The place where 41 begins

41 begins

Saturday was a rare day trip for us – we haven’t often ventured so far that we need to ask someone to let the dogs out midday. We left the house at 6:30 a.m. and got back around 8:30 p.m.

The goal was mostly leaf peeping in Upper Michigan, with an added “bonus” of our first snowfall sighting of the season.

41 fall snow

Fortunately, it was a sunny day and we saw no flakes in the air, just on the ground just north of the Wisconsin-Michigan border.

But part of the joy for me was fulfilling a long-held desire to see the beginning (or end, as it were) of U.S. Highway 41, the blue-collar workhorse of the old highway system preserved in folklore (the Allmans’ “Ramblin’ Man” was born on a bus rolling down it) that still exists – much of it converted to interstate highway now – carrying travelers and cargo from the shore of Lake Superior in Copper Harbor, Michigan, to Miami, a distance of just less than 2,000 miles.

The last few miles before our destination was a beautiful winding and hilly stroll through mostly unspoiled forest that was awash with the yellows and oranges and reds of this particularly vivid autumn. Rewarding us at point zero was a sign denoting The Beginning of U.S. 41, built by a man named Byron Muljo, described as a “plow driver, sign foreman, maintenance foreman and road commissioner” for Keweenaw County, which is one of the most lovely corners of the universe I’ve ever been.

41 sign

Why did I have to see the beginning of U.S. 41? I like origin stories – I’m fascinated by beginnings and the contrast between quiet starts in gorgeous countryside and the huge industrial workhorses they become. There’s a power in such places – a power in quiet beginnings – maybe that’s why I like to start the day sitting and reflecting in this chair.

41 miami

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All I know is words

all i know is words

All I know is words. I can feel their rhythms, sense the way a master of words manipulates them, and appreciate a turn of phrase created with care.

“Manipulates” is a good thing when the purpose is to help the reader see or understand something. “Manipulates” is a bad thing when the purpose is to help the reader fear something that need not be feared.

“All I know is words” – that statement began as an expression of frustration, even sadness, but words unlock everything. The words teach us all that we may need to know. Gestures and signs only get us so far and can be misread – but words can help you understand the nuances. Signs and gestures can help understand the how; the words dig deep to the why.

“You’re only an English major?” say the skeptical. But understanding the words and how they work together leads to everything else. Few things are as powerful.

Beware the glowing box

on switch.JPG

Beware the glowing box that mesmerizes you and seizes your attention. You wake with a clear mind and focused purpose, and it scatters your thoughts to the wind.

Set your mind on the day’s tasks before you activate the electronics, and don’t let the bells, beeps and whistles drag you off-course once you hit the “on” switch.

. . . But then, of course, it’s too late. You already hit the “on” switch, and you’re reading this. Quick! The “on” switch is also the “off” switch. Go on: All this will be here waiting when you return.

Dejah is 5

Dejah 5th anniversary

It’s been five years since Dejah Thoris, Princess of Mars entered our lives. We named her before we set eyes on her, because I was so taken by the “failed” John Carter movie that I wanted to be able to recruit believers to the film when I explained why we named our dog Dejah.

It turned out to be a perfect name. She is a fiercely independent creature (although not very fierce in and of herself) and clearly not of this planet. That became clear within a month, when she needed emergency surgery to remove her diet of pebbles, mulch and other foreign objects.

It turned out that Willow The Best Dog There Is did not want an adopted sister, no way, no how, but even she has been won over – mostly. We have had various combinations of pets through the years, but this pair may be my favorite.

Much has changed in the past five years – for one thing, that first-day photo was taken in the halls of the Door County Advocate, from which I was cast by corporate bean counters a couple years ago – but Dejah has always been loved, free, and just plain nuts.

Take a dinosaur to lunch

international dinosaur month

And how DO you celebrate International Dinosaur Month?

Do you finish the book you were writing about a newly discovered kaiju?

Do you watch a different Godzilla movie every day? or Gorgo? or Beast From 20,000 Fathoms? or The Giant Behemoth?

Do you listen to T-Rex records?

Do you listen to records, period?

Do you invite to lunch someone who still writes in cursive?

Do you invite to lunch someone who still uses pencil and paper?

It’s a whole month: Maybe all of the above.

In any case, happy International Dinosaur Month.

Better to play baseball in March than November

brewers logo

My second baseball love (I was a die-hard Mets fan from 1962 until I moved to Wisconsin), the Milwaukee Brewers, are in the playoffs for only the third time and for the first time since Major League Baseball added a second wild-card team. Being more of a fair weather fan than I care to admit, I didn’t even realize that the two wild cards don’t play a series: They play a single game, so after playing eight score and two contests to reach the playoffs, the wild cards step right into a Game 7 environment without the build-up.

I questioned that Thursday on Facebook, asking:

“OK baseball fans, with every other scheduled match in regular and the post-season being a series of games, what was the rationale for making the wild card a single elimination game?”

One friend reminded me it’s all about the money, and the more teams play meaningful games in September, the more people will watch TV and come to those games. Sure, but why sudden death for the wild cards, which had played a best-of-5 series against the team with the best regular-season record from 1994 through 2011. (That was the last time the Brewers made the playoffs, so it was the last time I was paying attention this early.)

He then pointed out that making it a wild-card series instead of a wild-card game would mean shortening the regular season or extending the World Series further in November, which would get pretty frigid if it were being played in places like Minnesota or Boston. I suggested how about Best of 3, which would only add two more games and days.

Another friend liked that idea and would be OK with chopping games off the regular season, but I came back with:

“Oh no, 162 games has been the standard for almost 60 years now. There are some things about baseball that are sacred. If we can have winter sports in June, we can have baseball two more days into November. Or start the baseball season on the first day of spring!”

If I say so myself, I like the idea of baseball at the end of March. People throwing the ball around and swinging bats at it has been a sure sign of spring for years now, so why not make it literal?

#TBT Yellow Balloon

I associate this song with the summer of 1967, when our parents took their boys on an encore trip to California (which then was the only place in the world with a Disney theme park) and we saw firsthand how the interstate system was going to transform the USA. What had been a weeklong journey from New Jersey along mostly two-lane highways was, in a mere six years, turning into a four-lane hurdle that bypassed quaint little towns instead of strolling through them.

Somewhere around Kearney, Nebraska, we started hearing a little burst of musical sunshine by a band said to include one of TV’s My Three Sons (a fact I discovered much later). Like the sun on a rainy afternoon, it broke through without introduction, cast its light for a couple of sweet minutes, and then faded away.

When I bought the 45 rpm record (on Canterbury Records, which I previously associated only with Disney, appropriately enough), the flip side was “Noollab Wolley,” the song literally played backwards, as if they didn’t have a “proper” B-side for the single. I found (and owned for a time) a Yellow Balloon album, so I know they recorded more than one song, but maybe they liked this one so much they wanted to share it with the world before they made any more recordings.

“Yellow Balloon” never got much airplay in New York, where I heard most of my new music, so this song remains locked in my memory with that trip, along with images of my first airplane ride (Dad and Mom were NOT reliving the Mojave Dessert nightmare of ’61, so we flew from Salt Lake City), San Simeon and the Mormon Tabernacle.

Christmas as a metaphor

solstice and equinoxWhen I walked outside Sunday morning, the first morning after the fall equinox, the feeling in the air was nearly identical to the morning after the spring equinox, notwithstanding the visual difference between March and September: The sun was shining, a lone bird was singing, and the air was neither hot nor cold but a warmish breeze was blowing.

The only real difference was the invisible promise that, even though the hours of sunlight and dark are nearly identical now, the days will get progressively shorter until the next solstice in December, which will be the shortest day of the year, as opposed to the spring equinox with its invisible promise of more daylight daily until June.

I found myself thinking of the reason why the ancients chose to celebrate Christmas at the winter solstice even though there is scant evidence that Jesus was born at that time of the year.

I suspect it’s because of the apt metaphor: Before Jesus’ birth the world was getting progressively darker, until it was dark as can be, and from the hour of Jesus’ birth the light began to infringe against the dark more and more.

It’s an inexact metaphor, given that the dance of light and dark is more of a cycle than a straight line – and the metaphor doesn’t work at all in the southern hemisphere – but at least the promise of growing light coming gives us a reason to endure the dreariness of early December.