Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mississippi River Challenge - 2010

Hey, it would be really cool if anyone is interested in helping my pledge goal for this year's Mississippi River Challenge! It would be even cooler if you thought about joining this incredible event yourself!!! Click HERE.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Proud Democrat - Proud Hibernian

I attended the wake of an old friend's father this past weekend. I had grown up across the the street from him and our families knew each other both from the proximity of our habitations and having attending the same Catholic school.

He had a fairly big family. A wife, 2 sons and 2 daughters, alternating in male-female as the ages descended. The final two were twins and, although older than me, we grew up camping out in their back yard, playing in their back woods and, of course, building things in the sandbox behind the garage.

Their father was an American Irishman through and through and both he and his Irish wife even belonged to the Ancient Order of Hibernians. I spoke with him seldom, but will always remember him purposefully waddling down the back stairs onto the driveway, dressed in his overalls and on his way to work at 3M. He would say hello, perhaps a short word or two to my friend and then off he would go.

It was the early childhood days I most remember being there, and then again during the High School days, as me and my friend became close once again. My friend would be working out all night in his garage on one of his cars or, at times, helping me with mine.

My friend gave them some hell-raising to contend with during the High School days and then he was off to fight in the Gulf War. When my friend returned, he was different. No one could quite put their finger on it, but he was. Perhaps partially due to Gulf War Syndrome, my friend began to show signs of schizophrenia. His family would end up looking after him ever since as he faded away into somewhat of a reclusive state, once he remained faithful to his medication.

So, almost a decade had past when I learned that is father had been diagnosed with lung cancer and given 6 months to live. Three months later, he died. Before the end of his life he got in as much fishing in as possible! When he started to fade, he remained at home. The family was able to spend his very last hours, together.

The visitation was at the funeral home near the water tower that we once played in and around as kids. I approached the coffin and never saw a man that looked so much like the man I always remembered. With union and party pins upon his lapel, arms folded across this broad, round, yet diminutive frame, I knelt, made the sign of the cross and gave my last respects to the man.

After speaking to the family, who had forgotten who I was with the passage of time, I spied my old friend standing at a different part of the room. He was short like his dad and began to become round himself. I was proud of him though. To have had to contend with a crippling mental illness and yet be there around so many people.

He immediately recognized me. I shook his hand and gave him a quick squeeze about the shoulders with my arm. It was a relief for both of us, I think. I had spent many years extending my interest in correspondence, but knew that he mostly lived a solitary life and would contact me if it was healthy for him to do so. His way of speaking was slow and seemingly calculated, but he recalled old names and acquaintances with ease. He said that things had been good, he had been sticking to his medication, practiced guitar for 2 1/2 hours a day, had dinner with his folks once a week and got his sideburns and ponytail trimmed once a month. He even went out of his way to write down his name and phone number on an envelope. He rejoined his family and I made my way to see the display of his father's life.

First there was a board full of fishing pictures. Some of these were quite recent. There he was with his boat and friends holding all varieties of fish proudly in his hand. Then there were pictures of him as a little kid, in a rowboat, in his Air Force Uniform and with his parents. He had been a cook during the Korean War and there he was in his long, white, cook's uniform.

Later boards had family pictures, a letter from a proud Irish in-law, a picture of their old dog Duke, who once peed on my leg and whose doghouse we used to climb into, next to the garage. But the board that seemed to be the most proud, even more so than the Irish one, was the one that shouted: "Proud Democrat!" Upon it were campaign buttons that went back into the 1950's and pictures, bumper stickers and memorabilia that reminded you of the essence of being a DFL'er in Minnesota.

Those last images, of my friend's dad, waddling down the driveway with his overalls, his conductor's hat and lunchbox in hand, will be the ones I always think of when I think of Vern.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

From Summer's End to First Snowflakes of Fall

We were blessed with an almost surreal succession of weeks with beautiful weather. Days were warm, evenings cool and skies, clear. We could have done with some rain, but it was hard to complain. It was as if summer has decided to apologize for its poor showing in earlier months and gifted us with the most gorgeous of weather!

At this end it's been quite fulfilling being able to tend to my own house and parts for weeks on end. I've been most fortunate with my new pursuits and they've afforded me the chance of shooting, writing, composing and post-producing projects focused on the river valley corridor.

I've also been published in the 2010 Saint Paul Almanac! After being encouraged to submit some work and after a panel judged hundreds of entries, mine was selected. I am very proud to represent the East Side and the article pays homage to its unique story of tradition and change. After looking at it after its publication, I find it somewhat boring. But I received many compliments following a public reading a few weeks ago. Here's to St. Paul!

Some of the last weeks of summer involved taking a cruise in my dad's 69' Firebird. He's nearing completion of the restoration and it now gets a good re-paint before winter. It brought back some of the ol' days, of cruising down McKnight, past Beaver Lake, with window's down and arm out the pillar-less windows. The later rays of the sun and the purr of a tight V-8 have always made the world seem most correct.

My new truck, a 2002, crew-cab Frontier, has been everything and more than I hoped for! It sits nice and with its muted bronze and black trim, feels right at home in any post-apocalyptic zombie film. It's already seen some good sights and is my most constant companion, along with tripod, camera and gear.

The weeks have also seen some co-production with my documentary-producer cousin, delving into music, independent video production, in our true green but creatively determined form.

Now comes the cold, upon us most quickly! It settled with little advanced notice and summer soon departedin a quick wisp. Last night I stood on my front porch as the cold westerly winds brought in the the snow, it's bright flecks caught in the calcium-orange glow of the boulevard lamp post. I'm glad I dug out and brought in the elephant ears from my garden. The koi will have to come from their pond soon!

I'm returning to the days of hosting my seasonal gathering, to bring in good ol' Samhein. The cold has come, but the colors are still holding their best hues in reserve. The next few weeks should bring their highlights.

I will get these words up with more frequency. I hope whoever still reads these is having a great October!


Sunday, September 6, 2009

I.O. on iTunes!

I have neglected to notify (those of you who've asked) when our music (I.O.) was available on iTunes. Well, it currently is! If you are interested, search for: I.O. - Beta. Or, you can click HERE.

For those who don't know, our music project I.O., has released a CD of ambient music. Essentially, ambient is a droney, atmospheric and, at times, melodic, music. More or less, it's good music to relax, meditate, or just have on in the background. Pieces range from the more lifting, relaxing, to the deeper chords of space. Pretty minimalistic stuff but its a nice break from having to hit arpeggios precisely! ;)

Node Records gave us a flattering review: IO.

Thanks for the interest and check us on on iTunes but know, you can listen to most of the tunes for free on our web page.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Next New Adventure

I love to walk in the rain
Look for me when its stormy
Down some lazy lane and I'll be there

I couldn't help but have this ol' Shirley Temple tune in my head as I ran the second half of Phalen in the pouring rain. With my phone/music device tucked into my shirt and the sheets making a thorough drenching of everything I was wearing, the monsoon-like waves of water provided a happy adventure in the otherwise longest stretch of my run.

Now I'm home the Phalen route, once relegated to a once a week event, has been happening with much greater frequency. With even the shortest run I attribute a degree of pain to the experience. But Phalen, with its bobbing pinks heads of bergamot at the shoreline, weaving, rising and steeply falling hills through canopies of burr oak, cottonwood and weeping willow, landscaping that lends itself perfectly to an outdoor Shakespeare performance and regular visitors than leave caucasians in the minority, remains my favorite place of reflection and rejuvenation.

My trip through South Dakota was successful. White lasting only four long days, it felt I was there for much longer. I did see some things that left lasting impressions.

On my entrance into the northeastern segment of the state I passed through many a farm field, as was to be expected. But in the dusk, I caught the soaring daredevil-ness of a crop duster. This yellow plane, with smaller fuselage and over-sized, squared-off wings to more easily provide lift at low speeds, hugged the ground closely and pulled up sharply in joyful acrobatics. His path was running adjacent to my own, so I was able to marvel at his playfulness for a good many miles.

I was heading into the heart of the Black Hills (after some easterly shoots) during the event many of you know as Sturgis. I can't say I was looking forward to it, other than applying my old adage of "at least I can say I was in the heart of the Black Hills during Sturgis." I was thinking of the concentration of biker rallies that I had experienced in Myrtle Beach. It was much different, however, as the bikers are spread out throughout towns such as Sturgis, Hill City and Deadwood. Yes, some main drags are closed down to allow the bikers to congregate, but, for the most part, it was well organized and seldom obnoxious.

I skirted occasionally rain and experienced a very hard thunderstorm up in a cabin, in the midst of Black Hill's forest terrain. But most of the weather was gorgeous! Blue skies with white puffy clouds. The dark green hills providing a variated backdrop to the green grassy clearings and historic towns settled in the valleys.

I made the customary stop at Mount Rushmore and happy to see the old Presidents which I hadn't seen since I was a wee lad. I walked in and took my shots with camera and tripod. It wasn't long before two park rangers approached me and, seeing that I was commercial with no permit, took me into custody. There are some laws I'm aware of and some I am not. Sometimes I've shot video in places that I did not know I could not. The fact was, I was in a National Park without a permit and I needed one.

The two officers were of different molds. One had little to say, enjoyed puffing out his chest and took my identification from me to run a background check. The other, was a bit more social and I asked him a bit about how he was assigned to posts.

The other came out and notified me that I had two options. One, that he could cite me and I be on my way. Two, that I erase what was on my camera and be on my way. "When you say 'cite' do you mean I citation?," I asked. "Yep," he answered in the affirmative, "$500." So, I opted for the latter and had them watch to see that I was erasing everything after Wall Drug through Rushmore. Then, I was happily done with that and on my way!

Happy to put the camera into retirement from destination video, I yearned for elsewhere. Next, was something I had not seen since very little. At that time it was nothing more than a hole blasted through a rock. It was Crazy Horse.

As I pulled into the parking lot, the monument in the distance filled me with one of those awe-inspiring moments. True, it would be many years before it would be completed, but it was truly awesome! You could see the fully completed face of Crazy Horse and a long straight portion of blasted rock which is where it outwardly pointed arm will be. Below this was the tiny hole that I saw when I was a child. But, we should, put things into scale.

The heads of the Presidents on Mount Rushmore are 60 feet high. Crazy Horse is to be 640 feet long. Really, it will be larger than any monument ever created and the most near-immortal artifact of our existence, if you think about it. Long after buildings and other artificial structures have long succumbed to the ravages of nature, this monument will be of the few lasting records that we ever existed! It is also being built in the round, so that it will be fully cut on both sides.

The controversy is a bit concerning. Some Lakota view it as sacred ground and also point to the fact that Crazy Horse himself never wanted to be photographed. Here we are, lead by the belief of an eccentric white man, carving into the natural rock that many Native Americans hold to be sacred. Russel Means used the example of going to the Holy Land and carving into Mount Zion. Well said. Another interested tidbit is that it is taking so long to construct because they only accept private funding. So, they don't accept any public dollars even when millions have been offered.

But I found myself as much moved by this as when I stood below the Parthenon, that very hot day in Athens. And this was being done in our time, represented of American culture and achievement and was arguably the greatest monumental undertaking in world history! Can you imagine what the the greatest ancient builders would think if they could gaze upon it now?

So, yeah. It left an impression. Also very impressive was the large Native American museum that has sprung up at the site. Very large, very stimulating. After watching the ok and somewhat outdated interpretive movie, I made a quick tour. I was on my way to zooming to the exit when my eye caught something. It was like a fish-hook pulling at the lobe of my ear that made me do an abrupt about-face and head to one display in particular. The costume designer of the movie New World had donated a good portion of the costumes to the museum. I was able to get up close and softly touch the raccoon and caribou robes that Christian Bale and Collin Ferrel spent a good deal interacting with. I wasn't so much star struck as I was beauty struck, the costumes being so reflective of the uncomprable imagery of the film.

By the way, there is something they called the Volksmarch at the first week of June, where you can actually walk out along the arm of Crazy Horse. If anyone might be interested in doing that next year, please let me know!

The last shoot I had was at an old ranch that was converted into a setting for rental cabins. It had been a three shoot day, with an hour or more drive in the morning, through some of the busiest Sturgis traffic. After the shoot, I would take a direct, ten-hour drive back home.

These cabins were set at the perimeter of the expansive ranch field. They were clean, well constructed and sat up upon the rising slope that rose into the Black Hills. I took shots of the cabins and surroundings and took some nice shots of the horses.

The sky was blue, the clouds were small, white and puffy and the sun and surrounding green felt of the best days in the Shire. I stood, with my sole companion of this last year and a half in my arms - my camera and tripod. It had been a wonderful run, all of this. The chance to see so many things, so many places and be with so many people, all in an aspect where I could delve within a culture, live in it and experience it for what it really was.

As the South Dakota sun beat down upon my face, I closed my eyes. I could feel the sun of the Emerald Coast of Florida and remember those clear waves I crashed into. With no one else in sight, on a similarly beautiful day and upon an alien-like shore. The sun was also warm as I climbed upon the rocks and looked upon Palm Springs from the mountain of San Jacinto. Buttes and valleys of Sedona, cricket songs in the vegetated tunnels on Bald Head Island of South Carolina, bumping all around green-stomached in the skies over Vermillion, in a submarine under the ocean waters in Aruba, kayaking with rays jumping in the mangrove waters around me, driving white-knuckled in Colorado mountains and breaking trail downwards in my first venture in a snowmobile. From turtle hospitals to helicopter rides, curried goat to rocky mountain oysters. Getting lit with a bunch of cowboys, Aussies, Brits and Irishmen or sitting at a quiet table listening how the largest things were created from the simplest of dreams. It's all been pretty amazing stuff, it has. I am extremely grateful.

But, I open my eyes, take one last good look around and know, I'm ready to go. It's now on to the next fantastic adventure!!!