Tuesday, September 23, 2003

I’m at my parent’s house now using my brother Mike’s laptop. He’s on the phone with my aunt Margaret, who just got a computer. Dad and I helped Mom pull out an inch-long mole hair, all gray and wiry.

Now it’s an hour later and Mike is sitting next to me eating a turkey sandwich looking at “Recipes for Mammoth Appetites,” a fundraising cookbook for the Rock County chapter of the Ice Age Trail. Esther and picked up 20 copies last night at our chapter’s monthly meeting. They are available for $7 each. Send me an e-mail at raruhiker@yahoo.com if you want a copy. Shipping is $1.50.

The Cubs and Astros are tied for first place. The last time I remember the Cubs being in first place this late in the season was 1989. And that year I wasn’t nearly as big a baseball fan as I am now. Back then I caught a game every now and again, and only if I was bored and flipping through the stations of a Saturday afternoon. I think the Cubs have a better chance to advance in the playoffs, considering they’ve won a few games against playoff teams like the Giants and Braves. Their starting rotation is as strong as any team in baseball. And if they can get some timely hitting from the likes of Sosa, Alou and Kenny Lofton, who knows… The Cub fan must remain ever hopeful and optimistic.

Friday I leave on another backpacking trip, this time with Dave Long and without Esther, who could not get time off work. And since I am not currently getting much work from the Rockford Public School District, and it’s late September, the perfect time to be outdoors (no bugs, cool nights, fall colors up north). We are going to Porcupine Mountains State Park in Michigan’s upper peninsula. I was last there in early January when Dave and I did some winter hiking, in lieu of snow-shoeing, as originally planned, because there wasn’t enough snow. The hotels and resorts really suffered from the mild winter. The first backpacking trip Esther and I ever took, Labor Day weekend 1998, was in the Porkies. We didn’t sleep well. Every movement in the brush we thought was a bear.

It’ll be nice to be up north again, but I think after this past weekend’s cold night experience I’ll pack a fleece blanket along with my sleeping quilt. I’ll offset the extra weight of the blanket by not packing any bug netting. Plus, we’ll only be out three days, so the food won’t be as heavy. I’m surprised at the ability of my Go-Lite Breeze pack to hold seven days worth of food along with my backpacking gear. I took my Vasque Sundowner boots to the cobbler Monday and should have them back Thursday. The right boot has a hole in the toe and on the side. The left boot has stitching coming off near the laces. Other than that, the boots are in good shape, considering I’ve walked approximately 3 to 4,000 miles in them. I call them my space pod shoes because they perfectly conform to the shape of my foot.

Last weekend after we did trail work we came back to the Mondeaux Flowage campground for dinner and conviviality. Since we were in a picnic shelter, with fire places on either side, instead of everyone sitting around a big campfire, we broke into two groups. Kind of weird to split everybody up that way, but a jovial spirit remained. I overdid it on the booze though. In addition to 4-5 beers, I took countless swigs of a bottle of Finlandia cranberry vodka and a nameless Chinese strong liquor that Buzz (appropriate name) brought.

The next morning I woke just before dawn and threw up, went back to sleep for another 40 minutes or so. And when it was time to go to breakfast Esther handed me some water and Alleve. As soon as I drank it I ran to the edge of the woods and hurled again. Gary Stephenson, a member of our local chapter who rode with us to the work weekend, joked that I was car salesman now, selling BUUICKS!!! God, did I hurt. I thought I’d become a smart drinker and that’d never happen again, but it’s hard to keep track of how much you drink when you take swigs straight out of the bottle. At least I didn’t act foolish.

Last night after the Ice Age Trail meeting Esther and I stopped at Everett’s, where we spent $60 on a variety of booze, including the makings of a Manhattan, which we might make our fall drink (gin and tonic was our summer drink). Our purchases included bottles of sweet and extra dry vermouth, Jack Daniels whiskey, Angosturra bitters, cocktail cherries, Framboise Ale and a six-pack of my favorite beer, Hoegaarden. We each tried a Manhattan when we got home. A bit too strong for my tastes, especially in light of my recent experience, but very good.

Don’t get the impression I’m an alcoholic. I’m a very moderate drinker, usually only having one or two drinks when I do drink. But I do drink on a regular basis, usually with or after supper. A wimpy stomach for excess and absolutely no history of alcoholism on either side of my family keeps me from becoming an AA candidate.

Well, it’s almost 1 p.m. I’ve got to get groceries, mow some lawns, maybe do some creative writing, Cubs-Reds tonight. I’ll look into applying for work with the Harlem and Hononegah school districts.

Monday, September 22, 2003

It is a cool, overcast fall-like day on this last day of summer. Tomorrow is the fall equinox. Darkness will claim another three hours before the pendulum swings back towards the forces of good.

I read a little blurb in the paper today that Luke Skywalker is the perfect role model for Generation X because he rebels against his relatives, whines a lot and doesn't get along with his father. A representative from the New York Times called to give me a free trial subscription to the paper. I accepted and just gave my address. I've been through the free month-long trial periods with the Chicago Tribune, so I know it's legit. They just hope you'll get used to the paper and stay on after the trial runs out. I won't, but hey, free papers. Our recycle box is going to explode.

Which reminds me... We call our neighbors across the hall the "typical Americans" because they drive an American car, have or had two box air conditioners in their windows, and produce two huge cans of garbage each week. I also jokingly call them the "frozen food aisle" people, because all their garbage consists of pizza boxes, frozen waffles, TV dinners. And they don't even recycle their aluminum cans. They could save them and make money. Guess I'll profit in their steed. Now that's being American. Finding opportunity in the refuse of others.

I'm proud to say we produce one paper grocery bag of garbage a week. How? We recycle all our paper, plastic, tin, glass, etc., and composte all our organic waste. Our garbage is mostly plastic wrap and tissue paper. Our recycled stuff weighs twice as much as our refuse. Yes, I'm a pompous, hippie, bike riding, Honda Civic driving, beard growing asshole. And the majority of Americans are landfill filling, pot-bellied malnutrioned malcontents with lousy taste in movies and music. Am I an elitist? Hell, yeah. Am I pompous? Not really. I keep my opinions to myself, except in this small egotistical blog. But someday I will broadcast my wisdom to the nation, and they will heed my words or else. Mwuh ha ha ha snicker, snivel, hrumph....

We arrived at the Mondeaux Flowage campground in Taylor County late Friday night and just laid our bags down on a flat spot. I froze my kiester off. Seems my 30-degree rated bag that was used the entire AT thru-hike and countless adventures since, has lost a little loft. I got so cold overnight that I woke up early in the AM shivering, stars twinkling all bright and close, Milky Way visible even, as only it can be in a cool, crisp atmosphere.

Which made for an interesting day of hard labor on the Ice Age Trail. I worked with the West End Crew doing trail re-routes, tread establishment and general vegetation mayhem. Most of the time was spent on the Hemlock Esker. An esker is a snakelike ridge formed by the soil deposits left by a river that ACTUALLY FLOWED ON THE GLACIER. It is one of my favorite features, and I felt privileged to spend the entire day on one. The soil is sandy and loamy and easy to move. Still, I was tired.

I'm running out of Net time. More later? Maybe.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Noonish on a Friday afternoon. For the fourth time this week I didn't get called in to work for the school district. This situation leaves me very perplexed, mystified, unemployed...

Tonight we leave to go up north and do some trail work on the Ice Age Trail. Always a good time with the Mobile Skills Crew. Much laughter, camaraderie, and yes, hard work, which is good for the soul. I feel like I'm in a funk the last couple days. Easy to figure out why. I haven't gotten enough exercise. This weekend should get me back on track.

Vocational failure is not an option. I've been writing more, this blog included, and like I said earlier, working on some fiction. The story I'm working on now is a huge departure from anything else I've ever written. I won't go into details except to say it deals with a seamier side of our society, and questions the very nature of reality. Ooohhhh. But also fun and kind of tongue-in-cheek humorous. My brother Ken said my writing can be heavy-handed at times, which is a valid criticism I've taken to heart.

After I leave here I'll go home and put on a t-shirt and then go mow a couple lawns, including Mary Machnik's. She may not be home yet, or still visiting with relatives, after burying her husband yesterday, but nonetheless she said her lawn needs mowing. I cannot feel pity for my well-fed, albeit broke and professionally drifting situation compared to the grief and heartache Mary must be feeling.

Last night I listened to some John Coltrane while washing the dishes. Man could he wail, and yet it's not his virtuosity that distinguishes him. It's that tone. That fat, full, sad and mournful, almost airy sound. Something desperate, sad, wistful about it, yet celebrating the beauty of life in spite of, or even because of, all the pain and yearnings that attend it. Maybe I'm reading too much into a saxophone riff, but Coltrane never fails to bring out those feelings in me. Just like Miles Davis takes me to some otherworldly plateau and Chick Corea, a la Return to Forever early 70s fusion reminds me of a summer day laying in a field of flowers. Music is about time, signature, tone, meter, melody and rhyme. All concrete concepts that can be analyzed and quantified. But that emotional element it engenders cannot be pinned. That's why hit music will never quite... follow a formula. Today's radio format force feed crap is trying. Such are the hallmarks of capitalism: homogeny and predictability. But music continues to follow its own slippery streamy course.

My favorite bands lately: Radiohead, Pink, No Doubt, Eminem, 50 Cent, Bjork, Pearl Jam, U2... that's a short list just off the top of my head. I haven't listened to much popular music lately, relegating my ear time to National Public Radio and CDs from my own collection and the library (that's where I got the 'new' Coltrane disk I heard last night). The library's got a pretty big jazz collection. It's going to take me a while to plumb its depths. But with all this free time I've had lately...

Well, lunch is calling... Time to eat, mow, pack and go... happy listening, happy reading, happy living, happy loving.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

I've just attended a funeral service for Ben Machnik, one of my lawn customers. I wrote about them in an earlier entry because they are two of my favorite customers. Mary always came out and gave me a jug of Gatorade midway through the mowing job (they have a large lot) and after I finished I'd go inside and visit with them both for a little while. Ben would always be in the living room in his favorite chair listening to local talk radio (WNTA 1330), but would push his walker into the kitchen and join us for a few minutes. He always asked me how I was doing. Ben lived a long life, 88 years. I don't mourn his passing, but I worry about Mary. Will she be able to continue to live independently? Who will look out for her? They had no children. All her surviving relatives live in Wisconsin.

The funeral service was quite short, 20 minutes, conducted by a doddering priest who muttered contrite and obvious phrases about Ben and Mary. When he had everybody repeat the Lord's Prayer, he didn't give us enough time to actually utter it ourselves before he went on to the next verse. He left me with the impression that he was just going through the motions, that he'd done this kind of service, said these verses, went through this ritual, so many times that he was unconscious of his actions or their meaning. That left me more depressed than Ben's passing.

About 15-20 people attended. Most family. I was the youngest one there. I helped Mary back to her seat and then took a seat in the back.

It's the second religious-like ceremony I've attended in the last week. Sunday Esther and I attended an open-air church service with Esther's grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousins at the Evangelical Free Church of Sandstone. There a more metaphysical death was celebrated as parishioners baptized earlier that morning gave their testimonies.

Most were children who said they'd been led to the Lord through a television program or the example of their parents. One middle-aged lady with long, stringy hair, a Minnie Mouse sweatshirt and a hawkish, hollow backwoods face, wept as she thanked the congregation for accepting her. She became baptized to join a community of believers. A larger walrus of a man who wore a leather vest over a gray t-shirt, gave the funniest testimony. He said he grew interested in God again when the country/western radio station he listened to on the way to work switched over to a christian rock format over the course of the day, and the first song he heard when he got back in his truck was D.C. Talk's "I'm into Jesus." He said he liked the tune, so kept the dial tuned to that station, "Even though I found out where the country/western one moved to."

Jesus saved him from a life of recreational drug abuse and also gave him a sense of purpose and direction, he said.

Which gets me thinking about my own "spiritual" life or lack thereof. The only thing I belief in is the permanence of my material being and my paradoxical insignificance and all-importance in the grand scheme of things. I make no claims to know about the hereafter, and if my consciousness, my spirit, or whatever, ceases to exist when my flesh fades, so be it... I'll be none the wiser. And if there's a heaven or hell, I've committed no crime so severe as to warrant banishment to the latter.

Strange that I lead a more "Christian" life now than I did when I was a churchgoing believer, whatever that means. I like to keep it simple, remove all the dogma, all the faith, because I lack it, because I'm too skeptical.

Do unto others, etc., follow the dictates of your own consciousness. Do the right thing. You know what it is. Take care of your environment. Don't waste. Live simply. That's my testament and creed. It was Jesus' too. He didn't need to go to church every Sunday to learn it either.

Church is a valuable social construct that provides a vehicle for people to serve others and be served. It provides accountability for the morally fragile, company for the lonely, and reinforces the belief system of those with a common morality. I have no need in my life right now for any of the benefits church provides, and I'm busy enough with other volunteer labors I could not devote the time or energy to a church.

And now my time is running out... my cup runneth over... I've got to end this because my half hour's up.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Well, I said I'd tell more about the Pili Pili experience, but since I wrote that Esther and I have gone on a nine day vacation in the northwoods of Minnesota, including four days backpacking on the Border Route Trail (BRT), which goes through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

We'd planned to spend a week on the trail going 75 miles, but stopped after four days and got off on a side trail because Esther had really bad, really big, really infected blisters on her heels. We spent our remaining time up north eating good food at fine restaurants in Grand Marais, hiking (Esther in non-abrasive sandals) to Eagle Mountain (elev. 2,301 feet), the highest point in Minnesota, driving to Thunder Bay, Ontario, to a sauna spa and, on the way home, stopping in Finlayson/Sandstone to visit Esther's grandmother, aunt and uncle and cousins.

Quite a full, enjoyable vacation that seemed to go by so fast, and yet when we got back we felt like we'd been gone a month instead of nine days.

Right here right now this very freaking moment I am at the Rockford Public Library. I still haven't got Internet back on at home and yesterday phoned in a cancellation of my Netzero. I'll either go with a local ISP or nothing at all.

Kind of tired today. I didn't sleep well last night. Too hot. Too humid. I'm too restless. Plus, I'm under the influence of Benadryl, which has the twin effect of making me drowsy and jittery at the same time. Well, jittery only in response to outside stimuli. So here in the the library that's not a real problem.

The school district has only called me into work about half the days school's in session and I'm available. I will apply for sub work in the Harlem and Hononegah Districts, and if that doesn't work out I'll actually have to look for a day job. It would do me good, maybe, to find work that is challenging once more. Speaking of, my writing life is starting to pick up. I've actually been working on fiction again. The key is to stick to it, set goals and then achieve them. Hardy har Hallmark sentiments.

Today has been difficult getting anything started. I woke at 7 a.m. and had coffee with Esther before she went to work. Then I watched a DVD of the Princess Bride. I'd seen it once before, but it's a cult classic and worth another view. Then I went over to my parent's to have Dad follow me in his truck to my cousin Jerry's garage, where I'm getting a 50,000 mile tune up and new brake pads for the car. Someday I'll actually clean the darn thing. The "wash me" message I wrote in the dash is filled to obscurity.

Yesterday I was busy from 8 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. teaching special ed. at Lincoln Middle School and then mowing a couple lawns in Cherry Valley. We got rain last weekend and grass is starting to grow. Good thing because the mowing will help pay for the days I don't sub, and also help pay off the $600+ credit card purchases we made on vacation. It's going to be a difficult challenge to save up enough money for our big Pacific Crest Trail adventure next year, but we should be able to do it. Money is nothing. Just a means to an end.

It's almost 2 p.m. and I haven't mowed any of the lawns I set out to do. I've got three I'd like to do, and only one I've made an actual appointment to do. I could be lazy and do just one, but where would I get beer money for tonight's wingo wacky Wednesday at LT's?

Cool moment of yesterday???? Dozing in the evening in our apartment alone (Esther'd gone to her parents to pick up mail) with a half full pint glass of Sam Smith's Oatmeal Stout on the coffee table and the Cubs on the radio. Nothing like the contentment of blessed fatigue brought on by hard labor and beer.

Someday soon I will transcribe my journal from our recent vacation up north. Until then, or in lieu of, here are some highlights:

-- spending more than five minutes watching a woodpecker with a swath of yellow on top of its head work the side of a tree as we descended Eagle Mountain.

-- sitting in rocky shade on an overlook of Rose Lake after stumbling through a very overgrown, very blowdown-ridden Border Route Trail to get there.

-- catching a Muskie in the Swamp River and immediately skinning it and roasting the filets on a stick over an open fire.

That's all for now. My time on the computer here is running out...