Archive for the 'Stories Travels and Dreams' Category

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.

Seems Like Yesterday

September 11th, 2009


Has it been eight years?  I was awakened near midnight, half a world away. Within 24 hours we were in the South China Sea heading toward the Strait of Malacca. The next three months were spent a few miles off the coast of Somethingstan Afghanistan. No contact with home. Strange folks coming and going… whatever we could do, we did.  Caught glimpses of the news in the States, and shared tears for those lost and remembered.  It seems like yesterday.

Real Life Matters

June 26th, 2009

Today may be the hottest of the week as temperatures have soared.  I heard a swimming pool in the region brought in 20,000 pounds of ice to cool it down for a swim meet!   I remember growing up with temperatures over 100 degrees for quite some time, but we just seemed to make do. “Dang it boy… when I was young…!”      No, we enjoyed air conditioning (and a cool basement!), but a lot more folks made do without.  We spent a lot of time working outside none-the-less, and just drank lots of water.  But we didn’t think about it- everything was “local” back then, and weather was a lot more mysterious to the lay person without digital radar updated every few seconds.  We tried to find out what the weather was like in a few cities to the west, and guessed at cloud formations.  The forecasters were often as wrong as they were right- a lot less accurate than today.   Of course we didn’t have internet, email, or cell phones- but it’s more than that.  Because of our networked world today, we have instant-on news and information from nearly every part of the world. 

With that data-centric awareness we can always be “plugged in” but our minds can easily be filled with extraneous and brain-consuming information.  I use the computer every day, and love technology for the productivity it can bring to our lives.  Yet sometimes I wonder what we miss or give up to stay so connected.   They say that folks aged 16-24 are “texting” around 50% of the time while on the road driving… that amazes me.  And that about 20% of adults are texting on the road.   I’m sorry but that is a dumb thing to do.  It just isn’t necessary- why risk your life or someone else’s to have a conversation with your fingers? 

I don’t like the idea of state laws dictating what we can or can’t do in a car, but can you imagine being responsible for an accident while texting (or even talking on the phone)?   The problem is that it doesn’t relate directly to operating the vehicle.    Even voice converstations can be so distracting- I’ve talked on the phone while driving, but it takes a lot of concentration.   It’s just not a natural thing to do for most people, and because it doesn’t relate to the physical activity taking place, it is a separate activity. 

There’s a reason the FAA has rules for airline pilots that prohibit “small talk” unrelated to cockpit duties while the aircraft is below certain altitudes…  so they can concentrate on operating their aircraft.  I flew a couple jet aircraft in the navy- incorporating some amazing technologies.  Sometimes our hands would operate dozens of near-simultaneous command inputs while flying- usually without voice actions inside the cockpit.  But tons of voice information would come into the cockpit at the same time.  I can tell you it’s very difficult to concentrate on the mission- but just about everything is related to that mission.  And there’s a ton of training that takes place.   Texting and talking while driving is not related to the actions of driving- it’s a distraction, and it’s usually a distraction in an incredibly dense operational environment.  Anyway, it’s an issue sure to grow, I would think especially in legal realms.

It’s more than just driving.  I was in the grocery store a while back- stuck behind a woman in the aisle.  I thought she was trying to choose something from the shelf… then after a couple minutes I realized she was texting!  Sheesh…  for some people it’s like their brain turns off.   She was embarassed when she realized she was blocking the aisle, lost in her digital world.  

Sometimes I yearn for those days when our world seemed so much smaller at home, and bigger far away- we just didn’t know everything, hear everything… or wonder or care about everything.   I think it’s important to get outside, slow down and take the time to detach… for me, a rural lifestyle provides that balance but it’s a choice.   Real life matters.  



Two icons of pop-culture passed away yesterday.  I remember growing up admiring the Farrah posters that I would see in stores or at friends houses- and yes, I even watched Charlie’s Angels a time or two.   Seems like yesterday, and we all have our time.   And the musician.  I remember wondering what the point was of a tv music channel that was on every day… until I spent a summer in college studying physics.  Then I would take a break and watch MTV at a friends place, amazed by it all.   Watching Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video the next year… what an amazing musician and performer. But I never watched a lot of MTV.  Real life mattered more.

That long range digital forecast says it will start cooling down this weekend, with a cooler week coming up.  That sounds pretty good and I hope you stay cool too.

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.

Dancing in the Sky

March 16th, 2009

It was so warm out this weekend that it felt like the middle of spring.  We’re not there yet of course, after seeing the low 20’s last week.  Many trees and shrubs have begun to leaf out, and hopefully everything hangs in there as winter gives way and the days grow longer.  Will we have another hard freeze?  I hope not… with luck we may actually have a little fruit from our small orchard this year.

Meanwhile I’ve enjoyed watching some of our avian friends returning, including several juvenile Red-tailed Hawks.  


I remember writing two years ago that I worked with raptors quite a few years back.  I worked alone as a biological research technician in a southern swamp for a few splendid seasons… big words for someone who ran through fields and forests gathering data. 

It was a great job, with some key prerequsites, like being okay wading through waist deep water with snakes drooping from branches above looking down at you.  For me it was an amazing experience though- I saw the natural world first hand and thought about what I wanted to do with my life.  It was quiet yet engaging work, and afforded time to watch the unfolding rhythms of nature as the seasons changed. 

In this case my charter was to follow a nesting pair of hawks around most of the day for three overlapping seasons.  Using radio tracking equipment I could tell when they were flying or sitting, and then go find them to observe what they were doing.  Sometimes I would climb trees adjacent to their nest and watch them feed other critters to their young fledglings, witnessing the stark realities of nature each day.  I remember seeing otters in the wild for the first time in my life.  While abundant in Missouri now, they were rarely seen in those days. 

One time I was canoeing down a swampy canal in the middle of the bottomland forest, peacefully watching those snakes glide off branches into the water.  And then while feeling totally relaxed, a loud “Smack-splash!!!” from a beaver’s tail and I nearly jumped out of the canoe.  The beaver non-chalantly climbed up on the bank and sat there licking it’s fur and watching me glide by.  How I wish I had taken a camera along on so many of those days.

On another warm, early spring afternoon in that watery place I watched in amazement as a pair of bald eagles performed incredible aerial maneuvers in preparation for the mating season.  It was like nothing I had seen before- I was enthralled, watching them zooming, climbing and diving towards each other with talons extended, and then doing quick snap-rolls as they passed while their talons touched briefly.  

I had dreamed for years as a youngster of learning to fly, and not just anywhere… watching the eagles was incredible and at the time seemed like a vision or a sign to pursue those dreams.  Through a series of fortunate events, I then met someone and took a job as a graduate assistant at the University of Missouri, studying and teaching biology.   There I was, barely out of college, teaching science labs to over a hundred undergraduates.   That was a wonderful, humbling experience in itself, and as lifetimes go I ended up meeting someone else and fumbling furiously towards my dreams to fly. 

I ended up spending the next 20 years traveling around world, flying off aircraft carriers for much of it, and seeing places and things I would never have believed.  I haven’t written or talked about it much because it was a different chapter of my life.  In some ways it’s almost like a movie that I saw long ago, and wonder about at times.  Parts of it are difficult to share, and others better left unsaid.  I enjoyed most of it, especially the sights and sounds of lives and places I didn’t really understand.   It fulfilled a desire for service and I loved the flying immensely- in many ways it was hard to let go.  Flight became an extension of an earthly life- literally to see new horizons in a given day.  Much more, but with that said I think I’ve been looking for a way to share some thoughts about those days or places, and maybe where I’ve held back at times.  I’m not really sure yet.   But when I might write about something far away, you’ll have some idea of how I got there.   Now we’re here, on a new journey for the past few years and it’s a chance to explore a whole new set of dreams.

I was thinking of that day long ago watching the eagles when I saw a pair of Red-tailed Hawks last week.  They perform similar flight maneuvers and I watched as a juvenile pair circled high above the pond calling to each other.    Here’s a fuzzy picture of one several hundred yards in the air as it dropped towards another hawk. 


They too extended talons and flew at each other, but it wasn’t quite as dramatic as that day with the eagles long ago.  Still it is something to watch and I can only wonder why they seem to love dancing in the sky?  Are they showing what good hunters they are with legs and talons thrust out aggressively, kind of “showing their stuff”  to their possible mate?  

Their flying antics continued for about five minutes, with shrieks and cries, and then all at once they separated and headed back over the woodlands towards their nesting site.   One of them dipped quickly toward the treetops, wings tucked and whispering quietly as it flew past me just a few meters away. 


Birds, and raptors especially, have always been part of my life.  I’ve watched and studied them since my school days and there’s a connection with flight that I’ve felt closely through the years.   I loved the change that flying provided too- a physical change of perspective as well as a mental shift.  You can be sitting on the ground, shrouded in fog and drizzling rain… and a minute or two later you burst forth through clouds into a shimmering sky,  with sunlit mountains of white all around. 

Isn’t life often the same?   Stretches of rain and gray at times, and then days filled with light and promise where we embrace our surroundings, finding it a sheer joy to be alive.   We’ve all lived lived through such challenges and bright days.  And I believe we have a great deal of choice regarding whether it’s the gray skies or the sunlight we see the most.  It’s neither the weather or our eyes that really tell us so.

From Mud Pie to Rocky Road

February 18th, 2009

Sometimes it’s the small things in life that make us happy. I’m an outside kind of guy, meaning I really enjoy getting outdoors and doing things. Of course I enjoy inside things too, like curling up with a good book on a rainy day.  But much of my life has been about going places, and I still  get restless to go about, even if it’s just about the garden.  Somehow it validates our being alive and we can be part of those elements such as the sun and the wind that make life so embracing.

I remember standing on a mountaintop in the Cascades of the northwest one night with a thunderstorm raging all around. Lightning, rain, wind nowhere to hide- except for a little tent, and yet it was amazing if not unsettling. The landscape was illuminated in brief flashes of rocks, peaks, trees stark and ghostly sights. It was breathtaking and exhilarating- a grand moment of being alive.

As I’ve grown older however, it’s the small joys of life that really matter more.  Most of those involve family and the gradual pace of life each day.  And one of them is as simple as a walk to the barn along a fifty yard reach of gravel.

Why is that so enjoyable? Well there’s a lot of cool things in the barn of course. It’s that place where many engines and machines are kept that help do things around here. It’s the place filled with dusty shelves and old tools. It’s the place where the leaves blow in and are swept out, and an ongoing compromise occurs between dirty and clean, or at least clean enough. It’s the place where the fishing poles lay, and the air compressor and the many other things that are used willy-nilly throughout the year to help shape the course of our lives. It’s really the kind of place to find old memories, and to begin making new ones.

It’s also the place where I forget things an awful lot. I walk back and forth from the barn a dozen times or more during the days I’m outside working, especially when I forget something in the garage.  And that walk is made a lot simpler and more enjoyable because of one little thing. Or a million little things namely a bunch of rocks, or gravel.

It may seem strange that I’m so delighted by a bunch of little rocks. But without them, that fifty yard stretch of driveway was once a sea of sticky, wet mud.  Before the gravel, it was like taking a slow shuffle to the barn, hopping around looking for dry spots or climbing up one side of the grassy slope uphill, or back around the other downhill. There isn’t a really good way to get there except down the driveway, especially if you need to drive something. 

As you can see from the picture below, you weren’t going to get away from the muck either. I tried and tried to grade it, and only made it worse… I humbly ate mud pie, or muddy humble pie, I don’t know which.  Either way I didn’t like it.  Our shoes were a mess, the driveway was a mess, the tires of tractors and vehicles were a mess, and the animals feet were a mess. When it rained you simply couldn’t walk back there. Why bother too much trouble. Except there’s always something you need to do out there!

Muddy driveway before gravel

It wasn’t always that way of course- the previous gravel base had simply been worn into the dirt over many years, and soil accumulated around the driveway environment from runoff.  During the summer it was usually dry, but during the wet months a mess.  Can you imagine what it would have been like to live in so many smaller towns and cities a hundred years ago with just muddy streets instead of cobblestones or asphalt/cement? I have some idea…  but enough was enough for me and it was time to do something. 

Two years ago I brought in about 10 tons of minus ¾ inch gravel as a base.  The ‘minus’ word means the gravel has a lot of really fine dust and particulate matter, along with some larger size rocks all mixed in. It’s not quite muddy, but it can be sticky and difficult to work. After a couple of weeks of grading and shaping, it covered the mud pretty well, but didn’t quite keep the driveway very dry or clean. It was still chalky-mucky in spots and the water just ran on the top during rain.

We tried that for a year, but needed something drier- a crunchy top to walk on- and I investigated a few more options.  Last summer I brought in another 10+ tons of clean one-inch gravel for the top. The clean part means it was just nice clean rock- very little dust or particulate matter. It was also easier to grade and move around, and I finally covered the entire two-hundred feet of driveway back past the barn almost a couple inches deep.

Gravel on driveway

I never knew that a bunch of little rocks could make me so happy.  That’s something else I enjoy… learning.  Somebody with more experience would have known the best thing to do all at once.  I’m one of those who would rather figure it out as I go along.  I wasn’t sure how it would work out, but after going through most of the summer, fall and this winter- it has held up very well. The water from rainfall drains off through the rock, has enough of a base to prevent erosion, and most importantly it keeps your feet dry and clean no more mud. Hooray!  It was rocky road for me.

The real test was last Friday, when I hid some flowers in the barn for Valentine’s Day (they’ve got to go somewhere).  But then the temperature almost dropped below freezing that night so I ran out really early the next morning (like 4:30 am) in my slippers to bring them in. I had to laugh that I was crunching over the gravel in slippers, remembering how muddy it was a couple years before.

So how long will the driveway stay this way? I don’t know, but probably a few good years at least.  It really doesn’t cost that much to bring the gravel in, but it’s a lot of work spreading it around.  A little tractor helps a lot.  It’s worth it though- instead of hopping around in the mud, now we can dance our way down the driveway with ease.  And the boy will tell you there’s lots of cool rocks out there too!  Through the grand adventures of our lives,  it’s often the little things that make all the difference.

Cabin Fever Daze in Winter

January 22nd, 2009

Beautifully warm days this week after such cold ones before, and it really makes me think that spring is just around the corner.  I know it’s too soon, and we have many cold nights ahead, but as far as I’m concerned- we’re on the downside of winter.  

Male Eastern Bluebird

I think the Bluebirds agree because I’ve seen them around the house a lot more.   I wonder if they know how beautiful they are?!  I need to fix and put up a couple more nesting boxes so we keep them around. And this morning I heard a cardinal singing away, and saw a flock of robins.  The robins stay in flocks through winter, but then begin to break up and look for their own nesting places.  

Tower of dominoes

As cold as it was last week we’ve all had a little cabin fever and spent the time playing games.  We tried playing the game of dominoes, but ended up doing what everyone does… building domino trails to knock down.  Then we built a giant tower- it was pretty cool.  When it started to tip to one side, we built it a little heavier on the other.  It would have stayed up all day but for an overzealous yellow lab’s tail…. crash!  Oh well…

Ah, but we’re not totally out of the technological mainstream… we got a Wii last year, and use it now and then to play some fun games.  If you haven’t used a Wii before, it’s really engaging.  The wireless remote buzzes and rumbles, and directs almost any activity you can imagine on the tv screen.  There’s one game in which the remote acts like a paintbrush to reveal landscape colors, leaves, flowers, etc.  Another game we play involves so much physical activity that I have to sit down to catch my breath.  There’s even a brainquest game to show you how you think and react.  Other games are just fun, like racing cars against each other.  

Racing cars with the Wii

Video games weren’t around when I was a kid, but I think they can be used effectively with parental supervision.   Getting outside is much more important in my view, but for those cold or rainy days, I think it’s fine now and then.  I would like to see the software engineers design a lot more academically oriented games too, but those are mostly on the computer it seems.



Of course if you’re really bored, you can always find a kitty cat to wrestle with!  This is Princess and she’s being a good sport about being hugged like crazy.  Then she gets up and shakes herself off to regain her dignity.

Hugging the Cat

And by the way, I didn’t get a deer this year, but a deer got me!  We were driving back from the boy’s grandma’s house sunday night and a deer ran right into us- honest!  There we are, driving along at about 55 mph and I catch a glimpse of this big doe running full speed at the left shoulder in front of us with a crazed look in her eye…  I have about a half-second to decide where it’s going to hit us, so I gun it, jog the wheel quickly right then back left and- WHUMP!!!  the deer hits the left passenger door of the crew cab.   Man that thing hit hard, and I swear it was running so fast and low it looked like it was trying to hit us.

It’s was late,  it’s freezing cold and we’re on a major rural highway so I don’t stop. I catch a glimpse of brown near the shoulder as we drive away.   And it’s against the law to keep a deer you’ve hit anyway.  Maybe if it was a back road I would try to recover it, or call someone, but not that night.   The next day we drove by and there wasn’t a deer there… maybe someone else kept it or the deer got up and kept going.   

I was thankful we were in the truck and that the deer didn’t hit the front or come through the windshield.  If we’d been in our little car it would not have been pretty.   Ah but my pride was also bruised… the truck is only 3 years old and didn’t have  scratch on it. Go figure… so I was prepared for the worst, but when we got home there was only minor damage.  I’m still amazed based on how hard that deer hit us.

Dent from deer hitting truck

Funny- I’ve got an old F-250 by the barn that’s going on 17 years old with no dents in it!   We carry really high deductibles on the vehicles to keep insurance costs low, so I’ll live with the dent for now.   Never know when one of them critters is going to come charging across the road, huh? 

Dreams Among the Corn

January 19th, 2009

What are dreams made of?  Some see them as lofty or far reaching goals that we risk time, energy and much of our lives to achieve.  That may be so, and I have been privileged to realize so many of my life’s dreams in that fashion.  Understanding has come to me more slowly however, that many of our dreams are often the simpler moments of our lives, realized over time almost without recognition.  And then too we are sometimes lucky enough to watch a dream unfold in front of us.

In the summer of 2008 I found both. It was a time spent with one who I never thought I might meet, a son that I™ve come to know these past eight years and who surprises me each day with the marvels of his smile and his joy for life.

We took a trip, he and I, and spent barely a couple of weeks on the road in a small camper. We didn’t really know where we were going, only that we wanted to explore. We brought his bicycle, a dog and enough clothes to keep going without having to figure out where to wash them. There we went… alone together on a great adventure! We ended up making a 12 day circle to the north around Lake Michigan. We camped, hiked, bicycled, swam and played with a little bear cub during that trip, even sharing a particularly good cherry pie from a roadside stand along the way. In all it was a time to watch my son growing up. I’ll never forget him riding his bicycle with other kids in campgrounds, waving at me as he enjoyed his newfound independence. So many stories to tell, but one stands out among the others.

Towards the end of our trip we visited a place where dreams have come true for millions. It™s a nostalgic, fun and even romantic place. One where people honor the journeys we all make in life in reaching, searching and sometimes even finding something within that we have been looking for. The place is called The Field of Dreams site near Dyersville, Iowa , and is where the movie by the same name was filmed. It™s a home, a farm and a baseball field, created for the movie and remembered as a site for people far and wide to come and visit. Today it remains almost the same as it was over 20 years ago.

My then 7-year old son had never seen the movie, while I fondly remembered it. We found ourselves driving within 20 minutes of the site by sheer coincidence. We had stopped for breakfast while driving from Wisconsin into Iowa, and I noticed the site as a œpoint of interest on the gps navigation device we used for the trip. That little gadget proved its worth a hundred times over, especially on that trip. When I saw the listing for the œField of Dreams Movie Site on the Garmin, my pulse quickened a bit as I have always thought it would be neat to visit. I never imagined it would still be the same, but it was.  As we drove closer the landscape changed to fields of corn and sky as far as one could see.  For some a visit here meant a kind of nostalgic return to baseball’s roots, but for others it was something more- perhaps a validation of dreams shared or let go, or a desire to connect deeply with something inside.

My son wondered, as would any young boy, what the big deal was about a baseball field in the middle of nowhere.  But he knew I was excited and that was enough for him to see some value in visiting. We drove down the highway and turned off through cornfields, driving in the back way along gravel roads passing farms and silos. Over a small hill the baseball field appeared near a quaint white farm house, just as I remembered in the movie. I may have been hoping for some music to begin playing, or some other magical moment. I didn™t have long to wait.

Field of Dreams, Dyersville, Iowa

We drove down the long driveway, and there were few cars. The field was there, and I wasn’t sure what we would do, but then something special happened.  I wasn™t even thinking of it, and had not even considered doing so, but as we drove down that lengthy drive to the baseball field my son turned and said, œHey Dad, you want to play catch?

My heart caught for a moment, I couldn™t believe he just said that. He™d never seen the movie, and couldn™t have known that was what I really wanted to do. I didn’t even know it… we had not ever talked about it. And I had forgotten that indeed we had brought two baseball gloves and a ball along on our trip to play catch with, never intending to do so here. It had been almost two weeks and we had not even brought the ball and gloves out yet either.

If you™ve ever seen the movie you know those words were pretty amazing. I don™t know why he thought of it really, but I simply said, œThat™s a great idea, as I pondered the reason we brought the ball and gloves. I thought then it was so we could be here, but that seemed so very strange.

We arrived early enough on a weekday morning that only a few other visitors were around. We let the dog out for a bit and looked around tentatively. Then we got the ball and gloves and walked out to the field, empty of anyone but us at first, and we marveled at the lush green grass.

 Field of Dreams baseball field

It was beautiful- a cloudless, perfect summer day. We walked all the way to the outfield, and up to the corn, even disappearing briefly as we walked through cornstalks. I giggled, he smiled and then wondered why I was laughing, and I said when he saw the movie he would know, but people came and went in this corn.  He had no idea what I was talking about, but had fun just the same.

Then we played catch. What a silly, nostalgic, warm, right feeling that was. Here on the backend of a really cool trip I was standing on the Field of Dreams with my son- playing catch. He was still learning really, and he threw me the ball. I threw it back- we both caught the ball on our first tries, which was a big deal. Then we laughed and threw the ball around some more, catching, dropping and smiling under the clear blue sky. All I could think of was how much I loved him, and how much I appreciated being his father.

Playing catch- Field of Dreams

Eventually he began running around, exploring. We made our way slowly off the field as I noticed more and more people arriving. In one corner another Dad and a teenage son were playing catch. Another father and son were pitching and hitting, and family members were sitting in the small bleacher seats. We walked around the site, succumbing to the tourist urge to buy a few things to remember the visit. The lady behind the souvenir window described to a visitor how she was in the movie as an extra, and helped us patiently as we looked over every bauble and remembrance. The boy was excited by a ball and holder, and we got t-shirts and a few other things. I sit here writing this while drinking out of a favorite coffee cup we got there, and thinking of the pennant in the boy’s room.

Playing catch at Field of Dreams

But it was time to walk the dog again and get ready to leave.  We talked for a bit with other visitors realizing that a dozen or more cars had arrived and the ball field was full of other people. Many fathers and sons were there now, throwing and hitting the ball to each other. We had got there early to share a special moment. I wasn™t the only sentimental old fool out there that day and it was nice to see.

Before leaving we went to get a coke, but the vending machine didn™t work after we put our coins in. I muttered something as an older, tanned gentleman on a tractor pulled to a stop in front of us, œThe machine not working? he asks, as I shake my head no.  He turns it off and comes over, and opens it up to help us get the drink. œAre you the owner? I ask, somehow knowing the answer, and he nods his head.

His name is Don Lansing, and I took the moment to shake his hand and thank him for keeping up the field and letting visitors come. He nodded and smiled, probably hearing the same thing a thousand times, and I described how I had first seen the movie while at sea on a navy ship almost 20 years ago half-way across the world. It didn™t matter if he had heard it, I needed him to know that another person was thankful. It couldn™t have been easy to keep the field this simple, this wholesome, this green all these years.  They didn’t even charge admission.

The Field of Dreams baseball site has become quite the tourist attraction now.  It’s small but very active in summer. Don said they didn’t advertise or promote it, and prefers to let people just find their own way in their own time. I™m sure many people would see them doing other things with it through the years, but instead it™s still just a simple ball field cut out of the corn, with a farm house and barn, and a small building for souvenirs. Even today, the landscape is surrounded by endless fields of corn.

People do come. Not just because of the movie, but also as a way to share a moment in time. Maybe it™s to share a special dream of their own in ways that others will not be able to understand. It was that way for me, almost as a validation of my life™s journey and a dream once held to become a father. That journey is another story, and a miracle in itself.  And I think of the journeys I took with my own father so many years ago.

Field of Dreams baseball field

The chance to play catch with my son across the soft green grass of summer was indeed magical, and a dream I could never have imagined.  Somehow on a trip with little direction or destination in mind, we found a place to share a moment we will always remember. For that I will always be thankful.

As we drove away I knew it was one of those memories to cherish, and that I would write about it.  That night we watched the movie together, in a small campground in Iowa, and he loved it even if not understanding most of it. But he identified with having been there.  I knew then as I do now, that things change, and our lives take directions we rarely plan for.   I don’t know what the boy will do as he grows up, or where his life will lead him.  But my heart is alive knowing how many other magical places there are in this world- I’ve seen so many of them- I hope he finds them too.  There will be other dreams and other moments, but for one special day we found our dreams among the corn.

Change Happens, What Do You Do?

December 18th, 2008

Did you ever have the feeling that the things you are really good at are no longer useful?  Or at least less useful?  I’ve been thinking about that lately.  Take spelling for example. You know, spelling words correctly?  I was always a great speller, and memorized words very easily.  But what good is that now?!  Okay, when I write here I don’t have to check spelling very often.  But it’s not a skill that gets you anywhere… nowadays we have “spell checkers” so whether you know how to spell or not really doesn’t matter.  I don’t use ’em, and if I make a mistake here it’s usually because I hit the wrong key.  But dang… I’ve been outdone by technology. 

And typing?  I guess that’s still useful when writing- I can type pretty fast.  But there are voice translators now… you can just talk into a microphone and the text shows up on the screen.  Of course I can’t type worth a darn on little cell phones or a mobile PDA.  Texting?  Okay I can do that.  It’s kind of a pain.  I’m all thumbs.

Oh, and how about knowing where you are?  Some folks are directionally challenged, but in a strange way I’ve always had an amazing built-in compass.  I know where I am, how to get somewhere, and which way is north, south, etc, at any moment in time no matter where I am.  It’s pretty handy when I’m out in the woods in the middle of nowhere, or cruising a tangle of suburban streets.  I may not know an exact address, but I can always find my way around. 

But these days it seems like a pretty marginal skill.  Everyone’s got a Garmin GPS or onboard nav system in the car.  Put an address in there and it’s like being on autopilot.  You can follow the directions of the GPS-thingy, and not have a freakin’ clue where you are.  It’s magic.  My brother and I once drove from the Black Forest in Germany all through the Bavarian Alps… at night, and simply followed “The Voice.”  

Garmin navigating across the Mackinac Bridge

And I can’t complain- we got one and took it on a trip around Lake Michigan.  We found places that we wouldn’t have even known about without the Garmin, and it made the trip both easier and a lot more fun. 

I used to be really good at tuning up an engine, and fixing mechanical things.  I guess it’s still a handy skill with lawnmowers and such, but I can’t do anything with cars and trucks anymore.  They’re all a mass of wires and computers under the hood these days!

And fixing things just isn’t the same anymore anyway.  It’s usually cheaper to throw something away and buy a new one.  We live in a disposable society, and that seems a shame.  If we take care of things, they used to last.  These days they aren’t meant to last it seems.  But I still like trying to make them last… and squeezing every last drop of utility out of them. 

I’ll waste too much time trying to make something work rather than throw it away and get a new one.  One time I “fixed” a $500 CD stereo… it wouldn’t play CD’s anymore.  I took it apart and adjusted and cleaned all the components really well.  Worked like a charm after that.  I was very proud of myself… but these days that same stereo system costs about $50 at the big box store.   Okay it’s a little old.  But it still works!

Oh, and I did fix our bread maker.  One of those neat machines that makes bread?  That we don’t hardly ever use?  A little kneading paddle stopped working.  My stubborn side made me take the whole thing apart one day after it sat on the shelf for three years… I found a nut had worked loose and the bearing was slipping.  That’s all.  Tightened it up, back together and it works like a charm too.   We still don’t use it, but we can if we want to.

Hey but I’m certainly not stubborn enough to take apart a sewing machine pedal and swap electronic components… I heard a guy named Ron did that recently.  If I can find the link to his site I’ll put it up here… :)  But I was stubborn enough to try and fix an old trimline phone in the barn. You know, one from 30 years ago with a really long cord attached to it?  Sentimental reasons… never mind.

But society is evolving.  We have not only become more mobile, but a lot more social.  Just think of this blog.  There’s a lot of folks reading my wandering thoughts who I’ll never know… but we’re all interacting and I’m sharing this aspect of our lives with a bunch of people.  It is pretty cool.  And there’s a few others I think of as friends that I’ve met only through this form of communication, and I really have no idea who they are.  We’re never really “out of touch” in our life anymore.  Between the internet, email and cell phones… we can almost always talk to people half a world away. 

There was a time I remember being at sea, not having a phone or any ability to communicate beyond writing letters.  Letters that took three weeks to get to someone half way around the world.  And to get a response from them took another three weeks.  You could have an argument that took almost a month and a half… on paper!   It’s weird to even think of such times anymore.  We’ve seen decades of change, especially rapid over the last 15+ years, and it’s still changing fast.  It can be hard to keep up with at times.

Clouds in the sky go by 

Did you see the Wall-E movie?  It’s pretty cute, and makes you think about the future.  At one point there’s this self-contained tourist spaceship that was lost centuries ago, and there’s still people living on it that have “evolved” as humans who don’t actually do anything.  They ride around all day on these automated, floating lounge chairs, sucking on milk shakes…. in space.  They’ve become “weight challenged” and look like big ‘ole chubby dudes with short legs.  Pretty funny.   And sad… it worries me to think we’re on that path somehow.  People these days might grow up thinking they don’t have to actually do much of anything.   They’ll either buy something, have someone (something?) do it for them, or throw it away. 

I hope it doesn’t come to that.  I hope we will always value the human endeavor… our collective experience, knowledge, skills and lessons learned.  I’m a Boomer, part of that enormous generation that’s influencing public policy in so many ways these days.  But I’m kind of near the end of that group so I have a lot of crossover between the generations. 

As much as I lament how technological change seems to make basic living skills less relevant at times, I must also admit that those same changes have made our lives a lot easier.   And a lot better in myriad ways, not the least of which includes life-saving advances in healthcare.  

I’m thankful for the reliability of our vehicles, heating and cooling systems and so many of the other basic things we take for granted each day.  In fact I love technology and all the cool things we can do, and there are aspects of my life that exist solely because of the advances in technology… I can only acknowledge it all with gratitude.  And if we need help with something, it’s usually pretty easy to find someone that can help us with it, at least for a price.

I guess I have to admit that I’m getting older. Changes happens, and we can run from it, or embrace it.  I’ve always enjoyed change, and adapted willingly, embracing the wonders of life as it unfolds.  But it isn’t always easy.  I’ve reached that point where I’m finally seeing the wide gradients of change in my life, and it’s kind of humbling.  

Old reading, but one of my favorite essays is Emerson’s Self Reliance.  It bothers me not to able to take care of things or accomplish things independently.  I’m still kind of stubborn with making things work… it’s just the way I am.   And basic skills do come in handy around the homefront.   Knowledge and skills can bring security, especially when the most basic of human needs are crucial to survival.  Maybe I’m still running on vestigial fumes of generations past.   I just like knowing how to do things, and it bothers me not to be able to do them.   I know it bothers other people too… especially as we grow older.   And if I lived somewhere that I didn’t have to get to tinker with things, I wouldn’t really know what to do with myself.   One of these days that will change too.  I just hope not too much.

Cold, Icy and… Birdy?

December 5th, 2008

I’ve never seen the pond frozen this early in December before.  January and February are the coldest months for us, but waking up to about 16 degrees this morning was downright chilly.  The jet stream is so far south that we’re getting a good bit of that Canadian air this month.  There’s a reason I don’t live in Canada in the winter… I can only imagine how much colder it is up there!

Ice on the pond in December

So there I am, after the morning routine and getting the boy off to school, finally sitting down with a cup of coffee.  My reverie was short-lived, nearly spilling the coffee all over myself after a loud “Whump!” on the window behind me.  I looked out to see a dazed female Cardinal sitting below the window, her head slowly nodding with eyes closed.   I hoped she was not permanently injured, but I also knew she would either die by a) freezing to death after going into shock from the impact in such cold weather, or b) become breakfast for our wandering cat Princess.

So out I go, picking her up and taking her to the porch which was a little warmer at 40 degrees.  I set her down in the sunshine and left her alone for an hour, head still nodding with eyes closed.  But it’s the season for miracles and when I came back later she was alert and eyeing me suspiciously. 

 Female Cardinal

I figured she’d be okay then but went to pick her up and make sure… Zoom!  around the room she goes.  She wasn’t quite ready to acquiesce to such human manhandling.  But after a few flutterings at the window and much pecking at me with that orange beak I finally had her, and took her out to the bird feeder where she promptly flew off to a nearby tree.   I imagine she’ll have a sore neck for a few days, but hopefully she’ll make it.

It’s a too common theme at this time of year with birds flying into windows.  There was another Cardinal in the House one time, but it was a he, near-death, and after spending a night with us, he surprised me by his resilience.  I was even more surprised writing about Nuthatch Nuttiness…  somehow the outdoor world, birds and flying has always been part of my life.  I even worked at the World Bird Sanctuary for a time in my youth, helping to rehabilitate raptors. But that’s another story.

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