Tag Archives: land

Quiet Love

There was a thing I loved with no name and another love I knew with no words.

The writer’s task is to use words to express what could never be expressed with words. So I describe the things I lived so that you may feel what I felt.

An electrophile is a substance that seeks electrons. We say such stuff has an affinity (or love) for electrons. Nonmetallic elements are electrophilic, elements such as Chlorine and Oxygen. Fortunately, the universe consists also of metallic substances eager to part with their electrons and compounds are born. Fortunately, also, many electrophiles are willing to share electrons—else there would be no carbon based life.

Similarly, hydrophilic substances have affinity for water, attracting and holding it.

I have an affinity for dirt. I love soil, water, and rocks—and the things that grow in and upon them.

There was a little farm in Dane County, Wisconsin, that called me and I answered. For a few years we got acquainted and fell in love. I used to watch the boats go by on Saturday morning on their way to Lake Koshkonong while I had dirt sticking to the sweat of my body, farming for a hobby.

It was a tired little farm with a ramshackle house but a tidy little barn. And I loved it. But, I never named it.

The day came way, way too soon that I had to let it go. I clung to it as though it was some security, some friend, something special that I could not explain.

Because of divorce, I had to let it go. And, so the day came for the closing.

My dad came and helped me close the holes for the perk test—because the new owner wanted a place for a new house. We stood in the kitchen of the soon-to-be destroyed little house and signed the papers.

My dad watched. He didn’t say anything. He was just there.

I learned something important about love that day—from my father, and from my little farm.

Dad is gone, now, and that little farm looks very different thirty-five years later. Far to the north, though, is another piece of rock, soil, water, and life that has adopted me. This time I had the good sense to name it. When I found a few charred remnants of the old growth trees cut for lumber and stained by fire, I thought of calling in Pine Bones.

The land had a better idea. We call it Lonesome Pines, in honor of the few red and white pines remaining (although more are growing) and the memories of the grandfather trees that once stood there. I love that land, and it loves me. I hope that makes sense to you because I hope you have felt that kind of unconditional love, that acceptance, which Nature provides.

And I hope you have felt or will feel the kind of love my father shared. When my daughters need me, I don’t often have much to say, but I show up. I am there. Thanks, Dad. You always were my greatest teacher, and you did it without me even knowing.

How do you turn an idea into a story?

Okay, you have this idea that you think might make a good story. Where do you start? What is the process? How do you give it life?

The simple academic answer is that there are two basic approaches. You can craft a story driven by plot or by character. You can imagine a few characters and plan out some trouble for them (your story idea), laying the trouble out in a sequence or plot line that outlines the story. The alternative is to imagine your characters so vividly that they interact in ways that make things happen in the story. In truth, that is about the extent of my academic knowledge on the subject; however, these terms will give you the search words to discover a whole world of literature academia.

What I do know amounts to two other things. First, different writers find very different ways to craft their stories. Second, my personal experience lies somewhere between the plot-driven and character-driven processes. I can share that with you.

I dreamed up this idea about an old soldier caught between two impulses while immersed in a milieu of violent chaos, partial amnesia, and personal confusion. That’s about all I had to start—well, that and an obsession with the story that kept me thinking about it for a couple of weeks. I thought of the letters, “LG”, until I made up some words to fit those including “Little Guerillas” and “Last Generation” soldiers.

I started writing a scene for the character, now called Kenny, and a rough description. I decided to set the story in the North Woods I love. (Write what you know.) I gave Kenny a biography, you know, family, past, profession, personality characteristics. I wish I could recall how that happened. I think I basically wrote some bits and pieces that I shared with our local writing group, Write on the Edge, for critique.

Sometimes an idea would literally pop into my head. I would get some image or concept and have to write it down. By the time I prepared to take our RV back to the North Woods for the summer, I had a few thousand words written for different scenes not really connected. I also had made a decision to write a novel and the commitment to come back to Yuma with a completed first draft.

I am blessed. I have 27 acres of open forest land with a stream and lake access,
a well, a septic system, and a fenced garden. I also have a beautiful Yellow Labrador Retriever who loves the woods almost as much as I do and a wife who
not only encourages my writing but approves of me going to the woods for a few weeks alone. I was sequestered. Except for weekend fishing excursions with my neighbor and an occasional trip into town, all I did was garden, walk in the
woods, and write—sometimes four, five, or even six thousand words in a day.

Somewhere in the process the miracle happened. The characters started telling the story. It’s true. I know, I never really believed that, either, but it happened. That was really cool, worth all the effort for the entire project. I believe in
muses, now.

By nature or experience, I am a bit of a control freak. So, I naturally planned
out my story. The characters changed it, took it in directions I hadn’t
really planned. I just wrote—sometimes starting sentences without knowing how
they would end, frequently getting into places I did not know how to escape.
Then I would take a walk, garden, go to bed on it, and/or work on something else. Sometimes my characters surprised me so much I would laugh out loud, but nobody was there to hear me but the dog.

I think I wrote a good story, but the experience was wonderful. Somewhere along
the way I came to understand that I was learning about myself. I was growing. I
was metamorphosing with my characters. I am healthier and happier for this
endeavor, but do you know what? When I started, I didn’t really know much
about how to turn an idea into a story.

Enjoy the journey.

Re Quest: Material Instructions

Many years ago, Charles Kuralt on a Sunday Morning show introduced a book called The Wisdom Keepers. It is a collection of interviews with Native American elders. I do not have a copy with me, but here is my recollection. When they approached one elder, he held up his hand to stop them. “Stop,” he said. “I know why you are here. When you came to this land, you forgot your instructions. We have never forgotten ours.”

Do we remember our instructions on how to take care of this land?

I picture a young couple with a large and growing family. The parents provide for all the children’s needs with shelter (including clothes), water, fire, and food. They hunt and gather materials. They even grow and harvest their own. As the children grow, the parents teach them how to spin and weave clothing, tan hides, make tools, and create art in pottery and baskets. The children learn to hunt, gather, grow, and harvest. They learn to make their own tools and weapons: knives, clubs, axes, atlatls, darts, bows, and arrows.

Some children turn the weapons on their brothers and sisters, claiming power and dominion over them.

Do I exaggerate? One day in 1941, bombs killed 1500 men in Pearl Harbor. Four years later, one bomb killed perhaps a hundred thousand men, women, and children in Hiroshima. Years later, a decade of war killed some 3 million people in Southeast Asia. We now have the capacity to kill that many with the push of one button.

We learned to make hotter fires from coal and oil—fires hot enough to turn rocks into steel. We learned to turn crude oil into kerosene and gasoline, creating byproducts of chlorinated aromatic hydrocarbons not usually found in nature. We learned these new hydrocarbons are especially good at killing pesty things, and we had herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, carcinogens, and teratogens such as PCBs, Dioxins, and Furans. We created the most poisonous chemical known to man: 2,3,7,8, tetrachlorodibenzodioxin.

We learned to make explosive white putty. One little piece the size of a wad of bubble gum would heat my canteen cup of water in half a minute instead of half an hour with the alcohol fuel in C-rations. We learned to make plastic hips and plastic lips and plastic works of art.

We learned to steal energy not only from the electrons of atoms, but from the nuclei, also, in the fission process. Still, we want more, and we yearn for man-controlled nuclear fusion—more energy, more power, greater dominion.

We have taken a bite of the apple.

God-like power requires God-like wisdom.

Over two thousand years, many trillions of dollars, and political wills of nations—and against winds of heresy, persecution, prosecution, and excommunication—we have discerned many laws of the material universe. How do we like us, now?

How dare we employ the tools and weapons of material research without the tools and weapons of moral research? Where are our discussions of ethics? Have we not only forgotten our instructions, but abandoned all interest in them in the pursuit of greater glory and dominion?

A view of freedom as the absence of rules is the folly of adolescent bullys.

Where and when will we discuss our rules for caring for this land and each other?

Mind Wind: My Stuff

Because of this blog, I’ve been doing a little inventory of my stuff. Yes, I have both kinds of stuff, matter and energy. Granted, energy may be a little harder to hold onto, but I work at it—pun intended.

Here in my beautiful North Woods, I have literally tons of stuff. I have sand and soil, including rocks of various types. Some rocks are high in quartz and suitable for knapping, making them into sharp tools such as knives, spear points, and arrowheads. Others are coarse and useful for sharpening wood and bone into tools. Many would make excellent construction material. Some are simply lovely, and a few have found there way into Nancy’s little rock garden. One is chocking my trailer tire right now.

I have what seems like a million trees. Aspen, of course, are good for making paper. Balsam firs provide color and aroma. Basswood is an excellent carving medium and the inner bark produces very strong string/rope cordage. Pine and spruce make excellent lumber. The black ash is particularly tough for poles, spears, and clubs. I expect it would be very strong for primitive shelters. The birches offer bark for shingling shelters or making baskets and other forms of functional art. They are also high in combustible oil that helps to start fires in wet conditions even when rotten (a fungus grows upon it and stores the oils). The wood makes fine, quick fires—speaking of which, the cedars are awesome for this. Not only is their wood full of heat, but it does not absorb a lot of moisture, and dry twigs are abundant under spreading branches of live trees.

There are many other plants useful for tools, construction, medicine, and food—even clothing. No, I don’t have any figs, but cedar’s inner bark, grasses, and other plants can be braided and woven into garments. Berrybushes provide berries and their leaves are wonderful green or dried for nutritious teas. Speaking of food, I have many growing sugar maple trees, which also make fine, hot coals for cooking when a limb falls. I don’t cut live maples (or, many other trees if I can avoid it). The point is that I do have a lot of wonderful stuff here provided by Nature. One would think I spent most of my time shopping my free forest for good stuff and making it into better stuff. Nope.

I spend way too much of my time, especially in the fall—it is fall here—as I prepare to move back to AZ, getting rid of other stuff that once seemed really important but, now, not so much. I bought some more important stuff, yesterday, a shed to keep my good stuff—or my other stuff I can’t seem to let go just yet. I blame it on growing up poor. I just never know when I might need another box, a worn out mower and chain saw, a wild game cart, old tackle boxes….

So, this morning I woke up early and went out to start my little generator, the true sine wave Honda that safely powers my computer. It burns gasoline, a kind of matter that stores a lot of energy. That energy made my coffee, stored in a plastic container sent to me from some faraway place using some more gasoline and probably a lot of Diesel fuel. I could have made a fire to brew some pine needle tea, but I have become accustomed to coffee. Note to self: roasted dandelion and chicory roots make an excellent coffee alternative. Okay, duly noted.

But, I NEED my computer, so the generator runs. If I had thought ahead (and spent the big bucks), I could be using a true sine wave inverter and my energy stored in my batteries from the sun. But, alas, my inverter will not safely run my computer, so I burn gasoline. Of course, I have limited storage in those batteries and the days are getting shorter. It’s almost 8 a.m. and I am generating only 0.5 amps with two large panels. It’s one of the drawbacks of having so many tall trees.

Soon, I will take my shower with water pumped from my well by the same generator and heated by LP gas, more stuff full of energy. Then I will get in my little SUV and drive 20 miles (about 1 gallon of gasoline) toMichigan to buy some more stuff I think I need. Of course, it will be another gallon of gas to get back home. I wonder, “How much matter and energy was required to mine the coal and iron to make my car?”

How did this happen? How did I become so dependent upon material things, matter and energy? I wasn’t born with it, and I don’t need to die with it. Why do I think I need so much of it to live? I know I didn’t have a binky, but I wonder if I ever had a blankie. Somehow, I came to believe that I needed a whole lot of stuff to stay alive.

I know I don’t. Maybe there can be a blessing to poverty. I hope so, because it is approaching, but that is a subject for a future blog.

Re Quest: Space Entitlement

Toward the end of my teaching tenure, I proclaimed to students in our environmental problems class, Solar Starship, that land use would be the issue of our lifetime. Actually, that was not prophecy so much as observation: Land use has been and may always be a primary issue in human relationships. Yet, I was wrong, and my lesson came, as it often did, from a student. But, first, a brief view of land use as space entitlement.

I “own” Lonesome Pines, our 27 acres in the North Woods of Wisconsing where I write today. I am entitled to call this space mine because Nancy and I exchanged thousands of dollars with the people who then held title, and that entitlement can be traced back some years to the mining company that owned the county. Before that, it was presumed owned by some Native Americans and “ceded” to our government in exchange for certain perpetual rights including spearing walleyes in the lake I fished yesterday.

My point here is that we claim entitlement to land space because of some business deals and treaty agreements. We also claim some special entitlement as superior human beings–Manifest Destiny being one example. I believe the people who lived and died on this land still hold some claim because of the bones and spirits that remain. The question looms as to who they might be.

They might be Sioux people who seemed to have been pushed out as Anishinaabe people arrived from the east, fleeing a prophecy. Perhaps title belongs to people here long before any Sioux. Land Entitlement is often murky. My sense is Pottawatomi history lives here along with Ojibwe, but that is just a feeling.

Actually, my legal entitlement does not include mineral rights, and, morally, I do not claim artifacts that might be found. Ojibwe, Pottawatomi, and others may have anything I uncover.

The questions for your consideration are these: What space are you entitled to own? By what right do you claim entitlement? How is this entitlement affected by your choice of land use?

Aldo Leopold, founder of UW Wildlife Ecology in Madison, wrote on the concept of Land Ethic. He hoped our human evolution would arrive at an application of ethics to land use including the space and everything within it, living and nonliving. This was published after his death in a collection called A SAND COUNTY ALMANAC. He was an optimist. Still, land use is one of the most important issues and ethical concerns. What could be more important?

I’ll tell you. On what I believe was my last field trip as a teacher, I asked the students, high school Juniors and Seniors, to view Devil’s Lake with a concern for land use. While one class went with a former student, I asked the second class to ponder the land use question while sitting quietly near the effigy mounds on the north shore.

Nancy and I watched as I called them back and asked what they had learned. The answer I got caused us to just look at each other. I said, “Well, I guess we can go home, now,” because the answer felt like the very reason those mounds had been built.

One student said that she didn’t know if she had learned anything, but she had decided something. “I decided land appreciation is more important than land use.”

Mind Wind: My Domain

We have established the abundance of space in our universe. Here on this finite marble we call home, Earth, there is also an abundance of space. This became clear to me as I traveled across the states west of the Mississippi. We crossed miles and miles of open grasslands, desert, and mountains. Geographically, Arizona is the fourth largest state in our Union, so I was very surprised when I looked for my own space here.

Yuma has approximately 75 RV parks of various flavors. Most have spaces somewhere in the 2000 square feet range, many less. When we began looking for a spot, I literally became ill, sick to my stomach. We lived almost 8 years in our RV full time but never in one of those crowded parks.

My wife chose to work the first 4 years in Casa Grande, and we found a new RV park with fewer amenities but very large spaces set in the desert of Cactus Forest 30 miles away. We had a space the size of a city home lot set on the park edge and a view of saguaro-mesquite desert with trails to walk. She said she made the choice for her dog, but I think she knew this country boy needed the room.

In Yuma Foothills, we found a lot to rent from another traveling nurse. We shared the space with them, but had plenty of room in a mixed neighborhood of homes, mobiles, and RVs. It seemed diverse in home style if not ethnicity. We also had a golf course and Fortuna Wash for the dog and me to wander. For Midwesterners, a wash is a stream bed dry almost all of the time—although I have seen it run wild a couple of times.

Now we live in 1300 square feet on a lot in a slow-growing development, so it still feels like I have plenty of space. There is also some undeveloped desert to walk with my dog, but it is not mine.

Mine, mine, mine. The place in Northern Wisconsin I call mine, or Lonesome Pines, is my domain. Nancy and I own it, all 27 acres. I can walk into my woods and be as alone as I want to be. Funny thing, though—I never feel alone there. Actually, regardless what the deed says, I don’t believe it is all mine. I just pay the taxes for the privilege of being adopted by the land as temporary caretaker.

The day will come when I have to let it go. The opportunity to “own” a special place, a personal space of some acres, comes along rarely. I bought one in 1974 and had to let it go in divorce in 1980. I didn’t find Lonesome Pines until 1998. But, someday, because of economics or declining caretaker abilities, I will have to say goodbye, again.

If there is a point, today, it is that space is abundant, but special places are not. This makes space similar to time. It is what it is–dependent upon our attitudes and perceptions, particularly regarding the relationship between place and us, a very personal relationship in my case. I leave you with a poem I wrote at the time I had to sell my little farm in Dane County in 1980.

But, hey, that got me to Beaver Dam Unified School District.


That old, run down farm,

Wasn’t all that much,

Twenty acres of silt over clay,

A barn and, half a house,

Too much work, too much money,

Never would reward,

It was a damned fool place all right,

So why do I miss it so?

And I have to let it go,

Too bad, I fit it so.