leave old job....leave old home...enter new home...engage new life...maintain what matters

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Place of Our Own

Oh to be hiding in the burrow weeds.  Just me and my brother, like mice snuggling in our cozy grass tunnel out here in the field. 

“Mike-y!  Steve-y!” 
“Shhh!  That’s mom again.  She’ll never find us.  And besides, we don’t want to go in.”
So long ago.  Yet I can still smell that comforting grass.  And see Steve, his adorable smile illuminating our burrow.  Now, fifty years later---just when I needed it---I found such a place of my own again.  Like our burrow weeds, how you get there matters as much as the place itself.
When stars yet beckoned, I rolled out of bed.   Ah, I love to look upon Linda’s sleeping face:  so peaceful  Not easy to keep it that way in our one room cabin.  Mouse-silent, I open the refrigerator and find my prune juice (I am 55).  
Cradling my tea thermos, laptop on my back, I click the door behind me and float beneath the shadowy trees to my dew streaked Prius.  Headlights lead me down the hill, past Sandy Dietz (I know she’s drinking her coffee in her breakfast window) to our driveway.  Even before I turn, I feel the thrill.  Misty dawn streaking red upon the valleys.  With something near reverence, I approach the barnwood clad shed. 
I push open the side door and peer inside.  Just enough light leaking through the little windows to see my way across the gravel floor without tripping over the tractor’s 3pt hitch.   Fortunately, my feet know the way up the wooden stairs, each step darker.  Last step.  My right hand probes the rough, unfinished wall.  There it is:  thin, cold steel.  Snap!  Snap!  Down come the locks.  Creak!  I swing the window open.  Ah, the moist breeze upon my face.  And light!  Golden dawn, fresh from the fields, now entering. 

Turning around, I can see it:  my chair, a welcoming on the other end of the room.  

But wait, the ritual is not yet complete.  The best remains.  I squeeze between my chair and the boxes lining the short walls and find again the thin, cold steel.  Snap!  Snap!  I hold my breath as I swing the big hayloft door wide. 
Ho!  My!  Gosh!  The Land!  Fog blankets the distant pond.  Leaves of grass, gray yet in their beds, shiver with the promise of day.  The promise of life!  Hope, sometimes stifled by the night, now rekindled in all its glory.  And here I stand, looking out upon it all from this, this hayloft door, this place of our own.
Like the burrow weeds, the hayloft gives me so much.
Especially solitude.  Unlike Superman’s, my place is not a fortress.  Rather it welcomes.  Not only me in the morning but the Land, dawn, the bluebirds, and you on that glad day you arrive.  For all indeed are welcomed, welcomed into solitude if so desired.  For with solitude comes so much. 
Perspective for one.  “My house is made of sand, isn’t it, Steve?” The excavator, just getting used to my off-the-beaten-path talk,  looked at me crossed eyed.  “I’ve been watching from the hayloft, truckload after truckload of sand dumped and tamped into the foundation of our house. 
Last week, I thought my house would be made of concrete.  But if we were to pour all this sand on one pan of some gigantic scale and  all the concrete on the other, which way would the balance tilt?”
“Never thought about it before,” said Steve.  I could see the wheels turning.  Admit it or not, he enjoyed this perspective.  “Let me see.  Last week we poured 9 loads of concrete, at 9 yards a load.  Today we backfilled 24 loads of sand at 12 to 14 yards per load.  Concrete weighs a little more:  3000 pounds a yard.  Sand is 2700.”  Smoke rolled out of Steve’s ears.    “Figure 500,000 pounds of sand.  Way heavier.  Put that in your blog.”
I don’t know why for sure, but this place of my own also brings courage.  Courage to be as me as I can be.  To write this blog.  To pursue my calling---my novel, a vision of hope---illuminating the veiled wall that separates humanity from divine destiny and  inspiring a generation to tear it down.  To let words, guiding images, take shape. To dare to not only discover but to bring the vision forth.  Absolutely crazy?  Yes!  Absolutely engaging?  Yes!
So beware if ever you come to the hayloft, or discover a place of your own. You never know where that cozy tunnel of solitude might take you.
“Mike-y!  Steve-y!”
I wonder who’s calling us now?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Goodbye Sweet Girl

Savannah!  Savannah!  Savannah!   Aww, look at you, you smile-faced girl.  Uh-oh! onto the back already?  Well, why wouldn’t I rub your belly?  After all, you’re the Wonder Dog and you’ve been wondering where we’ve been.  Haven’t you sweet girl?
And now, for the first time, I’m wondering where you are.  It’s been two long and lonely days now since you crossed over, finally escaping the ravages of the cancer.  And I’m still no closer to answering my big question:  how do I approach the Land without you, without Savannah the Wonder Dog?
I mean, you came seven years ago, the first time we camped, just down the hill, across the road and up again from your house. And why not, we were on your land after all.  That piece of paper that said we now own it didn’t mean much to you.
Last night, on that very campsite, Linda and I built our little cooking fire in front of your mounded grave, where you always curled in the tall grass at the lip of the hill overlooking the pond.  We recalled how, as night floated up the valley, we could barely see your black body, more like imagining you’re there.  But now it’s like that all the time and it’s more than my heart can bear. 
Yet, if I learned one thing from you in your final days, it’s keep on living.  Here you were, tumor pushing out your front teeth and still you’d do what really mattered.  And maybe that was your secret.  Only do what’s important and stop doing everything else.  So you made it quite clear what we shouldn’t do and what we should do.
Savannah the Wonder Dog’s rules for a good life:
Love.  Always and completely, with abandon and without condition.  Whimper in ecstasy.  Belly rubs are a pretty good way to express it.
Walk.  Couple times a day at least.  Don’t talk.  Engage the Land.  Get off the main path.  Put your nose down and follow little trails.  Flush turkeys, then prance proudly.
Eat.  Lots of good food.  Turn your nose away from crap (well, actually you might eat that, too).  Clean your plate.  Seek opportunities to get more good food.
Sleep.  As close as you can to those you love.  Who you sleep with is far more important than what you sleep on.
Protect.  Those you love against grave threats.  Especially at night.  Look (and sound) ferocious.  Even if outnumbered. Be willing to die for them. 
Be loyal.  Be there for family, always, always, always.  Make sure they always know where you are and never doubt you.  Persevere no matter what and don’t complain, not a hint, about how hard it is to remain loyal. 
Be.  When all else is done (love, walk, eat, sleep, protect, be loyal).  Don’t add another thing to the list.  Don’t fill the space with activity and chatter.  Discover the joy of sitting in silence not far from those you love.

So my sweet girl, I guess I do know how to approach the Land without you.  Your rules are simple to remember, if not challenging to perform like you did.  And I know what you’d tell me about my broken heart, about enduring the pain without you at my side.    Love.  Walk.  Eat.  Sleep. Protect.  Be Loyal.  Be.
As my friend Randy said, you got me to the Land.  Finally.  Now it’s my job to live it. 
So I guess this isn’t good-bye.  It’s just getting to know you in a different way, my fingers no longer rubbing your warm, black belly.  I’ll do my best to not let you down.  Oh Savannah!  Oh sweet girl!  Oh Wonder Dog!

Monday, August 15, 2011


If only dear old dad were sitting next to me, gazing out the hayloft door at the riveting scene below:  men pouring footings---not only the foundation but the first material---for our House the Land Built.

The earthy smell of a deep, straight-sided hole. 

The suction of mud underfoot.  Straight lines of bright string.  The wooden thud of hammers on forms.  The sparks and burnt-steel smell of sawing rebar.  And of course, the slosh, swoosh and intoxicatingly fresh smell of concrete.

Granted things are different now than in Rosy Larsen’s proud block-laying days:  pumped concrete, poured walls, cell phones strapped to the hip.  

Still, it’s men at work.  Cigarette smoking, f-en-heimer slinging, Popeye armed men.    Not that they all work as hard as dad, but then he was the owner-builder-paycheck writer. 

 “Huh Mike,” dad would say if we could stand---boot toes hanging over the sheer lip---and peer down at my just poured footings, “whaduya think huh Mike?”  
“It doesn’t seem real,” I’d say.  “It all happened so fast.  Linda and I worked so hard for so long planning all this and now hey presto! here it is.  The cement guys show up in the morning and by three in the afternoon we’ve got footings.  No changing the footprint now.  Cast in concrete as they say.”
“It’s gonna be real nice,” dad would assure me with a smile. 
Then, when bluebirds began swooping into the great pit of our house, we’d forget all about footings and muddy trowels and we’d walk down the hill a little ways and light a fire in the pit.  There we’d share tales about what really matters:  the howl of the coyote, the smell of bread baking in the cardboard oven, the smoke, swirling, hmmm better shift the wind screen just a tad. 
Of course none of this ever happened.  Dad, ill as he was his final years, never made it to the Land.  Never sat upon the John Deere.  Never gazed down the long sloping prairie to the hazy Whitewater Valley and beyond to the silos on the far ridge.  Sad as I am, I also know that he’s here.  Right now. 
Thank you, dear old dad, for roots.  Not only the roots of my new house and the roots of my love of the Land but the roots of my ‘ruthless prioritization’, never forgetting to focus on what really matters.  And right now, at this very moment, what matters is the wren flicking his tail upon the concrete guy’s trailer and the swallow, mouth open, banking hard along the excavated dirt mountains and, of course, the bluebird, perched atop the rebar showing off his beautiful late afternoon feathers.

Monday, August 8, 2011


I’ve crossed over.    
Last Monday, after a final heart-wrenching garden tour, we locked the back door, click! and left the old house for the last time.  Black clouds thundered as we exchanged hugs and best wishes with Mark and Kari, the young buyers.  We also exchanged a house and a check. 

While Linda tried out her new “work-digs” (a couple upstairs rooms with our dear friends Doug and Monica in NE Minneapolis), I moved into our two (temporary) homes:  cabin and shed.  The one room 20’x20’ cabin rests between the landlord’s (Kim, Troy and their 3 daughters) house and a cornfield. 
Here we eat and sleep with Kirby cat---whose learning not to spend all his time under our bed---and when we can, Kim and Troy’s Savannah the Wonder Dog, now likely in her final weeks if not days. 

The shed---a ¾ mile gravel drive or a ½ mile prairie-pasture-woodland walk---stores most of our old house.  Fortunately we’d donated, sold or trashed much of it. 

I thrilled to the task of building a scrap lumber readily accessible shed-kitchen (crock pot, Fiesta ware, canned tomatoes…).  I reluctantly rebuilt the “mouse-proof” storage (furniture, winter wear, blankets) after spying mouse droppings littered over all like black pepper.  The urine-reeking tarp covers squealed as I dumped their scurrying contents onto the driveway, now their final resting place.  Mouse-proof now?  Perhaps.  But upstairs in the hayloft, quiet and order calm me as do the well-stacked boxes, wicker chair seating and of course the amazing sawdust toilet, odor free as ever. 

And Friday it began:  the new house.  Stakes and string and a lot of imagination. 

Tom the builder says Steve will start excavating this Wednesday with concrete poured the following week.  Perhaps.

I’m engaging new life.  Making space for stacks of heating wood (fallen boxelder, willow, elm, oak, apple). Buckthorn met its end through chain saw and the blue dabs of Roundup death.  My sweat-soaked shirt tore down the back as I peeled it off, giving the biting flies quite an opportunity as I muled the spiny buckthorn to a combination brush pile / snow fence.  No more buckthorn on the homesite’s 300’ hedgerow.  I look forward to removing this invasive from the remaining mile and a half of Land hedgerow, unleashing the long-suffocated woodland wildflowers.  
And oh the wildflowers, our prairie, I can’t tell you how I delight in its emergence.  We identified and welcomed three new flowering forbs to our prairie family: rosin weed, downy sunflower and starry campion.  Four years since we planted their birthing seeds, they awe me with their patience.
And here I am, maintaining what matters.  Blog.  E-mail.  Text.  Phone.  Digitally shrunk distance.
The bridge of crossing is long.  Yet, right now, as I gaze over the bed out the window where the corn is but the floor of the sky, I can’t imagine feeling more blessed.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your thoughts and prayers.