Monthly Archives: August 2012

Emma’s Garden…

So, Emma has tomatoes.

On May 5, the day after she was born, her Gramps used a spade to turn over the good, dark Minnesota earth to form Emma’s Garden, a smallish 10′ x 6′ plot of very black dirt.  Into the ground went cilatro, romaine lettuce, peppers, basil, flowers, and red raspberries.  And a single tomato plant.

Emma’s mom shows off State Fair-quality tomatoes on her kitchen counter. A garden is a good thing. Such good soil in Minnesota would be a terrible thing to waste.

A few months later, and thanks to a corker of a Midwestern heat wave, Emma’s plant is producing in quantities I can only dream about.

The rush to build a garden actually springs from Emma’s great grandfatherwho cultivated a garden well into his 80s.   Toward the end as his tillable plot grew smaller and smaller, tomatoes and raspberries were about all he had the energy to tend to.  But he loved the soil and his deep forest-green thumb rubbed off on me, although mine more closely resembles a pale lime green.  Maybe the deeper shade will take hold again in Emma’s mom.

My tomatoes are dwarfed by Emma’s. When I equate them to golf balls, I’m not kidding. I’ve seen bigger hailstones.

Perhaps one day in Reid, too.  Ellen even mentioned expanding the modest-sized chunk of dirt and edible plants next year.  When they were not much older than Emma is now, I vividly recall Ellen and Reid rooted at the Sugar Snap pea and Heritage raspberry plants in our garden.  Very little of those two items ever made it to the kitchen.  But there are far worse things than watching kids gobble up stringless peas and red raspberries.

I suppose a garden is something of an environmental statement which my letters have preached about on more than one occasion.  Ellen and Tim no doubt went more of an organic bend than my enduring reliance on Miracle-Gro.  The larger lesson might be that there’s nothing wrong with getting your hands dirty.  Hopefully, Emma will wash hers off, unlike her granddad.

Here’s what Ellen and Reid found in their mailboxes last week.


August 20, 2012

Ellen/Reid: So I think we have the holiday situation kind of, sort of worked out.  Ellen, you and Tim are not opposed to coming down here for early T-Day, November 15-18?  That is great.  Reid, you will be here for Christmas, correct?  Your tickets are on me.  I’m still not sure of my plans for the official Thanksgiving and should know about that in short order.  St. Paul sounds doable.  You truly have something to be thankful for.  Maybe Thanksgiving should be May 4.

Last Wednesday the 15th marked my sixth year in Charlotte.  Incredible.  It just does not seem at all possible.  It seems just yesterday I was in Des Moines, and then the upheaval.  If you would’ve asked me five or six years ago (and no one has) for my impressions of the new surroundings, it would’ve been tempting to say ‘send me home’ and that would’ve been that.  But time has a way of leveling the bumps out across the job and social spectrum and now this is home for all intents and purposes.  A little too politically conservative on a lot of fronts, but that is the price to be paid for accepting the role here as an intruder.  Felicia has made a big difference, too.  Since I can work anywhere, there would’ve been a possibility of bolting for the old pastures.  But this is it and its okay.  I would like to get back to Des Moines with more frequency, but it’s hard.

Don’t hold me to it, but I’m thinking of parting with the Harley.  For whatever reason, my balance very recently isn’t what it used to be, and to navigate with a heavy beast like that takes that ability.  Perhaps it is the ribs (which feel the torque on certain turns) but something is different about riding it right now.  Even as recently as a few months ago there was some thought given to a Road King, but that’s been tabled for the time being.  There is always the off chance the next pleasant ride on the next nice weekend day will change my mind.  I hope it does because there is nothing like cruising.

Mike Hill put his dog Buddy to sleep a couple of weeks ago.  Mike posted some poignant videos of Buddy’s last meal on his Facebook page, and you should look that up.  Reminded me of our last days with Scooter.  It’s a dose of reality.

My A/C wasn’t totally on the blink after all.  Apparently all it needed was a new “board” in the upstairs unit – I don’t totally get all the technical gymnastics about it – but the board was about the size of an iPad and cost just as much, too.  So now there is at least cool air circulating in place of the hot, humid air that kept me away at night.  Just another unexpected expense.

Reid, you could do worse than a cruise line as a new client.  That sounds like a lot of fun, and they advertise a fair amount.  I’ll have to start watching for their plugs on the web, which I am sure you will do a good job of promoting and tracking.  I’ll make an exception and declare right now that their Internet ads won’t be the invasive kind.  I’m glad your mom got to get to Chicago to survey the new living arrangements and such.  I’d like us to get up there in short order, too.  Keep me posted as to your availability.   FYI…even a group like Fish makes a stop in the boondocks every once in a while.  They visit here in the next couple of weeks or something like that.  I still remember hauling you and a vanload of your boys to KC to a summer concert and being sold a total bill of goods as to when the concert started and, more importantly, when it would end.

Speaking of ending, that’s it for today.  Let’s really nail down the holiday plans so I can get tickets while they are still getable.  It would be great to have you all down here.  I’ll notify the cleaning service to do their thing just before you arrive.


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The line is drawn, however, on environmental issues…

Rarely is anything ever written on these pages with an overt political bend.  How the kids ultimately vote or who they side with is their business.

For the record, I am a centrist Democrat who does think Obama has gotten the wrong end of credit for the current economic lethargy.  My preference is to pay attention to Warren Buffett‘s economic opinions given that his brain power is considerably more than my own.  Considerably more as in light-years more.  (I’d love for him to answer the question “For each year in the economic doldrums, how many years does it take to recover?”  If he wants to, he can figure in the prior eight years of economic malfeasance of the then-in-power party.)

The line is drawn, however, on environmental issues.  The climate deniers and coal junkies and those who look the other way at environmental indiscretions (for the sake of “jobs”, don’t you know) are selling out the long term for no assurance of short term gains on any front – jobs, energy independence, etc.  When you have a spare moment, Google Pinedale, Wyoming and smog.  Case in point.

So it is that every so often I will remind Ellen and Reid that it is our collective responsibility to the Emma’s and the generations to come to be, to quote the venerable Successful Farming magazine from a couple of decades ago,  good “stewards of the land.”

While I care much about those things that have people out of work or fetter businesses, when it comes to preserving our chunk of space, there can be no compromise.  Protect it now or lose it.  Sure, I have only one vote, but those who run afoul of securing our earthly future won’t get it.

Here is last week’s letter to my two.


August 13, 2012

Ellen/Reid: Reid, it’s great having you home on this side of the pond.  Not that your British hosts were not ever so gracious, but it’s always nice to be back in the friendly confines.  Now London can get back to its normal drab self with the Olympics gone and foreigners heading to the airports.  Their rain can return too.  You came back just in time for a mean-spirited and divisive political campaign.  Politics as usual.

The Observer ran a small editorial from me last week about while I agree with the GOP on certain issues there is steadfast reluctance to vote Republican as long as the polarizing nitwits continue backsliding on environmental issues, but so far there have been no rebuttals.  That means everyone agreed or they thought it was too mundane and inconsequential.  Probably the latter.  Mundane and inconsequential are my specialties.  Jeez, if we can’t protect what we have for the Emma’s and subsequent other grandchildren out there, what will we protect?  It only figures that since so many GOPers are science deniers as well as public school doubters, we’ll have to school ‘em all over again.  Oh, to be the teacher with a ruler in his/her hands to whack ‘em on the knuckles, or, better yet, upside the head.

Reid, I am okay with you and Liz cohabitating.  Some time ago there was an article about how the vast majority of couples test those waters, and that seems fine enough.  I can’t think of any particular doctrines you are violating.  Just be sure you keep up your end of the bathroom and kitchen cleaning and you’ll be all right.  Those are lines that can’t be crossed.  Liz’ standards will become your new standards.  It will be a wholly new experience but that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

My ribs are well on the road to recovery.  Sleeping is easier now.  Sitting for extended periods is a bit of an issue but my guess is another 10 days and things will be back to normal.  I walked 18 holes yesterday pushing my cart and am no worse for wear.  I milked the woe-is-me rib malady to the hilt with Felicia but she’s wising up to that ruse now.  It was good there for a little while when it came to fetching another cup of coffee or retrieving a beer.

I laughed out loud at the shot of Emma sacked out on your laps on the plane home from Michigan.  You have to hand it to the girl, she can sleep anywhere at any time.  It’s a gift.  We should all be so lucky.  Can’t wait to see her again.  On that point, what are holiday plans for you guys?  The door is always open here in NC – hint, hint – but will understand if you have other plans since there are forces other than me tugging at your shirttails, too.

If you do venture down here, it would give me enough time to replace the air conditioner.  It went down for the count on Friday, and there has been no call from the repair company.  I’m afraid a whole new unit is in order.  The old beast was a contractor grade unit, meaning it was not top-of-the-line, and it had likely reached the end of its useful life.  So the fans in the condo are on full trying to circulate the warm air.  Knock on wood, but to this point the temperatures haven’t been totally unbearable.  The units on either side of my place have some insulating value and I’ve keep the shades down.  Ellen, you and Tim added a bathroom, kitchen and master suite, and I’ll keep pace with a new air conditioner.  When it’s on, it will be cranked down all the way to mark its debut.

Okay, I’m outta time and outta here.  Glad you’re back Reid, and Ellen, keep the videos and photos of Emma coming this way.  Adds spice to my otherwise drab existence.

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Back to normal…

This was a weekend for varying members of the clan to hit the skies.

Reid landed Friday in Chicago after his extended work trip to London.  He’s already back in the swing of things.

Emma had her parents accompany her to Michigan and back.

Emma easily claims the Gold Medal for her knack of sleeping anywhere and everywhere – including a comfy spot on her dad’s lap on the trip home from Michigan.

She displayed the inherited trait of being able to sack out on a noisy plane and wake just in time to announce her presence to other passengers within 2 -3 rows of her.

Moreover, now that Reid is back stateside, we will resume the practice of tossing his weekly letter into the mail.

This brings our world back to normal.

Here is last week’s letter to the kids.


August 6, 2012

Ellen/Reid: The ribs are feeling better day by day although the couch remains the most comfortable place to sleep.  I still feel like a doofus for allowing the slips to happen at all.  Tom thinks a change from heavy boots to more of a running/cross training shoe would help.  Could be.  All in all it could’ve been much worse.  We did see one rescue helicopter venture into the high country, and the destination appeared to be in the direction of a group of 20-some kids we learned about from their adult leaders.  We also read in the Jackson Hole paper about a woman from New York who suffered a compound fracture of the femur – ouch, ouch, ouch – near Lake Lozier (which we sped by save but a few minutes of fishing time) just before we went up top, although there was no real news about how they got her out.  An online search found nothing.  Now that would be real, excruciating pain.  My aches would have been like so many insect bites by comparison.  My golf has taken a hit while the ribs mend but I haven’t missed it a whole lot.  There’s plenty of time to get back in the swing of things down here, like 12 months a year.

So it is back to the daily grind.  That’s okay, I like what I do.  My mid-year review was last week and it was good.  It prodded me again to think about when to pull the plug, and if they will have me until I’m 65, that would be close enough to call it a ‘career’ – if such things still exist.  If you’re counting, that’s about two and a half more years of toil.  Of course, you’re only as good as your most recent week so even the best laid plans can go awry.  But that seems relatively feasible.

Sorry to bother you both with my back-and-forth nonsense about the iPad and MacBook Air.  No sooner had I signed the iPad sales slip at Target when a serious case of buyer’s remorse set in.  The Air seems a relatively good choice.  I leaned on Bob F., too, for his advice, and to sum up he said why get an iPad when the hand-held iPhone is so closely akin to it.  I like the way the Air handles and feels, and the operating system is probably a little more stabile.  Yet to be bought are the equivalents to MS Word.  I’ve got to keep the clunky Acer around for the church newsletter but that is probably the highest and best use for that contraption.  Ellen, the Air comes with Facetime, so keep little Emma within arm’s reach in case Gramps calls.

Reid, you have travel in your veins.  Barcelona?  How the heck does one get from London to Barcelona in the face of all that Olympic zaniness?  Good for you.  I’m envious that you just pull up stakes and go.  It takes some nards to do that when you’re by your lonesome.  What is the total count of nations you’ve visited?  11 by my rough tally, and that may be off a few.  Hey, when you are back stateside, look at the first opportunity to A) get your carcass down to Charlotte or, B) tell me when we should get up to Chicago so you can meet Felicia and vice versa.

Keep the Emma videos flowing to the Southeast, Ellen.  She looked so unhappy, but cute, on the way back from Cass Lake.  She’s a good sport to be in her car seat all the time, especially when she wants to stretch her legs and kick out the jams.  One thing about that sort of trip; you know you’re not childless anymore.  It probably seems as if you had to pack enough gear for a round-the-world-cruise.  Get used to it.

The Olympics have taken up some of the evening tube time although by confession, it seems pretty formulaic; gymnastics, swimming, basketball and the track events.  It gets pretty boring sometimes.  I’m a shoo-in for gold if/when it comes to lazing around on the couch while the rest of me mends.   Too bad I don’t get to go to London to collect my medal.

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The habit-practice-compulsion

Last week’s letter (we are the well into the 11th year of a weekly note to Ellen) never made it to a door side mailbox before it was read.  Reid opened his within minutes of the email attachment arriving at his London office, and Ellen read the post days before her letter arrived by postal delivery in St. Paul.

The habit-practice-compulsion (it is whatever you wish to call it) just keeps rolling along.  It has its own energy and sense of momentum.

But it consists of the energy of one.   Momentum-less is the original dream: prod non-letter writers (parents in particular) to adopt regular letters as a legitimate low-tech means to simply stay in touch with their kids.  The sense here is almost no progress has been made to move even a small number of people from Point A to Point L (letters).  That failure is a super-duper-sized elephant in the room.  Case in point: subscribership remains low.  I’m not reaching parents at the logical separation point when kids flee for college and the nest is suddenly empty.  That’s when writing a letter might seem to be a viable thing.  The dream, it turns out, is nothing more than a pipe dream.

Other factors may be at work.  My blog itself could be suspect or ill-created/managed/promoted or worse yet, just flat-out uninteresting.  Likely on those counts and others.  Maybe the forest is too close and I can’t see through all those infernal trees.  But I wouldn’t label this as a wholesale rant or whine.  Instead, it’s recognition that the formula isn’t working.  One thing for sure, I’ll keep trying.  Someday the light will come on and I’ll spring forward with an approach that is more viable.

So the blog remains essentially a running, public diary of correspondence between me and my two.  Maybe that is enough.

This morning’s letter to Ellen and Reid is freshly minted and won’t be posted until next week.  The same-week release of last week’s letter on the excursion to the Bridger Wilderness in Wyoming used up whatever free pass I had on that score.


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Idiocy knows no borders in the Bridger Wilderness

Idiocy knows no borders in the Bridger Wilderness.

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Idiocy knows no borders in the Bridger Wilderness

Most adventurers to the Bridger Wilderness come away with memories and perhaps a few blisters.  Me, I stumbled out with two fractured ribs from a self-inflicted mishap that is enough proof that idiocy knows no borders.  It is highly transportable from North Carolina to Wyoming.

X-rays at an emergency orthopedic center Tuesday night confirmed the source of ache and soreness; ribs nos. 9 and 10 on the right side of my back were broken although not cleanly snapped through.  The kindly doctor took the chance to remind me of balance issues “as we age.”  Thanks.

This post marks two departures from standard practice involving the weekly letters.  This is the first time in the more than two years of this blog that I’ve released a letter before both kids have had a chance to read it; London-based Reid has already viewed it as an attachment (he responded within 10 minutes of receiving it).  Ellen’s snail mail copy should arrive tomorrow  in St. Paul.  Second, at one and a half pages, the letter below (including the sordid details of the oafish stream-side tumble) is well beyond the  single page norm.  Note: it was composed before last night’s excursion for x-rays.


July 30, 2012

Ellen/Reid: The Bridger Wilderness was as expected; wild, unpredictable, alternately cold and rainy or hot, full of fish, steep and hard and with views beyond my limited comprehension.  We had the time you would expect but it is clear to me that backpacking for extended periods is really a younger person’s game.  This seemed hard, hard work from the get-go.

There were interminable switchbacks to this point on a very tough day 2; but the view looking north just short of Lozier Lake were well worth the effort.

If this letter was based solely on our trek of Sunday, July 22, my hiking career might well be kaput.  It was the single toughest day on the trails in my long experience.  I had this note all written out in my head as I slogged onward and upward on what seemed like an endless string of inhumane switchbacks and false passes – just when you thought you’d reached the top, another long and steep incline lay ahead – on a 10 mile day.  It was sheer torture.  Emma’s cold seemed to come along for the ride and it was just a battle to suck in enough oxygen.  Tom, whom you met last year Ellen, and Richard left me in the proverbial dust.  The closest I would get to them was on the hated swtichbacks, and even then I’d be 100 – 200 yards back.  We motored on through heat, then finished in cold rain and wind the last few miles.  When we finally reached Clark Lake, I was completely spent.  My legs were muscle-less mush.  Felicia says I walk like a cowboy anyway, swinging my legs out and then forward, and that long day exacerbated that highly inefficient motion.  That night literally I got around camp like Festus on Gunsmoke.  A painless hobble would have been an improvement.

Tom was a true mountain man – he knew routes and landmarks by name, packed ultra-light, and was prepared in every conceivable way. He knew a thing or two, too, about using his Japanese inspired fly rod.

Contributing to that might be a weight thing, too.  Tom measures everything – food, fuel, rope, containers, socks, bags, his tent and ground clothe, etc. – to the gram, and he is totally focused on ultra-light gear.  So while Richard and I are weighed down with 45 pound packs, Tom is relatively light at 30.  It makes a difference.  My boots felt like cement overshoes sometimes; Tom and Richard wore light footwear that was a notch up from running shoes.  An ounce here and an ounce there, and pretty soon you’re talking real poundage.  I’d never approached backpacking in those precise terms.  If I do this again, and the jury is out, that will be the way to go.

Tom was the real ringleader on this enterprise once we got moving.  He’s hiked Nepal, the length of Spain, the entire 2,500 mile Appalachian Trail, and big chunks of other noted paths.  He looks at maps differently and makes on-map notes on waystops, mileage points, altitude, camp sites, etc.  Me, I look at the map and go.  He knew mountain and route names so in that regard his presence was good.

Richard’s first ford (but far from the last). He was a real trouper in this North Carolinian’s first foray into the real mountains.

It was Richard’s first go in the back country and he more than acquitted himself.  We all got along well and there was nothing that truly held us back.

Other than me.  I had a couple of sloppy mishaps, balance issues, really, one of which could’ve cost us the bulk of the trip but didn’t.  Our first night we camped at that rock-topped outcropping where we spend two nights last year, Ellen.  As you know, it is a long way down to the stream, and while trying to navigate upward to the campsite with a pan full of water, this klutz slipped and slammed the tip of my right elbow on a rock.  The water went flying and for a few seconds considered that my elbow was a goner.  In a flash a ping pong ball sized knot popped out that stayed ping pong ball size the entire way, and for the rest of the trek there was no way to sleep on my right side.  Episode two was after Sunday’s killer walk.  We took a rest day – mercifully – and I was working a steep stream when I tried to rock hop to reach a pool, only to slip on a big, wet slab of granite.  I went into a 4 – 5 foot free fall but was able to spin slightly so the meat of the right side of my back hit another big rock flush.  I heard a small crack, and literally had the wind knocked out of me.  I laid there for the better part of 10 or 15 minutes taking stock of what might be hurt.  It was difficult to breathe.  If either of my feet could’ve reached my butt, I might have kicked it hard.  The camp was 500 yards up the slope, and finally got to my feet, collected my rod, and literally inched my way back up the trail.  It was just awful.  From that night forward there was no comfortable way to turn in the cramped confines of the one person tent without major pain.  I couldn’t let out a groan for fear the guys would hear it and contemplate getting my sorry ass out of there via the nearest exit path.  Amazingly, I could sleep in relative comfort on my left side.  It was also amazing that once my pack was on, for some reason everything felt better and wasn’t too difficult to walk.  Things could’ve been much worse.  The incredible numbers of infernal mosquitoes – a real scourge that never seemed to relent in their attacks – preoccupied much of the time for the three of us.

From Clark we camped on successive nights at Summit Lake, then on to Borum Lake and finally Round Lake.

From my tent on Borum Lake. Six nights, six incredible campsites at about 10,500 ft. altitude each night.

We caught fish all along the way, although it was frustrating for Richard because he dropped two bills on rental fly fishing equipment, and the act of casting was vexing for him.  He simply needed more time to practice, and the cauldron of trying to catch fish for dinner really wasn’t the time to do that.  He caught his share, but Tom really brought home the proverbial bacon.  Since there was a ban on fires, we had to make-do by wrapping the Brookies in foil and cooking them in the pot over the MSR.  Not quite the same as broiling over smoky wood, but it worked out just fine.  It occurred to me at Round Lake that these might be the last mountain trout I’d ever catch in truly wild country.

Not that it was all bad.  Far from it.  We ran into the same group of genial cowboys from Utah twice over 5 days and who we talked to at length while admiring their beautiful horses, and for the first time ever elk could be heard bugling.

I happen to be a hiker that fishes. We knocked these Brookies down at Round Lake. Nothing wrong with a 10″ trout in the pan. We kept enough to eat but all the others were returned to the wild – alive.

There was no hint of grizzlies and after a while we stopped talking about bears.  We trudged out and down, down, down in a cold, steady rain on Friday morning and made it out in six hours in bright sunshine and heat.  We had one final ford to make, and afterward I left my Tevas on for the final two miles.  Those were the most comfortable two miles of the entire trip, so it goes to show what lightweight footwear can do.  The traditional post-hike beer and food in Pinedale reminded us of what we missed, as did Friday night’s meal in Jackson.  They say the feeling of pain is transient, and perhaps it is.  If there’s another trek out there next year, it will be earlier in July, and this time maybe to the unexplored Southern half of the Bridger.  But my back reminded me seconds ago that those mountains are probably best mastered by others who are younger and more balance-capable than your dad.


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