Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Powers of Flowers


Mid-summer in the forest, the wooded lands, is not a time of variety of color.
It is the in-between time.
The explosions of spring have settled down.
The colors of fall remain hidden.

In the forest it is green. At times, even a slightly tired green, but it is the sign of life moving on in its day-to-day process. Chlorophyll doing its job.

Out of the vast chemical bath of the Sea, not from the deeps, but from the element rich, light exposed platforms of the continental shelves wandering fingers of green had crept upward along the meanderings of river systems and fringed the gravels of forgotten lakes.
-L. Eiseley

Ferns and horsetail, the living fossil, show the primitive, primeval life of the forests that once ruled the earth.

A little while ago about one hundred million years, as the geologist estimates time… flowers were not to be found anywhere on the five continents. Wherever one might have looked, from the poles to the equator, one would have seen only the cold dark monotonous green of a world whose plant life possessed no other color.
-L. Eiseley

Then one comes around a corner, or looks across the creek and colors break forth in the sunshine. I immediately remembered an essay by Loren Eiseley, “How Flowers Changed the World” and I saw its reality portrayed in front of me. Colors, reaching out to the food of the sun’s energy, attracting pollinators and unwitting accomplices to spread the angiosperms (seeds) far and wide. What a miracle, for without it Eiseley reminds us, life as we know it would probably never have appeared.



Somewhere, just a short time before the close of the Age of Reptiles, there occurred a soundless, violent explosion. It lasted millions of years, but it was an explosion, nevertheless. It marked the emergence of the angiosperms the flowering plants. Even the great evolutionist, Charles Darwin, called them "an abominable mystery," because they appeared so suddenly and spread so fast.

Flowers changed the face of the planet. Without them, the world we know even man himself would never have existed. Francis Thompson, the English poet, once wrote that one could not pluck a flower without troubling a star. Intuitively he had sensed like a naturalist the enormous interlinked complexity of life. Today we know that the appearance of the flowers contained also the equally mystifying emergence of man.
-L. Eiseley

The weight of a petal has changed the face of the world 
and made it ours. – L. Eiseley
(Loren Eiseley quotes from "How Flowers Changed the World" from The Immense Journey, 1957)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Keep the Music Going

One of those fun groups of the 60s was the Association. I saw them in college (and interviewed on of them). Here they are from the Smothers Brothers show. A little of their "humor" to start things off.

And while we are on the Smothers Brothers, here's Mason Williams with his classic:

And finally, before it was the Glen Campbell show's theme, here's Campbell and the amazingly wonderful John Hartford, Gentle on My Mind.

And if you have some more time to waste use for some good music, here is John Hartford years later as he was getting ill, doing a remarkable bluegrass version of Gentle. No comparison, though both are good, this is outstanding.

Friday, July 25, 2014

(More) Playing Around the World

What the wonderful people at Playing for Change have started continues to be exciting, enchanting, and downright fun. Here's the song, "La Bamba" played around the world.

Oh- and go here for info on sending in a fan video to accompany this. I might even figure out how to get a trumpet part in there. Mariachi La Bamba. Why not?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Heroes: Part 2- More About My List

A month ago I posted about a list of my heroes. I wasn't talking about the individuals that touched me personally- professors, elders, etc. I have talked about some of them in other posts. Many of them (most of them?) are now passed on, my mentors are gone. But these heroes are some of the world-changers who have most motivated, inspired, challenged, and ultimately changed me. It started as an introduction to a post of pictures of Cesar Chavez that I took over 40 years ago. It is now morphing into more than just Sr. Chavez.

Here then is that original list, in alphabetical order, with one addition that I can't believe I missed.

  • Louis Armstrong- perhaps the greatest, most creative and even talented of all 20th Century musicians. He inspired me as a trumpet player, but also as one who stood up and did what needed to be done to be successful.
  • Dan and Phil Berrigan- The Brothers Berrigan, both originally Roman Catholic priests, although Phil left to get married. Their faith led them to some acts of civil disobedience and time in prison. Jesus, they believed, wanted His followers to speak out against war and injustice. Their witness was a challenge to my easy, comfortable, "personal" faith.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer- Deeper than even the Berrigans, Bonhoeffer may be the quintessential theologian/witness against the horrors of the 20th Century. His challenge to "cheap grace" and the "cost of discipleship, opened understandings into being a Jesus follower that he barely had a chance to live out. A man of amazing trust in God and a challenge to cultural christianity.
  • Cesar Chavez- I spoke of his witness for the poor and oppressed. He was another man of faith, non-ordained, but one whose life was guided by an awareness of the ways of Jesus.
  • Robert Kennedy- In my mind, the most challenging of politicians of the mid-20th Century. A complex and probably conflicted person who showed both the good and bad of politics in his short history. In the end, he was attempting, I believe, to make the changes in himself and the country that were, and still are, sorely needed. His announcement of Martin Luther King's death on the streets of Indianapolis is one of the more moving moments of a very difficult year.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.- The man I would nominate for American of the Century. Another man of faith, working at his best to make a difference. His commitment to non-violence helped move civil rights into the mainstream. He and others lost their lives to make it happen. His "I have a dream" speech still stands as a beacon and guidance for the future.
  • Mahatma Gandhi- The guiding saint of non-violence. He died the year I was born, but his teachings and witness still reverberate. An amazing individual.
  • Harvey Milk- A man who kind of fell into the right place at the right time. He didn't know what to do with his life so he became an activist for Gay Rights- or at least that's how it looks from the outside.He came out of the closet, won his place in the city of San Francisco, and lost his life. Yet he helped give life to that part of the civil rights movement that we are finally seeing the results from.
  • Nelson Mandela- In my book, the Man of the World for the 20th Century. With every reason to be angry and vengeful, he turned toward reconciliation. Oppressed and imprisoned for his fight for equality, he didn't try to take away the equality of his prisoners or oppressors. Along with Bishop Desmond Tutu, a witness to the world of the right way to forgive- anything!
  • Pope John XXIII- A quiet man of gentle faith who pulled the Catholic Church out of the middle ages and showed that the church should have a voice in the modern world. In way too short a time as Pope he accomplished hundreds of years of reform. While some of it slowed down after his death, he gave faith a hopeful name. Pope Francis appears to be trying to walk in his holy shoes.
  • Archbishop Oscar Romero- El Salvadoran Bishop, he believed in liberation of the oppressed and to change a corrupt system based on wealth and prestige. He had called for Christian soldiers to put down their arms and stop oppressing the poor. A day later, as he stepped to the altar for the Eucharist, he was assassinated. The oppression of Jesus' followers can be just as powerful in Christian countries.
  • Elie Wiesel- Holocaust survivor, Nobel Prize laureate, the voice for the voiceless millions of World War II genocide. The only man on the list (other than Chavez) who I personally saw and heard speak. A gentle man who in his demeanor maintains that innocence that continues to ask the awful question, "How can this happen?" while always working so that it will happen "Never again!" He is an icon for me, an image that allows me to see into the pained face of God as God looked down on our human insanity of the 20th Century.
Many of these were paradoxes- mixtures of good and bad, healthy and unhealthy habits. Just like me.

Many were men of deep faith who allowed their faith to guide their whole walk in life. As a result, most were willing to stand up to the established order so that it would be more open and receptive to more people.

All, in their own ways, were rebels, radicals, even, hoping to make a difference. Whether through music, words, or actions, these individuals have shaped my faith and my outlook on the world. They all make sense to me. I have no idea if I could ever do what they did in the face of what they lived. When I look at them, I can only repeat what the father of a boy with an evil spirit said to Jesus:
I believe; help my unbelief.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
As I noted in the previous post last month, this is a list of men. They came to mind first probably because of the simple fact that I am a man and the ones who most moved me into so many challenges gave me different understanding about being male. In another upcoming post I will take a look at the women who are my heroes.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nerds Succeed

Watch out when nerds get successful. Like David Kwong on TED talks. He takes two nerdy obsessions- magic and crossword puzzles and puts them together. How does he do it? I have no idea but he's good.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Unsurprising Surprises

Like most everything else in the world, we should not necessarily be surprised by what happens when change begins. Just because we plan on the change, try to think through it, even believe we are ready for it, when it comes right down to it, we are clueless about how we will respond.

Or at least we need to be open to be surprised, shocked, enlightened and expecting the black swans we didn't know would happen to us. Last week the black swans came out of their hiding place and I was surprised that I was just like everyone else.

"This is what happens when you move into retirement," my wife said as I couldn't figure out why I was feeling like I was. "It can take months to be ready for this."

"But I was so ready," I wanted to say. "Why is this happening to me?" Yep, that good old fashioned expression of terminal uniqueness. Yep- I'm unique just like everyone else. That means when, even with a year of planning and processing, as the events truly do unfold, you begin to realize that this is really happening.

The times aren't changing- they have changed! It is a whole new world. All the things that move along with this change of movement toward retirement is one of those major life-events that bring to the front all the feelings of loss and grief. It is a time, again, when the passage of time becomes more than real- it is right there in your face. "Look at me! See me! This is real!"

It is as much a step into the unknown as the graduations from high school or college, the new career or new job. Even looking at this move as a "third career" for myself insulates me from some of the underlying issues of mortality, physical ability, health and change.

Then word came that a colleague had died suddenly. He went for a bike ride and collapsed. He is just ahead of me by five years. He is the first of my cohort to die in our older years. Several have died of cancer, AIDS and premature heart attacks. This one is that reminder of reality.

So I have been unfocused, distracted, angry, sad, working harder at staying healthy (bargaining?), depressed and just generally denying things.

I wasn't supposed to do these things. I was supposed to have worked hard so they didn't happen and I could just slide into this whole retirement with no repercussions. In short, I wanted to do it without the pain and the fear, the uncertainty and concerns that always happen.

But here I am anyway. Just like you or anyone else. So w hat do I do about it?

The same thing I have learned how to do over the past 25 years- accept it and move through it. Make the most of what I can do and let life happen. The Serenity Prayer comes to mind, of course:

God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.
But that is only the beginning. It is a deep sense of acceptance that must also be rediscovered anew each day. In order for that we all need to learn to look inside ourselves and be honest about what is happening- and then talk about it. Other people are essential to that process. They call us to be aware- mindful- of who we are and what is happening. Denial is not a healthy place to stay. It gets us stuck in what was instead of what can be.

So for myself, this (re)newed awareness empowers me by pulling me out of where I was into where I can go. That's all I have. That's all any of us has. So take that energy and channel it into hopeful and productive actions.

Let's see how that works.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Backyard Harvest

The time is getting close for these first cherry tomatoes of the season
With a promise of more to come
Not to mention peppers
And the still flowering hen and chicks

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A 45-Year Memory: Man on the Moon

A bunch of things happened in 1969. Perhaps the most momentous, July 20, when humans stepped onto another place in the universe for the first time.

I was working for WMPT radio in South Williamsport, PA, that Sunday afternoon. We switched over to ABC News feed and I watched the coverage on TV.

Much later I sat at home and saw the incredible fuzzy black and white pictures as Neil Armstrong made the giant leap for mankind.

I will never lose the awe of that day.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

In Memory: Johnny Winter

He looked and acted old when he started. His soul was that of a blues master.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Closing The Barn Door

Picture of the Chevy Truck on the concourse at Target Field after Futures Game MVP Joey Gallo's home run hit the windshield.

Perhaps, then, it is best to call this next picture, 
taken two days later of a different truck 
on the concourse at Target Field:

Closing the Barn Door After the Cows Have Been Stolen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


  • With Baseball: The All Star Game activities were wondrous and fun. More- much more to come. But it has taken its toll on my writing and sense of movement forward.
  • With Pictures: All that baseball has given me more than enough pictures to sort through, tag, classify, and decide what to keep. It is taking its toll on my writing and sense of movement forward.
  • With Change: I didn't realize it until my wife put it together for me at lunch today, I am just now beginning to really work on this whole retirement thing. I have been a little unfocused, preoccupied, and somewhat inattentive. That, too, is taking its toll on my writing and sense of movement forward.
  • With Ideas: Perhaps because of the first three, my mind is having a field day of thoughts and possibilities. Then they kind of flit around, go whizzing by the edge of consciousness, then dive back under the surface before some of them have a chance to be caught. Such takes a toll on my writing and sense of movement forward.

Forgiveness is therefore requested if any of this has had any impact on you. Not that I'm all that important, but I thought I would just say it anyway.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

All-Star Game Festivities: 1

It all started on Sunday at Target Field. A beauty of a day with all the pomp and fun of baseball - the summer game.

Bullseye with the ball outside the field.

The outfield ready for The Festivities!

The Futures lineup of teams. Flags for each country.

The MVP, Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers prospect,  hit a two-run homer in the sixth. It hit the Chevy Truck on the concourse. He may very well become a star!

The Legends and Celebrities softball teams.

Vikings football star Adrian Peterson hugging Snoopy.

Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers warming up with Peterson. Yes, Fingers still has his mustache.

Keep tuned. There's lots more to come.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Taking (Another) Walk

Just some pictures from my exercise walk last week. It seems like there's always something to take pictures of.

Rochester is a beautiful city.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

In Memory: Charlie Haden

One of the greats, Charlie Haden, jazz bassist died yesterday. A remarkable musician in many genres and styles. His bass gave foundation and life to a great deal of music. One of my favorites was his duet album with pianist Hank Jones, a Grammy nominated album in 1996.

Here is my favorite cut, Spiritual. Perfect for a Sunday morning. Rest in peace, Charlie.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hens, Chicks and Sand Worms???

It starts out with just a good, standard, backyard hen and chicks.

All of a sudden it starts to get these things that look like they are the prototype for the sand worms (or whatever they were) from Dune.

Then I realized that this is a flower... a real flower.

Or rather, these are flowers.

Many flowers.

Kind of neat, huh?

Friday, July 11, 2014


1) Futbol!
Go Argentina! No reason other than to keep Latin America strong.

1b) George Vecsey's book Eight World Cups is a fun read and a good way to get initiated into the futbol culture. You will also find out how corrupt FIFA has been.

2) All-Star Game!
Fun begins today in Minneapolis. I'll be there on Tuesday- another bucket-list-type of event.
Go American League!

3) LeBron who?

4) I missed this on 7/1. We've been Midwesterners for 30 years! I don't miss much from the East Coast except the closeness of the ocean. Other than that, give me the more open horizons. (I guess the oceans are a really open horizon!)
On Wisconsin! Go Minnesota!

5) Bart Ehrman has a book to refute those (very few) writers who have tried to say that Jesus actually never existed in any way, shape or form. It is an interesting book, considering the subject is really kind of "Ho-hum!" in theological circles. Never thought that Jesus DIDN"T exist.

6) If you are already three years behind on your reading, why would you even stop in the library and only get out more books to push the old ones further back? I guess I am addicted to reading. One book is too many and a thousand never enough.

7) I am trying to kick up my exercise a notch or two this month. I am attempting to do some exercise every day in July. (One month at a time!) So far I have been 11 for 11. This includes biking outdoors, biking indoors, a group cycle class, a group Indo-row class, a Yoga session, a hike and a 3.5 mile walk. If you get the chance to find an Indo-row class- do it!

8) Surprise! The most difficult of all the above activities? Yoga. It just never stops. Quite a good workout. And it's good for the soul, too.

9) A two-week break from music performances. But then four in one week. It is a melodic summer!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The [RANT] Again

I have had this rant before.

I will probably have it again.

But we are continuing to go downhill on the slippery slope of hatred, partisan bullheadedness, ideological stonewalling, making any disagreeing person the personification of evil itself, and the desire to lash out and punish others who disagree.

It has been particularly evident in the years since Obama was elected president, but a closer look will show that, I believe, it has been going on since Clinton was in office, was a little more subdued during W. Bush's term (due to 9/11 I am sure) and ramped back up when we elected Obama.

Even during that slightly more subdued era with W. it was still there. Bush was seen by many as an evil man- or at least the evil puppet/front man of the truly evil Dick Cheney. Only the 9/11 attacks at the beginning of his term moderated the anti-Bush rhetoric for a while. Obama (and Clinton before him) did not have a Dick Cheney or a Donald Rumsfeld to be the surrogate devil. Eric Holder and Hillary Clinton have been some of that in this administration, (and now the VA) but overall, Obama, like Clinton, tend to be in the center of the spotlight identifying evil in our country.

This is just plain INSANE! (Here truly begins The Rant.) When have we become a country so divided that one side will attack the other when it does what your side had once advocated? When have we become a country that makes anyone, ANYONE, who disagrees with a policy or political position (read: ideology) is by definition unpatriotic, a menace to democracy, or even guilty of treason?

This is just plain INSANE! Democracy is NOT founded on a particular political ideology. It is not conservative or liberal. It is based on many things, including the will of the people. Yet both sides interpret the "will of the people" as being in 100% agreement with "our side" of the issue. The will of the people elects a president. But it also elects the legislators. OBVIOUSLY the will of the people encompasses BOTH sides. The will of the people is broad and deep and can be a very large umbrella.

But both sides refuse to accept the legitimacy of the other side. By ideological definition, the other side has to be wrong- because it isn't my side, the right side. Many political science students see this current divide in  our nation as beginning with Newt Gingrich who came into power on that type of bandwagon. Before that, in people like Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush the divides, while present, were also able to be bridged.

THAT is what a politics of democracy is all about. Discussion, discourse, finding middle ground, yes, even that horrible "c" word- compromise. Democracy does not work any other way. I don't care what the ultra conservatives or ultra liberal say. THAT IS NOT DEMOCRACY. It is an attempt at ideological bullying at best, and ideological dictatorship at worst.

And, again, BOTH sides practice it. Daily. Ad nauseum.

On Fox and MSNBC.

Across the Internet and Facebook.

I am %$^##**% sick and tired of it.

Yes, I lived through the previous years of division- the 60s with Civil Rights, the Vietnam War and Watergate. It was awful. Nixon was made the great Satan, but compared to today's discourse, he was downright cordial. His "enemies" list had nothing to do with ideology (though outwardly based on it) but was rather the result of his own mental health issues of paranoia and desire for power and probably addiction or alcoholism.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we are in reality a far more diverse nation than we have ever been. Most issues at this point are decided in polls by a bare majority. Yes, the polls jump all over the place depending on how you ask the question. You know- "Have you stopped beating your wife?" type questions. And yes, nonsense polls are presented every day that show some nonsense correlation instead of a cause that usually can be twisted and spun to support my side.

Example- I heard a question in a poll the other day:
Do you feel your freedoms have been eroded - or something of that general nature. A majority said yes to that.

The right-wing media pointed out that this is the result of Obama ignoring the constitution.

The left-wing media could have pointed to the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case or the beginning of the erosion of the constitution in the Bush administration.

BOTH SIDES WOULD HAVE BEEN RIGHT! (Sorry about resorting to yelling. This is a big issue for me.)

It is time for a change. Have there always been crazy extremists? Of course. They just have never had the wide public availability that social media and a 24-hour news cycle provide.

Do we need the whole spectrum of opinions? Of course. The conservative side reminds us of our limitations and the need to have a degree of common sense. (Yes, I said that. Don't kick me out of the liberal camp.)  We need the liberal camp to keep us on our toes and honest about our moral responsibilities to others.

I am a radical/liberal. But I also know that I can't have all my beliefs and ideas brought into law. That is not how democracy works. Do I get disappointed when "conservative" laws are enacted? Of course I do. But that is how we work in a nation like this. It is why, over the years, the pendulum swings back and forth.

I could go on rambling, since I have started down that path. I will stop. I have had my say. I pray that we will become more cautious in our rhetoric; I pray that we can learn to talk with each other, not at each other, or only with those we agree with. We wouldn't be here as a nation if that hadn't happened in 1776 and in many years since.

[Rant over. Back to the lazy days of summer.]

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Take a Break and Swing

This is the best and most profound swing song- in my not so humble opinion. Benny Goodman (clarinet), Gene Krupa (drums), Harry James (trumpet), Babe Russin (tenor sax) and Jess Stacy (piano). Sing, Sing, Sing! Nobody is second rate; everyone has incredible solos. This is the full 12-minute version from the famous Carnegie Hall concert in 1938.

This showcases very rare talent at its best. It also demonstrates why this song is the quintessential swing number. It cannot be beat.

So take your 12 minutes and enjoy, scratches and all.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Things With Wings

Whitewater State Park, like the rest of Southeastern Minnesota is settling in for summer. Lots and lots of green, especially since we seemed to be living in a rain forest the past month or so. Last week's visit to the park brought some pics of fauna and not as much flora. To be specific- here are pictures of

Things With Wings

We'll call this one The Pollinator

Ooops! Forgot these other things with wings- birds....