Left Hand Turns

A few years ago I took a photo of two, left-hand-turn signs in a field of fresh snow against a cloudless blue sky.  It’s one of my favorite photos.  In the intervening years, left-hand-turn signs have continued to grab my attention until now I have a small gallery of such photos.

No Left Turn

 

 

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A Dark Wood

The day before yesterday I finished “In a Dark, Dark Wood”, the scary thriller by Ruth Ware*.  Yesterday I unexpectedly found myself in a dark wood.

My hike took longer than expected, and I forgot that daylight savings time ended recently.  It gets dark very early these days.

So I’m trudging through a dark wood.  There is absolutely no wind, and no creatures are stirring, not even a mouse.  They have all gone south or into hibernation for the winter or have bedded down for the evening.  I can hear a jet far up in the sky but nothing else.  It’s actually a beautiful evening.  More than once I stop to enjoy the quiet and the beauty of the color left behind by the setting sun, color that shows brightly in the crisp, clear evening air.

I was in the Dunnville Bottoms in the floodplain of the Chippewa River in Western Wisconsin.  Here are some scenes from the dark, dark woods in the bottoms, mostly oak forests with many old, gnarly, spooky oaks.

 

 


I thought the book was neither scary nor thrilling, just an average, somewhat entertaining who-done-it.

 

 

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Gloomy Weather

A paraphrase:

There´s no sun up in the sky
Gloomy weather
Since my gal and I ain´t together
Keeps raining all of the time
Oh, yeah
Gloom and misery everywhere
Gloomy weather, gloomy weather*
Expert photographers advise when the weather is gloomy, make gloomy photographs.  Here are some from the last few days.  (PS., it’s finally sunny today, cold but sunny.  There are high thin clouds so the sun is not strong, but a weak sun is better than no sun at all.)

 

* Lyrics from Stormy Weather written in 1933 by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler and since covered many, many times.

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Favorites Of October, 2017

I’ve compiled my favorite photos from September in a video that is available on YouTube.

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It’s Not Supposed to Snow!

It was only October 27th, just a few weeks after the fall equinox, but it started snowing as I sat at my kitchen table eating breakfast.  I’m usually in a torpor at that time of the morning, but when, after a half hour, the scene outside my windows looked like the scene in the photo below, I decided I had to get out with my camera.  The results are farther down.  I only got slightly soaked.  It was heavy, wet snow, windy and cold, but I had fun which was my objective.

Outside My Window

 

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Aging Disgracefully

St. Croix Islands Wildlife Preserve

Who wants to age gracefully?  Not me.  Old folks just wanna’ have fun.

I sure do, but my doctor suggests that I have morning depression.*  That means I feel wretched in the morning, but if I’m lucky I’ll perk up later in the day.  By the time bedtime rolls around, just like a toddler I don’t want to go to bed; I want to stay up late.

When I woke up this morning, I “was stiff and sore and grumpy.  It felt as though rigor mortis was getting an early start on me.  Sleeping for eight hours is enough to make anything go numb.  Anything that still had feeling to begin with.  Worse yet, there was not a drop of Diet Coke to be found anywhere.  I needed to pee again.   I’m old and have a bladder the size of a lima bean.  Don’t get old.  If Peter Pan shows up, just go.”**

So what do I do in the morning?  I’m not sure I remember.  I know I eat breakfast and check the latest news on the internet.  (Tip for morning depressives:  Never read the latest news in the morning.  You will end up with absolutely no hope.  I of course always read the news in the morning.)

My doctor prescribed light therapy.  I got a light box a few days ago, but it still sits unopened in the box it came in.  I’m too depressed in the morning to open the box much less set up the light.  I’ll do it some night when I am more energetic and haven’t drunk too much beer.

I’ll finish this wretched post by quoting two of my heroes who I’ve quoted before and will likely quote again.

What?  Me worry.    – Alfred E. Newman

Keep on truckin’        – R. Crumb


* In case you were wondering, morning depression (not to be confused with morning sickness or associated with pregnancy, something I’m not likely to experience, being sixty-nine years old and the wrong gender ) is also known as diurnal depression, diurnal variation of depressive symptoms or diurnal mood variation.  I’ll stick with morning depression.

** All quotes are by Sheldon Horowitz, the eighty-two year old protagonist of the novel Norwegian By Night.  I’ve slightly altered the quote to be in first-person and the appropriate tense.

 

 

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Advice In Unexpected Places

Thank You For Being Late

Thomas Friedman’s recent book, Thank You For Being Late, is in the Globalization/Political Economy genre according the the ISBN code sticker on the back of the book.  One usually doesn’t look in such books for suggestions about creativity, but that is what I found in the first chapter, also titled Thank You For Being Late.

Creativity involves having ideas and then doing something with them whether you turn those ideas into – in Friedman’s case, a column in the New York Times,  or in my case a photograph.  Friedman says

. . . a column idea [or an idea for a photograph] can spring from anywhere:  a newspaper headline that strikes you as odd, a simple gesture by a stranger, the moving speech of a leader, the naive question of a child, the cruelty of a school shooter, the wrenching tale of a refugee.  Everything and anything is raw fodder for creating heat or light.

How can one nurture the ability to recognize ideas when they appear?

. . . you have to be constantly reporting and learning – more so today that ever.  Anyone who falls back on tried-and-true formulae or dogmatisms in a world changing this fast is asking for trouble.  Indeed, as the world becomes more interdependent and complex, it becomes more vital than ever to widen your aperture and to synthesize more perspectives.

Friedman paraphrases and then quotes Lin Wells of the National Defense University.

. . . it is fanciful to suppose that you can opine about or explain this world by clinging to the inside or outside of any one rigid explanatory box or any single disciplinary silo.  Wells describes three ways of thinking about a problem:  “inside the box”, “outside the box,”, and “where there is no box.”  The only sustainable approach to thinking today about problems, he argues, “is thinking without a box”.

Friedman continues:

. . . it means having no limits on your curiosity or the different disciplines you might draw on to appreciate how [the world] works.  [A person needs to be] radically inclusive.

As a photographer, thinking without a box means not being constrained by accepted norms of beauty or of what makes a compelling photograph.  It means not being constrained by the rules that are trotted out by the experts who then tell us to freely ignore them.  It means not being overly influenced by the latest hot stuff on Instagram or what is winning contests on ViewBug.  It means shooting from the heart.  As Friedman says, “What doesn’t come from the heart will never enter someone  else’s heart.

For me it means walking down an alley behind the stores that present their trendy, polished facades to the main street.  In the alley is where you find the unexpected and serendipitous examples of unexpected beauty.  Below are recent examples of beauty I found in alleys.

Side View Of Galloway Grill

Galloway Grill – Side View

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sundown On the Chippewa

Yesterday around sunset I was at what I consider the most beautiful vantage point on the Chippewa River, or at least it was last night.

Panorama From the North Bank Facing South

I was also on the exposed bedrock along the river near Jim Falls, Wisconsin.  The river has carved out numerous potholes.  I went there yesterday to photograph the potholes.

 

 

 

 

 

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Favorites of September, 2017

I’ve compiled my favorite photos from September in a video that is available on YouTube.

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Beethoven Envy

Image result for beethovenYes, I envy Beethoven; not his creative genius or ability to write beautiful, awe-inspiring music.  I envy his ability to sleep.  Beethoven actually complained about sleeping too much:

 Tell me nothing of rest. I know none but sleep, and woe is me that I must give up more to it than usual. *

For those of us to whom a good night of sleep is no more than an elusive hope, it is impossible not to envy Beethoven.  Looking at Beethoven’s lifestyle gives some ideas about achieving such sound sleep:

He sustains this strength of his by means of vigorous ablutions with cold water, a scrupulous regard for personal cleanliness, and daily walks immediately after the midday meal, walks that lasted the entire afternoon and often extended into the night; then a sleep so sound and long that he thanklessly complained against it! His way of living is substantial but simple. Nothing to excess; he is no glutton, no drinker (in the evil sense of the word) as some have wrongfully described him. **

I think I’ll try walking all afternoon and see if that helps my sleep.  Ha!  I’m lucky these days to walk for a couple hours.  I bet Beethoven didn’t have to pursue an endless search for a mattress that didn’t cause nightly agony in one’s back and hips.  I feel more like the princess who encountered the pea than I do Beethoven.  The doctors tell me that exercise will not worsen any of my nagging afflictions and is more likely to improve my life.  I’ll keep Beethoven in mind when I walk today and keep trying to be more active.  Hopefully, as I become more active I’ll sleep better.  In the meantime, I’ll continue to envy the great Beethoven and just keep trying to be myself.

Related image

 

* From Brainpickings 

** Romain Rolland, Beethoven’s biographer, as quoted in Brainpickings

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Cow In the River

There's a cow in the river.
Having a drink I suppose.
It would be pleasant,
standing in the river and having a drink,
instead of being on this old, rusty bridge.

The river is actually Verdigre Creek just before it flows into the Niobrara River in northern Nebraska.  The bridge is the 885 Road bridge.

 

 

 

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Old Omaha

I spent the afternoon wandering around The Old Market in Omaha, Nebraska, camera in hand.  I ended up the day with some sunset photos on the railroad tracks in Columbus, Nebraska.  Here are the best shots of the day.

In Omaha

In Columbus

Sunset Over the Railroad Tracks

Clouds Above the Elevator

 

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Ghosts Of the Photographer

Ghosts Of the Photographer

The Photographer And His Ghosts

 

Ghosts Of My Niece

Malena’s Ghosts

 

The Photographer Hard At Work

The Photographer Hard At Work On the Chippewa River

 

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Experimenting With Flowers

Yellow and Blue

I’ve been experimenting with new things to do with photos of flowers.  Here are some of the results of my experiments.

 

 

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Stumbling Through the Corn

I went out yesterday to photograph the Chippewa River in Wisconsin.  I was distracted by the corn fields growing in the bottomlands of the river.  Here are some corn field photos, taken either in the field or on the edge of the field.

 

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Good Words

Sometimes, good words are found in unexpected places.  Yesterday, I twice and unexpectedly heard (saw) life lessons.  The first time was while watching Series 1, Episode 2 of Endeavour, the BBC program about a young Inspector Morse.  At the end of the episode, Detective Inspector Thursday offers Detective Constable Morse advice about music.

Go home.  Put your best record on loud as it will play, and with every note you remember that’s something that the darkness couldn’t take from you.

Later that day I walked past Valley Bookseller here in Stillwater.  A bright yellow poster in the window advised me to

Snack

Nap

Read

Snack Nap Read

When I got home, that’s just what I did.

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A Week’s Worth

I made two day trips this week, one to explore the East Fork Of the Chippewa River in Wisconsin, the other a drive through the rolling hills southeast of Independence in Trempealeau County, Wisconsin.

Trempealeau County

East Fork Of the Chippewa River and Things Found Along the Way

One Shot From a Stillwater Parking Lot

Transmission Towers

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Poetry and 1950s Music

I’ve never been interested in poetry, so I surprised myself recently by registering for a workshop for beginning poets.  Imagine me writing a poem.  As things turned out, I dropped out after the first day.   I am however, still thinking about poetry.  I’m not giving up on it just yet for a number of reasons.

My good friend Nick whose judgement and taste I respect values poetry and recently loaned me books by three of his favorite poets.  One of the three is Charles Bukowski.  I like some of his poems.

Chapter 3 in The Immortal Irishman, a biography of Thomas Francis Meagher,  is titled Poetry In Action.  It begins with reference to a poem that set Ireland afire during the potato famine in the 1840s.  This was for me a demonstration of the power of poetry.

It was poetry, the bend of words to frame a cause, that lifted Ireland from its gloom in the last good months before catastrophe [the potato famine].  Thomas Davis, educated at Trinity; the Protestant son of a British army surgeon, came forth with a burst of verse that roused a generation. . . . In a country where most peasants were illiterate, the poetry of Tom Davis spread by word of mouth – stanzas repeated on a sheep path or a loading dock.

. . . Meagher grew infatuated with this rarest kind of subversive:  a poet with power.

Yesterday’s Brain Pickings Newsletter had a post about fear of poetry for which there is actually a term:

Metrophobia, or the fear of poetry, is surprisingly common. Many people first develop this phobia in school, when overzealous teachers encourage them to rank poems according to artificial scales, break them down, and search for esoteric meanings. [definition from Verywell.com]

The post say this:

But meditation is somewhat like poetry — a lamentable number of many people hold a stubborn resistance to it, a resistance that “has the qualities of fear,” borne out of a certain impatience with learning a new mode of being that doesn’t come easily but, when it comes, brings tremendous and transcendent satisfaction.”

I am skeptical that poetry will ever bring me such satisfaction, maybe some, but I’ve never encountered anything that is tremendous and transcendent, and I doubt that I ever will.  In the same way that I’ve never had epiphanies or road-to-Damascus moments.  Again, I doubt that I ever will.  Whatever changes or improvements or insights I’ve had have come slowly over years or decades as a result of experience, perseverance, stumbling and getting up again and moving forward and getting hopefully a bit further down the road before stumbling again which I certainly will do.  On the brighter side, I know that I will always get up from my stumbles until that final big one.  I’ll always get up to appreciate the moment, the day, the summer, a thunder-storm, a little taste of the summer, music (I’m listening to Greg Brown singing about his Grandma canning a bit of the summer).  Being able to write this entry.  Being able to listen to great music right now (Zambesi, a great instrumental from the 1950s done by Lou Bush who I had never heard of until I stumbled on this song, a cheery song.)  Being able to look forward to today, tomorrow, next week, my trip to Madeline Island in a month.  (Another instrumental, Skookian, Perez Prado, another fine, cheery song from the 1950s)  This can of La Croix sparkling water that I just popped – Blackberry Cucumber.

So I guess I’ll at least continue to read Bukowski although it’s hard for me to read even his poems for much more than ten minutes at a time; probably better than nothing.  Before I started this entry, I watched a short video on meditation that stated that the research shows that its benefits come with only five to ten minutes of meditation a day.  Five to ten minutes of poetry will at least keep me in the poet’s game.  (Stranger On the Shore, Acker Bilk, the song that got me going down this road of searching for 1950s instrumentals.  I heard the song as part of a sound track, recognized it as a song I love, and then promptly forgot its name and the name “Acker Bilk”.  I succeeded in finding the name through research which led me to a half-dozen other 1950s instrumentals worth a listen.)

How Much Is That Doggie

I started to look at Billboard Top-100 lists from around 1958.  There didn’t seem to be any earlier than that on the Billboard website.  I see now why rock-and-roll arrived with such force and was able to take over the popular music world and shove the old music aside.  The hits of the fifties, the best sellers, are a soup of unbroken insipidity, cute sometimes likable music that stirs nothing in the soul.  It’s easy to see why my generation preferred listening to rock over songs about doggies in the window and the like.

 

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The frontal lobes of a burnt tuna casserole

Easy to tweet, hard to have an ideology, a political will, an interest in anything but winning, or the frontal lobes of a burnt tuna casserole*!

As stated by a portrait of President Obama in a cartoon conversation with Li’l Trumpy, a recent, new character in the Zippy the Pinhead comic strip by Bill Griffith that’s appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press for years.  The strip was never overtly political until Donald Trump somehow became our president.  (Oh, did I say Donald Trump instead of President Trump?  Sorry, I meant to say The Big Cheeto**.)  Now the strip regularly features new characters like L’il Trumpy and Steve Bunion.  Many of these strips end up comparing Li’l Trumpy to a burnt tuna casserole, a perfect simile.

In one strip, Li’l Trumpy is said to have the attention span of a burnt tuna casserole.  This is the strip in which Steve Bunion says

Let’s ban all climatologists!  Let’s lock up David Brooks!  Let’s invade New Jersey!

I think I’m going to have to start checking in regularly on what’s going on with Zippy.

 


* from Zippy the Pinhead “Dropping an O Bomb” by Bill Griffith, 05/02/2017

** from Candorville by Darrin Bell, 05/02/2017

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Help! I Can’t Stop!

I thought this would be just another morning at home.  Then I stumbled upon the song Guantanamera done on YouTube as part of the Playing For Change project.  That led to watching and listening to La Bamba, What’s Going On, Stand Up Sit Up . . .   Lots of great songs.  Watching the videos caused goose bumps – they are that good.  Fun.  Uplifting.  Especially the out-of-this world rendition of Lean On Me.  What a show!  What a show!

Help, I can’t stop.  I’m going to be here all day listening to music. Oh god!  Now it’s What a Wonderful World!

Each video has many different musicians and groups that contribute to the songs.  They play in locations around the world on every continent.  Somehow, all the clips of all the different musicians and all the different locales are combined into wonderful creations.  They musicians are the best.  The videos are the best.  The music is the best.

Playing For Change has a motto:  Connecting the World Through Music.

Mark Johnson, the co-founder, says

The idea is to show people enough different cultures using music to uplift themselves, so that we can see the connections we all have.

Keith Richards

. . . that’s the way music was meant to be.

Grandpa Elliot

. . . man, all my life I’ve been putting out love, but not like that

Far from being just another morning, it’s been an inspiring, fun, music-filled morning.  I feel like it’s a bright, sunshiny day even though it’s wet and cloudy.

Peace Through Music

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Why Are We There?

Aftermath Of an IED Explosion

The United States recently dropped an enormous bomb, one of the biggest non-nuclear weapons in existence, in Afghanistan.  We dropped it apparently on ISIS fighters.  So why in the world are we in Afghanistan?.  What is our purpose there?  We’ve been there since 2001, we’ve spent billions of dollars.  We’ve lost soldiers.  Afghani civilians have died.  We don’t seem to be any closer to leaving or having a plan or date for leaving.

To what purpose all the sacrifices?  As far as I can see, all that we’ve done is ousted the Taliban and Mullah Omar from the central government and put in place a central government that is shaky and still needs our presence.  That might have felt good in 2001 (revenge is sweet), but it’s sixteen year later and the Taliban is still there and is still fighting.  Now there’s a third force in the mix, ISIS, and apparently ISIS and the Taliban fight each other.  If the enemy of our enemy is our friend, does that mean we’re now chums with the Taliban and should fight on their side?  It’s all too confusing.  I wish someone could tell me what our objectives there are.  Is it to reduce terrorism?  To create a stable, democratic government in Afghanistan?

Whatever our objectives were or are, we have failed miserably.  We keep coming up with new plans, new strategies for continuing to fail.

Perhaps it’s time to put up or get out.


Some statistics on Afghanistan:

Coalition deaths of 01/10/15:  3,407

U.S. deaths of 01/10/15:  3,424 

During the war in Afghanistan (2001–14), over 26,000 civilian deaths due to war-related violence have been documented; 29,900 civilians have been wounded. Over 91,000 Afghans, including civilians, soldiers and militants, are recorded to have been killed in the conflict, and the number who have died through indirect causes related to the war may include an additional 360,000 people. 

Direct costs of the war, FY2001 – FY2016 – $783 billion

The war in Afghanistan has so far cost $33,000 per citizen, as of 01/10/2015

 

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What I Saw

I walked downtown to see what I could see.

 

This is what I saw:

Found Objects In the Alley

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All Creatures Small and Smaller

Yesterday I was looking for wildflowers.  There were none to be found.  I guess it’s still too early even though the last few weeks have been warm.  The only things I could find that had new growth were big (red maples or willows) or very small.  The small things were mosses and lichens which I find very hard to identify.  I’m satisfied if I can correctly state that something is, in fact, a moss.  The mosses are sending out what I think are called sporophytes.  It had snowed the night before, so much of the foliage – dead or alive – was covered in tiny droplets of melt water.  One had to get down on one’s knees or belly in order to examine or photograph such tiny things.  I was wet by the time I finished.  Luckily, the sun came out later in the day, it warmed up, and I escaped death by hypothermia.

sporophytes and Drops Of Snow Melt

I think this may be a small puffball that survived the winter relatively intact although it looks like it “puffed.”  It was in pure sand.  There were more puffballs in the sand.  They grew only as individuals plants spaced a yard or so away from their neighbors.  All dead of course.

Exploded Puffball

 

More stuff found within an inch or two from the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

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Spring Break In the Great North Woods

This is how we celebrate Spring Break up north.  Looks great, doesn’t it?  All that’s needed is an ocean, some beer, some sand, some sun, some music, a woman . . .

Spring Break At the Beach

 

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Turning a Bad Health Care Plan Into a Total Wreck

I stole the title of this post from Kevin Drum who posted today [not today; I forgot to publish this on the day of Drum’s post] about theEssential Health Benefits (EHB) that the Republican health plan (ill-health plan would be a more apt term) would have taken away.  Here is what he says about EHBs:

Essential Health Benefits. These are things which every health care plan is required to cover, and Obamacare spells out ten of them:

  1. Doctor visits
  2. Emergency room visits
  3. Hospital visits
  4. Prescription drugs
  5. Pediatric care
  6. Lab services
  7. Preventive care
  8. Maternity care
  9. Mental health care
  10. Rehabilitation services

The Republican health care bill is still having trouble getting enough votes to pass, so Paul Ryan is thinking about placating conservatives by repealing all of these EHBs. This means that a health insurer could literally sell you a policy that didn’t cover doctor visits, hospital visits, ER visits, your children’s health care, or prescription drugs—and still be perfectly legal.

What it means to me is that conservatives and Republicans do not want you to have any health care at all if you can’t afford it on your own.  You can just die or go into bankruptcy.  Who cares?  You got cancer because you’re a bad person.

Harry Truman

Check out Kevin’s blog.  He is posting a storm about the farce that the Republicans are trying to foist upon us all.  Hopefully, they will fail miserably [they did!!!], thus preserving the status quo that is far, far better than anything the Republicans have been able to come up with even though they’ve had at least eight years.  More like 70 years if you go back to Harry Truman’s attempt to implement health care that was, of course, foiled by the Republicans.

 

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T-Shirts and Shorts

I look out the window and see people running in t-shirts and shorts, sweaters tied around their shoulders, no longer needed.  And it’s only mid-morning.

I stroll downtown and hear the growl and roar of over-large motorcycles, a curse on our small river town and a sign of spring.

I guess it must be spring ’cause my windows are wide open. and will probably remain so until November.  But that’s too far in the future to worry about.

In fact, why worry about anything but today.

In fact, why worry at all?  Alfred E. Neuman* wouldn’t.


*  fictitious mascot and cover boy of Mad, an American humor  and satire magazine

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Trust and Good Faith

Michael Hann at The Guardian recently wrote about what he has learned after 16 years as The Guardian’s music editor.

Of course, there are spivs and money grubbers, as there are in any industry that has historically promised large and fast returns. But pretty much everyone I’ve met who works in music does so because they love it, and they don’t make fortunes from it. Music is a remarkably uncorrupt world: there’s an awful lot of trust and good faith involved. And it ignites the passions, still. The surest way to get an interview with one of the old lags of rock off to a good start is to ask them about the music they loved when they were 17. You can see their eyes light up as they recall how they fell in love with music.

His point that music still ignites the passions started me thinking about what I loved when I was 17, and 27, and 37, and, God forbid, 67.  I remembered many highlights.  Here are some in a tediously long list.

Church music, always, from my earliest memories onward.  Listening to my Dad in the Senior Choir at church.

Going with Mom to hear the Minnesota Symphony at the junior high school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  Early 1960s.

A band from the Twin Cities playing at the Telemark Ski Resort near Hayward, Wisconsin, circa 1965.  The band featured an organ – definitely cool.  Great music mixed with skiing and my fellow teenage skiing buddies.

Rural beer bars in north-west Wisconsin, 1960s.  In those days, there were rural areas where those under 21 years of age could drink in taverns that served only beer.  Some of them had live music.  We had some fine times at the beer bars (they always had dirt parking lots) and are lucky we never crashed our cars on the country roads after a night out.

The Beatles, Bloomington, Minnesota, August 21, 1965, at Met Stadium, the old ballpark where the Minnesota Twins played in the 60s and 70s.  The stage was set up on second base.  I don’t remember much about the concert except that we almost left the tickets at home.  I, my girlfriend, and two other couples.

A country tavern on Long Lake in Chippewa County, Wisconsin owned by an old German with a heavy accent.  I think his name was Maxie and the tavern was Maxie’s; I don’t remember.  On request, he would get out his accordion (or was it a violin) and play for us.  Late 1960s.

Delta Tau Delta Fraternity, late 1960s, Madison, Wisconsin.  This was straight out of the movie Animal House although we didn’t realise it at the time.  We just thought we were cool.  On two or three Saturdays a month we would have beer parties with bands from Milwaukee or Chicago – black soul bands; the frat was all white.  We drank and danced up a storm; my frat brothers and my girlfriend.

Music festivals in the Woodstock era.  I went with a girlfriend to Sound Storm, Wisconsin’s first outdoor rock festival in 1970 outside Poynette in Columbia County a bit north of Madison.  Here’s what a Wisconsin Historical Society essay says about Sound Storm:

About 30,000 people attended Sound Storm, the majority sneaking in through the woods without paying. [I think we paid, but I remember climbing over a barbed-wired fence.  Perhaps my memory is shaky.]  The Columbia County sheriff, seeing his officers exponentially outnumbered by hippies and bikers, wisely decided to ignore misdemeanors such as nudity and drug use. LSD and other psychedelic drugs were everywhere, along with marijuana and cheap, screw-top wine. Medical students staffed first aid and “bad trips” tents [that I had to visit after ripping my thigh open on the barbed-wire fence], volunteers from the Hog Farm commune in New Mexico helped as stage announcers, and Madison’s Mifflin Street Co-op provided free food. Throughout the weekend, ecstatic dancers whirled before the stage. When undercover officers infiltrated the crowd, Pete [the event organizer] dropped 10,000 fliers from a helicopter urging the audience not to harm them. Fans frolicked in nearby Rowan Creek, even crowning their own “Mud King.” Two members of the band Northern Comfort got married on stage. At night, the York farm sparkled with hundreds of campfires. Only a handful of injuries or arrests were reported.

A block party in Madison, WI, early 1970s.  A band called Virginia Rose (or was that the name of the female lead singer?).  This was when I was discovering country music under the influence of early country-rock bands like Poco.  Virginia Rose was great.

Johnny Cash, Champagne -Urbana, IL, early 70s.  I and my girlfriend drove down from Madison to visit friends from high school and see the man in black.  Johnny only got better and better in the succeeding years.

Nights at the Birchmere in a Northern Virginia suburb of Washington, DC. , mid-to-late 1970s, The Red Clay Ramblers, great stage show; the original Seldom Scene with Ben Eldridge, John Starling, Mike Auldridge, Tom Gray, and John Duffey.  More beer drinking with my latest girlfriend, my best buddy Bruce, and a few other cronies from work.  The best bluegrass ever!

The Annual Indiana Fiddlers’ Gathering in Battle Ground just outside of Lafayette, IN, summer of ’79.  At the time, a small bluegrass festival, today in its 45th year.  The first time I saw people bring pieces of flat, thin, smooth wood to a festival that they would put on the ground as a surface for flat dancing or clog dancing (not sure what is the correct name for this style of dancing.)

Stumbled on a free, outdoor show by The Whites (Buck and daughters Sharon and Cheryl) in Georgetown, Washington, DC.  I think they were then called Buck White and the Downhome Folks.  Sharon later married Ricky Skaggs.  They are now in the country hall of fame.

A Holiday Inn in Lafayette, Indiana, 1978.  A bluegrass band.  I’ve tried to find the name of the band only to come up with a number of possibilities.  I think the band included Rickie Skaggs, Keith Whitley, and J.D. Crowe, but would such hotshots of bluegrass and country be playing in a Holiday Inn in Indiana?  Can I trust my memory?  They were wonderful musicians and well-known in bluegrass.  Keith would die too soon.  Rickie would be swamped in the Nashville scene but later escaped to return to something closer to his roots.

National Folk Festival, at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, an outdoor music venue near Washington, DC.  Many stages set up throughout the rolling countryside of is Vienna, Virginia.  Great music, non-commercial music.

Springfield, IL, 1998, driving home from Atlanta, my wife and I stumbled on an old, brick, two-story Italian restaurant in the university neighbourhood.  We ate upstairs where there was a wandering fiddler.  We listened for a long time and, because we were almost the only ones there, we had the fiddler to ourselves for a long time.  He played everything we requested.  A similar experience with my wife at the Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter (circa 2000) in Stillwater, Minnesota where we were entertained by the house accordionist.

Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis, MN: late 80’s, early to mid 90’s.  It’s still there and going strong, but I, unfortunately, haven’t been back in too long a time:

  • A group of Hawaiian slack-key guitarists and singers.  They didn’t know quite what to make of the winter.
  • Robin and Linda Williamson, tremendous in person.
  • Pat Donohue, the long-time Prairie Home Companion’s guitarist
  • John Hammond, blues man

I shouldn’t have started this list.  I now realise how little live music I’ve heard in the last two decades.  I have partially made up for this by spending lots of time and money on building a home library of music.  It’s now all digital, but in the past, for financial reasons, I’ve sold a large collection of LPs and two large collections of CDs.  How I wish I still had them, some of which were a bit obscure and might be hard to find these days.  For example, in the late 70’s in a record store in Georgetown, Washington, DC, I bought an LP – a very fine LP – by Country Ham, a group I had never heard of when I bought the record.  I can find no records on iTunes by a band called Country Ham.

A German beer and dance hall in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC with my Czechoslovak girlfriend Vera, 1978.  My first experience waltzing.

Connecticut Ave, NW in Washington, DC, near the zoo in what was then a block or two of small retail, bars, and restaurants, circa 1976 – 77.  I think one of the first metro stations was built in this block

  • Donovan’s.  One night a week a band called Sheepshead Bay played.  I sat at the bar (once again drinking beer) thoroughly enjoying their mix of folk and political and cultural satire (Reston Isn’t Resting Anymore).
  • Right across the street, Ireland’s Four Provinces where I first tasted the pleasures of Harp Lager and listened to the best Irish music I’ve ever heard.
  • Also across the street was the movie theater where I saw the very first Star Wars in 1977.

Madrid 1973 in a tapas bar.  I and an acquaintance I met on the overnight train from Paris.  A three or four man combo strolls in off the street and blow our socks off with Spanish songs.

Mykonos, Greece, 1973:  listening to Greek music and watching the locals do their Greek circle dances.  Seemingly impromptu, but probably staged for the tourists, maybe a bit of both.

Blues Saloon in Frog Town in St. Paul.  The stage was on the second floor of an old, wood frame building.  One got upstairs using a seedy-looking staircase.  No frills in the concert room.  Just loud, raucous blues.  It reminded me of the movie Devil In a Blue Dress based on the first of Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins books.  The movie was my introduction to West Coast Blues, Jump Jazz, and other music of the black neighbourhoods in southern California in the years after World War II.  The movie didn’t get much attention and still doesn’t but is one of my favorites in part because of the music and a good performance by Denzel Washington.

Small Italian Restaurant on the far outskirts of N. VA suburbs of DC.  Bluegrass on weekends.  An old time, family group, I think a wife and husband singing.  As usual, I am at the bar drinking beer, eating pasta,  and soaking in the music and vibes.  On the rural fringe of the urban area.  An out of the way spot that I stumbled on by accident.

And still, above all, listening to music, dancing to music, working out to music, being brought to tears by music, fighting the blues (bad, bad blues) with music, smiling with music.

Let’s play on!

 

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Something Odd In the Forest

What Is This?

I spent the afternoon at the Fish Lake State Wildlife Area, a typical afternoon on the trails and in the woods except for the odd object I discovered on the forest floor, no more than a few inches high but looking very malevolent.

 

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Bottoms and Barrens

On the Old Railroad (now bike) bridge over the Chippewa River

I’ve been exploring the Chippewa River this spring and late winter in the stretch of river between Eau Claire and the Mississippi River near Pepin, Wisconsin.  Much of the terrain along this part of the river is barrens such as the Dunnville Barrens and bottoms such as the Dunnville Bottoms.  And yes, a bottoms can be a barrens.

Bottoms, as in bottomlands, are “low-lying land along a watercourse”  [Merriam-Webster.com].  Barrens are “level or slightly rolling land, usually with a sandy soil and few trees, and relatively infertile.”  [dictionary.com.]  So bottomland can be barren but not necessarily, and barrens can be on bottomland, but not necessarily.

This is part of the Dunnville Barrens State Natural Area within the Dunnville Bottoms.

This is a fun area to explore.  It encompasses the Dunnville Barrens State Natural Area, Dunnville Bottoms, the Dunnville State Wildlife Area, and the Dunnville State Rec Area and Sandbar (great for swimming).  The Red Cedar State Trail runs along its southern edge, crosses the river on an old railroad bridge, and ends at its intersection with the Chippewa River State Trail.  The Chippewa River State Trail runs along the river between Eau Claire and Durand.

 

 

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Color and Graffiti Downtown

Downtown Stillwater, Minnesota on a sunny Spring Day.

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A Soul Ripped Apart

Emmylou Harris

Have you ever listened to a song that reaches inside and shreds your soul?  I listened to one this afternoon on my way home in the car – an Emmylou Harris song.  The germane lyrics are below.  I think that a song can cause such anguish only when one has experienced what the song describes.  That was the case with me this afternoon.  I was near tears.  I don’t know why I am choosing to share this experience.  Maybe I’m trying to expiate my sins (for all the love I never gave her) as I enter gingerly into old age.  If I don’t do it now, maybe I’ll never have another chance.  Who knows?

He never thought he would marry
Too many women to explore
And even standing at the altar
He knew, somehow, he wanted more
Until the night he almost lost her
He kneeled beside her bed and cried
For all the love he never gave her
He felt so ashamed inside

He cried, my darling, please forgive me
I’ve been been lost and I’ve been blind
Trying to fill the empty places
While you’ve been waiting all this time
One true thing is all I want
One pure light to shine on through
Oh, my darling, please forgive me
I didn’t know it was you

Emmylou is one of the best singers of the last fifty years, regardless of genre. She is the best duet singer.  Anyone can sound good singing with Emmylou.  (Well, perhaps not myself.)  She can impart more emotion in a song than anyone else I am aware of.

I heard Emmylou on my iPod routed wirelessly through the car speakers.  I had the iPad set to shuffling through a long playlist.  The imp in my iPod who manages the shuffling followed up the song that shredded my soul with another weeper, this one by Rhiannon Giddens.  Then the imp, out of over a thousand songs to choose from selects another sad Emmylou song.  The probability of that happening by chance are similar to that of being hit by a meteorite just after you’d hit big on the lottery.  My iPod imp is mean!  I’m thinking of contacting Apple support and asking for a new imp that’s a bit more pleasant.  Has anyone had any luck with that?

The second Emmylou song wasn’t so wrenching.  The song, All That You Have Is Your Soul, has a message:

Hunger only for a taste of justice
Hunger only for a world of truth
‘Cause all that you have is your soul

The imp redeemed herself or himself (do imps have gender?) on the rest of the drive home.  Sweet Soul Music by Arthur Conley:

 Dancin’ to the music
Oh yeah, oh yeah

Soul Man by Sam and Dave, another classic from the sixties:

Got what I got the hard way
And I’ll make it better each and every day
So honey don’t you fret
‘Cause you ain’t seen nothing yet

Eventually, the imp played Walk Through The Bottom Land by Lyle Lovett.  Guess who accompanies Lyle on the song.  You’re right, Emmylou Harris.

François Jaques: Peasants Enjoying Beer at Pub in Fribourg

François Jaques: Peasants Enjoying Beer at Pub in Fribourg

I’ve blathered on enough.  I’m in a low dive on Main St drinking beer.  I’m going to sit back and enjoy one more.  Just one more, I promise.  Then I’ll go home.

Goodnight, sweetheart, well, it’s time to go
Goodnight, sweetheart, well, it’s time to go
I hate to leave you, but I really must say
Goodnight, sweetheart, goodnight

The McGuire Sisters

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