Thursday, July 31, 2008


Assuming that we actually get our gear packed today, tonight Mary and I will head to "the farm" in Marquette County, where we'll meet up with her brother, Philip, and Philip's wife Susan. The four of us will roll out about 4:00 a.m. tomorrow to head north for a week of canoeing, fishing, and lounging about on Little Caribou Lake three and a half hours north of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

This will be our third year on Little Caribou. You might have read about our earlier adventures here and here, and you can find the essays also in my collection, The Idea of the Local.

I don't know whether or not I'll keep of journal of this year's adventure. A poet can never be certain that anything will come of a particular experience; and I know the worst one can do is to go in with expectations. So I go without hopes. I hope. A poet is also never certain he knows his own heart fully.

In the meantime, good people, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can expect the usual run of the daily "Lines" and the "Morning Drive Journal" entries (when these available).

Our good friends, the Schusters, will be handling cat chores for us, and minding the house, so thanks, Bob and Kathy.

See you on the other side....

South Dakota trees,
their left-hand lean.

AUGUST 1, 2002

Quite early this morning, the sound of distant thunder. It brought no more effect than the rumble of a truck far off, empty. Some haze above, some sun breaking through, some breeze. Not much is plenty when you accept it with cupped hand, thankful. Too often we clench our fists and cross our arms in resistance. If you approach life resisting life, nothing will ever be good enough for you: you set yourself up for unhappiness. Some people would have nothing to say if they could not complain. Some people are not happy unless they are unhappy.

The church in Fairwater is being re-roofed today. It's a steep roof; it will be hot work. We need steep roofs here in snow country.

Wind in the grass at Five Corners. The bobbing heads of the flowers: closed up tight against the heat, the drought.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


There's nothing I want
so much as silence,

nothing I need more of.

JULY 31, 2002

Sky. Earth. Scoop of morning light.

It is the last day of July. How is that possible?

I shall work at my paying job another two months, and then I am done with that work and I'll go into the next phase of my life, the being poor and trying to write phase. I want to make a contribution and shall try to make a contribution as a writer. Something more lasting than a printed industrial parts catalog. It has been a good lving I've been able to make at the Printers, but at some cost. Most of the failure to continue writing over the years was my own, I know that - these past four or five years have proved I can stay at it if I choose to. For awhile it was so easy for me to chose not to. And I'm weak enough to be led astray unless the obsession is upon me. Which it is. That should be obvious.

The whole world as it exists between Fairwater and Ripon is still amazingly green. It's a lovely song of a landscape now. Ripon's main street is itself a green loveliness today.

We are expecting continued hot temperatures - it is July in Wisconsin, we should expect temperatures in the 90s, what would make you think otherwise?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Toe Service,"

the sign says.
"This little piggie

went to market.
This little piggie

stayed home."
Someone has

no idea
I'm laughing.


"I just read in the Lebanon graduate book," Ivan said, "that Frances Breakey was the 1938 class valedictorian. That would be Frances Meyers, one of the best teachers who ever graced the halls of Smith Center Junior High. It was Frances who told the administration that if she was going to teach seventh and eighth grade boys to enjoy reading, the school would have to subscribe to something they like to read. I think that is when the first copies of Hot Rod magazine showed up on the library shelves. Before someone showed me the spell checker on my computer, if I had a word I couldn't spell, I would just call Frances. She could spell every word that was ever printed."

"Sometimes," Ivan said, "you get good news from unexpected sources. Last Monday morning, Kendall Nichols said that his birth certificate showed he was born in Rooks County. He was educated in Gaylord. So that means that Smith County and Smith Center can't be held accountable for his actions. However, in those rare cases where he does something worthy of praise, Smith Center can claim credit for flaking off some of the Rooks County and Gaylord High School patina and giving him a rational outlook on religion, politics, and current events. Smith Center is in a win/win situation: we can point with pride or view with alarm."

"Lyle Morgan has an old weather expression," Ivan reported. "Said it was something his granddad always said about clouds: They go north a gettin'/Come back a drippin'. That was a new one on me."

"Stan Hooper showed up at the As the Bladder Fills last Wednesday morning," Ivan said. "He was driving his wife's car. The [new] Rag Top Jeep wouldn't start. Everybody thought it was funny but Stan."

"Couple of things were said at the As the Bladder Fills Club last week that still have me puzzled," Ivan said. "Someone said that Stan Hooper carried a petition around several months ago. Stan said, 'I didn't carry it around. I had it with me.' Splain the difference to me. Then Linton Lull said he got a new rain gauge that was 'twice as accurate.' Splain to me how if something was accurate, how could something be twice as accurate. I have had several sleepless nights trying to unravel these two statements."
JULY 30, 2002

Yesterday the rain dissipated, some heat came on, enough we know it's summer. Cool air moved in during the night and it's cool air coming into the house right now; it's blue sky and sun, morning song.

We have not had enough rain to save lawn and garden. The drought chokes everything yet, despite the occasional spits of moisture. What we've got is what we've got. What do you want? Are you sure? All sunshine makes a desert, they say in the Sahara. All beauty leads to wantonness. What are if we we are not tested? We do not know.

Shadows across the road in the country, like dampness.

A terrible stink of pig manure last evening along Highway E as I came home from work. A faint smell of it remains this morning.

It will be warm again today - a high near 90 degrees.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Shot-gun wind.
A robin

turns, back
against it.

JULY 29, 2002

It was a warm weekend. A sprinkle of rain on Saturday, not enough. There is some coolness to the night air coming into the house. There is some haze in our sky. We've got what we've got - I've got no problem with that.

Wind has the flag at the cemetery pulled straight out to the east. Rain spatters on the windshield. Visibility is not much more than a mile. Then the mist closes in, and I can see off half a mile at most.

Sea gulls are set upon a field, waiting for a finer sky. It looks like rain all the way to everywhere.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Stiff wind
in his face –

crow there,
going nowhere.


A final observation, and one difficult to talk about, because it is so personal.

The Vagabond project started out as research: I was interested in finding out what makes us middlewestern. In each of my focus communities, I started out as a researcher would, probing and weighing, yet soon enough some of the people I encountered became my friends, as Dick and Gwen Lindberg have. I am no longer studying "them" – some "other" out there; rather I'm now studying "us."

Early in my stay this week in West Point, Gwen had gathered for me copies of several volumes she'd put together for her family – weekly letters she had written to her mother over the years while the boys were small; copies of her homey newspaper column from over its course; and copies of Dick's weekly newspaper column.

I read every night for about an hour, and I finished only about three-quarters of one of those volumes of Gwen's letters. There were stories in them of the early years of the Lindberg marriage; of the birth of their second son, Greg; of their purchase of a weekly newspaper in central Nebraska, with Dick making the move from being a newspaper employee to being a publisher, and Gwen making the move from homemaker to Dick's partner in the newspaper business. There were photos reproduced in the volume, too, of a young Dick Lindberg with beard for a beard-growing contest; of a young Gwen with small boys on her lap. They were both in their twenties then. The Lindbergs I know retired from their newspaper business twelve years ago, I believe. They are in their 70s now, a little more fragile than they were, with a little less stamina, perhaps.

In Dick and Gwen Lindberg, then and now, I see the march of the generations. The turn of the world, as the years pass and time marches on. I see what was and what is and what will be. And I choke up a little bit.

These are people who should not be forgotten – Dick and Gwen and all those like them who year after year have given themselves to their families and their communities. We know the world is a better place because of them. Yet they don't get their names in the history books, though their lives, truly, are what history is made of.

The world turns, and too quickly what was is gone, and what will be is upon us, and we are filled with a sense of loss. The loss of all those who came before us, nameless now; and their stories, dimming in memory now; and the wind blowing dust about and the dust disappearing now in the sunlight.

How does one ever say "Thank you" to those who brought us into this time and place. Few of them probably ever remarked on the miracle of family and community, and fewer still recognized how much they themselves contributed to the miracle. They just lived their lives, they'd say, doing the best they could, working and hoping and coping and working some more. They'd wonder what I'm going on about here, those folks would. They'd say they were just doing what they were supposed to. Just doing what anybody would do in those circumstances.

Yet at this moment I have the need to thank them, and the opportunity to thank at least two of them. So let me say, "Thank you, Dick and Gwen."

JULY 26, 2002

A thickness of fog, sun trying to burn through, numinous, luminous behind haze.

I am expecting delivery of a newly-published book of mine today, so I shall have to come home to receive it. Need to be in the place where the books arrive when they arrive - what a pleasant chore.

As I step outside to the car, I have to say: I think the sun is winning its tug of wear. Light shows through, the humidity heating to steam.

Out in the country, almost another world - the plains of Africa, perhaps. Groves disappear into the distant greyness. You can imagine predator and prey, life and death and the Great Wheel turning.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


The earth's memory –
water standing now

where pot hole
used to be.


Gwen and Dick and I had breakfast from the Knights of Columbus after the ecumenical church service on Sunday. The KC were staffing the same stand the Chamber of Commerce had used on Friday selling barbecue pork and beef, and which the Pork Producers would use to sell pork loin sandwiches at suppertime on Sunday. Big pancakes from the KC, and sausages. There was butter and syrup on a table near where we picked up our food.

After we'd eaten, Dick and Gwen went home. I stayed to wander the buildings on the grounds. The depot museum was open, the tractor museum, and another museum building. You know there is something holy about the relics of the ancestors, the things they handled, used, wore out, and I gave them proper attention.

I had to get something cold to drink, too, a couple of times, because it was starting to get hot out. Before it was all done, I would hear someone say it was the hottest day they'd had all year.

I found some shade and a seat in the grandstand at Anderson Field and watched a couple innings of baseball, the West Point Bombers against the Scribner Hogs. The Hogs were visitors and batted first. The Hogs' catcher batted second in the line-up, and foul-tipped a pitch that struck him in the head and put him on the ground. He tried to get up and went down again. Someone in a Bombers' uniform came out of the dug-out on the home team's side of the field; you suppose he'd been trained as an EMT, at least. He told the fellow on the ground to stay down. Then to sit up. And then together they walked to the Hogs' dug-out. The crowd applauded. The Bomber in the Hogs' dug-out tested the catcher's ability to track fingers moved up and down and left to right in front of his face.

Soon enough the catcher put on his batting helmet and returned to the batter's box to take a called third strike at the edge of the plate for the second out.

When the top of the inning was over, the catcher was in full gear behind the plate, warming up the Hogs' pitcher, 1, 2, 3. Then his nose was bleeding, the catcher's, and it wouldn't stop. He headed for the dug-out again, as a nurse practitioner came down out of the stands to examine him. She was feeling the bones of his face and the sides of his head and examined his eyes and nose.

I didn't hear any decision being announced outloud, but a decision had been made. The catcher was taking off his gear. A fellow came in from the outfield to strap on chest protector and shin guards. A fellow off the bench went into the outfield. The fellow with the nosebleed had his head tilted back, an ice pack to the side of his nose. The new catcher took a couple of pitches, then threw to second base. The umpire said, "Play ball!"

I watched two innings of scoreless ball. Both teams stranded runners, so it wasn't as if nobody could hit the pitching. The nosebleed keep his head tilted back. The day kept heating up.

The day kept heating up, and I decided to head back to the Lindberg's house, about a twelve-block walk. I walked slowly and stayed in the shade where I could, and rejoiced at the air-conditioning when I entered the house.

To be continued....

JULY 25, 2002

An abiding cool weather. The promise of rain later today. A greyness overhead.

A drone of distant airplane. The aviation convention in Oshkosh continues. Planes continue to queue up over the Ripon water tower as they line up an approach into the airport at Oshkosh.

Straw from the field of rye has now been baled. Half the field of browned peas is gone. The windrows have been swooped up. Half the field stands yet, turning ever more brown.

A huge flock of sea gulls above Five Corners, like the convention in Oshkosh. Life tends to clump. Like tends to gather with like. None of us wish to go it alone, finally. Yet finally we go alone. Yet finally there is nothing but a desolate wind singing our name, and then we are gone.

Am I being morose to speak in such a way? My statement of it is fairly free of emotion, I think; at least as far as I can tell from where I stand now.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


and crow on fence

post, head down,
holding on.


I attended the dress rehearsal of "North of West Point" on Wednesday night. I attended the opening on Thursday night and the 2:00 p.m. performance on Friday, which John Burkhart, the author of the melodrama, also attended. I missed the Saturday night performance and the extra added performance at noon on Sunday, but attended the final performance Sunday night. That's a total of four shows, all of them slightly different, all of them great fun. It's terrific to see actors and audience – capacity crowds all – have such a good time.

The city auditorium is a grand venue for community theater, and that great old lady of a building ought to be preserved as a historic treasure and homefield for West Point's thespians. But she needs some work. I hope West Point will see to it.

Joni Mitchell said "You don't know what you've got til it's gone." Let's hope that's not the case in West Point.

To be continued....

JULY 24, 2002

Today's coolness brings cloud cover. There is breeze in the trees. All life turns with the movement of a single leaf. Nothing is more important in the cosmos than the motion of that single leaf in the breeze. The Big Bang is of no more consequences than this instance. Every moment is filled with every other moment.

As I leave for work, I meet an orange county truck at the north edge of Fairwater. What does that mean? You know it means something.

The sky breaks open to its true blueness. The sun shows. There are still smeared clouds, don't doubt that.

A field of beans has been taken now. The season marches on. The corn reaching for mercy looks more plastic than real now - the heat has taken the edge of reality off the stalks, and the image of these damaged leaves is all that's left.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wisdom is its
own amusement.


There had been fireworks on Friday night, as spectacular as any small town ever has. And there were fireworks again on Saturday night, as fine as anything I ever saw on the 4th of July in Milwaukee. The sky stayed bright with fireworks from horizon to horizon for forty minutes.

The show started late on Saturday because right at dusk the fire siren sounded, and the firemen were called to battle a blaze at Grain States Soya. The show would not proceed without firemen and EMTs standing by. The festivities started about half an hour late, and they were worth the wait.

While we waited, I watched people. That's my business, watching people. And making connections and comparisons. And what I saw on Saturday night reminds me of what I saw on Sunday morning during the ecumenical church service. Community.

Community. Not just talked about on Sunday morning, but lived on Saturday night.

There was a park bench in front of me. A fellow and two children – boy and girl – spread a blanket partly in front of the bench and partly off to the side, then they sat on the park bench. The fellow had a black tattoo on his neck coming out above his shirt collar. He could have been former Navy; he could have been a head-banger – you couldn't tell by looking. He didn't look Hispanic, though the children with him did. He spoke both English and Spanish to the youngsters, and they spoke English and Spanish to him.

There were several families spread along the water's edge on both sides of the park bench. In places the lawn chairs were three deep between the road and the water. Children were running and playing and trying to catch the frogs we could hear croaking.

The little Hispanic girl got fussy: she wanted some cotton candy. The father wanted to save the park bench for the three of them, one supposes, but didn't want to leave the little boy alone on the park bench. The three of them headed back to the concessions together, to get some cotton candy.

Two of the children who had been playing along the water now landed on the newly vacant park bench.
To my left a man spoke. He could have been a truck driver for Grain States Soya or a shop keeper or a school teacher. You can't tell by looking. He might have been the children's father, I don't know. He said to the children: "That place is taken." The kids returned to sit with their families.

That's what I find in West Point, that community isn't just something you talk about: it's something you live, in little ways like this.

To be continued....

"Took my first airplane trip last week," Ivan said. "Flew from Wichita to Atlanta and then from Atlanta back to Wichita. It was great for speed. Not much for checking the flora and fauna.... But I must admit that I never did put my full weight down on the seat."

"And I'll tell you something else," Ivan said. "The state of Georgia could save a lot of money if they would quit making 55 m.p.h. speed limit signs. The highway we were driving on from Athens to Atlanta was festooned with 55 miles per hour speed limit signs. We were going 75, and were getting passed on a regular basis. I would guess the state of Georgia spends more on 55 m.p.h. speed limit signs than they spent on cannons during the Civil War, the War Between the States, and the Southern Cause combined."

"Ya know, I got to thinkin'," Ivan said. "If it wasn't for the people I meet in the clinic waiting lobby and the ones I meet in the pharmacy, I wouldn't have no social life atall."

"Cattle buyer Kendall Nichols bought Lyle Morgan some open heifers," Ivan reported. "One of them became pregnant. Morgan wanted to know why one of the open heifers was pregnant. All Kendall could come up with was 'immaculate deception.'"

"I walked into The Peoples Bank last Wednesday morning," Ivan said, "and you could almost cut the serenity with a knife. Saw old familiar faces and the pace was relaxed and you could feel the small town friendliness and see big city efficiency combined to give a feeling of confidence to all concerned."

"Me N Momma went to an 18-and-under girls softball game last Monday evening," Ivan said. "The girls were playing Stockton. When they warmed up, you cold tell that Smith Center was vastly superior to the Stockton team. Me N Momma stayed for a couple of innings. I told Mike Hughes the next day that I would go to a ball game again if they played anybody that would give them a good game. Mike wasn't too sure he could guarantee that. The Smith Center girls had a couple of Kensington recruits. The pitcher was Aliee Rice and the catcher was Ashley Berthoff. Rice was firing strikes and Berthoff was catching anything Rice threw. It was one of the better girls softball teams I had seen in several years."
JULY 23, 2002

Yes - we have blue sky and sun. Yes - we have the sweet relief of a cool breeze. The heat has broken for a bit. We are in the coolness of morning's long shadows as I prepare for work an hour earlier than usual. A darkness, still, in the deepest places. A hidden sadness?

I go out to a new car. M. and I have each bought a new Saturn. She got hers 3,000 miles ago, I got mine last night. How does the chariot change the charge?

Wind blows the flag at the cemetery from northeast to southwest.

The field of peas too brown to harvest has been laid in windrows. I don't know what that means. Will they be using them for silage?

Planes collect above Ripon this morning on their way to Oshkosh. The sound of planes above us at work continues all day long this week.

Monday, July 21, 2008

How much
of what is

too much
of nothing?


God's loveliest church, the outdoors. Anderson Park. Sun, blue sky, a lovely backdrop of the train depot museum and fairground buildings. Dr. Martin Marty, Pastor Christian Meier, Pastor Nora Mendyk, and Father Gerry Gonderinger sitting on a bench near the pitcher's mound, backs to the sun like swallows on a telephone wire. A slight breeze blowing the humidity away. An ecumenical community service of thanksgiving, celebrating West Point's sesquicentennial. The grandstand was full, with choir at the far right end of it where the seats turn and face the congregation.

People of various faiths sitting together, standing together, praying together. Singing together.

When it came time for the sermon, Gwen Lindberg stepped up and introduced Dr. Marty to the crowd in the stands. Dr. Marty spent his first eleven years in West Point and readily admits he was shaped by it. He still considers himself a son of the plains. Memory of West Point? He remembered the girl who was faster than he was on bicycle, and who was picked for make-up baseball games before he was.

But the business at hand was delivering a sermon. "Preachers like three-part texts," Dr. Marty said, "but today I've got four."

First, he said, quoting, I think, Paul, build houses.

Second, plant gardens and eat what they produce. "We can feed the world's hungry from places like West Point," he added.

Third, take a spouse and have children. "The generations pass," Dr. Marty said, "but hope does not."

Fourth, seek the welfare of the place where you are. "In its welfare," he said, "you will find your welfare."

"Do not try to ignore death," he added. "There is a lot of it going around."

I think that the "patriotic" service on the fourth of July seemed more rigid ideologically and doctrinally than the ecumenical church on Sunday. Why? Perhaps the difference was this: at the tribute to the veterans, somehow we were being preached at and sung to; we were expected to accept what was said as the truth. During the church service we were lifting our voices together in song, as one, the swell of what we shared rising as a single harmonious voice. We were asked to find our own truths and to honor them.

To be continued....
JULY 22, 2002

It was 101 degrees in Wautoma yesterday. We were at the farm; it felt that warm there, too. By the time we headed home it had clouded over, there was the occasional flash of lightning, roll of thunder. A very slow spatter of rain during the night. It was not, I think, enough to entirely relieve the agony of the corn.

I walk to the pick-up. Clearly the rain is taking itself more seriously now. You wouldn't call it a downpour but it's more than a sprinkle. If this continues, the corn, the beans, the lawns - everything - will get relief.

The Experimental Aircraft Association convention has started in Oshkosh. The other evening at the farm M.'s brother and his daughter saw the Sleath bomber fly overhead. It was a shock of surprise when Kirstinia first noticed it. All of a sudden, Afghanistan. All of a sudden, the terror of an air attack coming at you. We are a fortunate people that such an idea is a thought only, not the daily reality.

The donkeys in the rain. Surprised with wetness. Grey as the sky.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The sullen bell of sorrow
rings and rings again.


Friday, July 4, 2008
After the tribute to veterans, in the park out over the water, after the evening settled and the sky darkened, fireworks. Oohs and Ahhs a-plenty for the large audience.

What makes us middlewestern? Our need to put on such a display on such a day.


Saturday, July 5, 2008
Gwen and Dick Lindberg hosted a "Marty Party" to honor the theologian Dr. Martin E. Marty. Dr. Marty lived in West Point until he was eleven years old. He was a gracious guest; his wife and sons and their spouses and some of the grandchildren and Dr. Marty's brother Myron and his wife all made for a lovely family reunion. They were joined by former classmates and family friends and some of the pastors from town. And by a fellow who had flown in from Detroit to see Dr. Marty preach on Sunday, and who had earlier contacted Gwen and had been invited to the Marty Party; and by that fellow's father, a theologian in Tennessee who was originally from northeastern Nebraska.

It was a house full of creative and interesting people, and if you weren't visiting in the living room, you were in the dining room nibbling on shrimp and smoked salmon provided by Dick and Gwen's son Greg Lindberg, who owns Absolutely Fresh Seafood, Shucks, and Bailey's in Omaha. Or you were in the "pool room," where for a while a reporter from the Omaha World-Herald was interviewing Dr. Marty for a story that would run in the World-Herald on Monday.


Sunday, July 6, 2008
The reporter from the World-Herald returned on Sunday for Dr. Marty's "Sermon on the Mound" at the ecumenical service held at Anderson Field, a venue more usually filled with the rituals of baseball players than with the rituals of God's people. Yet it was a lovely day, with a lovely sky overhead and a lovely backdrop of the train depot museum and the other buildings on the fairgrounds.

To be continued....
JULY 19, 2002

Haze above, blue sky behind. Fans are pulling cool air into the house. A cool front moved in last night. For a bit, it looked as if it were promising rain but we got none, got nothing, nada. The sun is breaking through the haze off to the east, laying a cream-color on things.

Some days you turn the radio on, nothing but static. Some days you have nothing to say. There's no use running from silence, it's larger than you are. No use complaining about noise.

North of Fairwater, the acrid smell of the canning factory's waste water being sprayed again. It clears one's mind, forces a sharp focus. Its sharpness, in contrast to the haze. In contrast to the softness of the tassels in the fields of sweet corn, of the great storm of dust being raised by a farmner working his empty pea field.

All the swallows on the power line this morning face the east. Yesterday as I drove home from work all of them faced the west.

The day lilies north of Five Corners blaze like fire in the ditch. The field of peas north of Five Corners - yesterday they looked too burned to harvest - they have been taken. What remains there is vines, and the smell of silage.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Trees? Trees?
You think trees

will stop this
western wind?


Friday, July 4, 2008
8:00 p.m. A "tribute to our veterans" was held at the ball park. The Cuming County Choraliers sang a medley of songs, one for each branch of the armed services. In the grandstand, those who had served stood as their branch's song was sung, a lot of old men, World War II veterans, among them. The Coast Guard song was included in the medley, and I saw one man rise for that. The old soldiers heard our applause, our appreciation for their service.

Yet the problem with the 4th of July is that we end up with too much "patriotism" and not enough love of country. We should be able to honor our veterans without accepting the current administration's war policies and its approval of torture, but a ceremony as West Point's does not allow for changing the framework of the national conversation, no matter how badly we need to. The term "war on terrorism" is jingoistic at best, and at worst it leads to unthinking hu-yah. For a start, you cannot make war on an idea, "terrorism;" you must make war on actual terrorists. Because of such fuzzy thinking, we've seen a lot of excesses in the past seven years. The term and the actions associated with it have concealed rather than revealed, contrary to the ideals of our Constitution and the open society we espouse; in the murkiness we have been led astray and have lost our way as a nation. We cannot achieve success if we cannot see what we are doing and what we need to do.

An officer from the Marine Corp gave the key-note address at the ceremony, speaking to the valor of those who have served in all our wars. In large part his seemed to me like a cut-and-paste speech, snatches of it sounding like things that the president and the vice president have said since 2001, the secretaries of state and the secretaries of defense, and other administration spokespeople. At times I felt as if I were being preached to by someone reading from the president's old speeches.

How can one criticize such a presentation without sounding unpatriotic? It is difficult. Yet love of country is much larger than those who speak of "patriotism" would have us believe, and those of us who think so we need to start speaking up.

At the end of the tribute to veterans, a troop of West Point Boy Scouts retired a worn American flag by burning it near home plate. I was moved beyond words as flame devoured the flag and "Taps" was played three times. However much I might disagree with the Bush administration, the flag is my flag too, and seeing one of them go up in flames as the last notes of the trumpet faded away was a powerful moment. I was surprised at how much I was moved by the experience.

To be continued....
JULY 18, 2002

More heat. People tell me I should be suffering. I soak into it, become one with it, let the heat be an extension of me, let me be an extension of the heat, the wavering shimmer of air.

The humidity - yes - it makes breathing a little more labored working that much water.

Our lawns - where they're laid out in the sun - are starting to turn crisp and brown. There is green in the deep shade.

Fairwater has a used look about it this morning - not used up, but worn like an old dime.

A heaviness, the haze, the smell of the canning factory's waste water - acrid like pig shit.

A field of peas - nearly burned brown. It will not be harvested, but will go to waste. North of Five Corners, another field of peas burning up. They have come on too fast.

Just south of the Union Street intersection, a field of rye or oats has been taken. Straw remains.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


That grove.
The aching house.

The hump of ground.

I've seen it all before.
You'll see it too,
should you pass this way.


Thursday, July 3, 2008
The Sesquicentennial Celebration opened with a ceremony at Anderson Field. At 6:00 p.m. a re-fueling tanker from the Nebraska Air National Guard flew over the pitcher's mound at an altitude which drowned out conversation. Among its crew members was a fellow who had grown up in West Point.

We sang of the National Anthem.

We recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Yes, they say "under God...."

A formal proclamation by West Point's mayor, Marlene Johnson.

Eric Lauritzen recited a poem by Amy Brunner Almer, who was the daughter of one of West Point's founders. The poem was called "Pioneers of the Midwest." Lauritzen also recited a poem about the history of West Point, found in the city's 1925 high school yearbook.

Dave Mendyk sang "America" in the Neil Diamond arrangment, and Brooks & Dunn's "Only in America."

And then the festivities were officially underway.


Back on Main Street, a staged bank robbery and shoot-out. Give the people what they want: a clear story-line, with Good at one end of the block, and Bad at the other end, and by the time they meet in the middle let Good triumph while Bad lies bleeding in the street.

That's what happens when Good doesn't back down.

Or so we hope.


Afterwards I entered the Civic Auditorium to watch some more Good versus Evil in "North of West Point." Yep, the theatre company showed they can do it. They brought off a successful performance. That's not to say it was perfect, but it was pretty darn good. The capacity crowd lifted the actors to another level. The place was full. And when we left, we walked about knee-deep in pop-corn that had been thrown at the villain and the villainess.

Perhaps I exaggerate about the pop-corn, but not much.


Friday, July 4, 2008
The author of the melodrama, John Burkhart, was in the audience at the performance this afternoon. The auditorium today was full to overflowing and the producers had to turn away people at the door. It was another spirited performance, buoyed by the sympathetic crowd. When the terribly near-sighted trapper Pawnee Bob Jones (Paul Kreikemeier) entered mistakenly wearing his spectacles (because he is near-sighted in real life too), the audience hooted and cheered and laughed and clapped at the oversight; the cast members on-stage nearly lost character; Pawnee Bob paused to let the humor roll on, then he turned slowly, took off his spectacles and tossed them on the table. Everyone on stage swallowed down their smiles. And the show went on.

A community theater company is, in many ways, a microcosm of the community. You start with a disparate group of people, untested and uncertain of success, and you prove them. You test them, try them, see what they're made of. Throw them out there and see if they land right-side up.

You may think the villain is too nice a guy in real life to convey villainy in such a melodrama. You may think the villainess is much too sweet to be saucy. Yet when the curtain rises, when they are required to be villainous and you are required to boo and hiss at the dastardly couple, villainy rises to the watermark. That's the magic of community theater: the cast wants you to believe, and you want so much to believe, that you suspend any disbelief. An occasional dropped line or missed cue? No problem: these people cover each other, and if you hadn't earlier read the script, you wouldn't know.

The "community" part of community theater means that the actors and the audience are one in their desire for success on stage. The actors and actress up there are like us down here. They come from amongst us. Our hope lifts them in a way that a Broadway audience cannot lift a professional company.


I suppose it is a little queer for me to like looking at quilts as much as I do. What can I say. It is an under-appreciated art, as far as I'm concerned. There was a quilt show in Building 6 on the Fairgrounds next to the park, and Friday afternoon I wandered through looking at quilts.

A couple of the quilts simply took my breath away. Among the many more typical quilts, those by Mary Bogseth stood out. I heard someone say that people call her "the drape lady," whatever that means. Her quilts were atypical in that they weren't in traditional patterns; indeed, in their imagery they are more like painting than fabric art. They are evidence of a lovely eccentric genius in what is usually a traditional craft.

Here's to you, Drape Lady.


At the Chamber of Commerce barbecue in the evening, two long lines led up to the windows where they were serving plates with a pork sandwich, a beef sandwich, and potato chips, and a bottle of water on the side, for a mere five bucks. I was in line for fifteen minutes and had been talking with the fellow in front of me; as we neared the serving window, Gwen Lindberg came up to help me carry our plates back to our table, and she introduced me to that fellow as the author who is writing a book about what makes us middlewestern.

"Well, what makes us middlewestern?" the man asked me.

"The fact that all of us have stood politely in line here for fifteen minutes, that's middlewestern," I said. "And the fact that we've had some nice conversation while we were waiting, even though we don't know each other. Middlewesterners, by and large, are nice to each other."

To be continued....
JULY 17, 2002

A warm day yesterday, hot breath but not unbearable. We expect more today: we hope for summer all year and it's here! it's here!

Every day there is a reason to rise early; every day there is another map of the world re-drawn; every day a new experience, or previous experience re-tested; a re-test re-tested. The same old thing is only the same old thing if you're not paying attention.

A side note: M. is at a conference in Madison. I am in Fairwater. The place is not the same place when she's not here. Her not being here changes the place. Where we are defines our being and we define the place we are. The wind blows, and every day is different.

There's no wind in the flag at the cemetery. A dobro on the radio. A dead racoon just out of town. Haze in all directions. Sea gulls a white blaze in an empty field. A skunk dead farther north, exactly on the centerline of the highway.

At Five Corners, confusion over who should go through the intersection first. I stopped first, I think, but the other fellow wants to go. We both stop, we look at each other, I wave him through. He's upset - about what? - and gives me the finger. Life is too short to get that upset about this, fella!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Scratch of evening sky.
Wind in the eyes.
The awful silence.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008
You have to wonder about the nature of obsession, seeing one of West Point's plumbers, Jerry Hugo, up on stage as Uriah Brunner, co-founder of the city, in conflict with the owner of a West Point trucking company, Vaughn Beed, the dastardly villain of the melodrama, "North of West Point." In his life on street, not on stage, Hugo also serves on the city council, I believe. These folks are plenty busy, you'd think; yet they find time in their busy days to rehearse a show especially written by John Burkhart for West Point's celebration. It is a melodrama, everything writ large and broad, black and white; and it is the history of West Point's founding a century and a half ago, although you recognize the author didn't let mere historical fact get in the way of a good story. The call to community theater might be an especial perversion: at once a desire to abuse yourself every night for weeks in rehearsal playing such make-believe, and also the courage to step out on stage in front of friends and neighbors, hoping for their approbation, or at least that you'll draw of good guffaw from them.

Gwen Lindberg would accompany the performance on piano Thursday night and Friday afternoon. And on Wednesday night, during the dress rehearsal. Which I attended with her.

It is one thing to attend a program on the final night of its run, when all the kinks that will ever get worked out have been worked out. It is quite another thing to see the dress rehearsal: the cast may be in costume, yet somehow they are still quite naked up there on stage.

That's why you rehearse, I guess: you have to make so many mistakes before you can give a flawless performance. Apparently this troupe had more than a few mistakes to get out of the way on Wednesday night. When the dress rehearsal was done the co-directors, Gloria Wellman and Marlene Wiechman, told the cast to change out of their costumes and return for an additional run through the second act.

Yes, they did the second act again, the night before the first performance.

Someone asked me what I thought. I said I thought it was kind of exciting to watch a show not knowing whether or when the train would go entirely off the track. The possibility of the whole thing ending up a train wreck adds a certain drama to a show.

Yet dress rehearsal is rehearsal, I reminded myself. And the West Point Community Theatre Company has probably pulled itself out of worse dress rehearsals than this, I thought. They would get through it - together. They are a company: they have shared bread with each other; they have shared pain. They would lean on each other, would lead each other to success.

I was almost sure of it.

To be continued....

"Are all the cottonwood trees in town of the male variety?" Ivan wondered. "I haven't seen any cotton floating around. So I assume all the cottonwood tress in town are of the neutered male variety."

"Radar Weltmer came into Paul's Cafe last Wednesday morning," Ivan said. "He was looking for Dick Weltmer who was late to work. You could tell who was going to do the most work by the size of their breakfast. Dick ate something in the $1.50 to $1.75 range. Radar's first item on an order pad full was $3.99 and the total was way on up there."

"The local Runyons will be attending a Beouger family reunion in the western Kansas metropolis of Gove," Ivan reported. "The Beougher side of the family comes from Francis Runyon's mother. Don't ask how you pronounce Beougher, because even the family has three different pronunciations of the family name. Joanna Runyon says the German side of the family pronounces it like you were clearing your throat."

"Remember the two defensive ends Smith Center had last year," Ivan asked. "They might have been the two best in the state - Braden Wilson and Drew Joy, both sprinters of state track quality. They kept the opponent's offense from running wide and they put the pressure on every quarterback that thought they could throw against Smith Center. Of all the positions Smith Center will have to replace this year, those two might be the hardest shoes to fill."

"The Lull clan was going to invade the town on Saturday," Ivan said. "Linton Lull is the Patriarch of the clan. I looked up the word Patriarch in the dickshunary and it said 'Patriarch – the guy who foots the bill.' The Lull invasion will include twenty-three adults and eight kids. Fortunately for Linton Lull, he had received his stimulus check before the clan bellied up to the feed trough."

"Jack Benn checked out his tomato crop on his arrival home after a hospital stay," Ivan said. "He reported only one plant had been damaged by hail. I think that was probably the one he had earmarked for Dick Stroup."

"John McDowell joined the As the Bladder Fills Club last Friday morning," Ivan said. "Usually when John comes to the county seat, he is here to see the medics. But what he was doing here last Friday was garbled in transmission. You see John speaks a combination of Bellaire brogue and Lebanonese. I think if I got the message right, he had left a spare tire on somebody's porch in Lindsborg when he was helping a granddaughter move. And I think the spare tire was supposed to show up in Smith Center on Friday."

"Stan Hooper's new Jeep ain't gonna be new very long if he don't quit straddling the lines on the Main Street parking places," Ivan said.

"Casey Edell is going to have something in a sling if he ain't careful," Ivan predicted. "He called Edith Drake's hollyhocks weeds. Edie took a pretty dim view of his description."

"I wonder what the good news was that Linton was going to tell us about," Ivan said. "No use asking Dick Stroup. He has got a memory about as long as a gas pain."
JULY 16, 2002

Warm, yesterday. We've got haze and sunlight again today, another warm combination. Each day a blessing; each day a cup to be filled. Why do we sometimes insist on smashing the cup, spilling the gift, losing grace. We think we know what we need. When we get what we need we don't recognize it. We prefer our blindness to taking the cure. If the news isn't what we want to hear, we don't believe it. Sometimes truth is a good smash in the mouth.

No wind in the flag at the cemetery. Corn leaves are curled upward; bless us, they are asking. There are blossoms on the beans. Grasses in the ditches are headed out. North of Five Corners, the orange of some day lilies in the usual patch.

Monday, July 14, 2008


The water
slows. It has

no reason
to rush through

the slough.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Your stubbornness is my perseverance – this tendency, once we've got hold, to hang on. Surrender is not a word in the middlewestern vocabulary. We set our jaw, grit our teeth, and lean into it. Like a punch-drunk boxer we'll stand there taking whatever punishment is meted out. We might wobble, but we'll take it and take it until the final bell sounds. We don't win points for style, maybe, but we know that endurance is a virtue, perhaps the only virtue, and we endure.

I am headed west to West Point, Nebraska, to take in the community's Sesquicentennial, its celebration of one hundred fifty years of endurance on that piece of ground there along the Elkhorn River. West Point, as they say, the Best Point, for a hundred fifty years. Imagine their holding on, the people of West Point, their stubbornness and their perseverance.


There are two kinds of people, I've found: givers and takers, who also divide to do-ers and done-to. The givers do not arrive at meal-time and expect to be fed; the takers do.

I arrived in West Point right at suppertime, so I ate at Pizza Ranch on Main Street before heading to the Lindbergs where I would spend the week. Dick and Gwen are often my hostelers when I am in town. My hostelers and my friends.

It was 7:00 p.m. when I entered by their front door on Monitor Street. Yet, because they had been involved in last minute preparations for the Sesquicentennial, they were just getting ready to eat, and offered me supper. "No, no," I said. I really was full. "But I'll have something to drink while you eat." And so I did.

And we visited and caught up on the news.

To be continued....
JULY 15, 2002

Blue sky above, a haze to the west, more sweltering heat promised this week. It's Wisconsin, it's summer, shut up. If you're here, you're making the choice to be here. If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen, out of Wisconsin; find something that suits you, soothes you. Choose to go, choose to stay - no matter, except that you accept what you've chosen.

Friday after work we went to the farm in Marquette County. We sat in the yard before supper, in the long light of late afternoon. A whole book could be written about a single beautiful moment of that serenity. We were far enough from the road, nothing disturbed us except the distant call of cranes, the cursing of wrens, the tut tut tut of a woodpecker at work.

The landscape hereabouts is peopled with ghosts, those who walked here before us. The shelters they put up are gone, so there are ghost shells of houses, teepees, lodges. A shimmering where once they stood. A vibration of molecules that endures. The place as something living.

Friday, July 11, 2008


An old house, leaning.
Sorrow leans farther.

JULY 12, 2002

It was a fine, mild day yesterday. Today should be pleasant as well. The western part of the USA has been suffering mightly with continuing heat there, but we've gotten a reprieve.

Everything hereabouts is green and growing. Moisture has come when it was needed. There was always humidity with the heat. "Steam-cooking," you'd call that. Yet today it's "vapor-cooling," and I'll enjoy it.

If I don't remember the day, who will? If I don't record it, will it have existed at all? How will I prove to myself there was a day.

The air north of town is ripe with the smell of pea vines down in the field. Peas get taken, the odor of that remains long afterwards. The vines get worked into the soil eventually, they become the stuff of something else. The turn and return of everything.

Blue sky and sun today, but cooler temperatures and enough breeze to please us. Far to the north and northwest, some hint of clouds forming or formed.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Leathered venison
along the road.

Crows, having at
and holding to.

JULY 11, 2002

It was a cooler day yesterday. Blue sky and a cool breeze this morning. Sunlight laid out like a map. Let's go, let's go.

In front of our building at work these past few days some barn swallows have been diving and swooping and cursing, trying to protect a nest hidden somewhere I can't see. You merely have to cross in front of the building to be attacked. They are serious about their business. This is sense of place with a passion, a great passion, a great angry fuse of it. Do we lose some of our connection to place as we evolve? The closer we've gotten to "idea," the farther we're removed from the physical world we inhabit?

The pond is still clotted with algae. Something skims across the green surface. Sunlight lies down on the green blanket. The world keeps spinning towards madness.

It's not all blue sky, I see now, out here in the country. There are clouds and crows; and red-wing blackbirds, too, their songs as bright as their wing patches.

South of Five Corners, another field of peas is gone. The stink of vines remains.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Skinned light.
Uneasy wind.

I put my head down,
push on.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


A long day's drive –
distance and


Monday, July 07, 2008


Buzz of grass,
whispering leaves -

the good gossip.

Friday, July 04, 2008


Roll of fields.
Ancient soil.


Thursday, July 03, 2008


Screaming green
of the landscape.

I want to believe
in something.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Merciful death
drops as sharp

as that hawk.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Shimmer of
air above.

Hump where
house was.

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