Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A poem for today

I have been making an effort to write lately. And, I have been reading Walt Whitman and the Tao the Ching. So here is the result. Shades of Wendell Berry too I think.

Perhaps the most rebellious act
Is to offer your wealth to those who need it more.
We cannot begin to fix anything
until we realize that all are one
and we treat each other that way
That which you have done unto the least of these
you have done unto me

Share all that you have
Abolish greed
Say no to war.

Quit treating the Bible as a set of rules to get to heaven
Quit thinking the solution to everything
Is more rules and more enforcement
The more the rules are enforced
The more the innocent will be judged.

Stop seeing "us" and "them"
Celebrate uniqueness and diversity
See the divine in all, humans and non humans
And the sacredness of every stone.
Know that water is life.

Say no to excess
Question your lifestyle
Live closer to the earth
And walk in her exquisite beauty.

Laugh, sing, play a musical instrument 
Make love under the full moon
Count the stars and plant seeds
Learn the woods and the rivers 

Quit being busy
Do nothing, and everything.
Quit watching the news
Make your own good news
In the small part of earth you can reach.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Love, music, and the wood stove

The thought of dating had not even crossed my mind yet.

They always say "you, and only you, will know when you are ready."

I was ready. Ready, that is, to sit back and contemplate what this new chapter of my life would bring, as a single person.

I wasn't ready to face winter in my unfinished, wood-heated house. As with dating, the logistics of that had not crossed my mind. Somehow, I had this feeling of trust that I would get the help I needed to get through the winter. Little did I know what trust and an open heart would bring.

I should have known it would be a musician. Music has always been a big part of my life, and in the past couple of years I had met some amazing people at a jam at a little bar in Nickerson. Or, should I say, the bar pretty much IS Nickerson. Located along scenic Highway 23 on the edge of the Nemadji State Forest, Nickerson is the last outpost between my house and Duluth, 30 miles to the northeast.

I had been going to the Tuesday night jam occasionally for about a year and a half, but that evening in May was the first time I had been there in a couple months. School sporting events and international travel had kept me busy, and I was happy to finally have an open Tuesday night. The usual folks were there, along with a guy I didn't know, who played dobro and a Gibson guitar. I played mandolin, and switched to guitar when it was my turn to sing. I don't remember much, except it was the usual fun, good-for-my-soul feeling I always get from playing with other people.

A couple days later I received a Facebook friend request from "John E Fingers". Unusual sounding name, I thought, but we had 8 mutual friends, musicians and others I had met through music. Which is to say, people I trust. "Must be that guy from Nickerson," I thought. I hit "accept".

We didn't have much Facebook contact through the summer. A few likes here, a few comments there, on music related posts. But, he did notice what was going on in my life. A few days after the memorial service, he messaged me. He was putting together a band for an art studio opening near me. If I felt up to playing, he asked, he would like to have me sit in. Did I feel up to playing? Of course! Because, music has always saved me.

The event was wonderful, and he must have approved of my playing and vocals. We chatted during setup and breaks. In the week that followed, we messaged back and forth. He told me how he had lost the love of his life years ago to cancer, and he had lost his dad a few months ago. So he was reaching out to me because he could relate to what I was going through. That blew my mind; in the preceding weeks I had heard all of the expressions of sympathy, the "if you need anything let me know" and such, but since the memorial service I had felt pretty much on my own. Now this one man, whom I barely knew, was genuinely concerned with my well being.

Okay, I did ask myself once or twice if he was hitting on me, but his messages were always so sincere...there was something about them I could not describe. I got the feeling that he needed some healing as well. He told me how, before Sunday's event, he was considering giving up playing music altogether. I told him we needed to get together and work on some songs, and help each other.

That next week, he was headed to Gunflint Lake, on the Minnesota/Canada border, to replace a toilet at a friend's cabin. He's a skilled carpenter, kind of a jack of all trades. So he messaged me, inviting me to drive up if I wanted to, to pick some tunes when the job was done.

I was not ready for that.

Well, yeah, part of me was saying a weekend up at Gunflint would be nice. But, with someone I barely knew, and his friends? That, and my car had a bad wheel bearing. I would hate to drive 200 miles only to be stranded 40 miles from civilization. So, I declined. He gave me the land line phone number up there anyhow, in case I wanted to talk. I gave him my land line... Let the record say, he called first.We talked for an hour. Then Saturday night, two hours.

I did not go looking for love, but I left my heart open and it came rolling in like a wave. Long story short, his friends dropped him and his tools and his Gibson off at my house that Monday night.

I had told him he could sleep in the Airstream that night, and after work the next day I would drive him wherever he needed to be. But, that's when the rain started. It rained 4 inches that night. Going out to the Airstream was not an option; I was actually nervous that we were in for the third 500 year flood in 5 years and Sand Creek would flood my driveway and the Airstream again. So I showed him around my house with the unfinished bathroom and kitchen with the sink still in a box, the maze of wiring and as-yet uninstalled outlets. He took it all in with a carpenter's eye, muttering mental notes like a contractor preparing a bid, complimenting the sturdy post and beam construction. We stayed up well past midnight, even though I had gotten less than four hours of sleep the night before.

The next morning, while I was at work, he messaged me: "I got that kitchen sink dropped down into the counter for you." The sink that had been sitting in the box for five years. I nearly cried. I did not drive him anywhere that night. Or the next. He said there was so much work to be done in my house, so much to do before winter set in, he would stay and work on it as long as I would have him.

It's been nearly four months, and he is still here. To be honest, I don't know what I would have done without him here this winter. The main source of heat in my house is the wood stove, with a propane wall furnace for backup. I guess I always took for granted what an enormous job it is to heat with wood. Not that I would not be up for it, if I had the time, but I work 30 miles from home, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. In the dead of winter I leave before sunrise and come home after dark. I would need to spend every waking moment at home splitting wood, hauling it indoors, and managing the fire (with help from my son, of course). Now I have someone who is more than willing to tend to the hearth, to keep the fire burning warm.

There's a metaphor somewhere in that. And a song waiting to be written and sung, accompanied by a Gibson guitar.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Sifting through the layers

I've been sifting through the layers
Of dusty books and faded papers
They tell a story I used to know
It was one that happened, so long ago
-Kate Wolf, "Across the Great Divide"

A lot has happened since my last post. Actually, that is an understatement. My life has taken an amazing, unexpected, and positive turn. I can't wait to share more details, but first I need to go back and work through some of the stuff I thought I was going to have so much solo time to reflect upon. Because, that context is necessary to begin to comprehend the present. And if I am going to move forward with blogging, I need to address some parts of the story that were never told. Part of why I have not blogged consistently in the past few years can be summed up in these words from a post in January 2015:
So maybe my lack of blogging frequency in recent years has been due to a feeling that I am not completely expressing the truth about my existence. I'm not telling outright lies, nor do I have the need to, but there are truths out there that I am not comfortable putting in words for everyone to see. Is there anyone who can't say that? 

For example, when I started this blog, I (rather pompously) considered myself a "homesteader"--you know, the self sufficient lifestyle, to various degrees. I even included the term in my blog description. But over the years, the term has lost its meaning to me and I no longer identify with it. To tell the ongoing story, of how we built our own house and all that, means leaving out some truths that don't fit that "homesteader" image. The human fallibility. The stuff I don't want others to see, mostly.
 When you are married to a person for 25 years, naturally you know that person in ways no one else can. You are not the child, the sibling, the coworker, the friend, the neighbor. You are the spouse, and your knowledge of this person is more intimate than anyone else's can be. That can be a good thing, or a bad thing. Or maybe there's no good and bad. It just is.

I thought long and hard about what I was going to say at the memorial service. In the end, I decided to play Minnesota Nice and talk about the good times. Because there were some, and some of the musical events we shared together probably opened up the door to being where I am today. Memorials are not exactly about honesty; we are all feeling a bit vulnerable and needing to protect each other's feelings. So it's "He was such a nice guy" rather than "That sonofabitch still owes me money!" But now that time is over and it is no longer my job to protect anyone's feelings. I need to be true to myself.

My happy little eulogy did not include much from the last 15 years. Because, we did not come here to Sand Creek out of some grand dream to live closer to the land. We came here because we were broke and had no other options. We had spent the last few years moving from state to state, chasing jobs. Just after my daughter was born, we left Minnesota and the home we had made for seven years, so he could accept a job with a conservation organization in Missouri. I left my job, my family, my friends, and a landscape I loved to be a stay at home mom to two toddlers in a strange city. With a touch of postpartum depression to boot. That did not go so well, so we moved back to Minnesota so I could work, but it somehow wasn't good a couple moves later, we were high on a hill overlooking Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, this time with me being a stay at home mom to three young kids, while he worked for a "sustainable living" center. Oh the irony...I could see so clearly that this was definitely unsustainable, while he talked about what a wonderful place that was.

So it was, in early November 2002, we arrived back to our 40 acres and cabin, still on contract for deed. No electricity, no running water, three kids, one just starting kindergarten, in a tiny cabin with winter setting in. I was exhausted, and looking back, probably suffering from PTSD. Definitely not feeling in control of my life, or that I even had a say. We survived, and just over two years later I began this blog in the winter of the owl irruption. I believe the owls had a message for me: Wake up and start using your voice. This blog may have been a life saver for me; I found my voice, found some friends who shared my love of nature and the outdoors, and realized just how lonely and isolated I had been...

This blog tells the story of how a house was built. And I am grateful for the foundation that was laid, the walls and timbers and blue steel roof, sturdy and warm. But somewhere along the way, his motivation slowed down, the ability to take small steps each day to get something done diminished. Medical issues had a lot to do with it; diabetes takes its toll mentally and physically. Emotionally, he was not the same man I once thought I knew. If that ever existed. And, I found it harder and harder to keep blogging about our life here, with so many parts of the story I could not tell. As my blogging diminished, I immersed myself in the busyness of work, kids' activities, and eventually, running, yoga, and music. Which all have saved me.

In the last couple of years, our marriage could be best described as a "peaceful coexistence". We were in much better shape financially, the kids were more independent, and I think we both moved beyond any bitterness from the past. We went to concerts, or just drove around looking at wildlife. We talked about going fishing some time. But a peaceful coexistence can be lonely, and it leaves so much unfulfilled. For the sake of my peace of mind, it was probably better that I did not know how much that even was.

Now you know the rest of the story...but not all of it. Some things will remain unwritten.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A new journey

It has been a little over a year since I declared "this blog is not over". And I had not posted since then. I guess I had been a bit unsure about what the "new direction" was going to be.

Sometimes, life events make that decision for you when you least expect it. My husband of 25 years, whom I referred to as "The Hermit" on this blog, died suddenly in his sleep in the early hours of Thursday, September 7. He was 62 years old.

The events of the night still feel as if it were a dream. Waking up, not to snoring, but to strange gasps and gurgling, then nothing. Knowing unquestionably that something was not right. Tapping and then hitting him. Calling 911. Attempting CPR on him in bed. Yelling for Joe to drive out to the end of the driveway to let responders know this was the place. Feeling a bit surprised at how calm I was. Sitting on the floor holding a confused Labrador while paramedics worked. Knowing, before they told me, that he was gone. They said he was probably already gone when I first noticed him unresponsive.

One of the fire department first responders happened to be a friend of mine. She sat with me while we waited for the funeral director to show up. I poured myself a glass of wine, then another. The funeral director happened to be one of Vinny and Joe's baseball coaches. Small town life, I would find out in the next few days, is pretty amazing.

The days between then and the memorial service on the 12th are a blur. Neighbors bringing food. My brother driving up from Minneapolis to talk, perhaps our first talk alone in years. Nina, who had just moved to North Dakota, coming home. Vinny taking time from his job to come home. My dad, aunt, and uncle hunkering down in Palm Coast, Florida for Hurricane Irma. My friend in Duluth asked if I would like to go to a Charlie Parr concert Thursday night. I did. The next night, a friend was playing at the coffeehouse where I play occasionally. I was surrounded by friends there. And Saturday night I already had bought tickets to see a Swedish music group, Jaerv, in Minneapolis. Nina went with me. Music is powerfully healing. In between music, family, and friends, I found myself sleeping late, walking around the house not knowing what to do and not really feeling like doing anything, making lists. And starting to write. Many hours thinking about what I was going to say.

The service was more well attended than I thought it would be. It was very informal, as Russ would have wanted it. His older daughter and his sister shared memories, and in between a friend of mine played songs we had chosen, by Greg Brown and Townes Van Zandt. Then I got up, still not knowing exactly what it was I was going to say. But the words flowed from nowhere, stories of how we met, his passion for the environment, and our trips to music festivals--how he gave me the gift of music when I may not have done it on my own.

After the service and all the people, I needed to be alone for a while. I drove down to a park on the banks of the Kettle River. My musician friend from the service was there. So were some other friends who had been at the service, I found out later. We all needed the peace of the river I guess. I found a secluded picnic table, drank a beer or two, and started writing the next chapter of my life.

Friday, September 09, 2016

New directions

This blog is not over. Let's make that clear from the start. A lot of love has gone into this, and I will not leave it hanging.I will post about my latest half marathon, or whatever. But, new stuff is happening.

I have started a new blog on WordPress, and even sprung for a domain: . I am on iPad and Blogger app does not have all the fancy options WordPress does. So copy and paste to your browser and go there. That is where my writing soul will be. But the story of my life will be here, for a while.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon 2016

I wasn't so sure about this, going in. I was coming to dread the weekly long runs, I was worried about a dreadful 10K I had run in early May (hampered by a respiratory bug that would not go away). I was thinking I needed a break from running, for a while. But then, stuff like this happens. A great race when everything works out. This is the story of how it happened.

My daughter Nina and I set out for Duluth, a mere hour's drive from our house, at about 11:30 Friday morning. We had a place to stay, in a large suite in a converted warehouse building in Duluth's Canal Park, thanks to my long time friend Val. This was the second year we would be staying with this group of runners, and we knew it would be fun. But first, shopping. Race essentials, of course. We went to the mall and we both decided we needed Sanuk sandals for post race. It would turn out to be a great decision.

We arrived at the hotel, and I parked my car, not to be touched until Sunday. That was kind of nice. Driving in and out of Canal Park on marathon weekend is a hassle that is best avoided.

We then walked to the expo at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (DECC) to pick up our race packets and get free samples of stuff. It was very crowded. This was the very same spot I had attended a Bernie Sanders rally a few months ago. I ended up buying the race belt I needed, and a few headbands that I thought were pretty cool. We went to the huge spaghetti dinner that is a Grandma's Marathon tradition. They had Ben and Jerry's ice cream for dessert. I had Cherry Garcia, one of my favorites. 

Our suite has strict pre race night rules: lights out at 9 PM, which is good, since half marathon runners have to wake up at 4 AM. Nina and I slept on a very luxurious queen air mattress that was provided by our new friend JoElle. I kept waking up because the refrigerator was making strange noises, but when my phone alarm rang I felt well rested.

We grabbed hotel breakfast, and weak coffee, on our way to the buses. I normally don't eat much before a run, so I had half a banana, and half a bagel with peanut butter. I watched the sun rise over Lake Superior on the school bus that took us to the start. We arrived approximately 45 minutes before starting time. Plenty of time, right? Actually, not Due to the very rural, small nature of the starting area, we had to walk about half a mile from where the bus dropped us off. There were portable toilets spaced along this route, and huge lines at each of them. Nina and I eventually chose one, and the line turned out to move exceptionally slow. I was in the bathroom when the starting horn sounded. No worries, chip timing. 

I finally crossed the starting line about 10 minutes after the official start. My plan was to run the first six miles conservatively, and I kept checking Map My Run for a pace. The first mile clocked in at 11:08. Perfect. I also wanted to remember something about each mile of the race, and for the first mile I remembered running by McQuade Harbor on Lake Superior. The second mile was something about lupines framing an incredible lake view. I almost wanted to stop and take a picture, but I had a half marathon to run. So I kept to my strategy of getting the first half of the race behind me without thinking too much. That worked. My mile paces were pretty consistent. 

The first six miles of the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon are run along a two lane scenic highway along Lake Superior. Scenic, but not much for spectators. Still, there are the conversations among runners. I can't imagine chatting with people while running a half. Part of me wants to wear headphones and listen to music to drown it all out next time, the other part is intrigued.

My plan was to take a gel at 4 miles, but somehow I missed the water station, so I had to wait until 6 miles because I did not want to take a gel without water. Oh well, I felt fine and I was not stopping. At six miles the scenic road turns into London Road on the outskirts of Duluth, a residential highway where spectator participation increases. There was music. There were bacon stands. I noticed a guy running barefoot. Wow. 

After six miles, it was starting to get hot, and humid. I felt strong, but I started walking intervals to pace myself. Between seven and eight miles, I blessedly forgot if the next mile was seven or eight, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was indeed the eighth mile already. Between eight and nine miles, the course takes its steepest hill. I walked the hill, having nothing to prove and a lot to lose. Then the course turned on to Superior Street, the heart of downtown Duluth. The energy really picks up there, but the street is quaint cobblestone so you have to watch your step. The Superior Street portion seems to go on forever, but when you turn the corner and head towards the harbor that means there is only a mile left. And, I was feeling better that I remember feeling on this course last year at that point. I had taken another energy gel at mile 9. Good to go. 

This was taken by a race photographer on a bridge that goes over I-35 towards Duluth Harbor and the end of the race. I normally ignore race photographers, but I was feeling so good and having such a good time, I played along. 

The rest of the course winds around the DECC and two blocks to Canal Park Drive and a couple blocks to the finish. It seems to take forever. But I ran most of that last mile, and I was one of those runners who did the sprint thing in the last quarter mile and passed maybe five runners before the finish. It was over. And I didn't feel like I was about to die. I was full of life!

I can't fully say what this race did for me. It renewed my confidence as a runner. I did everything right, and I could have done it faster had it not been for the heat. I had the support of a suite full of running friends, and I enjoyed the rest of Saturday with a walk with Nina to the beach, and then reading and chilling out by the ship canal. Duluth is beautiful, I am so thankful I can run, and I am looking forward again to more races and maybe longer distances. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A bad run, and a good run

I am coming off a respiratory infection. After boxes of tissues, and a strange feeling in my chest, I think I may be getting over a mild case of viral pneumonia. Confirmed by my run today.

I started out good. I parked at a wildlife management area just west of the town of Sturgeon Lake, and headed east on County Road 46, the paved road I had just driven on. There was very little traffic, except, as I would find out later, my son and his friend. They had camped out on the Kettle River, fishing into the night. I don't remember seeing Keith's truck, but I am glad they had a great fishing adventure. 

I ran my first mile in 10:30. Pretty good, but it was mostly downhill. I realized I would have to make up the altitude later. 

My plan was to run that county road to a gravel road that would take me to an ATV trail that would take me to an old railroad trestle over the Kettle River. Then over that, another mile or so, back to the county road. 7 miles or so. But, after mile 2, I realized I was struggling. I could no longer run more than a quarter mile or so without feeling short of breath. My legs were willing but my lungs were weak.

I found the trail and ran/walked to the river. It was there I had to confront another demon: fear of heights. I knew this run would lead me onto an old railroad trestle. I just didn't realize I would be at treetop height before I was actually over the river. Crazy fear I know, after all this bridge was built for trains, and now all terrain vehicles weighing much more than me cross it every day. But still. I did not make it across the bridge.

This is the lovely view I had from the bridge. I'm sure it would have been even better had I made it across the bridge. 

The rest of the run, if you could call it that, was hard. I ended up going back along the trail to a road that would take me back to my car. I tried to run when I could, but my snot loaded lungs would have no more. When I hit 5 miles I called it quits on Map My Run, even though it was about a half mile to the car. I gladly opened my Bell's Two Hearted Ale, about an hour and five minutes after I started. A measly five miles. With the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in two months. Oh well.

I was glad I ventured out to new territory for my run. And next time, I am going to cross that bridge.