NEVERMORE, REDUX

Back in April of 2011 after embracing the idea of moving from California to Minnesota, there were people, places and things that I knew would be deeply missed. Our children and grandchildren, of course. And in the over-all scheme of life – my lovingly tended garden with it’s over 50 heirloom roses; the tantalizing and heady scent of the Pacific Ocean; the comforting familiarity of coastal locales and friends covering two lifetimes. To name a few.

There was also my dream job at a resort in Big Sur which had been judged one of the best small inns in the world by Conde Nash Travel and Guide. The guest rooms included tree houses, jutting up at odd angles among the redwood trees, rooms which were sculpted round and woodsy so it felt like entering the heart and soul of a forest giant, and others bermed into the edge of the cliff with grass and flowers on the roof and a glorious deck hanging precipitously over the ocean.

Our retail business was in a Quonset hut, once the tack room for the ranch, now set alone, down a woodland path in a lower grove. I said at the time that I would deeply miss the creativity of the little shop, but even more I would grieve for the loss of a friend who had regularly visited me there for the past four years.

He first came visiting as I ate my lunch in our storage/shipping building, strutting and waddling as he ventured closer, dipping his head from side to side yet looking full on, one eye at a time. I had previously heard him high up in the redwood tree making that distinctive, almost electronically resonant – “Krronk, Krronk.” He also cawed like a crow, but deeper. And “clicked.”

I shared my apple and he began to visit every day at lunchtime, sometimes waddling just inside the front door to the shop, peeking to see if I was there. We soon moved on to unshelled peanuts, which were an immediate hit, and it became our routine. If he arrived early I would say, “You’re an early bird. It isn’t lunchtime yet.” And he would perch in the baby oak tree across from the front door and wait. We began a ritual and it was always the same. I would feed him the peanuts on the top of the fence post across the parking lot, signaling that it was time by making what I thought might approximate the raven clicking noise and he would fly to the higher gatepost and wait for me to deposit the peanuts. Our interaction was amazing and I chose to believe that it went beyond food.

I was recently reminded of my special communication with this wild creature when I read a piece in the latest edition (January-February 2016) of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine where Chet Myers writes about corvids (crows and ravens), explaining their unusual intelligence and ability to relate and recognize individual human beings.

“Sometimes ravens give voice to their memories. Because of the physical structure of their multiple larynxes, ravens and crows are capable of wide-ranging vocalizations,” he writes. “A raven residing in a national park campground learned to imitate the gurgling sound of a flushing toilet, much to the consternation of visiting campers. Naturalist David Barash was studying marmots in Olympic National Park in an area where some blasting excavation had taken place three weeks earlier. One day he heard a voice calling out ‘Three, two, one,’ followed by the sound of a small explosion. He nervously called out, ‘Who’s there?’ Then he spotted the noise-maker – a raven in a nearby tree.”

I think often about my raven friend. I would like to think he remembers me.

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Posted in Birds, enchantment, favorite things, friendship, memories, Uncategorized, wild animals | 2 Comments

SURVIVING NATURE

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We have a “movie club” with friends, going as a group to chosen, anticipated films and returning to someone’s house afterwards for food, drink, comaraderie and conversation. Unfortunately in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, there are limited choices at the Westridge Mall Cineplex. They mostly show films for twelve year olds and younger, or undiscerning, not-so-bright adults.

Hence the jubilation when something of note comes to the local theater.

Recently we gathered in wintry weather wear to view “Revenent” – a film by director Alejandro Gonzalez Inaarritu. The timing couldn’t have been more appropriate. Properly swathed in sub-zero appropriate garments, we filed into the theater only to be subjected to over two hours of on-screen frozen torment. It’s not like we wouldn’t rather have been cozily immersed in a tale set in Micronesia – palm trees, tropic breezes, southern sun. But, no. We acclimated to Cineplex temperature by slowly, and with trepidation, abandoning our scarfs and parkas.

In one notable scene, Leonardo (as trapper guide, Hugh Glass), in order to keep warm, slits open the belly of a dead horse, tugs out the guts, strips naked, and crawls inside. Having just braved the elements ourselves from the car to the movie theater, it wasn’t difficult to imagine that kind of wintry hell. And wondering why we hadn’t crawled into and clung to any heat left under the hood against the engine, instead of paying good money to have the hell of feeling frozen approximated in film.

One of the reviews for the already much lauded movie, refers to it as “a brutal hymn to the beauty and terror of the natural world.” Another calls it “the secularized state of a medieval saint tormented by visions.” And critic, Roger Ebbert, concludes – “It hangs in the back of your mind like the best classic parables of man vs. nature.”

Not to be unnaturally dramatic, but I must admit that our fifth winter in Minnesota has been feeling all too much lately like a brutal hymn to the natural world and a classic parable of man vs. nature. Slogging down the drive to retrieve the morning paper. Struggling to make the daily rounds to refill the bird feeders. Scrapping ice from the INSIDE of the car windows.

How in the world did my great grandfather, Jorgen Jacob Johannesen, manage to survive his first winter in this land by digging a hole in the ground next to the bank of the Red River? I guess, better than in the belly of one of his oxen, Pope or Spot. But watching the film made me think of him.

The remains of his headstone, which I retrieved from the Hemnes
Cemetary (along with that of great-grandma Elin and their two daughters who died at much too young an age, Jorgense and Randine), now rests beneath my glorious Siberian Elm. (A cousin’s son had their weather-worm memorials re-modeled “in style” a few years ago).

Coming from the tropical beaches of the Pacific, having spent all my life immersed in trade winds, sand and surf, I find it more than a stretch of imagination to fully appreciate what great grandpa Jorgen, all the hearty northern pioneers, and even, Leonardo DiCaprio in the making of this film, must have endured.

And I suspect, just like director Inarritu’s previous film, “Birdman” (which I found creatively enchanting), “Revenent” will be snatching up numerous awards this year. So, yes. Wear your mittens and wooly scarf. But go see it.

Will we be dreaming of southerly climes this chilly Minnesota winter? Yes, of course. Will we be re-thinking this retirement re-location? I suppose not. After all, we decided we would hereafter be know as “reverse” Snow-birds and, like Jorgan Jacob Johannesen, settle down in this new land in the north.

And there is always the thrill of waiting for my great grandma Elin’s peony to bloom again in the spring. We carefully dug up a piece from the Hemnes cemetery and replanted it near the old memorial markers in our garden. This lovely old flower would never survive and live on in California. It needs the wintry chill to thrive and bloom again.

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Posted in Family, Gardening, In Memorium, minnesota life, SNOW, Uncategorized, WEATHER | 1 Comment

WINTER BONES

 

 

DSCN5164The panacea for winter, drear and cold, is most often suggested as a snuggly day, plumped upon down pillows in a cozy window seat, sipping Lapsang Souchong tea from Grammy’s Haviland teacup, all the while poring happily over a panoply of seed and garden catalogues.

Sounds like fun, I heartily agree. However, winter is also the time I pay my dues and suffer the consequences of my horticultural impatience. Hopefully I have kept notes on last seasons beds along with a graph of sorts, recording what was planted and, most importantly – where? In my haste and impatience I have often filled every inch with greenery, creating a pleasing tableau at the moment with little appreciation about eventual spread, height, and reseeding tendencies.

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In California the winter garden could have a certain poignancy, a beauty in sparcity, but it was far easier to look at the underlying structure and reassess the bones. The general design still showed, even when the perennials had died back or taken a seasonal break. Here in Minnesota the piles of snow have covered not only the beds, but my memory, I fear.

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That’s where the notes and graph paper come into importance, marking the mistakes and (on fresh paper) planning the new season. And hopefully I have taken lots of photos for “compare and contrast”. After that initial plan, it will be spring before the emerging successes and mistakes pop up and can be celebrated, tossed into the compost pile, or potted up and shared with friends. And successful reseedings are happy free-bees that can be sprinkled throughout the beds.

In the meantime, when I rifled through my folders and notes from last year I came across some forgotten how-to’s and inspirations.

As a general rule of thumb guide: Plant the majority of perennials 1 to 1 ½ feet apart. Plant small “front-liners half that distance. Plant large plants and small trees 4 feet apart. And of course, consider shape and color, flowering time, light availability and soil needs. That’s a given.

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Most importantly, I need to keep reminding myself that when spring finally comes I will be too busy finding homes for the new darlings I discovered at the local nursery, overwhelmed at the necessity to “get on with it” and too deep into a heightened planting frenzy to be garden-rational. That’s precisely why I need to be extra vigilant in the winter and do my planning in the down time.

Two other thoughts I jotted down in my garden notes when I was digging for last year’s plan (don’t know the authors) gave me some horticultural sustenance – “Few of us manage a winning combination more than occasionally, and by accident more often than we realize.” Thank you for that!

And – “You might have a well conceived plan, but it will need constant tinkering.” Yes, that’s comforting. Sort of.

Don’t forget to work on the plan in the “down time.” While you’re sitting and sipping in your cozy spot, enjoy your seed catalogs, but always remember the bones!

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Posted in favorite things, Gardening, SNOW, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

SKATE KEY

“Just like riding a bike,” they say. “Begin again, anywhere, don’t over-think, jump on, let go, and you’ll remember.”

What they actually mean is “Stop procrastinating, get out of your writer’s funk, no choking, and no more excuses!”

And who are “they?”

Just the nagging voices in my head. The nay-saying, cyber-destructive, accusatory, scary little negative pieces of doubt that once again have brought me to a big black screeching halt in creativity.

And so, if this is a battle between “me” and “me” – one perfectly logical, if befuddled, and one steeped in nonsensical fear – how do I proceed? I’m guessing and hoping at this point that there might be, must be, yet another dimension of “me” that needs to and can intercede and yell STOP!

So what, if I don’t write one scintillating sentence? What harm if I babble and forget the primary rule – Cut, Cut, Cut? Why dither about form and function? Or be stymied when eluded by (gulp) a brilliant turn of phrase.

At first glance it might seem that the logical “me” would be represented by adult Diane and the fear-based nonsense would come from my child. But not so. When I think of the analogy I began with, I immediately remember my child-self who knew no fear on roller skates (never mind a bike), flying down the sidewalk, clickety-click, backwards figure eighting in the alley, racing with glee, soaring unafraid and free.

This blasted anomaly, this Writers Block which descends with withering fear from time to time, is stupid and unnecessary. And definitely part of adult Diane. I know that. But oh so difficult to break through.

I happened to click on the Lake Region Writer’s Network Facebook page today and this was the first thing I stumbled upon – “If I waited for perfection I would never write a word.”

Thank you, Margaret Atwood. Little Diane is strapping on her skates, racing forward, tucking the skate key into her pocket.

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Writer’s Block

bottledworder

Singapore
July 8, 2015

I have my word processor open but I’m thinking of the ants this morning. They are not the ticklish, harmless, black ants climbing all over the tabletop I wrote about earlier (from coke can to mouthwash) but a line of red ants on the concrete walkway that were crossing my path this morning. It was clean concrete which made the goal-oriented line of industrious moving red dots more well defined next to my memory of the haphazard black ants from last night.

Clean concrete makes me think of the dry, fresh concrete on the bathroom floor next to the window. It’s lighted up by the bright, dazzling sunlight of these hot, summer afternoons on this tropical island. The concrete is warm, fresh and clean and I know that if I were to put a drop of water on it, it would spread outward slowly absorbed by…

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What Venison, Water Diversion and Baseball
Taught me about Good Writing

By Thomas Hiatt

“Will my article be interesting enough?

Writers often assume they must have some grand subject like war or earthquakes to be compelling. However, some of the most engaging articles I’ve read have been on such not-terribly-sexy subjects as water diversion to farmland and how to turn your fresh venison into a tasty stew.

As an example, before 1989 or so, I never cared much for the game of baseball. Glancing at the television, I thought it preposterous; basically men-children paid millions of dollars to play with sticks and rocks and run around in circles. (When my younger self played T-ball – basically baseball without a pitcher – I had such little interest in it that I wandered into the stands, oblivious to my turn at bat. I wasn’t even sure of where the bases were and would take off into the out field – to the cat callings and cussings of my team mates.)

Then revelation came in the form of Shoeless Joe, a novel by W. P. Kinsella. It is strong testimony that this book simultaneously improved my view of both baseball and the state of Iowa. (I became so fascinated with the state that I brought my father and older brother down to Dyersville, location of the Field of Dreams baseball diamond.)

The novel fascinates because baseball is metaphor for lost idealism, simpler times. The bond between father and son, the land’s fertility; all of the universals draw the reader into this “book about baseball.” Take any subject, make it sing and the audience will find you.

But this blog is not really about baseball, Iowa, or W.P Kinsella, but rather the innate power of good writing, which has an innate power outside it’s given subject. An article on venison stew can be about the ethics of hunting, about self-reliance, about innovation, rural vs. urban lifestyles, et-cetera. A piece on water diversion to farmland can also delve into ecology, private vs. public rights, what we serve at our tables and so on and so forth.

Compelling writing pulls the reader into the writer’s world – even if that world is not of initial interest to the reader.

As the book says, “Build it and they will come.”

NOTE: Tom Hiatt is a fellow Libran and member of the Fergus Falls Writers Group. He is originally from Minneapolis, but has fallen in love with Western Minnesota since moving to Morris in 1994. Tom, who says that our writing group has been a blessing both in terms of improving his craft and in fostering wonderful friendships, has written for several area publications including the Morris Sun Tribune, the St. Cloud Times, and Senior Perspective, as well as numerous short stories with a novel pending.

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Life Interrupted – – –

I vow to myself and I promise my friends and readers (if only in my mind) that, yes, I will structure the time. I will set aside creative hours, preferably morning, and sit here rat-a-tatting on the keyboard. I will be fluid and insightful and never, ever succumb to writers block.

I vow. And then I lose the bet. Usually in the summer when the garden is pre-eminent and the farmers market is predominant. But other times as well.

When this intervention, this strangulation of thoughts and creativity, settles in with paralyzing aplomb, it feeds upon itself and grows with alarming
speed. Then personal fretting and guilt abound and exacerbate the condition. It is the writer’s curse. And so, here I am once again.

In the meantime, the in-between time, I will use this space to feature writer friends who have something to share, who are fancy free with their words just now and can fill up the empty spaces in Snowbirdredux, thereby lessening my guilt, reducing the pressure, while inspiring me to join in.

Stay tuned – – – – –

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