Thursday, September 19, 2019

Animal Stories


When friends visit the shack they sit on the futon looking east through the glass patio doors at the ravine and me, while I sit in my chair looking west at a more solid shack wall and them.   My friend Lonny visited the shack and while talking looked past me.  His face changed, eyes got wider, mouth formed an O.  I knew he’d seen something.

“Look behind you.”

I turned.

“Where?”

“Right there in the tree by your woodshed.”

I looked harder.  Slowly the figure of a big ass owl emerged sitting calmly on the branch of a maple twelve feet away.  His head rotated like the girl in The Exorcist, first looking at us, then looking the opposite direction, then at the ground all around, and then back to looking at the two men standing in the shack, staring in fact, for a long time.

The name of that species of owl, not really big ass but beginning with a “b”, is technically the barred owl.  It was the second time that week I’d known something was around by seeing people react rather than seeing the thing to which they were reacting.

At a meeting in a DeKalb church basement last week the same sort of thing happened.  In the middle of a churchy discussion, while I was sitting with my back to windows at the top of the wall, talk stopped and the eyes of people across from me began tracking something else.  Whatever it was, by their faces I imagined it to be fascinating.

“A fox just walked past the windows,” a woman said.

I didn’t see the fox, but it wasn’t necessary to realize its impact.  I felt it was there.  When humans encounters wild animals it’s a showstopper.  I think there is something wonderful about it.  Animal images, and the way we feel when wild animals are near, stay with us.  Especially when they are big.

Lonny got a great picture of the owl.


Seeing that owl up close nails down evidence of its existence in the ravine outside the shack.  I think it’s most likely this very owl, or a member of its family, that I heard two summers ago.  My son Dean and I were having drinks and conversation in the shack, windows open, nice breeze, when our talk was interrupted by a loud series of hoots.
  
“What the heck is that?” Dean said.

“Sounds like a hoot owl,” I replied.

Hoot owl is redundant slang for most all owls, because hooting is what they do.  Hoots are the lingua franca of owls, except for screech owls, which of course, screech.  English can be so direct and to the point can’t it?  Different kinds of owls possess, like a copyright, distinctive sounds.  Here is the basic hoot of every barred owl that ever lived, according to those in the know.  Dean and I confirmed its identity that night by googling owl hoots and matching what we heard to the Audubon society’s recording.  Click on this link to hear it.

https://journeynorth.org/jnorth/sounds/Owl_Barred_WhoCooks.mp3

Hoot analyzers liken the barred owl’s song to this phrase.

Who cooks for you?
            Who cooks for you’all?

Nine syllables, the accent rising on” you” at the end of the first line, falling on “all” at the end of the second.

I identify with animals closely.  I think it’s because of growing up on a small farm and living closely with domesticated animals.  Wild animals are a different deal, especially birds.  Close encounters tend to be rare, and because of that more precious.  I especially envy the freedom of wild birds, their ability to fly away at a moment’s notice, their songs.

I suppose I feel close to birds because I love to whistle.  Searching the library of remembered songs in my brain for patterns of notes, and then hitting those notes in a whistled song, clears my head of other nagging thoughts.  I wish it was the same for song makers like the barred owl, but I’m afraid they have a different experience.

We tend to ascribe human qualities to animals, for example assuming the barred owl hoots as an expression of joy and creativity.  Sadly, bird experts think birds’ songs are a compulsion.  Birds are born with brains wired to sing only a handful of songs with specific purposes.  Usually finding each other and a few simple warnings..  There is not a speck of originality in my local barred owl’s hoot.  Instead it’s the ultimate ear worm.  Throughout its entire life it sings those same nine syllables over and over.  Who cooks for you?  Who cooks for you’ all?  It must be driving him crazy.  But there I go again, equating animals with humans.
    
If I could take on the form of a barred owl for a day, retaining my human brain of course, I’d find my neighbor in the ravine, land on a branch next to him, and teach him new songs.  Centuries of genetically inherited hoots could be complemented by new tunes.  My first choice for the barred owl would be I Am the Walrus by the Beatles. There’s a line in that song tailor made for a barred owl.

Coo coo kachoo ka coo coo kachoo

That owl would probably turn his head and look at me with his big eyes like I was crazy.


Foxes are another story.  If they yip and bark, which I’m told they do, I’ve never heard them.  But I’ve seen them up close, and I think there is something special about being in their presence.  I’ve read accounts of Native Americans recalling spiritual encounters with animals, communicating on some level, adopting the animal as their totem, or incorporating the animal into their name.  I’m fascinated with the concept.  If I had a spirit animal, and it wasn’t some whistling bird, it might be the fox.

I had a long moment one afternoon with a red fox in my yard in early spring.  He was in the sun just past the patio.  Not at all wary of being so close to the house, he stretched, did a downward facing fox, laid in the grass, his legs splayed out behind him, and looked directly at me for a long time.  It was sort of a stare down.  And then he yawned, got up, and trotted slowly into the ravine.  He was completely relaxed.  At ease with life.  My kind of animal.


I saw him or another fox (not to imply that all foxes look alike, but I couldn’t swear it was the same one) just a few days ago.  My wife saw him first.  This time he was smelling the ground, maybe on the trail of another animal.  Again, he was completely at ease among our bird feeders, flowerpots, picnic tables, Weber grills, and assorted human possessions in the back yard.  Could I walk around a fox’s dens as casually?  This time he sauntered casually, slowly in a circle, and magically, disappeared under my shack.  I’d love for him to live there, he and I co-existing peacefully.  If he would have me that is.

Oddly the attraction of both the barred owl and red fox is probably due to our oak trees and the animals that live off their acorns.  We have a big red squirrel population, but more numerous than them are the ground squirrels.  My wife calls them chipmunks.  They’re so common we hardly notice them anymore.

Manic little guys, the ground squirrels dart around, scurry under the steps, disappear into the ground, dig holes in my wife’s potted plants, and are always on the go and very busy.  If we leave a door open to the garage they get in and poke around the bird food bags.  Sometimes we hear them scurrying around in there, clap our hands, and watch them dash out the door.  Humans forget about the food chain because we are on top of it.  But the squirrels and ground squirrels are why the owls and foxes hang around.  They’re lunch.
  
At the end of our close-up owl encounter Lonny and I watched that barred owl spread its wings and drop down from its branch, scuffle on the ground, then fly away with a small animal hanging from its talons.  Ground squirrel I’m thinking.  We couldn’t tell.   And the fox sniffing around the shack?  Looking for the same thing I’m betting.
  
There’s more.  Earlier in the summer my wife and I watched for twenty minutes as a young white tail deer kept a mother racoon from her three kits.  The mother was near the compost pile, the three kits halfway up trunk of a big oak, crying, and the deer in between, threatening the coon with a head butt every time she neared the tree.  The deer finally got bored and left, the coons were reunited, and all of them lived happily ever after as far as we know.

It probably helps that I am retired and spend a large amount of time in a shack with a glass wall facing a wooded ravine on the edge of town.  Or that my wife’s favorite chair faces the back yard and she has a clear view of everything that goes on there.  But we’re not the only ones.

Our friends in Seattle live in house in a rather dense residential block and keep chickens, six laying hens, in their backyard.  One evening they heard the hens raising a ruckus in the yard (free range you know) and when they went out to investigate the next-door neighbor reported seeing a coyote with one of their hens in its mouth loping through their yard.  Yet only four hens remained.  They shut those four up in the coop, looked high and low for the missing old girl (a favorite they explained) and, fearing the worst, turned in for the night.
  
About an hour later the hens were at it again.  This time they came out armed with a flashlight and when they shined it around the perimeter of the yard saw a coyote standing on their neighbor’s deck and the missing old hen hiding underneath it.  They ran off the coyote and rescued the hen.  Middle of a big city for god’s sake.

Animals are living lives all around us, radically different lives to be sure, but not unconnected to ours.  Watch for them, tune in to their vibe, and see which one you relate to most.  I am still undecided, but I've narrowed it down to a Jersey dairy bull, a barred owl, a fox, heck maybe even a ground squirrel.  I'll keep looking.  You do the same.

  

Sunday, September 8, 2019

North of the Border


My day to day life is soft.  You can see it in my hands.  And when life gets hard, soft hands take a beating.

Of course, age changes our hands too.  These sixty-eight year old hands of mine have blotches and liver spots.  Veins pop out and they bruise easily.  I don’t know what that’s about.  Thin skinned I guess, although I’m  rarely bothered by criticism anymore, if ever.  I’m just grateful both hands work and don’t hurt.

I went on my annual fishing trip to north Ontario last week.  Eight men drove from Ottawa, Illinois at various times and congregated in the town of Red Lake.  Five went slowly, spending a night on the road, two (still employed) drove straight through, while one was already there having just ended another nearby fishing adventure.
   
Gary Robinson plans the trip, books the cabin, organizes the guys, then we shop for food together, and gather at his house the night before to pack our groceries, fishing gear, and clothes for the lake in a two-wheeled trailer.  We've done that for years.

At the border between International Falls and Fort Frances, for the first time in anyone’s memory, the Canadian border official in the booth when our first vehicle pulled up took on a much more critical posture. Gary was in that vehicle, pulling the trailer, with his son Nathan.  Just the two of them.  After the perfunctory questions, where are you from, where are you going, do you have any firearms, live animals, whatever else they ask, he said:

“What’s in the trailer?”

“Food and fishing gear.

“Is it all yours?”

“No.  It belongs to seven guys.  Three of them are in the vehicle behind me.”

“Did you pack their gear?”

“No.”

“Then how do you know what’s in it?”

“I know the guys.  It’s their fishing rods and tackle, our food, each guy’s clothing and personal stuff.”

“I don’t care how well you think you know the guys.  They could have contraband in their luggage, and you wouldn’t know it.  Yet you’re responsible for it.”

“I doubt there is any contraband in my trailer.”

He told them to pull over near another building, which is normal to pay duty on our alcohol and tobacco.  But as Gary was pulling away, he saw the border official pick up the phone.  We didn’t see that, but Gary knew something was wrong.
    
We pulled in behind them, showed our passports, and breezed through.  That same border official told us to leave the area and park farther down on the street if we wanted to wait for our friends.

“They are going to be a while longer,” he said.

After parking we looked back and saw Gary and Nate standing at the front of the truck while a team of uniformed border officials were unlocking the back of the trailer.

“Should we go over there you think?” 

“I think its best we stay in the truck.”

We did.  We watched as all our gear was tossed out and thrown back in the trailer helter-skelter.  They opened every box and bag.  Gary was upset.  We all were.  No one likes to see a friend treated that way.  We don’t believe we fit the profile of human traffickers or drug smugglers.  Why they picked us out this year is a mystery.

Hard telling though what our country is doing to Canadians these days at border crossings.  Maybe it was tit for tat.  As Americans we aren’t used to getting hassled at borders.  American passports are the best in the world, allowing us to travel freely and visit more countries without visas than perhaps any other.

We forget that when crossing a border, any border, we are subject to another country’s rules, no matter how much money we bring in to spend along the way.  We should be thankful for our status as Americans, especially given the ways our own government is currently disregarding its own rules and values for treating foreigners.  Imagine crossing our Southern border as a citizen of El Salvador, Honduras, or Guatemala these days.  Our humiliation was no doubt slight in comparison.

We stopped just over the border in Fort Frances at Einar’s (rhymes with wieners) where we repacked the trailer, which was a huge mess.  Einar’s on the other hand was a tidy little shop with a meat counter and a butcher on the main drag.

We were there for the first time because our bacon supplier in Red Lake closed.  Bacon is a big deal on this trip.  At Einar’s we picked up our order of ten pounds of thick Canadian bacon.  BACON was written by hand in grease pencil on the red butcher paper in which each pound was wrapped. The Red Lake bacon was damn near like ham.  As good as it was, Einar’s bacon proved to be even better.  It was so thick just eight slices made one pound.  I doubt you’ll be passing by Einar’s anytime soon but if you do, we recommend you stop and buy bacon.

After the bacon buying and getting our shit together, so to speak, we were on our way to Dryden, where we always stop at a big Safeway store to buy perishables, a special Canadian Rye bread, and have lunch.  Last year after shopping we blundered onto The Patricia Inn, a local independent restaurant across from McDonalds with a big menu .  We liked it and went back this year.

Our waitress was from Thailand.  Lots of First Nation (indigenous) Canadians were eating there, families jamming the tables.  They serve breakfast all day.  On top of that they serve good perogies. I had an Asian style vegetable noodle stir fry.  Liver and onions and hamburgers were also on the menu.  Go figure.  They seemed very glad to have us white American fishermen.  Canada seems to do the cross-cultural thing so much better than America.  Why is that?  Accommodating both French and English as national languages?  Never practicing slavery?  Just guessing.

After a night in the Red Lake Super 8 we lifted off the water in a 1953 Otter floatplane at 7:45 heading way the hell out there somewhere north beyond roads, towns, and houses.  Escaping roads improves fishing greatly.  As we flew over uninhabited lakes and forests, we could almost feel modern life as we now know it slipping away.

And then the float plane landed on Job Lake, deposited eight of us and our gear on the dock, loaded six guys and their stuff for the return trip, taxied across the water, accelerated and lifted off.  As the sound of his engine faded, we were wrapped in quiet. We walked up the hill to the lake’s only cabin where we have lived for the same September week each of the last three years.
  
Like dairy cows who return to the same stall each time they come in the barn, the men who would spend a week together entered the cabin and went straight to the same places they occupied last year, claiming bunks by putting our bags on them.  It was 10:30 a.m. and the weather was sunny and warm.

A day of fishing lay ahead of us.  We first unpacked fishing gear.  We put rods on reels, tied jigs to lines, located stringers, put bait in boxes, put personal floatation devices over thin shirts, hooked up depth finders, gassed up boats and shoved off to find and catch walleye.  We were eating fish that night, and each of our four two-man boats were to contribute three fish for supper.  The sun was shining.

That was to be our last warm day, and the last day we saw the sun for more than an hour till our last day on the lake.  You never know what's going to happen up North.  You never know what’s going to happen anywhere.  You just think you do.  The next morning’s sunrise fooled us with its beauty. The first rays of the sun reddened rain clouds that stayed with us most of the week.
   

Somewhere on the way to Job Lake we lost all access to outside information.  We travelled beyond the reach of cell phone towers and internet connections.  Slowly we were reminded of how that disconnect feels and what it means.  We get a lot of information these days, data of all kinds, whenever we want it.  When that level of knowledge disappeared, we noticed.

It’s a fishing trip.  The fishing is interrupted only by meals, sleep, and occasional bad weather.  Gary Robinson printed up the weather report for the week and it was in the cabin on a piece of paper.  Given how often those forecasts change these days, and how often we consult them, we knew it was probably out of date.  After a few days we stopped looking at it.

Questions about the weather stopped being answered with any authority and were instead guessed at by looking at the sky and determining the direction of the wind. There was a lot of conjecture.  You would think we were all amateur weathermen, the way we made predictions.  Few of them turned out to be true, except for the most pessimistic.  It got colder.  It rained more.

I don’t take a heavy coat up there, relying on layers instead.  On the coldest day I wore a tee shirt, a flannel shirt, bib overalls, a heavy wool sweater, a thick felt vest, a hooded rain jacket, with a stocking hat.  On the bottom I wore wool socks, leather shoes, sweatpants, bib overalls (bibs are a twofer) and rain pants.  When I came in for lunch that day, I was considering adding another shirt but after looking at the sky thought it would warm up.  It didn’t, but I was OK.

It was the combination of wind and rain that proved problematic.  After that first nice day the wind swung to the west, then settled in blowing straight out of the north.  North winds can bring in very cold air in Ontario.  At times the wind blew hard.  We didn’t know how hard of course because we had no media.  We judged the strength of the wind by the size of the waves on the lake, the appearance of whitecaps, and how the trees swayed.  Mostly pines up there.  They were moving pretty good.

Oddly enough we knew very little about the air but a lot about the water.  The depth finders not only told us how deep the lake was wherever we were but also the temperature of the water.  The lake’s water temperature dropped five degrees during the week we were there, which is a lot for such a big body of water.  Job Lake is 3800 acres give or take a few.

The water was between 60 and 65 degrees, while the air (ew guess) was between 55 and 40.  The fish felt warmer than my hands, I know that for sure.  The fish, the ones we released anyway, may have had it better than we did.

You can bundle up everything but your hands when you fish.  I tried wearing cold weather golf gloves, but it didn’t work.  You can’t tie knots with gloves on, you can’t hold the hook well when removing it from a fish’s mouth, gloves feel awkward on the knobs, levers, and bails of the open spinning reels we use.  So, I gave up on gloves.  All you can do is try to keep your hands dry, which was damn hard on Job Lake that week.

If it had been only strong wind and low temperatures my layers of clothes would have worked fine, but the water confounded things.  We had 16’ Alumarine V hull open boats with 9.9 motors.  Plenty fast and powerful for the lake we were on.  But when you bounce across white capped waves, and wallow around in between them, those boats kick up a lot of spray.  Both the driver in the rear and the passenger up front get splattered.


And if it had just been the spray, we might have handled it, but we often fished in rain.  The boats have molded plastic seats with backs that catch and hold water.  Despite the rain gear, our asses were wet most of the week.  In fact, first on my to do list after returning home is BUY BETTER RAIN GEAR.  I’m not sure even the best rain gear would have kept us dry that week in Ontario.  Click on  below to get a feel for what it was like out there.


Back to my hands.  I began most mornings laying thick strips of bacon into cold cast iron skillets, four to a pan, illuminated by Helio Ruvulcaba’s cool flashlight, which you wear around your head.  It shines wherever you look.  That’s also on my to do list: BUY A  LIGHT LIKE HELIO's.

By using that light, I could keep the kitchen light off a little longer, letting my fellow cabin dwellers, essentially in one big room, sleep a little longer.  At least those that were sensitive to light.  Bob Brue sleeps through anything.  Many envy him.  Bob is a champion sleeper, and maybe because of ample sleep the most positive guy among us.

On the first morning, kitchen light on, while removing a Dutch oven warming two pounds of cooked bacon from a hot oven, I touched the knuckle of my left index finger on something hot.  Almost right away a big blister began to form.  Let the record show that I didn’t drop the bacon.  Have I conveyed the importance of bacon up there?

Two days later, while doing the same thing with a pan of biscuits I burned two parallel lines into my right hand by touching it against an oven rack. Those didn’t blister, they just seared away the top layer of skin.  It is not often I burn myself twice in one week but then, I don’t usually cook that much.

The good news is I didn’t cut myself prepping food on the cutting board this year.  Instead, I cut myself in the boat.  Those walleye look so sleek and smooth, but they have sharp edges somewhere, when they flare their gills, I think.  A walleye sliced me on the inside of my right hand where the thumb meets the palm.  It hardly bled, but it hurt like hell,  for only a short while.

Mid-week I grabbed an oar to push the boat off a rock on shore and got what looked to be a small splinter on the ring finger of my left hand.  I woke up the next morning with it throbbing and managed to get a bigger than imagined sliver of wood out of that finger with my Swiss army knife.

And on the next to the last day fishing I hooked a twenty-inch walleye and somehow, while getting the hook out of the roof of his mouth, managed to bury the hook into my right thumb.  Not past the barb fortunately, and it came out right away, followed by a perfectly round blob of blood.
  
Ironically, the splinter hurt the worst.  I treated all the slices, punctures, and burns with Bag Balm, my Dad’s preferred treatment for almost everything.

As that blister formed on my knuckle, about a quarter inch high, I remembered my Dad.  He had ideas about everything.  His advice for burns that blister was to never pop the blister but leave it until it opens on its own.  Then after it opens and drains, he advocated leaving that bit of damaged loose skin in place over the sore and slathering it often with Bag Balm.  He reasoned that first the fluid and later the skin were the body’s own bandage.

So that’s what I did.  He would have never advised using a band aid, believing that fresh air helps dry wounds making scabs form more quickly.  I put a band aid on it anyway after the blister popped, but the band aid got wet and came off in the boat, so in the end I took his advice by default.  There is something wonderful about the way human bodies heal.  Now a week later that burn its almost completely covered by new skin. 

Our minds are equally supple.  Fortunately, we found we were to a man concerned about our President and the direction he was taking our country.  Being able to safely talk politics, we shared examples of what outraged us the most but as the week went on, without fresh bruising bits of news coming from our smart phones, that faded.  I was the last to complain about national politics and as I did, on the fourth day perhaps, I realized we had moved on.
  
In place of external stimuli, we talked about ourselves, our families, our worries, and our joys.  Some of the men I had not talked to in at least a year.  We had different concerns from a year ago, different goals, new ideas.  Unfortunately, we discovered we had few new jokes.  We need new jokes.  All of us.  Really.

Thankfully, we found in the past year each of us changed and became new in both small and big ways.  We talked about our lives, both current and past.  We listened to each other, which sadly I think is becoming a rarity.  Lots of people think men no longer communicate that way.  I’m happy to report they do.

We did all this in an utterly beautiful place, nearly overwhelmed by nature.  I think that helps.  As the week went on, I remembered once more that we are but human beings in a big world which can, and hopefully will, be fine without us.  Sometimes I think our planet would be better off without people entirely.  I constantly hope that humans can humble themselves and learn to live on our planet without damaging it further.  It will be a loss of epic proportion if we do not.

So today my hands are back in use as they usually are, on this keyboard, fingers hitting keys which correspond to the right letters most of the time, one thumb slamming the space bar, both thumbs swiping and manipulating my smart phone.



I’m back in the civilized world remembering the world that exists in the wilderness.  I can’t wait to be there again.

       

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Vegetable Bingo


My wife and I celebrated our anniversary, and my birthday, by going to Chicago for three nights.  My wife plans these trips and occasionally consults with me.  We were packing a lot in.

ü  Nice downtown hotel booked cheaply on an internet travel site.
ü  Dinner at a PiIsen steakhouse restaurant with the kids.
ü  Chilling at a lakeside beach
ü  Dinner at a hip new place complete with street side seating, people watching, and happy hour
ü  Discussion of a new book by its author at the nearby American Writer’s Museum
ü  Matinee performance of True West at Steppenwolf
ü   Drinks and live blues with friends at Rosa’s on West Armitage
ü  Vegetable Bingo at the Hideout

Wait.  Vegetable bingo?  How did that make the list?

At dinner my daughter and her partner suggested we join them at the Hideout the following evening for a weekly event that benefits neighborhood gardens.  Years earlier she had been part of creating such a garden, Mindful Living, in Logan Square.  All volunteer, city sanctioned, neighborhood supported.  We visited.  It was a labor of love.
  
There are 1800 such gardens throughout Chicago and the surrounding area.  An organization called NeighborSpace (www.neighbor-space.org) preserves and sustains gardens on behalf of community groups through property ownership, insurance, water, education, tool lending, project planning, fundraising support, and more.  With that support, community groups operating gardens like Mindful Living can focus on gardening, generating food, beautifying neighborhoods, engaging families and contributing to safer neighborhoods.  The Hideout had the idea to help gardens, hooked up with NeighborSpace, and Vegetable Bingo was on.

Our daughter Moe described it much more simply, giving us the elevator speech version. 

“The Hideout gives up their back room every Wednesday to help out the gardens and maybe sell a few more drinks, a different community garden gets the bingo profits every week, and it’s a lot of fun.  (Moe understands collaboration).  You should come.”
  
So we did.  We have been to the Hideout before.  As its name suggests, it has a colorful history.

Legend has it the Hideout was built, slapped up might be a better verb, in 1881 with building materials of an unknown origin by area factory workers who needed a boarding house.  It became a public house serving alcohol in 1916 and continued serving throughout prohibition as a neighborhood tavern and speakeasy.  It never had a name, until it was required to as a legal bar in 1934.  Even after gaining a name, it did not sport a sign proclaiming it until 1996.

The wooden two-story Hideout is inconveniently located on West Wabansia in an industrial area between Lincoln Park and Bucktown.  Its neighborhood is changing.  The Hideout now finds itself on the very edge of the proposed Lincoln Yards development.  Across the street, where they tore down a big Chicago Streets and Sanitation facility, they built a soccer field.  Regular patrons are worried for the Hideout’s future.  My guess is any dive joint in existence since 1881 will find a way to survive even the best of times.
  
Vegetable Bingo is held in the back room which was added on in 1954.  It’s where bands play, when they are not jammed in the corner of the bar.  Sometimes bands play in both places.  It’s musical heaven for tunes of all genres.  Playing the Hideout is a distinct Chicago honor.  Robbie Fulks played there every Monday night for six years beginning in 2011.  Their house band, Devil in a Woodpile, can still be seen regularly in the back room.  The cover charge is only $5.

Music is not all they do back there.  In addition to Vegetable Bingo, they started and still maintain a popular event known as Soup and Bread, an ongoing community meal and hunger relief fundraiser, and are hosts to a couple of local TV shows, First Tuesdays put on by reporters from Chicago Reader and Propublica, as well at The Interview Show produced by WTTW.  Quite the place.  Eclectic to say the least.

I like it because it is one of the few Chicago places where you can get a drink at a reasonable price.  Last Wednesday they were selling cans of PBR for $3 and bottles of Old Style and Miller High Life for $4.  Thank you god for reasonable prices and a non-snooty (non-snotty?) vibe in a metropolitan area.   I love it there.

My wife and I got there early from the Steppenwolf matinee.  The Hideout opens at 4:00.  We sat at the picnic tables on the front patio till then.  There was a beautiful breeze off the lake.  It was quiet.  If you forgot about the city for a moment you might think you were sitting at some old place in the Illinois Valley.  After a while a young guy opened the door and invited us in.  Low ceilings, ancient  bar, scuffed floor, a beer can collection in a glass case on the wall by our table, various clever hand-written signs.  We ordered coffee with shots.  Believe it or not the bartender carded us.

A young woman we’d talked to outside took a stool at the bar and was soon joined by her boyfriend.  They sat close together and touched constantly.  I took them as Hideout regulars.  A steady stream of people walked past us to the back room carrying bins of vegetables, empty straw baskets, various gear.  They set up a makeshift table near the entrance and filled it with old bingo cards.  Three for $10.  Vegetable Bingo was getting ready to go.  Moe texted.

Moe-Do they have a grill set up in the front?

Dad-Not yet.

Moe-I’ll bring food.

Dad-Sounds good.

Moe-Save 6 seats. They fill up.

Dad-Will do.


Our son Dean texted soon after.

Dean-Stayed late, bad traffic.  Won’t be home till 7:00.  Can’t make it.

Dad-That’s OK.  We’ll see you soon anyway.

Dean-Have fun.

Dad-Will do.


Texting it so right to the point.  I love it for that.  Dean just started a good new job and is working a lot of hours.  He seemed energized when we all had dinner together two nights before.  Our kids have a lot going on in their lives.  I’m just glad we can be part of it.

I realized spots were being taken quickly at the folding tables in the back room.  I laid claim to six and spread our stuff around on the chairs.  I won’t say we were the oldest people there, but it was close between us and the owners who came in and made a brief appearance.

The young people who asked about the availability of our other four chairs were so nice when we claimed dibs on them.  It was a big mix of folks.  Some well-dressed coming off work, others in tattered shorts and t shirts, tattoos, dreadlocks, bald heads.  No matter what they were wearing or how they looked they seemed relaxed.  There was a lot of laughter.

They seemed to have regular places to sit, and most brought snacks if not dinner.
  
Moe and Don showed up with fat falafel sandwiches, spicy hummus, soft warm pita bread and stuffed grape leaves.  Along with it were little containers of a creamy red pepper paste and cucumber sauce.  We don’t get those kind of eats in Ottawa.  The sandwiches were so big my wife and I split one.

“How much for the sandwiches?”  I asked.
  
“Four bucks.  Good cheap place near the store.”

Moe and a business partner have a business in the Fulton Market district on Randolph.  I didn’t think there was anything cheap there.  Goes to show if you know what you’re doing you can still find a bargain in Chicago.

Her business partner, Liz, came with her baby, who we hadn’t seen since Memorial Day.  Amazing how much he’d grown over the summer and how alert and inquisitive he was.  He took a liking to the pita bread in a big way.  He was busy but well behaved.

Adults who brought kids stayed on the patio our front.  Older kids played bingo along with their parents.  They had good speakers out there so the numbers could be heard from the stage in back.  It was a beautiful night.  Eventually they began selling hot dogs in the front, at $3, a pop as an additional way to raise money for the garden.  Little in the way of fresh condiments though.  I kept thinking I could grab one of the big white onions I’d seen going up on stage and chop one up so the hot dog eaters could have a more authentic Chicago hot dog experience, but it was not my gig.


As we began to eat, Vegetable Bingo at the Hideout kicked off.   The bingo caller was a young guy with big black frame glasses and a voice with a satiric twist to it. He began by admitting it was his first time calling bingo.  He was helped by a young woman who seemed to know him and was originally from Peoria.  Throughout the evening he made lame references to Peoria that no one got.  In fact, his attempts at humor had people groaning.  His corniness itself was fun.


Part of the deal with anyone calling bingo are the clever side remarks the caller makes about the numbers.  Without it, bingo calling is a pretty mundane.  Say the letter and the number clearly, repeat it, and move on to the next. 

I used to call bingo (very loudly) at the nursing home when I worked as a nurse’s aide.  At the home, I had to wake my players up.  Other aides would stand over residents and cover spots on their card they missed.  A lot of dozing took place among the senior set.  The Hideout crowd was much more animated.

When someone from the crowd called BINGO, the crowd would loudly chant as one PROVE IT!  PROVE IT! until the potential winner climbed onto the stage, verified the numbers and letters with the woman from Peoria, and claimed their prize.  Behind the Bingo set up was a table loaded with nice baskets of vegetables, and a few other things; 4 packs of hoppy craft beer, a coffee per week for a year from some obscure espresso place.  But the crowd was clearly there for vegetables, both to win them, support those who grew them, and eat them.

I got close several times.  There was a big ass basket of kale I planned to choose if I won that eventually went to someone else.  My daughter Moe won and came back with a basket of heirloom cherry tomatoes and very sleek purple and tan striped eggplants.  Her partner Don immediately had recipe ideas for the eggplant.
  
We stayed till the last number was called, and then the crowd made its way to the bar.  It had been a long day.  Colleen and I said our good byes and grabbed an Uber, leaving the young people behind.  


As we travelled back downtown, I began thinking about Chicago and how we imagine it as downstaters. Some of us ascribe violence and danger to the entire city, are intimidated by its size, puzzled by its neighborhoods, blown away by both the traffic and the transportation systems designed to avoid it, and generally at a loss as to how to navigate it all.  We know cities offer much more,not only culturally but overall, yet we are dubious about how day to day life feels.  When downstaters pop into the city for a few days they can easily feel anonymous and small.

We tend to believe small towns have an edge on creating community.  And that may be true to some extent.  But community is not defined by city limits.  Community is the bond you feel to others through relationships and membership in groups.  Community gardens; the people who plant and tend them, and the people who support them, are an example.   Who would think a sliver of Chicago dwellers would be bound together by kale and zucchini?  The feeling in the pop-up bingo parlor in the backroom at the Hideout that night, even the Hideout itself, was of shared values and enjoyment. 

Community is where you find it, and if you look closely you will find that community abounds in Chicago and other big cities.  You may have to look for it in unusual places, but don’t ever think its not there.  The crowd at Vegetable Bingo was young and hungry.  Hungry for vegetables, but also hungry for a sense of belonging.   I think they found both inside that beat up old building on Wabansia.  I know my wife and I did.  It may have been the nicest part of our short stay in the city our kids have taught us to appreciate.   

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Understanding Horror


I read the essay written by the El Paso shooter.  Just reading his words is controversial.  There’s a belief we should not give those words credence, not help their author achieve fame, and not repeat them.  But in college I had a wise English professor who believed this; It is always better to know than not to know.  I’ve stuck with that idea ever since.  How can we recognize terrorism, understand it, and challenge it in the future if we don’t know read and understand the words and thoughts of terrorists?
In his essay, the El Paso shooter begins by expressing support of the Christchurch shooter who, on March 19, 2019, shot and killed 49 people in two New Zealand mosques, a hate crime against those of the Muslim faith.  That shooter was armed with an assault style weapon and concurrent with his murders published a 71-page essay online.  The El Paso shooter obviously read and agreed with it.

Following those terrorist attacks, New Zealand not only banned the sale and possession of such weapons in their country, they made possession and distribution of the shooter’s written message a criminal offense.  That New Zealand law has not stopped its publication on the internet.  On the contrary, it has perhaps expanded its readership.  
The Christchurch shooter took his deepest inspiration from another anti-Muslim fanatic who in 2011 murdered 77 young people in an attack on two Labour Party youth camps in Norway, and produced his own 1,500 page essay.  He wrote that he was striking back at the Labour Party for “failing to prevent the encroachment of multi culturalism and a Muslim takeover.”

America’s El Paso shooter also claims to have also read the writings of the shooter in Charleston who perpetrated a massacre in a black Charleston, South Carolina church on June 7, 2015 in which nine African American church members were murdered.  He reportedly said, at the crime scene while wielding his weapon, “I have to do it.  You rape our women and you’re taking over our country.  And you have to go.”
It’s an international chain, perhaps cluster is a better word, of hate and death made possible by the internet, the most powerful information sharing tool ever developed.  I think Americans like you and I should know the common theme that runs through these screeds.  I’m going to concentrate on the El Paso shooter’s words and thoughts.  We all know a 21-year old American white man, right?  Imagine that young man speaking and believing the words and sentences that follow.  I’ll give you the highlights of what he posted on social media just 19 minutes before he began shooting and in essence ended his life as he knew it, turning himself into a symbol of hate and violence.

This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.  They are the instigators, not me.  I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”
Actually, the Hispanic community was not my target before I read The Great Replacement “ (a book).

America is rotting from the inside out.  Due to the death of the Baby Boomers, the increasingly anti-immigrant rhetoric of the right, and the ever-increasing Hispanic population, America will soon become a one-party state.  The Democrat party will own America and they know it.  They have already begun by pandering to the Hispanic voting bloc in the 1st Democratic Debate.  They intend to use open borders, free healthcare for illegals, citizenship and more to enact a political coup by importing and then legalizing millions of new voters.  With policies like these, the Hispanic support for Democrats will likely become near unanimous in the future.  The heavy Hispanic population in Texas will make us a Democrat stronghold.  Losing Texas and a few other states with heavy Hispanic population to the Democrats is all it would take for them to win nearly every presidential election.
So the Democrats are nearly unanimous with their support of immigration while the Republicans are divided over it.  At least with Republicans, the process of mass immigration and citizenship can be greatly reduced.

Immigration can only be detrimental to the future of America.  Continued immigration will make one the of the biggest issues of our time, automation, so much worse.  Some sources say that in under two decades half of American jobs will be lost to it.  Of course, some people will be retrained, but most will not.  So, it makes no sense to keep on letting millions of illegal or legal immigrants flood into the United States, and to keep the tens of millions that are already here.  Invaders who have close to the highest birthrate of all ethnicities in America.  In the future, America will have to initiate a basic universal income to prevent widespread poverty and civil unrest as people lose their jobs.”
The less dependents on a government welfare system the better.  The lower the unemployment rate, the better.  Achieving ambitious social projects like universal healthcare and UBI (universal basic income) would become far more likely to succeed if tens of millions of dependents are removed.

My whole life I have been preparing for a future that currently doesn’t exist.  The job of my dreams will likely be automated.  Hispanics will take control of the local and state government of my beloved Texas, changing policy to better suit their needs.  They will turn Texas into an instrument of a political coup which will hasten the destruction of our country.
If you take nothing from else from this document, remember this:  INACTION IS A CHOICE.  I can no longer bear the shame of inaction knowing that our founding fathers have endowed me with the rights needed to save our country from the brink destruction (sic).  Our European comrades don’t have the gun rights needed to repel the millions of invaders that plague their country.  They have no choice but to sit by and watch their countries burn.

If our country falls, it will be the fault of traitors.  This is why I see my actions as faultless.  Because this isn’t an act of imperialism but an act of preservation.  America is full of hypocrites who will blast my actions as the sole result of racism and hatred of other countries, despite the extensive evidence of all the problems these invaders cause and will cause.  People who are hypocrites because they support imperialistic wars that have caused the loss of tens of thousands of American lives and untold numbers of civilian lives.  The argument that mass murder is okay when it is state sanctioned is absurd.  Our government has killed a whole lot more people for a whole lot less.
Even if other non-immigrant targets would have a greater impact, I can’t bring myself to kill my fellow Americans.  Even the Americans that seem hell-bent on destroying our country.  Even if they are shameless race mixers, massive polluters, haters of our collective values, etc..  One day they will see error of their ways (sic).  Either when American patriots fail to reform our country and it collapses or when we save it.  But they will see the error of their ways.  I promise y’all that.

I am against race mixing because it destroys genetic diversity and creates identity problems.  2nd and 3rd generation Hispanics form interracial unions at much higher rates than average.  Yet another reason to send them back.”
The best solution to (race mixing) for now would be to divide America into a confederacy of territories with at least 1 territory for each race. This physical separation would nearly eliminate race mixing and improve social unity by granting each race self-determination within their respective territory(s).

My ideology has not changed for several years.  My opinions….predate Trump and his campaign for president.  I putting (sic) this here because some people will blame the President or certain presidential candidates for the attack.  This is not the case.  I know the media is infamous for fake news.  Their reaction to this attack will likely just confirm that.
Many people think the fight for America is already lost.  They couldn’t be more wrong.  This is just the beginning of the fight for America and Europe.  I am honored to head the fight to reclaim my country from destruction. 

Chilling isn’t it?  I got a little shaky just retyping his words.  If there is a theme to this rambling, it is centered on the replacement theory as found in the book the El Paso shooter referenced, The Great Replacement.  It’s widely read and considered the inspiration for the right-wing anti-immigrant movement now growing across Europe. Here’s a quote from its contemporary French author Renaud Camus describing replacement as more than simple demographics.  He contends it is an unavoidable part of human nature.
“People don’t want other people to come into their territory, in their country, and change their cultures and their religions, their way of living, the way of eating, their way of dressing.  It is a worry that is central to the very essence of being human.  Being human is being not replaceable.”

Renaud Camus’ theory seems to justify xenophobia.  The pace of change in our modern world is accelerated.  So is our knowledge, our awareness, and our ability to learn about and accept each other.  We can rise above fear.  Clinging to racial identity, using skin color as a defining trait, can and should be overcome.  In fact, I see tolerance of each other growing.
Perhaps that’s the threat.  White supremacists see their power slipping away.  In a true democracy everyone is represented.  Power ebbs and flows.  What is their fear exactly?  The replacement theory may be the last gasp of an old order trying to preserve itself, when what it should be doing is welcoming the change and working to make the transition advantageous for us all.  White supremacy is a throwback.  We need to put it firmly in our past. 

In our United States white supremacy goes back to our slave roots, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow, the Birmingham church bombings, all the way through Timothy McVeigh bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City, to Saturday’s attack on Central American shoppers in El Paso.  All were carried out by radicalized American born white supremacists committing domestic terrorism.
Call it white supremacy or white nationalism, it is one in the same and it continues to bring violence to our country.  Does America have a white supremacy problem?  Of course it does.  We’ve never lost it.  White Supremacists are America’s ISIS.  You don’t have to look far to find evidence of white supremacy in public discourse, even among our elected officials.  It’s right in front of us.

Steve King, U.S. Representative from western Iowa, now stripped of all committee assignments by fellow Republicans for his racist statements, has supported white supremacy, practically channeling its most racist tenets.  In March of 2017,while on a tour of Europe in which he met with French politician Marine Le Pen, President of the far right National Rally political part in France, and Dutch politician Geert Wilders, leader of the reactionary Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, King endorsed their efforts by saying:
We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

In a 2011 objection to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to cover contraception, King said in a speech on the House floor:
That’s not constructive to our culture and our civilization.  If we (white people) let our birthrate get down below the replacement rate, we’re a dying civilization.”

In a New York Times interview Earlier this year he asked this of a New York Times Reporter during an interview:
White nationalist, white supremacist, western civilization-how did that language become offensive?”

The words of the replacement theory hit many of us over the head in August of 2017 when torch carrying right wing marchers, from various Neo Nazi, Ku Klux Klan, and other White Supremacist groups, collectively referred to as the  Alt Right, staged their deadly “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia chanted these haunting words:
Jews Will Not Replace Us.  You Will Not Replace Us.”

Until Trump’s election I knew little or nothing about the Alt Right movement, had never heard of Breitbart News or its executive chairman Steve Bannon who, after being a key campaign strategist for the Republican presidential candidate in 2016, became a top aide and advisor in the narrowly elected president’s early White House staff.  Little did I know appealing to those on the extreme right would prove so lucrative in terms of mining votes.
But it did.  That campaign accomplished its objectives.  And here we are, with 22 people dead in an El Paso Wal Mart at the hands of a white supremacist simply because they are Hispanic.  Just as 11 people died on October 27, 2018 in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue at the hands of a white supremacist because they were Jewish.  

A mental health professional with a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual will form a diagnosis that determines if the El Paso shooter was mentally ill, and no doubt a judge will later rule on it in court.  I have a feeling, based on very little I admit, that he won’t prove to be insane.
We want to think that you have to be crazy to commit such a horrific crime.  It comforts us to believe that political ideology and beliefs do not compel humans to kill each other.  But they do.  Those responsible for such terror often disagree with attempts to view them as mentally ill.  Timothy McVeigh wanted his terrorist act, setting off a truck bomb outside the Murrah Federal building which killed 168 and injured 680, regarded as a rational act serving a political purpose.  He wanted to prove a point, his own radical point, was not the work of a madman.

Ted Kaczynski, former brilliant mathematics professor and avowed anarchist who became known as the Unabomber, who killed three and injured 23 over 17 years through mail bombs, fought tooth and nail not to be declared criminally insane.  He insisted he knew what he was doing and wanted his actions to be thought of as a logical means to the ends he espoused.
Of course, those guys, all white men by the way, survived their crimes.  Like them, the El Paso shooter is in custody, and we will learn more about him.  Expect to be appalled but at the same time listen to what he is saying, twisted as it may be.

If only some balanced person had been part of the El Paso shooter’s young life, gained his trust,  created enough safety around him so that he could express his murderous ideas in human conversation, and then worked to help him consider other views, persuading him there are other ways to pursue change when we believe it is needed.
But that didn’t happen.  Instead the El Paso shooter was radicalized, likely by strangers, and his conviction for hateful beliefs allowed him to carry out the August 3, 2019 massacre in Wal Mart of 22 people he regarded flatly as “Hispanics.”

The El Paso shooter quite likely lived inside his head, spoke his truths online, in an echo chamber of like-minded hate filled readers, and found no brake to his violent plans.  I think he was probably encouraged by the hateful rhetoric that seems now to be everywhere in America.  What are we doing to each other?
Chances are we will hear the El Paso shooter’s story repeated by others.  It’s a narrative now, and tragically it will attract other believers, as other narratives attracted him.  God help us find a way to engage those who justify such killing so that we might save both their lives and the lives of their potential victims.  We’ve seen hate destroy lives time and time again.  I fear, as you might, that current American politics only compounds that hate, making its way into our communities and our relationships with family, friends, and neighbors.  Americans must find a way out of this, both for each other and for ourselves.



P.S.-If you are interested in reading the entire essay, The Inconvenient Truth, by the El Paso shooter I can’t help you.  I read a redacted version published at www.latinorebels.com. in which they blacked out references to the guns, the ammo, the gear, the tactics employed to carry out the shooting.  I’m glad they did.  Once on the site, look for “Parts of the Manifesto…”

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Feel of a Good Book


Besides the obvious there is a difference between traveling and staying home.  When you travel you seek out the new: foods, people, places, experiences, conversations.  When you stay home you bask in the familiar, and the new comes to you almost accidentally.  But it’s possible, with age, to rediscover what was once new and enjoy it again no matter where you are.

I was in Yellow Springs, Ohio on a trip with my wife.  It was my first time there.  It’s a small town where old buildings are made new with young enterprises.  Young people mix with old.  There’s a small college there.  The town is surrounded by beautiful countryside; a state park, the Little Miami river, farms and orchards within easy reach. 

My wife was looking for a bookstore and we were drawn to Dark Star Books and Comics on Xenia Avenue.  As we do, once inside a bookstore we quickly separated and were absorbed by titles and categories.  I went to fiction she went to travel.  Both of us were looking for something new. 

The fiction section was neatly alphabetized by author.  I was soon at H and found Hemingway.  There were multiple copies of For Whom the Bell Tolls, a couple of nice softbound, new looking copies of The Sun Also Rises, and only one copy of A Farewell to Arms.  But the book that caught my eye was an old but colorful copy of The Old Man and The Sea.  I pulled it off the shelf.  It was covered in that brittle see- through plastic libraries use to protect books. 

Behind the plastic was the original dust cover, boogered up a bit on the front facing corner.  The front cover illustration was one third brown land, on which sit five crude shanties, and two thirds blue sea, with three small boats floating near the beach. On the back was a black and white photograph of Ernest Hemingway.  It was published in 1952 by Charles Scribner’s Sons.  When I turned the narrow edge of the book toward me, opposite the spine, I saw the cut ends of the pages were not smooth but irregular.

The Old Man and The Sea, written the year I was born and published a year later in 1952, won Ernest Hemingway the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953, the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954, and then for good measure the Pulitzer Prize again, this time for literature also in 1954.  Upon its release, coupled with being featured in Life Magazine, it sold 5 million copies in two days.  It caused Hemingway’s entire body of work to be re-examined and secured his place as an internationally renowned author. 

I looked at the copyright page, about four pages in, and saw it was a first edition Book of the Month Club selection.  Had I been a reader 68 years ago I might have gotten this very book in the mail, opened the package, held it in my hands,  and by simply turning the pages and reading the words Hemingway wrote, discovered the fisherman Santiago, the boy who cared for him, the fish he hooked and brought back to his village, and the sea in which a great struggle took place.  I bought it on the spot.




We later stayed with friends in Cincinnati whose guest bedroom is in a quiet corner of their basement.  There, under the yellow light of a bedside lamp, because books are not backlit as are my Kindle and I Phone, I reread the story I loved so much the first time in 1970. 

There’s a debate going on among old people who read (and perhaps think too much).  Here it is.  No matter how optimistic or healthy seniors are we come to realize there is only so much time left, and only so many more books one can read in that estimated time, assuming reading remains within the skill set of our aging brains.  The best approach may be to read whatever you damn well please without regard to the future.  But if you feel pressed by time, the question becomes this.  Which books should we include in that finite number of books that can be read before we die?  All of us have books we wanted to read and never did, and most of us want to read new books to keep current with new thoughts and ideas.  But which will it be?  If there is any agreement at all, it is that rereading books previously read is probably a waste of precious time.

I might have agreed until I turned to the first page of Hemingway’s famous book, described in the jacket flap verbiage as “a great book like no other…that cannot be classified.”  It was pure sweetness to reacquaint myself with the words, the scenes, and the characters which waited for me, stored safely all these years, on those printed pages of The Old Man and The Sea.  As I began to read, I remembered a family story connected to the book.

As an English major and a father, I tried to acquaint my kids with literature in an instructive way.  My daughter simply found her own way and neither needed, nor welcomed, suggestions.  My son was more particular, often asking if books were “made up or real.” At the start rejected fiction pretty much out of hand.  I persisted, brought books to him by Gary Paulson and Roald Dahl, and at what I thought was an appropriate time, put this short Hemingway book on his nightstand. 

We only had one bathroom back then, downstairs between my kids’ two rooms, and as I was shaving and getting ready for bed, I heard sniffling coming from my son’s bedroom.  I went in to see what was wrong.  He had his bedside reading light on, The Old Man and The Sea propped open, and tears running down his cheeks. 

“What’s the matter?”

“The sharks are going to eat that old man’s fish, and there’s nothing he can do about it.”

To use a fishing metaphor, I knew he was hooked.  I also knew he was empathetic, like his parents, and totally captivated, as so many of us have been, with a character created by a skillful writer.  Though short, The Old Man and The Sea is a book that creates emotion in its readers, bonds us to its characters, and leaves us with memories we will never (with any luck) forget.  It is only 140 pages long.  You can read it in an afternoon.  If you have read it before, read it again.  If you haven’t read it, by all means do.

Here’s why.  When I first read The Old man and The Sea, and came to know the main character Santiago,  I was nineteen.  Not only did I know nothing about the sea, having grown up on a dairy farm in Illinois, I knew nothing about aging, or being an old man in any way.  At age nineteen did you imagine your life or your body 48 years into the future?  I didn’t.  And if by chance I did in some fashion muse in 1970 about what old age might be like it was only in the abstract.  Certainly not in any detail.  And I never imagined it to feel like this, now, in 2019.

As I read a few weeks ago the struggles of Santiago in his small boat trying to land his fish, how his body let him down, how he might, in his younger days, have done things differently, how much he regretted his circumstances but could do nothing to change them, I appreciated his story, the arc of his life, in a whole new way.

And I value the boy so much more now.  Did I overlook the boy’s kindness before?  His respect for the old man Santiago and his desire to learn from him?  I can’t say.  Because just as I could not imagine being old and a father, at age nineteen, neither can I now remember what I was thinking as a college kid first reading the book.

One thing of which I’m certain is how much more I now appreciate Hemingway’s description of the sea.  It’s always been a place foreign to me, so I relied almost totally on others to acquaint me with it when I was young.  Having been lucky enough to drink up the beauty of the sea at times during my life since, I now have more context for Hemingway’s nautical words and images.  I am tempted to give you examples, but I might spoil your reading experience.  Suffice to say he paints a vivid and beautiful picture.

I was recently reminded through a good friend’s newspaper column there is something magical about having a book with history in your hands.  I agree.  Read an old book you loved in any format you wish.  And if you loved The Old Man and The Sea as I did, and would like to read a first edition, pretending you are a reader in 1952 who happened upon a great new reading adventure, talk to me about borrowing the old fashioned ink on paper edition I have in the shack.  It’s worth your time, no matter how much you think you have left.