Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Not as scary as it might seem


I was angling in on some old purple flowers growing on the edge of our alley. A bee was sitting there quietly, and it's been awhile since I've taken any pictures of a bee. I leaned in.

And then, through the shrubs, I saw him. Just a few feet away.

Looking quietly up at me. I could almost hear him thinking:

Maybe if I just don't move.

I thought the same thing.

And I took his picture.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

100 Greatest albums: For Emma, Forever Ago

I am chipping away at a series here called "The Hundred Greatest Albums of All Time" with each of the albums covered being individually the single greatest album of all time, irrespective of the fact that there are 99 other ones.

(And probably more).

The greatest album of all time is For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver. 

But I'm sorry to have to tell you that today's selection is a bit of a bait and switch.

Allow me to explain.

Periodically I and my brain become completely obsessed with a song. All I really want to do is listen to that song. I play the song for other people. Sometimes I have even written about the song here; for instance once I covered my obsession with The Grateful Dead's Black Peter. But it has happened to me countless times with, just off the top of my head:

Cortez the Killer by Neil Young

Wing by Patti Smith

Delia as done by Bob Dylan

River by Joni Mitchell

Ruby My Dear (mysteriously a version by) Bud Powell

Ball and Biscuit by The White Stripes

If I listed them all, we could be here all day.

I guess the point is that it happens a lot.

It is happening right now.

And the song is 

Auatc (Ate up all their cake) by Bon Iver 

Oh I love this song.

I'm listening to it now.

And now I'm listening to it again.

I can't write very well when I'm listening to music to let's just wait for a second. 

And listen.

This song doesn't have an album yet. I guess it's supposedly coming eventually? Fortunately 13 years ago Bon Iver made the greatest album of all time, For Emma, Forever Ago. At some point it was bound to get its official clerkmanifesto 100 greatest album of all time blog post, so why not now, when we can deftly sneak in A.U.A.T.C.?

Which we have done.

When For Emma came out it seemed like there was a mythology with it. Honestly I don't know how much was purely in my imagination, how much was swirling, possibly nonsensical rumor, or if any of it was remotely real. 

It went something like this:

Bon Iver was some guy who holed up in a cabin deep in the Wisconsin woods. He had a ton of strange recording equipment in his tiny rustic wooden cabin. He layered tracks heavily and overdubbed wildly with a magician's touch, tempered by isolation and wilderness, and produced, from out of nowhere, the greatest album of the day.

I wasn't too invested in that interpretation. I just love the album. All that.. stuff... doesn't matter. But it was there.

Nevertheless, as is my custom, I went out to get you a YouTube link to one of the songs from the album. I chose, almost randomly, Flume. It's a beautiful example/introduction, though I suppose anything I chose would have worked perfectly. But then I saw something about Bon Iver playing Flume in a "Pocket Party" in Paris. So I watched it.


To see it all done so simply only deepened my astonishment.

I listened to Flume four times in preparing these brief notes and links, stunned, riveted and amazed each time. It's gorgeous, powerful music.

Then I had to do some dishes. So I went to the sink and found myself singing:

Well, you're up all night

And your head's down low

If you can see your own kite

Shed a little light on it...

Monday, September 21, 2020

Left right left


In our increasingly complicated library entrance gauntlet, we are now regularly directing people to either side of a stanchion and to a couple of different library entrances.

Go left to the library.

Go right to vote.

Alas that looked at in the political vernacular of the time, this pretty much says it all:

Voting now we adjudicate whether to be mild, bureaucratic conservatives, or to be Gilead.

In the library we are all Socialists.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Perfect candidate




The election has begun at my library where we are an early voting site. So far the lines have been prodigious, and the first day saw waits that were never less than an hour and were often a fair bit more.

People are kind of keyed up about this voting thing.

As I write it's a Saturday and there is no early voting, which is strictly Monday to Friday. Regardless people still keep coming in to try and vote today. After giving them the bad news I tell them that they can inform me who they'd like to vote for and I can pass it along to the election judges on Monday. When they take me up on it I always like to suggest myself for the Presidency. "I'm non partisan, I have a lot of super fun ideas, and I am very, very, very, very ethical!"

To my surprise they do consider it for a moment, but they always choose someone else.

No worries. I put my name down anyway.





Saturday, September 19, 2020

Outside help


I bet you're wondering why there is no blog post today.

Oh this ol' thing?

I guess it's a blog post. I suppose it depends on your definition of what, exactly, a blog post is.

Yes, "A post, on a blog" is actually a really good definition. 

Do you mind if I use that?

No, I know I just did. I mean, I would have removed it if you said no.

So thank you!

How would I have removed that?

Time travel.

Actually I'm pretty good at time travel. Say something you'd like me not to use.

Oh, that's complicated.

No, I can do it. I'll just start it at:

"I bet you're wondering why there is no blog post today."

No, I know it's not as good as before.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Fan letter

Dear Clerkmanifesto:


I read a lot of stuff on the Internet. Some of it is pretty good. But I recently came across one of your posts called "Fan Letter" and, well, I was gobsmacked.

It was really really good. It was so so so incredibly good! I think it was the best thing I've ever read!

It was a whole lot better than anything else on the Internet!


You should get a Pulitzer for it!

No, seriously.

I may even read your blog again some day, if I remember to, which I probably won't.

Yours truly,

A fan

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Reader questions


A reader writes in to clerkmanifesto to ask:

Hmm. Wait. No one appears to have written in to ask anything. 

Ah well, I can answer anyway:

Dear Reader:

First of all: Thank you for your kind words about my blog! I am touched. I know I seem amazingly self-contained and unaffected by success and by what anyone thinks of me, but...

Hmm, apparently I misplaced my second part of that sentence. Never mind. Let's carry on!

You ask a lot of interesting questions about my blog. I will try to answer them.

1. I am in no way obsessed with ferrets. 

2. I have never met a ferret.

3. What's with all the questions about ferrets?

4. I'm not the one asking all the questions about ferrets!

5. Well, these are the questions you would have asked if you actually wrote in thank you very much!

6. No, I don't think I just show pictures when I lose control of a blog post!

7. I am so glad you have taken an interest in my photography. Here are four random pictures I have recently taken.

8. No, oddly they're not of ferrets.

9. Yes, I agree it's a bit of a missed opportunity.


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Mr. Toad's wild ride

Among the most mediocre (but as a fan, ever thrillingly delightful) rides of Disneyland there sits Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. It is a very short, dark ride, meaning an indoor environmental ride wherein one's party sits in a conveyance (a simulated roadster in this case) and is taken along a track on a little adventure. The Mr. Toad ride was based off characters from a kid's book called The Wind in the Willows which, it turns out, is about reckless driving and auto theft. Disney made half an animated movie about it three quarters of a century or so ago. Any further nuances are relatively moot as the premise of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is that you are in a car being recklessly driven through a variety of English Environments: The countryside, a manor, London, Hell, all of it full of ridiculous hazards like road construction, exploding factories, frantically gesturing police, and evil judges. Your car's headlong, dangerous, and crazy driving is ever bailed out by a fool's luck and sudden, last minute, skin-of-your-teeth turns.

I did not intend originally to provide so thorough an explanation of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Most of you probably know the gist of it all already. I merely came here to talk about my library once again.

Right now my library reminds me a lot of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

Because of all the special limitations of the pandemic, and with all the very specialized, highly limited, and minutely scheduled things herein offered, my library has become a warren of stanchions, cart walls, "Do Not Enter!" signs, giant red arrows, closed areas, gated sections, and long, narrow access pathways.

All of it seems assembled with the same chaotic and ill fitting, makeshift and wild design that marks Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. And the library patrons that wander into this frantic, complicated, overly stimulating environment seem to me exactly like the cars jolting madly through Mr. Toad's. These people push on a door that reads "Warning: No Entry!" only to wheel off to another door, plunge through, and find themselves walking against the tide of an army of red arrows.

They surge away from that just as they are set to head the wrong direction down an endlessly stanchioned path to nowhere. They dodge through the proper entrance only to make an ill-advised turn to the computer appointments area where they find some County functionary looking admonishingly at them and saying "Can I help you" in a tone that implies it is not help, rather a stern correction they offer. Of course like the Disney ride nothing ever goes seriously wrong, except for in Mr Toad one ends up in Hell, and in the library there is a possibility the experience will lead to a terrible bout of Coronavirus and maybe an impending, tragic, and brutal death. 

 But, of course, you go for the ride, you take your chances.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020



As I am not shy about telling you, I have written a blog post every day for seven and a half years now. But it was only with the emergence of a Pandemic this Spring that I started to include photography in clerkmanifesto. Most of the time the pictures and the way I talk about them is in keeping with the things I I have always written about anyway, but sometimes it's really just... photography.

And so when I feel as if there has been an awful lot of photography in the blog I say to myself:

Maybe it's time to write more again.

And then I go out for a walk.

And this happens:

Monday, September 14, 2020

Dear Great Pumpkin

Dear Great Pumpkin:

I hope that I am not writing you too soon, but it is September, and the leaves have started to turn, and it has been unusually chilly and Fall-like lately. See below:

You're probably thinking: "Oh crap. I'd better start gathering toys. And I have to hurry and pick this year's pumpkin patch!"

But don't worry. It's mostly just the earliest bits of Fall. There's plenty of time left. Mostly I was just hoping to reach you before you settled upon the most sincere Pumpkin Patch to visit for Halloween this year.

Because I have found a uniquely sincere Pumpkin Patch.

I don't mean to suggest that you in your wisdom would not know the most sincere Pumpkin Patch. But this one is very little.

So you might miss it.

Here is a picture:

See how easy it is to miss? Here are some closer pictures:

See the pumpkin? It's genuine! It's a real pumpkin patch! No airs, nothing fancy. It's in an alley!

It's a sincere pumpkin patch.

It has a little bit of an upper portion too, which I think makes it a full pumpkin patch rather than just a pumpkin plant.

Once Charlie Brown asked Linus "Maybe this pumpkin patch isn't big enough?" And Linus wisely answered "Size has nothing to do with it! It's sincerity that counts!"

Another great thing is that this pumpkin patch is in St. Paul, Minnesota. St. Paul is where it all began for you! So I thought it might be nice for you to return home to your original pumpkin patch this Halloween. This particular pumpkin patch might be as close as you could get all these years later to your original pumpkin patch.

I don't need a lot of toys at this pumpkin patch- a few nice ones mostly for form's sake. I'd just be really honored and thrilled to finally see you rising out of a pumpkin patch on Halloween Night. 
I've spent a lot of long nights in pumpkin patches over the long years without much success to tell you the truth.

Did I tell you I got a "Great Pumpkin" T-shirt this year? I wear it all the time.

I'm sorry it says "pumkin". I didn't notice that when I ordered it. I mean no disrespect. 

No matter what pumpkin patch you decide to visit this year though I will always be your devoted fan,


(and I believe in you despite what everyone says about you not existing!)


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Romantic comedy preview


(Over shots of busy hospital wards, quarantined, empty city streets, and people on ventilators) 

The Pandemic was a terrible time for almost everyone. 

(Shot of a man with a horrible, almost disfigured mouth and jaw, looking sadly into a mirror) 

But for George... 

(Shot now of a woman with a cleft lip and wildly jutting teeth, also looking sadly into a mirror) 

And for Emily, it was 

(Shot of the two of them, splitscreen, in front of their mirrors, putting on their face masks) 

a dream come true. 

(In their masks George and Emily look great and very "normal").

(Cut to a shot of a comically socially distanced party) 

But when George and Emily meet the partners of their dreams, 

("Sparks" fly as George and Emily lay eyes on each other in their masks)

how long can they hide behind:

"The Masks"

(Cut to scene of George and Emily, still in masks, sitting romantically together with untouched glasses of red wine, before a Christmas decorated fireplace).

Emily: (Nervously) Should we take off our masks?

George: (Longingly) Yes. NO!

Emily: Right! No! Because...

George: Because...

Emily: (Desperately) Because it would be wrong!

George: (Eager) It would be wrong to the safety of our grandparents!

Emily: (Wistfully) I love my grandparents.

George: I love my grandparents!

(They kiss while wearing masks)

This Holiday Season:

(Splitscreen of George and Emily again, in their mirrors, without masks, trying to make their faces look more normal)

When a Pandemic hides the truth,

(Ambiguous shot of them looking at each other without masks)

Maybe dreams can still come true!

(Back to splitscreen where they put on their masks)

"The Masks"

Streaming exclusively starting Thanksgiving Day.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Dear library user

Dear Library User:

As you know, this time of the Covid-19 Pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to the providing of County Services. Essential County Services such as Ferret Registration, Tax Payment Adjudication, and Hazardous Waste Disposal have become more difficult for people to access in the current climate. That is why we have decided to take over the libraries. They're conveniently located, people like them, and those library people wouldn't say boo to a cat, so we can do pretty much whatever we want there.

Nevertheless we realize that people still want to use the library as a library. Don't let us stand in your way. We want nothing more than that you continue to enjoy your library, which is a County Service, provided by your County, with the approval of the County Manager and the County Board of Directors, and which now also offers many other valuable County Services.

However if you are going to continue enjoying your library, in addition to the current Pandemic cautions, please note and abide by the following library changes:

1. You will need to check in with the County Navigator at The County Navigator Desk to enter the library.

2. In addition to a library card you will need a Ferret Registration Card to enter the library. You do not need to own a ferret! This is for processing purposes only.

3. Note: You need to make an advance appointment if you want to see someone at The Ferret Registration Desk and apply for a Ferret Registration Card.

4. While in the library County Social Workers may drop by to inform you of services that you don't qualify for.

5. You must show two forms of picture ID at the Security Desk to leave the library because, during the Pandemic, the County is piloting a new program using the library as a Low Security Detention Facility. This won't affect library services in any way, but we advise using caution when interacting with library patrons wearing orange jumpsuits.

Thank you so much for your consideration in these difficult times. We hope you will keep in mind our County Motto:

"There is no need for you to thank us for all our amazing services. We're the County. It's just what we do."

-The County Manager


-The County Board of Directors

Friday, September 11, 2020

An adventure

Often when I am on one of my photography walks I am struck by a sense of adventure. The strange purpose of going around looking for photographs, the weird thrills of finding both expected and unexpected things to photograph, and the rare successes that feel like magic give me a heightened sense, an adventure novel's sense of what is really just a short walk around my neighborhood.

Maybe I've always felt a little bit like this about any walks I've taken. This blog is full of little stories straight from the past seven or eight year of walks, but now, with my camera, and without destination, the whole idea of it is exaggerated and feels both more real and more fictional. And regularly at the end of those photo walks I feel an impulse to write about it here.

But I don't.

I mean, until today.

These adventures aren't necessarily good stories. And though they might work as a kind of photojournalism, the pictures that might work for that kind of essay aren't the ones that most interest me to take. But the other day I decided to try anyway. I had a more open period of time for my walk. I figured I could go down to the river and try and take a wider collection of photographs, ones that might still lean heavily into the detail I favor, and that will still drift off towards abstractions at the least opportunity, and that still don't tell a story, but ones that might nevertheless be comprehensive enough to give a sense of what it feels like, what this walk of discovery looks like.

So without too much more comment ahead of time here is my trail of photographs in the basic order they happened. The only minor omission is from a few leaf pictures that recently appeared on this blog and so I am loathe to show them again. 

And one last caveat:

I take a lot of pictures and usually manage to limit myself to posting my favorite ones here- say my 4 star pictures with a few three star ones as well. (I sometimes wish I limited it more since worse pictures seem to take something away from the better ones.) But the nature of today's walk means a lot more two and three star pictures than you'll be used to seeing. I'll just have to live with opening up that door...

So to temper your expectations from the start of just how particular some of these pictures might be, we start with the chickens. Some of our neighbors, on my way to the river, have chickens. They are behind a fence and I only rarely see them. Last time I did they were strange, fuzzy, giant chicks. Now they are resplendent chickens (mostly, you'll see). 

I took these pictures through a wood slat fence. The chickens were not shy thus I could get close enough for these details of their feathers.

And their beautiful eyes and strange, dramatic faces.

And I guess this one is still a chick, sort of? Yes, somewhere in there is a chicken, or maybe an 80's heavy metal rocker! Follow the beak.

When I got down to the river, but before ducking off the more popular road and bike paths, I came across an old tape deck that appeared to have been hurled out of someone's car window. It gave me a touch of 80's/90's nostalgia. I did what any sensible person would do: I took a few random close-ups of it.

And then I ducked down into the wood and the river paths.

Here is the river that always seems to look better in person.

I try to give a sense for it in a different color key below. Both pictures are curiously true enough to the look of it in late Summer, despite all their differences.

All Summer I have been seeing a grasshopper with pretty wings that only open when it sort of flies. It is hopeless for me to photograph it as it is relatively shy and too quick for me. Nevertheless this was a small triumph to get a picture, out on the dirt path at the top of the river bluffs, of the grasshopper itself, even if there are no wings to see and only a hint of the color within.

And then we come to the creek that I followed back up into St. Paul, away from the river. I have taken many unsuccessful pictures of the creek this summer. The water is very clear and comes up out of the ground two thirds up the ravine that is ducked below the busy city. The river bed is all mud and stone.

I do best at this point to bring color in through the reflections in the water.

This looks a little radioactive to me, or fake?, but it really is just reflections of an intensely green forest canopy above.

A little moss sometimes seems like the only thing growing in or near the creek. Maybe the creek is radioactive after all.

More reflections. Okay, I'll admit I maybe turned up the color saturation on this a bit more than is... proper. But other than that it is just leaves reflected in a pool in the stream.

A fallen tree is the usual way to cross the stream back and forth, as I am wont to do with abandon.

Lots of trees around.

So on this walk I did collect quite a few leaves and would sometimes sit on a log taking pictures of them with a light panel I have. I think these two pictures didn't show up on my recent leaf post so we have examples.

This is what the path looks like (and maybe where I sat for the above pictures).

Here is where the path rises out of the dark woods into the blinding light of the neighborhood above.

At this point I'm on my way home and thinking about turning off my camera and putting the lens cap on, but the curious way this tree spilled onto a concrete wall caught my attention.

And as I was almost done in the last alley, I heard a blue jay. I've never gotten a proper picture of one and didn't feel a lot of hope when I poked my head into a copse of evergreen shrubs and trees. This jay, with enormous attitude, was surprisingly tolerant of my photographing, and though not beautiful exactly (the deep shade didn't help), it was full of personality.

And with that the ring of power was delivered to the cracks of doom in Mordor.

So I went home.