The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

It’s been some time since I’ve submitted to a photo challenge. Cee Neuner’s Midweek Madness Challenge is, Pick a Topic. Some suggestions are; sky, clouds, trees, grass and landscape.

So here goes.

Below, cornfield in rural Indiana

Cornfield, Indiana

Below, Clouds and sky outside of Shipshewana, Indiana.

Below, a tree lined road outside of Saxesville, Wisconsin 

Below, Farmland outside of Athens, Wisconsin.

Athens, Wisconsin

Below, Grass and trees. Lexington, Kentucky 

To visit Cee’s page and to seem more participant’s sites follow the link to CMMC – January Pick a Topic from my Photo.

teal volkswagen beetle

Continued from Contemplating The Mystery Box.

Out there, between Denver and Pittsburgh, lay a broad land I’d barely seen. A once vast grassland that had become countless square plots of cornfields and soybean fields, splashed with small towns and a few intermittent cities.

I’d been to the American South and the East Coast, the Mountain States, the Southwest and the Pacific Northwest. I’d even been to Hawaii. All that was left was Alaska and the Midwest, and Alaska has always seemed too formidable.

So the Midwest it was and a chance to learn first hand about an area that I knew slightly from books but more considerably from stand up comics who use Middle America as grist for their comedic mills. (Want to hear a joke about the Midwest? Nevermind, it’s too corny.)

But there was a more pressing reason for wanting to take to the road again. By the Fourth of July holiday I was feeling restless, morose. I felt as if something had been left unfinished.

That unfinished something was a road trip that my wife Cora and I had taken earlier in the year, in May and June. We’d travelled over 7500 miles, from the San Francisco Bay Area to Southern California and then east to Arkansas. From Arkansas we drove north through Kansas, and Missouri before touching a corner of Iowa. We turned back west, passing through Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, finally going south and homeward bound through Oregon and Washington.

It was during that long drive that my idea of what a vacation should be was changing.

Every unique stop, every side road, every oddity and every magnificent work of nature’s art added a new layer of change

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brown bare tree

“The seller of lightning-rods arrived just ahead of the storm. He came along the street of Green Town, Illinois, in the late cloudy October day, sneaking glances over his shoulder. Somewhere not so far back, vast lightnings stomped the earth. Somewhere, a storm like a great beast with terrible teeth could not be denied.”

When I was younger, likely during my teenage years, I read Ray Bradbury’s classic novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury’s allegorical tale of good versus evil begins with the lightning rod salesman who foreshadows a malevolence to come, a “bad moon rising,” as the once popular song goes.

A storm has been a brewing in America. A bitter wind carries rancor, revenge, greed, wrath, and treachery. Dark clouds of deception. A hailstorm of lies and duplicity.

Our national tempest was preceded not by a lightning-rod salesman but by a knave, a man elected to the presidency, a man who retailed hate and divisiveness, jingoism and racism delivered with a sales pitch that featured equal amounts of venom, equivocation and hokum. Like any self-serving scammer, he recognized his marks and played, not on their better angels, but on the demons they’d long kept hidden.

It was just over thirteen months ago, election day when we thought the storm had passed. But that was just the eye of the hurricane, the calmness before the fury would begin anew.

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helmet on the ground

I hadn’t planned on doing a New Years/year end post until I turned on the Sun Bowl Game and something sort of clicked (or clunked depending on the reader’s point of view). It certainly doesn’t feel like New Years Eve.

It was a desultory little crowd at the Sun Bowl Game in El Paso, Texas. The game between Washington State University and Central Michigan was a fitting microcosm of COVID 2021.

Traditionally the holiday season calendar, particularly the days leading up to and including New Years Day, includes, for the football fan at least, a gift basket of bowl games, from the venerable, over century old Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, to the Mayo Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Did you say Mayo Bowl?

I did. The sponsor of that game happens to be Duke’s Mayo. Sometimes I shake my head at the bowl game names.

Pardon me waiter, can I have a bowl of mayo with my steamed artichokes. A little squeeze of lemon in the mayo please.

I know somebody who takes her French fries with mayo, which is as horrifying as ranch dressing with pizza.

This isn’t about bad food pairings though. It’s about COVID.

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dawn landscape sunset field

Once you post it on social media, you own it. Doesn’t really matter what it is. It could be something as sweet as an approbation or as vile as a slur. Like it or not, it’s yours to keep.

When it’s all still in your head, you’re window shopping, kicking tires at the car lot.

You can toy with the idea of skydiving but once you’ve put it out on Zuckie’s scandal sheet there’s really no backing out while still managing to save face. With that one mouse click you’ve cleared the table of any future claims of acrophobia.

Whatever you put on social media you’ve paid for and taken home. Worse yet, you’ve tossed out the box and the packing, the point of no returns, no refunds, no in-store credits.

And so on July 7th, 2020 I went on Facebook and took ownership of a planned road trip through the American Midwest. I advertised it as a weeks-long solo journey with no firm plans other than to point the car towards somewhere and drive. I’d make some stops here and there but it wasn’t clear exactly where. And somewhere along the road to somewhere it was likely that I’d turn towards somewhere else.

It would be a white lined mystery box. In midsummer I was turning that mystery box over in my head as one inspects a wrapped package, wondering what’s inside.

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glass bauble reflecting christmas tree

Warning: Some sections of this post are rated R

It’s three days before Christmas. A section of the parking lot at the local supermarket is covered in crunchy, dry pine needles. The Christmas trees that had been there earlier in the day are gone. Headed for the chipper and then the compost pile.

Eventually the evergreens make it to the compost pile – or the side of the freeway.

We revere that tree when it’s new. Adorn it with a plush skirt and gild it with bright, multicolored baubles.

After New Years it’s, “Get rid of that stinky old bastard.” That holds true for either the tree or old Drunkle Bob who’s overstayed his welcome.

I haven’t been able to get used to the sight of Christmas trees for sale in the Home Depot or supermarket parking lots.

Us kids would start to get the Christmas giddies about a week before Thanksgiving. That’s when we would start to see little shacks and deer wire fencing go up in vacant, unused plots scattered around town. These were the seeds of the Christmas tree lots where soon would appear rows of Douglas firs, noble firs and Scotch pines. Trees flocked snowy white and garish pink. You could even see the occasional blue tree.

We avoided the colored trees as if they were infested with squirrels. We also eschewed the noble firs, because the price was too noble for our family of mere plebeians.

The tree lots, their perimeters made festive with strands of multicolored lights (It’s important to note that they never used the little lights. It was always, and still is to this day, the big, old school C9 bulbs), would open for business a day or two ahead of Thanksgiving. Continue reading

To the delight of some, the yawns of others and the chagrin of many, The Life in My Years is back in business.

Well, that was a short hiatus.

Some may ask, “Why?” Others, “Why can’t you just stay away?”

I had originally planned to suspend the blog indefinitely, if not shut it down permanently, in order to write a book.

Well, along the short, book writing road I’ve travelled I was reminded, rudely mind you, how hard writing a book can be.

Don’t get me wrong, writing, period, is hard. At times writing a simple blog post is like trying to drive a ten penny nail into solid oak by force of will.

Writing a book is harder. But if you don’t believe me, take it from someone who actually does it for a living.
“Writing is a hellish task, best snuck up on, whacked on the head, robbed and left for dead.”
~ Ann-Marie MacDonald, author, The Way the Crow Flies

I knew that writing a book about a six week road trip would be daunting. I realized that extra research, combing through notes, listening to hours of recordings, organizing it all and then trying to determine an acceptable format would take the kind of dedication required of a full time job. And then add to that learning how to present a manuscript to someone who might think that it would be worthwhile reading, worth even killing a few trees for.

I’d grasped just how hard the work would be. Well, maybe I did.

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Throughout the years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve often searched for new blogs to follow. Maybe I was looking for something in my areas of interest; history, photography or politics. Maybe it was a search for new ideas, new approaches, or new formats. Or maybe I’d just stumbled on to something that intrigued me, something completely out of my normal area of interest.

Somehow I found Susan Richardson’s, Stories From the Edge of Blindness, in which she documents her struggles and successes in dealing with Retinitis Pigmentosa. The blog so captivated me that I went back to her archives, starting from the beginning and trying to catch up as her story continued. I think I covered eight years worth of posts in a few months.

Eden Baylee. I think I found her blog in the comments section of Yeah Another Blogger. A published author, Eden’s blog includes a regular Music Monday and an occasional 800 Word Story in which she collaborates on a short piece of fiction with author Bill Kirton on a topic that they apparently pull out of a hat – or somewhere else. It amazes me that they can do that.

She also has written about social and political issues that have personally touched her. I wish she would write more of those.

She has, as she says in her bio, a dry sense of humor and a penchant for profanity, and I love both. Whether she likes it or not, she’s become my writing mentor. She gained my undying affection when she called Neil Young a wanker. We’ve since become good friends and confidants.

I’ve met two bloggers in person.

Michael Scandling, publishes the AMAGA Photography Blog. His minimalist and impressionist seascapes are mesmerizing.

I met Martin Fredericks in Fargo, North Dakota. He publishes IV Words, a blog about climate change and our current and worsening environmental crisis. It’s an eye opening site, that can be at times frightening and at other times, inspirational.

There are too many other bloggers to mention here in the body of this post who I’ve read and have been following. I’ve included those at the end of this post.

And then there are the others. The posts that I’ve stumbled upon and that have, as the saying goes, “wowed” me. I’ll read a piece, and find that it’s months or even years old. And so I search for the newest post.

I click on the heading to refresh the site to a new post and it comes up with the old post.

Is that all there is? What happened? Did the writer lose interest? Move on to write another blog on another platform? Or is it something worse?

This great work stopped in midstream. Gone with not so much as a friendly “goodbye” or a brusque, “I’m done with this shit.”

It’s like the sign on the shop window, Back in 10 minutes. When did the clock start? A minute ago? Fifteen minutes ago? Yesterday?

It’s frustrating and disappointing.

Good blogs shouldn’t fade away into nothing, they should have a series finale and damn it, they should have a climax.

And that is what this post is.

It’s been ages since I’ve posted anything and there’s a reason for that.

I’m writing this in room 208 of the Quality Inn, in Grayson, Kentucky, just 30 minutes from the West Virginia state line.

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The Red Lodge, Montana area attracts hunters, fishermen, hikers and campers, but my single purpose was to drive the Beartooth Scenic Highway. Sixty five miles long, starting at Red Lodge, the Beartooth snakes up the Beartooth Mountains to an elevation of just under 11,000 feet before dropping down into the twin towns Cooke City and Silver Gate, and the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

We took Highway 212 southwest out of Red Lodge. Along the course of Rock Creek you could legitimately call the Beartooth a highway.

It’s a gentle rise, almost a false flat until 10 miles into the drive, where the rise turns into a steep twisting climb. From 10 miles on, the term “highway” is a generous figure of speech as the Beartooth becomes a two lane road of harrowing switchbacks and hairpins. You don’t do highway speed here unless you yearn to take in the view from the unique perspective of a brief freefall before the hard landing in the canyon below.

On occasion I would glance up and see the roofs of cars weaving in smooth tempo, back and forth, along the switchbacks, growing smaller as they made their way up the flank of the mountain, ever more tiny until they disappeared. Sign posts in the distance above looked like twigs.

Cora tries to avoid heights if at all possible and when avoidance isn’t possible she turns to renouncing them. On the drive up or down notoriously steep Filbert Street in San Francisco, she looks down at her feet as she mumbles a few prayers to all the saints – and likely a few sinners – because you gotta hedge your bet. While I enjoy the view of the horizon from a glass elevator she reads the advertisements on the wall.

At about 8000 feet, I pulled over at a turnout and stepped to the edge. It was here that I had to coax Cora to take in the view. Reluctantly she got out of the car and fear gave in to amazement and awe.

We looked down on the Lilliputian scene in the canyon far below; highway 212 where we had just been driving, now in miniature, carried toy cars along the course of Rock Creek, now a silver thread, glistening in the mid-morning sun. We looked straight across at a snow topped façade of granite peaks and cliffs.

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At the northernmost edge of the town of Red Lodge, Montana, a cabin hewn of logs and caulking sits amid a ring of river stones in front of the Red Lodge Visitor Center. If the old cabin were sitting deep in the woods at the end of a dusty road it wouldn’t draw a glance, just another hunter’s shack. But this cabin, right smack on the edge of town, located, incongruously, across the street from a Comfort Inn Motel is an out of place oddity. The little shack, built in 1888, is a time warp.

It wasn’t always there, just a stone’s throw from a traffic roundabout. In 1986 the cabin was moved from its original location some eight miles away, near the little town of Bearcreek.

The cabin’s builder and original owner, a man christened at birth, either John Jeremiah Garrison Johnston, or John Garrison, depending on the source, was born in New York State in 1824.

Vague history places Johnston/ Garrison, in the Mexican War as a sailor on a naval fighting ship. At some point during his service he struck an officer, deserted, changed his name to John Johnson and headed west to become a mountain man and wilderness guide. He later earned the sobriquet, “Liver Eating Johnson.” During the 1880’s, Johnson became constable of Red Lodge and over a century later, remains a local folk figure.

After a drive that saw 100 degree heat in Greybull, Wyoming; after the lightning in the Big Horn Basin; after the wild wind on the way north to Lovell; after the dust and sand storm in Deaver; after the rain that turned the windshield into the big muddy; and after the skies had cleared and the wind turned to a whisper outside of Bridger, Montana, we arrived at Red Lodge.

Red Lodge, population 2300, rests at the panoramic convergence of the High Plains and the Beartooth Plateau. Between Red Lodge and Billings, the nearest city, are sixty miles of rolling ranchland.

At any given time you can look towards one or more points on the compass and see a backdrop of snow topped mountains.

Route 308 crosses Rock Creek and enters the old coal mining town of Red Lodge at its southern end.

From 308, I turned right onto Route 212, Broadway in Red Lodge, and parked creek-side to figure out where we were and where our home for the next three days was located.

A squat, black wrought iron fence fronted the small, older house. The two story, green home had the steep sloped roof prescribed by the town’s annual 129 inches of snow.

The inside had a brilliant wood floor the color of chestnuts. The furnishings were simple, snug, and plush. The dining room featured a heavy, chunky wooden table.

A narrow twisting stairway groaned in that pleasant homey way of old country houses. Our bedroom, warmed by the afternoon sun, looked out over a wooden deck and a fair sized backyard.

Lexi hadn’t had a backyard to roam in over three weeks and she made the most of the opportunity, sniffing the grounds and lingering at the most interesting traces. The doggy joy was short-lived.

I sat in one of the Adirondack chairs on the deck enjoying a beer and the late afternoon sun while Lexi nosed around the yard. When I called she dashed to the deck, tried to take the steps in one leap and slammed into the top step.

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