Some people walk this earth in delight, constantly at awe at the beauty that surrounds them, ever joyous of the wonder of nature. Mary Oliver, the poet,is one of those souls who marvels at the glories to be found at her feet, in the grass, in the air, on a fence. Her poetry delights me.

But I am not Mary Oliver.

When Iwas very young , there was a spot about 20 miles out of town called Fairyland.It was a lovely wooded area that was meant to capture the magic of some of the fairy tales we were all brought with- Snow White, Hansel and Grettle, wishing wells, witches… but to me it was not magic. When children had a birthday party it was the place to take all the guests to. From the highway you could see little houses painted in bright cheerful colors, paths winding enchantedly through the woods -all very sweet and mysterious. But once inside these woods the fanciful facade of mystery slipped away and it  became a place of menace and darkness and cruel surprise- voices would cackle and no one would be seen, doors would creak, but not move, witches would jump out and come running at you only to run behind a small building and disappear. It was terrifying.

I think of Life this very same way and on reflection, I realize Fairyland has always been the perfect metaphor: life is a path through the woods that only appears to be lovely, only appears to be safe. Instead it is replete with claws and teeth and razored armor that  is unleashed and unveiled sporadically, surprisingly and lethally. The good that happens is illusory, short-lived and without long term effect.

The Japanese have a word-sabishisa- which means an essential and pervasive sense of aloneness. it is a good word to describe Fairyland, to describe life… no matter how much we are able to cushion our walk through it, the reality is that we are alone. No matter how brightly the sun shines  or how wonderful the air smells when it rains, the sun shines and the rain falls on individuals. Alone. No matter how many children accompany you on your birthday trip to Fairyland, when the witch jumps out, when the voices cackle, they cackle for you alone. and you are terrified.

A Light that Shines

Under normal circumstances, I would be writing on my ag, hort, bee blog. But, I have had random thoughts that relate not to bees or agriculture, nor do the thoughts relate to horticulture or poultry. Thus, I turn to twopines.org for a guest-post.

Hound Gertrude

In my family, my blood-family, the family that I am genetically a part of, summers are a time of odd events that tend to be looked upon with darkness and sadness. Aunts, uncles, and grandparents have passed during the summer months. I can add a dearly loved dog to that list now. Gertrude passed this past Monday.  It is tough losing a dearly loved friend.  She was my wife’s shadow.  If you did not know where one was, you just needed to find one of them to find both.  My wife is taking the loss hard.  She loved Gertrude.  I loved Gertrude.

When Melissa and I had first been together and first were married, we had a trio of dogs.  Homer, Sarge and Gertrude.  The trio is now down to a mono – Sarge remains.

We have other dogs, they are great creatures, but there is something that, whether it is purely an imagined force or actually real, exists for those special creatures that leave an impression on you.  Gertrude was a force in the house; her presence was always felt and the void it has left is sadly noticeable.  She shined brightly.  Rest in peace, Gertrude.

Hibbing, Mn.-A Whole Lot More: Trash

I must have missed the announcement.

It will probably be in the Hibbing Tribune one of these days. Most announcements are made after the event has taken place. And most ads are in a day or two after the sale has ended.It’s Hibbing… trying hard to come into the 20th century.

At any rate, it appears that there is a new venture in town. Actually, in the middle of town. Based on a daily  visual inspection of the site, I have to conclude  that what used to be the Memorial Building parking lot is now the site of the new Downtown Garbage Dump. Go Hibbing!! I knew you would be able to take a bad situation (high school kids dumping their litter-lunch bags, beer cans, liquor bottles, condoms, needles, shoes, ) and turn it into something that the whole town can use… another place to leave our garbage. Thanks Hibbing High School for your contributribution to the community. And I don’twant to leave out the Hibbing Police-thank you for ignoring the littering laws, and the laws prohibiting under age drinking. But, hey..I understand that sometimes you just can’t do your job. Don’t worry, it’s Hibbing and that’s O>K. Also I want to thank the previous mayor and the present one for never addressing this when it was a problem. But that’s o.k. , too.. time heals all wounds and now we have a growing trash dump in the middle of town. I’m thinking this will make it so much easier for the curlers when they come from out of town.. when they ask for directions to the Memorial Building, just say..”You can’t miss it! It’s right next to our new In Town Garbage Dump.”

Hibbing : Ore and a Whole Lot More – Trash

Uncomfortable with Excellence

Meg reminded me that it’s time to renew our passports.
So I stopped in at the post office here in Hibbing, Mn. and was told that they no longer have a passport center. I was handed a sheet of paper with two town addresses on it and was told to go there for help. Both towns were about twenty miles away… in one direction it was Virginia, Mn and in the other direction it was Pengilly, MN.
PENGILLY?Wait a minute! You have got to be kidding!! Pengilly must have a population of 200. Hibbing’s is roughly 20,000!! Virginia’s is about 10.000. What’s up? Does the Post Office know something about Hibbing that  many here won’t admit?
I’ve been mulling this over and have concluded that this is just another indicator of the continuing downward slide of our town.
Hibbing used to be the jewel in the crown of the Iron Range of Minnesota.The largest city. The hub. The site of the largest open pit mine in the world.
But things have changed. And despite a new marketing push to get Hibbing back on the map, the glaring reality is that the Hibbing we used to know and love is fastly disappearing.What remains is a mere shadow of it’s former self.
I awoke thinking of this and decided to have a slogan contest for the new Hibbing.  Here are some of the mottoes I came up with. … I think i can see these as bumper stickers.. or on the water tower.

Hibbing- Uncomfortable with Excellence
Hibbing-Ore and not much more
Hibbing-Striving for second best and proud of it
Hibbing-going, going, gone
Hibbing-what’s a “Hibbing”?

Poor Hibbing. Instead of cleaning up its streets, tightening up its standards, it chooses to use a smoke and mirrors campaign to lull the already slumberous inhabitants into thinking that black snow is the true color of snow; that a Memorial building parking lot so thick with trash left by the high school students that it spills over into the street and the adjacent homeowners yards is totally alright;that holes left in the street after work is done by the public utilities is not only acceptable but the industry standard ;and that a downtown “retail” district with 5 stores is a bustling hub of commerce.
Poor Hibbing, where every block has a 2 or 3  houses for sale and just as many sex offenders.
What’s not to love about our little burg.
Hibbing, the town that closed its eyes, turned its back and insists that it’s moving forward.
Poor Hibbing.


Got To Keep Your Nose Clean

basset sarge, with his big nose
Basset Hound Sarge; Big Nose, May 25, 2010

Growing up, we would hear stories from afar from my aunt and uncle. They were nurses working as expatriates in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In addition to living the nurse-life in Arabia, they traveled. They traveled all over the world – mostly in Africa and southeast Asia. They eventually returned to the U.S. and settled in the Portland, OR, area. When they would visit Hibbing, it was always a thrill to listen to stories from them, particularly my uncle. He had a cadence and style that lent well to story telling. Also, upon seeing my sister and I for the first time in a while, he would always ask, “How you doing? Doing good? You keepin’ your nose clean? Make sure your keep your nose clean.”

Being a young child, the nuances of the English language (or language in general) are not fully grasped. Being asked by an adult, “Are you keeping your nose clean?” is taken literally. I would almost instinctively check my nose to make sure nothing was hanging or dripping from it. It was not until I was a eleven or twelve that I realized what he was talking about; he was not telling me to get that dripping snot out of my nose, but he was telling me to stay out of trouble. Even though it was anecdotal at best for it being a “wise bit of worldly advice”, it stuck with me as a clever way of telling someone to stay on the straight and narrow.

Fast forward now – at least twenty-five years – my aunt and uncle still live in the Pacific Northwest. They have two grown boys who are each in their early twenties. The few times my sister and I saw our younger cousins as we were growing up was few and far between. They seemed different, but we just attributed it to their left-coast upbringing as well as the large age difference between us.

Jordan, the younger of the two, at last I heard, had gone to college. Information sort of stops there. He may have graduated, he may have a job, he may even be leading a normal, ho-hum life in the Pacific Northwest. I do not know because the only information I hear is about his older brother, Ean. Ean, as I heard, tried college. He did not like college, so he dropped out and moved to Washington. He met a girl. A girl who had three children, already, from three separate fathers. It seems the wise adage of keeping your nose clean should have crept into the minds of someone and at least raised the hackles of the hair in their nose. Something smells bad about this situation and it more than the diapers from those bastard children.


Ean and wonder-girl were soon expecting (her fourth child from as many fathers). The child was born, and soon things were getting into a sense of what might be called “normal.” Apparently, one of the other children had a problem with potty training. This is about where the story diverted into completely foreign territory for most of the family (including myself). Instead of having the wise words of keeping your nose clean from his father instinctively embedded in his consciousness, Ean finds the only reasonable thing to do is to shove the child’s face into urine – like a dog. The “face to urine method” does not work with dogs, and it did not work with a child, either. It did have the added feature of a court appearance, supervised visits with his own child, and various other fun things.

In my mind, this is the value-material that the producers of Cops would be after; just add a small bag of marijuana, or a crack pipe, maybe an empty bottle of Olde English 800 malt liquor, and make sure that Ean has a sleeveless, beer-stained off-white t-shirt on when the police arrive. You would have late-night-television-gold.

Fast-forward, again, to modern times (a couple weeks ago). Ean is now being accused of sexually molesting his own daughter. Wonder-girl has a new live-in-boyfriend and are expecting. She is now up to five children, and this be her sixth. Not actually knowing my cousin on a personal level, I am not able to comment on the validity of the accusation.

Again, this foreign territory to me. My day to day involves getting up, dealing with having lupus, getting the dogs situated for the day, heading off to the University where both my wife and I work. Spring through fall, I tend gardens and keep bees. In my off time, I read things like Wallace Stegner’s Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, or Deborah Cadbury’s Chocolate Wars. Court appearances, supervised visitations, and all the like are simply not in my

I am callous to the situation because this all seems preventable if one had simply kept their nose clean.

Time out of mind…

Kathleen and Bunch of Onions; circa 1982

Alex said, “Did you used to plant Blue Hubbard squash? I seem to remember some knobbly, large squashes in the garden when i was young.”
Really? Sometimes I fear I can barely remember my name ..and what day it is passes me by easily.
We chat abit more about gardens and ordering seeds and soil and he says, “Why don’t you go out in the garage and look at the journal you used to keep. I think it’s still there.”
He’s right. It is still there and the first entry is marked, May 29, 1982. A lifetime ago.
I have kept meticulous records. Amazingly precise. Amazing considering that I had two very small children and a house in the process of being dismantled and
reconstructed. But I had been brought up to know the pleasure and need of eating and growing your own produce.I knew the smell and taste of carrots fresh out of the ground, washed under the hose and eaten leisurely was superior to any found in a grocery store. And the same could be said for just about any other fruit or vegetable. My mother had turned over our backyard to a huge garden that was a riot of any vegetable she could squeeze in.
I brought my diary in to the house, poured a cup of tea and sat down at the kitchen table to read it. I had titled it “Garden Plots” hoping i’m sure that someday someone would see it and mistake my recordings for the musings of a true artist, a true writer.
May 29, 1982. Meg was almost 4 and Alex was about 1 1/2. In fact, Alex was little enough that i recall perching him in the rigid frame baby backpack and digging my garden with him peering over my shoulder. Yes, I did. I dug the whole garden from scratch-cleared the grass out, and “double “dug it- which was the Mother Earth approved technique, also known as French Intensive gardening. And then I planted it. And planted it. And drew it all out in my journal.And notated and annotated every single seed type or plant that went in the ground. I reported on the weather conditions, the soil conditions, and , of course, how it all turned out in the fall.
And i did plant Blue Hubbard squash and they weighed between 10 and 14 pounds each! But the Sweet Mamas out shone them all.. they were firm and sweet and grew in only 50 days which was a wonderful thing asour growing season being so short.
I have done the math also on how long ago that was. Long enough ago to almost have forgotten. Had I not received a phone call from Alex propelling me back, back to a slim young mother with a bandana on her hair and a baby on her back. And another standing by asking, What’s this one, momma?” And me saying, “your grandmother used to plant raspberry bushes just like this when I was little. .Wait till the berries come and you taste them.” And the berries did come.
And those children did grow up. And it was 30 years ago.

The end of Christmas as we knew it.

Well, it’s over.

We no longer celebrate Christmas. One good  reason is that no one is a Christian anymore. Christ’s birthday just doesn’t resonate. We’re heathens. This knowledge didn’t just dawn on us-we’ve seen it coming for quite awhile. It’s just that this year we said it outloud. As in, “happy solstice!!”. Lots of talk about the shortness of daylight and the longness of dark….we went on about the simultaneous lunar eclipse..quite the heathens. But the reality is that what with the grown kids work schedules and their living out of town, we just can’t get together on December 25th anymore. So we meet when we can and call it “the holidays”. Which got me thinking about that word: holiday. Of course it means “holy day”… that’s the easy part. The hard part is what makes a day holy. Certainly it should take more than to be on the liturgical calendar of some religious organization. Quite possibly something miraculous should be associated with it… fire, birth, death, blood… something more than enforced gift giving. Something along the lines of commemoration …that would make it holy..

So instead of going on about the fanciful acts of some equally fanciful fellow purported to live 2K+ years ago, we’re commemorating ourselves…our lives, our pasts, our people.. great and small. those here and those there.We told stories, laughed, had moments of silence when we all couldn’t help thinking about those who made the fires, birthed the babies, died too young, and gave their all..

Each year those crowded around the fire laugh and hold back the hands of time.. this year the clock actually stopped at 2pm.. what power in our little circle!!But we knew that it was only a small reprieve-new batteries confirmed what we all knew already: time marches on.

Celebrate what you have now. Remember the good things that have passed. Our own lives are precious enough to celebrate at least once a year.

It was so good to have you here.. thanks for making the journey, for lighting the fire, for keeping this small tradition going. for telling the stories, eating the food. for loving.