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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Time Traveler

Aaah Friday, the end of another productive week of house building;  Tom and his crew of two finally seemed ready to attach steel to the roof.    
“Wow!,” I said.  “Looks like you guys can relax for the weekend before you start tinning on Monday.”
You need to understand, Tom is polite.  Winona County polite.  Not only carefully choosing his words, but somehow even managing to control any negative facial expression.  Still, I saw it.   The slight cock of his head, half a degree off plumb maybe.  The blip of an eyebrow. 
“What have I done?” I thought.  “Did I say something terribly wrong?” 
I felt time slowing, as if my life were a movie where all action suddenly freezes, except for me.  I fished down into the depths of my mind, so murky.  “Must.  Find.  Problem.”  With an exhausting effort, I squeezed and twisted my brain.  Finally, mercifully, the water began to clear.  I yanked  on my thought line.  Splash!   Out of the water, it leapt high.  I could see it.  Clear reality.  The magnitude of my folly revealed at last.
“Monday!”  I shook my head.  The movie ended.  I turned back to my life.  “It’s not Friday!  It’s Monday!”
I felt dizzy, almost sick, as I explained myself to Tom.  “It’s because of my friend Heather and her boys.   They’re here to camp.  I forgot it’s their MEA break at school and assumed it was the weekend.”  Tom was great about it, actually, joking it off.   
But I was far from great.    I knew I had committed a ‘work world’ sin:  mistaking Monday for Friday of all things.  Yet that wasn’t the worst of it.  Like the Star Trek android, Data, I was still struggling to recalibrate my internal chronometer.   Time, I was discovering, is so much more than a flashing light on my phone, or an internal sense.  It’s physical.  Visceral.   Soon my entire being remembered it’s Monday, both determined and resigned.   I could have easily sat down with Heather, a former colleague at Medtronic, and gotten to work like we’d done for years. 
I can’t say when I became dominated by time, but even little Mike was  some kind of efficiency freak.   “Best to carry the bowl of popcorn and the book I’m reading and this full glass of milk into the living room all at the same time.”  This served me well throughout school and my long corporate careers at Seagate and Medtronic.  Producing maximum output in minimum time impressed teachers and management.  Oh blessed internal chronometer, light my way with your time display. 
Fortunately for me, a new truth is surging upward, like prairie grasses pushing from beneath, cracking the hard surface of a silicon lie.  For as I said goodbye to Tom and began walking up the driveway to rejoin Heather and the boys, I felt a tingle, growing to a thrill.  My feet nearly floated off the gravel.  I’d done it!  I’d broken free!  I’d achieved escape velocity from the most powerful and pervasive force of my life:  Time.
Until my Medtronic severance money runs out, I’m off the corporate merry-go-round.  Rather than Outlook Calendars and Gantt Charts, my life now pulses with the rhythms of the earth.   Yes, I am here on the job site every day.  But Tom has given me a great gift.  He manages and worries about the schedule so much, I barely have to.  I’m allowed to let go.   
A bud unfurls.  The leaf basks green in the light.  Blazes red.  Falls to earth.  A bare twig rattles.  The great story of life. And death.  And life renewed.    But is time the same for that leaf as for me?    I’m beginning to have grave doubts.
I also wonder if time is really just a character in a story.  A very engaging and useful character, but no more.  And no less a fictional creation of my imagination than Amelan or Emo or any of the characters in my Corridor novel.   Time the tool.  Time the tyrant.  Time my trusted friend, so predictably and reliably there.  And least he was so on Monday?  Or was it Friday?   
This week I continue to revel in an inspiring comment from Brad, a long-time Medtronic friend.   “I hope you do not have to go back to work ever again, and can enjoy Rah-dur.   While I must earn money one day again, I don’t think I could go all the way back to work, especially with all the travel. 
Unless it were time travel.   A week ago I would have thought such a notion comical.  Now I’m not so sure.  I’m imagining what it might mean to float “weightless” in time, as an astronaut does in space.  I’ve only engaged new life on the Land for three months?  What will three years bring?
Maybe I’ll learn there is no such a thing as three years.  Whenever that is, I hope you'll join me.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Yoga Hawk

I smeared my apple---picked from our east wilds, some long forgotten orchard now hidden amidst cherries and tangles of gray dogwood---with creamy peanut butter, fresh from the Bluff Country Coop.  “A successful shopping trip,” I smiled at Linda, seated next to me in our cabin’s “patio”, the old wood shed.  Indeed, we’d pretty much found everything we wanted at Fleet Farm:  telescoping apple-picker to snare those high and wild fruits, cedar posts to support our Humanure Hacienda, 30 reflective stakes to guide you down our 1500 foot driveway some winter eve. 
 Linda took another sip of her steaming Roibus tea.  Ahhh!  We were savoring the last of the year’s warmth.  Yet, as we gazed west across the stubble of recently harvested corn, precious day was already slipping away from us.  And somewhere, not far beyond the veiled sun, we could already feel winter peeking over the shoulders of the clouds.
 “So, what should we do now?” she asked me.
I shrugged.  Sometimes, when life is going so well, I intentionally delay.  As if, somehow, I could forever wrap myself in the moment: my apple, her tea, the warm blanket of gathering October clouds. 
“How about Yoga?”  she prodded.  We’ve tried online YogaGlo a few times in our little cabin.  Now lower your leg all the way to the right.  Hers lands on my belly.  Mine is stopped, pretty much vertical, by the bed.  Now, at the wall, kick up into a handstand.  What wall?  They’re all consumed by our “stuff”. 
Linda must have perceived my resistance.  “How about outside?” she offers. 
Something triggers in me.   “How about at the house?  Up in the Yoga loft?  I’ll sweep up the sawdust.”  The Yoga loft:  the name appeared on the first drawing Architect Paul ever showed us of our one and only upstairs room.  I wasn’t even doing Yoga then.  Now, thank to Linda’s prodding, my wonderful teacher Monica, and Ali, our Yoga grandmother, it’s part of me, physically and spiritually.  
“There’s still no walls.”  She was right.  I was imagining handstand, a pose right at the limit of my yogability.  Sometimes, I even get up.  Now I pictured kicking up in the under-construction Yoga loft, banging my heels on a stud, or missing the studs altogether and toppling into a pile of sharp tin.
Linda---perceiving perhaps the ebb and flow of my enthusiasm---pounced .  “How about the east porch?”
“Genius!”   In minutes, we’d stuffed the Prius with Yoga mats, laptop, phones (for mobile hotspot), warm clothes and blankets, camera and wine (hoping for a celebration of success).  Down the cabin’s steep driveway, up Calico Hill Rd then down our long driveway, our home’s new roof just peeking over the ridge as we approached it.   Amidst pallets of steel roofing, we unloaded, after a good sweeping of the east porch. 
Ahhh! The east porch.   That grandest of views, now covered and protected from the northwest winds and darkening clouds.   And there, cross-legged before us, sat Noah Maze, our tiny digital Yoga instructor shining out atop a cooler, asking us to sing our Anusara invocation, the beginning of a level 1:2 class culminating in handstand.  Yes, handstand.  The east porch has one wall of unfinished OSB. 
As Noah gently builds toward our handstand climax, all goes well.  Lots of down dog, plank, arm-strengthening, shoulders-on-the-back, kind of stuff.   Then, just as we’re about to get serious, Noah is replaced by the swirling arrow of death.  The dreaded “rebuffer”.   Dark clouds roll by to the south.  Bare feet go chill. 
“Ok, you lead us!” I say to Linda.
And, after mumbling something about waiting for Noah and there’s really nothing to do, she guides us, wonderfully.   Shoulder stretch.  Shower pose.  L-pose.  Then, finally, we’re ready to try it.  Handstand.  Not only first Yoga class in our new home, but handstand.  We take turns.
Linda goes first.  Begin with table pose:  hands and knees.  Melt the shoulder blades into the heart (ho my gosh she’s so gorgeously strong)  Knees up.  Walk the feet toward the hands until bent like sawhorse legs.  Then, finally, the kick.  She tries so hard.  Kick after exhausting kick, but her arthritic hips just aren’t going to spread her legs apart enough.  I spot her.  Up she goes: a thing of beauty, so straight, balanced inches from the wall.
My turn.  I’m tired.  And scared.  As always.  Maybe more than always.   Table pose.  Melted heart.  Knees up.  My feet walk toward my head.  “What’s that?”  Upside-down, I’m gazing east between my legs.  And there, just over the tips of the tall grass, soars hawk.  He swirls, dives and just where he disappears over the ridge, lightning.  One bolt, sudden and silent. 
I kick.  I’m up.   In the past, I’ve done pigeon pose.  Crow.  Even eagle.  And now, for the first time, Yoga hawk.  Not the pose, mere handstand, but the action:  prairie root to rise.  My hands, rooted into the mat, draw energy up from the Land itself.  And I rise.  I soar. 
Upside-down, heels against the OSB wall, I gaze between my shaking arms.  Past green grass.  Past golden aspens.  Past dark clouds.  To my new life.  It’s here!  I’m engaging.  It’s already here! 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Making Love with the Enemy

So when did my hatred begin?  I wasn’t born with it, though, as a child, I certainly did not love them either.  Not like the burr oaks with their long, almost scary, arms.  Or the apple, with a built-in ladder to all but its highest fruit.  No, boxelder was a fine tree, certainly better than those ‘suburban’ ash trees springing up in front of every new rambler in Albert Lea.  Yet, when I finally learned to hate boxelder, I suddenly found myself surrounded by nodding heads.  “Damned boxelder bugs!”  Come to think of it, that squishy-soft house invader is the only excuse I’ve heard for hating the tree.     Strangely, I don’t hate the bean field for unleashing the crunchy sand dunes of Asian beetles into my home.
I’d like to blame the Land.  First the Land tricked me.  We first saw the 62 acres when all snow and gray twigs.  “I wonder what all those small trees are?  Dogwoods?” I asked the realtor.  He shrugged.  He knew.  I just know he knew.  And, oh the spring of my discontent, when those all-too-familiar leaves flushed so yellow green.   “Boxelder!  We have 10,000 boxelders!”    
Boxelder choked out our pond, leaving all but a damp malaria breeding grounds.  
They marched out of the forest and onto our grasslands, defying our efforts to establish a prairie. 
And then, ho my then, they dared to shade out our oaks:  our precious, much loved saplings.  Sins such as this could not be borne.
War was soon underway, though the eventual victor was far from clear.  We bulldozed them into log mountains.  We chopped them to pieces with the brush-hog from hell.  We poisoned them: the blue-paint of death.  Along the entire half-mile long northern hedgerow, a legion of hired chainsaws, screaming and smoking, felled them like dominos.  We reserved the worst (or best) for the great mother of them all, whose children trample our once grass-carpeted pasture.  We girdled her.  Stripping a ring a bark, allowing us to watch her slow death as each year another limb succumbs to thirst.  First the mother. Then her children.  Genocide.
I can’t say when, not exactly, but at some point in the war my feelings toward boxelder began to change.  Perhaps it was the first controlled burn on our prairie.  As the flames danced up the grassy ridge, I not only felt the gratitude of the Land---like the first gasp of one saved from drowning---thanking us for restoring her long-last glory, but I perceived the thousands of charred boxelder saplings.  
Boxelder is not at home on the fire managed landscape.  No, my much loved oak is the tree of fire, thick bark shrugging off the flames.  I no longer had to worry about boxelder on the prairie.   
I looked around.  There stood mother tree.
I didn’t really want to admit it, but she was actually quite beautiful.  A rare boxelder specimen, her once lush limbs now look like bones, ghostly white and broken.   Still, it’s a long ways from guilt, acceptance even, to making love.
That required planning a home among boxelder:  the House the Land Built.  “Enable our connection to the Land,” we told Paul Neseth, our newly chosen architect.   Though not explicitly stated, there was a ‘boxelder exclusion’ assumed in that connection.   Then we decided that wood would heat our house.  What could be more connecting than swinging a maul, feeling the thud, hearing the crack and feeling the thrill as the wood reveals its inner secret of colors, swirls and, possibly, ants scurrying for safety.  
Though oak is the hallowed tree of fuel, boxelder deserves a place at its side.   Burns fast (perfect for four-ton, heat-storing masonry heater).  Easy to cut.  Easy to split.  Surprising streaks of red.  And, quick to throw off his coat, he never rots while standing.  Not to mention we have a million of them.  Heat for a life time.  And beyond and beyond and beyond.   Holding hands---or limbs---but not quite making love.
Then came boxelder bear.  Our friend Kevin’s dream come true:  chainsaw art.  “Pick any boxelder stump in the hedgerow.”  So many still remained from the chainsaw legions.    
Physical beauty but still not love making.
That took a horizontal surface.  “A big chunk of wood.”  That was Paul’s suggestion for our bathroom “vanity”.     And wouldn’t it be even more connecting if we chunked it from a land tree?   But only an oak had that girth and we certainly weren’t going to fell one of those.  But love is a funny thing.  It waits, almost rotting, until leaping unexpectedly into your arms. 
I was chain-sawing what remained of boxelder bear’s tree:  16” lengths for future splitting.  All done, save one.  One wide-girthed trunk.  And then I saw it, or better said, I felt it.  Possibility.  Somewhere inside that trunk was something I had to have, had to see, had to free.   Something beautiful.  Something compelling.  Something connecting.  And what more is love than the greatest of Connections?
And now, after a visit to Tom Heim, retired farmer with a love for milling trees, I’ve found that love. 

I never dreamed boxelder could be so beautiful.  All that changed was me.  My perception.  My commitment.  My connection. 
Maybe, if our relationship goes as I hope, she’ll rest in our bathroom, my finger tracing her round and smooth outline.

I hope she waits for me.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cover Your Stuff

The Sawdust Toilet Rap

“Cover your stuff.” One rule’s enough.
To keep the place smelling sweet when you done what you do.
From the sawdust pail, just fill the scoop.
One scoop for one and two scoops for two.
Cover your stuff.  Cover your stuff.  Come on down and cover your stuff.

But when she trumpets: “I want to dump it.”
Then you know you’re in trouble.  What do you do?
Cause under all that dust is one hot mess.
What’ll she say of a week’s worth of pooh?
Cover your stuff.  Cover your stuff.  Come on down and cover your stuff.

There ain’t nothing for it.  She wants to throw it.
So you take her and the bucket to the humanure heap.
There’s the pile.  Here’s the rake.
Now dig a nice little hole for the stuff to sleep.
Cover your stuff.  Cover your stuff.  Come on down and cover your stuff.

Now the deed of dread has come to a head.
There’s a bucket and it’s heavy; you got to lift it high
Over the heap.  Over the hole.
And when it falls, I won’t blame you if you cry.
Cover your stuff.  Cover your stuff.  Come on down and cover your stuff.

Now the worst is done.  But there’s more to come.
Got to clean that bucket.  Give it a mop.
There’s the water.  There’s the brush.
And when you’re done just dump it on top.
Cover your stuff.  Cover your stuff.  Come on down and cover your stuff.

And oh my dear,  the end is near.
You get to cover all that mess until the smell is gone.
There’s nice clean straw.  Just heap it on.
And let God take care of what we’ve all just done.
Cover your stuff.  Cover your stuff.  Come on down and cover your stuff.

And then we pray, for compost one day,
A garden of full of goodies grown from part of us.
But until that day, we’ll keep doing our thing
In the toilet that we cover with clean sawdust.
Cover your stuff.  Cover your stuff.  Come on down and cover your stuff.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Just the Facts

6:06AM     Sitting in shed looking out hayloft door.  Fingertips protruding from gloves feel cold.  Google displays 41F in St. Charles.  Distracted by thermos of hot tea, Orion and unidentified night noises.  
Sunday Oct 2   Sitting in Judson church, alone in the 6th pew on the left.  First time in church since moving to the Cabin.  Communion bread chewy and tasty.  Lynn, mother of Anton who I mentored years ago, sits down next to me.  Discover she didn’t know we’d sold our house.  Felt embarrassed for assuming everyone knows the supposed big events of my life. 
6:29AM   Pink in SE sky.  Dog Star (Procyon) only star visible below Orion. 
April 2004   Purchased 62 acres in Elba township, Winona County, MN.   Though we kept trying on different names for it, all we’ve ever called it was The Land.
6:35AM   Great horned owl still hooting.
Feb 2007   Enrolled 41 acres into CREP program, providing us income from government in exchange for returning the acres to native prairie.  Jagged CREP boundary outlines a future 1600’ driveway to a 2 acre homesite.
6:43AM   Steel rim of thermos cup cold on my lips.  Orion hiding in the growing light.  
Nov 2007   Plant prairie seed into 41 acres.  Many experts tell us our method (no herbicide, drill straight into existing sod) will fail.
6:55AM   Poured more steaming hot tea from thermos into cup.  “Ahhh!”  Crows, well separated from one another, fly overhead and disappear beyond grassy ridge.
Jan 2009   Select Paul Neseth, Locus Architecture, to design new home.  Identify two main themes:  Welcome family, friends and neighbors.  Enable connection to the Land.
7:02AM   Toes cold.   Turn off LED lantern.
April 29 2011   I retire from Medtronic with severance package equaling pay until end of year.   My next source of income remains unknown.
7:05AM              Scott’s horse neighing.  Dakota the dog barking.  Crow cawing.   
Aug 1 2011        Closed on house in Minneapolis.  Moved into 20’ x 20’ rented cabin across road from the Land.  Linda begins working only Tuesdays and Wednesdays in Minneapolis.
7:12AM   Toes even colder.  Tea already lukewarm.
Aug 9 2011       Tom Fort, Fort Building and Supply, breaks ground on new house.
   Just before uploading blog, it occurs to me how facts---no matter how "true"---become a myth as I, the storyteller, arrange them.