Friday, January 24, 2014

1.24.14 Falling Snow, Rising Gas

I'm back again so soon!  How's that for making good on a resolution?  The past week has been one of those unpleasant ones here in Minneapolis, with temps down around and way below zero.  The time of year when the natives scratch their snow-covered noggins and ask themselves why they live here.  But I won't dwell on the negative.  I just returned from making my circuit of the island, in search of truth, beauty, adventure and intrigue.  And, of course, some good old-fashioned exercise.

I stepped out my door to confront a winter wonderland:  I knew today was supposed to get up to 30 degrees or higher (welcome news!), but hadn't known that snow was a possibility. It was really falling and a couple inches had piled up already, but it was as pretty and scenic as the inside of a snow globe.  So away I went!

The first observation that gave me pause was this duck-filled vista as I neared the falls. As I drew nearer to the river for a better shot, many of them took flight, and if you click on the photo to enlarge and look closely, you can see the airborne ones.  Of course, seeing ducks on and near the island is nothing terribly noteworthy, but usually you don't run across this many at a time.  

Next to arrest my footsteps was this fellow, whom I could have sworn I'd seen somewhere before.  Ah yes, wasn't he in the old sci-fi flick, Star Wars?  But I think in the movie he was shinier and more colorful and made a lot of funny electronic sounds.  His helmet bears a resemblance to my own head upon arriving home from my stroll, but more on that later (unless you're going to cheat and scroll to the bottom right now).  I must say that I behold beauty in this humble receptacle, as perhaps many others may not.  I suppose it's the contrast of light and dark, the fundamental property of every work of art.  Without light, there is no darkness, and vice versa.  In fact, without light, we cannot see a drawing or painting, but only as light is added, and then shaded, do the images emerge, et voila:  Art.

I couldn't resist snapping one of this scene, from the same position as the one taken in my last blog entry—jump back and check it out: the needles of this pine were sharp and bare, feathering my view of the river and bridge beyond—now the needles themselves are feathered with the fluffy white stuff.  It's pleasing to observe the changes wrought by Nature upon nature—much as we ourselves undergo changes imposed by Nature, for others to observe each time they see us anew after an interval has passed.

As I began nearing what I shall call the settlement where I live, I came upon this scene of men-at-work, comprising a number of vehicles and no less than five workers, prompting me to recall an email sent earlier in the day from one of my neighbors.  The email was not sent to me alone, but to all residents of the island (or rather, to those who have supplied an email address).  You see, the residents of this settlement in which I live, this small and insular community (insular only in the sense that we all live on an island) communicate to one another when appropriate on matters that may concern us all.  In this instance, someone had sent an email saying that while outdoors she had detected an odor of gas. One communication led to another, and soon the gas company were on site digging a hole in the street and another directly in front of one of the houses on East Island Ave.

One of the neighbors later provided a complete detailed explanation of what had happened, apparently a freak occurrence, which the gas company workers said they would probably be unlikely ever to encounter again.  Evidently, 25 years ago a plastic gas pipe had been run through the previously existing metal pipe, to avoid having to dig up the whole front yard to install a new metal pipe.  It seems that the metal pipe broke, likely due to the freezing temperatures of late, cutting into the plastic pipe and allowing gas to escape. Fortunately, these workers were able to repair the problem and prevent potentially disastrous consequences.

One photo shows the hole they had to dig on the side of the street opposite the house, while the other shows the workers gathered around the deeper hole in front of the house, into which I watched one or two workers descend until they completely disappeared from sight. It was quite reassuring to know that my neighbors are vigilant and that they promptly communicate with one another when a threat or other matter of concern arises in our midst.

And this brings me back to where I started, except now I am covered with snow and eager to get indoors and warm up.  It was a fine exhilarating walk, not too cold, and just enough snow to smile about.  Any more snow than this and I would not be smiling, for there would then be the risk of the city declaring a Snow Emergency, which means that someone like me who lacks a garage and whose vehicle is currently out of commission (not starting, that is), would have to push his vehicle to the alternate side of the streetand then back again the day after! Sometimes it really does seem like when it snows, it pours!

Life flows on, in and around us—sometimes we must shovel it, other times repair it, and still other times harness its force and use it to push ourselves—or other people or objectsto a better place. 


Monday, January 20, 2014

1.20.14 The Return of the King

Yes, that's right, the King is me and I have returned.  My last post was in April of 2013, over nine months agohow rapidly time flows by, like the river that rushes past my home. Old Man Winter is clutching that river in his icy fist at the moment, so its movement has been somewhat arrested for a time, or perhaps only hiddenan apt metaphor for the time we often fail to see as it slips past right under our noses.

This morning is a holiday—Martin Luther King Day, and so beyond recalling that courageous individual who helped secure civil rights for those who should never have been denied them from the start, it is a day that I began by celebrating my own right to walk freely around this island I inhabit and re-embrace the joys of observation.

I began my walk as in earlier days of this blog, standing on the bluff that faces to the north, whence the mighty river descends, far now from its humble beginning at Lake Itasca.  A bit of trivia unknown to many is that Lake Itasca was named by Henry Schoolcraft, an American geographer, geologist, and ethnologist, who combined the Latin words veritas ("truth") and caput ("head") to form itasca.  Another bit of trivia, not unrelated to the holiday we celebrate today, is that Schoolcraft's second wife, Mary Howard, was a southern slaveholder whose support of slavery and opposition to mixed-race relations created strains in the relationship between her and the Schoolcraft stepchildren, who became alienated from her and their father (good kids!).  Howard also published a novel called The Black Gauntlet: A Tale of Plantation Life in South Carolina, which she claimed her husband had encouraged. The novel was one of many pro-slavery responses to Harriet Beecher Stowe's best-selling Uncle Tom's Cabin. Such defenses of slavery became known as the anti-Tom genre, published in the decade before the American Civil War. Howard's novel became a best-seller, although not on the scale of Stowe's.  I prefer to pay homage to Schoolcraft's first wife, Jane Johnston, whose mother Ozhaguscodaywayquay (Susan Johnston), was the daughter of a leading Ojibwe chief, Waubojeeg.   Jane was also known as O-bah-bahm-wawa-ge-zhe-go-qua (or Obabaamwewe-giizhigokwe in modern spelling), which means:  the Woman of the Sound [Which the Stars Make] Rushing Through the Sky. Pretty cool name, huh? Jane's knowledge of the Ojibwe language and legends, which she shared with Schoolcraft, formed in part the source material for Longfellow's epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha. How's that for both a Civil Rights and Minnesota tie-in?

And now, behold the view from my vantage point this morning:

What I learned standing and gazing upon this vista is that the ice nearest the shore is first to melt, not something to which I'd ever devoted much consideration, but something which this picture makes clear and which I verified further while making a full circuit of the island.

My hypothesis is that, as temperatures decrease, the icemelt will creep farther and farther from the shore toward the center of the river, both west side and east side ultimately meeting in the middle with a watery handshake, sealing their compact to join forces once again and resume the rollicking ride southward.  I will make a point of checking the river periodically, to test the validity of my hypothesis, as that much coveted warmth gradually arrivesnone too soon!to embrace the Twin Cities and breathe life back into the frosted lungs of its natives and feeling back into their benumbed fingers.

My contemplation of the northern vista concluded, I turned to the south and began my morning constitutional.  The road encircling the island has of course been cleared, but when I diverge from the road for my periodic ruminative apostrophes, the height of the snow easily justifies the boots I've chosen to wear. Here is a sample of the depth I've been tromping through this morning (and yes, it could be much worse). The snow may be a little high during my ramblings today, but the temperature is mercifully mild, probably around 15°F, and so long as that's above zero, then that's just fine with me.  Ever notice how snow is one thing as it's falling and quite another thing after it lands and accumulates?

My next observation, while proceeding along West Island Ave., which runs along the west side of the island, is a sticker someone has slapped on a No Parking sign.  You might reasonably ask why this should attract my attention and why I might find it worthy of comment. Here's the thing:  I cannot say with certainty that the sticker was placed on the sign recently, but I can say that last Friday night while driving by, my lovely companion and I both noticed a car parked on the road right next to this signthis is not a place where people would normally park a car, nor is it legal to do so. 

Our first thought was:  poor guy, his car broke down.  But as we drew alongside, we saw that the two individuals standing near the car were not attempting to start or repair it, but were engaged in an activity entirely unrelated to the car.  They appeared to have set up a camera to do some filming and there was a monitor of some kind upon which some words were illuminated, which my eyes caught just briefly as we drove past but which somehow got recorded on the memory chip in my head.  The words were Vision the Kid, words that were instantly retrieved from memory when I encountered them again on the No Parking sign this morning, along with the image of the two fellows on the side of the road the other night.  After a quick google upon my return home, I discovered that Vision the Kid is a local rapper who performed at the Aster Cafe on the same night as our drive-by sighting:  the Aster Cafe, for those who may not know, happens to be a stone's throw from the islandabout a ten minute walk from my front door.  The internet showed me that Vision the Kid has produced and posted a number of videos on his web siteyou can also watch them on YouTube.  I may be entirely wrong, but I would not be surprised if a future Vision the Kid video contains footage shot from, or on, Nicollet Island.  You heard it here first.  (I suppose slapping a sticker on a city sign might represent an infraction worthy of citation by local law enforcement, and while Vision the Kid's sticker makes him easily trackable, ultimately there would be no way to prove he was the one who placed the sticker there.)

Farther south, I encountered something that reminded me of a cause for displeasure and complaint, something I have not yet blogged about. The strange looking object in the photo at right is called The Bell of Two Friends.  It was a gift to the city of Minneapolis from the city of  Ibaraki, Osaka, Japan. My post of 1/9/12 contains considerable detail about this sculpture (see link below), so without going into great detail I will only say that there used to be a bell contained within the upper portion of this monument (on the opposite side from that shown in this photo), from which a rope dangled.  A plaque invites visitors to pass through the sculpture, and while doing so, to pull the cord and ring the bell as a gesture to signify a prayer for world peace and continued friendship between the citizens of Ibaraki and Minneapolis.  I used to duck underneath the sculpture and ring the bell every time I was passing, but recently noticed that the dangling rope was gone, effectively silencing the bell for world peace and friendship.  This makes me sad, that something nice has been taken away, that the gift of a distant friend has been disrespected and desecrated, that a meaningful feature of the island I inhabit has been disappearedwhy and by whom?  If you are reading this and know the answers, please leave a comment.

Next on the list of my morning's observations is this fellow engaged in the photographic arts near the southern tip of the island.  I sometimes like to photograph the photographer, so I seized that opportunity this morning.In passing, I greeted the only other soul in the vicinity at this early hour with a friendly "Good Morning."  Sadly, I received only the briefest unsmiling glance and a muttered acknowledgement that seemed to require every last modicum of this person's tolerance to dredge up.  Was someone having a bad day?  And yet, I can't help but think:  aren't you out here doing something you love to do?  Aren't you alive and free to do as you please in a land of opportunity, clothes on your back, food in your belly, an expensive camera in your hands?  And yet, with all those advantages, is it still too much to return a smile and gracious show of friendliness to a fellow traveler to the grave?  I just don't get it. Guess I'll assume positive intent, and speculate that he was there on a compulsory work assignment, tired and hungry, having a bad morning, and just not in the mood to see another living soul, much less talk to one.

Leaving the chilly photographer to his own devices, I ventured farther south and decided to look through my own lens and see what he had been seeing.  It was a gray morning, with the sun refusing to show its face, and frankly, not what I would consider a morning well suited to photography.  However, after taking the shot below and viewing it after I got back home, I must admit that, gray sky notwithstanding, there was some beauty to be captured out there this morning.  Also, down here at the southern end of the island, close to the falls, you can see that my earlier hypothesis does not necessarily hold water, so to speak.  There is still ice near the shore but not in the middle ... but I believe this is because of the movement of water surrounding and constituting the falls, which puts this particular section of river in a different category than the section upriver, beholden to different criteria with regard to the icemelt phenomenon.

Crossing over to the eastern side of the island, I paused to consider a face that seem to be regarding me from the trunk of a tree.  Suspecting his bite was worse than his bark, and not expecting to be bitten, I drew nearer to inspect the cribbage board that some overzealous woodpecker had made of this venerable oak.

I love textures like this, so detailed, so rich, so perfectly illustrative of the effects of time and weather upon this stately and mature specimen.  The variety of colors and hues, the crisp and variegated crust of excrescences, the overbark and underbark, a knothole that serves as a peephole to the marrow within, offering glimpses into different substrata of the interior, layer under layer, the outer shell falling in pieces during winter like tiles from a weatherbeaten roof.  Countless organisms call this tree home, for many it serves as hostel, a temporary stopover before moving on, into the air, over the ground or under it, maybe even into the river to ride its currents to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond.

I round the curve at the island's southern tip and stop to take this shot of the Third Ave. bridge, seen through the spiny bangs of a different variety of tree but, being no dendrologist, I couldn't name it for you.  For that matter, the tree above is probably not an oak, but I didn't know what it was and oak sounded solid.  As long as the trees themselves know what they are, that's all that matters.

Walking northward along East Island Ave., I wonder what observations remain before my return home.  Moments later, the answer appears in the form of a woman in a red jacket, still some distance away but walking toward me with both arms outstretched.  I could tell even from a distance that it was not a woman I knew.  Nonetheless, she continued walking toward me, cruciform.

Here is the first photo I took. Even at this distance, you can make out her outstretched arms. I started wondering what the appropriate greeting was when encountering someone walking along with opened arms:  open my own arms and unite in an embrace? Upon reflection, I thought it might be wise not to jump to any conclusions.

This woman was the third party that I encountered at close enough range to justify—indeed, to meritmutual acknowledgement.  The first was my taciturn photographer, the second was a pair of women walking a dog, who like their predecessor, seemed put out by the necessity to return my Good Morning; the dog gave me better eye contact.  The fourth was a woman trailing the woman in the photo by about twenty yards, also a dogwalker, although she flashed me a friendly smile while giving me an enthusiastic Good Morning! But she still came in 2nd Place to the woman in the photo, who had lowered her arms by the time she reached me, yet greeted me with an effervescent Good Morning! Happy Winter Day! Perhaps her latter proclamation had been prompted by a self-consciousness engendered by her raised arms, and a consequent feeling of obligation to somehow account for such unusual behavior with an explanatory show of high spirits.  Whatever her reasons, I was glad to know that, thus far anyway, it was a happy day for her.

Just before spotting the woman featured above, I had stopped at the intersection pictured below, thinking to draw to myself all the power I could from Power Street.  And you know what: I think it worked!  As I stood there preparing to snap this photo, it suddenly began to snow: big fat flakes skydiving playfully into my face.  The flakes danced in a clean winter breeze that, as you can see, seduced the flaps of my hat into dancing as well.  It felt like a magical moment, one that made me thankful to have resumed my island jaunts.

Which brings me to the end of today's glimpse at life on Nicollet Island, only inhabited island on the Mississippi River in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, and a place I'm happy to call home.  By the time I've reached the house you see below, its bold purple hue lovely on a milky canvas of sky and snow-blanketed earth, I'm only moments from my own humble abode, where hot coffee awaits.  What colors will paint the rest of my day, I wonder?

Life flows on, in and around us—sometimes ecstatically, as a rushing river, other times sullenly, like a river choked with ice, waiting for warmer times to come thaw its wintry heart.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

4.06.13 Poem for the Island

Life flows on, in and around us—the poetry of life animating our bones and blood, whether we know it or not.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

10.28.12 A Year in the (Island) Life

My last substantial post was on May 12.  And then life swept me away, into the rush and tumble of day-to-day life, filled with workdays and summer activities and artistic pursuits that left no time to devote to continuing this online record of my island life.  And so much has happened between my last post and today, I couldn't recount it all if I wanted to.  And I don't want to.  It is enough to say that I continue living on Nicollet Island, where the current month brings my residency to a full year—a year that has been fun and fascinating and filled with interesting diversions and unexpected insights. 

One of those insights, though not entirely unexpected, is that life is so much more satisfying and worthwhile when spent engaged in stimulating activities that you love rather than in the Sisyphean round of home maintenance activities which were costly, thankless, time consuming, and drudgery-filled.  Starting out with the belief that I owned a home only to finally discover that the home in fact owned me and that I was its slave, I have reveled in my emancipation over the past year by living—and I speak only for myself—in a way that I believe is the best way for me to live.  That is to say, I live in a tranquil setting in the midst of a city, where I can pursue my own interests sans the onus of home-owner responsibilities, and spend money previously poured into the bottomless well of home upkeep and repair into delightfully remunerative and life-affirming areas such as travel, culture and entertainment.

Much has transpired on this island in the nearly six months during which I have neglected to report.  There have been festivals, large sporting events held at the DeLaSalle H.S. athletic field, umpteen weddings at the Nicollet Island Pavilion, and much more.  But I will simply resume with today, and what I observed during my leisurely stroll both on and off the island.

Little effort was required to dress our alcove in the costumerie of Halloween.  When I was a child, I would have killed for a skeleton like that; now I can pick it up at Target for a few bucks:  I daresay it delights me now, scarcely less than it would have then.  Today was a beautiful day, though undoubtedly the usual winter unpleasantness is lurking in the wings, preparing to make its cold, wet and blustery entrance, and those bikes will soon be placed in storage.  Tonight (Saturday) is undoubtedly when the adults will celebrate Halloween, while the real All Hallow's Eve, when children will make their way from door to door soliciting treats (or tricks) is not until Wednesday.  There are not many children on the island, but the handful that live here are cute, amiable and innocuous, as all children should be.  I look forward to seeing their costumes and hopeful faces, and contributing to their bags o'plenty.  I miss the days of making costumes for my own children and chaperoning them around.  There's nothing like watching a child's sweet face as it is transformed by gluttony and greed.

Here is the other end of the alcove, the door to our apartment, where Mr. Scarecrow stands (or sits) to welcome visitors.  He did not come with the wreath.  He came attached to a length of bamboo, most of which I sawed off.  The remaining section of bamboo was enough to shove into the wreath and thereby provide him with a comfortable perch.  Nobody but our visitors will ever see him, since he is hidden from the street view, but that's okay since he is not really there to scare anyone away.  Well, maybe crows.  The island is a wonderful place to be in the fall.  The river air is crisp and clean and redolent with the odor of dying leaves and moist earth.  People are out and about, enjoying the season while they can.  The Twin Cities Marathon was held recently, on Oct. 6th, and I almost envied those runners their foot tour through Minneapolis and St. Paul, where they would have been treated to some of the loveliest fall colors to be seen anywhere.

My description is bringing to mind a song I wrote quite a few years ago, but which I have been playing again recently with a former guitar student and newfound musical collaborator.  Titled 'Twin City Sunrise' it seems appropriate to include it here:

That song is about the seasons, and as I write this it is not only spooky with the advent of Halloween but also a bit spooky with the trappings of election season, which has caused the island to be overrun with signs like those pictured here.  I don't mind saying that I detest their intrusion into the beautiful natural scenery.  But maybe I shouldn't judge so harshly; they are simply the evidence of human beings and one of the telltale traces of their efforts to govern themselves and peacefully co-exist; much as a nocturnal creeping critter might leave behind a scent which either wards off potential antagonists or attracts those which might be compatible.  So much time and effort (and money) is spent trying to convince each other of what is right (and what wrong).  This, I suppose, is merely what our animal instincts prompt us to do as we wage our battle for survivalto say nothing of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, for our species is peculiar in that we not only want to survive, but also want to be happy and free to do just as we please.  And that means different things to different members of our species; hence: politics!
While I recognize and acknowledge the necessity to support and respect the political process, I confess that I prefer to train my gaze on visions such as this flowered bush rather than on the unattractive signs that would dictate how I think and live.  Perhaps this is selfish, and tantamount to saying that I am more interested in benefiting from the freedoms and pleasures that the political process makes possible than I am in participating in that process.  Guilty as charged.  And yet, I will vote.  I will register my values along with my co-citizens on the first Tuesday in November and with any amount of luck (and coinciding values) the world I inhabit will continue to provide me the luxury of living in peace, in a place governed by fair laws, and free to pursue my interests.  Maybe I shouldn't complain too loudly about the political signage on the island, for there is another sign on the island which I have found reason to appreciate, by which I have on occasion been inspired.
Those who have followed this blog may recall the sign at the southeastern end of the island which I have featured from time to time, primarily at times when I have noticed the sign's transformation.  The sign sports a single word which seems to change from month to month; in past months it has featured words such as DREAM, CREATE, INSPIRE, etc.  Recently, I was crossing the Central Ave. bridge and noticed its latest injunction to the public:  LOVE.  This is a message I can support.  The Beatles said it was all you need, but I'm not sure everyone believes that.  And that, I suppose, is why we need politics as well.

I invoked the zoom feature on my camera so as to obtain a closer look.  This sign is not a work of art, not a miracle of beauty, nor yet is it graffiti, but it does seem to succeed in saying all that it really wishes to say.  Would that we could all be so forthright and articulate.  If I were more industrious (read: less lazy), I would scroll back through prior blog posts and list out ALL of the words this sign has sported in the past, but I will leave that for a future (less lazy) time, perhaps after additional words have been trotted out for our consideration.  Until then, I will merely strive to allow the word-of-the-month into my heart in greater measure, and to sow the seeds of its injunction more frequently and in greater measure wherever I go and with whomever I meet.  Surely a goal that is easier said than done, but maybe saying things more often has the happy effect of prompting us to do them more often.  And maybe that is why some people have planted so many political signs.  And who's to say that the desire to promulgate the concept and practice of LOVE isn't every bit as political?
Life flows on, in and around us—it is what we make it, and to make it what we wish it to be, to make that which is in us harmonize with that which surrounds us, requires belief, effort, and the willingness to offer signs that others can read.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

6.15.12 End of Hiatus (or not?)

Walking around the island recently, I noticed this peculiar sight, an attempt to bring a set of lost keys to the attention of their owner, also succeeding in bringing my attention to the fact that I had not written a blog post for quite some time.

Flash forward:  It is now October 27th and I have returned to my blog to find this entry begun on 6.15.12 which was, alas, never completed or posted as intended.  I am loath to simply trash the entry and accompanying photo, since it represents a moment in time, a snapshot which seems to deserve its place in the blogosphere.  We indeed need to be reminded of things on occasion.  I hope the owner of the keys found his or her way back to the scene of the loss.  And I hope I can do better with today's intention to resume my blog than I had the last time.  If there is a post succeeding this one, you will know I made good.  Let's hope I've found the key back to my digital Isle of Repose ... I've missed it.

Life flows on, in and around us—and sometimes the key to solving all our problems—or at least one of them—is staring us in the face.  All we need do is see it, take it, and use it.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

5.12.12 Are Your Chains in Place?

Here is a representative for the many other specimens of his kind that I have been encountering with regularity in these nascent days of spring. We had a brief staring contest before he gave up and rejoined his sibs, scuttling around in the wake of their parents and plucking at the dew-basted grass.  By now I have featured my share of Canadian geese on this blog, so will refrain from adding more unless I happen to capture something I consider to be extra special.  Due to the demands of the working life, my island wandering days have been cruelly and sadly curtailed.  So I will just share one more photo, and then venture out on this fine Saturday morning to see what I can see.

During my last walk (yesterday), which included a crossing of the Central Ave. Bridge, I was surprised and pleased to note that the mysterious spirit of the island had changed the sign that, from the southeastern tip of the island, exhorts bridge-crossers to consider a single word, in this most recent case: REFLECT.   Last month, we were exhorted to INSPIRE (see past posts).  As I zoomed in with my camera (this pic is taken from a considerable distance), I noticed what appeared to be a chain holding the sign in place, which seemed to me a new development.  Perhaps the last sign had been carried downriver in the waters which have risen considerably in recent weeks, and its sponsor had been compelled to install restraints so as to ensure his message could resist the forces of nature and endure.

Aren't we always having to engineer our own protective mechanisms against the forces of nature, whether they be climatic in origin or come to threaten our serenity in the form of human nature, whose representatives can be all too unpredictable and insensitive?  We brace and fortify and protect ourselves with ropes, chains, sandbags, fences, and much more, whether literal or figurative, and we get on with the business of living.  What else can we do?  Surrender is not an option.

Life flows on, in and around us—it can strengthen or weaken, create or destroy, inspire or dispirit—given a little time to reflect, we can conceive and implement the measures necessary to ensure we not only survive but thrive.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

5.5.12 Doing the Locomotion

A damp and overcast morning on the island, though I have hopes the day will brighten and the sky clear by evening, in time to view the supermoon... they say it will be the largest moon of 2012. If I'm lucky, I'll get a good picture of it. Meanwhile, the first thing that appealed to my eye this morning was this crouching predator's eye view of the island tepee. I can fancy myself a mountain lion sneaking up on a Native American dwelling on the Dakota plains, sometime before the real predator arrived (read: the White Man). But wait, do plains have trees and grass and willowy weeds? Whatever.

I took only a few steps farther before the anthropomorphic quality of these conspiratorial trees arrested my imagination. Huddling close together in solidarity, as if to embrace one another, one arm raised and the other extended to effect the embrace, these trees evoke the central image and metaphor of my novel, The Trees in Winter, even though these are no longer barren as those in winter, and have already slipped into their green spring attire. Here's an excerpt from the novel:

She peeled the aluminum foil from a palette and picked up a teardrop-shaped palette knife mired in a glop of cobalt blue, sat on her stool and began dabbing it along the trunk of a tree. Always the trees. The bare outlines of their skeletal forms huddled together on each of three hopeful canvases, poised to welcome the merest embellishment of their limbs, spindly and wanting, raised in supplication to an empty sky.

She’d done little painting while she was working, but since being home she had responded to the still small voice deep inside her so long neglected. Instinctively but tentatively, she had begun sketching that which came naturally, the trees, the parallel outlines of their ascendant trunks and limbs, the subtle or sweeping curvature of their postures, jagged or bowed, bisected or monolithic, always reaching for an ineffable redemption, regeneration, wholeness and salubrity.

And another:

He remembered the first time he’d seen the painting, and how it had struck him then with its stark simplicity and crisp lines, with shadings that somehow evoked the fragile brittleness of the limbs, depicted the sense of shared loss in the woe befallen attitudes of the trees as they huddled together, as if they would embrace and console one another if only nature would allow.

I think you get the idea.

I resumed my stroll and soon came upon something seen from an even greater distance, as I stood on the bluff surveying the river vista. Looking straight down to the shore below, I spotted what appeared to be a winged idler, sitting tucked underneath a fallen tree trunk in the river. At first, I took it to be a pigeon, but after zooming in and snapping a couple of shots and viewing them later, I found the creature's beak appears decidedly unpigeonlike.

But you be the judge. Here is a shot where I zoomed in closer. Pigeon or not? Whatever the species, the sight struck a chord somewhere in the cerebral piano case of analogic memory. While walking underneath the eastern Hennepin Bridge overpass during the past week, which we have done a fair number of times to attend screenings at the Minneapolis Film Festival taking place at the nearby St. Anthony Main Theater, we have noticed a couple of human idlers tucked up underneath the overpass, at the top of the slanted stone embankment and just beneath the bridge's roadway. In fact, returning home from a film just last night, one of these specimens was down on the sidewalk stretching his legs in a decidedly inebriated manner, to the extent that we thought it best to step off the sidewalk and give him a wide berth. This bird, sheltering beneath the log, called these human shelterers to mind. I can only assume that, come fairer skies, theylike the birdwill take flight in search of more hospitable milieux.

But enough of idlers. I'm sure you're more interested in creatures that are going somewhere, such as the members of this goose-stepping family, who seem to be in perfect step with one another. This is a common sight on the island these days, as the island denizens bring forth their young and begin teaching them the ways of survival.
And, as you can see, these youngsters must learn to survive on water as well as on land. Funny to think that those little yellow fluffballs, next year and in future years, will assume the appearance of the parent and be tutoring little fluffballs of their own. Just as my own son has slipped into shoes specially designed for raising small children, which I myself have slipped out of. He is now doing the goose-step, whereas I, by comparison, have become ... an idler?
Actually, I try to keep moving, even if no longer engaged in childrearing. And what better image to represent movement that the arrival of the train as it comes around the bend, the train that traverses our island many times each day, heralded by the clanging warning bell. Actually, it's not coming around a bend, but I only tried to make it appear that way from the angle of my photograph. In fact, it's coming across a bridge from the west and about to cross another bridge to the east. The train teaches a good lesson, I think, by suggesting that, though it is all right to stop and rest occasionally, to sit, observe and contemplate, it is even more important to get up again and keep moving. One can sit on a log or under a viaduct for only so long. Too long and you risk becoming a log yourself, and a log has no fun and does no one else any good, except provide them a place to sit. Does anyone really want to spend their lives being sat on by others?

Here is an actual moving picture of the train, to serve as an even better reminder to keep on moving, keep on rolling, keep on keepin' on, and as they said back in the long ago 1960's:


Life flows on, in and around us—it grows and moves and reproduces, and when it no longer does any of these things, it is no longer life.