Mainstream Media, Trump, Fake News, Apple Computer

Dear America,

I was buying some groceries the other day and was happy to see that we still have some solid reporting in this country, not just fake news from Macedonian teenagers and a crazy Brit hell-bent on turning the world into some kind of right-wing freaktopia.

I was especially pleased that Apple is returning 4.5 million jobs to the United States. Too bad about Bill though.

Polar Vortex, Warm Fall, Flying Squirrels, Horse Manure

Dear Duluth,

Thanks for the polar vortex. First we get a fall so warm it feels like the impending doom it probably is, then we get a nasty cold front with a silly name. Vortex should be the name of my next vacuum cleaner, not our weather.

Three years ago when we moved here we bought an overly large, old house on the hillside, one of those houses people just shouldn’t buy unless they have already won the lottery or own a carpentry business. It was built in 1914 and still had the original insulation, which might be a blend of matted horse dung and asbestos. According to an energy specialist who inspected our place, ours wasn’t the most drafty house he had ever seen, but close. In addition to multiple air-leak points there is no insulation in the walls, which made it easy for the flying squirrels to run up and down and into the attic, we soon found out.

We finally found a recommended contractor who insulated our attic, the most important step. Put a good cap on it, they say. So now our house is like a naked person in a storm with a really good cap. But the squirrels are gone thanks to all the toxic fluff up there now, and we sleep much better.

Yesterday I walked the streets and shore even with the windchill approaching absolute zero, all in order to take a few photographs of who knows what. Winter, in truth, is just getting started. The lake is still liquid and the snow barely there.

Old Dogs, Oblivion, Turkey Broth, Puppy Mills

Dear Diary,

I’m not typing these words with anything resembling energy. That’s just how it is somedays, everything is stuck, including my thoughts.

We have an old dog who appears to be entering his final phase. With dogs you get an accelerated preview of what your own downward slope to oblivion might look like. It’s not always pretty. Today I gave him a bath in the utility sink, which worked well. I was able to clean off his old dog smell for at least a few days. I’m keeping his appetite up with home-made turkey stock mixed in his kibble. A little canned pumpkin helps keep diarrhea away.

He is supposed to be a Yorkie/Chihuahua mix. He’s definitely a puppy mill dog. My wife picked him up for too much money in 2003 when we moved to Juneau, Alaska. We named him Pico because of his small size, though like many hybrids he grew to be larger than expected (18 lbs or so). He spent the prime of his life with a great back yard, going on hikes in the woods, and running on various beaches. Juneau was a mostly off-leash sort of town, so he was able to run free much of the time.

Here he is in better times:

Getting the Tree, Transmission Fluid, Atheist Christians

Dear Diary,

Jake and Elia came with me to get the Christmas tree today, before they drove home to Minneapolis. As usual (our third tree here) there was a guy in an old trailer (maybe 1960’s style) with twenty or so Balsam Firs lined up in the Mount Royal Grocery Store parking lot. They all appeared a little ragged, but we bought the best looking one and secured it to the car roof with twine.

The guy running the place said to make it out to ATF, initials for the farm, and I asked him if he got many Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms jokes. He said yes, along with Automatic Transmission Fluid jokes.

The tree is waiting now for us to decorate it. Like many atheists, we celebrate Christmas and don’t give it a second thought. To us it’s a family and community celebration, less a religious one. We put all the religious Christmas music on the stereo just like real, live Christians do. It’s the music we grew up with.

It might sound strange, but you could say we are atheist Christians in the same way some Jewish people are atheist and Jewish.  Oh, and I have no problem saying merry Christmas, yet I also say happy holidays if the mood strikes.


Shortcuts, Missed Trails, Soft Light, Woody Scenes

Dear Diary,

I found a shortcut today, one of those little paths you notice but never take for some reason. We’ve lived here for three years and have, like most people in the neighborhood, taken advantage of easy access to a private golf course up a road a little. It’s surrounded by woods and dirt roads, and it’s a good place for the dogs to run. During the summer we stick to the woods, but in the winter after it snows it’s okay to walk on the greens. At least no one has said otherwise so far.

So this little path cuts between some houses and gets me to the golf course much sooner than my normal route, which means I can let the dog run sooner, better all around. I won’t turn this into a fortune cookie, but I should have looked down that damn path when I first saw it.

The light was soft, the air still, good for the woody scenes I like to photograph.

Here’s a shot just before finding the shortcut, which is to the right after the big tree.

As I approached the tree one crow flew off but the other braved it out…

Winter color is usually more subtle than summer color, but I like it.

A backlit leaf.

Red pines on the course.

One of my signature busy scenes.

Same scene, now with a hint of sun.

I like to find repeating lines, as with the swoop of the branches and the hill.

Genetics, Eugenics, Getting to Sleep, Siddhartha Mukherjee

Dear Diary,

I keep a book on my bed stand to read myself to sleep. This works as long as the book is at least a little difficult to read, but not so difficult that I never want to pick it up. Science books do the trick, as do some history books. Novels can work, but they can also keep me up if I get caught in the story and the language isn’t a struggle.

This past week I’ve used The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. It works well, I usually last from two to ten pages before dozing off, but the early sections lead me on a tour of our eugenic house of horrors. Actually, he only touches on some of it in his overview. There are other authors who have written books on many of the particulars in much more depth. But it’s an interesting overview. America is a “can do” nation, and at one time in the early part of the twentieth century our elites decided it was okay to start a mass sterilization program in an effort to weed out the “worst” ten percent of the population. If you were poor, pregnant, single, Jewish, an immigrant, in trouble with the law, mentally ill, disabled, a person of color, or just an odd duck, watch out. The government had its knives out, literally.


This was a vile mixture of white supremacy, class elitism, and absolute ignorance, but you can see the same thinking that led to these atrocities are still with us today. We have a kind of willful ignorance when it comes to history, and many of us refuse to connect the injustices and inequalities of today with the injustices of yesterday.

So, it’s recommended reading, as both a sleeping aid and an historical wake-up.

Olav Hauge, Knausgaard, Diaries, Norway

Dear Diary,

I ordered a Diary today, or a collection of poems that includes selected parts of a diary, culled from the 4000 page behemoth by Olav H. Hauge. This book is called Luminous Spaces. His diary, only available in Norwegian, is called Diaries: 1924-1994.

Luminous Spaces: click through to Amazon in you are interested…


Another long-form writer, novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard, recommended Hauge. I can recommend Knausgaard. His English language readers await the final book to his six part, autobiographical novel, My Struggle, translated (co-translated this time) by Don Bartlett.

Knausgaard draws me into his world completely, which is one of the primary pleasures of novels, total immersion. But he’s not for everyone. Some  people tire of his cataloging of mundane details. Some struggle with the struggle. It’s largely a huge novel about becoming a writer and writing a huge novel, the very one you hold, so you are immersed in the narration in an unusual way that feels extra alive at times. I like it.