Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Future's Uncertain and the End is Always Near

With titles like that, it's a mystery to me why this isn't the most popular blog on the internet. I decided long ago that would be the title of my last post from Duluth. This isn't it.

I've done something completely unplanned, which felt simultaneously stupid and necessary to me--I've signed a new year-long lease. Unplanned to the extent that I had to call the landlord to get a new copy of it because I'd thrown out the one I was sent a couple months ago (and I think the rent got raised $10 a month in the process), stupid because barring some unexpected income I'm only going to be able to pay about four months rent and then will have much less cash than if I left at the end of June, necessary because the thought of leaving here and more particularly of the life I was going to be headed to was starting to give me suicidal fantasies. So we'll hang out here a little longer and see what happens.

I wrote that this isn't the last post from Duluth, but that title also applies to my computer which now often requires a reboot or two before it runs at normal noise levels. And really it always applies to each of us, doesn't it? We never know when the heart attack or the stroke or the bus will hit. I wonder what human society would be like if we all constantly acted on the knowledge that there might be no tomorrow. Would we be saints or sinners, tender or rapists? What do you think?

One thing that's certain is that the immediate future is uncertain for this civilization. There have probably always been people like me on the corner with "The End Is Near" signs, but eventually in every civilization they've been right. Is our time coming soon? And for those of us who oppose what this civilization has done to what we value, to other species, to the human being, should we be trying to speed up that ending? There's a long discussion (maybe more a lot of opinions than discussion) on that topic going on over on the Orion website following this column by Derrick Jensen. Join in, here or there.

A peek at one possible future: I've started reading Rick Bass's new book, The Wild Marsh, and I think it's going to be excellent except for the difficulty I have with the hunting passages. It's much longer, denser, and more contemplative than any of his other books I've read so it won't be a quick read. I'm also first in line for the library's copy of the upcoming book about Rod Coronado when they get it, so there will likely be posts about each of those books. If the good lord's willin' and the crick don't rise.

Friday, May 22, 2009


You don't need to have read too many of my posts to guess that I'm not interested in mansions. So in the eight years that I've lived here, I've attended a couple events on the grounds but I've never been in Glensheen. But there were rare free tours today so I headed over this morning after checking out a job possibility.

And in fact, I found the mansion the least interesting part of the property. I suppose it's my unAmerican gene--I'm not impressed by how many bathrooms they had while most people in town didn't have running water. And seeing lots of old mahogany furniture just makes me think of deforestation. Gold leaf ceiling? Yawn.

The mansion is probably most famous these days because a couple murders took place there and there are reports that it's haunted. I'm not a believer (didn't see her face) but I will say that while we were in the kitchen, a cabinet door did seem to open by itself.

But I did enjoy looking at the horse stalls and old carriages and sleigh in the carriage house. Seems like a much more civilized mode of transportation to me than the automobile--a slower pace, more connected to nature. Maybe I'd be less enthused if I were walking around in horse manure, but at least that would be more useful than the dogshit all over town.

And as usual, the best was outside. The grounds, a waterfall I'd never seen before, the view of the Lake, the running rabbit, the big trout swimming in the pool at the mouth of Tischer Creek, and best of all the two bald eagles (or one twice, the first time harassed by a crow) who flew low and directly overhead as I waited for the tour to begin.

Make my Glen a Scotch and you can keep the sheen.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Oh Deer (Hiking in Duluth IV)

I've been spending far too much time indoors lately, wrapping things up on the computer and sorting through possessions. That's winding down now, and because I've got a few 10-15 mile hikes planned before leaving town, I decided to stretch my legs a bit this morning when I went out to play the lottery. The short stretch I had in mind turned into a five hour loop--luckily I'd brought my water bottle.

I entered the Lakewalk at 12th Avenue and followed it to its end at 36th, then circled back and headed up Tischer Creek. Amid its canyons and bridges, I stood and counted a dozen locations of water overflowing rock within sight. After eight years here, I still can't believe I can walk to places like this, and as often as not have them to myself.

After reaching the top of this trail, I continued to a grocery store to visit their bathroom and olive bar, and picked up a bottle of juice and a loaf of seedy multigrain bread as well. Then on to the university's nature area where as I sat on a bench dipping my bread in oil and wishing I'd bought more olives, I saw four deer near a pond where I was heading next. I had a moment of regret because I'd have gotten a better view if I hadn't stopped to eat.

After repacking, I continued on and soon realized there were actually five deer when I found them in the next section of woods I entered. I leaned against a tree to watch them and it soon became clear how little fear they had of me. When they came closer, I was able to see antler spikes on three of them and none on the other two leading me to think I was looking at two moms and three male yearlings. At one point the spikiest (about two inches) and spunkiest seemed about to walk directly up to me. I took a step back, waved an arm, and said, "Shoo, you don't approach humans. It's bad for your health." After they'd spent about 15 minutes browsing all around me, they moved on.

No, I don't care if they're eating your shrubbery. Yes, the effect they're having on some plants and areas is unfortunate. I'd still be much more likely to shoot a human than any non-human (penalties be damned), believing that the human would be more deserving of the bullet. This would have the added benefit of actually dealing with the cause of the problem instead of just one of its symptoms.

As I sat on another bench writing deer notes, I heard a thump behind me and turned to see a pileated woodpecker twenty feet up a dead birch tree about thirty feet away. She worked up and down and around for about twenty minutes before flying and stopping ten feet up a tree only five feet from where I sat. She didn't stay there long nor at her next stop before flying farther into the forest.

I continued up to the top of a hill where the view was absofuckinlutely amazing. A sea of young yellow-green leaves enfolded the darker conifers, and beyond, the placid Lake in various shades of blue below the cumulus-spotted sky. Not for the first time today did I regret not having my binoculars with me. Coming down the hill, another deer, this one apparently solo and limping when he ran.

And then over to descend by Chester Creek. Hundreds more examples of white water rushing and falling. Ho hum. Oh, here's something interesting--a few square yards of icy snow remaining tucked into the shaded side of the ravine. Don't always look on the sunny side.

And there was much more along the miles. Marsh marigold, a plant even I can identify. Ferns stretching upward, striving to unroll the last of their fiddleheads. Birds and a bumblebee and butterflies (sold those field guides already--oops.) A rabbit on the trail. The horizontal rows of holes of the yellow-bellied sapsucker (I think; not sure if any other species does that.) Some very lovely tinder polypores (Didja hear the one about the mushroom who went into a bar but the bartender wouldn't serve him? The mushroom said, "Why not? I'm a fun guy.")

If only the old coop had still been waiting for me at the end of the trail with its no longer existing vegetarian deli. Instead I went home and reheated the pot of soup I'd made yesterday which made a nice companion to the rest of my bread. As I rubbed my tired feet while waiting for the soup to warm, the cat looked up at me with what I like to think of as love but might really have meant, "My midday snack is very late!"

Like many of the other hikes I'll be doing in the next few weeks, much of my hike today is now part of the Superior Hiking Trail, although I was hiking the trails long before they got that title. If you want to follow along or are looking for a hike in town, you can check out that website or the city's list of trails.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Upcoming Books

Here are some books due out in the next few months which I'm looking forward to reading. Tell me which interests you most and answer the other goofy poll questions as well if you like.

Operation Bite Back: Rod Coronado's War To Save American Wilderness by Dean Kuipers (June 23rd)
Hero or terrorist? Sinker of whaling ships, burner of buildings, releaser of animals, saboteur of hunts--a man who acted on his beliefs.

Wild Marsh: Four Seasons At Home In Montana by Rick Bass (July 1st)
An account of a year of natural events in the remote Yaak Valley by a solid writer, not quite in my highest level of favorites, but probably at the top of the second.

Letters To A Young Madman by Paul Gruchow (either July 10th or September 7th)
Before his suicide in 2004, this Minnesota nature writer had been working on this collection of writings about his mental illness and hospitalization experiences.

Great Chain Of Life by Joseph Wood Krutch (August 1st)
Republication of Krutch's 1956 (my birth year) book. "
Whether anticipating the arguments of biologists who now ascribe high levels of cognition to the so-called lower animals, recognizing the importance of nature for a well-lived life, or seeing nature as an elaborately interconnected, interdependent network, Krutch’s seminal work contains lessons just as resonant today as they were when the book was first written."

Following The Water: A Hydromancer's Notebooks By David M. Carroll (August 12th)
One of my favorite writer/artists, winner of a MacArthur genius grant, writes of the events in a wetland from thaw to freeze up.

Friday, May 8, 2009

I Came Here for the Waters (and the Wolves)

I had a good novel (which later became the site for these notes) with me on my latest selling trip but my eyes were drawn to the window and the woods beyond, the quickly disappearing, wanting to see that black bear, that wandering wolf, one more eagle, that now almost leaf-hidden rookery, before they're gone, before I'm gone. Riding, projecting myself out into those woods, my comfort. When my almost 19-year-old cat died in 2003, I visited a friend in the UP and wanted to be as far and as deep and as dark into the balsam-spruce forest as I could get. The thought of losing these comforts is difficult, to go and to leave them behind, to trade the daily wild for familiar well-trodden trails, the tamed Walden, and an occasional pilgrimage to the ocean and the whales.

I came here for the waters in 2001, the spring waterfalls of rocky creeks and
the white pathways of winter creeks, the storm-tossed Lake, the arctic ice-covered Lake, the sunrise Lake, the hail of a few days ago, the snow, the fog (and the foghorn killed during my time). I came here for the nearby wolves, the wolves coming nearer, coming into town (perhaps that really was a wolf track across the alley a couple months ago since they've now been sighted 20 blocks away) as I leave, the wolves soon to be shot. It's a good time to leave, perhaps.

It's probably impossible to have a category to oneself in a country with over 306 million people but I don't think I have much company in the
non-driving wilderness-loving population. I'm using the word wilderness casually; I actually don't think modern humans belong in the wilderness. But I'm a Thoreauvian; it's the borders and intersections of the wild and society which interest me, and for my own limited category, there's been no better place to explore them. This urban wilderness, this home to bear and eagle and falcon and fisher and beaver, along with the somewhat more typical urban residents such as coyote and fox, and now the returning wolf and cougar. That's why I came here. Can there ever be a good time to leave?

I didn't like the people much, but that's generally true wherever I am. In Duluth, everyone I deliberately saw and almost everyone I was glad to run into occasionally was originally from somewhere else. Fellow immigrants, we weren't here by accident of birth but because we'd chosen to live here, drawn by the same strengths. For my taste, too many of the locals are haters and destroyers, revving their engines and shooting their guns, quoting their bibles and cursing the outside world. Angry old men and women offended that their good old days are gone, young and violent meth heads with no future. People with no appreciation of what a rarity they have here. Inbreeding, addiction, narrow-mindedness and bigotry--an ugly town in a stunning location. I made a deliberate choice to not read the comments on the article about the wolf in town, not that I believe the best and brightest post there anyway.

After my window gazing and with wild thoughts in mind, I looked through the field guides on top of one of my bags and decided I wasn't ready to sell them just yet. They may be all I have left. It wasn't until I returned home that I realized I accidentally sold one anyway--now I'll have to decide if I want to rebuy it next week.

I walked around what the city folk call a lake, and just after I'd passed, witnessed an impressive goose flight just above the ground and over the water. A snoozing mallard woke and looked around in surprise, then headed after his departed mate in a rapid waddle. Red-winged and other blackbirds entertained.

Returning with the bright orange sun sinking on the left, and the near full moon looking down from the right, shaved just a hair too closely on his right cheek, I wanted to be out there among those trees. I wanted to suck every passing wetland into me, to make it a permanent part of me. Knowing myself as a sad product of the 20th century, lingering on in this 21st, completely unqualified to live as a wild human, did nothing to relieve the aching yearning to be far away from electricity, to be alert in the moonlight, to be alive, to be part of a whole. There I was, stuck in the middle with me.

Greentangle will end when I leave Duluth, almost exactly two years after it began. Like Henry, I have other lives to live, and a greentangle-related blog title reserved if the next one should turn out to be interesting. I'll pass that on when the final post comes along.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Sign Right Here

I continue to keep busy with moving preparations which at this point consists mostly of throwing out accumulated junk from drawers and closets, and deciding which books, cds, dvds, etc. I'm going to sell so I can decide how many new boxes I need to buy to ship what's left. I expect to ship some books (no accessories required) but I may well end up selling all music and films, because I'm planning to leave all electronics behind and don't expect to replace them soon if ever.

Today between drips and coughs, I whittled the current totals down to 216 books and 157 cds and
even did some practice packing to see how much a box would hold. Those still may seem like large numbers but they're very small compared to what I had when all 5 bookcases and 6 cdcases (what's the word for that?) were overflowing with piles on the floor and more boxes of books in the closet. This was the complete extent of my consumerism. Vacation? Car? House? Furniture? Clothes? Nah, I need some more books.

During the repeated thinnings, I've made a list of the autographed items I have. It's not that I've ever cared about collecting autographs (in fact I've already sold some signed items without bothering to see if they were worth more), but signings were the only way I was ever going to meet a lot of authors and musicians, and in Boston there were a lot of them.

I've already written about meeting Dave Foreman and Patty Griffin and that the excellent nature writer and artist David Carroll sent me a copy of one of his old books when I wrote to him wondering if there were any plans to reprint it; also in that post and comments are mentions of a couple more authors I was very glad to meet and have sign their wonderful books--Paul Gruchow when he visited our bookclub to discuss his book and Rosemary Mahoney who wrote a book I loved so much that I dared going to a women's bookstore for a reading.

Here are a few more brief tales. I had Helen Nearing sign her cookbook, Simple Food for the Good Life. Sample breakfast recipe--Miracle Mush: Grate 2 apples, 1 carrot, 1 beet, and mix. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup grated nuts. Bill McKibben signed one of his books for me and we discussed Earth First! since I was wearing one of their t-shirts.
Irish musician Luka Bloom also liked whatever eco t-shirt I was wearing at the time--I remember a big orange sun and a griz but don't recall what it said. Great local, but internationally known, photographer Jim Brandenburg signed an excellent dvd based on his experience of taking only one photo a day for 90 days. The fabulous songwriter and acoustic blues guitarist Chris Smither got so used to seeing me at his shows and others we were both attending that he started saying hello. A terrific guy; he's playing a benefit in the town I'll be heading to three months after I get there which I hope to attend if I'm still around.

My personal favorite autograph has to be from Jonatha Brooke, first known as half of the group The Story. I asked her to sign a cd booklet next to the lyrics of a song titled "Full-Fledged Strangers" and opposite a photo where she looked great. She wrote, "Stranger no more. Thanks for the support on a cold November day." That's fabulous--I could write a story myself based on that personal touch.

Most nerve-wracking autograph was the result of a long line at a bookstore waiting to reach the legendary Joan Baez. I was involved with an older woman who loved her music, and we'd attended a concert where Baez sang a song about a younger man/older woman relationship which felt pretty special to us. She signed her book for my friend and the concert program for me.

And the one (actually nine) which started it all came at a baseball game in 1967. In 1966, the Red Sox had lost the most games in the American League. In 1967, in what was known as The Impossible Dream, they won the pennant and lost the World Series in seven games. I attended a game in 1967 and met a pitcher who took my program back to the clubhouse where players signed it, including Carl Yastrzemski who that season won the Triple Crown for leading the league in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. No player has done it in the 40+ years since. Another signature came from that year's Cy Young award winner Jim Lonborg. I'm hoping to make some good money off this when I'm in Boston this summer.