a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
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I was trying to write a story, but it wasn't coming easy – I just wasn't into it and didn't feel like finishing this story this week. I pulled up another story I had already started. I had a good idea what it should be, but again, the words just weren't there, and to force the storyline would do it no justice. There was too much tension and turmoil inside of me, and I couldn't focus. I wanted to go for a drive to clear my head, but my story has to be submitted on Monday to the newspapers that print it.
My van is set up for writing when I travel, so I decided to take off in it for a while. Maybe something would come to me on the road. I drove about twenty miles and pulled off Highway 61 into a familiar wayside that overlooks Lake Superior.
I opened my laptop and began writing yet a third story for today. So many thoughts were running through my mind – I couldn't focus. I got a text from one of the publishers, "Do you have an ETA for your column?" I told him I would have something in thirty minutes – but what? I looked out the window over Lake Superior and thought:
From where I sit, I can see the lake. Her water changes colors daily, sometimes multiple times. The lake is a dreary shade of grey today. At the horizon, it blends into a similar grey, the overcast sky. The water is choppy with whitecaps. Waves are coming in, breaking a substantial distance from the shore. "She's a little rough today."
From where I sit, I could see Split Rock Light House. Her tan bricks didn't show their usual bright luster against the background.
I could see a faint silhouette of an iron ore boat far out on the lake. I wondered if the Captain and crew felt the rough waters the same way a smaller vessel would. A fishing boat or a pleasure boat would certainly get tossed and bounced about in those waves. I suppose that's why there were no other boats on the lake today. Of course, the ship had to be there despite the rough sea - it's their job.
It's just a dismal day – not even the pine trees seemed excited about this day. The ravens and seagulls weren't out flying. I sat and listened to the rain falling on the tin roof of my van. That sound is always soothing. I closed my eyes and saw a vision of another time.
From where I sit, I could imagine the lookout tower which used to be on this site before the state improved the sharp curve in the road. In days of yore, the tourist would pull over here and pay their admission to climb the tower for the best view of the lighthouse.
In my mind, I could see the people, families laughing and having fun on a sunny day. Excited children are running up the steps of the tower. Moms are grabbing their kids by the arm to keep them close, away from the traffic on the road.
I could see the lake with bright blue, smooth waters. Several ships were passing, going to and from destinations unknown. Fishing boats and sailboats played on the lake. Ravens danced in the blue sky, calling out to the people, "Rawk, rawk," Welcome. Seagulls swooped in to see if anyone had anything for them to eat. People wore sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats in the bright sun. Split Rock Lighthouse glowed warmly in the sunshine. Even the trees swayed in the breeze, showing their beautiful shades of green. I felt peace.
From where I sit, not all waters are smooth, not all times are peaceful. Not all days are sunny, nor all skies blue. But from where I sit, I can close my eyes and make them that way.
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Things can get foggy when I try to put my earliest life memories into chronological order. It’s probably because they are not complete, but more like fragments, bits of events, or things I recall. I remember a wooden privacy fence in a backyard with vertical boards that seemed to go all the way to the sky. The enormous green dinosaur, way up on the hill at Dinosaur Park, and Mount Rushmore, the four giant heads carved into a rock in Rapids City, South Dakota; were places our family visited when we lived there.
I always seemed to remember cars. Dad drove a Cadillac and bought an American Motors Rambler station wagon; I think it was pink and white; I clearly remember it smelled terrible inside. One day he came home with a new, green and white Chevy Greenbriar van. Mom was happy about that.
I recall a cement building inside a fence. One of my brothers told me it was a prison for bad people. It had a large door that was usually open. Although we couldn't see what was inside, my brother said there was an electric chair and explained its purpose. I have no idea what the building was, but it was creepy, and I wouldn't say I liked going by.
One day two of my sisters, in their early teens, decided to sneak out after Mom told them they couldn't go. I'm not sure they remember the story the same way I do, but we all agreed there was big trouble when they got back home. I remember thinking Mom might take them to the prison; she was mad!
I have a few memories of water in those early years. As kids, we ran through a water sprinkler in the yard. My brother and I collided and crashed to the ground. I went into the house, crying. We went to a swimming pool where I had to stay in the little pool while older brothers and sisters went to the big kid's side. I also remember the day the creek at the end of Jane Drive flooded.
Although it never got into our house, the floodwaters covered the street and rose into our front yard. Mom was worried and wanted to know where all the kids were. Dad didn't seem overly concerned except that his car was in the street. I always remember that creek being considerable in size. Maybe it was because of the flood or because I was four years old, and everything seemed larger than it was.
When I was five years old, my family moved to Ottumwa, Iowa. The Des Moines River runs through the middle of the town, and it was huge compared to the creek in Rapid City. As a kid, we went swimming in the lagoon at Ottumwa Park. There was a sand beach and a shower house, and we had a lot of fun swimming there. The lagoon, the largest body of water I'd ever seen, presented opportunities I'd never known.
One day my brother and I were going to sneak under the rope with buoys, swim to the far shore and back. I was worried about making it all the way. We took deep breaths of air before going underwater and coming up outside the boundary line. We only made it a few feet before the man with the white nose, sitting in the tall chair, started blowing his whistle and called out, "You two boys get back inside the ropes. Now!" The authorities thwarted our adventure; we would have to try it another day. This wouldn't be the last of our daring big water adventures.
When I was eight years old, we moved to Wisconsin. It took about ten minutes to walk from our house to Lake Monona, the second largest of four lakes in Madison, by far the most significant lake I had ever seen in my life. As kids, we spent plenty of summer days at Sandy Beach in Olbrich Park. From our side of Lake, we could see the state capitol building downtown. It was stunning at night when lighted.
Dad bought a boat, a 17’ Lone Star. It was a metal boat, painted white on the bottom and red on top. It sported a 45 horse-power Mercury outboard motor, and I thought it was the fastest boat in the world. My older siblings could water ski behind the boat, but I was too young. I would reach over the side in my orange life jacket and make my hand skip across the top of the wake, just like my brother did on skis in the water behind the boat.
One day, we launched the boat in Starkweather Creek. Dad took some of us kids for a boat ride, the rest of the kids went with Mom in the van. Passing through the Yahara River, we left Lake Monona and went to Lake Mendota – the biggest lake in Madison. We had to go through the locks to get from one lake to the other. Mom met us with the rest of the family, and we had a picnic at a park on Lake Mendota. I was so impressed by the bigger lake I went home and got the map out to see just how much bigger it was. I asked Dad if I could use the boat someday to take a trip across the lake. He said no.
By the time I was ten, my brother and I had met a lady who lived on Lake Monona. She was a widow who needed a little help around the yard. She had a rowboat, and we were two boys with plenty of energy and time on our hands. We worked out a deal where we would rake her yard and do other odd jobs to use her boat. Our arrangement was working out fine until one day when Gerard and I decided to row her boat across the lake.
We set out early in the morning - even before Mom left for work. We took three lunches, a thermos jug of Kool-Aid, two fishing poles, and a sack of worms. We pointed the boat toward the big white dome across the water. We knew that Mom worked in the city building next to the lake, just down from the state capitol building; Dad pointed it out one day when we were in the car. We would surprise Mom by taking her lunch. It was farther across the lake than we anticipated.
While one of us would row the boat, the other would cast a line to catch fish. Unfortunately, while launching the boat, we somehow managed to launch our paper sack of nightcrawlers into the water as well. The fish weren't biting on hooks without an entrée attached. It was just as well; I didn't know what we would do with our fish while visiting Mom. As the morning went on, the boat became harder to row.
The sun was hot, and the water was getting choppy. The little boat surged up and down with the pulse of the water; some of the waves would splash over the edge. Gerard said it was harder to row because we were heading into the wind. He was smart about that sort of thing, although I didn't even know what it meant. I thought about Gilligan's Island, envisioning such a fate for ourselves, but there was no island insight when I looked out over the water. We both sat on the center bench, each taking an oar, and rowed together the rest of the way.
We finally made it across the lake, pulled the boat up onto the steep bank of lime-stone rip-rap. We stretched out the chain connected to the bow and laid rocks on top of it so the boat couldn't drift away. Then we walked up to the city building and started asking people if they knew where Beverly Palen worked. A nice man asked us in what department she worked. We weren't sure. "She Mr. Gordon's secretary."
"Oh, in the water department." He said, then took us to her office, showing us to her desk, "Wait here. I'm sure she'll be right back." We knew Mom would be surprised to see us – and boy was she!
Mom and Mr. Gordon came out of his office. Mom was carrying her notepad with all the squiggly lines (short-hand) and telling him, "I'll type this and have it back for you to sign, this…" She stopped talking when she saw us. She forced a smile on her face, "Mr. Gordon, these are two of my sons, Gerard and Tommy, and I don't know what they're doing here." Keep in mind this was in an age when all the men wore suits and ties, and the women wore dresses in a professional office setting.
We stood out from the crowd; two hot, dirty, skinny little boys dressed in cut-off shorts, T-shirts, and sneakers with no socks. We told Mom we came to surprise her by bringing her a lunch – however, we had no meal to offer - we ate them on the ride over, including hers. Mom walked us to the front door and told us we were to return the boat and go straight home. She probably would have been happier if we didn't eat her lunch.
Rowing back home was eerie. I suppose it was at least a couple of miles, and we didn't have a tall white dome to use as a landmark. I was a little scared, but Gerard said he knew the way – he was smart about that sort of thing.
When we arrived at the lady's house with her boat, she was standing in the yard waiting for us. "Where have you two been? Did I give you permission to take my boat out all day? I was worried sick." She was furious, "This will be the last time you two use my boat." We got fired, but still, she reminded us, "You didn't get all the leaves out from under the bushes, so I will expect you back here tomorrow to finish the work you owe me."
By the time we walked home, Mom was off work and chewed us out again. The day didn't turn out to be the exciting adventure we expected as we set out in the early morning hours, but it didn't deter us from future big water adventures.
In 1972 my dad bought WGLB Radio in Port Washington, Wisconsin, just north of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan. It was my first time to see any of the Great Lakes, and I was in awe. One day Dad took us to a beach on the lake. I scooped a handful of water and drank it. "Don't do that!" Dad scolded, then told me lake water had to go through purification before drinking. I didn't care; I just remember the lake was so big, we couldn't even see across it. Oh, the adventures I dreamed of.
The family continued to reside in Madison while Dad commuted to Port Washington on Monday, returning home on Friday. Gerard and I would go with him whenever we could. One summer's day, we walked from the radio station into town. It was only a couple of miles. Near the Smith Brother's fish house on South Wisconsin Street, we discovered a large, old white boat stored on dry land at the end of the marina. The wooden cabin cruiser sat on top of pallets and barrels with tall grass and small trees growing around it. She seemed abandoned, so we climbed inside to have a look around.
There were two long benches below deck, one on each side of the boat, with windows above that had old tattered curtains. There was a galley for cooking and even a tiny bathroom with a head and a shower. In the front of the boat was a small bedroom we could share. I imagined what it would be like to live on this boat. It would take some work getting it seaworthy again, "Mom can make new curtains for us,” I offered.
Gerard lifted a trap door on the floor of the back deck. Below were two big motors, "I'll bet they don't run, but I can probably get them going again." The ship was missing one propeller and a rudder, "It's supposed to have two – one for each engine," he said, "We can find a new one." He was smart with that sort of thing. There were some spots of rotted wood on the outside. I figured we could cover those holes with the lids from tin cans, the same way we patched mouse holes in the wood floors of the barn. We were anxious to get started.
We told Dad about our discovery back at the radio station and even got him to drive down by the boat with us after work. "Can you help us find out who owns it so that we can buy it?" Dad didn't share our enthusiasm, saying there were probably boats available that didn't need as much work, if we really wanted to buy one. He also suggested that the boat belonged to someone and we should not climb on it anymore. His negative attitude didn't sway our determination to become boat owners – of this vessel, and take to the sea. We decided to start saving our money.
When the next school year started, I told my science teacher, Mr. Savoy, about our find. I wanted to know what was on the other side of Lake Michigan from Port Washington. Mr. Savoy had a big map and helped me find White Lake; it had a canal coming in from the big lake. That's where Gerard and I would take our first trip with the boat.
Mr. Savoy told me there was a lake even bigger than Michigan and that Michigan was just one of five called the Great Lakes. He showed me on the map how all of the lakes were connected. I became more interested and decided our first trip should be an adventure sailing all five lakes. We could do it next summer – if we came up with the money for the boat, made some repairs, and got Mom to make new curtains. Walking home from school, I told Gerard about the new plan. Although we never bought the boat, my interest in these lakes continued to grow.
My family never moved to Port Washington; instead, Dad bought KLEE radio, and we returned to Ottumwa, Iowa. I traded my dreams of exploring by boat for something more affordable – motorcycles and cars.
In the summer before my senior year of High school, my friend John and I rode our bikes to Port Washington - mostly so that I could show him Lake Michigan. I told him of my dreams to explore all the Great Lakes. The year after graduation, and with a better-paying job, I traded my Kawasaki 650 for a Kawasaki 1100 full dresser – a real touring machine. At different times I rode to Lakes, Michigan, Erie, and Ontario. At each lake, I would scoop up a hand full of water and drink it. When I rode over the top of Superior – I forgot to get a drink from the lake. I guess I was too excited to get to Canada.
Years later, when I met Melissa, she told me how much she loved Duluth, Minnesota, and wanted to move there. One day, to surprise her, I was going to fly her to Duluth for dinner. When she figured out where we were going, she asked if we could go to Two Harbors instead – just up the shore. She wanted to take me to a place she knew of called Betty's Pies. "They have the best pies in the world." (at this point, she didn't know of my mad pie-making skills) I called the Duluth tower on the radio and gave them our new destination. I canceled my flight plan, then lowered the nose and went screaming down toward the water. We flew full speed along the shoreline a few hundred feet above the lake to the next town. I wanted to go out and buzz an iron ore boat but thought better of it. Okay, we did go circle the ship, but I gained a little altitude before doing so just to be legal. We waved at the captain in the pilothouse as we flew by.
After dinner, we drove down to the harbor and stood looking out at the big lake. It was calm and beautiful. The sky was full of stars, and a ship was passing by. Moved by the moment, I knelt and scooped a handful of water from the lake and drank it. "Don't do that!" She scolded, "You can get sick drinking water that isn't purified." At this point, I figured she must really like me – a lot. Actually, she was head over heels crazy about me, but that's another story.
Melissa and I got married and eventually moved to the north shore. We've enjoyed a trip known as the Circle Tour a couple of times, driving around Lake Superior. On one of these trips, we stopped to watch ships pass through the Soo Locks, at Sault Ste, Marie, Michigan – the route from Lake Superior, to Huron, then the other Great Lakes, and even to the Atlantic Ocean. It reminded me of the day Dad took us through the locks between the lakes in Madison, but on a much grander scale.
Watching the Michipicoten, which came in from Lake Huron, pass felt like we were even closer to the ship than watching the big boats go through the canal at Duluth. Maybe because we were on an observation deck looking down at the boat in the narrow lock. It was impressive watching the ship's propeller engage and the thrust of water hitting the back gates as she took off from a dead stop. I told Melissa Huron was the only Great Lake I had yet to visit. One day I would get there, but it wasn't in the cards for this trip. I do love the Great Lakes.
A few years ago, I had finished a working trip out east. My trek home began in Hamlin, New York - west of Rochester and not far south of Lake Ontario. I was too tired to start driving home, but it was also too early to go to bed. I had an idea.
There was something I'd long thought of doing but had not yet done; I didn't know anyone who has done it either. If I followed through with my idea, I might very well be the only person in the world who has done this. I took my Atlas, went to a restaurant, and sat down with a cup of coffee and a notepad.
The following day, at the crack of dawn, I was at Hamlin Beach State Park, on Lake Ontario. I climbed over a small concrete wall and walked down to the water's edge. Greeting the new day, I said a prayer, then knelt. Cupping my hands together, I filled them with water and splashed my face; then I did it again. I did it three more times before walking back to my car. A man sitting on the concrete wall asked me what I was doing. "My friend," I said, "before this day is over, I will splash my face five times with water from each of the five Great Lakes."
"Why do you want to do that?" The idea seemed pointless to him.
"Have you ever done it?" I challenged.
"Can't say as I've ever even thought about doing it."
"And, do you know anyone who has done it?" I continued.
"No. No, I don't," the man admitted.
"I don't either," I said, explaining, "so as I see it, that's reason enough for me to do it."
He seemed a little more spirited when he added, "Well I hope you make it and don't fall in." I thanked him for his good wishes; we said farewell, and I went back to my car.
I crossed over the Niagara River, north of Buffalo, headed across Canada via Ontario 403 – part of the QEW – Queen Elizabeth Way. I felt like royalty as I traveled these roads. At London, Ontario, I turned south toward St. Thomas (I had to take this route for my name's sake), then down to Port Stanley. I said another prayer at the water's edge, then knelt, splashing my face five times with the water of Lake Erie.
I crossed back into the United States at Port Huron, Michigan, then drove north to Bay City, where I found my way to the shoreline of Lake Huron in Saginaw Bay. The water was murky, with plenty of green stuff floating on top. "Maybe I could find another place." I said out loud, then reminded myself, "You're halfway there, don't blow it now." A deal is a deal. I said a prayer, then knelt. I pushed the algae to the sides seeking clearer water below. I dipped my hands into the lake and splashed my face five times. I refrained from taking a drink, even though Huron was the only Great Lake from which I had not done so. I used a couple of wet wipes at the car to clean green dots from my face before heading north.
My next stop would be in the UP. I programmed the GPS and drove away laughing at the little voice in my head, "I'll bet Huron's water would have been clearer at Mackinaw City."
Two and half hours later, I took a break, fueled the car, bought a snack and an ice tea. The Mighty Mack Bridge spans the Mackinaw Straights, which connect Lakes Michigan and Huron. Before crossing, I drove down through town.
I parked and walked down to the water. I cupped my hand, dipped it into the lake, and sipped Lake Huron's water. Finally, I drank water from each of the five Great Lakes. As I stood up, I imagined Dad was on my left; Melissa was to my right. They preached in unison, "How many times do I have to tell you, don't drink lake water. Unpurified water can make you sick."
Walking to my car, I laughed, "I guess we'll know tomorrow."
In the tiny town of Naubinway, I made my way down to the next lake, where I repeated my ritual. It was almost dark; Michigan's water felt icy-cold against my skin. Despite the dark of night coming on, I was confident I would make it. About an hour and a half later, not far west of Christmas, Michigan, I pulled over at one of the roadside parks. With a small flashlight in hand, I made my way down the steep, dark trail that led to the beach.
I took a deep breath. “The Big Lake - Superior.” The largest of the Great Lakes and the largest freshwater lake in the world was also the calmest of the five lakes I'd visited that day. Reflections of the stars danced on the smooth water's surface, and the lights of two different ships twinkled on the horizon as they made their way west. They were most likely coming from the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, making their way to who knows where.
In the tranquility of the night, I offered a prayer of thanksgiving. When I knelt, the knees of my jeans soaked up water from the wet sand of the beach. I smiled warmly as I recalled the advice offered that morning by the man sitting on the concrete wall at Lake Ontario; "Don't fall in." Wouldn’t that be a hoot if I did? I dipped my hands into the ice-cold water and splashed my face, then did it four more times.
I stood up very much refreshed and at peace with myself; a sense of accomplishment swelled within me because I did something I had dreamed of from time to time for much of my life; I visited all five Great Lakes in one day, refreshed by the waters of each. It might not have been a big deal to most people – but it was to me, and I did it.
I dried my face on the tail of my flannel shirt. My flesh was chilly and felt soft and smooth, not sticky like it does when you come out of saltwater. As the T-shirt says: “Superior. Unsalted and shark-free.”
I stayed there for a while, basking at the moment. I taxed my memory to think about all the water adventures I had experienced. Some changed from how I viewed them as a child. For example: visiting Rapid City as an adult, I found the huge creek was just a trickle running through a gulley until it rained hard. The lagoon in Ottumwa was just a small to average-sized pond. Others didn't change. Lake Michigan is just as massive as I recalled when first seeing her.
I've been to the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. Lake Superior isn't the biggest body of water I'd known, but it sure is the greatest.
Seven hundred fifty miles, and about 15 hours later, I had completed this journey. This dream had now become a memory; it was time to move on to another. Maybe this year, we'll drive to White Lake, the opposite shore of Lake Michigan, from Port Washington, where my Great Lake adventures began. Where they'll finish is anybody's guess.
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There's a difference between putting things off and procrastinating. If you put something off because you don't want to do it, that's procrastination, and it comes with a penalty. For example, if I put off mowing the lawn until next week, the grass will be much taller, more challenging to cut, thus taking more time to complete the job, and it leaves those unsightly waves of cut grass through the yard.
You might put off a project because you're not sure how to do it. Putting off a leaky pipe or a running toilet repair because you're not sure how to do it will weigh heavy on your water bill. The high cost of wasted water can reach hundreds of dollars - not to mention the possibility of causing water damage.
Still, procrastinating is human nature. Okay, not all humans do it, but I do, so I should say it's my nature.
On the other hand, we sometimes put things off that we want to do. Things we even dream about doing, but we just didn't have the time, or in my case, didn't make time; time to live that dream or know the experience. Putting important things or events off comes with an even higher cost than procrastination – regret. Such regret is portrayed perfectly in Harry Chapin's song, Cat's in the Cradle.
The song is about a little boy who was growing up – fast, but his dad had so much to do. It wasn't until later in life when the dad noticed, "…he learned to walk while I was away, and he was talking 'fore I knew it, and as he grew, he'd say 'I'm gonna be like you, dad. You know I'm gonna be like you.'" Those are some bittersweet lyrics. I think every man would like his child to grow up to be like him – at least acquiring his better qualities, but at what price?
I was very blessed to have made many good memories with my dad before he passed away, but bringing one dream to fruition eluded me. I always wanted to take my dad to Colorado.
I wanted to go hiking, and camping, and fishing with Dad in the Rocky Mountains. I wanted to show him the magical things and places I'd found. To share the peace and tranquility, I'd come to know in the forest and alongside a mountain stream. To gaze in wonder at how much brighter the stars are at ten thousand feet.
I wanted Dad to feel the joy of holding his open hands on both sides of his mouth, like a megaphone and hollering from a quiet mountain pass over a canyon below. We would send a ripple through the silence and hear our voices carrying on like a stone skipping over smooth waters. "Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello…" and, "Can you hear me? Can you hear me, hear me, hear me…
As the stone takes shorter hops, eventually sinking into the lake, our words would softly fade away, gently settling into the treetops of the forest.
Dad goes to the mountains with me often, and we do all these things – in my heart. Unfortunately, we never made the time to go while he was still living, and that's a heavy regret that can never be made right.
Not long ago, I got a message from Tim Werner, a man I'd met through a social media site. He asked if I would be willing to read a short story he wrote about a 3-generation backpacking trip to Isle Royale National Park. He went on this adventure with his 74-year-old father and 17-year-old son. "Sure," I replied, "Send it to me, brother."
Tim questioned, "Can I send it here, or would it be better via email? It's a decent size pdf file." I gave him my email address.
When his email showed up, I opened the file expecting to give it a quick read. "Human Nature, by Tim Werner. Page one of 128? Decent size pdf file?" The first thing that came to mind was, "I don't have time to read a book." I had several trips coming up and projects that couldn't wait and…
And then I thought about it. People take time to read my stories, and this one was about a hiking adventure through nature - with his dad. It started sounding similar to a trip I once didn't have time for – or should I say, I didn't make time.
It would do me some good to relax with a book in front of the fireplace. Maybe vicariously, through Tim's story, I would see what I missed out on with my dad. I replied, "I will read it, but it may take a couple of days before I can get to it." It took me nearly two weeks to get to it, but I didn't want to stop once I started reading.
Tim wrote about the hike they selected. "The Feldtmann Lake Loop? On Isle Royale? This guy is taking his 74-year-old dad on that trail?" I'd never hiked it, but it was a long trek with some pretty strenuous sections as I recalled reading about that loop. "Surely they went a different way." Not far into his book, Tim writes that the park rangers looked at him with the same skepticism. Now I had to keep reading.
The three rode on the Voyager II – the same boat we took to Isle Royale. The names of way-points and places he mentioned on the island were familiar – as were the aches and pains he described along the way and at each day's end.
I liked that his dad had never met a stranger – not even in the woods, on an island, in the world's largest freshwater lake. (sounds familiar) I could see the faces and knew the personalities as Tim described people they'd met, especially "Pat." I've met a Pat or two in my time, and I'll bet you have too! The book had me in suspense, brought back memories, and caused me to ponder, "what if."
Tim's timing in writing the book reminded me of Dan Fogelberg and his song Leader of the Band, which he wrote for and about his father. Dan expressed what the song meant to his dad, who was still living. His father was able to share and enjoy the song's success, and in turn, what that meant to Dan. It was simply beautiful. I felt that same sensation for Tim.
Tim wrote the book as a surprise, a gift. He wanted his now 82-year-old father to be able to read it. We never know what tomorrow will bring, and time waits for no one. Tim accomplished his goal.
His dad was thrilled and boasted of his son's accomplishment. I could feel Tim's gratitude toward his dad and son for going on this journey, making a long-time dream of his come true. Tim's deep satisfaction with himself was evident for writing and publishing the novella in time to share yet another joy with his father.
We chatted several times. I asked if he was an author; if he had written other books. I loved his answer, "I'm just a guy living in northern Minnesota." Me too, brother.
Tim mailed a hard copy of his book to me. Without procrastination, I read it again - this time with my dad. I imagined our trip to Colorado would have been much like Werner's adventure, having similar challenges and satisfactions. I'm not one to give away an ending, but the last six words of Tim's book perfectly described the way such a journey would have gone for my dad and me: "We didn't want it to end."
With Tim's permission, I've tagged him in this story. If you'd like to find out more about his book, Human Nature, you may contact him.
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"Evelyn's preschool is closed on Good Friday. How would you feel about spending the day in Duluth?" Let me think about that; hang around the house watching the snowmelt on the edge of the woods, or go hang out with my granddaughter for the day? I went to Duluth Thursday and spent the night.
Friday morning, we were up early. Ev and I dropped Addison off at school, then took her mom to work. Coming down the steep hill of Lake Avenue, we could see a ship in the Duluth Harbor. We drove behind the DECC center to watch the big boat maneuver in the port. Standing on the sidewalk by the railing made of steel posts and chains, I took notice of how clean and pretty the city was in the soft morning light. The air was fresh and chilly - the water in the harbor was smooth as glass. They are so graceful; the big vessel barely made a ripple in the water's surface.
Leaving Canal Park, a homeless man was sitting on the concrete boulevard, leaning against a signpost. He had a plastic bag of his belongings by his side. With his hood pulled over his head, partially covering his face, he looked cold and hungry.
Ev and I went through a drive-up to get breakfast, then back to Canal Park. I stopped at the red traffic light and rolled down my window. "Have you had breakfast?" He didn't look up but shook his head no. I offered the bag, "We bought an extra meal for you." He got up to his knees to take the sack. I reached toward him with a large cup, "Do you like coffee?"
"Coffee is really good; I like it a lot." He set the sack down, stood up, and took the coffee. Wrapping both hands around the warm cup, he started a brief conversation, "I've been on the streets for a long time, mostly in the south during the winter, but I'm 57 now, and I just can't do it anymore." His eyes looked empty and lonely as if he just wanted someone to listen to him.
"I haven't seen my kids for over seven years. A couple of months ago, I found out they're living up in Hibbing, so when the weather got warmer, I started making my way north."
I inquired, "Do they know you're coming?"
"My girl said If I could find a way there, I could stay with them." He looked exhausted, "It's just taking so long to get there. I've been trying to save some money for a bus ticket, but that's hard too." He seemed beaten down, losing hope.
I offered him a twenty-dollar bill, "You can use this toward a ticket?"
"Are you sure," he asked as if I was unaware how much I gave him, "The ticket is only ten bucks."
I smiled, "You might need a sandwich or a bottle of water to take on the bus." He thanked me and expressed his appreciation. "Tell your daughter we said hi and give her a hug from us."
We said our farewells, and I pulled away. "Who was that man, Papa," Evelyn asked from the back seat.
"Just a friend who needed a few minutes of my time," I replied and smiled at her in the rearview mirror.
Ev and I went back to the house. She turned on a DVD (The Princess Bride) and watched as intently as if it was the first time she'd seen the movie, not her 500th viewing. The character Vizzini would say, "500 times? Inconceivable!" But, whatever he declared to be inconceivable – turned out to be true.
After the show, we got Addison from school; it was a mild, sunny afternoon, and I had an adventure in mind. "We're going for a hike," I told the girls, "you should each bring a coat."
They insisted, "Papa, it's too nice to wear coats – we'll get hot." Fair enough. I let them make the call but told them they had to wear long-sleeve sweatshirts. We put on our boots and walked to a trail not far away.
Stopping at the trailhead, we looked at a map of the trail. "It's a half-mile loop, so we should end up right back here after our hike. Addie, you'll be the leader." She welcomed the responsibility and set out with an enthusiastic stride. "Addie, you might need to slow down a little. A good trail leader makes sure their group stays together."
Not far in, we came to a fork in the trail. We discussed which way to go. Addie opted to veer left. After a couple more splits in the path, we came out of the woods into a parking lot.
"Papa, this isn't where we started." Our leader declared we were lost. I suggested we go back to the last fork. "Should we go right?" I was proud of her for knowing that was the direction we came from; however, I suggested a turn the other way would probably take us where we wanted to go, and so we went left. "Watch your shoes," Addison would announce whenever we came to a muddy patch, a steep incline, or descent.
Once the sun begins setting in the Northwoods, it gets chilly quickly. "Papa, I'm cold," Evelyn said. We kept walking, and I helped Addie with navigation. I wanted them to experience the cold – it led to a good conversation about hiking.
We talked about bringing a backpack on our next hike and what to carry. The girls agreed coats, hats and mittens would be a good idea. Addison thought we should pack some snacks just in case we got hungry. Ev suggested water too. I prompted them for other items to bring along. "What if we were still in the woods and it started to get dark?"
"We should bring a flashlight," Evelyn added. Excellent thinking for a three-year-old. I asked Evelyn if she wanted to ride on my shoulders. "No, I want to walk." Then asked, "Papa, are we lost?"
"No. I know where we are. We'll be out of the woods in just a few minutes."
Our leader spoke up, "I knew you would know the way." I appreciated her trust in me.
We arrived back at the house right at six-o-clock. "Everyone, take your muddy shoes off at the front door." I instructed, "I'll clean them off after we eat."
Their mom made dinner the night before, so all I had to do was heat and serve. Both girls ate well, especially Evelyn. She was hungry, and she looked exhausted. The half-mile walk was nothing for me, but when one's legs are only fifteen inches long, she took many more steps than I did.
After supper, Ev got out a container of colorful plastic discs. Each had a hole in the center and slots around the edges. They snap together to build things. For this story, I did a little research and found they were Lego Brain Flakes. I was humored by the name as I have met people with flakey brains but had never seen an actual brain flake. But I digress...
Intending to play, Evelyn scattered the Brain Flakes on the table, the couch, the chairs, and all over the hallway, living, and dining room floors – then disappeared. The blue, red, yellow, green, orange, and white pieces looked like wildflowers in a meadow. I found Evelyn lying in her bed, reading a book. "You need to pick up your toys before you go to bed."
She looked over the top of the book, "But Papa, I'm tired."
"You need to clean up after yourself, Ev," I said, walking out of the room, "Come on. I'll help you."
She cried, "I'm tired."
I returned to the bedroom a moment later and found her sound asleep. The book she was hold laid open on her chest. I thought for a moment about waking her but recalled my uncle John telling me, "Choose your battles wisely." If she put herself to bed and was asleep by 7:25, she must have been tired. I figured I'd best let her be. I took the book and her glasses, then pulled her covers up. After kissing her on the forehead, I turned off the light and quietly pulled the door closed.
In the living room, Addison had gathered the colorful discs into one pile on the coffee table. Nobody can set Lego products in front of me and expect me not to start building.
I snapped pieces together until I formed a body with four legs. I added a neck, head, and tail. I envisioned the iconic green dinosaur at the Sinclair station on the expressway between Duluth and Two Harbors – but mine was multi-colored.
"What is that supposed to be," Addison asked.
"It's a Sagulla," I replied with a tone as if everyone knew what a Sagulla is.
"It's a what?"
"A Sagulla. It rhymes with koala; like a koala bear – but it's not a bear." I explained. "What are you building?"
"A fence to keep our Sagullas together." She explained.
I corrected her, "Sugullas is plural. We only have one."
Addison was excited and began building something on her own, "Make a smaller one be the mommy Sagulla." I wasn't sure I could make one much smaller, so I made one larger – like a full-size adult Brontosaurs. I told her it was a daddy Sagulla, then asked her what she was making. "The mommy is pregnant; this is a baby."
I laughed, "The baby is taller than the mom?"
"It's a teenager; it's supposed to be taller than the mom." Addison worked diligently to build two smaller, twin baby Sagullas while I finished the corral fencing.
I quizzed my granddaughter, "Where do you think Sagullas come from?" She shrugged her shoulder, saying she had no idea. I suggested, "Maybe they live in the woods – in the mud. They probably came into the house on our shoes and our clothes. I think that's where they came from, don't you?"
Addison looked at me as serious as could be and said, "I think Sagullas came from your brain and your heart." That made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Addie was writing on a Post-It note, "Now you have to write a story about Sagullas, Papa. That's your homework. Let me know when you're done, and I'll check your work." (touche) I smiled. She knows her Papa well. She pulled the note from the pad and stuck it to the tabletop next to me.
At the top, she wrote the title, "Sagullas" (that's where I learned how to spell the word). On the bottom; "By Tom." I raised my eyebrows with uncertainty. "Mom told me your real name." That made me laugh, but what had me smiling the first time were the four lines she drew on the small paper – the amount of space she allowed me to write my story.
"I only get four lines."
"You can do it. You have to use your words carefully," the teacher instructed.
Although you don't often see them physically, you will always feel their presence. Sagullas are the contentment felt when holding a child's hand in the morning, the serenity of watching a ship together as it moves slowly on calm water. They are the feeling of equal worth that comes when you feed a homeless man and take a moment to listen to his story. Sagullas share a child's joy watching a favorite movie with the same intrigue as the first time she saw it. Sagullas come from taking little ones on a walk through the woods, helping them learn and understand. Sagullas are lifting a book, taking the glasses off a sleeping child, and tucking her in bed. They come when letting your imagination run alongside that of a creative seven-year-old. A Sagullas is a child recognizing something that came from your heart. How could I possibly write all of this on only four lines? I pondered it overnight.
A Sagulla is a meaningful time spent with another person. Sagullas are love.
By: Tom - with help.