A Plate That’s More Full

I did John Larson’s funeral yesterday in Taylors Falls. Larson was an author, an involved Taylors Falls community member, a historian and one of those people that attract other interesting people to them like moths to a flame. I’d gotten to know his late wife, Ingrid, a bit when she was at Good Samaritan for rehabilitation. She was said to be Danish but her gravestone says she was born in Germany. That’s understandable; just after WWII being German was not something to be desired and even dangerous. My German wife landed in a Polish East Chicago neighborhood in the early 1950’s and her clotheslines were cut. John was buried in his WWII Army uniform, a feat not many of us could achieve. (I mean, being able to fit into something we wore 3/4 century ago!)

WPCA had some technical difficulties this week so the story broadcast is re-scheduled for next Tuesday, January 14th. In February, things revert to the usual schedule of the first Tuesday of each month at 7:00 p.m.

Speaking of February, mid-February I begin a 41/2 month stint as pastor of Turtle Lake United Methodist Church. They are discouraged right now, between pastors and in need of a lift so the Conference hopes I can provide them that lift. I sense great potential at Turtle Lake UMC and hope that I can hold up a mirror of themselves so they can the truth: they can have a very good future, given an effective pastoral appointment.

Our family prayers this week are with my brother, Guy, whose wife, Lucy is struggling with life threatening health issues.

My Sixth Short Story Collection Has Been Published

The latest short story collection, “Another Four Break Time Stories”, was published this last weekend on Amazon Kindle. The “mangled” fairy tale in this bunch is called “Snow Job and The Four Dwarfs”. Joining it are “Lost Wax”, a tale about an American sculptor; “At Midnight’s Stroke”, a story about Hollywood, casting couches and their consequences; and “I Loved That Bike!” a story about one man’s obsession with a motorcycle and what happens when he finally gets one.

I’m hoping to be able to read these before groups, libraries, and in arts centers, as I’ve been able to do in the past. All of these stories have been recorded for broadcast by WPCA-FM. The station also streams my stories online so that anyone with a computer and internet can listen. The fairy tale already has won praise, with Peter Kwong saying in his weekly column that my reading of it at a fund raising event for Amery’s Classic Theatre was “hilarious” and “the highlight of the evening”. Very gracious of him, I’d say!

Back to being a kid

So I’m doing something unusual, watching some guy’s blog about hiking up to Lake Hollywood. He passes along Beechwood Drive and I see houses I knew more than half a century ago. There is a small market now and a shop or two, along with the real estate building (Hollywoodland) whose sign, truncated, became the famous Hollywood letters. Eventually, he finds a dirt path that will lead him down to the lake. When he gets there, he talks about walking across the bridge. No, I want to shout at him, that’s not a bridge; you’re walking along the top of the dam holding back the water in the reservoir!

I don’t know how many tons of dirt it took to “hide” the dam from being seen from down below, but from anywhere else it’s clear there is a dam holding back the water. The dam is named after William Mulholland, who oversaw its construction in the early 1920’s (1923, I think). You can walk around the lake–it’s 3 1/2 miles–and now cars can drive along the northeast side to a housing tract that went in a couple of years before I left California. It’s more built-up now and the rest of the road around the lake is gated, accessible only to Los Angeles Water and Power vehicles. Marina and I walked part of it a few years ago.

When I was in junior high and my brothers and I got home from school, we’d go with our mother for a brisk ride around the lake. We’d walk the bikes the block and a half up the hill and then whiz down to the lake. Mom and I had the fancy bikes, the “hot” bikes, three speed JC Higgins bikes with fenders and hand brakes. My little brothers had single speed bikes with coaster brakes. We took the two dogs and did our three and half miles without stopping. Later, we would stop because there were depressions that became ponds after a rain and most of the time we could find pollywogs. There were no cars to consider because at that time all cars were kept out by the gates. Down by the dam there was a large spotlight a caretaker told me once had been ready to use in the event of attempted sabotage during the Second World War.

There were two parts to the reservoir.The upper part was smaller and had the water intake from places like the Owens River or the Colorado. There was a large funnel near the earthen dam holding the upper portion of the lake. Water cascaded down the funnel and emerged on the other side, aerated by splashing down rocks. A wall and high fence kept people from the water itself and there were periodic patrols by Water and Power staff to keep an eye on things. There were fish in the lake, too but I don’t remember anyone fishing.

One house in particular always intrigued me and the guy’s blog didn’t focus on it. It was on the east shore of the lake, up high, with a gravel driveway leading to a sweeping white concrete walled drive to the large Mediterranean style house itself. The house had a stupendous view of not only the lake but a good chunk of Los Angeles. About the time I left California (1968) rumor had it that Madonna had bought the place. I’ve used elements of that house in at least one of my stories.

After rounding the lake, we’d either ride or push our bikes back up the hill and coast down Lake Hollywood Drive to home, with its sweeping view of the entire San Fernando Valley. It was great exercise and we did it regularly. Before I could drive and I had to be in Hollywood, say at church, I would ride my bike: up the hill, down to the lake, around the lake, down through the gate and along Beechwood and then a few streets east to Gower. It was safe. The only other way would have been the freeway.

My elder son, Aaron, left yesterday for Portugal where he lives. The French workers strike saw him stranded at the Paris airport for 5 hours and sitting 2 hours on the tarmac because air traffic controllers were striking, too. He did yeoman service while he was here, chainsawing trees downed by the recent tornado and splitting the wood for our stove. He also installed a small solar system for us. He’s off the grid in Portugal and gets his power from the sun and wind. Water comes from springs near the property and a well. Our solar unit is generating power that I’m using for lighting right now and I can see its potential for more. I appreciate Aaron’s efforts and generosity.

Next week I record the last of my short stories for WPCA-FM. That gives us enough fodder to take us to July, 2020. The stories air the first Tuesday night of each month at 7:00 p.m. Central Time. The station tells me they’d like to re-broadcast all of the stories. It’s a great privilege that not many writers get.

just a bit

Our elder son, Aaron, is in town for the coming month. He lives abroad off the grid, with his power coming from the sun and the wind and his water from a well on the property and a nearby spring. He lost everything two years ago when forest fires swept through his area but he’s rebuilt with concrete and, after teaching himself how to weld, with steel. Living that way is something he has wanted to do since he was a kid.

There was great irony in that I was talking with him by phone (the week following high winds that knocked out our power for many hours) about what we might be able to do for power with solar in the event we were without power again. It was 6:30 that Sunday night and I saw things outside my window turn from rainy grey to black and green with stuff blowing wildly our way. “This doesn’t look good,” I said and then the phone line went dead. Tornado debris from a nearby farm had blown into the power lines and cut off everything. Interesting to have had that conversation with Aaron just as we got hit with the tornado. Pieces of silo and barn roofing/siding still hang from trees around our area and are scattered through the woods, in ponds and by the side of the road. I’ve been working the chainsaw and splitting maul. Aaron did some wood splitting and stacking today while we were in Osceola; I appreciate his help.

No story spinning lately and just a couple of story readings still in the discussion stage. Soon enough a story line will keep me awake between 2 and 5 a.m. and I’ll be putting words on paper again.

Moving Along

At last the fourth story of my next short story collection is finished. It’s called “Lost Wax” and deals with a sculptor and his wife. I want to be able to read it aloud prior to publishing it online but it should be available in early November. It joins “At Midnight’s Stroke”, “I Loved That Bike!”, and “Snow Job and the Four Dwarfs”, the latter being the latest mangled fairy tale. I think I’ll call that coming book “Another Four Break Time Stories”.

I’m waiting for the next short story to appear. They tend to come partly formed and then get fleshed out over a series of nights between 2 to 5 a.m. when I can’t go back to sleep. Lately, sawing and hand splitting tornado-downed logs, sermon preparation and all the getting ready one does for the coming Winter around here have pretty much shoved aside any short story creating.

I just finished listening to the monthly broadcast of my short story reading–I hear it as it is streamed online on WPCA-FM–and I have to admit that I found myself chuckling over several of the lines in “Hansel and Gertie”, another mangled fairy tale. When we record these, the audio engineer gets to laughing, too; fortunately, the mike doesn’t pick it up or at least I’ve never detected it when I listen. I listen and get irritated at my occasional stumbles or “mushy” pronunciation. But if you’re not critical of yourself, how do you get better? Years ago I hosted Tuesday night for KUSC-FM radio in Los Angeles and I’ve got to say that my diction back then was better than it is now. So was my voice: these days I sound like a geezer!

No Pun This Time

Since we met last I’ve managed to get down the first go-round of my next short story. My stories tend to come out pretty well complete in the first draft, but early-morning mulling and inner conversations the characters might have themselves work to fill in what more might be needed. If that didn’t make sense, let me give an example: in the story in progress now, it was clear once the story was set down that the ending came up too quickly and the main character needed more development. So she got more development. Simple.

The rest of my time has been spent in doing much of what I said last time needed to be done. The TV antenna was fixed; tree experts came yesterday to salvage the split old oak in our front yard and an elm next to it, leaving me with plenty of branches to haul to the back of the property and lots of wood to cut, split and store for the woodstove; the broken leg on the dock platform got a new leg but will stay onshore until next season; and the pontoon even got a run up the lake on Sunday afternoon this week!

Today I chaired our monthly Osceola Senior Citizens Club meeting. We met Benjamin, the new Village Administrator, who even brought something to share for our potluck. (Class act, I’d say.) Sunday is the Village parade and I’ll be on our float, which–to salute retirement–appropriately is a fishing boat. I figure my usual fishing luck will hold up during the parade.

logging in–bad pun

The pun: my chainsaw has been busy, a result of the recent tornado that topped and downed trees, including some in our yard. That means cutting and splitting wood, which is fine because I need firewood anyhow. Winter is coming, whether I’m ready for it or not. I split logs by hand with a maul I’ve had for perhaps 20 years–at least.

So today was a day without a schedule. I began–when I finally got to the outdoors–with more digging up mostly sumac that ‘s out of place in lily beds. Marina wants me to leave the raspberry bushes that bear fruit, so I try to do that and dig out those that are not working at it or just are in the wrong place. My digging and pulling has brought me all along the western boundary of the property. In the afternoon I changed pants and went about more logging. The chainsaw didn’t work much today but the maul did, splitting and stacking the wood, some of it fresher than other logs. I don’t like working beneath a “widow-maker” that dangles from a tall tree high above where I need to cut several downed trees. Out front we have an oak that’s split, with a portion hanging up in another tree that also is split. That requires a pro, someone who can figure out how to take it down so it doesn’t twist and hit the house or the LP tank. The task is complicated by the drainfield that will keep lifting equipment at a distance or make it impossible to use mechanical tree equipment at all. I put in five calls today, trying yet again to find someone who could do that work. Thus far, no one has called back, only the County Forester, who gave me some names and was most helpful. At about 4:30 we (Marina and I and Andy and Gretel, her two Seeing Eye dogs) went down to the lake and sat on the pontoon boat. The wind has been strong for a couple of days now and the pontoon has pushed the last portion of the dock about 6 inches to the south. I have two anchors out but the smaller bow anchor really isn’t holding, which means there is nothing to buffer the boat’s slamming against the dock but some inflatable bumpers–hence, the dock movement. I’ll have to figure something better. While we were sitting in the boat, two guys came along that have engaged a nearby cabin for the Labor Day weekend. They turned out to be part of a contingent of Sheriff’s deputies from the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities. I figure catching some fish is a good way to decompress from the stress of dealing with the underside of life on a day to day basis. I feel for them.

I did get that story down, the one that had been working in my head for weeks. It needs some “fill-in” work to develop the heroine’s character more fully but the guts of it are written down now. When it’s ready, it will be the fourth story in the next Kindle book. I need to title this story, also. The other stories in this collection are “Snow Job and the Four Dwarfs”, “I Loved That Bike!”, and “At Midnight’s Stroke”.


As it turned out, I ended up doing services at three churches two weeks in a row. The first week–to help out the Upper St.Croix Parish until their pastor can get into place–turned out to be a repeat for another week.The first week I did Wolf Creek, the congregation I pastor, and the Atlas UMC and St.Croix Falls. Last weekend it was Wolf Creek, Grantsburg Central UMC, and Atlas. Things will get back to normal, or at least I think they will.

A tour of neighboring areas close by shows me how fortunate we were with the high winds and tornado damage. We lost trees and still have some that need attention. My chainsaw can handle most of it. Down at the lake the dock needs help but Bernizer is supposed to come this week to give me the helping hand I need to heft dock sections that need repair.

And there are projects: a box to help a chimney sweep access the chimney; another box to protect the batteries that will live outside in Winter; a signal booster to install so I can use my cellphone in the office; an outdoor light for the downstairs door; mounting the outdoors thermometer; moving Marina’s rhubarb; replacing the TV antenna broker by the wind blast; and ongoing tree cutting and stacking and splitting the resulting logs. I need to gather the hazardous chemicals I need to take to recycling next week and that means I’ll be sorting through and cleaning out/organizing the small shed that’s jammed full. I’ve not written a thing in weeks but there is a story begun in my head that begs to get itself on paper.

Some logging

So we are settling into our new home, the cabin we’ve expanded, and things have been finding their places and other stuff has been tossed or donated or given away. Amid all this, we had a tornado a block away. Trees are fallen, twisted, uprooted, barn roofs hang from trees and the Calderwood sign is nowhere to be found. South of us high winds demolished cabins all along the coast. We have trees down and topped. The large old oak in front that gives such nice shade is split and will need professional help. I think I can handle the other tree that is split. In back, there are many downed trees. I have cleared almost all the fallen trees from our neighbor’s property and now it is a matter of nibbling away at what’s down, a couple of hours here and couple of hours there. That’s in addition to trying to rectify the damage down at the lake. The first windstorm broke a wheel off a dock section. I got help to pull that section and was able to replace the bracket that holds the leg. That dock section is ready to go. HOWEVER, in re-aligning the dock (by myself, of course) I managed to break off a leg on the platform, so I’ve got some young guys coming–probably today–to heft the platform out of the water so I can see what needs fixing. It’s an awkward thing to move in any event, even when it’s “healthy”. Right now the pontoon is tethered to the dock and anchored from the north so it doesn’t keep smashing against the dock, shoving it as before. The storm and its effects, with the pontoon pushing the dock, moved it south about six feet. There was one good sized tree down at the lake and I hacked up most of it. Someone else finished the job.¬†Even the new clothesline was demolished by a flying tree branch. The TV antenna mast was bent in two. All in all, though, considering the rest of the neighborhood, we got off easy. We believe the Lord protects us.

So that has been my major excitement, slowing down what other plans I might have had. Today the woodstove gets its chimney installed. The guys are working now to bore a hold through the cement block wall in order to run the chimney outside.I would have preferred to have the chimney be a straight shot–less creosote–but there is no room inside the house to run a chimney.

I still have a new story on the tip of my brain. I have the beginning and a general direction but I’m not sure where it will go from there. Characters have a way of doing their own thing, so I’ll find out when I can put aside the time to sit and begin to write it down.

Daughter Alice–known to me as “Kid Number Three”–is doing a charity show August 10th. I got tickets yesterday, making fewer than 30 seats left.

A not-so old settler

Last Sunday I did services at Wolf Creek and Taylors Falls. Then, I trekked up to Cushing for the Settlers Picnic, an event that began in the 1930’s by people who’d lived out in the Barrens and up in around the Cushing-Wolf Creek area but who’d left the area, mostly because of finances. In the Barrens the soil is poor and farmers who were promised good soil and great crops simply starved out. At any rate, the former residents wanted to reunite and had their first picnics out in what now is State land and unavailable for things like picnics. I was at the first indoor event that has been held ever since in what was Cushing Elementary School and now is the Cushing Community Center. The event is put on now by the Historical Society. Marcie Marquardt moderated the event and I think she is president of the Historical Society.

The audience had enjoyed a lavish potluck so long-windedness was a guarantee of putting 3/4 of the crowd to sleep. These people are the third generation to enjoy the Picnic and many of them–most of them–are getting along in years themselves, so brevity, I thought, would be a virtue. And so I talked about being a “Recovering City Slicker”, about growing up in Hollywood and in the Hollywood Hills, where a boy could take his dog and bow and arrows and have to worry about not much more than poison oak, rattlesnakes and an occasional skunk. I wish I’d mentioned people more, people like Harry Jolson, Al’s brother, and how he could be heard on summer mornings in his bathroom doing vocal scales in that brittle, metallic Jolson voice. I did talk about the Sears Foundation and its semi-trailer that came to Valley View Elementary School to let city kids see a real cow (“That’s where your milk comes from.”) and a chicken (“That’s where we get your eggs.”), (“Feel the wool on the sheep.”) and (“Smell the _____.”) I also talked about being a city kid that was taught in elementary school about contour plowing and windbreaks. I told about the farm on Highway 48 that I’d pass enroute to Birchwood and Exeland where the farmer had plowed up and down the hill, rather than across. Sure enough, within a few years he had a gully there instead of productive land. I observed that windbreaks are disappearing, partly because some trees have died of old age and partly because today’s big machinery demands being able to go edge to edge and trees get in the way and so get cut down. I asked why we seem to learn nothing from history.

I also talked a bit about famous people–and I’ve met many over the years–if they have feet they put on their socks the same way you and I do. I learned early that there is great value in treating every person as–simply–a person, a human being worthy of dignity and respect until we find out otherwise. I talked about the power of money and greed and how I saw the San Fernando Valley go quickly, so quickly that when I left California 50 years ago they were buying up vacant lots to create neighborhood parks. Development had happened so quickly that the idea of a park was not considered or even thought about. I said that we have the luxury here of planning, of thinking about what we want our place on earth to be like. I quoted John Borchert, a retired urban geography professor at the University of Minnesota who told me that if we want to preserve our downtowns, we have to work at it because our society is geared to the automobile and strip malls are a natural result of that. And I observed that the local Historical Society was very important; in much of southern California the old timers and history have gone; development and growth happened so quickly that what was is something few people know.

I had a good time, I ate well and sold a book. There was no time to read a story. Speaking of story, Peter Kwong, who spoke with us in Amery a couple of weeks ago, wrote in this week’s column that my reading of “Snow Job and The Four Dwarfs” was “hilarious” and “the highlight of the evening”. What a nice comment! Kwong also thinks I’m famous; little does he know. One thing I have learned is that it’s one thing to write, another to get published and yet another to get published and get paid for it. Another thing I’ve learned is that people may know you’ve got stories out there but it’s a large leap from knowing about them to reading them, much less paying for the privilege. And that’s true of even my own family, which is disappointing.

Enough for today. We had heavy rain and wind. Blown by the wind, the pontoon managed to shove the dock about two inches to the south. I’ll try to re-align it later this week. It’s 4th of July week and a combination of daily living stuff and an electrician coming, as well as the 51st anniversary of Marina and my first date. Someday I’ll write about that date.