Thursday, August 15, 2019

Posts From the Road

The hum of the tires on the pavement is soothing, mile markers going past me like years.

I don't have to drive in to "work" every day, like many in offices do. Often I fly out and am gone for days, sometimes weeks. But I enjoy the drives in when I make them, often in the dark, before the roads are busy.

I've made most of my vacation drives by myself though a friend from college and I recently drove across half the country in a couple of days, to visit our families who lived in the same area. I remember when we pulled into the subdivision where one of my relatives had moved, I'd only been there once, and I got lost in all the streets, each bearing the same name but with a different ending. Magnolia Lane, Magnolia Drive, Magnolia Trail (that's not confusing), etc. I had a map printed from Mapquest out but it was ignored in the back seat. My gal friend said "uh. . you want to grab that map" and I was "no. . I'll get it, this looks familiar" as we got further lost. She says again, "say, how about that map behind you" and I responded, "nope, I'm sure this is it". She started laughing and said "OMG. You're a GUY! You don't want to ask for directions."

If I'm alone, sometimes I watch other drivers. On one truck a NRA sticker with an older fellow driving. When I came abreast of him, the driver looked at me, expecting some sort of liberal stare down but I just gave him a smile. When he pulled past me and saw MY stickers he gave me a friendly wave. Speeding past us both, a young girl, driving 20 over the speed limit in the construction zone, as she tossed what appeared to be three days worth of lunch bags and trash out onto the roadway, cups, bags, everything. The fact that she had a bumper sticker of our previous President on her beat-up car did not surprise me.

People often drive as they think, modestly, slowly, recklessly. Some move in and out of traffic with the brisk efficiency of a surgeon, others, shyly and with hesitation, invite themselves out to dinner with the Reaper. Myself, I just roll along, not faster than anyone, not slower than anyone, not wanting to stand out, simply watching the centerline break underneath of the vehicle.

When I tell people that I sometimes drive to the Rockies to visit family there they look at me like I'm daft. "You can fly there in an hour". Yes, I can. but I like that time to myself, no schedule, no commitments. When I get hungry I stop and eat. When I get tired I find a quiet, clean place to sleep. If I want to stop and look at the world's largest ball of yarn, no one is going to tell me "sorry, that flight has already left the gate." Though I still wonder about some gas station bathrooms. Why do they lock them? Are they afraid someone might break in and clean them?

As we travel through life we often pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that we blow right by it. As adults, we usually fail to stop and just look at what we have right here as we pass by it, things hidden by the layers of indifference casually tossed on us by others, dreams gathering dust while we toil to somehow make our world conform to what we are told it's expected to be. And everything in a hurry. Maybe it's the specter of mortality, maybe it's just this new generation of entitlement that's trying to nudge common sense out of the way, but people seem to expect things they've never earned.

I'm not sure why I enjoy the slow and hard look at things. Perhaps it's just the process of becoming slowly born that are those years leading up to middle age. Perhaps it's what I do for a paycheck. Maybe it was all the hours hiking up into mountains of the West as I grew up. You really learn to appreciate the slowness, the detail, the stillness of a day in the outdoors. The ascent may be hours or it may be days, but with a compass and a few tools, you simply gather your wits around you and head uphill. What you expect to greet you is up ahead of you, even when you can't see it. It's there in the blue, and it only remains for your body to reach it. Patience, one blister, one tear, at a time.

The wilderness gives you time, for the wild, though changing, is still eternal. That's what long road trips are like for me. I keep the horizon in my window but still look back, savoring the journey. The tumbled landscapes of glacier stone, and great pristine rivers, thin as a strand of pearls as I travel on past. It's time, my time, filled with the immaculate sameness of hours bathed in the sun's warm honey. Anything that really requires detailed thought, the engine setting, a scan for traffic, occurs in brief, unhurried intervals. The miles roll by with the thoughts, miles of tears, of laughter I've not known since youth, of love, of mechanical, rhythmic memories of the past that I carried with me as I started this journey.

Those memories are not always happy ones, which is part of the trip you will make. As the miles flow past, you realize that when you are young, no one really tells you the truth about love, about life. About coming into your heart and your strength and what it means when you realize what you have beneath you.

When my friend and I took that trip, after heartbreak for both of us, we finally talked about many things we never had. Sure, we'd shared many a cup of coffee and a beer discussing past dates from hell over the years (what do you mean you have guns? Eeekk!), kids, parents, coworkers, and dog hair. We'd talked about old loves, about the hopes for a new one. Like old friends, we hadn't really talked about those things that seemed obvious.

Talking matter of factly about such things seemed banal, like proving a right angle or finding the equal distance between two lives but it felt good for us to share our joys and our griefs on that drive. The two-lane highway rose slowly out of the Plains as I tried to navigate through words that carried with them both joy and pain, holding me back like the weight of a dead end. So we talked, not in a great gush of words, but as friends do, in small bits of ourselves spread out on the table like show and tell of things that troubled us, those hurts that built up over years of living. The miles and hours flew past, fields clutching onto the skeletons of flowers that long ago died, of bare, windswept trees, and clusters of burrs that stick to everything with a tiny pinprick of pain. Things were sticking to us both.

All that was left was the words; and they flowed, like the laughter and the tears, until I opened the window to let the wind dry my face. Wind that would carry those old hurts to where they would simply bounce off the landscape like a piece of discarded trash, delicate, crumpled tissue best left to be disintegrated by time. Better left behind as the sun began to relax on what would be a renewed journey; the road pulling away from discarded thought, the highway lines breaking up like Morse Code as we moved forward. Moved away from that painful past, those roads best not traveled, till it was just a speck in the rearview mirror.

My friend has found her happiness, and I've found mine, nothing left but the memories that I'm making now, moving on into new skies, open roads. Time ticks past as the diorama of life unfolds in the window up ahead, the rush of the world, fast food, fast life, suspended for a few hours. The truck still moves on, this time to find a place to rest for the night and I do, cleansing myself of blood and bone and the grime of the day. The hotel room has all the ambiance of a dental lab and I can't help but wish I was instead at hunting camp, sleeping under a fluttering tent, canvas murmuring to the whispers of the rain.

As I lay there, I think of Heraclitus, of whose writings are only left fragmentary remains, who said it better than I, expressing the nature of reality as a flux in words, the way I'd express them in motion today.

The rule that makes
its subject weary
is a sentence
of hard labor.
For this reason
change gives rest.

Sometime it's time for a change of landscape, of thinking, a journey forward. No agenda but to see the day transfolded before you up ahead. You need those moments alone, those miles of open road, miles of open sky.

Those times of solitude, for souls like us, are simple moments of inwardness. In our simple code of life, quiet independence stands guard over courage heightened by change. This is our own compass north, that directs our paths, the self in isolation, resolve, honor, emotion, thought and liberty held in like breath until they are amplified within us, becoming direction in life's unhurried journey.

Mark Twain said in Huckleberry Finn "We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened". But I know they were made. Made to serve as tiny points of light to guide a distant traveler back home.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

On Reason

Reason is a choice. Wishes and whims are not facts, nor are they a means to discovering them. Reason is our only way of grasping reality; it is our basic tool of survival. We are free to evade the effort of thinking, to reject reason, but we are not free to avoid the penalty of the abyss we refuse to see.
Terry Goodkind, Faith of the Fallen

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Annie Oakley

It's Miss Annie Oakley's birthday today and ammo dot com has a great article about her I wanted to share before I head into work.   - Brigid

Monday, August 12, 2019

Oh Loss

They say you can't get one dog to replace another and that is true. But when I lost my black lab Barkley, to aggressive bone cancer, immediately followed by my only brother, also to cancer, I refused to even think about another heartbreak. As I penned their stories for the book I had put off writing for years, the tears flowed and with the tears, came healing.

Then I saw a picture of a little black lab at a local rescue. She was older, grey around her muzzle, dumped at a shelter where she languished for months. Something in me responded--for I  have lived too many years not to know what it is like not be wanted. So I got her, and her lively personality and deep love healed my recent wounds. Then, with a house already full of dog hair, we added a second dog, one who had spent her whole life in a small pen having puppies.

They say you cannot go home again, and perhaps as far as a childhood home, that is true. But what of the memories of other places we hold firm in our mind's eye. Some of them we have a name for, our elementary school, the river where we dove as far out as we could into the dark water, a place where church bells rang. In the Book of Genesis, all are drawn out of fluid chaos by its name, "God called the dry land Earth". Sometimes, the incredibly complex can be summed up in one word. I read in a story that the Inuit Indians have one such word to bring to conceivable life the fear and the awe that possesses them when they see across the ice, the approach of a polar bear. Some things have no words at all, their form remembered only in the etchings of tears.

But of those places, both named and unnamed, there are places you are drawn back to, years later, praying they are not changed, and knowing it will not be so. So it is that I am drawn back, to love, to a couple of rescue dogs that no one else wanted, who surely have already captured my heart.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Drift Conservative Talk Show Interview

My author interview yesterday on "The Drift" a conservative talk show radio program on WAAM in Michigan hosted by long time HOTR reader Ed Bonderanka. It was fun!

You can listen to the recording here.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

On Waiting.

Larelei  (our puppy mill breeder rescue) "assuming the position" 30 minutes before my husband usually walks in through the back kitchen door after work.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Reader's Favorite Book Review is In.

Readers Favorite finished my book review. Two of my three books (not including the second book and an anthology I did with Old NFO and others which were not entered) have won their literary award which is held in the fall and given out at the Miami book festival. But I was so happy to see this alert on my phone this morning. It was a different reviewer than the others but I think they liked it. 

"True Course: Lessons from a Life Aloft by Brigid Johnson is the story of a woman who yearned to fly and when she did, she had the experience of a lifetime. Brigid Johnson grew up in a small town where opportunities were few and far between, especially for women with ambition. But her ambition went above and beyond the usual; she wanted to fly. Aviation was a profession for men, but that didn’t stop Brigid from learning it and owning it. She started with two jobs, education, her dog and her solo flying and moved on to a successful airline career. She was happy with her life and her career, but that all was destined to change when her father’s health deteriorated and he needed help. Now she has to make a tough decision; should she hang up her wings to care for her father or abandon him when she just spread her wings to fly higher?

I have yet to come across a memoir this riveting or engaging. Brigid’s story is better than most novels I have read. Her story is genuine, funny, heart-wrenching, emotional and very personal. I don’t know how she did it, but she made me find myself in her story and the situation she was in. I built an emotional connection with her, so I felt like flying when she was and devastated when she was not. This is one of those books that are written once in a lifetime and they stay with the reader forever. From her word choice to her development, everything was perfect and crafted with deliberate care. This is one of those gems that avid readers crave to find!"

Available on Amazon. (That, dear readers is what my husband would call a "clue by four".)

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Spaceships, 1911's, and Waffles - Just a Typical Saturday

It's Saturday - time for a trip to the Farmer's Marker, a stop at the local range perhaps and then a frosty adult beverage on the porch.  Until I'm back a clip from one of my favorite movies and a recent weekend  kitchen experiment (made without the assistance of a cookbook OR Minions)


"It's So Fluffy!" Waffles with Maple Bourbon Cider Syrup

These waffles have a consistency almost like pastry or pancakes, very fluffy, tender and light in crumb with just enough crisp on the top to hold in those delicious pockets of butter and homemade syrup. If you're used to a Crisp Belgium Style Waffle, give them a try, you might be pleasantly surprised.

The hot syrup can be made with ingredients you likely have on hand - a cup of maple syrup, a cup of cider, a pinch of cayenne and a half a shot of Bourbon (more depending on your relatives).   The directions are in the link above for the waffles.

Serve with butter and add some crisp bacon or sausages and sliced peaches. Drizzle all with a bit of the syrup for a nice "breakfast for supper" Sunday meal.
click to enlarge photos

And the corn version below, replace 1/4 cup of the flour with corn meal and replace the sugar with honey.  The rest of the directions remain unchanged.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The History of Existing Things

Those hallowed and pure motions of the sense
Which seem, in their simplicity, to own
An intellectual charm; that calm delight
Which, if I err not, surely must belong
To those first-born affinities that fit
Our new existence to existing things

-William Wordsworth

In a carved wooden box, on a shelf are things that would mean little to most  There are a couple of neatly posted pieces of newspaper, on which the date was manually stamped, a date of a clear Autumn Day.  There is my Mom's Badge from the Sheriff's Department, to lie along side my own badge each night.  There is a small yet deadly knife and a delicate Ceramic skunk on which my Mom's initials lie.  It occupied Dad's shop bathroom until Big Bro and I remodeled it, to make it elderly-friendly, and Mr. Skunk came with me to live. All of them small things, by themselves, just objects, together a collage of joy and pain, things without consequence but for their history.

Most of us get the little things around us, from simple to sublime, some posting them cursively on paper, others capturing them in photos, some just cataloging them away in the brain for quiet afternoons of reflective thought. Some walk through life with a remote in their hand and blinders on, not realizing what they missed until all they hear is the final shut of a door.

Others look only ahead, paying no attention to the past, the remembrances of brave men, the battles and freedoms we have fought for. My flag was at half staff not long back and I bet half the neighbors did not know why, seeing only what's going on in this moment, however useless, with no intention of availing themselves of the lessons of history that rattle around in our pockets like rare coins.

Not I. For me, I'll take the slow path, the closer look, the unseen poetry in a drop of melting snow, the land and soul that thirst, the blood and the tears that united a nation.

I've never been one to collect things, thimbles, figurines, little knick knacks that will require dusting long after I am dust. I've moved too many times over the years to even think about it. I have some cookbooks, I have some of my Mom's glassware and Swedish horse collection, I have a well loved violin that follows me around, annoying the neighbors.

But I learned early to note and catalog things, starting with plants in my first botany class, then working on up to so many small bones. It's why I always liked science museums, having an ingrained curiosity since childhood as to what made things tick. But it wasn't just plants and animals, machines as well needed to be understood. It's why in high school, while the girls were gossiping and buying clothes, I was learning how to rebuild a carburetor.

Certainly now, with the Internet, much of the mystery is gone, the average person being able to learn how to do just about anything on a home computer. Even with graphics, computer animations and YouTube, there are still some ways we learn that are best learned hands on.

But with the Internet, you miss those integral steps, that human interaction that provides a corporate experience. It's physical interaction with emotional understanding that you are not going to get with a 57 inch TV. Comparing a TV show on a subject to hands on looking, touching and watching what it's made of, is like seeing a picture of fresh pie, and tasting it on your tongue. The subject area may be the same, but the experiences are light years apart.

For I like to learn hands on, be it in the field or in a museum, taking a close look at it, holding it close (it's not ticking is it?), feeling the heft of weight in my hand, the form of it under my fingers. All the senses involved. I'd read everything there was about dinosaurs in books as a kid, fascinated with both the size and the structure, but the first time I lay my hand on a dinosaur bone, I was awestruck. I remember it to this day, loitering there in a blaze of sunlight, hand outreached, besieged by the huge strangeness of what I was seeing, the unfamiliar feeling of comprehending for the first time, how old the world really was, and how ALIVE I was. It wasn't just a dinosaur, it was seeing the world as it was, not fairy tales or fables, but true, as that unfamiliarity divided into rivers of wondering that I would follow for years. Including that moment in the theater when I yelled out, "Jurassic Park? Those things with big teeth are from the Cretaceous era!"

But the wandering adventure never ended. Even as a pilot, it continued. I'd look through the window of the aircraft as if it was a doorway to another dimension, wild, tremendous landscape stretching farther than even the eagle could see, blue-green mountains reaching up from the vermilion shores of the high plains. I would dash out into the sky, like a kid released from school, dodging cloudbursts raining down unnamed canyons, looking down with a god's eyes onto the desert homes of the cliff dwellers, hundreds of houses built into stone before you were even born, abandoned thousands of years ago, seemingly close enough to touch.

There were always the museums, including the space museums. Actual vehicles that had returned from space. No story or animation can give you the feeling of seeing up close something that HAD "been there, done that". Some of the early models looked like Frank Genry designs on crack. Or something my brother and I would have attempted to build with our erector sets, giant tinker toy constructions, resembling bulky 1960's foil Christmas trees more than modern spacecraft, topped with antennas that could have been placed on top by someones Norwegian Uncle after too much Glogg.

Yet, in all their dated technology, I paused in wonder, seeing it all and thinking that all of the things I built as a child and a teen, the weather radio, the rockets, could have become something like that, with no more imagination, but simply more education. Museums are like that for me, a humanness of history that brushes my skin as I pass each display, clinging to me even as I leave with the genius, fixations and wonder of humanity waiting outside the door.
Like all things mechanical, all things living, what we look at is much more than a sum of its parts. Those early space ships, the eroded surfaces speaking of the intense heat of reentry, the thin outer skin belying the courage of the man that it cradled, just waiting to be blasted into the unknown. A Mercury wonder of heat and design and engineering unheard of in its day. Compare it with the Soviet ships, odd instruments with Cyrillic labels, foreign yet familiar. An animation can never give you that little surge of awe I got on seeing that warning stenciled on a Soyuz reentry module: “Man inside! Help!” -- words that are dense testimony to both the dangers of a landing and the human ignorance that may exacerbate it.

The best way to figure out how something works is to take it apart.My brother and I started with the TV at age 12. The only reason I am not STILL grounded is that we got it back together before we were busted. Somethings are easy, radios, artichokes, a Cuisinart, easy pickings for the inquisitive geek. Hearing about or watching a TV show about taking something apart is one thing. But seeing it, laying your hands on it, hearing it, smelling it, is another.

Those are the type of museums I like, boneyards of man and machine, unlikely mechanics in action, dismantled into their core components, laid out for us to wonder. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry had this heart the size of a small kitchen in which you could walk through. In it, you experienced each chamber of the heart, complete with sounds, and as a child there on holiday, I would sometimes just stand in it for the longest time, before I could bear to leave it to go stare at the wall of bees. I still have fun in the children's section of science museums where there are no "don't touch" signs and the world is one big laboratory.

In the Berlin Museum of Communications, there is a postal service stagecoach, dismantled into its components, hanging up. Most walk past it, eager to get to the computer modules. Some look at it as only as a dusty visage, long divorced from reality, decaying quietly as only a glimpse of something no longer needed. I see structure, form, load-bearing surfaces, joints and sinew of wood, made by people that perhaps could not read or write, but oh, they could build.

Give me cross-sections, give me actual animals, preserved and on display, don't show me computer videos of things I can watch at home on the discovery channel. Give me not just knowledge, but touch, for when I do it's a tiny chill, partly the warmth of recognition. Early science was imitation and magic but it was more than that. If you go into the caves of Lascaux, the innermost and highest paintings were done at such elevation that they would never have been visible with the light possessed in that age, to anyone other than the artist who painted them. For he was not painting for them, he was painting for something else, a vision that only he saw and wished to document for time.

Unfortunately, most of the technology and science museums today cater to the computer generation with entire floors dedicated to Genetics with wall displays of the codes GAG, GAT TAC ACT) and huge stylized double helices of plastic, all a high tech but impersonal submersion into something that to me, is the Rosetta stone of life. The genetic code is almost universal. The same codons are assigned to the same amino acids and to the same START and STOP signals in the vast majority of genes in animals, plants, and microorganisms. We are all more closely bound than we think.

I didn't want to see plastic models of DNA, I wanted to see the real thing. If you want to show me DNA, then show me DNA - in test tubes, or through an actual working electron microscope.

Which is why a chance to visit a museum in Dublin on the way back from an overseas speaking event a while back meant a lot to me. It's unchanged since Victorian days, the ground floor being dedicated to Irish animals, featuring giant deer skeletons and a variety of mammals, birds and fish. Among the locals it's known as the "Dead Zoo" and when I heard that I knew I was going to spend a day of personal leave there. The upper floors of the building were laid out in the 19th Century in a scientific arrangement showing animals by taxonomic group, an incredible diversity, the interrelations of species through the evolutionary tree.

And my favorite, the bones, the incredible biotechnology of the animal machine, the structure and dentition, the vertebrate body scheme working and adapting. Sure a plastic model of a skull will give you an idea, but it can't possibly show you the exquisite detail of a creature dead hundreds of years. Photos weren't allowed, but I looked and with sketchpad I drew, bone gleaming though splendors last decay, eyes nothing but two empty pools in which the stationary world lurked gravely in miniature.

Stop and look in a museum, stand in places where history stood still, the courtyard at Monte Alban in quiet sunlight you can almost feel the air shimmering with life, priests, victims, warriors, the ball court where to lose the game was to lose life. Those lives vibrate through you.

"those first firm affinities that fit, our new existence to existing things".

That which remains are all things, past, present, they make us what we are, everything the human mind has invented, everything the human heart has loved and grieved for, that bravery has sacrificed for. It may touch only a few, but it connects us all.

I've felt this way in the field, hours spent bending down, sorting out the smallest detail.  Glaring into the sightless night, which was broken only by the events that brought me here, I tune everything else out, but that sound that will never be annealed until I am done, even as I sleep, the events, the pieces, the history, the why, roaring down around me until they stiffen and set like cement and take form.  Small things, inconsequential things, that, when woven with a human decision and the vagrancies of fate, form something that remains, for lessons, for closure, even if no more tangible than shattered echoes.
Remember those who have gone before us.

I thought of that as I left the museum that day, I felt it as I trudged home tonight, wearily looking up at the flag. I felt the hush of the wind, a soft voice that says, remember me, in layer and layer of ash in water and stone, bones to be studied, new life to be born. There in a puddle at my feet; a small leaf, decaying in the water, the tissue gone, only the delicate fibrous remnants of that which was vein and bone left. Rocking in the water as if in the motion of sleep, they waved their translucent goodbye.
On the dresser at my home tonight, lies a simple crafted box in which contains the fired remembrance of pure love and loyalty.  Remember me, remember this, from God's intricate creations of blood and bone and sinew, to our own divined dust, the distance is small.
 -L.B. Johnson

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Look Out - Save a Life!

For those of you who watch Dr. Who, did you ever wonder why the Tardis (time machine disguised as a UK Police Call Box) never landed on anyone when it suddenly materialized on a sidewalk? With that in mind, and being bored, I made some bumper stickers (I have extras if anyone wants one).

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Big Boy

The world's largest operating steam locomotive made its way through the Chicago suburbs on Friday and was on display today in West Chicago.  Despite the temperature and higher than normal humidity today there was quite a large crowd there to see it. 

The 133-foot-long Big Boy No. 4014 is part of Union Pacific's tour to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the First Transcontinental Railroad.
The massive train was taken off the tracks on Friday and put on display on the other side of the railroad at the Larry S. Provo Training Center.

Only 25 of these massive Big Boys trains were built. No. 4014, which was delivered to Union Pacific in 1941, was retired in 1961 and later restored to make trips around the country
The train is one of only eight Big Boys still in existence today, and is the only one still operating.

It took Union Pacific five years to restore the world's largest steam locomotive, which dates back to the 1940s.
 Here's a news article with a great video of it arriving.  We were both working when it rolled in so we missed it but the display out in West Chicago is open all weekend.

You can track the Big Boy's route here.