Archive for August, 2019

What I Miss From Work

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

One consequence of working at Michigan Tech and living 20 miles away in Elo, has been, I didn’t get to know many of my neighbors. Our social circle was pretty centered in the MTU community. That began to change when I retired, and has steadily improved as I’ve become more involved in the local community through the fire department.

My neighbor on Lake Avenue is a good example. We now regularly share a breakfast table in downtown Tapiola on Monday mornings. As we’ve gotten to know each other, some good stories have emerged. He was blessed with the gift of music from an early age, and was also blessed with parents that nurtured his capabilities. He was one of the few children that didn’t need to be coerced into practicing the piano… he played because he loved it.

He has been fortunate to be able to follow his avocation through his work and for his own pleasure throughout his long life. But like so many of us, the tsunami of technology washed over and around him, and many of the modern tools available to musicians and composers were beyond his technical capabilities.

If I say so, one thing I was pretty good at throughout my career as an IT professional at MTU, was my ability to understand the computing needs of a wide range of people, and bridge the gap for them so they could become more productive with the help of computing technology. My greatest satisfaction was to get folks up to speed and self sufficient with computers. I can credit myself with many converts to the computer realm over my decades at Michigan Tech.

My neighbor had a large traditional upright piano in his house that he wasn’t using. He came up with the idea of donating the big heavy piano to the high school music program, and replacing it with a smaller used electronic keyboard. As luck would have it, this keyboard was pretty old, but new enough to have MIDI in and out. I decided to dust off my old skill set, and see if I could do some gap-bridging again. I ordered the necessary cable and some MIDI recording software, hooked everything together, and… it didn’t work. After explaining how easy and wonderful this new technology would be, I had to admit I was stumped. I came back several times, tried everything I could think of, and still nothing. As a last ditch effort, I ordered a new cable. Success!

The next challenge was to learn the recording software well enough to teach my pupil, and get him to the point that he could use the tools to compose a piece. I figured if he could get one under his belt, he’d be hooked, and my work would be mostly done. Well, today the stars aligned, and we put a piece together. It had 4 acoustic channels chosen by my friend, and even a singing part. And it came out great! As the pieces started coming together, I felt a lump growing in my throat. Just as the computer has helped me do the writing that I enjoy, my friend may now be able to commit his musical ideas onto a MIDI file so the rest of us can enjoy them too.

What else do I miss about work? Frankly, not very much 🙂

A Straight Back

Friday, August 9th, 2019

Earlier this summer, Alice and I made a trip to the Grand Canyon. This trip was timed to be after maple syrup and before the gardens. We were barely able to shoehorn it in this year, but we did it. The purpose of this trip, like the one in 2018, was to say goodbye. The 2018 trip was to say goodbye to my Dad, who passed away in early April 2018. Mom died in November of 2018, so this was her trip.

This year Alice came along, and we followed a routine for the days we were there. After an early breakfast in our hotel in Tusyan, we drove in to the park and spent the morning hiking and sightseeing. Then there was lunch at the Maswik Lodge Cafeteria, and back to the hotel for a rest. Then we’d ride the Tusyan bus back to the park for several more hours of visiting, some supper again at the Maswik, then we’d catch the bus back to the hotel.

On two of our mornings, we headed up to a part of the park called Desert View, that I’d seldom visited before. On one of my hikes with Brother Gerry, we had the Desert View Watchtower in view up on the rim for much of our hike along the river. But I hadn’t really visited the area much until this trip.

The watchtower was designed by Mary Colter, who had built many iconic structures in the Grand Canyon and other national parks. As part of our visit, we learned a little about this remarkable woman and her beautiful work; all done during a time when architecture was traditionally a man’s profession.

soaking in the art with a straight back

The watchtower is a 3 story structure with stairways leading up to each floor. My favorite floor was the first floor, and I was lucky enough to often have the place to myself. The other tourists would walk up to the first floor, shown in the above picture, look around a bit, and then immediately climb up to the next two floors. Once done, they’d often climb down and back out into the sunshine. This left me a lot of time to sit on the bench and soak in the artwork.

I have to admit that I’ve often thought that Native American traditional artwork looked kind of childish. There was no real perspective or shading to denote depth. But during my hours sitting and contemplating the work, I came to a much different conclusion. Let’s say I wanted to celebrate the marriage of a beloved daughter to a fine capable man. Or that I wanted to permanently chronicle a bumper crop of corn and squash that would feed my family with some to spare. I am an ancient Native American without access to brushes, paints, canvas, or other tools that we now take for granted. My responsibility was to find pigments in the materials close at hand, find a suitable wall to accept my work, and then allow my heart to sing on that rock wall. What would I come up with?

The answer is I would not have come up with anything as wonderful as what I saw at Desert View. Granted these were not ancient paintings, but were executed by Native American artists in the 1930s. They were based on traditional Hopi works.

As I sat quietly and allowed my mind to settle down, the work came alive for me. The wonder of the stars, the comfort of a good harvest, and numerous symbols whose meanings were not clear to me, but contributed to the stories living and breathing on this circular space.

I don’t know if I’ll be fortunate enough to return to the Grand Canyon National Park, but if I do, Mary Colter’s Desert View Watchtower will be near the top of my list for another visit.

pop pop pop

Sunday, August 4th, 2019

My father-in-law often used the Finnish word “hanki” (pronounced hung-gi) to describe a crust on the snow that is solid enough to walk on. Since I don’t know of a comparable word in English, it is the word I use for that purpose.

This maple syrup season, we had a great hanki. Maple trees need below freezing nights and above freezing days for their sap to run. This season we had a lot of snow, and it got very cold at night; cold enough so whatever the sun melted during the day froze solidly enough at night that I could often dispense with the snowshoes.

I use army surplus aluminum alloy snowshoes that are tough as iron, but are a bit of a pain to put on and take off. So if my judgement says the crust is sufficient to hold my weight, I cheerfully head out with my muck boots ™ and buckets to gather the sap. And this worked very well for most of the season.

On one particular gather near the end of the season, I wasn’t paying attention and stepped on the snow where I shouldn’t have. My left foot went through the hanki and my knee said “ouch!”

My left knee has been a problem child for some decades now. About 20 years ago, I tore the medial meniscus and had to have about 1/3 of the meniscus removed. The knee has been a little fragile since then, and about 10 years ago it began to hurt enough that I started wearing a knee brace on it during the day. As long as I use my head, I can do most anything I want to do without any pain.

After the crash through the hanki, my knee started popping with every step. It didn’t hurt, but I was concerned enough about it to tell my doctor about it during my annual physical. He told me that if it didn’t hurt it was probably just a slight misalignment issue, and that the joint was popping back into place each step. “Will it get better,” I asked? “Probably not,” he said.

The other day I was working on firewood for the maple syrup operation, and my knee twisted while I still had weight on it. The noise it made was not the normal “pop,” but instead “POP!” “Oh darn,” I said. I took a few steps, and I’ll be darned if the popping sound had gone away. It reminded me of the old movie trick where someone gets hit on the head and develops amnesia, and the only thing that gets their memory back is another hit on the head. I find it ironic that not only was I working in the woods with the therapeutic pop happened, but I was working on maple syrup wood. The knee saga had gone full circle.

I do have to say the popping sound has not gone completely away, but is seems much diminished to me. Maybe if I’d give is a good wack with a sledgehammer, it would quit popping altogether.