Monday, August 31, 2015

Mainlining maple syrup


I was supposed to be done with every last scrap of any mention of my very Minnesota vacation. I made a fuss about being done. I formally finished. I attached an appendix. I added an afterword just to tell you how safely done we all were. I closed off the vacation with a concluding post. Then I shut the book on it, laminated it, bronzed it, put it in a sealed, underground vault in the middle of nowhere and burned the map to it.

I didn't have anything against these 78 essays about my two week vacation. But the sprawl of them made me want to set a final end to it all. 

So I did.

And then I had to tell you about the maple syrup. 

Not just any maple syrup, maple syrup bought on vacation.

I love maple syrup, but I love maple syrup best when it's bought in a little cabin in the far maple woods that the syrup comes from. And when, because it is bought there, it is not insanely expensive. And I love that maple syrup the best when it's bought on vacation.

Find the vault. Dig it out. Crack the bronze coating. Delaminate it. Open the book back up. And pour out champagne flutes of maple syrup for everyone! I have something more to say about vacation.

I got some maple syrup. 

My wife and I drove through the back, dusty one lane roads of the north woods. And though it does require prior knowledge and driving on actual, rough, one lane roads, we do like to increase the challenge. We take secret back ways to those one lane roads. We get lost. We travel along roads so tiny and messed up that we feel fear. Our little car has the adventure of a lifetime.

Look to your right, look to your left. There are the trees! Tubing runs rampant through these woods to carry the sap along. There is tubing everywhere. Follow the tubing. We are almost there. Don't stop for wild raspberries. Here is the barn. Here is the cabin. It is always open. We step inside. There are old maple syrup relics from the days of yore. There are pictures on the walls. A moose was here once! And there is the maple syrup for sale. The more you get the cheaper it goes. A pint is 11. A quart is 18. A gallon is 64. One day I will do a gallon. I'm working up to it. This year is 2 quarts. Write what you bought in the book. Put your money in the box with all the other money that's just sitting there. Trust itself is a great tourist destination, but maple syrup is an even better one. 

Goodbye maple syrup cabin.

I am only ever so slightly gluttonously ashamed that I make a thick quart of maple syrup last for but one week, and then only by being moderate with it. Ha! Moderate. Two brilliant maple cold press coffees a day. Yogurt with maple syrup. Maple syrup cookies. Oh how easily and sweetly it pours out of its glass jug. Clean the rim with your finger. Mmmm. Spill some more on the rim to clean it more with your finger.

Okay, I'm 60% sure we're all done with the vacation posts now.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The hospitality of eagles

Vacation ended unceremoniously. After 18 days off from the library, I got in the car in the morning with my wife. Were we going to do something fun together? My brain was in vacation mode still and so not properly processing reality. Surely we were going maybe for a pretty hike? A lovely breakfast somewhere? Or perhaps we were driving off for another week at Lake Superior? Yes, these will all be fine thank you.


It was not like that.

She was dropping me off and driving away to work.  I was walking from there, alone, along the river, on my way to work as well. Ten hours of work. As she drove away bitterness and darkness descended upon me like a curtain. Vacation was over. The house lights went up. I was by myself in an empty theater.

I was sad.

I cursed the fates. I cursed the world. My spirit darkened. Everything was over forever.

And then a bald eagle flew up to me. I waved. The eagle waved, in as much as eagles wave, which they don't really, at all. And then the eagle flew off over the river.

"Okay, then." I said.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

What I read for summer vacation

There sure has been plenty of talking about my summer vacation. I mean, by me. I'm not blaming you for it. Curiously, though I was only able to manage to get the vacation to go for a paltry 18 days, I may have managed to get it to go for as much as 40 days and 40 nights in clerkmanifesto time. This may explain why you feel damp.

I'm pretty sure this, formally, is the very last one of this year's vacation posts.

A month or so ago, then, I listed all the books I took on vacation and my prospects for reading them. I leave all that here exactly as it was in that "before" post. All my new comments today I will put in bold type for clarity's sake.

1. Goblin Emperor by Addison 

Recommended to me at the library! I was cautiously convinced by the recommendation.

This was quietly charming. The coming of age of an isolated, miserably treated boy who becomes King. Oddly the Goblin stuff, and fantasy world was so low key as to be pretty much unnecessary, and yet by no means problematic. Just a very nice, quiet story of someone finding their way.

2. Way of Kings by Sanderson

Skeptical, almost left it behind. Looking like a long shot to me now. As a side note this book is 8 billion pages long!

I never stopped disliking this book enough to read a single word of it, so I can't even blame the book for my disliking it.

3. The Troupe by Bennett

Circuses! Fire! This is one of those books I am drawn to because I keep picking up circus books that disappoint me and each one that does disappoint only seems to increase my investment and unwillingness to cut my losses.

Not about circuses, this was about a Vaudeville troupe, albeit one that was a bit circusy. I wisely bailed at the two-fifths marker and probably feel the most hostility towards this book of all listed here. Peopled with close-mouthed unappealing characters, I found the book itself withholding. 

Addendum: I'm adding this after otherwise finishing this whole accounting to say that, shortly after returning from vacation, a book called Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley, came in for me at the library. This was a Juvenile fiction book done with grace and creativity and warmth and, when all seemed lost, happily filled my dreams of a really good circus based book. One could say it was like The Troupe (above) meets A Snicker of Magic (below), except excellent and successful!

4 and 5. Whiplash River and Gutshot Straight by Berney

Elmore Leonardesque crime thriller comedic novels. I am at a loss as to why I have two or even why I have these since it's not a sub genre that generally works out for me. Like, it's not as if I've ever successfully read Elmore Leonard. I just like him in theory.

I did not realize Whiplash River is the sequel to Gutshot Straight and so read them in the wrong order, but I did not suffer much damage. I liked these very much and, because this follows on my comments for The Troupe, I can't resist the contrast that this is an author who is generous. Generous! 

6. Dragon's Bait by Vande Veld

Girl sacrificed to dragon. Girl and dragon get revenge. Okay. I'll bite.

About one third in this book took a turn from what I thought it might be into something strange and really interesting. Then at two thirds it turned back into exactly what I (or you, probably) would imagine it would be. It ended up feeling a bit like a sketch.

7. The Sea of Tranquility by Millay

It was about, er, something. I guess I'll see if I read it. I think romance comes into it.

I didn't believe this book and was out after 15 pages of it.

8. A Snicker of Magic by Lloyd

I'm totally blank here too. This is a Juvy book. It has a picture of an ice cream cone on the cover. Does that help?

Funny, I think of liking most of what I read this vacation. And I really did read a lot. But this one wasn't too great either, though I did finish it. It wasn't bad- a story about a kid finding home, and breaking a family curse, and restoring magic to a town. It had the uncommon problem of being overly sweet, the children especially, as if it were a kids' book from the 1910's or something.

9. I Shall Wear Midnight by Pratchett

Already started, this is a reread in preparation for the last in the series coming out in a month. This is book four and I have begun thinking of a blog post on my theory of trilogies.

I wrote that post on my theory of trilogies, but even though I came down a bit on this fourth book in a series, I only had a hard time with the dark first half. The humanity and beauty of the second half shone through as clearly as in the first three books.

10. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by North

I am currently reading this (it's day two of vacation for me!). It's pretty riveting, though the jury is still out. I'll be zipping upstairs to read more when I finish here.

It took a clever, interesting conceit, namely a person who lives the same life over and over but with accumulated knowledge, and brought it very well to life. But as the latter half expanded into what amounted to a battle with a mad super villain it gave away a good deal of what it earned, though not all. I would maybe have loved it had it found a way to go smaller than the more generic, unconvincing battle against the end of the world.

11. Living in a Foreign Language by Tucker

One of those there moving to the idyllic countryside of Italy because I have a lot of money but not an unbelievable amount books where it turns out it's not like the dream they thought it would be until it's sort of like the dream they thought it would be. I'm always up for one of those, especially when I can read it in a place where my jealousy will be tempered by my own lush situation. 

I had no complaints. The author had a nice conversational voice, wrote ably and appealingly about food, and was so rich that there weren't a lot of illusions about being clever and scrappy, but not so rich that it completely overwhelmed the book.

12. Cannery Row by Steinbeck 

This was a last minute addition and quite an argument for the classics since it was possibly my favorite book on the list. Fundamentally it was the underlying argument of the book that getting by doing as little as possible is a perfectly fine ambition in life. This seems to be an argument completely obliterated from American life, but I feel I have something still to learn from it.

13. Sabriel by Nix

Another last minute grab, I've read it before and like it very much. I did not remember it as being as short as it is, perhaps because it is a thick, many paged book. It turns out the lines on the page are sparse and the whole plot runs through pretty quickly. Great heroine though, and full of dark, sprawling horrors and walks into death that all somehow don't scare me. No small feat.

14. Frank Lloyd Wright in New York: The Plaza Years by Hession 

This was a random pick up in the lake house that ended up fascinating me. I didn't finish it because I found it late in the trip, but might still track down a copy here. It's a nicely written, more coffee table kind of book, about how Wright lived in NYC in his late eighties. It was a city he was intensely critical of, but still enjoyed and vigorously impressed his personality upon, and I learned another piece of his life, a bit more about NY in the fifties, and some about that era of urban architecture. 

And that,

is that.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Agate hunters handbook, part three

Agate Hunters Handbook Part Three

We have informed you of the history of agate hunting. We have outlined famous people who collected agates. And we discussed the great moments in agate hunting and what they might mean for us going forward.

We haven't?

That doesn't sound right. Wait here while I read over parts one and two of the Agate Hunters Handbook.

Hmm, I guess we didn't. I guess we were planning to but were too busy agate hunting.

Yes, since you ask, we did find one. Well, at least something we classify as "vaguely agate-like", which you will soon learn is a very good haul indeed.

Anyway, we could do the history of agates and all the famous Agateers and all that, but this is only a three-part series so don't you think we'd better get down to the shore and start collecting?

Me too.

The first important thing with agate hunting is knowing where to look. I suppose, once upon a time, any old Lake Superior shoreline with rocks was good enough. This was back 100 years ago when ten percent of all the rocks here were attractive, fist-sized agates. Unfortunately the popularity of agate hunting has made agates quite rare. By my modestly scientific sampling of roughly 50,000 Lake Superior stones I have determined that there aren't any actual agates left here, though you can still find some of varying quality and prices in local stores.

What does this mean? It means we have to use our wits. We have to search in unlikely places. Agates won't be sitting high on an easily accessible, scoured over shore. You need to dig down, preferably on the wet side of the tide line, possibly while you're perched awkwardly between two huge rocks, with freezing cold incoming waves lunging at you. You'll have to catch large lake trout and search their bellies on the possibility that they swallowed something really good. You must go deep sea diving in forgotten Lake Superior shipwrecks in the hopes that some doomed passenger was traveling with their museum quality agate collection. Or best yet, buy an old brass lamp in a Grand Marais antique store, rub it, and when a genie appears and offers you three wishes, wish for three agates, nice ones, worth at least $40 each on Ebay. Three agates, three wishes, no genie worth his or her salt will allow you to group multiple agates into one wish.

Now that you have found yourself a likely agate hunting spot, what next? Look for agates, but because you won't find any, enjoy the other stones. You will be seeing a lot of them.

The other stones are graded thus:

A. Underwater, and of jewel-like amazingness.
B. Wet, pretty and compellingly complex.
C. Dry, interesting, kind of, a tiny bit, if you try, and remember, you only need get them wet to make them pretty!
D. Dry, at home, in your rock collection where they are random rocks of no particular interest to anyone. Don't try to show these to people.

But what do you do if you find a genuine, glorious, bona fide agate?

Congratulations. Leave the agate there for the next person.

Just kidding. Get an expensive case for it and ask everyone you know and have ever or will ever meet "Want to see my agate?'

Of course they do! And while they are marveling over your amazing agate don't forget to mention "The Agate Hunters Handbook" in three parts. It will have had little to do with your triumph, but a little common courtesy never hurt anyone.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Agate hunters handbook part two

Agate Hunters Handbook, part 2

Before we get started today, let me just answer the question "Why agate hunting?"

Agate hunting is a wonderful excuse to crouch and squat along the shore of Lake Superior, looking at millions and millions of pretty stones. A word of warning though, these stones are only pretty when wet, peered at with a careful eye, and then only up until the moment you collect them, at which point they will pretty much look like random stones and you will have no idea what possessed you to pick them up. Of course you also could, theoretically, hypothetically, in a probably-it's-technically-possible way, find a big, gorgeous, prize winning Lake Superior Agate valued at over $40 on Ebay. But, honestly, if that's your game I suggest the lottery, or trying to make it big by writing a three-part blog post about agate hunting.

Okay then, let's get started.

1. When should I go agate hunting?

I suppose ideally the best time is on a calm day after stormy weather, but I say that the true best time for agate hunting is when you just happen to be up at the Lake Superior shoreline for other reasons altogether. That way if someone asks "Are you agate hunting?" You can sulkily answer "No, I'm just here for a friend's wedding. Do I look like I'm agate hunting? Not that there's anything wrong with agate hunting. I hear it's a very respectable hobby." At which point you'll probably be left alone.

2. What do I need to have to go agate hunting?

You should have:

     A. The heaviest grade fishing waders.
     B. Good quality diving gloves.
     C. A full set (at least seven gradations) of stone sizing screens.
     D. A standard, professional level geologist's kit, restocked yearly, replaced every five years for obvious reasons.
     E. Some kind of sonar set up. It doesn't need to be fancy.
     F. Collecting buckets and pack.

Alternately you could just have pants or shorts with pockets. If they're the kind of pockets where things fall out of them when you squat that's probably for the best.

Now that you're all prepared, take a deep breath. Exciting isn't it? Tomorrow we go collecting.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Agate hunters handbook, part one

Agate Hunters Handbook, part one

Agate hunting on the shores of Lake Superior can be a fun, rewarding, and profitable hobby.

Just kidding. It's a fool's game. But if it's the fool's game for you this guide will help you. 

No, it is unlikely to help you find an agate. It is more likely to help you in that way where you complain and someone says "I know! Totally!"  Think of this guide as a shoulder to cry on in the early years of your apprenticeship to the unprofitable hobby of agate hunting. Let's get started!

Ah, yes, you'll want my qualifications. Fair enough.

1. In 1981, while on a backpacking trip in a beautiful canyon called West Clear Creek, in Arizona, someone brought along a fishing bow. It was cheap and simple, and came with one barbed fishing arrow that attached by line to the bottom of the bow. The creek was full of fish, big ones lurking in deep pools and shadows, little ones readily visible everywhere else in the appropriately named "Clear Creek". For the two days of our visit there, dawn to dusk, barefoot and nearly naked, I tirelessly hunted fish. Stalking in slow motion over stones, perfecting my approach and technique, I launched my arrow thousands of time upon the theoretically tasty fish of those waters.

Though many were startled, I don't believe I ever so much as injured one of them. Fortunately we had packed in many pop-tarts.

2. I have hunted agates on the shore of Lake Superior for three Summers running now.

That concludes my qualifications.

Ah, yes, you'd like to know if I've ever found any agates. Good for you! Already going after the old master's secrets! That's just the sort of initiative that will make little difference in your hopeless, but gratifying, career as an agate hunter.

The answer is yes. I am 85% sure that I have found some small stones that are, technically, agates.

What Is an Agate?

I think I know, sort of, but if you want pictures of and clear explanations about what an agate is I will have to direct you to one of those Agate Hunter's Handbooks that go for $18.95 in your North Shore gift shops. That steep cost is very unlike this guide, which is free. I should also note that those $18.95 guides will be written by pros, who have too much to lose by telling you all their agate hunting secrets, unlike me, who doesn't really have any secrets, but at least is happy to go ahead and tell you all of them.

Tomorrow, in part two: Getting started.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


According to my week long ornithological studies I have discovered the eight bird varieties of the Lake Superior shoreline. If the intensity of the scientificness and complicated ornithological terms are too much for you you are free to skip this blog post, or maybe read the March 1, 2014 blog post instead. No, I don't know what that March 1, 2014 one is about, it was a random choice of dates, but odds are it's as good as this one.

Okay, so, you're still with me. We're ready to roll up our sleeves and do some proper research science. Here are the eight birds of the Lake Superior shore:

1. Seagull.

They fly by on a regular, indiscernible schedule, sometimes silent, sometimes crying out. Every once in awhile they will make a loop, to slow their progress and make sure they don't get ahead on their carefully timed route.

2. Little yellow birds.

These are the only birds that get confused by the windows of our lake house, which can, in the right light, look like another lake through another forest. One day one crashed into the glass and sadly, but fascinatingly, lay dead on our balcony. Another day one crashed and lay on its back on our balcony, and even though its bold, tiny heart was rapidly pounding, I thought it would die eventually,  but after awhile of lying flopped on its back the little yellow bird hopped up and flew away.

3. Geese.

The geese can speak for themselves.

4. Dragonflies.

All birds in the science classification system lie somewhere between dragons and flies. But the dragonfly is at the exact center between them.

5. Bald Eagle.

Standing at the kitchen island counter I saw a distant bird flying along and I thought "Wouldn't that be something if that were a bald eagle." A few minutes later a big bald eagle came flying along our long row of windows. It was so close I gasped.

6. Loon.

Only ever on the water, you can see them from far away. They like the calm water best, and when they dive you will not see them for a very long time because they like flying under water better than they like flying in the air. 

7. Bats.

They are only out in the last five minutes of daylight and in that time they eat all the mosquitoes that the dragonflies could not catch during the course of an entire day.

8. Hummingbirds.

Oh man, these birds are like looking into another, more lovely, reality. If only we belonged to the same beautiful dimension as hummingbirds.


I hope you learned something. Personally I was unable to get past my preconceived notions. I saw only what I expected to see, and yet, I don't seem to mind at all. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Did this happen

The lake house is a dream because it is out of time, and alone, and far away, but mostly because it looks and looks and looks at the lake. The lake is ever further than the eye can see and disappears, changes, and always stays the same. I have to tell you this about the lake, even though it will break all my poetry and sound so obvious as to be daft.

The lake is full of water.

If someone went mad here and someone had to come take them away, the mad person would be mumbling "It's full of water. The lake is full of water" over and over.

But no one is going mad here, and no one will. Do you know why? Because the lake is full of water- too much ballast. It's so grounding, so leveling. 

Of all our days at the lake, this one, our last full one, is the dreamiest of them all. The lake is almost waveless, as waveless as it can get without freezing over. One can see the stones under water. The dense confections of clouds, strung out like distant mountains along the horizon, are reflected with an inaccurate mysteriousness in the quiet water. Sky and lake are the same color and for the first time in seven days, without the undulating roar of waves, we are surrounded by silence. Blankets of whispering mist lie across vast areas of the lake, but when you look closely at them they dissipate, and you see that what you thought were mists are merely areas of water so placid and full of light that they glow. 

When we arrived here a week ago the lake tossed and large waves excitingly pounded the rock shore. It was thrilling and it matched our restless and wild spirits. Each day the lake quieted a little, and so did we. Now we are all still and deep. There is no longer any meaningful distinction between the real and the illusory. The lake is full of water and so, after all, are we.

I am so calm that I am even willing, as we must, to leave tomorrow morning. But that doesn't mean I want to, or that I think it is a good idea.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Once you see them

There is a principle I have noticed in the natural world. There is a lot we don't see or notice until it's named, pointed out to us, or, most of all, until we learn the trick of seeing it. Then it's everywhere. Then it's readily available for our notice.

Because of an interest in Monarch Butterflies, spurred by my library's grow and release display in the kid's room, I took the short amount of attention it required to get clear on which plant, exactly, is the milkweed they love. As soon as I knew the plant it turned out milkweed is everywhere. It's like a weed, because, I guess, it's a weed. I have found, to my surprise, that our yard is swimming in it. It used to be part of our unkempt collection of wildly overgrown weeds, but now I know. Those aren't weeds. That's our native butterfly habitat. In a blink of knowledge we go from neighborhood lawn menaces to the best citizens on the block.

Up at our lake house I have had a not dissimilar experience of discovery with agates. After endless, fruitless searching through the millions of small stones on the shore of Lake Superior I started rooting around in the cold tide line being churned up by the waves. There I found my first agate, and knowing what and how I was looking for, I found more, although none of them yet, I admit, so fancy and wonderful as the ones they sell for two dollars in an antique store in Grand Marais.

Wonderfully this revelation happened a third time when we were hiking in the woods a couple miles from here. I was admiring the mushrooms and the dense fairy copses. I was marveling at the beautiful deep creek-bed cutting down in the red stone, the gnarled roots of pines, and the subtly strange sounds of birds, when suddenly it occurred to me that I was seeing a lot of small trees that looked peculiar. The tree trunks were the right color, brown, but, oddly, they seemed furry. I looked up and the strange shaped branch above me moved against, rather than with, the wind.

These weren't trees, these were moose legs. That big branch was a moose antler! I wasn't walking through a forest of trees so much as I was walking through a forest of mooses.

Up until a couple days ago I would have been fairly convinced that pretty much all the moose were gone from up here in the Minnesota Northwoods, but now that I've got their silhouette down I can tell you, it's pretty much all mooses all the time. You just have to know how to see them.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Global warming global schwarming

Like many people I like to pretend to keep my finger on the pulse of the global warming disaster. This is a brilliant disaster because it is happening in a slow motion fashion. The trick to being an effective global disaster, the kind where you can cause epic levels of devastation, the kind that can aspire to destroying half the life on earth and not look silly about its ambitions, is you must happen slowly, you've got to take your time. If a disaster gives people ample time to deal with something, even a dire emergency, especially a dire emergency, they won't. Sure, they might pretend to, but while people are readily fooled by pretending, global disasters aren't so much usually. However, if a global disaster makes any sudden moves we tend to spring into real action. If, for instance, there is a zombie apocalypse, then the zombies massing together in a tidal wave of their numbers is a recipe for the failure of that zombie uprising. Human kind is resourceful, crafty, able to bond into effective units to fight seemingly insurmountable threats. But a zombie invasion playing the long game, going slow, that's the one that will succeed. Let us get used to them gradually, a zombie here, a zombie there.

"I don't like these zombies." We might say "But they're so ridiculously slow and stupid. They can't even open a door!" And so, imperceptibly the zombie population will grow.

"The zombies got Joe out by his garage." We might say "But Joe was a very old man, crippled with arthritis, and he had horrible glaucoma. It's probably a relief for him to be a zombie."

"I saw a few zombies shambling through the neighborhood honey. Make sure you keep the doors closed." How hard is it to close a door? You don't even have to lock it. They're zombies, all they can manage is a bit of light pushing, and, of course, a little teething. Anyone can keep a door closed. I mean, until they don't.

"Harold, I think the zombies got the Jacobsens."

"I never liked the Jacobsens." Mutters Harold under his breath. "Jesus!" He says "What does it take to close your damn doors at night!"

"Well" Louise, Harold's wife, replies "The Jacobsens always were fools."

And so it goes. Housing gets cheaper, resources more plentiful, jobs easy to find. Plus it's fun to run over zombies on the way to work, albeit in a sick sort of a way. Yes, there are zombies absolutely everywhere, but they're as slow and ridiculous as ever.

And then, one day, it's all zombies. A sea of zombies. But only so long as they took 80 years not 80 weeks, or even 80 months. Nice and slow.

"Wow" You might think "I never thought it would be all zombies everywhere. They were so slow!" Except that you won't think that, because you'll be a zombie too, and zombies don't think. If they could think they could open doors, and if they were that much more of a threat then by god we would have had them! We'd have sprung into action.

Of course, global warming is nothing like this inch by inch zombie apocalypse. Sure it's slow and dangerous, theoretically, but we should all be okay if we get to high ground. How hard is it to get to high ground?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Dream come true

This may come as a surprise to the embattled, cynical, and sober among you, but dreams come true. I am not talking about long shots and Oscar winners, not Lady Gaga, Messi, and Sonia Sotomayor. I mean everyone. All of you, everywhere. Everyone will have dreams come true.

Yes, of course there's a catch. There are plenty of catches, but that doesn't change it or make it untrue. Nevertheless, yes.

We don't really know which dreams will come true.

Look behind you. There is a trail of dreams. We are dreamers. They trail behind us like clouds. Don't worry about them. They are not broken dreams, just dreams. They were never meant to all come true. That would cause the world to dissolve into a kaleidoscope of madness. Only a few dreams come true. You generally won't even expect it when they do. You might not even recognize a dream coming true until you get the right angle on it and you say


I dreamed this.

Then you should try and enjoy it. Because it happens, but not a lot, not a lot at all.

Today of all days I will not tell you about a big dream come true. It is private and it would not serve so well as explanation to all this anyway. I will tell you about a smaller dream come true. A dream that I just noticed come true, with an enchanted realization, in the past few days. A smaller dream, yes, but no dream that comes true can ever be that small.

I dreamed this dream when I was 12 years old. I am not actually sure I wasn't as much as two or three years older than that, but the crude, childish lines of the articulation of the dream make me happier when I put it closer to childhood. But I don't want to misrepresent, so, 12 it is.

I dreamed of a house. I got in my mind a kind of fantasy house. People I loved would all live in that house. I had it all worked out. Of course, as I maybe only loved my cousin Jimmy at that point in my life, all these people were illusions, placeholders. I just wanted love there, and security, but didn't know how to picture it. The house I struggled to picture as well. It was in the woods, on a big lake. I drew pictures of it. I made a drawing of it with markers on the back of an old poster. It was surrounded by pines, on a little hill up over the lake. It was all by itself. Because I had never seen houses I loved and had not yet feverishly developed my imagination, I borrowed from a large A-frame cabin I had briefly visited and from the house I lived in. There was plenty of heavy wood. Balconies, like the one my parent's room had, dominated my design. How extraordinary, I thought, to have balconies overlooking something safe, wonderful, and beautiful, like a lake.

That was pretty much it. The dream, toyed with for a few months, was forgotten not long after, though the poster lingered on my wall for a few years. Clouds trailing behind, an untouched memory sleeping alongside who knows how many of my old dreams.

And then, a bit less than 40 years later I am sitting in this house. Pine trees are here. A lake greater than I could imagine, and likewise with love, one person, but perfect and all around me. We are living, for a moment, in that house. The balcony, heavy wood, runs 60 feet along our windows, all facing the lake down below us. We are alone floating in a dream. I had this dream, and now here it is.

Well I'll be.

I have heard the cautionary phrase "Be careful what you wish for" and I say "Or not." You never know what'll work out, and though the world throws its dark tricks is is as likely to play ones made of perfect light as well.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Comment form

Over the past month or so I have been coming up with one useful fill-in form after another. I even have one where by grabbing the form and checking off a few boxes I can get a brand new blog post written in roughly 20 seconds. For all we know this blog post might be made up of a few checked boxes, though I have to say it feels like this has already been longer than 20 seconds. Doesn't this feel like at least 40 seconds to you?

Anyway, these fill-in forms may have been of casual interest to you, or so I hope, but they surely would be better if they were useful to you. That is why I have come up with a fill-in form that you can use! Today. Right here.

How often have you read clerkmanifesto and thought "I sure would like to leave a comment on this post, but what would I say?" or "What a lot of work!" or "I bet everyone will expect me to be clever." or "I don't spill very will." or "I don't want to sound rude to all those jerks out there." or "Why should I go to the trouble of creating content for clerkmanifesto when none of the profits go in my pocket?" or "He doesn't want to hear that again, again." or  "I could never really express my true feelings." or "It always ends in tears."

Ha! Your days of longing prevarication are over! Simply fill in my pre-prepared comment form and be on your way. It's quick, painless, simple, properly spelled, and designed so that all your feelings can come through in a non-confrontational, easy going, but original, manner. Also, with each comment you fill out we will send you a certified cashier's check for one millions dollars. And if a million dollars holds no appeal, get this: I respond personally to every comment.

I know.

Of course, if you have no interest in leaving a comment (and getting rich!) that is entirely okay by us. This is just here to make it easier (oh so much easier!) if you do want to comment.

Clerkmanifesto Comment Form Blank

Having read your post on

___ libraries
___ animals of Minnesota
___ god
___ your misunderstood genius
___ Bob Dylan
___ I don't see why I have to say. Can't you just see what post this comment is attached to?

I was

___ alarmed 
___ titteringly amused
___ emboldened
___ given a fresh insight, which I immediately squished under the heel of my shoe,

by your

___ glaring disrespect for all that is holy.
___ syntax.
___ harmonica playing.
___ hoity toity, nose-a-mile-high-in-the-air views on Finnegans Wake.
___ misunderstood genius.

In pondering your words later, though, I

___ thought of many entirely unrelated things I'd like to tell you about now.
___ took them for granted.
___ wished I understood what you meant.
                            ___ This is probably your fault.
                            ___ This is probably my fault.
___ decided to adopt them as my own without attribution.
___ longed for a way to leave a comment on your blog without having to put forth so  much effort!

You are

___ a gentleman.
___ my "go to" over morning coffee.
___ like a missing Marx Brother,
                            ___ one of the funny ones.
                            ___ one of the pointless ones.
___very creative. You should do something with it.

And so, in closing, I would like to

___ thank you.
___ curse you.
___ try to leave a comment more amusing than you are and
                             ___ succeed.
                             ___ come out roughly even.
                             ___ appear unhinged and hope you'll give me the benefit of the doubt.
___ say that this fill-in-the-form device you have going on your blog is entertaining, but you don't actually expect anyone to fill these out, do you?
___ alert you once again to the fact that I have not received a single cashiers check for a million dollars, despite my many comments! You will be hearing from my lawyer!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fly Away Home with mooses

Fly Away Home is a beloved movie in my house. If you haven't seen it, now would be the time to do so, before you read this and find the entire plot crudely outlined. In the movie Jeff Daniels plays a Canadian inventor/artist with a penchant for ultralight planes. When his ex wife dies in a car accident in New Zealand it turns out he'd better learn how to be a father fast because his heartbroken, barely known anymore to him, daughter, played by a young Anna Paquin, is now his full responsibility.

In Fly Away Home, this pre-teen Anna Paquin starts to find the beginning thread of healing when she finds and spontaneously adopts a clutch of orphaned geese.

I adore this lovely movie. I think it is very nearly a perfect movie. I would make only one small, tiny really, change to it. I think instead of finding baby geese, Anna Paquin should rescue baby mooses.

A mother moose, dying of global warming related causes, like parasites who no longer die off due to warm winters, dies under the stress of local fracking and the complications of giving birth to moose triplets. Anna Paquin finds the triplets and gives the baby mooses all the chocolate milk from her lunch causing them to think of her as their mom. She hides the moose in her dad's barn/studio. There are some antics with her acquiring dozens of gallons of chocolate milk. But because, after a week or two, the three mooses are frisky and each the size of a white-tailed deer, she is found out.

However, as this is the first interest Anna has shown in anything since coming to Canada, she is allowed to keep the moose, who now follow her everywhere while she bugles.

A game warden, who at first seems helpful, finds out about the mooses and says people aren't allowed to have pet mooses in Canada, which shows how bad things have gotten in Canada with the fracking and conservative government. Then he pulls out a small pocket saw and tries to cut off one of the moose's antlers, either to hang up in his weekend cabin or maybe because captive moose in Canada aren't allowed to grow antlers because they can easily put someone's eye out.

So after Jeff Daniels throws out the evil game warden they decide they should teach the moose, who are normally non migratory animals, to migrate. They can get the mooses to go south in Summer to Minnesota where everyone will be happy to see them cause all our moose died, and we miss them, and then they can go back to Canada in Winter where all their parasites can die in the necessary bitter cold and make life difficult for evil game wardens who will have to sweep up all the dead parasites.

Now in this slightly improved version of the movie Jeff Daniels is not an ultralight plane enthusiast, rather he's a tractor enthusiast. So they dress up a tractor like a moose and try to get the young mooslings to follow it. But the moose won't follow Jeff Daniels so young Anna Paquin has to go too on an adventure of a lifetime on a tractor, while bugling.

And then my wife and I, sitting in our vacation home over Lake Superior, see five mooses working their way down our shoreline. One of the mooses looks like Jeff Daniels and one like Anna Paquin, and I am so excited to finally see mooses on our shoreline that I tell you all about it in my blog. But you think I'm just being silly, and you don't believe me at all.

But then later you see the move Fly Away Home (With Mooses), and you are very, very sorry you ever doubted me. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Pine tree

Up here, on the north shore of Lake Superior, the realm of the pine tree begins. And like anything ubiquitous, it can be easy to overlook them. Pine trees will be the first thing to tell you you are in the north lands, and they will be the first thing you stop seeing once you're here.

But don't write them off. These are some serious trees.

We have pine trees down in the cities where I live too. Indeed, there is a huge one right in our front yard. Bigger than any of these northern pine, ours is shaggy, friendly, and domesticated. It has been trimmed and cut over the years for its health and to steer it away from the house, from electric lines, and from the sidewalk that it likes to lay its weary branches on in the heavy snows and rains. It is a giant English Sheepdog of a tree, shedding copiously in season, well fed (on our sewage line, no less) and groomed, one of the family. It is a far, far distant cousin to these wild pines of the north.

Likewise we have hardwood trees, both here and down south. These are clever trees, bursting into bloom as the sun comes out, unfolding their flat, sprawling leaves into the warm and long days of summer, and in the first hints of winter burning their leaves off and going into a deep, tight, long slumber.

None of that for these Lake Superior pines. No cozy domesticity, no clever devices for them. They have no strategy. They don't have a plan. Yes, some botanist could surely detail the vast tools of their dominion. But I'll have none of that because look at these trees. Grim, gentle, battered, and calm. They are growing out of rock on the quiet summer shore of Lake Superior, looking just the same as they will when it is 40 below zero and the whole lake is trying to blow them off the face of the earth. These are wild trees and heedless, not going anywhere, doing nothing different. These trees are scabrous, uneven, broken, stately, and elegant. They are straight and tall until you look closely at them and see they are full of scars and lichens, muscles and bends and careful, uneven progression. They curve and lean and give up and have never given up.

Let me go out there with them. They are wild but don't even know the meaning of the word skittish. They take no care or offense. Let me stand with them. It is the easiest weather of the year. The breeze is gentle. My spirit is calm. I stand, perfect in the air and the light. And standing, I can last three minutes.

Three minutes! These trees are here for forever! Do you know how long forever is? I cannot tell you. Ask these trees. They know.

Monday, August 17, 2015


What if I said this year it's all about the sky?

What if I said we came to one of the great wonders of the world, the greatest lake of them all, and we found a house distant and beautiful, full of a long, tenderly beaded chain of windows, strung out meticulously across this lake's wild shore, and I said it's all about the sky?

Yes, that sky, the one you will find anywhere one earth. That same sky. Different. So different, but the same.

I wouldn't want to hear about the sky.

You go off to Tanzania to be with the herds of zebras please don't come back and tell me about the grass.

"But the grass is amazing in Tanzania! I can't tell you anything about Tanzania if you don't know about the grass."


You don't go to Antarctica to tell me about the stars. I want to hear about the penguins on the endless ice.

"But the stars are different in Antarctica. They feel different. You have to know about the stars to know anything at all."

I've already seen the stars.

"No, you haven't seen these exact, perfect, precise stars."

Well, so be it. I don't have to like it, but I understand. I understand because that's how it is with the sky here. That same blue sky. Yes, you know, you've seen it. It has not escaped your attention.

And yet, no. This isn't your sky. These are bigger clouds than you have, doing wilder things. This is the sky that has run away from home. Just look, look at this blue sky. That is a cloud growing from nothing before our eyes, billowing, taking strange shapes, thick and solid and permanent, then retreating into itself, fading, and completely disappeared. Did we really see that? Or how about that cloud, over by itself floating in the blue, almost comically alone over the light water. That cloud is raining by itself. One cloud raining, the rain like tendrils of downward whisping smoke, the patch of rain on the lake a smear of distant black.

So much sky everywhere.

And at night the full moon rises and it is dark out and yet bright at the same time. The clouds turn colors no one has yet named. The light is smeared and splattered by a heavy hand across the surface of the stars and the water and the air. Yes you have a moon where you are. You have clouds where you are. Go look for these wonders. Go search your skies, but you are as likely to see a herd of zebra racing down your streets, a flock of penguins gathered curiously together in your yard, as you are to see these things that I see happening above Lake Superior.

If a great storm were stirring up terrifying 30 foot waves onto our shore of Lake Superior I would tell you. If we could see wolves howling in the woods to our east I would tell you that too. And if a giant bull moose were wandering down to the water's edge to take a prodigious sip of water I would tell you everything I could about it. But we have the sky, and it is just as good, and so I am telling you so.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Cherry basil martini

I am drunk, as I promised you I would be. I am not terribly drunk. I am mildly drunk. That's as far as I'm willing to go. I am drunk enough to watch the waves of Lake Superior and have them look like they're not moving, rather, I am.

And I am writing, drunk. I am drunk on this drink:

(I warn you ahead of time that this is a complicated recipe)

Cherry Basil Martini

1. In the middle of May plant some basil seeds in healthy soil with full sun exposure.

2. Over the course of 10 or 15 years cultivate a friendly relationship with a co-worker who has a green thumb and grows excellent sour cherries.

3. Acquire a local honey just because, by some fluke, or really, by the ingenuity of my wife, I did, and so now make it a condition of this recipe for both accuracy's sake and for the almost painful air of sophistication it brings.

4. Pit cherries acquired from friendly co-worker and cook them in the honey. They will become surprisingly liquid. Cook them down and drain off the cherry liquor.

5. Pick basil that has grown into bushy plants in the course of two and a half months.

6. Go to a house on Lake Superior designed by a clever architect who learned many important lessons directly from Frank Lloyd Wright.

7. Pour Hendricks Gin into a mason jar.

8. Put a bunch of ice in that jar.

9. Pour some St. Germaine Elderflower Cordial into the jar.

10. Rip up a bunch of your basil and throw it in the jar.

11. Pour in a few thick slugs of that sour cherry syrup.

12. Put some reserved honeyed sour cherries in a glass.

13. Close the lid of your mason jar and shake it until you've really had enough of the shaking and what could possibly be the point anymore. A little foamy is good news.

14. Strain the mason jar contents into your glass as best you can using the lid as a crude strainer.

15. Pretty!

16. Drink it. It's not actually as good as it sounds. But it's close.

17. No, wait, it is as good as it sounds.

18. Has it all been drunk already?

19. Yes. It is time to write. You are William Faulkner!

20. Did William Faulkner write recipes?

21. Probably, but none of them as good as this one.