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Stealing Away?

Tuesday, 25 Oct 2016, 21:23 UTC


Oh, man. It’s you?

Dude, what did you mean that you managed to steal away with Jenny…?


What did you mean by that?

By what? We went kayaking. We had peanut butter sandwiches. What on earth are you talking about?

That’s not what you wrote. I read what you wrote, and I see no mention of said kayak. You wrote that you managed to steal away with Jenny while Burt was cutting trees in the woods. And I happen to know that when your fair and industrious Trudy reads about this, well… I’m just sayin’ it ain’t gonna be pretty.

What? Wait. Look here… Oh no.

I think you need to start proof reading your stuff a bit closer, man.

Dude. For once you’re right.

The Fruits of Our Labor

Tuesday, 25 Oct 2016, 20:46 UTC

It didn’t take much thought to realize that my appearance on the scene in Michigan was not, in the end, all that helpful.

I did do a good job sitting next to the wood burning stove in the rocking chair in the evenings. And I did enjoy those Honeycrisp apples. And I did manage to steal away with Jenny for five hours while my industrious cousin felled six trees in the woods and cut them into stove-sized logs.

No. Wait.

I helped take the dock out of the water. Though as for that, my help is probably best characterized in this end-state shot — my contribution was the blue mug.

Thanks a lot, David. Looking forward having your help again next year!

Mr. Guinness

Monday, 24 Oct 2016, 18:46 UTC


When he was a puppy, Guinness went to Puppy School. Let’s just say… that he was not a high achiever.

As Trudy tells the story, he had trouble with the very first lessons in which the dogs were taught to sit. Still, he and she kept at it, day after day. And in the last session, the instructor brought over a towel and set it on the ground so that Guinness might have something cozier than cold ground to sit on. She had Trudy try the command again. 

“Sit,” Trudy said. And sit he did.

You see, he was a good dog. Even if he barked when he wasn’t supposed to bark. Even if he jumped when he wasn’t supposed to jump. Even when the ground was cold and the best approximation of a sit he could muster was lowering his rear end just a smidgen.

At the end of that Puppy School class, he got an award: Best Tail Wag. That was Trudy’s boy. Despite everything, he always had a big tail wag.


His last week was hard. He must have hurt so much that he stopped drinking from his water dish, opting instead for the pond from which he could drink without bending down.

And he stopped eating. Although, he’d stand in the kitchen wagging his tail slightly and look up at Trudy as if to ask if she could offer him something else, try again, because he loved it so much when she gave him snaaacks.

“I’m hungry,” his dark eyes would say, but he wouldn’t eat, and he was slowly wasting away.

And then last week, he bit my mom. Maybe she woke him from his favorite place on the Papasan cushion. Or maybe she touched his sore ears. Or maybe she came around him from behind and startled him. Whatever it was, he snapped at her and gave her a nasty bite that took us to the emergency room.

He felt bad. He wanted to tell her that he didn’t mean to do it. But he didn’t have a way to say he was sorry. Because he was old. Because he was deaf. Because he had cataracts. Because he hurt so much. Because he was perpetually thirsty. Because he was having a hard week. Because he was a dog. Because he was dying.


Late last night he and Trudy walked in the back yard. It was after midnight.

They went over to the pond where he drank for a while. They wandered around the yard — this yard that has been his Eden for 16 years. They stood in the half-light of the moon, visiting all his favorite places in the coolness of the evening.

He was saying goodbye to all his beloved places. He was walking his mommy around the yard to remind her what a happy life he had, how happy he was that she had rescued him, that she had been his mommy. He was saying goodbye to her last night as he must have been saying goodbye to me this morning on the bed, me with my hand on his head, he with his dark eyes staring gently into mine.

This afternoon, we buried him in the backyard. In a sunny spot in the butterfly garden beside the blooming Mist Flower and Golden Eye. We dug a deep hole and laid him in it, putting lavender-colored blossoms on his still-warm body.

Goodbye Mr. Guinness.

Loop and Lakefront

Monday, 17 Oct 2016, 20:12 UTC

From Midway to Gerald R. Ford: 25 minutes

West of Lake Odessa

Monday, 17 Oct 2016, 18:13 UTC

“We just pulled up to the gate,” I texted Burt and Jenny. “I need to get my checked bag, and I have a book to read.”

They had left their home in Kentucky well before the crack of dawn and were approaching Grand Rapids from the southeast. They were planning to pick me up at the Gerald R. Ford airport, and none of us were quite sure of the timing, which is why I had a book.

“Just west of Lake Odessa,” they responded. “Will call when we are close.”

“Lake Odessa!” I thought to myself.

In the days of our youth, my grandfather used to drive us diagonally across the lower peninsula of Michigan from Jackson to Grand Rapids following a rural route that took us thru Lake Odessa. And there on the south side of Michigan Highway 50 a block or two from the north shore of the lake was a Dairy Queen Brazier.

He’d slowly steer the car into the parking lot and announce that it was time for a snack. We’d all pile out of the car and get ice cream cones that tasted so good that… well, good enough to keep my grandfather stopping there for years, although as for that, the smiling faces of his grandchildren probably helped a bit.

And years after that, during the summer of ’78 while we worked summer jobs at the engineering firm where he worked, Burt and I followed followed our grandfather’s example. After work at the end of the week, we’d drive that rural route (which we both can still do with our eyes closed) and we’d stop at the Lake Odessa Dairy Queen. Every Friday evening that summer, we’d stop there with Jimmy Buffet and Randy Newmann and George Benson playing on the radio, and we’d have ourselves a snack. 

These were the things in my head as Burt and Jenny announced that they had just passed thru Lake Odessa.

“What did you tell him?” he asked her. He was driving. She had done the texting.

“That we were just west of Lake Odessa,” she said.

“Well,” he said. “He’s going to tell us to go back.”

Sitting in the airport reading their text, with horror I was imagining the Dairy Queen receding in their rear view mirror. I quickly texted back a response.

“Go back!” I said. “I have a book!”

The two of them laughed very hard, as did the three of us when they later told me the story.

A Walk in the Woods

Sunday, 16 Oct 2016, 21:12 UTC

B-57, the computer said. That wasn’t so bad. Even though I had forgotten to get my (Southwest) boarding pass at the appointed hour, a B-57 is fine if you’re flying alone.

Satisfied, I shut the computer and walked out the back door of the cottage to catch up with Burt and Jenny and the dogs who had set out into the night a few minutes before.

I took a step off the porch onto the cinder block path that leads to the camper. But you see I didn’t see the cinder blocks under my feet. And I didn’t see the camper, because I had just been staring into a computer screen, I could see absolutely nothing.

But I know this place. Well. 

So I just kept walking, avoiding the corner of the camper and the tree beside it just by muscle memory. And then I stood a while in the sandy turn-around place under the tall White Pine waiting for my eyes to adapt.

There was no adapting.

Except for a vague white glow of the moon mostly concealed behind clouds low on the eastern sky thru the woods, I could see nothing. Not the sand under my feet. Not the sky above me. Not the tall White Pine tree that was… right there, right were I expected it to be.

You see, I know this place. Well.

How far ahead could they be, anyway? I began to walk out into the darkness. Into the woods down the two-rut driveway, knowing that my feet would tell me if I began to walk off into the woods. 

I confess, I did this with my arms outstretched, even though I knew that place well. Because, well a White Pine to the nose just wasn’t worth the hubris of thinking I knew it a little too well.

I kept walking. Why my eyes weren’t adapting, I cannot tell you. But I was now fifty feet down the drive with no indication of Burt or Jenny or the dogs. And I could see absolutely nothing.

I stood still and stared and listened. Blackness. No sound. Not a peep. Not a woof. Where on earth did they go!? I kept walking but began to wonder if perhaps they hadn’t come this way after all.

So I reached into my pocket. I reached for my (I confess I did this.)… I reached for my phone, which I snapped into flashlight mode. It felt lame to do this, but I mean I was surrounded by utter, silent blackness, and it seemed equally silly at that moment to continue walking literally blindly into the woods without a light.

The camera flashlight came on. And at the very moment, there was a woof in the distance — a startled bark from a dog not used to shining iPhones in the depth of night. 

“It’s ok,” I said.

“Woof,” he said.

I turned off the light. And then there were two grey-white shapes bounding at me from the darkness. And two noses sniffing at my hands. And two good dogs turning around to tell Burt and Jenny that there was in fact no need to be alarmed.


Sunday, 16 Oct 2016, 20:12 UTC

“Where’s that other cinder block?” cousin Burt asked. He and Jenny and I were pulling the raft and dock out of the lake in preparation for the coming Michigan winter.

I looked to my left and saw one sitting on the hill beside the dry milkweeds with their swollen seed pods hanging from dry stalks.

“You mean this one?” I asked. (I am proud to say that I know just what a cinder block looks like — an example of my handiness in winter prep.)

I picked up the block and set it down on the wet sand beach.

There were two Red-backed Salamanders in the rectangle of dead grass where the block had been sitting. And since it was fall and had been cold the night before, they didn’t move even with the block gone and the sun shining down on them.

These salamanders are not endangered. And there is a lot of habitat in that place, so I suspect that the two of them were not alone. But I must say that seeing them there was one of the highlights of my long weekend.

The Theory that Jack Build

Sunday, 09 Oct 2016, 20:13 UTC

1. Drawings I Drew

Years ago, following a tradition that had been only a few years in the making, with the family gathered for the holidays, I prepared to recite some poetry. A new poem every year was the deal, and after that, folks could requests repeats from previous years.

That year, however, it came with a new twist: I had illustrated several drawings in the general theme of the poem that I intended to recite, and I proposed that the illustrations would go to the person that came closest to guessing the poem beforehand.

As I recall it, my brother guessed got “won”. But… what are you going to do with twelve of your brother’s drawings!? After a few years, they found their way back to me. And they’ve been boxed up ever since, surviving several moves, weathering the humidity of Houston and the heat of Central Texas, growing old along with their creator. 

So here we are.

This morning, the Fair and Industrious Trudy announced that we were going to tackle the maelstrom that is our garage. There were empty boxes to recycle. There was camping gear to organize. There were many dried-up pens that got thrown out. There were crayons and colored pencils for the boy nextdoor. There were trips to the Goodwill. And in the process, I decided to scan a bunch of papers and get rid of the originals: certificates and awards and that sort of thing. And when I came across those pictures from that Christmas long ago, I decided to scan and toss them.

With that deed done and with the garage looking so good that Trudy wanted to dance out there, I present to you the poem and the drawings.

2. The Poem that Goes Along With Them

Poetry credit: The Space Child’s Mother Goose by Frederick Winsor.

This is the Theory Jack built.

This is the Flaw
That lay in the Theory Jack built.

This is the Mummery
Hiding the Flaw
That lay in the Theory Jack built.

This is the Summary
Based on the Mummery
Hiding the Flaw
That lay in the Theory Jack built.

This is the Constant K
That saved the Summary
Based on the Mummery
Hiding the Flaw
That lay in the Theory Jack built.

This is the Erudite Verbal Haze
Cloaking Constant K
That saved the Summary
Based on the Mummery
Hiding the Flaw
That lay in the Theory Jack built.

This is the Turn of a Plausible Phrase
That thickened the Erudite Verbal Haze
Cloaking Constant K
The saved the Summary
Based on the Mummery
Hiding the Flaw
That lay in the Theory Jack built.

This is Chaotic Confusion and Bluff
That hung on the Turn of a Plausible Phrase
That thickened the Erudite Verbal Haze
Cloaking Constant K
That saved the Summary
Based on the Mummery
Hiding the Flaw
That lay in the Theory Jack built.

This is the Cybernetics and Stuff
That covered Chaotic Confusion and Bluff
That hung on the Turn of a Plausible Phrase
And thickened the Erudite Verbal Haze
Cloaking Constant K
That saved the Summary
Based on the Mummery
Hiding the Flaw
That lay in the Theory Jack built.

This is the Button to Start the Machine
To make with the Cybernetics and Stuff
To cover Chaotic Confusion and Bluff
That hung on the Turn of a Plausible Phrase
And thickened the Erudite Verbal Haze
Cloaking Constant K
That saved the Summary
Based on the Mummery
Hiding the Flaw
That lay in the Theory Jack built.

[When I recited the poem, at this point I stood up and pointed to myself.]

This is the Space Child with Brow Serene
Who pushed the Button to Start the Machine
That made with the Cybernetics and Stuff
Without Confusion, exposing the Bluff
That hung on the Turn of a Plausible Phrase
And shredding the Erudite Verbal Haze
Clocking Constant K
Wrecked the Summary
Based on the Mummery
Hiding the Flaw
And Demolished the Theory Jack built.

Go Chris!

Sunday, 09 Oct 2016, 09:35 UTC

It’s been a good morning in Chicago. The weather was spectacular for the runners, there.

The elite men have finished in what was evidently a back and forth race at the end. The elite wheelchairs are done in what I heard was a photo finish. And the elite women are done, too. I watched that finish with Florence Kipligat metaphorically thumbing her nose at her Olympic selection committee which passed her up. Kipligat pulled away from her competition and was all alone as she crossed the finish line.

The crowd and the runners are cheering at the 13.1 mile mark. The blue bells are ringing at the Merrill-Lynch cheer station just before the route turns south on Halstead and heads for the Eisenhower expressway and southern Chicago. The crowd is cheering in Pilsen. And the dragons are dancing in Chinatown as the runners pass under the red gate where the route turns south again on Wentworth for that great loop that feels so far away from the finish line, because the skyscrapers of downtown are so small on the horizon to the north.

Our running coach, Chris, is out there, too. Her goal is to break 4:00 with negative splits, and she passed the half-way point at 2:00:44. And five minutes ago she passed the 30K mark running a 8:50 pace.

Looking good, Chris!

Team Us

Sunday, 09 Oct 2016, 02:34 UTC

The place was empty. Most of the runners had long since finished their runs. Only a few people were hanging around.

It had been a wonderful day for a run. The route was a long gradual climb on the way out, which of course meant a long gradual descent on the way back. It’s always nice to have the hard part behind you on a long run and even nicer to have a cool breeze in your face.

I had done six miles which is substantially less than what the real runners were running that day, but it was enough for me, and I was pooped. So I grabbed a mat, found a place on the floor (in truth there was plenty of space to be had) and began to stretch. 

Across the room, the Fair and Industrious Trudy was talking to a woman from her running group. Trudy has the misfortune to be the wife of slow-man-running, so she was lingering waiting for me, killing time by chatting with Elizabeth.

After a while, Elizabeth got up to leave. She gathered her stuff and began to walk out. And as she left, she turned looked in my direction. She held a hand up in the air.

“Go team us!” Elizabeth said.

I smiled and waved and said, “Yeah!”