours each evening, and that should be just enough to keep their egg production going well. I have to admit I also like the idea of the chickens earning their keep!

So the cool thing about how the coop fits together with the shed is that the window in the shed serves as both the “feeder door” and as a window for the light to shine through.    I put the food into a 30 gallon galvanized can to minimize the mice or other critters getting to it. When it’s time to feed (which seems to be all too frequently lately!), we just scoop it up and reach through the window to their feeder.

Makes it so much simpler, and I’m soooo glad I built it there.  Between the shed and the nest box door outside the coop, we don’t have to go inside the run and coop itself very often.   Of course if all the hens laid their eggs in the nest boxes, we’d only have to go in the coop every few days to change water.   There’s a couple of hold outs…  those hens seem to lay their eggs wherever the mood strikes them!

The light works well enough, although I may run it into the coop this winter to provide a little extra heat.  Or maybe the inherent heat within the shed will help keep the coop warm.  Either way most of the walls are insulated, and when I figure out what to put over the screen windows the chickens should be fine.

Otherwise it’s time to clean up around here.   I’ve been battling weeds and grass, and thinking of preparing for winter.  Summer’s done gone…   The cycle begins again it seems.   I did come across an interesting plant, way up high in a dead tree.    This snag has been around for a long time, and this year a Pokeweed plant (Phytolacca americana) decided to grow about halfway up on the right side…

Have you ever had poke salat ?    Lots of folks in the south have made it a staple, at least in the older days.   I tried it last year, not bad… if you like cooked greens.   When the little head and shoots are coming up around 6 inches in the spring, you just cut them off at ground level.

Then you boil the heck of them (two or three times is a good idea) and maybe saute them like spinach with butter or garlic and olive oil.  Pretty tasty, although I was a little hesitant because just about the entire plant is poisonous!   You can’t eat the plant or the berries in their mature form at all.

But if you never ate it before… then maybe you’ve heard the song.   Remember Tony Joe White’s Poke Salad Annie?   Here’s a grand ‘ole duet with Tony on the Johnny Cash Show from April, 1970… think I was in third or fourth grade, somewhere between California and New Jersey…

That’s just plain good stuff…


We Remember

May 30th, 2010

“They hover as a cloud of witnesses above this nation… “

Henry W. Beecher

A Journey of Dreams and Inspiration

January 18th, 2010

It’s often amazing to read about what some people are doing with their lives. I have written of one such person in the past, and I find myself following her progress nearly every day.   Her name is Jessica Watson, and at 16years of age she is making the journey of a lifetime.  There has been much discussion or even amazement at how someone so young could be on such a journey at all.  But I don’t write this to entertain the “Why” or “Why not” of such a trek.

Today I’m simply offering a salute to a fellow adventurer on this great journey of our lives.  Sailing the world in a tiny 34 foot sailboat (see what it looks like from the top of the mast!), She has just in the past week accomplished an incredible feat of rounding Cape Horn single-handedly as part of her attempt at a sailing solo circumnavigation of the earth.   Just sense the excitement as she shares a little of her experience:


Her parents even made the journey from Australia to the Cape so they could fly over her sailboat in a plane. She is now journeying northeast past the Falkland Islands, continuing and only about half-way around the southern seas of our planet. 

One may reflect upon the challenges, strife and human suffering we see throughout the world… but does that diminish the triumph of the human spirit in a different context? As simply as one who reaches out to help others, I believe we can choose to embrace life and each new day as a chance to grow and achieve. We may see human effort and consequence in stark moral terms, and that is our privilege or failing, as the case may be. Sometimes however, others help frame the context of life in ways we may leverage to show us what is possible. To each their own.

For now a young woman has chosen this path for her life. I can find no fault in it… rather it seems to me quite empowering to reflect upon the opportunity and challenges that any of us may accept and accomplish, no matter how mundane or encompassing. She writes of her journey from the heart with such honesty… I find it inspiring, courageous, amazing and even a bit breathtaking to imagine it all. We wish you fair winds and safe passage, and… Godspeed Jessica!

It Wasn’t So Long Ago

December 7th, 2009

I think winter has finally arrived, perhaps a little early.  A week ago I was working outside in a t-shirt and yesterday I couldn’t pick up a waterlogged sandbag because it was frozen solid! That’s okay, we did pretty well this fall with a long period of warm weather.  I’m thankful to have finished what I could, and lately it has been clean-up time around the property.

Today is Pearl Harbor Day here in America, which for too many people is quickly becoming a forgotten day of remembrance.  It seems like a long time ago however, and our Greatest Generation have been leaving us too quickly in recent years. Still there are stories and a sense of awe when you think of what took place, and how America was thrust into the war so quickly afterward.  

USS Maryland and capsized USS Oklahoma - U.S. Navy photo

USS Maryland and capsized USS Oklahoma - U.S. Navy photo

I’m a Navy man, and will probably always remember this day.  I lived in Japan for several years.  It’s a beautiful country with a proud, wonderful people.  I really enjoyed my time there, as did my wife and son – they lived there while I was deployed, just a few years ago really.   The young boy was there for much of his first three years and even spoke Japanese for a time (he loves sushi to this day).  I worked with the Japanese military first-hand, and grew to respect the people and their nation’s journey- they are great friends and allies.

It wasn’t alway so of course, as with so much of world history.  Looking back, I have to admit that Pearl Harbor didn’t mean much to me while growing up.  It was the past… twenty or thirty years seems like ancient history to a kid.   As I grow older it seems like yesterday.

The navy changed my view of Pearl Harbor, literally, on one particular beautiful, sunny morning.   I was returning from deployment to the Persian Gulf on board USS Nimitz in June of 1993.  We were stopping in Hawaii for a few days enroute home.  I had not been to Hawaii before, and was excited when I realized we would make our way to Pearl.  One of the long traditions the navy shares is that upon arrival at a visiting port, it’s appropriate to render honors of various kinds, and to look shipshape… that was especially true while coming into Pearl Harbor (headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet).  After cleaning and shining things up for what seems like days on end (and throwing fresh gray paint everywhere) one of the sharpest looking things a ship can do is to have the crew “man the rails.”

We fell out that morning in our “tropical whites” or the nice looking white uniforms that sailors wear (and promptly end up getting grease all over).  It doesn’t take the whole crew of more than five thousand on an aircraft carrier to man the rails (or edge of the carrier deck), so the leadership designates who will do so.  Many of us volunteer for the opportunity, considering it a privilege.  I’ve manned the rails many times before, usually pulling in to some exotic port far across the seas with quite a different mindset.  But I never came in to Pearl Harbor standing on the deck of a ship except on that one occasion.

Hundreds of sailors in bright white uniforms filed up on deck about an hour out of port.  There we were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, as the deep blue sea changed to beautiful aquamarine with white sands and island green looming ahead.  I was standing on the port bow, and as we came in the entrance to the harbor everything was silent.  The massive aircraft carrier, laden with aircraft, men and women, moved quietly through the water at a very slow speed.  There was no conversation among the troops on deck, and I was struck by how narrow the passage was.

I felt like I could throw a baseball to either shoreline from the deck of the carrier- it was that narrow.  And as I looked ahead to how small the harbor and navy shipyard really was, I began to understand how the attack on Pearl Harbor must have been so horrific, and how trying to get some… any… of those ships out through the narrow entrance was a major priority.

As the harbor began to broaden, ahead and to the left I watched as the white memorial to the USS Arizona came into view, just a few hundred yards away, with its flag held high.  I remember the warm breeze, blowing gently across the deck, and the only sound that of small waves splashing against the bow.  It was peaceful and calm.  I wondered about the contrast to so many years before. 

As we approached closer the command “Attention!” came over the 5MC on deck, and then “Hand salute!”

USS Ronald Reagan salute to USS Arizona Memorial, November 17, 2008. - U.S. Navy Photo

USS Ronald Reagan salute to USS Arizona Memorial, November 17, 2008. - U.S. Navy Photo

We stood at attention for a good minute or two, maybe longer.  It was hard to imagine what took place there, or that 1,102 men of the 1,177 killed just on the USS Arizona that long ago morning still lay inside the ship, beneath the calm blue waters.  It was a solemn, respectful occasion, and an opportunity to better understand what Pearl Harbor meant in our nation’s history.

I didn’t have a picture of that morning, but the one above from the USS Ronald Reagan was taken just over a year ago.  I’m glad to see we still man the rails and render honors to the fallen as ships pass by the USS Arizona.  I’m glad we still remember the events long ago at Pearl Harbor.

A Voyage Alone Around the World

October 18th, 2009

I believe that if we are truly fortunate and determined, we can experience moments within our lives that are transformational.   That we may create opportunities to experience and encounter amazing things… life-changing things, and to lift ourselves up in ways that we’ve only previously imagined.    It doesn’t have to be an epic journey, or a singular event.  It might be the experience of helping another person truly in need, or sharing the life of a new-born child that might never have come before.  Maybe it’s a personal spiritual event that only the individual will ever really know about.

And yet maybe it is indeed an epic journey.  For Jessica Watson, today begins an incredible journey that most of us can hardly imagine.  At just 16 years old, Jessica is attempting to become the youngest person to ever sail non-stop around the world.  She left Syndey Harbour in Australia this morning, beginning what may be an eight month journey… by herself.   Can you imagine?  

It’s a dream I’ve always had, and yet with nearly five decades behind me I doubt I will experience that dream in my lifetime.  I’ve seen the tumult of the seas first hand, but from a far different perspective.  Some of which included standing on the deck of a thousand foot long aircraft carrier, watching enormous waves pitch such a ship around, sometimes breaking over the bow more than 60 feet from the ocean’s surface.   I’ve flown off such a pitching home, and landed on the same.  I remember the ship pitching and rolling so precipitously at times that the enormous propellors, taller than a house, were lifted nearly all out of the waves for brief moments.   I’ve watched the smaller frigates and cruisers far astern being tossed like toothpicks (as I merely rolled around on the carrier), and marvelled at the power of nature.  I’ve seen Cape Horn and waves that looked like mountains rip catwalks and lifeboats off the side of the ship.  I’ve seen storms in the North Pacific toss aircraft over the side. I’ve launched off the bow in an approaching typhoon, riding hell bent toward the waves as the ship pitched up just in time and my craft went airborne.   So much more, and yet it’s all so beautiful too.


I remember watching the sun set while waiting to launch off the deck, only to see it rise briefly as I climbed thousands of feet into the sky, and then watching it set once again on the same day.   All those years I looked below at the world’s oceans, thousands of miles from anywhere else.   It’s a beautiful, tranquil place at times.  And a lonely place.  I remember flying alone in my small fighter from Iwo Jima toward Tokyo just after sunset one evening.  Everything was cloaked in a glowing gray and white, incredibly beautiful to see, and spanning nearly the entire 600 miles of ocean between was another typhoon far below.  I  looked down from around 39,000 feet at the swirls of white clouds, and traveled over the eye of that storm marveling at the energy of wind and waves that must be taking place so far below on the ocean’s surface. 

Perhaps it’s because of what I have, or more importantly- what I have not experienced, that I find her journey all the more amazing.  Jessica and her supporters have prepared for this journey for a long time now, and she is an accomplished sailor.   Yet the strength and courage that such a journey must take is staggering to me to consider.  In an age of digital communications, and where news travels literally at the speed of light, we may too easily take for granted her age or journeys such as this.   No matter the technology she may have on board, nothing can change the fact that a young woman, alone, is sailing around the world in a sailboat.   She is facing the seas alone, and I pray she will be successful on her long journey.   Fair winds Jessica!  And following seas where you most need them!

You can read updates about Jessica’s journey at her blog, Youngest Round.

The Priceless Harmonica

September 1st, 2009

Collectibles… what is it about our penchant for collecting things? It starts in youth, innocently enough. Like the young boy, we collect rocks or leaves or something found on our adventures. But it doesn’t stop there- we end up collecting things far into adulthood in one form or another. Come on, admit it… you’ve got a secret stash of coins somewhere, or stamps or maybe baseball cards that you were wise enough (or not) to save from childhood? Or maybe a hoard of leftover beanie-babies from the 90’s… Or what about spoons or thimbles that you see in tourist stores all over the country? Hmmm… plates or dishes? Figurines?

My personal favorite… fishing lures- preferably old ones. Hey, don’t laugh- I was given a prized Winchester fishing lure many years ago, previously found sitting on a shelf in an antique shop for a few bucks.  I was surprised to find it’s worth around $300 because the company only made them for a few years in the 1920’s and ’30’s. And antiques? Makes me think of the PBS show… did you see the one about the old carpet worth a half-million dollars?

I’m more of an old book person myself. I’ve got small collection going, with two favorites- a near orginal Self Reliance by Emerson, and a ragged little book from 1825 titled The Works of Dr. Benjamin Franklin.   They’re not worth much, except for the value I find in them.  


I just love the feel and weight of an old book. The presence it carries from a time no longer with us… the weathered pages, writings by amazing people from history.  I think about their lives when I hold an old book, and imagine the future they were looking at… I find notes in margins and wonder who wrote them.  

From a collecting perspective, most old books are not very good investments, and they take up a lot of space.  Mine will probably be recycled one day to another person who loves old books.  Maybe someone generations from now will turn the same pages and it will fire their imagination too.

It still seems we’re always on the lookout for a great collecting opportunity. Personally I like saving money and end up trying to shop frugally or find a deal somewhere. I end up using Amazon.com quite a bit after comparing prices.

Tonight I found a unique item- a genuine Hohner Marine Band Harmonica hand-signed by none other than Bob Dylan!

Hey, that’s cool really- who wouldn’t want something autographed by Robert Allen Zimmerman? I mean Bob Dylan? Take a look at this beauty:


Cool autograph, huh? And how much could it cost anyway?…. Ah, well…. um… here:


Zowie.  Don’t get me wrong, I like Bob Dylan. Well, sort of anyway.  It wasn’t my generation, and his music is a little different than I’m used to. But honestly some of his stuff is pretty good- strong and heartfelt, and touches something inside of us.  He is after all an American legend… Grammys, Academy Award, Rock and Roll and Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, a Pulitzer, the decades of history…  Wow.  Hey, Mr. Dylan is even going to release a Christmas album this year to benefit charity.  That’s cool.

By the way, only 100 of these harmonicas will be produced and signed by Mr. Dylan.   Quite a limited edition.   Which means that most of us probably will not be collecting this special Harp any time soon.  Although you can get seven of them for $25,000? That’s a savings of $10,000 right there man.   Ah, nope. Even the free shipping won’t make that one work.  Honestly they could be viewed as priceless.

Every now and then the internet gives us some real jewels… pearls of wisdom if you may, and sometimes we come across some really interesting things.   As engaging as this musical masterpiece was to ponder, I enjoyed the review and comments it attracted even more- at least as of today you can read this review:


And the comments (if you can read them) were quite instructional too…


One never knows where you’ll find the next million dollar idea or a real value with collectibles.  Maybe one of these harmonicas will indeed be worth a fortune in years to come.  Personally I think there are better ways to make money.

Whoever buys these things is blowing a lot of cash in the wind so to speak, so I hope it’s worth it.   Or maybe not, but at least that it’s worth it to them.  

Like my old books, at least it might hold a special place in someone’s home and heart and that’s all that really matters I suppose.  

But I think the commenters above put the whole collecting thing in a perspective worth sharing.  It’s really just stuff.

Independent Thoughts

July 3rd, 2009

A beautiful finish to the week- and a chance to get much accomplished.  I was on the tractor yesterday thinking of how much we celebrate and take for granted on such holiday weekends as this.   So many of us will gather with friends and family, and enjoy good food and special times.   As it should be.   What a proud day in our nation’s history- we have much to be thankful for.  

On July 4th, 1776, the delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence.  Most of us knew that, but we don’t often think about the price those men and their families paid for doing so.  Or why they voted for independence in the first place.


There were many reasons leading to the desire to be an independent nation.  I remember the story of the Boston Tea Party as a child for example.  In 1773 angry colonists dressed as Mohawk Indians and dumped over 40 tons of taxed British tea into the Boston Harbor.  This in response to the Tea Act- levying taxes on colonists by an unelected legislature far across the Atlantic Ocean.  In response, Boston Harbor was shut down completely by the British, stopping all commerce and hurting businesses and families. 

That was one of the Coercive acts that led to the first Continental Congress  meeting in 1774.  It’s hard to even relate to events so long ago, until we feel or see how our lives may be touched in similar ways.  Those who serve this great nation at home and abroad feel deeply about their service in much the same way as those patriots of long ago- they are serving because they believe in America.  

Those who believe strongly in limited government and fiscal responsibility also feel deeply about things, for example to what degree our government should be involved today in our lives in terms of laws and taxation.  And others believe that government should have a much larger role to play. Sometimes it leaves you wondering- here in Missouri for example, there are a host of auto workers who just produced the last Dodge Ram pick-up truck at a plant near St. Louis, Missouri.  The plant is being closed down, presumably for good.  And while these fine men and women are out of jobs- they watched as tax dollars were spent bailing out the auto companies- and those tax dollars in essence have been funneled to another auto plant in a different country to produce the same vehicles.   Competitiveness is one thing- but it doesn’t seem appropriate that taxpayers have been asked to support jobs to make American cars and trucks in another country, while leaving our own citizens without jobs at home.

Some have even chosen July 4th this year as TEA Party Day– representing a remembrance and organized form of protest over how much spending and taxation we may see in the years ahead.    We see California beginning to write IOU’s because they can’t figure out a state budget.  Other states struggle with the same debate over increasing taxes, or reducing spending, and these issues are integral to the lives and fortunes of the people who live there.

We live in a great country- where we can freely discuss, debate and organize over issues people believe are important.  We may not always agree- but the pendulum still swings. Have a great weekend!

Memories of Spring, Rare Plants and Rare People

April 1st, 2009

On this first day of April I finally feel like spring is here.  The days are warming up and flowers and leaves are coming out everywhere- and the birds! When you walk out the door at sunrise, the singing is amazing.  Cardinals, Phoebes, Towhees, Sparrows, Bluebirds… it’s a wild cacophony of twittering and song.  Well, twittering means something else to most people these days…  but for me it’s the birds.

It is a lovely time of year though.  It reminds me so much of exploring the forests when I was younger.  I remember a spring in the early 1980’s when I really learned about the plants and wildflowers throughout the Ozarks.   I was taking a botany class in college, and wouldn’t you know it- most of what we had to do was hike and walk around looking for plants to identify.  My kind of class!  One time we were hiking throughout the northwestern Arkansas Ozarks and the professor had us gather around to examine a plant.  He gingerly held something up and asked if we knew what it was… no one answered.  He handed it to one of the guys, and said “Feel the little hairs on the stem, and tell me what you think…”  Within a few moments the young gent dropped the stinging nettle yelling “Owww!”  It only stings and itches for a short time, but we thought that was pretty funny- and I never forgot the plant.

On another trip to some beautiful highland slopes above a river, we wandered along below a bluff admiring the landscape.  One of my classmates found a neat little bush with white flowers, and was about to pull some off… “Don’t touch that plant!!!” the professor screamed, as we all jumped wondering what was the matter.  He ran up and we gathered around as he excitedly described that the plant, Alabama Snow-wreath, was very rare and only found in a few places across the southern states.

Alabama Snow-wreath (Neviusia alabamensis A. Gray) GFDL Kurt Steuber


He knew of only two places it was growing at the time, one of them where we stood.  There were just a few bushes in a small circle, covered with white flowers.  The plant is still classified as threatened and is very rare, but has also been found in Missouri and a few other southern states.   Oddly, some have propagated the plant for gardens as it’s similar to spirea, but it’s still very uncommon.  I remember admiring the wispy white flower heads and standing in awe that the plant I was seeing only grew in a few places in the entire world.  As startled as I was by the professor’s response at first, I had to wonder how many other plant and animal species across the globe had a similar distinction.   The more I learned about plants and wildlife, the more I appreciated his convictions.   Perhaps that awakened the realization that the world is much smaller than it seems.

The journeys I would later make throughout the world became an exploration of nature too, and proved just how small the world really is- even while at times I felt torn watching the machinations of mankind against the backdrop of world politics.  I felt a greater responsibility than being a mere instrument of political will, and sought balance within myself through the years.  Nothing was ever as black and white as it seemed, but I am thankful for having made the journey.

Spring was never quite the same for me after those early days in school however.  Instead, the season after winter became a quiet revelation of the wonders of the natural world, instilling a sense of appreciation and mystery that has always remained.   How can one describe the joy and excitement of finding a new flower, plant or bird in a place you haven’t seen before?  Not everyone appreciates that mystery and beauty… to some it’s the same old thing.  But to those of us who feel the pulse of nature quicken in our hearts, it is everything.

A year or so after that botany field trip I was somehow chosen to pick up none other than Jean-Michel Cousteau at the airport one day, to bring him to the school for a speaking presentation on the environment.   I barely remember the event or what he did after I brought him to the school.  I do remember waiting at the little airport, wondering how I could be picking up the son of the famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau… the man I grew up watching on television and dreaming of the adventures and explorations he made throughout the world.

I wish I could even remember our conversation as we drove for a half hour to the school campus.  It was unremarkable, and he was tired from his journey.  I was young and wanted to make a good impression… mostly by not having an accident while driving the van on the way to the school!  I do remember that I tried to share a bit of the beauty of spring that year- he agreed, brightening a bit and  saying something like,  “Ah, oui! Yaas, ze vorld iz a beootiful place, non?” I remember wishing I could see the places he had seen, and travel to faraway lands.    Eventually I would, but in such a different way!  His life of course has become a celebration of environmental awareness and education, especially in terms of water and ocean issues- and a testament to his father’s life and research.


Speaking of water and another spring ritual, our Koi Carp have become active once again in the pond.  They’re not true Nishikigoi or Japanese Koi, but rather a hybrid carp of sorts grown here in America.  But they’re placid fish, cruising around the pond, and I enjoy seeing them.  In November or December they seem to disappear- and all winter long I wonder if they are doing okay, especially under the ice.  They go into a near hibernation or stasis of sorts in winter, finding a deeper, muddy place to wait out the cold months.  In mid-to-late March they reappear near the shorelines, and begin cruising around in the shallow warmer waters.

Those in our pond are very large fish now- between 2-3 feet long.   Most are orange and black in coloration- but this one is a mottled white.  We call the very orange ones “Orangey” and the ones with a large black spot, “Spot.”  Very orginal, huh?! I haven’t been able to get close enough to tell them apart, but this year I’ll try to get more pictures like this.  We may call this one Motley or Patch…  That’s the tip of a bluestem plant in the foreground- the fish probably weighs 20-30 pounds or more.

Koi Carp

We had five at one point- beginning with three about 8-12 inches long, and stocking two smaller ones about 6-8 inches long a year later.  One of those disappeared, and we’ve seen the same four large Koi Carp together now for the past couple of years.   I don’t feed them- they help control the vegetation and subsist on a natural diet.  Thus far they seem to be doing just fine, and based on their life cycle, may still be here long after we are gone.

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