Monday, April 12, 2004


Any middle westerner will tell you that it doesn't take much excuse by April to get headed south a few degrees of latitude. We're ready for spring but spring is not yet ready for us. In Columbus, Ohio, one sees the magnolias blooming, daffodils in great bright splashes. In Cincinnati, the trees are showing their leaves. All this is promise to those of us who live a little farther north: spring is coming; spring is coming.

All weekend the weather had been so lovely - shirt sleeves were sufficient. Back in Wisconsin, nearly home last night, we thought we saw insects flying in the headlights. After such a weekend, that's what you'd think. Then was the sudden horrible moment of recognition: those were not insects, those were snow flakes. Fortunately the snow didn't amount to anything at all; it was just enough to remind us that this is Wisconsin.


Columbus has some interesting restaurants, with kinds of food we don't find in Fairwater or Ripon or even Fond du Lac. That's part of the reason for such a trip. We enjoyed a Cuban lunch at the Starlight Diner at noon on Friday; the place was packed full when we arrived, except they had saved a table for us. Oh, it was good food. I love fried plantain. Sometimes I think I was born fifteen degrees of latitude too far north; then I realize I'm wa-a-a-ay too middle western to survive the torpor of the tropics for long. In the evening we had a Vietnamese meal, as we frequently do when we're in Columbus, at a little place in a strip mall; it serves incredible food. Saturday we wanted to take supper at a West African restaurant we'd eaten at a couple times before, but it was - inexplicably - closed for the evening at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night. We tried to console ourselves with some "East Coast Subs" and home-made fries from Penn Station, and nearly succeeded, for the place makes awfully good sandwiches, and the fries are cut from huge potatoes while you watch.


Okay, Jungle Jim's. It's a grocery store. It's an "international market." It's four acres of food under one roof. There's a sushi counter right at the front where you come into the store, if you can imagine that. The wine section alone is as large as many grocery stores. The several shelves of hot sauces are nearly half a mile long (perhaps I exaggerate, but only a bit). There are cheeses from every country in the world that makes cheese, I think. The Asian food section covers half an acre alone. All through the store samples have been set out for you to try. You don't know what treat you'll find around the next aisle.

We spent more than two hours walking the place dazed and astounded and still we didn't see everything. I thought we behaved ourselves very nicely, spending only $167 when all was said and done and the register tape was totaled. We got some wonderful cheeses and I extended by three bottles my on-going Quest to Find the World's Best Cheap Merlot; the only rules of the Best Cheap Merlot Game are that you can't spend more than $6 a bottle and when you do your at-home-taste-testing, you have to let your spouse enjoy at least a glass or two of each bottle. This time I found merlots costing $3.99, $4.99, and $5.99 a bottle, from Chili, Australia, and California, respectively.

Cincinnati is undeniably a middle western city, however: the hourly wine-tasting sessions would start at noon but not a moment before. Out here we don't drink before noon, you know. At least not in public. (I'm reminded of what my friend says when the clerk at the liquor store asks if he wants a bag for his purchase: "No," he says, "the neighbors know we drink.")


On the drive home, we routed ourselves so I could give Mary very quick tours of Eaton, Ohio, my Vagabond focus community at the western edge of the state, and Fowler, Indiana, my focus community in Indiana. We filled our gas tank in Fowler before we left town. I figure every dollar helps. And small town America needs all the help it can get.


APRIL 8, 1998

April rain and bluster, like the short, skinny kid bragging how good he is. He might beat you once or twice but eventually you wear him down. He simply doesn't have the mass to back up his swagger.

It's not raining exactly, but the wind is wet. The clouds are streaky, like dirty windows. Almost like snow clouds, in the distance. The day is not yet as raw as it looks.

There are wild geese, still, in the water standing in the farmyard. A noisy wind in the open country. The land wants to shake itself like a wet dog, to dry off. There is a light mist on the windshield, however, and you can almost smell the rain in the distance. Within the mile, I drive into it.

Geese circle, looking for a place to set down. It is serious water running in the ditches at Five Corners. Wipers on the windshield sound like a sleeping man grinding his teeth.

Count this as another day.

APRIL 9, 1998
It is that kind of morning. Chilly. Wet. Wisconsin in April. Nothing should surprise us.

Does one have nothing to say because one is empty, or because he hasn't explored what he thinks? Is it a wasteland because there is nothing there or because in our greed we haven't yet figured out how to exploit it?

It is very dark to the east. The clouds look heavy as sadness. The farmyard is thick with wild geese today. My pick-up bucks the same wind as this morning's sea gulls - all of us are going nowhere fast. The plowed fields have a sheen of mud on them, like a salesman's slicked back hair. Still the water runs heavy in the ditches - will it never cease?

If I didn't have the geese as companions for this morning's ride, what would I have?

APRIL 10, 1998
The birds were making a hell of a racket this morning as the sun came up. What was that a sign of? What promise were they making? What do they know that I do not? It is Good Friday. This is the day the Lord has made.

I walk out the door to the pick-up. A mourning dove calls - woo-woo-woo. It sits high in the tree at the southeast corner of our property. Flowers are showing their colors. The sky is blue. Life goes on.

The sky is blue above. In the distance in all directions, there are clouds. Downtown, the Grand River is running higher than it has all spring. The rush of water makes and re-makes the earth.

The morning's shadows are moveable stains. There is swift water in the ditches. There is a goose at the edge of the road. There may be a thin glaze of ice where water is standing. It does not seem so chilly as that - I am in shirt sleeves.

Then as I sit writing in the parking lot of the plant before going into work, as I sit facing east, the sun through the windshield of the pick-up is hot on my face. It is good to be alive.

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