Thursday, January 30, 2014

To keep building

Shooting stars are, after all, made of flaming stones
hurling themselves through the sky.
Photo by Stuart Heath

What it takes to make a shooting star

I’ve got to tell you something difficult, perhaps a little embarrassing. This is not easy, writing these essays. In fact a lot of the time it’s really rather super extremely painful and I’m left thinking about how much less stress there would be in my life week to week if I stopped writing for awhile.

Sometimes I have only mere slivers of stories to share, other times absolutely nothing. Neither seem enough to bother printing. Other times I need to really dig deep into something with about 2,500 words, but those are just too complex and a tad on the long side for this spot. I don’t have time to do those plus the rest of my work.

Truth be told, sometimes I resort to sending work out that I’m not happy with. The way I write, I usually find one or two turned phrases that came to fruition only through the other 700 words surrounding them.

Is it still worth it then? Is the rest of the time and energy worth the two catchiest phrases in the whole piece - the two shooting stars?

What are my options here? Do I forego writing a column for a week until I can get my ducks in a row, or do I spit out something mediocre - something that’s not exactly right and certainly not honed?

One journalist I follow on Twitter recently said this: "Writers put themselves through hell for peanuts and write off anxiety as a personal problem.”

That kinda hits the nail on the head. For the sake of thinking broader, let’s call the writer/artist/whatever a builder, so we can see how far this concept actually stretches. The builder wants his project to be perfect, wants it to shine like a diamond in the rough, stand upon a windy mountain top, burn like a ball of fire in the sky. He or she wants it to be memorable, stoic, steady and stalwart. The project should be built as something for a portfolio - an example of his or her best work.

What stress that is, to consider all of that each time you sit at the keyboard, err, excuse me, each time you’re about to pour the concrete...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Morning snowfall

A singular experience
Morning snow crystallized to a pane of glass.


I wake to move in a house undisturbed. It is one of life’s greatest blessings, the deep, dark quiet of early morning. Before the world wakes. I try to move in a way that keeps things that way - quietly.
I sit at the kitchen table with my first meal of the day to break the night’s fasting. The sun is just beginning to shed light through the window, and I’m made aware of the wonders happening outside. Snow is falling.

It seems a small thing, almost, that if not for sight and a little light I’d be unaware of what was happening outside the window.

I watch, enamored. The twisting and swirling, the gusts and the shapes. White flakes fill the air so completely and at all times. And yet, each flake is always only moments away from finally resting.

Alone I watch a silent symphony.

There, another gust and the wind takes mute forms outside my window.

How does it move in swells? What changes the direction of a group of flakes here, a clutch of crystals there?

They’re all moving at different speeds, yet at once in synch. Sometimes I see planes of depth, as though sister air masses are riding the same merry-go-round. Or maybe the swells are brothers pushing and shoving.

I notice the sunflower seeds in the bird feeder are frozen. Oh, I am sorry little chickadees.

There goes the snowplow...

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Weather events

Instantly frozen coffee in the -20ยบ F polar vortex.
Photo by Hannah of StonehousePhoto

A bit of research and observation

Cold winter nights in the Northwoods are fended off by staying indoors and cranking up the heat. We’ve lived through winters before. However, last week was the coldest it’s been for a full three-day stretch since 2005.

Dubbed by the media as a "polar vortex," the cold blast that froze a large portion of the nation Sunday through Wednesday had millions focused on one very specific topic - how to stay warm.

The difference this time around was the amount of time since we last combated several days in a row where the mercury just wouldn’t rise above zero. Many of us had lapses in memory as to just what we needed to do to keep warm and still be operational during the 72-hour event.

Our neighbors to the west shut down their government offices, public schools, and other state-run operations even before the air mass from Siberia stretched out its cold fingers to clutch us all helpless in its grasp. Minnesota shut down; Wisconsin plugged on. The cold reached as far as Florida, providing a brief cooling spell over orange groves that growers say will actually improve the crop by sweetening the fruit.

In Kentucky, the Associated Press reported an escaped prisoner turned himself back into the police because it was just too cold to be running around outside. Now that’s cold...

Thursday, January 9, 2014


The hardwood stronghold on the snow-covered sea

With a frosty mustache and one foot soggy wet I kept marching. My insulated rubber boots were just a hair too short for the snow, so I was ill prepared for one particularly deep drift. It didn’t matter though, that my foot was wet, I was almost there. Promises of shelter and warmth whispered softly from somewhere in my head.

The wind-whipped snow flurries were dancing violent swirls through the trees before crashing onto the ground. Gusts coming off the lake burned my cheeks and split my lips. The small section of my face that was exposed to the elements was tortured ceaselessly. The rest of my head was bound in beaver fur, and my coat, flannels, and long underwear kept safe the remainder of my mortal form. If only I had worn snow pants over my boots...

Strapped to my back was a rickety old pack basket, stuffed to the brim with winter clothing, frozen fish, and an assortment of things I would need to spend the night at a snow laden cabin in the woods. I’m sure there are better suited and more modern solutions for back baggage, but the basket was my father’s and it’s rather romantic in an old-timey way.

There were no chickadees in my ear that day. There was no sign of the sun, but grey and white illuminated by a vast, cloud abyss overhead. Truly, daylight in the dead of a Northwoods winter only achieves a sliver of what is seen the rest of the year, especially in June. It’s almost like living under ground (a hard, frozen, unforgiving mound of black dirt), surviving these winters. But that was the point of my venture; I wasn’t going to let the cold and dark keep me down - I had to get out.

My walking stick was icing over at the bottom and my legs were burning. I should have worn snowshoes. I should have been more prepared ahead of time. I should have known better than to bring this much stuff.

I could see the cabin now, at least...