Into The West

You might have noticed that it has been a little quiet here at the website for a couple of days since I completed my big Favorite Songs By Favorite Bands writing spree. But not quiet in real life for me at all, as Marcia and I spent the last two days driving from Des Moines to Las Vegas, helping our daughter Katelin and her beloved John move into their new home here. John’s dad drove a moving truck, we rented and drove a (fully loaded) SUV, and Katelin and John drove their (fully loaded) car with their two cats. (One of whom, The Bumble, may be familiar to long-time readers here).

It was a long trip, but we traversed some truly stunning countryside, and everyone and everything arrived safe and healthy, most importantly. Katelin and John are going to be living in a great house in the Summerlin community at the western side of the Vegas metro area, so they are in stunning surroundings on a full-time basis, e.g. they are mere minutes from Red Rocks Natural Conservation Area, a perfect place for avid climbers and outdoorsy people to spend their time. We are excited about their new adventures, and look forward to experiencing them vicariously through their reports in the years ahead.

Marcia and I are going to have our own little adventure for the next couple of weeks, heading up into the Yosemite and Lake Tahoe area once we finish helping here, then back over to Utah to visit the Logan and Moab areas for a spell. We are still hunkering down, masking up, and doing all the on-our-own things we need to do during this our national time of disease (in both literal and figurative terms). Safety first, even on the road. Maybe most especially on the road. In any event, posting may be a bit sparse here through July, but I’ll eventually do my usual photo journal for those who like such things. Today I close with a pair of snaps taken of John and Katelin this morning when I went for a ramble with them in Red Rocks. Marcia and I are most happy for and proud of them as they begin this next new exciting chapter of their lives!

A Change of Scenery

Marcia and I returned from Florida on March 18, just as things were slamming shut and the true severity of the current pandemic was becoming clear to most lucid folks. Since that date, my furthest venture from our apartment was on my bicycle, and we’ve cancelled planned trips to Iceland, Costa Rica, Nevada and Sweden. We mostly like our little apartment nest and our neighborhood, but over-exposure brings the small annoyances to the screaming fore, and dulls the subtle pleasures, especially when the folks around us are behaving in irresponsible or irritating fashions that intrude on our bubble of privacy and safety.

So we’re pretty Des Moinesed Out and Iowa Exhausted at the moment, and ready for a little mix-it-up, even as we’re still being diligent about keeping ourselves away from infection vectors by adhering to smart social distancing and personal protection standards. Those competing desires to get out of town for a change of scenery, while still being away from any crowds of the unmasked and oblivious infectious, finally led us to investigate remote vacation properties as a sensible solution to the conundrum.

We finally found a gem near Wood Lake, Minnesota: Prairie Cottage. It’s a lovely, restored farm house on a Minnesota Century Farm Homestead, nestled within a grove of ancient hardwoods planted by the family, who settled the land in the 1880s. Beyond its shady grove, there’s miles of corn and soy bean fields providing a peaceful rural privacy buffer, with a variety of interesting parks and recreation areas along the nearby, geologically fascinating Minnesota River Valley. Sure, the scenery looks a bit Iowan on the surface (corn, beans, wind turbines, etc.), but trust us after nearly a decade in the Hawkeye State: Minnesota really is very different, in a variety of important-to-us social and cultural ways. It’s refreshing. It’s Marcia’s home. We like it.

We arrived at Prairie Cottage on Thursday, and have gone on a couple of hikes already, when not enjoying cooking at home and sitting out in the yard reading, after an unexpectedly heavy rain system passed through the first night. (I finished a superb science fiction novel, Providence by Max Barry, that day, and I commend it to you). We’ve got some more hikes planned over the next two days, along with more sitting around doing nothing special, just enjoying looking at something different than what we’ve looked at every day for three months, in blissful, peaceful, private quiet.

As is my wont, I’ve snapped some pics of the little adventure so far, and share them with you below. Here’s hoping you’re able to safely push your own comfort envelopes in the weeks and months ahead. It’s good for the soul, I have to say.

(Note #1: Click on any image to view full size).

(Note #2: See also this related Supplemental Music Nerd Adventure).

The grove from the road.

Aha! There you are!

Bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. Lots of space to loll.

You know you are in Minnesota when the patio furniture is repaired with old hockey sticks.

Outbuildings also tucked into the grove.

An iconic object of the corn belt.

Memorial Park in nearby Granite Falls.

Overlook view from Upper Sioux Agency State Park.

Minnesotan on the Minnesota River.

Outstanding in my field.

Historic farmhouse at Skalbekken County Park.

Wood Lake Battlefield, site of a tragic engagement during the Dakota/Sioux Wars.

Shadows and light. Solitude and delight.

With Which I Am Well Pleased (Redux)

While our State of residence is opening up prematurely and irresponsibly, Marcia and I are still doing our part to protect ourselves and others through smart adherence to science-based guidance on social distancing and personal protection. So that means we’re spending a lot of time at home, still, even as we have diligently worked through our dire local climate to get good, healthy walks in every day, usually way out in the countryside away from the selfish, oblivious idiots who are bumbling around our neighborhood as though COVID-19 were a thing of the past already. We’re not exactly experiencing the sabbatical year that we had planned for 2020, but we have our health and we have each other and we have a variety of things, both mundane and meaningful, that are filling the hours and satisfying our souls. At the risk of repeating a titular heresy, I revisit my earlier With Which I Am Well Pleased post for a peek at 15 other specific things that have been keeping me entertained over the past month or so. Maybe you’ll be easily amused by them too.






30 Years

This photo was taken June 24, 1989, at The Church of the Incarnation, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Marcia and I had just said “I do” and “I do,” been pronounced man and wife, I’d gotten to kiss the bride — and then we stepped off down the aisle together, arm in arm, for whatever life was going to throw our way, with smiles on our faces.

30 years later to the day, we still walk arm and arm, with smiles on our faces. We’ve moved around the country numerous times over the past three decades, bought and sold several houses, earned a couple of degrees, lost many of the dear people who were with us on our wedding day, raised an incredibly interesting and accomplished young woman to independent adulthood, worked really hard in multiple jobs, celebrated victories and joys, and endured struggles and hardships, together.

We still go to bed every night holding hands and saying “I love you,” and we mean it.

The ancient Greeks had different words for different types of love: eros, philia, ludus, agape, philautia, storge, and pragma. The last one of the seven is described thusly:

The everlasting love between a married couple which develops over a long period of time. Pragma is the highest form of love; the true commitment that comes from understanding, compromise and tolerance. It is pragmatic, which is why it is referred to as “standing in love” rather than “falling in love,” because it grows over time and requires profound understanding between lovers who have been together for many years.

I could not have understood that concept as a 20-something young Naval Officer in 1989, but today, that concept resonates with me to my core, and I can’t really imagine aspiring to many things more desirable than living in that state, every day. Which I do, and which blows my mind each and every time I pause to think about it. I am so very fortunate to have walked a life path with Marcia on the road to pragma (among other loves), and I am so very excited by the prospect of doing so for the next 30 years and beyond.

It seems fitting, as I think about these ancient and profound Greek concepts of love, that Marcia and I are actually in Greece this week to celebrate our 30th Anniverary, with visits to Athens, Santorini and Mykonos on the itinerary. Lots of history, lots of walks, lots of culture, lots of time together, just the way we like it. Happy Anniversary to We!

I know that there are new changes coming in the next few years in how we live our lives, and what we do with them, and where we do it — and those changes are exciting and scary in equal measure, as I consider them. But whatever may come to pass, I know that Marcia and I will be doing it together, arm in arm, with smiles on our faces, and love in our hearts. What an incredible gift it is to spend a life-time with my best friend, and to still wake every morning excited about what the day may bring, because I know she will be a part of it.


Into The Woods (Again and Again)

When I was a kid, the woods were my second home. My friends and I would come home from school every day, get handed a snack, and then get thrown out of the house until dinner time, expected to entertain ourselves in ways that didn’t bother any grownups. Most days, we’d trot down the well-worn trails into the woods behind our neighborhood, where we’d climb trees, build forts, splash about in creeks, investigate the detritus dumped in the woods, and otherwise have unstructured fun beneath the untended wild canopy that’s fairly typical of most suburban communities.

Years later, when I lived near Albany, New York, I kept on exploring my local woods, eventually creating a photo essay series called “Hidden in Suburbia.” The premise behind this project was that I did regular deep dives into the woods around my community, never going more than five miles from my home, essentially recreating those childhood days of walking into the woods and being receptive to whatever I found there. Given the deep history of that part of Upstate New York, there were truly some amazing, forgotten finds back in those woods, which I was always happy to share.

Fast forward to 2019: I moved back to Des Moines, Iowa, a couple of months ago. My daughter (mostly raised in New York) and her boyfriend (a Des Moines native) live here, so it’s been wonderful to be close to them again. Last week, on one of the rare nice days we’ve had here this spring, my daughter’s boyfriend and I decided to go on a trek through the woods where he spent his own time as a kid. We had a great day, slogging across creeks, pushing through brambles, scaling post-industrial escarpments created by generations of landfill dumping, investigating all sorts of illicit detritus left in the woods, trekking across a meadow that generations have used for dirt bike riding, quietly tiptoeing away from a homeless camp we found, and just generally enjoying being in the moment, there in the woods. It was a full, rich day.

But you know what we didn’t see while we loped about in the woods? Young people, nor even any signs that they’d been there. We saw no tree forts, no stones placed to facilitate creek crossings, no cairns, nor any other evidence that these woods were routinely accessed by the kids who live around them. That seems sad to me, on some plane. Yes, I know that today’s children have opportunities for all sorts of global engagement via their televisions and phones and tablets, but still, I can’t help but think that climbing trees and damming creeks and building forts gave me more meaningful, resonant life skills than anything I’ve ever accessed on a computer, and what a loss it is if kids don’t get to have such experiences anymore.

Do you have a young person in your life? If so, here’s hoping you have some woods near your home, and that you can take them out for an unstructured adventure therein. I guarantee they will love it, and 50 years hence, they may be writing about it as I am today!

As a kid finding this in the woods, I’d have immediately been trying to figure out how to get that engine block out, and what I could build with it . . .

“So You Must Be Eric . . .”

On March 8, 1987, I graduated from Naval Supply Corps School in Athens, Georgia, and was given a one-month leave period to make my move to Arlington, Virginia. I was one of four from my year group in Athens (me, Mike, Bruce and Greg) who had been selected to work as procurement, logistics and budget officers at Naval Reactors Headquarters, which was considered a very prestigious posting.

After two days en route from Georgia to Virginia, followed by 29 days of being a dissolute wastrel, I checked in at my new office (Room 3N11 in National Center Two, on Clark Street, in Crystal City) on April 8, 1987, and spent a busy day learning the ropes, as Naval Reactors was very much a “throw you in the water to see if you can swim” sort of place.

Sometime in mid-afternoon, I managed a quick bathroom break and was hurrying back to my desk, when out of a door on the other side of the resource management department’s office area stepped a confidently attractive blond woman, her charms made especially striking when encountered in a building dominated by badly-dressed male engineers. (There’s a reason for the pocket-pen protector stereotype, believe me).

As it turned out, the very striking woman had already met Mike, Bruce and Greg, and so she properly deduced that I must be the fourth member of that year’s Naval Reactors Supply Corps cohort.

“So, you must be Eric . . .” she said, being a friendly type.

And I said in reply, because I am not half as clever as I like to pretend: “Must I be?”

Then I scurried back to my cubicle.

That was 30 years ago tomorrow, and that was the first conversation that Marcia and I ever had. Who could have possibly imagined where it would lead us?

It turned out we were neighbors, too, and we moved in similar social circles, so we saw each other a lot, at work and at play. I was quickly smitten, though it took a while before the feeling was mutual, and we didn’t start dating until about nine months after we met. After that, though, things moved quickly: within 18 months, we’d gotten engaged, bought a house together, and were married. The girl child (who is now 26) was born less than two years after that.

Then came Idaho. Then came New York. Then came Iowa. Then came Chicago. Wow.

I don’t know what I did that made me deserving of such an extraordinary life partner, but I’m thankful for whatever it was, and awed on a daily basis by my good fortune. So I must be Eric, indeed, and apparently, that’s just fine. Thank you, Marcia, for noticing. I love you with all of my being, and look forward to whatever adventures the next 30 years bring us!