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Church of Life

Posted by on Aug 19, 2018 in Blog | 2 comments

Church of Life

If I created a church it’d have no roof or walls or seats, the service’d be an hour or two of looking around, and the hymns the sounds of children playing or dogs barking far off in the night, just for the pleasure of it.

The sermon might be laughter or birdsong, the Confessional a babbling brook, and the Collection plate someone’s cry of delight.

The church’d be open all the time and twice that on Christmas and Easter

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Nut Job

Posted by on Jul 10, 2018 in Blog | Comments Off on Nut Job

Message from a Nut Job this past winter…

I wuz walking along the Mississippi a few minutes ago thinking of all I have to be happy for. It is below zero, the surface of river is slushy wanting to turn to ice, the air is stillish but when it has to cough and raise ripples the temp goes down another ten degrees.
This jacket I have on keeps the heat my body’s generating in like a layer of love, and the collar zips all the way up to my ears so I’m cuddly. The gloves are fleece-lined leather and as long as I curl my fingers up from the finger sheaths I’m okay. I am 😯 and here walking Riverview Terrace midday toward the park. It’s Christmas and I’m alive…and able to do this—-what a gift. I had a little Jamaica rum 20 minutes ago as a kind of antifreeze so I’m thinking of the Jamaicans down there on their precious island and’m blessing them and making plans to fly down on Sun Country to thank every one of them.
But I’m also thinking of what it’s like to be walking along holding hands in a sense with the Missisippi with a bright sun shining down on us. I mean I don’t have to be out here daring the elements, I could be at home at the end of the street where the deer and wild turkeys hang out next door in a spot of woods, looking out at it with my beauteous wife Marilyn. But I’m happy.
I could be in Borrego Springs where we spent the last ten winters in a pocket of heat that seldom drops below 2OO degrees in winter and there’s swimming pools and other ancients limping about to play golf with and regularly gather at the clubhouse to rock and roll, a terrible sight, yep, but still everyone gets to be a teenager again for a few hours sipping once-forbidden booze and remembering youth and sweethearts long ago and far away. Could, but I need zero degrees with a blue sky and the Mississippi with its necklace pearls of ice drifting next to me headed south. I need fingers curled into a protective fist inside the sheepskin thermal gloves that don’t quite do the job, and a determination to make it as far as Big John’s house a few blocks away before doing an about-face and wending home, subdued, but uplifted. And not beaten.

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Posted by on Jul 10, 2018 in Blog | Comments Off on Forever…

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Tornado on Santa Clara Peak…

Posted by on Mar 5, 2018 in Blog | 1 comment

Tornado, decks permit, Gibbons

One time I’d found many decks of Engelmann spruce abandoned by the logging company that’d harvested Clara Peak on Federal land 30 years before. Maybe 300 limbed trees in those decks.

The road in they’d cut in years before was trenched diagonally every 50 feet when they left so there was no way for a truck to get in and steal their trees. But they never went back for them. I went to the Ranger Station near Española on a hunch that I’d get a permit to haul them out. It was hard to get cutting permits of any kind on Clara because the Forest Service had messed with the pooch when they let that Colorado outfit clear-cut land that wasn’t included in the bid as well as what was. And they hadn’t enforced cleanup guidelines so the land looked butchered. In the midst of virgin forest was this scar made even worse when an armed fighter bomber from Kirkland AFB crashed into it in a fog at 500 miles an hour.

So the rangers were touchy about this area, reluctant to even sell permits for family cutting or small operators like me. But on a miraculous day in July the chief ranger in Española sold me a permit for all the decks in that area, saying they were a fire hazard. We turned the twenty-five dollars the permit cost into fifteen thousand dollars worth of cured lumber, corbels, porch posts and vigas.
We were driving the loaded logging truck onto the main dirt road down the mountain one day and there were four Forest Service trucks parked there at the confluence of the bulldozed- in road and the main mountain road, and six or seven men in uniform waited for us. I’d dealt with some of them over the years arguing over permits, them getting on the radio to HQ, taking their time since this was what they were paid for. Now they had me. They were happy men. I handed them the permit signed by their boss and they passed it around a few times hoping for a more correct interpretation than the one it appeared to convey.
There was only one way to be absolutely sure that this permit was valid, and that was a radio call, but none of them volunteered. The Chief had a reputation.

They gave me the go. Dios mio, I felt good!! Five years of dealing with them wherever they found me cutting or camping, and now here’s the hidden Motherlode disappearing before their eyes!! They were gonna have to give bad news to the cuates and brothers and fathers they’d promised them to.

Neil Lane worked with me time to time. We’d worked together in the display ads department of The New Mexican in Santa Fe. We were at the edge of this logging devastation on Clara when we saw two cloud fronts heading at one another fast at the same level, it looked like. We couldn’t figure how two storm fronts could do this. But it happened and they met in soft collision a few thousand feet above us. There was absolute silence, the background noise of the woods gone. We saw a bunch of birds of all callings caught in an invisible wind, crows and meadow larks, hawks and sparrows and finches carried in a horizontal zigzag speeding along past us in utter silence.

And now we saw those clouds that’d collided were falling onto us, not lowering, I mean falling. It was zero visibility. From the time the clouds met to our seeing the wind pipeline of birds tumble past to standing here in an impenetrable fog only a minute had passed.
The fog began to lift as quickly as it had settled, pools of it in hollows nearby lifting away from the land as small clouds trailing along after mom. As we watched the mother cloud return to the sky a dead spruce isolated in the clear-cut to the west of us simply separated from the land and shot up a hundred feet or so along with the debris of its second death, and before it reached its zenith a loud boom blasted a hit of air that staggered us. The tree dropped back to the ground as vertical as it had risen and broke into pieces.

When we told Bob Gibbons about this at Kelly’s Bar in Santa Fe that night he told of staying in a ranger cabin on that mountain with his crew and a storm hitting with such power that when they went out in the morning the old road into the cabin was covered with blow-down, and a new one opened by the tornado lifting out a swatch of trees.

Bob really got me started in the business when he sold me his logging equipment on layaway when he went into the adobe home-building business with his mother and brother in the late Seventies. They were the first to build real adobe houses with vigas and corbels and coyote fences on five acre lots out toward Lamy, on the south side of that line of hills next to the Las Vegas highway. They called their development El Dorado.
His wood business had started when he won the contract for clearing railroad ties off an ancient narrow gauge line years near Apache Canyon maybe 80 years before. He said he pulled up and loaded nine thousand ties by himself. Later he felled trees for his one-man sawmill at Apache Canyon. That gave him some capital to throw in with his mother and their partner. Without him I’d’ve stayed a firewood chopper. But that would’ve been alright too. I had no ambition. I fielded what came my way, is all…

(From the soon to be published book, THE KID FROM SANTA FE, from Augusta Wind Press.)

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Sometime I wonder…

Posted by on Jan 28, 2018 in Blog | 1 comment

When you die

By the second year of our being together I once again made peace with my mortality. I’d done it first at age 11 in Santa Fe when I understood that death’s sting was not in dying which is pretty much like waking up from a chaotic dream, but in others dying. I cried because those I loved would die and in my agony came an understanding. This freed me up to play Russian roulette with all chambers loaded. I was a daffy kid all charged up on the creative energy of what would be later identified as attention problems. Back then it was thought of as mental retardation and not as a broader, faster more imaginative way of perception, so I was free. No one expected anything of me so when I did deliver it was such a surprise I was forgiven my trespasses over and over and over. Except by Marilyn. She has a cut-off point.

Marilyn out of the blue would say, When you’re dead… Or, When you die… Not If, or sometime down the road when you die. The way it sounded to me was that I was a lucky guy if I made it to dinnertime. It bothers me she thinks this way. It’s as if she doesn’t trust me to stay around mortally. I knew then and I know now that I will never die but that my mortality is going to wear thin sometime in my 80’s or 90’ but I don’t need updates all the time, her penciling in things to do a few days away because I might cack off. Sure, she says to Mike on the phone, send Alex over for the weekend, but Grandpa might not be with us by then.

But as a slacker the chances are better for me making it to really old age than her, a Schaefian woman who does too much, has always done too much and will forever do too much, which to her is barely enough.

I’d tell her, You’re programming me to predecease you. How come? She’d say that women live longer than men, it’s statistics is all. Marilyn took a statistics course in college and has been in love with the process ever since. I make up statistics to win arguments, and she reveres them as truth and worships them like a baby does a breast. She memorizes statistics. Back in that class 50 years ago there was this one particular statistic that gave her comfort: Women live longer than men. This was based on women staying at home with the children more than now and culturally disallowed from being as ambitious and driven as male counterparts. I don’t think she has upgraded that statistic, but even if she has and it remains true why does she keep bringing it up? I tried doing the same with her so she’d know how it felt but she paid no attention. She knew I didn’t have the statistics. The figures have already buried me.

I’ll say But, sweetheart, I know men who outlived their wives and she’ll say Name one. I’ll say longevity rules in my family and that we all live into our 90’s, and she says yes but my mother died relatively young and I say 86 is not relatively young and that she smoked and drank for four people and ate sweet and fatty foods and never exercised beyond the bed. Marilyn’s blood pressure is so high there’s smoke coming out her ears, and she swills milk like a newborn calf, she’s on her feet fifteen hours a day and if she wants some statistics for the expected lifespan of someone like that I can find some real ones in reputable sources like the AMA Journal and Readers Digest. She isn’t listening, I lost her on Yes but… She says ‘When you die I will have the RV to live in.’

Why do I have to die for her to live in the RV? It’s not that she is marking my death in her daily reminder book, which she can’t find anyway, it is simply a matter of fact that I will die a lot sooner than her and I may as well get used to it and live fully until that time comes in a few hours. That irked me when she said it to me our first year together, and it still does 26 years later. She loves my response, the voice going up a few octaves, eyes bulging and my full focus on her.

Maybe as my guardian angel she wants me to feel my life isn’t open ended that much any more and sooner or later if I want to accomplish anything I will have to start getting serious and do some sustained work. It bothers her I’ve had it easy all my life, things just running to me in abundance while she’s struggled for everything she has and taken responsibility for everyone around her while I leapt into and out of relationships at will, never cultivating any of the moral assets a human being must live by. At least live by to qualify as being Minnesotan and not just a self-serving ageing juvenile delinquent Santa Fe toad with charm, good looks and a killer smile as a moral substitute

If I die… Of course she will have the RV to live in. And the house. I mean she has an insurance policy on me and has for 14 years, I may be worth more dead than alive to her at this point so it’s not as if she will be out on the street if I decide to buy the farm. And she knows this, at least part of her does. The Vow-of-Poverty part of her does not. It doesn’t even know about the RV or the insurance policy or the equity in this house. The VOP part of her talks of moving into Sister Virginia’s tiny room off the Priory campus when I die and they will eat hardtack, sip water they pump from the well a mile away and carry in a wooden pail to the cell, and sleep wedged into corners. I think she really misses that life and wants to get back to it, the sooner the better. She was purely adored and revered by the nuns and prioresses, priests, bishops, the children and adults she taught and the teachers who taught her. She brought light and joy to their lives. That’s my observation, not hers. She longs to get back to that life but to do so, choke, gasp, I must die. It’s just a feeling thing. She loves me and doesn’t really and truly want me dead, but if I follow her fifty-year-old statistics she could get back to the best part of her life pretty soon.

I asked her What if I don’t die first, you know? What if you die first, huh? She smiled sadly: Then you will be up the creek.

Can that be true? Am I a kind of ventriloquist dummy needing someone’s guiding hand up inside my head and heart to make me alive?

I want to be buried in the vacant lot next door to us, if vacant lots have doors. It is the only one along Riverview and is between Paul’s and us. Deer use it as a miniforest when they swim over from the island. Wild turkeys browse there, nest in the cellar of a small house that burned down long ago. In summer it is thick with bush and raspberry bramble and volunteer elm and ancient apple trees trying for a come-back.

Once when Marilyn was especially intense about when I die I told her I wanted to be cremated and my ashes emptied into the Mississippi, but I’ve grown to love this home and neighborhood so much I want to stay here, at least to seed my carbon atoms as a sort of magnetic homing device for my spirit to find its way to visit and maybe throw a haunt or two into whoever is living in here then. Marilyn will either be in the RV or the monastic cell she’ll share with Sister Virginia. When we first moved in I saw the small dark figure of a woman in the hallway a few times, peripherally.

What I like about being buried or dusted from an urn in the vacant lot is keeping my death informal, no polished stone with a formal thumbnail of who I was and when I was. I will grow things for the turkeys and deer and mice and groundhogs to eat and get to know them from another perspective, without words and hearsay to color my direct experience of them. I have spent all my life observing from an educated, downloaded empirical software perspective that has made me more like a harnessed buggy horse with blinders directed by a whip and road I had no say in designing or destining. My pure spirit leaves all this behind when I die and I get to experience life without learned prejudices. I won’t see the mice as potential invaders of my home in winter or the cats as killers of songbirds or the turkeys as the last of the wild genesis now cloned for my Christmas table. The deer will not be venison, or an extraordinary glimpse of the wild, they will be deer people with their own language, loves, plays and dreams, their own myths and culture and invisible libraries of learning. And when people using the river trail wander into my vacant lot they will feel me watching them and those with some paranormal sensitivity could possibly see a bright pinpoint of light peripherally and be aware of my presence.

John Drummond, who owns the lot, wanted to build there, sometimes comes by in his wheelchair to visit the grounds he had hoped to have his dream house on until the Fridley City Hall added some restrictions that ended that. Marilyn and I talked about buying it some day when we get rich and turning it into a park for everyone, though with insurance prohibitions we’d have to keep it officially as our extended yard, a Japanese garden of sorts with winding paths and lots of flowers and cultivated gnarled trees with a few stone benches no one could fall off or stumble over even if they tried. We will have passive seat restraints installed on the benches that come about your lap when you sit and lift you to standing when you begin to get up.

We could look out over it from the second story addition I am planning for Marilyn with her office and its deck overlooking the vacant lot garden, with a small private chapel on the south side and a sunny greenroom in between with a broad deck overlooking the Mississippi. She can sit and watch the birds and squirrels and gone-wild cats and field mice, as she loves to now from the downstairs porch. And when I’m gone, and before she moves to Virginia’s cell, she will be able to look at the special consecrated plot of angel trumpets where she planted me and remember what a terrific guy I was and miss me mightily. Maybe she’ll murmur with fond love, I told you so.


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Sister Thomas, aka Marilyn

Posted by on Jan 28, 2018 in Blog | 1 comment

Marilyn aka Sister Thomas… (From Marilyn & Me)

Marilyn went into the convent in the beginnings of the 50’s, stepping away from the world’s apocalyptic culture shift until released from her vows by the Vatican in 1967. When she left fifteen years later the church gave her a few dollars to start a new life with and an ankle length gingham dress. Sister Thomas, now Marilyn Toner once again, would continue spiritual work on her own and go on to earn a Masters Degree, then reinvent herself as a professor of nursing in San Diego, working on her PhD.

It was Vatican II days, there was hope the Catholic Church could he hauled into the twentieth century with a married clergy and a new life philosophy emanating from the people and their needs, a holy See sea washing freely upon a shore of love instead of dribbled from a goblet for the purposes of washing away sin.

The Vatican proclaimed victory with Absolution of Itself just as It was, and pulled out of the conclave it had gathered from around the Catholic world to bring some heart to its monolith-ism. It walked out the two-ton brass door with its aged aegis intact. Some of what had changed in three years of debate was that the beautiful Latin of the service was changed to the local languages of the people, who may have preferred the classic tradition of praying in a beautifully cadenced tongue they didn’t understand that brought into their hearts the mystique of the soul.

There was a priest Marilyn met while in the nunnery she exchanged letters with, continuing conversations begun the year before. He had two sisters in a nunnery in San Francisco, and one day they called Marilyn at her parent’s house from St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis. They’d come to visit family and while in town were anxious to meet. Their brother had written so much about her.

After that meeting Marilyn said she knew what the arrowed Saint Sebastian felt like. Father Jeremy was the only priest in the family and he was in love with her. His sisters ordered Marilyn to stop his love instantly and leave him alone. Marilyn said she was here and he was there, she had no control over him or his heart. They commanded she stop responding to his letters and luring him on. He was talking of leaving the priesthood and coming out to marry her. They stamped their feet and held their breath till they turned blue. Do you hear? We forbid this! They may as well have performed the marriage service right then.

She was dating a man from the Peace Corps and considering joining him in the work. Also, she had met an old farmer whose wife died in the hospital where Marilyn worked and who felt that since she was with his wife when she breathed her last she ought to take her place. Old country thinking. He kept calling her with this fabulous proposal of having her milk the cows, keep his home humming, raise some fresh children and scythe his crops by hand with his workers in the autumn. The priest was there during one of these calls but when Marilyn told the farmer she was in love with another and handed the phone to Father Jeremy, Jerry began to counsel the farmer instead. Marilyn wanted less detachment, I think.

Another time he was there when the Peace Corps worker friend dropped by with a sheaf of papers to say he had arranged for her interview with the local director and there was the possibility he was shipping out to South America by Spring and hoped she’d be with him.

Not many of Jerry’s family were at their wedding, certainly not the two nuns on the West Coast. Together Marilyn and Jerry took on the Vietnam War, the arthritic church and all the social ills they could handle. They were in the mainstream now and had never been happier. They knew how to help and for the first time in their lives were free of all institutional restraints to their pure ambition to help everyone, anyone, anytime. Marilyn got her Masters in teaching, Jeremy a PhD in Psychology. Michael was born, and then they adopted Julianne and Jonnie.

They caught up on everything they’d missed inside, it was no longer prairie thunder, it was Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, movies, TV, dancing, politics and organized protests while continuing the traditions they learned in the church. They were a pure balance of the secular and the religious, whole human beings so long selfless now learning about the rest of who they were, and of their power and glory.


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First World War Fighter Plane

Posted by on Jan 20, 2018 in Blog | 1 comment

When I was little, say around ten, I’d get a balsa wood U.S. fighter plane kit from the toy store downtown and spend days putting the plane together out of the balsa wood cutouts, covering the fuselage with rice paper, painting and pasting on decals, and always the same plane with rubber band motor and plastic propeller with a balsa wood machine gun mounted on the nose of the plane.
Then I’d go up on the roof of our house with a can of lighter fluid, spray that on, wind the prop counter clockwise till it was tight, then light the plane with a match and let it go, watch its journey as it circled and eventually crashed. I never tired of it. Well, maybe in high school, y’know.

I did this many times after I’d saved allowance. It was beautiful and the feeling went to the core of me. I didn’t know why I did it, but it may’ve had something to do with dreams I had of flying just such a plane and being shot down in the First World War.

I didn’t share this with anyone till now. This was just after the Second World War was over. One of the shot-down pilots from the Pacific War who stayed on in Santa Fe after being discharged from the Army hospital at Bruns General, I’d see walking around town with a part of his face flesh melted into a fluid kind of way, and whenever I’d see him our eye’d lock and there’d be a moment of kinship. I didn’t take it as kinship till now. Back then I was horrified. But I kept making the same biplane over and over.

I wonder….

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