Saturday, December 15, 2007

Snow Geese in flight

Snow Geese on Fir Island, near the house where I live. It was cold and windy this morning -- too rough for a walk with the dog, but I loaded firewood onto the front porch, where it's handy to the stove. Then I raked out some debris on the driveway -- just to neaten it up and get my blood flowing.

I continued to work on my embroidered sweater. It's an old brown sweater that I used for landscaping last spring, but I have recycled it into a wearable work of art, with embroidered designs front and back and on the sleeves. The theme is the valuation of old things -- old sweaters and such -- we don't throw them away.

The designs on the sweater are all about the Weather -- lightning, rainfall, the moon, the sun, snowflakes, and then a twisting vine growing up the right sleeve.

Today I completed the moon on the front of the sweater and then I did what I should have done before I started this project -- namely to wash the sweater and get it clean. Anyway, it wasn't too late to soak it in hot water in the kitchen sink and give it a gentle hand washing and rinse. Then I draped it over the railing on the back porch -- it should be mostly dry by when I come home this evening. Then I'll lay it on a towel for the final drying.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Another Day

I came home from work last night at 11:30 p.m., and made some herb tea with honey. I brought the steaming cup into bed with me and read a book, falling asleep by 12:30.

It wasn't too cold, but in the middle of the night I deployed my extra wool blanket. Otherwise I slept pretty good and woke up at 8:30, well after daylight. I reached out from under the covers and switched on the space heater to get some warmth into the room, and then ten minutes later I got up and put on my extra-thick hooded sweatshirt and my thickest wool socks.

Not really warm, but getting there, I padded into the kitchen and fixed a pot of coffee. I use an old-fashioned percolator that makes only two cups. I went outside to look at the day -- rainy, but not too cold, and not too windy -- easier weather.

By the time the coffee was ready, the space heater had gotten my bedroom a little warm, so I sat in my deck chair, which has the Lone Star flag emblazoned on the back of it -- a souvenir of my year in Texas.

I got comfortable in the chair with the hot coffee and switched on the radio. I tried Air America, but that morning woman talks too fast, so I switched over to Laura Ingraham on 1300 AM, she's a conservative. I like the sound of her voice, which is the most important thing, especially first thing in the morning. I forget what she was talking about.

I wrote about three sentences in my journal, but I realized I had little to say, so I put that down and picked up my embroidery hoop. I continued to work on an 8-inch hoop of embroidery I am making for a Christmas gift. Embroidery is a new hobby of mine and it's very relaxing -- it keeps my fingers and my mind busy without actually having to think.

Thinking is good, but thinking gets bad when you go over the same ground again and again, so it's better for me to keep up with my stitches.

My next project was to take Patti's dog for a walk. Patti is my roommate and landlady. She has a very fine dog named Pharoah, a female, just the right size, not too big and not too small, a lively, friendly dog with very good manners.

So I bundled up and headed out the door with Pharoah jumping along side me. By now it was raining hard, and a walk wouldn't do, but fortunately we had an outdoor project -- stacking the wood.

The wood guy came yesterday and dumped a cord onto the pavement under the carport, so I began to stack it up, and there was some good exercise. Pretty soon I took off my jacket, but I reminded myself to work slowly.

I got about one-third of the pile stacked up when Patti came out and said she didn't feel too good and couldn't help and said I had probably done enough for one day, so I said fine.

I haven't lived in a house with wood heat in 17 years -- since we had the old farm on Martin Road in Mount Vernon.

Wood heat makes a project out of keeping warm -- it’s something you do yourself, rather than flip a switch and pay a bill -- so the work is satisfying and the heat is a pleasure, especially in the evening, when it gets dark outside and it starts to get really toasty in the living room.

But the other thing about Fir Island is the birds, the huge flocks of snow geese that lie in pastures on both sides of the house. I go out and watch them. They sit in the field -- must be four or five thousand of them, I can’t tell -- they are pure white except for the black tips on their wings, and their necks are shorter than the trumpeter swans that also winter around here.

Honking and honking, talking about who knows what, always chattering, even in the night-time, they keep up a hubble-bubble squawking of a high-pitched nature -- maybe some coyote out working the edge of the flock in the deep of night makes them nervous.

The hunters are out in the early dawn. They have elaborate regulations about where and how to hunt the snow geese. All I know is hearing the muffled pop-pop-pop of their shotguns, and sometimes out walking I come across a pile of feathers that once was a goose, but somebody got it -- the coyote or the hunter.

In back of the house is a slough with beavers and otters. They have a slinky trail that comes up from the slough and slithers into the raspberry patch. It’s probably a beaver because of the chewing marks on the tree by the slough. I don’t know. If I keep going out there I might see it.

On top of it all is the eagles; two of them, one bald-headed, and the other is a juvenile with black feathers mottled with white. They use the cottonwood trees in back of the house for a roost. You can see them there almost anytime of day, they just come around and perch there for a while and then go somewhere else.

Otherwise, the traffic on Fir Island Road streams by on a steady basis, so many thousands of cars every day. It’s a fairly busy road, but you don’t see much from the car. This I have learned, because for many years I have driven across Fir Island on my way to somewhere else, but I never really knew the place until now that I live there and get out walking.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Fir Island

Fir Island is shaped like a triangle, 6 miles on a side. One side is the North Fork of the Skagit River, one side is the South Fork of the Skagit River, and the third side is Skagit Bay. See, the river comes down from the mountains and gets broad and deep, but then it splits into two branches forming this triangular delta.

It used to be all salt marsh and fir trees. The trees were logged, the land was diked, and it now makes for rich farmland with an abundance of birdlife -- although no more fir trees -- just cabbage fields, and pea fields, and wheat.

It's a windy place, the wind comes right off the bay with no trees or hills to slow it down. Or else it comes straight up from the south -- blowing strongly, but the south wind is warm.

Today it's not very windy, but a light snow is falling. We hadn't started a fire yet in the old farmhouse, so I headed into LaConner, to get on my laptop at the bookstore. I got a nice latte and I'm sitting in this soft chair by a gas fireplace.

The day has been pretty low key.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Chicago in winter

I came back to Chicago in late November, 1971 -- a previous post describes how I had gotten the frostbite on my toes in northern New Mexico, and so I left that cold place and went back to Chicago, to my parents' house, to recuperate.

It's a little different now, but in 1971 it was incredibly uncool to live with your parents, and that's how I felt -- when I got home -- uncool, sad, depressed, defeated, lost, screwed up -- but mainly depressed.

Like a complete failure, gone home to Mom and Dad.

But it wasn't really about getting lost in the mountains in northern New Mexico and almost freezing to death. It was -- my depression and sense of failure -- about the end of my two year's relationship with Gail Murphy, the golden girl, my California dream girl. When we broke up I thought I would die, it was the worst thing that ever happened to me -- up to that time in my life.

Actually, going back over 61 years, breaking up with Gail would surely make the Top Five of all the worst things that ever happened to me.

But it was late November and I was back in Chicago -- and that ice you see on Lake Michigan is real.

Balloons in Central Park

I was selling balloons in Central Park in New York City during the summer of 1972. Seymour, the hustler, fixed me up in that occupation when I got to town. He said he could set me up in a gypsy ( illegal ) cab operation, or he could set me up in the numbers racket -- also illegal, or he could set me up selling balloons in the park -- still illegal, because they don't issue permits for itinerant peddlars. Still, it was the least illegal of Seymour's choices, so he took me to the balloon wholesaler, told me what to buy, told me how to set up a portable cart, showed me a good place to stand, and then demonstrated the art of hawking balloons to tourists cruising in the park.

It was fun selling balloons. I made an easy $50 per day, which wasn't bad money in 1972. On the Fourth of July there were so many people in the park that I made $100, and I also chatted up this luscious Jewish woman who I squired to a restaurant, where I promptly spent the $100 on fancy drinks and seafood morsels, whereupon we retired to her apartment downtown for more fun.

That's where it ended. By the middle of July it was too hot. Nobody came to the park anymore -- they were all at the beach, so my balloon business dwindled, and I gave it up.

Instead, I got a job at Rockland State Psychiatric Hospital and worked there for the next nine months.

I don't know what happened to Seymour, but he got me set up pretty well. He was an honest hustler in a way, because he gained nothing by showing me the balloon business -- he was just helping a new guy in town.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. (COPD) is a combination of emphysema and bronchitis. People who smoke are most likely to get it. It shortens life. I read an article about COPD in the health section of the NY Times.

COPD can be treated, but it won't go away. The article said that COPD was under-diagnosed, that doctors don't look for it. Also, the article said, a number of things, like increased exercise and improvements in diet can alleviate the condition.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Snow Geese

I am at work right now -- at the hospital -- having a short break and able to spend a little time on this laptop. I wrote a 1,200 word story about working at the hospital. I hope it's good. But since I am an employee I cannot publish candid remarks about the job here without approval from the communications office. So I sent them a copy of what I wrote, and after they give the okay, I will post it here.

Otherwise I am getting settled into my new room at Patti Detzer's house on Fir Island. First I will tell you about the birds, because Fir Island is famous for flocks of 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, and 20,000 - huge numbers and I am not kidding -- of snow geese that come down from Alaska for the winter.

They feed in the wheat fields planted all over Fir Island -- I see huge flocks flying over the house every day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

froze my tail off

The coldest place I ever lived was in Tres Piedras, New Mexico, elevation 7,000 feet, out in the sage brush plains, like it looks in this photo.

That was in 1971. One night I got my car stuck in a snow bank way up a mountain road. I had to walk out. It took me all night, and my toes got frostbitten and I ended up in the hospital.

My toes healed, but I got out of northern New Mexico, and I never went back -- too cold.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I'm not to used to feeling happy, but that's the way I feel today.

I am moving to a better place -- leaving the trailer by the barn on Beaver Marsh Road, leaving the trailer because it is too small and cramped in the winter time. Oh, it was lovely there in the summer, but it really sucks now, when the cold wind blows.

So I'm moving to another farmhouse, this one is on Fir Island -- thankfully, I will still be on the flats -- really, just 8 miles down the road.

But now I will be renting a room IN the house -- nice and warm and spacious in this sturdy old farmhouse.

And that has made me very happy -- that, and something else is making me happy, which is a little bit private, so that I cannot yet share it with you here.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Exercise is Overrated

The Doctor is IN, beginning with exercise tips. Taking a walk after dinner is a good idea, a little fresh air and a stroll. Have no goals. Don't keep records. Enjoy yourself. Build movement into your life.

Did you ever see a farmer out jogging? Or buying exercise equipment? Or taking out a gym membership? No, because he subscribes to a program known by its initials, W.O.R.K. or "work," which causes sweat -- in the summer -- but keeps you warm in the winter. Work is composed of a subset of activities known as chores, such as unloading the truck, or cleaning out the barn, all flowing into such a smooth slate of activity, that the farmer never yearns for exercise, but in fact dreams of idle time on the couch, when he can sink into a blissful fatigue in front of a mindless television.

But the ill-formed man has been jogging, five miles, or bicycling 25 miles, as a form of self-punishment, and even the sight of this mechanical runner produces stress in those who observe him. If the ill-formed man only joined the program of W.O.R.K. he would never even think of exercise. He would see a new day and look at his car, and decide to wash it himself, not for the exercise, but to get it clean, and not to save water or to save carbon credits, but simply to save the money he spent at the car wash.

Don't make it too complicated.

Still, the ill-formed man cannot sink in blissful fatigue on the couch. He must justify himself, he must find that meaningful piece that is missing, so, in the evening, after his punishment run, he sits before the cold blinking eye of his computer seeking information. "Gloria," he says to his partner,"I'm so glad we didn't take out an A.R.M. mortgage. Our equity is building up. We're in a good position now. I'm going to order four pairs of organic socks to support the cotton farmers in Darfur. They only cost $14 a pair."

But there is no comfort from information, and no ease comes from data. His shoulders are tense, his neck begins to crink. He discovers a website that promises the virtue of spinach or folic acid, he takes notes, he makes a plan, he emails a friend who smugly agrees, "We don't waste our time watching TV, because we are improving ourselves."

It's kind of sad.

Now the Doctor discusses the fundamentals of nutrition -- if it tastes good, and if it doesn't cost too much, then buy it. Eat a little bit less of everything you like in order to stay trim. Tired people eat compulsively, so get plenty of sleep.

It is natural, for a hundred generations of humanity, to sleep more in the winter. It is natural to put on a little fat in the winter -- it keeps you warm.

Go to bed an hour earlier and turn down the heat -- Al Gore will be proud of you for that…..I'm sorry, I shouldn't have mentioned him. Then you start thinking you're for him or against him, and you won't get to sleep, you'll get up and cut a brownie out of the square pan -- but not made with sugar from corn syrup, because you read the label, and that information is stored in your brain in a file next to folic acid and spinach.


Advice for young women who have spent too much time looking in the mirror: The mirror is not your friend -- you will fixate on imperfections. Put a towel over your mirror. Hide the bathroom scale -- hit it with a hammer -- throw it in the trash.

Go to the Blockbusters or Netflix and check out an old movie starring Barbara Stanwyck. Learn from her. Be her. Feel that graceful strength. It's all about posture and carriage. Relax your shoulders, lower your shoulders, and move them back a tiny bit. This lifts up the chest, but naturally, and flatters the bosom. Lengthen the back of the neck -- this lowers the chin and gives you an air of confidence.

Study the Barbara Stanwyck movie -- you think she was born beautiful? It's all about her entrance -- that magic moment, because you can make a first impression every day.

Life is a stage and we all play a part. William Shakespeare never wrote a line about exercise or diet -- there's no poetry in it.

Everybody is planting wheat

"It's going to look like Kansas out there next summer." That's what a local farmer said last week over his morning coffee. "Wall-to-wall wheat and looking like a lawn of new grass over the winter," he said. This is an exaggeration of course, but the normal wheat acreage of 4-5000 acres in the Skagit Valley has doubled to 8-10,000 acres.

Record high wheat prices in the global market explain that, according to Mike Shelby, executive director of the Western Washington Agricultural Association in Mount Vernon.

The market for wheat is complicated and volatile. The price has doubled from a range of $4 a bushel to $8 a bushel, and Skagit Valley farmers have been fast on their feet about this.

They plant wheat in October, and passersby can see young green shoots in various fields at this time. Air temperatures are low now, but the soil is still warm from summer heart. The young wheat plants will get established and send down good root structure in November, and then go dormant in December.

Huge flocks of snow geese feed on the wheat shoots over the winter, sometimes causing crop damage, but this year they will have twice the acreage to choose from, so that's good for the geese and also good for the farmers.

Wheat is not a big money maker here. Farmers plant it as a cover crop, or as part of their crop rotation. For instance, red potatoes need a 4-year rotation, and seed crops need up to 8 years before they can be re-planted in the same field, so wheat and peas and corn for silage fill in during the off years.

Farmers, in most years, will decided in the spring whether to plow under the wheat crop, or leave it to be harvested in late summer. This year they are more than likely to keep their wheat crop in the ground because of the high price.

Commodity prices, from oil to corn to soy beans, have been surging upward. Ethanol production in the Corn Belt has led to record corn prices, and wheat prices follow corn prices. A serious drought and crop failure in Australia has lowered the global supply of wheat. Economic growth in China has increased demand, and crop land in China has been reduced to make room for that growth. Throw in oil at close to $100 a barrel, and all the basic prices start moving upward.

When farmers plant as much corn and wheat as possible, less land is available for vegetable crops, and those prices rise too.

In the Skagit Valley, an extra 5,000 acres of wheat, means 5,000 acres less of some other crop, and that will most likely be peas.

Peas used to be the cash king of local crops, but their place has been taken by potatoes, seed crops and berries. Most farmers say peas are only a break-even crop, but it's a legume that helps to fix nitrogen to the soil and worthwhile planting for that reason.

But pea acreage should be way down next year unless buyers can offer a higher price. That means Twin City Foods in Stanwood, the only pea processor left in the area, will be under competitive pressure to offer more to farmers. They can only do this if they can pass on the cost and sell their peas at a higher wholesale price. Then consumeres will end up paying more at the grocery store.

It's all tied together, all around the world. Wheat and corn are fed to cattle, chickens and hogs, so meat prices will rise. Record grain prices mean increased soy bean planting in Brazil because soy bean land is less available in the U.S. Increased soy bean planting in Brazil means more destruction of the Amazon rain forest.

Record grain prices also mean money is transferred from urban areas, where most consumers live, to rural areas where the producers live.

It means every farmer in Iowa is buying a new pickup this year. If you're a seller, you're happy, but if you're a buyer, you're hurting.

Locally, higher crop prices ensure the preservation of farmland, because when farmers make money they are less inclined to sell land for urban development.

And one last point. It can all change in a flash and it's a calculated gamble for the farmer. Everyone knows what the price of wheat is today. No one knows what the price will be in August when the wheat is harvested.

Oh, they are also having a serious drought in Georgia where most of the nation's peanuts are grown, so the price of peanut butter will go up too.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Man in a Dress -- or Rudy vs. Hillary

It will take a man in a dress to beat a woman wearing pants. This is what I think when faced with the prospect of Rudy Guiliani competing with Hillary Clinton -- if they both get the nomination.

Rudy and Hillary will be stage an incredible fight -- nasty, vicious, and highly entertaining -- not at all good for the country, and I don't think either of them will make a good President -- but what a battle!

The Weather

I'm not used to the weather out here. After thirty years in the Skagit Valley, you would think I might be acclimatized, but I am not. I wish I was back in New England or back in the Midwest. I am used to the weather back there.

I mean, I would rather live here, but I just wish I could get used to it, like so many other people have done.

The god forsakes Anthony

Απολείπειν ο θεός Αντώνιον
Σαν έξαφνα, ώρα μεσάνυχτ', ακουσθεί
αόρατος θίασος να περνά
με μουσικές εξαίσιες, με φωνές --
την τύχη σου που ενδίδει πια, τα έργα σου
που απέτυχαν, τα σχέδια της ζωής σου
που βγήκαν όλα πλάνες, μη ανοφέλετα θρηνήσεις.
Σαν έτοιμος από καιρό, σα θαρραλέος,
αποχαιρέτα την, την Αλεξάνδρεια που φεύγει.
Προ πάντων να μη γελασθείς, μην πείς πως ήταν
ένα όνειρο, πως απατήθηκεν η ακοή σου•
μάταιες ελπίδες τέτοιες μην καταδεχθείς.
Σαν έτοιμος από καιρό, σα θαρραλέος,
σαν που ταιριάζει σε που αξιώθηκες μια τέτοια πόλι,
πλησίασε σταθερά προς το παράθυρο,
κι άκουσε με συγκίνησιν, αλλ' όχι
με των δειλών τα παρακάλια και παράπονα,
ως τελευταία απόλαυσι τους ήχους,
τα εξαίσια όργανα του μυστικού θιάσου,
κι αποχαιρέτα την, την Αλεξάνδρεια που χάνεις.

The god forsakes Antony
When suddenly, at the midnight hour,
an invisible troupe is heard passing
with exquisite music, with shouts --
your fortune that fails you now, your works
that have failed, the plans of your life
that have all turned out to be illusions, do not mourn in vain.
As if long prepared, as if courageous,
bid her farewell, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all do not be fooled, do not tell yourself
it was a dream, that your ears deceived you;
do not stoop to such vain hopes.
As if long prepared, as if courageous,
as it becomes you who have been worthy of such a city,
approach the window with firm step,
and with emotion, but not
with the entreaties and complaints of the coward,
as a last enjoyment listen to the sounds,
the exquisite instruments of the mystical troupe,
and bid her farewell, the Alexandria you are losing.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1911) Κωνσταντίνος Π. Καβάφης (1911)
ωρα -- hour
μεσανυχτ – midnight, but the dictionary gives μσανυχτα – so Cavafy is using a variant… νυχτα – night, μεσα -- middle
ωρα μεσανυχτ – “at the midnight hour”
The title “The god forsakes Antony” is put differently in another translation, “The god abandons Antony.”

This is one of my favorite poems. It is a delightful November day in the Skagit valley, the sky looks like the vault of a cave, and we safe and warm below.

Before the Beginning

The first line of the Bible says, "In the beginning," and I studied that line for years before I started to ask this question, "What was going on before the beginning?"

Here's the answer: Before the beginning, there was Africa, there was this face, a face that is a mask.

I went to Africa and found this face and I knew I it was a mask, but I never found out what was behind the mask. I don't think I can ever know that.

Thousands of years later, in a world that marks time, I am looking at the day ahead of me, and not thinking of this mask, and not thinking of that question about the beginning and before the beginning.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reverence for Robert Sund

Robert Sund was a poet who lived in LaConner -- until he got tired of the nonsense and then he spent his last few years in Anacortes -- where many new friends gathered around him. He was admired and revered for his simple poetry and Buddhist life.

But we, who knew him for so many years in LaConner, did not revere him. He was just one of us -- a good man all around, with well-known character flaws. Everyone in LaConner has a Robert Sund story, and most of them are not reverential.

But he was our poet -- that was good. The rest of us weren't poets, and we felt that our town, of population 700, could support a poet, because we were a wealthy and sensible town, and any town that chose not to support a poet was bound to be stupid and poor.

And we still feel that way now, although Robert died 6 years ago.

I remember seeing him laid out at the funeral home. He was going to be cremated, so they didn't fix him up. He was laying on on a hospital gurney, wearing only his hospital gown, and his long bare feet hung over the edge of the gurney. Another friend folded his hands over his gown, and laced them with the Buddhist beads that Robert loved.

I was thinking that I ought to put some socks on his bare feet -- his feet might be getting cold. But then I realized that he's gone from us now, and where he was gone to they don't wear socks or shoes.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Middle Ages

Bring Back the Middle Ages -- those were great times back then. I often think I was born in the wrong century -- and might have done better sometime around the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. Illuminated manuscripts, stain-glassed windows like psychedelic light shows, frothy ale and honey mead. I would have it all, along with only two modern conveniences -- painless dentistry and antibiotics.

We will arrive again at the Middle Ages, as soon as modern civilization collapses. Kings on stag hunts! Years long journeys to Jerusalem. The contemplation of ancient ruins of what was once Manhattan. Celebrating the arrival of spring with true joy and abandon -- for what has passed will come again.


I have a couple of guidelines on risk in my life.

1. When I was 12, Charlie Swanson's mother slipped in the bathroom, banged her head on the tub and died. I remember how sad Charlie was at the funeral -- but what I took from that tragedy was that life was not really safe even if you never left the house.

2. Thirty years ago, my friend Dean Flood got very drunk, got into his truck, drove down the Fir Island Road, and crashed into a telephone pole -- he's been in a wheelchair ever since, and nerve damage prevents him from speaking clearly. The lesson here is that if you're going to take a risk, at least make it a little interesting, because Dean ruined his body and didn't even come home with a cool adventure story to tell.

3. What I told me son, when he was a teenager. "Get in your own trouble." Meaning, if you're going to screw up, at least let it be your own plan, and not be following someone else's path to hell.

4. What my mother said -- she's gone from this earth 11 years now, but she said, "There's no such thing as security."

5. Advice for my friend, pictured here -- It's enough to be in Iraq -- I hope you're not looking for trouble on top of that.

Old Ironsides

The United States Navy celebrated its 232nd birthday on October 13. It was founded by an act of the Continental Congress in 1775. This old ship is moored at the Charlestown Navy Shipyard in Massachusetts.

Navy people celebrate the birthday every year. The old ship is kept in good shape. I was reading a blog by James Aalan Bernsen
who is serving in the Navy as we speak, stationed in Baghdad, pretty far from the saltwater, engaged in intelligence work, whatever that is -- but he seems intelligent and reports in his blog on what he sees of the Iraq conflict.

I make my own connections, because when I got to thinking about the Navy, I remembered the time I lived in Boston, when I walked across the Charles River Bridge and took a tour of Old Ironsides.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Viva Zapata

I have this on the authority of Colonel Jesse Perez, U.S. Army - retired, that Marlin Brando played a credible role as Emiliano Zapata, the Mexican civil war leader. Colonel Perez and I had many interesting conversations at his office, both of us sitting in comfortable leather chairs, and we often disagreed, quite amiably. But his endorsement of Brando as Zapata was something I shared enthusiastically.

Colonel Perez was the executive director of the Floresville Economic Development Corporation, during the fifteen months I lived in Floresville, Texas, when I worked there as a reporter for the Wilson County News.

Floresville is is a half-hour's drive to the Southeast of San Antonio, set in very Texas-looking country, lots of mesquite and prickly pears and cattle.

Colonel Perez descends from the Hispanic community of Floresville, which has lived side-by-side with the Anglo community for almost 200 years -- but we got here first, he would say, in so many words.

"We merely co-exist," Perez stated, when I asked him about Anglo-Hispanic relations. On this I disagreed, I knew there were issues and conflict and hostility between the two groups, but I also knew of love, friendship, and beneficial working relationships -- far more then mere co-existence.

Still, Perez, after his illustrious Army career, returned to Floresville and became the leader of the Hispanic community, and his stance was quite militant. On this we also disagreed, because I felt that in his determined opposition to most arrangements with his white neighbors, he was passing up some good opportunities for the progress of his own people.

I also disagreed on this, they were not merely "his own people," as if he had them in his pocket, and others could not know them without his permission. And so, some of his white opponents called him a racist. I never called him that, to his face, or to other people, but only because I liked him very much.

He was dignified, educated, intelligent, and amusing -- a good friend. His office was a refuge for me. I toiled over at the newspaper in the company of 17 women and one other man, and the ladies could drive me up a wall, so then I would walk across the town square, across the courthouse lawn, to Jesse's cool, leather-bound masculine cave, and sit-down in his red-leather chair and lean back, him leaning back with his friendly grin, and we would begin to talk.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Best and the Brightest

They really were the best and the brightest -- the men at the top of presidential government in the 1960s. They were highly intelligent, well educated, realistic, dedicated, competent -- the best men in America -- but it still didn't work.

I re-read David Halbertstram's book about the origins of the War in Vietnam, which I first read in 1972, the year it was published.

My views on the subject haven't changed. Lyndon Johnson was a figure of towering tragedy. He and McNamara never really decided to go to war in Southeast Asia, it just kind of happened -- at the highest level of rational planning, they actually never made a clear decision about what to do -- what an amazing story.

I decided, sometime in the late 1960s, to oppose the war -- I realized that we could have the Great Society's War on Poverty, we could send a man to the moon, and we could fight a land war in Asia against communism -- but we could not possibly do all three at the same time.

I was right about that.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Let's Bomb Pakistan

An urgent message to Vice-President Dick Cheney, Let's Bomb Pakistan.... and Bangla Desh too -- because they used to be part of Pakistan. Moslem villagers in the vast Ganges delta of Bangla Desh have been complaining of rising sea waters, caused by global warming -- we bomb them into silence, we bomb the Pakistani capital, thus eliminating the current strong man, whose name is too hard to spell, and get this nice lady, Ms. Bhutto, to become President again.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Rain Queen

The Rain Queen Makobo Constance Modjadji VI, 1978-2005, was the 6th in a line of the Balobedu tribe's rain queens. Makobo was crowned on 16 April 2003 at the age of 25 after the death of her predecessor and grandmother, Queen Mokope Modjadji. This made her the youngest queen in the history of the Balobedu tribe.

But she died unexpectedly two years later and a successor has not been named. There is no Rain Queen now. This is a matter of great concern.

The Rain Queen reigns in the northern provinces of South Africa. Her guidance is widely respected throughout the region, in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, and Zambia

She can make it rain, or the rain comes through her, however it is put. She is assurance against drought, which is the greatest threat to the livelihood of the people in that area.

The unit of currency of Botswana, a mostly desert country, is called the "pula" which is the Tswana word for rain. Rain makes the corn grow. Corn is food, corn is made into corn-beer. But no rain, no food, no beer, and pretty soon no people.

This is a crisis.

People like me know nothing about Africa. Everybody is going there now -- Bono, Bill Gates, Madonna, Angelina Jolie -- buy a plane ticket, get on a plane, take the tour, make a press conference -- they know nothing. I know nothing.

Except for Princess Diana, she is revered throughout Africa -- she was the one who understood what was going on. Now departed from this earth ten years.

No Rain Queen now, no Princess Diana. The situation is very bad.

Nelson Mandela will not live forever. When he goes, it will get worse.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Rexville League of Gentleman Watches a Football Game

It is the custom of the Rexville League of Gentlemen to watch a football game on Sunday afternoon, usually over at Richard Mattrass's house on Bradshaw Road. Mattrass is a fence and gate builder.

Jimmy Schermerhorn, a League of Gentlemen Founder, came over from his Fir Island residence. Jimmy is the premier shade mechanic in the Skagit Valley. He nicely maintains my beloved 1993 Red Toyota. His service is first rate and his prices are reasonable.

Mike Carlisle is a stone mason, a practitioner of that ancient, mystical discipline. He hails from Jackson, Mississippi, and maintains a complex relation with his Souther heritage. Carlisle is considered -- no formal process here -- the football insider. He knows the game. He can see it. His play-by-play comments are spare, but dead on.

Stuart Welch, owner of the Rexville Store, from which most League activities eminate, is also an expert on football. But Stuart operates from a much larger perspective. Being the chief functionary of a general store, Stuart is an expert on everything.

I never hesitate to ask his opinion on any matter. Why even this morning, I discussed with Stuart my plan to seal my air-leaky windows with clear vinyl to provide insulation against cold, creeping air.

He said that was a good idea, but, as he often does, Stuart had an even better idea. "Use bubble wrap," he said.

"Why, that's a great idea. I hadn't thought of that. Bubble wrap would be far superior to clear vinyl. I will use the bubble wrap on those windows I never look out of, and save the vinyl for the two windows that announce my view of the lovely wheat fields on Beaver Marsh Road."

(I should insert here that all the farmers have planted wheat this fall, because of wheat's very high price, and the field outside my trailer window is like a multi-acred new mown lawn -- the wheat sprouts are 3 inches tall by now, and will stay green, if dormant, throughout the dark winter days.)

Anyway, Stuart advised me on my winterizing project this morning, and he announced before the game began this afternoon, with his usual unqualified voice of authority, that the New England Patriots would trounce the Indianapolis Colts.

We usually watch the Seahawks of course. But we faced a quandary, because both the Patriots and the Colts were undefeated in nine previous contests with lesser opponents, and the Colts vs Patriots promised to be a dramatic and decisive battle.

The League, always resourceful in these matters, decided that we simply needed to get another TV set, so we could watch both games at the same time.

I agreed to that, although I knew, personally, that head swivelling from one set to another would make me dizzy, so I decided to affix my attention to the Patriots and Colts and ignore the Seahawks.

My attention was rewarded. It was a close fought contest by two superb teams. Although the Colts led the game for the first three quarters, Stuart never wavered in his certainty that the Patriots would prevail.

Notwithstanding that Stuart grew up in Maine and might seem to favor New England, I would never challenge the impartiality of another League member. Stuart was right of course.

Despite some bad calls by the referees, especially three dubious charges of pass interference against the Patriots, despite Brady, the Patriot quarterback throwing two intercepted passes, the Patriots overpowered the Colts in the 4th quarter and won the game.

You might say that Carlisle provides the play-by-play, and Stuart provides the color, but I supply the atmospherics.

"Indiana is the armpit of the Midwest," I stated, midway through the game. All the gentlemen agreed. "It's the New Jersey of the Midwest," Stuart added.

"Larry Bird is the only good thing that ever came out of Indiana," I continued. "And the Indianapolis Colts play in a domed stadium. What? Are the afraid of a little weather."

Nevertheless, I wanted the Colts to win -- I can't say why.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Otherwise, She died

I lived in Zimbabwe for most of 1997 and part of 1998. I knew people like the women you see in this photo.

Many of the people I knew are dead now. Even last week I got an email from Mpofu that his sister died -- that would be Patricia, but it could have been another sister that I did not meet.

Many times when we were in Bulawayo we went to visit Patricia at her pleasant house in a neighborhood called Luveve. She had a tiny house, and it was good. Her mother lived there too, Mpofu's mother. The mother died too, but she was old and this was expected.

Patricia and many other have died from the troubles. I learned never to ask what people died from, because I would not get an answer to that question, except, "Otherwise, she died."

I might have pressed for an answer, but that never works in Africa -- if you do that, they will just tell you anything you want to hear.

For news about the crisis in Zimbabwe, go to Zimbabwe Situation. This site is a daily compilation of news stories.

For a more personal account of the madness and suffering, read the letters of Eddie Cross

He is a merchant living in Bulawayo. His business is hanging on by a thread, but he is determined to stick it out, and even raises small hopes for a future when President Robert Mugabe dies or leaves office.

On the Samish River dike

I was just out walking the dike along the Samish River. I said hello to a friendly couple, a man and a woman out walking their dog. I looked at fishing boats moored at the dock, and saw several old hulks slowly rotting in the marsh. The tide was in -- when the tide flows in from Samish Bay the river stops moving and the water is still.

I visited my friend Dana Rust, who lives nearby. He operates the Edison Eye, an art gallery in the nearby town of Edison, which sits athwart Edison Slough, which joins the Samish River somewhere out there.

Dana and I watched a football game with casual interest. He made an excellent pot of coffee and we enjoyed that. Then his daughter and grand-daughter came for a visit and I decided to leave and let them have family time.

The Best and the Brightest

"The Best and the Brightest" is David Halberstram's very best book, about the men who starred in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and led us into the debacle of Viet Nam.

The title is not ironic. Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, McGeorge Bundy and others really were our best and brightest. The story is fascinating. I am re-reading it, probably twenty years after I read it the first time.

I avoid thinking about my own past for the most part, because I find nostalgia to be a sickly feeling -- but when there is a purpose, I will do it.

This war in Iraq is not my war. My war was Viet Nam and I served in the regiment of Hell No, We Won't Go.

It was awful. I don't know a single American man my age who views that war and that period without ambivalence.

Ava Gardner

Ava Gardner starred with Gregory Peck in the movie adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's story, "The Snows of Kilamanjaro."

She's so beautiful. Now I must locate a DVD of "On the Beach," also starring Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck, based on the novel by Nevil Shute.

I often compare myself to Gregory Peck, feeling that we have similarly good looks and strong character.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Buick in Kansas

What if we couldn't get the old Buick fixed. We could be stuck here in Kansas forever. We'll never get back to San Francisco, just live and die in Kansas.

It's so awful hot here. Hot and dry and flat and these hard-faced farmers never smile.

I'll never buy a Buick again. I think it's the timing chain this time. I'll have to take the whole engine apart to replace it. At least we can work in the shade. We'll push the Buick underneath the cottonwood tree and I can work on it there.

Then we don't have any money, so you'll have to look for some work while I fix the car. What if you stop by that bakery we saw on Main Street. You never know, they might need some help. Offer to clean up or something. Then we'll have a little money and they'll give us a lot of day old bread.

Maybe if we pretended we liked it here, then people will be nice to us. Okay, I'm going to look in the mirror and practice my "I love Kansas" smile. I'll tell them I'm just a cousin to Bob Dole, long lost, but back here in Wichita to claim kin.

All we gotta do is just think it could be worse. The Buick could have broken down in Oklahoma, but at least we made it across the state line. Kansas is heaven compared to Oklahoma, but we're never going to make it back to Sam Francisco.

I could just dig us a grave underneath this cottonwood tree, a big enough grave to bury us and the Buick too, except somebody might say, "Oh yeah, they went to Kansas, but we've never heard from them again."

Trout Fishing in Georgia

Trout fishing in Georgia is not good this summer. The summer was hot and dry, drier than anyone can remember. Memories of floods and hurricanes could not make it rain.

So rain is what we prayed for every day. But day after day, the sky was blue and hard. And hardly a drop of water flowed in the river. The river had been full of trout before the drought. Droughts are natural, but they are like a slow death.

Death is something we all face, but still we hope for rain. Rain, Rain, if only it would rain. Rain is a blessing, the blessing that makes life green. If it was green, we would feel happy again.

Happiness will return with the rain. The cool rain makes the earth fresh. Fresh water makes the trout leap with joy. Joyful too are the breeding mayflies that leap from the water after it rains.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The President's Gall Bladder

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson had his gall bladder removed. After the surgery, he returned to the White House and held an informal press conference. When the reporters asked him how the operation went, he hoisted his shirt and showed them the stitches on his sagging middle-aged belly.

LBJ was a brilliant man, a master manipulator, hugely sympathetic, and very vulgar.

This was a famous photo at the time, and it changed the way we view our elected officials. LBJ destroyed a necessary barrier of privacy, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

If you have surgery, why hide the scars?

So, this summer, we were all delighted -- everyone but me -- to learn that President George Bush would be checking into Walter Reed Medical Center for a colonoscopy. All the newspapers proceeded to give full color illustrations of the whole procedure -- How wonderful, we all said -- except for me.

I think, personally, if the press and public had been told that the President had undergone a "routine medical procedure," that was all the information I needed to have.

I am not squeamish. I have worked as a nursing aide in a hospital and I have seen and cleaned up more nasty biological messes than you can imagination. I have been literally up to my elbows in corporal effluvia, and I don't mind at all. It's the truth. It's the job. It's what you do. It's how we take care of each other. But It's also a private matter, done under private circumstances.

Back to the President and the public. I only need to know if he's healthy or not. The rest is private.

I do not salute the courage of Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of presidential candidate Senator John Edwards. She has revealed to the world her battle with breast cancer.

So? I do not know this woman. Our relationship is not personal, and I don't want to know about the intricacies of her lifelong struggle with death. I too face death, and might very well suffer a debilitating disease before I join the graveyard. I pray that the ones who love me stay by my side as it happens.

But I'm not going to make a TV show about it.

Think of the people who are qualified for public office, highly experienced and highly motivated, but they want to keep their private lives private. They don't want to hoist up their shirts to the world like LBJ did.

"Openness" should not be a requirement for public office.

Anyway, it all started in 1965 with LBJ's gall bladder.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Wind Rocks the Ferry

We had quite a wind storm two weeks ago and the wind made it rough for this ferry coming across Puget Sound on the run from Mukilteo to Whidbey Island.

I love that name, Mukilteo, the accent is on the next to last syllables.

Items and Sightems:

* I was st the Skagit Valley Food Co-op this afternoon and all the women there looked beautiful.

* Gem is the LaConner librarian and that's her name. Her name used to be Melody, but she changed it to Gem.

* I had an hour-long discussion with a well-known local architect and Columnist Jim Smith while drinking coffee at the LaConner Produce Market today. This was after I visited the Co-op. Of course I reported to them about the beautiful women at the Co-op, and the architect, to my amazement, said the same thing -- that he had been at the Co-op this morning and had struck up a conversation with a woman of dazzling loveliness.

* This morning I spent 3 hours, in brilliant sunshine, climbing up and down a step ladder whilst trimming the climbing rose that entwines the barn. It's a fine old-fashioned rose with trunks as big as your wrist. It was three large wheelbarrow loads of clipping by the time I took it down to the winter bones. The old girl hadn't been pruned in ten years, so there was a lot of dead wood underneath this year's growth.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Else we would be Angels

My trailer by the barn is too small. It keeps warm inside, but I am only inches away from the cold. The main room is 8 feet by 12 feet -- too small.

It's very cozy and clean inside, with a well-appointed kitchen, and pleasant over head lights, and a nicely upholstered couch. I make coffee in an old-fashioned percolator and I listen to talk radio, using my remote control device to switch from one station to another.

But it's not very stable, being on tires and propped up on trailer jacks -- it rumbles slightly, like jello, when I walk from the couch down the corridor -- 15-feet -- to the bathroom at the far end. I'm wishing I was more rooted to the ground, like in a a cabin that was small but not tiny.

That's what I want. It's good to want things. It's desire that keeps us on earth -- else we would be angels

The Previous Post is Too Rednecky

I thought my previous post with a photo of Hank Williams might be too rednecky. I have a CD of Hank's Greatest Hits, which I enjoy, but than I get tired of that Alabama twang.

I also greatly admire the songs of Leonard Cohen, a Jew from Montreal who practices Buddhism in the mountains near Los Angeles. He might have seen the fires burning near the monastery where he often goes to pray and meditate. Then he would say something profound, such as "Fires burn, and burn again. The mountain is down in ashes."

The fire is real and terrible -- and a complex poetic metaphor as well. Cohen would love to see it, as much as seeing an ant walk across his knee.

And he would never say that Hank Williams music was too rednecky. He would say that he enjoyed listening to it, and that Hank's song have inspired his own work.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I can't help it if I'm still in love with you

"I can't Help it if I'm Still in Love with You" is one of Hank Williams' best songs. I can play it on the guitar and sing it quite well in a meaningful way. Nobody likes the way I play the guitar or the way I sing, so mostly I just pick away at it in my lonesome trailer out by the barn.

Maybe I ought to have my own place, I thought today, instead of doing chores for people in the big house, and maybe I will have my own place in a few years, and my own dog, and my own garden. It'll be just like those old drifters in "Of Mice and Men." except I won't have any rabbits.

I'm reading a book about the author John Cheever, written by his daughter Susan Cheever. It's called "Home Before Dark."

Cheever had little success as a writer until his first novel was published when he was past 50-years-old. Then he made a lot of money and bought a fine house.

But before that, when Susan, the daughter, was growing up, the Cheevers lived in a series of rental houses, and Susan suspected that her father never really wanted to own property. He was happy enough to look at green meadows and dewy dawns wherever he happened to me.

I know about that. I owned my own house a few years ago. Owned it free and clear. Didn't owe the bank a nickel. Had complete Sovereignty over my own small territory. And that was fine, but when my marriage fell apart and I sold the place, I didn't miss it too bad, and I don't feel too lowly about being a caretaker on someone else's farm -- except once in a while I feel a little blue....

but I'm liable to feel a little blue about almost anything.

President Bush arrives on Air Force One -- and California is so Grateful

President flew into California on Air Force One today -- to everyone's immense relief. "We are so grateful that the President has arrived, be cause he'll know what to do," said one exhausted firefighter in the burnt hills of San Diego.

Although some of Bush's critics claim that the President is actually the cause of recent natural disasters, he neverthless brings a lot of experience to the job. "I did it to Baghdad, I did it to New Orleans, and now I'm going to do it to you folks in the Golden State," he said before a bank of microphones at the airport.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Santa Ana wind improves Malibu surfing

I called my sister in Los Angeles this morning. "We are surrounded by tragedy," she said, describing the ring of fire in the hills around Los Angeles and San Diego. "But it's weird too, because the wind isn't blowing here at all in Venice, just a brown haze in the sky from the smoke of the fires."

My sister lives in Venice, near the beach and 8 miles from the nearest fire at Malibu Canyon. The Santa Ana wind blows hot and dry every autumn.The humidity drops to almost zero and the ultra-dry wind makes everyone a little crazy, whether there is a fire or not.

Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena have described one beneficial aspect to this fierce offshore wind. The hot wind comes over the mountains and on to the ocean, and stirs up the water, causing colder, nutrient-rich water to rise to the surface -- it makes more food for the fishes, in other words.

Another good effect of the Santa Ana wind, is that it shapes the waves nicely at Malibu Point, one of the best and most famous surfing spots in Southern California.

During the peak of the wild fires yesterday, I cruised the Internet and tuned into the Surf Cam that is trained on the Malibu Point break. It was fine. There were only a half dozen surfers on the water yesterday, when there would usually be more than 50.

So, wild fire or not, when the surf is up, you gotta go.

I'm not being glib about the massive destruction of these terrible fires. I am just pointing out that surfing is the soul and essence of Southern California culture.

I have spent many delightful hours sitting on the sand at Malibu, watching them ride the waves. And someday, with a little help and a little coaxing, I'll get out there myself.

That's why I checked the Surf Cam at the height of the disaster -- Now I know everything will be all right again.

The surfing photo was taken at Malibu in 1949. They used really big boards back then.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ideal conditions for a huge fire in Los Angeles

A very wet winter in the Mountains of Los Angeles spurs the growth of abundant wild flowers and grass, and creates basically a huge pile of fuel. Then the following winter has no rain at all and all the fuel gets tinder dry -- just like what happened the past 2 years in LA -- a recipe for disaster, and now it's burning down from Malibu to San Diego.

I love that Southern California region, the beaches and the dusty trails through the brush, and the incredibly expensive homes in Malibu.

It's not really a disaster. It's natural, and the longer any hillside or canyon goes without a fire, then the bigger the fire will be when it comes.

Homes can be rebuilt. Firefighters should not risk their lives to save buildings.

In any event, the winter rains that everyone now prays for will sweep down barren hillsides and block more highways with raving-red-brown mudslides.

And then next spring all the mountains and hills will sprout emerald green again.

The point is -- Los Angeles is not where it is for a reason. There is no practical basis for the existence of that vast metropolis, except for the unceasing ability of the native peoples there to defy and ignore reality.

So, Keep on surfin' -- because the world already came to an end.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Jim Bertolino, re-nouned poet, and Anita Boyle emerging

Jim Bertolino is a re-nouned poet. That is, Bertolino began life as a noun, but took the pose of an adjective as young man. Finding this adjectival status to be somewhat derivative, Bertolino underwent the difficult and not always successful procedure of re-nouning.

I am happy to report that Bertolino is quite happy these days, living as a re-nouned poet, no longer the object of scorn or controversy.

"I am much more myself than I have ever been," he said, last August, whilst sipping a beer in a lawn chair. He was in deep settlement with his living partner, Anita Boyle, both seated in lawn chairs, next to the Frog Pond, which adorns her property, a horse-riven farm on the Mount Baker Road outside of Bellingham. One can't see the big highway from the little frog pond. One can only see, or more often, hear the frogs.

Anita, an emerging poet, parsed that status for me. "You see, Frog Freddy, I had been for many years a merged poet, even, at times, a sub-merged poet. I did not know my own strength. Yet I threw off the shackles that bound me."

I was so glad to hear this about Anita. I too was sipping a beer by the frog-riven pond. She continued, "In Latin, the word emerge comes from the Latin verb ex-mergere, which means to become unjoined, or even to mean becoming unglued. Therefore, and upon researching this, I, like a mayfly on a trout stream, emerged."

With all three lawn chairs established that summer evening, we drank more beer until it became too dark to hear the frogs.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Full Disclosure has little to do with Honesty

I had a dream last night. I was hitchhiking through South Texas and I got arrested -- it was only a night in jail. None the worse for wear, I got on my way the next morning.

In real life, I traveled through Texas in 1967 -- my very first time -- hitchhiking with my college buddy, Mark Mikolas. We went on down to Mexico City and then to Oaxaca -- but we never got arrested in Texas.

I have other places to write about my private concerns, which is why you don't hear about them in this blog. I keep a journal, full of dreams, daily jottings and self pity. The journal is about one yard wide, counting all the volumes over 20 years. I have never re-read it -- too embarrassing, even when I am by myself.

I also belong to an Internet Forum which is semi-private, and it costs me $25 per year to participate in this moderated discussion. This is another outlet for personal concerns. I recommend it highly because I can post something in the nature of private turmoil without the whole world watching.

I am strongly opposed to the confessional writing and the wanton indulgence of self-expression that is so common today. Please remember this -- NO ONE WANTS TO KNOW.

Telling one and all the gritty details of your personal mess has nothing to do with honesty. It's a fake, it's called full disclosure and it's wrong. It is far more the real truth and the real loving kindness to be careful about what you say and careful about who hears it.

Spilling the beans requires no effort and has little to do with the courage of telling the truth.

Friday, October 19, 2007

When the King of Sweden Came to Kansas

Who can for get that wonderful day when King Carl XVI of Sweden came to Lindsborg, Kansas in 1976. That's him on the left receiving a bouquet of flower from a little Kansas girl. And that's him on the right, as he looks today.

King Carl, like me, was born in 1946, and, also like me, he visited Lindsborg, Kansas, but I got there a few months after his trip, and they didn't bring me flowers.

What happened is my International Pickup, truly the worst vehicle I ever owned, broke down on the verge of Lindsborg, and I was forced to a camp ground on the nearby Smoky Hill River.

What could I do? I was broke, I had to get a job. Thankfully, Lindsborg was a wonderfully tidy town founded by Swedish immigrants -- that would explain the King's visit -- so they had a factory to provide employment.

The factory made aluminum windows for the booming housing market in Wichita, 40 miles down the road.

I got a job at that factory, on the assembly line, cutting glass to fit into the window frames. I had to work very fast to keep up with the line. An empty aluminum frame would come by on the belt. I would grab it and place it on a table, I would then grab a pane of glass, place it over the frame, make two quick cuts with a glass cutter, drop the glass into the frame, and then put it back on the moving belt. I broke a lot of glass, but they didn't care as long as I worked really fast.

And it was awful hot, over 100 degrees every day -- that's August in Kansas.

It wasn't any plan of mine to live in Lindsborg but, as I said, my truck broke down, and it wasn't a bad place.

We rented an apartment in the alley in back of a Swedish bakery which smelled like cinnamon.

Those Swedes really know how to take care of themselves. They had a program of complete independence, with graceful amenities and cleanliness -- a four-year liberal arts college, a beautiful park with a summer bandstand, a grand municipal swimming pool, and their own power plant to provide their own electricity.

It was an agricultural center as well, but you would expect that in Kansas. Then there was the factory -- to get those kinds of jobs.

On top of all that, they had removed all the buildings from the Swedish Exhibit at the St Louis World's Fair in 1904.They re-established these historic buildings in a city park, and made it a tourist attraction.

And then the King of Sweden came, to visit all his Swedish-American children.

King Carl went back to Sweden to resume his normal job of handing out the Nobel Prizes. I left Lindsborg a few months later, I got my pickup repaired, I had a little money by then -- I got really tired of working on the assembly line at the aluminum window factory, but it was a good town. At least I had the luck to break down in the right places.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Anahuac, Texas -- a quiet, swampy kind of place

Anahuac is one of the oldest towns in Texas, and one of the few towns to have a Mexican name as opposed to a Spanish name. "Anahuac" was also the name of the ancient Aztec capital.

The people of Anahuac got lucky because progress passed them by a long time ago. You can see the lights of Houston a way on the other side of Trinity Bay, but Anahuac is just a quiet, sleepy town, surrounded by rice fields, and verging on great fishing water in the bays and sloughs.

Bird watchers come to Anahuac from all over America to see the fall and spring migrations. Anybody with sense stays away in the summer because it's awful hot and humid.

I lived there in 1986 for only a few months, but I cherish the memory.

Ron Paul wants the federal gov't. out of health care, Froma Harrop says otherwise

I endorse two inconsistent positions on health care. One, I support Ron Paul for President. He is an obstetrician from Texas, representing a Congressional district in the hot, swampy Gulf Coast region, including the blissful town of Anahuac, where I once lived, in 1986. Be that as it may, he takes a conservative view that the federal gov't. should not get involved with health care because they will do it badly. He says that the more complicated the issue is, the more it needs to be locally decided. Being a strict constitutionalist, Dr. Paul has no objection to state solutions to health care.

I also support columnist Froma Harrop's appeal for universal national health care, as she describes it in the column in the previous post.

I suppose these two views are inconsistent, so what I mean is, one way or the other, let get 'er done.

And no, I don't care what they do in any other country. They can do whatever they want in Canada and in Europe. The solution to American health problems will never be imported, it has to be home-grown and grass roots.

Best on Health Care

Froma Harrop's column in the Seattle Times today is the best I have seen on the necessity of universal health care.

"Really, how did American workers become the last people in any industrialized democracy to be subject to such anxiety about paying for medical care? They already fund the health care of retirees, the poor, the disabled, convicts and government employees, including members of Congress. Their taxes pay for everyone's health care except their own."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Farming in the Skagit Flats

The Skagit River tumbles out of the Cascade Mountains and then creates a broad, fertile delta -- that's where I live, on the Skagit flats -- best farm land in the country, put a broom stick in the ground and it will sprout, dig half way to China and you won't find a rock.

Not all that rosy, we are at ten feet above sea level and surrounded by dikes -- it has flooded here a few times.

But then again, floods go away and leave the soil a bit richer.

In late October the farmers are still out in the fields. The Roozen family is planting tulips, we're talking about hundred of acres of tulips, not your small garden, but on a commercial scale, so they haul out bulbs by the truckload and load them into the planter, and put them in the ground -- The tulips will bloom in glorious color next April.

They're still harvesting potatoes. The potato harvest stretches out over two months because there is no hurry -- Potatoes can sit in the ground all winter and it won't hurt them a bit. This give the potato farmer the luxury of not having to work around the clock to get a crop in -- he can even knock off for bad weather.

The wheat planted last month in our field on Beaver Marsh Road is almost 3 inches tall. It will grow a little bit more and then just sit there all winter -- not growing in the winter, but ready to take off first thing next spring.

They planted wheat across the road from us just last week, so I guess it's not too late for that.

And, I suspect, but need to ask questions in order to confirm -- that the farmers are planting a lot more wheat around here this year. Could be that $9 a bushel price for wheat on the futures market -- more than double what it was last year.

Swinomish Slough

It was flood tide on Swinomish Slough this morning. It's called Swinomish Channel these days because the Army Corps of Engineers keeps it dredged and even large vessels can traverse the channel at low tide.

But I would help the government save money -- don't bother to dredge the channel. In my plan, you leave the channel the way it is and it turns back into a slough, with the tide sloshing in and out twice a day. Large and small vessels make the passage through the channel because it's a sheltered route instead of facing the open water of Rosario Strait, which can be stormy in the winter.

But we don't need to make the large annual expense of keeping it dredged. What you do, instead, if you have a big boat -- and this is a dramatic discovery I am sharing with the world now -- is WAIT FOR HIGH TIDE.

It sounds too simple to be true, but in fact the tide changes as regular as clockwork, and if you come to either entrance to the channel and the tide is low, then by golly, all you gotta do is wait six hours, and the water will rise just like magic.

I'm going to send a telegram today to the Corps of Engineers and fill them in on this new plan.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


When I was a small boy, my mother scolded me for shoving food in my mouth. She said, "Don't eat like a starving Armenian." I had no idea who those people were, but now I know. And now I realize that my Mother, born in 1914, grew up with real stories and images of the terribly suffering inflected on the Armenians by the Turks.

When I lived in Boston, I often drove through Watertown, the focus of the New England's Armenian culture. I never studied this group, I only stopped in Watertown to get lamb kebabs on pita bread -- they really know how to cook lamb, and the restaurant was always packed.

Comes now a resolution before Congress to condemn and name the Genocide against the Armenians by the Turkish government. I oppose this resolution for two reasons -- because there is no justice for historic crimes. When the survivors and the perpetrators have both perished, justice is finished and the historic study begins. Even the Jewish Holocaust will soon become history as well. This is my own standard, to only go back so far.

If the Turks are condemned for their crime in 1915 and afterward, then we might go back ten years earlier and condemn the British for their internment of Afrikaaners in the Boer War in South Africa.

This lesser known atrocity marked the invention of the 20th century concentration camp. The British regular army was combating a rag tag band of crafty guerillas, fighting on horseback calvary. The British had the firepower, but the Boers knew the land and hid everywhere.

So the British invented a new tactic. They stopped attacking the Boer irregulars, but instead went to the Boer farms and villages and rounded up all the women and children, many tens of thousands, and herded them into barbed wire enclosures with little food or shelter and poor sanitation. Some 27,000 women and children were said to have died in those camps.

This was not a major crime, by 20th century standards, but do we forget it? No, but when we remember what the British did to the Boers, then we need to go back further and remember what the Boers did to the Zulus, Xhosas and other South African tribes. How far back do we go?

We shall not forget the Armenian Genocide. But we are past the time of justice or apology.

The second reason I oppose the Congressional resolution against the Turks is that we ought to concentrate our energy on opposing the crimes of today. It is important to defend the rights of the Kurdish minority in Turkey today. Their lives and their freedom are at risk -- this is where we ought to stand on principle.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

If You Build It, They Will Come

In Iowa, where Corn is King, a Midwestern Renaissance is upon us, and it will save the nation.

In the movie, "Field Of Dreams," there was a memorable line, "If you build it, they will come." and there was a haunting image of a baseball diamond carved out of an Iowa cornfield.

The field is still there, located outside of Dubuque, where the movie was filmed. The house in the photo was and still is a private residence, but the family that lives there has continued to welcome hundreds of tourists every year.

I was last in Dubuque in the winter of 1996, one of many trips I have made to that Mississippi River town, where red-brick buildings that pre-date the Civil War still line the waterfront.

Corn is shipped in barge loads, down the river, down to New Orleans, outbound on ships to a hungry world, but it begins here, in Iowa.

What we are seeing today is another beginning, because they are building something new in Iowa, not a Field of Dreams, but 28 corn-fed ethanol plants scattered all over the state.

Here's from the Economist: "YOU might think that the opening of a new ethanol facility in Nevada, Iowa—a town of 6,700 in the centre of the state—would be of interest mainly to the local farmers who supply the corn that the factory turns to car fuel. You would be wrong. Investors in the refinery include the person who delivers fuel to it, a couple of local parts-suppliers for John Deere (a big farm-equipment company) and the local school-bus driver, among 900 or so other small investors. Like many others in the corn belt, the Nevada refinery is seen as a way for the whole rural community to thrive by exploiting America's new craving for ethanol and the corn (maize) that is being used to make it."

Local people own it. Sure, Archer Daniel Midland and other huge agri-businesses own some refineries, but most of them are owned by small farmers and their neighbors.

Corn is at a record price. And people throughout rural Iowa are making some good money now. There is no more deserving group in America.

And if they are smart, they will grow these small towns in a diversified way, first taking the left-over corn mash from the ethanol distillery and using it to feed cattle, then collecting the manure from the cattle feed lots and producing more fuel, and then establishing slaughter facilities for the ripened cattle, and gaining dairy products from the dairy cows also feeding near the corn-fuel plant.

And enough money is flowing into those rural towns right now, that every farmer in the state will be buying a new pickup. But if they are smart, they will make long-term decisions that benefit their communities -- like funding a new public library, or building a swimming pool at the high school, or building parks and sweet meadows for tourists.

Remember that the Corn Belt, that broad band across the middle of America, going from Nebraska, across Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and to Ohio -- coincides with the manufacturing center of our country, and what used to be our most powerful economic generator -- John Deere plants in Iowa, Caterpillar plants in Illinois, and a broad swath of steel mills from Chicago to Pittsburg.

And that is all known now as the Rust Belt, as our economy changed to a service orientation, and the power of this region diminished.

But it rises again, thanks to the mighty power of corn and ethanol. Ethanol, a subsidized and imperfect solution to energy problems, is serving as a catalyst for economic and cultural growth in the Midwest.

For too long this country has been dominated by trendy air-heads from California, entwined with neurotic academics from the Boston-Washington Corridor, and bitterly fought by intransigent, thick-skulled Southerners and all this time, these past 20 and 30 years, the Midwest has remained self-effacing, saying "We're not much," in a courteous tone.

But it's changing now, the climate has changed, the impetus is arising in the center of the country, and the people of the Midwest will now speak up Up, and they will now make more sense, and speak with more truth and more kindness, and more certainty.

This is going to be good. It all begins with Corn, and if they build it in Iowa, the rest of us will come to them, if not in person, then in spirit, with eyes and ears opened, to discuss solutions to America's problems, and the Renaissance in Iowa will save the nation.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Notes on a culture

President: Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is stylish. Afghan men wear cool hats, turbans, cloaks, daggers, and masculine jewelery -- they would put any LA steet rapper to shame. It's definitely the bong.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is also a pretty sharp dresser. We should have never invaded Iraq, and since we did, we should never have let Rumsfeld design the strategy -- but he did look good in a suit.

** Conceptual artist Bobby Vilinksy, featured in a post several days ago, will be hosting a show at his Waltham, Massachusetts studio. It will be a group show in this cooperatively shared space. Waltham, a suburb of Boston, was one of the first industrial cities in America. In the early 19th century textile mills, powered by dams on the Charles River, employed thousands of men and women in Waltham.

The old brick buildings are still there and Vilinsky works in one of them. In a few days, Frog Hospital will post photos of his art, so stay tuned.

** Al Gore jumped in line again. If a Nobel Peace Prize is given to a man who has worked to save and improve the environment, it should have gone to agricultural essayist Wendell Berry. Berry's work -- his written words and his small farm in Kentucky -- form a true and wholesome integrity. In the Jewish prayer book, it says, "Blessed is He who says and does..." --- that's Wendell Berry. Compared to him, Al Gore is just another grandstander.

** However, Al Gore would have made a better President than George Bush. Of course, that's easy to say -- you could pick a name out of the phone book and find a better President than Bush.

** The Salvation of the Nation will come from Iowa. Read all about the "Corn Renaissance" in the next post.

October is the most beautiful month

October is the most beautiful month. The weather is good almost everywhere in the country. You can go camping and sleep well in the crisp air. Frost has killed most of the bugs.

Of the four seasons, autumn is the only with a home -- New England. It was created there. Pictures of pretty leaves -- that's not it. The visual splendor is the lesser joy. It's the air itself that breathes magic. And if you're lucky to be in New England now, I'm happy for you.

It's pretty nice here in the Skagit Valley too, so we can't complain. Even Southern California has been blessed with a rare October rain -- my brother Tom called from Pasadena to say that the grass was growing there.

On Beaver Marsh Road, we are still gathering potatoes left over in the field after the harvester has passed through. I have about 200 pounds in a big pile by the barn. They store better unwashed, I have learned. I clean them up in five-pound batches, making a nice gift for friends.

Gleaning is not just for poor people anymore, because there are literally tons of potatoes out there for anyone who cares to gather them, and the farmers readily give permission for this traditional activity.

I don't give a hoot about global warming, but you might think about all the energy required to grow these potatoes -- come on out and get some spuds and earn your carbon credits.

Friday, October 12, 2007

One Harebrained Scheme after another

My life is about one harebrained scheme after another. Nothing ever turns out right for me because I have global dyslexia.

In my journey these past few years from here to Ohio, to Texas, and to California, I have lived in tents and lived in mansions -- but nothing really happened. And I haven't exactly risen up in the world -- it seems I mostly move sideways.

It looks like I am right back where I started from -- with this one very large improvement, because I no longer live in the insular, incestuous village of LaConner (pop. 800) but enjoy the spacious air out on Beaver Marsh Road, among farm-fields.

Out here, I am not aggravated and do not return the the favor. It's better. I visit LaConner almost every day. It's only five miles away, but, if you may have noticed, I write nothing about the town in this blog.

The petty feuds bore me, the arts are not interesting, there is a ban on music and dancing -- not an official ban -- but I only see the dullness of older people sitting on oak benches besides potted geraniums. There is simply nothing to write about in LaConner.

Maybe that's good, because it's still a great town for raising children, and nothing else matters nearly as much.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Picking onions

Re: Immigrants, legal and illegal.

Nice people, but too many. Any large population shift is inherently unstable.

Also, I am angry that there are other people in this country with false papers. I keep papers in my wallet, SS card, drivers license, etc. It has always been a pain for me to keep this ID up to date, because I have moved around so much. But I am who I say I am, and I am not willing to share this country with somebody who can't live up to that standard.

There is no historic crime which we need to explain or apologize for -- this is our country, and we get to decide who comes in and who doesn't. It's the same thing in Mexico - try getting into Mexico if you don't have any money -- they won't let you in, and they don't have to. In fact they don't even need a reason, and neither do we.

So, build a fence, send out the National Guard, deport a bunch of people, and then hopefully, the message will get down to Latin America and elsewhere that the U.S. is closed for the time being.

We should have limited immigration in the early 20th century before the Klu Klux Klan nativist reaction set in, ending immigration entirely for the next 50 years and contributing to the dull conformity of the 1950s.

Immigration should be "governed" like the governor on an engine, never too fast and never too slow.

So, nice people, send 'em back where they came from.

And the farmers can rot. They say they will go out of business if they can't hire cheap labor, but they love the superiority of watching campesinos bending over in their fields. And American consumers can stop acting so spoiled. If we want onions, then we either pick them ourselves, or pay decent wages to some one else to pick them for us -- or we just don't get any onions.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

From New Jersey to Boston

Artist Bobby Vilinsky has traveled the world from New Jersey to Boston....I just wrote that because it sounds funny. Bobby is a good friend of mine and he has seen many things in many places, but it is true that he grew up in New Jersey and has spent most of his adult life in Boston.

Not Boston -- Cambridge. Local neighborhoods count quite a bit in New England. Cambridge -- anybody who lives there will tell you -- is on the other side of the Charles River from Boston and quite a different town.

Then, people in Cambridge will want to know in what part of Cambridge does one live -- certain neighborhoods have their peculiarities.

Bobby Vilinsky, depicted here, in a handsome and appealing portrait, used to live near Central Square in Cambridge, but now he lives almost midway between Harvard Square and Central Square and partakes of both, or neither.

More importantly, his apartment comes with a parking space for his Honda Civic, plus he can walk to either Harvard Square or to Central Square and descend to the Red Line subway, which will take him in to Boston if, for example, he wanted to visit the Museum of Fine Art, or go to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox.

Bobby has had his art displayed at the Museum of Fine Art, an august circumstance which has not gone to his head. Bobby is the same old friendly fellow I have always known.

I would display a photo of his art, but it is conceptual, often three-dimensional, and does not reproduce well on this flat screen. But I think a photo of the artist himself works quite well. Bobby has a strong smile and it comes easily.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

My Mind is not "Open."

Ambiguity is essential -- it's the sign of a growing mind. Internal ambiguity is a reflection of the outward contradictions we observe. It is not necessarily our goal to resolved disparate views -- a large mind has room for many things.

John Kerry -- I didn't like him but for one quality - his deep, unresolved conflict about the War in Viet Nam. He wanted to serve, he wanted to be a hero, and that's why he earned his medals. Then he threw them away, because the whole war was a bitch. Decades later, Kerry's mental state is still ambivalent about that conflict -- in that sense he represents a large number of American men.

On another note, I will no longer use the term "open mind." I use the term "growing mind" and "large mind." Openness, being open, is one of our new faux virtues. My mind is not open. My mind has boundaries, barriers, walls, portals, gates, and doors. My mind has visiting hours, but I run the joint, and not every notion is welcome.

In support of that resolve, I have included an image of the famous slogan from the Revolutionary War, "Don't Tread on Me."

Quoting this slogan in a meaningful way, as it applies to myself, and as it also applies to our national defense, should not be read as any endorsement of President Bush's wildly irresponsible invasion of Iraq.