Archive for May, 2017

Slow and Steady

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

A pretty good sized creek crosses our road through a culvert. We fondly call it the Watson Creek (get it? Think DNA) When we first moved here over 40 years ago, the county road commission was kind of letting things go on this road, hoping they might be able to abandon it as they had several other local uninhabited roads. When it became clear we were here to stay, our local road crew dug up the small old concrete culvert that contained the Watson Creek, and installed a large corrugated metal one. This culvert has served us well all the years we’ve lived here.

We’ve had an unusually wet spring this year, and the culvert is starting to show its age. Erosion is starting to set in on the edges of the embankment. If much more road crumbles into this creek, we could become stranded in that direction. So I decided to act.

Franco and I walk on this road daily; usually after supper. And I find my part of the walk is more enjoyable if I have a project. Over the years, I’ve hunted for road copper, and fixed deep ruts with rocks I gather along the way.

My assessment of this problem is the rushing water from the outflow of the culvert is washing away enough of the dirt at the base of the culvert to cause the banks to slip. What is needed is a rock base to disperse the power of the running water. So our evening walks now include a hunt for suitable rocks. I can only carry a few rocks each time, which I dutifully toss into the pool of water below the road bed. But even just a few each day can start to add up, as you can see in the picture. It can be discouraging when your hard earned rock just disappears in the pool, but I know it might stop the next rock from rolling too far, and after a hundred days or so, we’ll have a nice little pile of boulders down there just daring the road to wash away.

New Light

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

I just turned 65 last week, so I’ve lived a long life. And if there is one thing that has been constant most of my life, it has to do with light. When you turn on the light switch, and the light does not come on, you get to roll up your manly sleeves and fix that problem, by unscrewing the light bulb, inserting a new one, and yelling, “Try it now!” Then, trying hard not to be smug, slapping your hands together and thinking, “Well, I fixed that problem.”

This week I saw an end to those days. I installed some new light fixtures in the basement when one of the two died irrevocably. No new bulb, because those bulbs are no longer made. I was an early adopter of screw in florescent bulbs, but unlike their offspring, these were round bulbs and came with a custom made deflector. I looked around in town last week for a replacement, couldn’t find what I wanted, so ordered the fixtures you see in the picture from Amazon. The thing weighs only a few ounces, and those little yellow squares you see are the “bulbs.” They give off more light than the previous fixtures for a fraction of the power.

And you never replace the bulbs. There are no bulbs to replace. The LEDs that give off the light are rated for 50,000 hours. By the time these bad boys wear out, there’ll undoubtedly be a replacement that will make these fellows look old and obsolete.

My major concern with these new fixtures, is how will flex my male prowess at fixing things? Will I be required to actually know something about the thing I have to fix? If so, I fear I’m in for a rude awakening. It won’t be the first time, and it probably won’t be the last.

The Secret

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

While I’m boiling maple syrup my thoughts wander. It is sort of like having a good think while driving, except the consequences of failure are less, so the thoughts can be deeper. On this occasion I was thinking about my life, and about the many good parts of it. I wondered if there was a pattern that I could share with others, especially those early in their life’s journey, so they too might have a shot at such a good ride.

I was reminded of a memorial service I had recently attended. This being held in a Lutheran church, there was a meal after the service. Alice and I happened to sit across the table from an old colleague from the university, Randy Freisinger. Randy was a professor in the humanities department, and although he and I had only crossed paths a couple of times in the 22 years I worked at MTU, we’d developed a friendship. We hadn’t seen each other in probably 12 years, but the reunion conversation sparked into high gear very quickly.

Somehow the conversation turned to the volunteer work I do at the fire department in Tapiola. Randy asked me if that wasn’t the fire department that was right next to the Tapiola ball diamond, and I said yes it was. Randy explained that he’d played slow-pitch softball there many times over the years and had fond memories of the place. In fact, he said, he’d even written a poem about it. In the poem, he named it the Alston ball field, but only because the words worked better. Between you and me, he told me, the poem is about the Tapiola ball field.

It seemed that after that interaction, several more such interactions occurred. One a phone call from a long lost friend and colleague in Santa Fe, New Mexico, one a chance encounter at the hardware store, several others on facebook and email. I realized after these chance encounters that my life had been enriched because of the caliber of the people I had shared it with. And that is where the advice comes in.

At your young age, you may not be planning your life out, because you are so busy living it. You haven’t had many opportunities to see the effects of good decisions and bad, so you are concentrating on cruising along and having fun. Good for you! If I could get you to slow down a minute and consider one small change in your life, it would be this:

Associate yourself with exceptional people. It is your peers that will do more to point you in a positive direction than any other force. Start with your life mate. I was lucky in that regard, but there is only one of her, and she is already taken. Make a supreme effort to find a partner that will lift you up. Do whatever it takes to win the hand of that person. It is an investment that will pay you the best return of your lifetime.

Once that is done, educate yourself, and expose yourself to educated people. Be friends with folks that seem to “understand.” Folks that know how to think and are willing to lend a helping hand. And you be willing to lend them a helping hand. Forge partnerships with people that impress you. Always being on your guard, however. There is no pain in life like the pain of betrayal. You can find yourself reaching out and becoming vulnerable to another, only to have your faith in them betrayed. Learn from these encounters and grow stronger and more capable, rather than bitter.

Notice how open-ended all this advice is. What does he mean by “educated?” “understand?” “impress?” Good questions, and ones only you can answer. Educated to one person can mean something totally different to another.

The concept is to look at a person in terms of the life they are living and have lived, and decide if you’d like to be wearing similar shoes. If so, cultivate a friendship with that person if possible. And remember that a lot of ground can be covered in good literature. Read and understand, and test your understanding in the real world. Concentrate on actions, not words. The world is full of good talkers. “Talk is cheap” is one of my Dad’s favorite sayings.

Oh yes, the poem. It has been published twice, initially in The Laurel Review and then as part of a chapbook entitled Hand Shadows (GreenTower Press, 1988). The author is my friend Randall R. Freisinger, and his poem is reprinted here with his permission.

Slow-Pitch Tournament, Alston, Michigan
–June 15, 1986

It’s Sunday, mid-June. Somewhere south of White Pine
Borges, Benny Goodman, and Alan Jay Lerner are dying.
Here in Alston even death and metaphysics have turned
more palatable with bratwurst, beer, and near-perfect
weather. A bracket tacked up by concessions
lists thirty teams in double elimination.
Just two–a scrub crew of local oldtimers and
some college kids from a nearby town–
remain for the championship game. Losers gather
to stare at the bracket’s absolute right
tracking logic, yet even loss is half
illusion here when there’s always the next
weekend in L’Anse or Ontonagon.

Out along both foul lines behind snow
fences players and girlfriends or wives
drink Millers and Strohs, complaining,
regretting their losses, but they know
there were plenty of reasons to lose,
and now unstrung muscles and sore arms
don’t much matter, for somehow this milieu–
closed and precisely composed of forgiveness
and second chances–is what they’ve always needed
in a universe. The older players are young
enough still to win and remember.
There’s a jigger of sun after winter
and hundreds of hearts chafing for base
hits or running one-hand catches.
Even two kids whisked away last night
by ambulance after being hit on their motorcycle
by a drunk driver are back stitched
and on crutches, clear proof if any were needed
this brief conjunction of space
and time has dispensed with rules.

Everyone says the leftfielder, who’s five
for five, hides a bag under his loose uniform–
they don’t know, cancer, maybe. They say
he’s a hell of a guy, only twenty-nine,

(No Stanza Break))

a real fighter they say. In the last
of the ninth he slides on his side deep
down the line at the back of the warning
track to end the game. A thin membrane
of silence snaps when he rises, intact,
and no one thinks to stop clapping.

It’s the infinite, fugitive moment
for the young winners, composed they say
mostly of Apostolics, non-drinkers,
but even that is believable here
in the dénouements of final beers and
mosquitoes. A ground crew retrieves bases.
Old, bruised heroes sprawl on car hoods,
drinking, rehearsing plays that did them in,
the ones that by winter will slide
toward myth. They are far from bitter
at the end of this familiar script
which soon takes them home to make love
to their women who all day have grown
steadily, suddenly more beautiful.