Catching Walleye

Walleye are nature’s wonders, big-eyed fish torpedoes of muscle and teeth, longer and more streamlined than bass — and better tasting.  They’re found only in clear, cold water, deep and away from light. When hooked, walleye are not as frantic on the line as smallmouth bass, but they’re more determined not to give in.  I caught my first last week and it made a lasting impression, not to mention a delicious meal.

You can’t horse in a walleye.  It’s deep in the water and reluctant to be pulled in. You have to set the drag (the line resistance) on the reel and give the fish room to run until it tires and yields to the net.  If you stop the line from going out as the fish fights, it will likely snap the line and be gone, leaving you with a still rod, an empty stringer and an aching sense of disappointment. It reminded me of the attitude of many who rail against the new and declare that there can be no compromise with forces of change.

But, life is change. Holding change unacceptable and to be resisted at all cost is like stopping the reel on a walleye: you’re likely to be left alone, bitter and empty-handed. There are two options: you can wage a losing war against change. Or, you apply yourself to change, set the drag and give it some room to run.  Then, maybe, you can manage it and reach a point where you and the new are adapted to the future.

One thing is sure, change will come.  It’s just a question of where you will be at the end of the day.

“Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'”.
Bob Dylan, “The Times They are A’changing”

Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-changin’ Lyrics | MetroLyrics

ed with walleye

But I digress. . .


What I Saw

Simple pleasure from a simple-minded activity:

The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good,
That day, giving a loose my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.
From Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mudtime”

log splitting 1A recent storm deposited a butternut hickory across one of our trails. As hickories go, it was a juvenile – about 25 feet tall, fully leafed out and heavy with nuts. We were surprised that such a tree would go over in a moderate wind. Closer inspection showed that even thought upper sections were solid, the base of the trunk was completely hollow. Nature, as usual, knew what she was doing.

log splitting 10

It was an excellent example of the proverbial ill wind that blows nobody good: The tree was perfect for firewood with a straight trunk and as big around as a basketball at its base.  On top of that, it was easy to get to. So, chain sawing began.

Under the heading that the trouble with life is one thing always leads to another, the tree had been growing at the top of a steep rise above a creek, so predictably one good log when cut rolled down the hill.  When I went for it, I found two huge highly invasive bush honeysuckles.  So, I went back up the hill and slid down with the chain saw and stump killer.  Having dispatched the honeysuckles and not wanting to waste a good slide down a steep bank, I thought I’d look around down there and found a couple of osage orange trees, known locally as hedge apples and known to me personally as the devil’s favorite tree. So, I took care of them and, bettering Sysiphus, got the log back up the hill.

But I seriously digress.

You’d think I never had felt before
The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
The grip of earth on outspread feet,
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.
More from Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mudtime”

Having cut the tree into usable logs, I chose a big one as a chopping block, stood a smaller one on top of it and tried the maul.  The hickory split like a dream, totally different from dense osage orange wood which laughs off even a solid whack of the maul.  A blow or two with the maul split hickory logs a foot across and twenty inches long with a sound so satisfying that I can only compare it to the clatter of bowling pins that comes with a strike.

log splitting 4

log splitting 6

log splitting 7

Stacking fire wood for the winter of 2016, I recalled fondly my Aunt Gladys who died at 96.  She made wonderful gooseberry jam. When she was 92 or so, she had my ever-gracious brother-in-law Steve plant a gooseberry bush in her back yard, knowing that it would take two years to bear fruit. Optimism is necessary for longevity and makes it worthwhile.

But I digress (again). . .

Reflections on China Trip – Volume 5: Yes, Virginia, There is a Shangri-La

Visit to Shangri-La. . .

Shangri-La’s first appearance was as a fictional paradise in James Hilton’s “Lost Horizon”, a novel that caught the world’s imagination in 1939.  (Hilton also wrote “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”, a much better book.)  Shangri-la was populated with monks, Himalayan beauties and citizens who live for hundreds of years in the mountain air; it was completely fictional.  Like “Catch-22”, the word has become so ubiquitous in English that we forget that it didn’t exist until an author invented it.

So, Shangri-La didn’t exist, or so I would have bet, but I was behind the times: There is in fact a Shangri-La.  It is a small (by Chinese standards) Chinese-Tibetan city located 10,000 feet up in the foothills of the Himalayas, in western Yunnan province.  I would have won my bet in 2001 because it was only in 2002 that the town of Zhongdian changed its name to Shangri-La to capitalize on all the visitors to China who wanted to visit that mountain paradise.  Now, thanks to the genius of modern marketing and a certain Chinese flexibility as to history, they can.

I can’t vouch for longevity of Shangri-La’s citizens, but I can vouch for Himalayan beauties, mountain vistas, frosty air, Buddhist temples filled with scarlet-robed monks, yak steaks and friendly people with exotic customs. Our guide told us that a friend of his had run over a rare snow leopard.  In the best Chinese tradition he took it home and had it for dinner. monks It was cold there. The last night we wore coats and gloves at dinner as the restaurant was  heated only by a small charcoal stove and any heat had to get past a gaggle of Chinese to reach us, which it didn’t. In case you’re thinking of warming up with a hot shower, hotel warning: At that altitude,  long, hot showers may result in oxygen deprivation and fainting. It was the first time I ever got out of breath napping.

On the way to the hotel we passed a group of men by the road looking at a bonfire. I wondered aloud, why, since it was so cold and wood so scarce, they didn’t take the wood home to heat their houses.  “Ah,” said our guide, Hwang, “they are making a cremation”.

And so we bid good-bye to China.  Perhaps we’ll meet again one day.

But I digress. . .

Reflections on China Trip – Volume 4

Recollections of China continued… Various signs in Kunming airport men’s room (in English): “The civilization in the restroom determines the level of a nation’s civilization.” “Caution – slippery slope.” “Do not stamp on toilet seat.”  This last is due to, I suppose, a long ingrained habit of squatting. In the elevator of the Shangi-La Hotel in Guilin: 8 year old Chinese girl to me:  “Good morning.” Me, speaking very slowing:  “Your English is excellent.  Where are you from?” Chinese girl: “Toronto.” You can never forget you’re in China.  One minute you want to embrace it, breath it in, become one with it. The next minute you’re thinking, Lord, get me out of here. Other than the temples there are few old buildings. Most were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. It’s interesting to speculate what China would be like if Mao had been constrained. In all events, China is a wonderful place, full of surprises and wonder.  The people are gentle and kind though standoffish, but the slightest indication of interest is rewarded with a smile and a “hallow”.  In perhaps the most surreal experience of the trip, Debbie and I were waiting in line for security in the modern Guilin airport. Behind us was a large number of Chinese ladies, seemingly on a group tour.  One of them, a diminutive middle-aged lady, brushed against me when she sneaked up next to me so her friend could take a picture of the two of us. When I turned they looked apprehensive as if they’d been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.  I laughed and flashed the peace sign which in China means something like everything’s good.  This opened the flood gates of good will and laughter and we found ourselves caught up in an episode of Chinese amateur paparazzi.  Something like a dozen women, most of whom didn’t come up to my chest, snuggled up to Debbie or to me, one or two at a time, so that their friends could take a picture. This went on so long that I was afraid we were going to get in trouble with the security fellows who looked on stolidly but did nothing.  After a while the storm abated and we continued through security and to our gate.  If we ever saw any of those women again, I wouldn’t know; we were back in the standard Chinese mode of distancing ourselves but maybe our picture graces many a Chinese travel photo album. I can hear their friends now:  “Who, in God’s name, is that?” Ed with Chinese PrincessOne more China blog to follow. But I digress . . .

Reflections on China Trip – Volume 3

A Long Way from Home

We saw only a tiny bit of the huge country (visiting Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Yunnan and Chinese Tibet) so my describing it is like the blind man who, after grabbing an elephant’s trunk, said that the elephant was just like a snake.

Still, I’ll risk some random reflections in an effort to solve the riddle that is China in fifteen days:  We see very few Westerners, even in Hong Kong, so they’re still a novelty in many places; a billion and a half Chinese have no idea what my life is like; we cruise along an eight-lane highway watching women hack at a small plot of land with a grubbing hoe and men plow with oxen; a passerby is straight-faced, even stern, until you catch her eye and then she smiles broadly and uses her only English word “hallow”; a child squats and shits in the gutter of a busy city street (this is such a common practice that the children wear pants with slits in the crotch); and brightly lit stores sell things I had no idea what they were, even after I went in them; air pollution is unremarkable.

In Hong Kong, fighting jet lag which had its death grip on us, we found an English language tv station and caught the popular show of sportscaster Wang Dong who’s apparently very big in China.

There are construction and debris piles everywhere.  Toddlers are tended by old people. This is understandable since most are only children (and only grandchildren) due to China’s policy of heavy fines for Han Chinese who have more than one child. Even so, todders play at the construction sites.  They wander beside busy roads. Helmetless, they ride on the backs of motor scooters.

China appears to be an authoritarian state, but not a police state.  There are fewer police in evidence that in the U.S.  It appears that conformity and orderliness are imposed culturally and not from the top down. There are many tribes, languages and ancient grudges and suspicions. Nineteenth and Twentieth Century humiliations by European powers still rankle the Chinese.

In the rice terraces area, Zhang tribal women carry your luggage a half mile to the hilltop hotel on their backs in wicker baskets.  Men will carry you in a litter chair, one at each end.  They halfheartedly offered to take me and curiously seemed relieved when I declined.

woman with luggage basket

Grateful to be hungry any time, it means you aren’t sick.  But, the food is good and cheap as is the beer – $1.70 US for a large Tsingtao.

On a Li River cruise as lunch was being fixed at stern of boat:
Ed: “That’s kind of suspect.”
Canadian girl sitting across from us:  “Everything in China’s kind of suspect.”

More random thoughts to follow.

But I digress. . .





Reflections on China – Volume 2

Having funded various activities of grown child #2 who, because he’s living out of the country, occasionally needs payment for something with a US credit card i.e. ours, I am delighted with his developing sense of obligation.  Visiting him on our China trip, I found that my previous outlays were not only remembered and appreciated but to be repaid!  At long last, it was money in the bank for me as he paid back in the very local currency that I needed.  It is indeed the age of miracles.


But I digress. . .

Reflections on China Trip – Volume 1

Saturday night before a Sunday flight to China and some mixed emotions:

It was last fall when we first began to plan a trip to China and the spring trip seemed far, far off.  But, the days may drag, while the months fly by.  The long winter was over, spring came and our flight was the next day. I was greatly looking forward to seeing our son Jack for the first time since August.  I was interested to see where he lives and what he does and to meet his friends and students.

Under the mixed emotion category, 16 straight hours in a plane seat (not including the flight to Chicago) with the opportunity for 13 hours of jet lag; the dire warnings of the travel health office of the things that can go wrong in Southeast Asia; the opportunity to interact with people who have no idea what I’m saying and vice versa; eating things that I have no idea what they are; making my way around places where I can’t read the signs.  On the plus side, I’d given up alcohol for Lent; however, they don’t have Lent in China so I was good there.  Well, since I’d spent more on the trip than I paid for my first house, I was going to go and, by God, enjoy it.  So, here’s to good luck:

chinese symbolBut I digress. . .

Textito, ergo Sum

I attended a wonderful John Prine concert recently. I certainly hope it won’t be my last, but since he’s about my age, well. . .

But that’s not why I asked you here.

During the concert there was an epidemic of taking i-phone pictures.  At least once during the performance, a third of the audience in front of me held their phones up so that everyone behind them caught the screens’ glare.  Not satisfied just to take a picture to prove to themselves that they were actually there, many videoed long swaths of songs.  So, in addition to distracting others, they were missing the performance itself. Of course, then they hunch over their phones so that they can send the picture off into the textosphere. All the while, the concert continues.

This got me thinking about how driven some people are to document their experiences rather than simply enjoy them.  What to make of this urge to mediate experience through social media?  

As, if i don’t post a picture of the concert, did I go?

If I don’t post a travel picture, was I really there?

If I don’t post a picture of my dinner, will I have eaten?

If I don’t post pictures of my dog, do I have one?

If I don’t post a selfie, do I exist?

Whence this desperation in which we cannot accept the existential reality of an experience without filtering it through electronic devices and social media? We photograph and post our surroundings, the food we’re eating, the sights we’re seeing, even as we hope to experience, eat and see.  Instead of just looking, seeing, greeting, eating, we need to photograph and post during the experience as if it’s not happening otherwise. Immediacy is everything. Where do contemplation and introspection come in?

As Descartes could put it, “Je blog, donc je suis.” – I blog; therefore, I am.

On this topic, watch for my Poetry Monday blog with Wendell Berry’s poem “The Vacation”

But I digress. . .

Digressing further, if you like songs and don’t know John Prine (who wrote “Paradise”, i.e. “Daddy, won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County?” – do yourself a favor and check him out.  Here’s his performance of “Hello in There

Grown Children

We were lucky to spend time with each of our three children in the last few days. Two live within an hour of our place, but the third lives in southern China 8,000 miles away. Each is engaged in a productive activity, generally happy, healthy and trying to make the world a better place.  I am still inclined to parent, but they need less of the hands-on kind, as in “You’ve already told me that three times!” Each of them is a strong adult with ideas, activities and plans independent of input from me. Each is making her/his way in the world with competence, enjoyment and aplomb. I’m proud of that.

Still, I’m reflecting on those now long ago times – so fresh in my mind – when the five of us were a tight interdependent group whose lives revolved around each other.  Plans were made together; what we did depended on all of us.  As parents we knew, or at least thought we knew, what they were all up to.  But those days are long gone.  While I might like to bring back the times I was there for bed time, when I could read to them and smell their clean hair after a bath, and hug them in their warm fleecy pajamas before they went to sleep, those days will not come again and I take comfort in the kind of people they’ve become.  I wouldn’t have it any other way, and yet –

But I digress. . .



Happiness is. . .

Happiness is. . .

A late winter day
bright but cold,
wind light and
sky blue.
Splitting locust logs,
ice storm deadfall,
for next year’s fires,
swinging the ax,
winter-stiff muscles
warm and flex.
Coat and hat
get too warm.
A bluebird
beginning to sport
summer color
flutters away.
A cardinal on a branch
sings his heart out
for love.
The slant of the sun
says that spring is soon.
Sing your heart out
for love.

But I digress. . .