End of Summer

I started back to work at school over a week ago now. The boys start this coming week. Though the calendar says otherwise, summer is about over.

I wanted to make the most of it this weekend. Even though it was a tiring week, and Friday was a long day, we decided to picnic and take in a concert at Lake Harriet. It's probably the last of the summer for us. The boys wanted to swim in the lake before the concert started (I waded out, but I'm afraid I'm a wimp in cold lake water).

The music was by S. Carey. If I knew much about the music scene these days I would have known that he's the drummer and back-up vocalist for Bon Iver. It was a good concert. Afterward they were showing Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? I know it's not a "family-friendly" movie, but we stayed for part of it, and the boys were really enjoying the humor in it. It was a beautiful evening, too. Great weather, few bugs, a starry night. Perfect.

I managed to score a pass to the Minnesota Zoo yesterday at the library. The boys had been wanting to go all summer. I hadn't seen a pass there in the last couple of months (and the museum pass program ends next week, which we're super sad about, but thankful we got to participate in it). Even with two free admissions, it cost us $30 just to get in. There was some special dinosaur exhibit the boys had also been wanting to see there. It turned out that it was an extra fee, so we unfortuantely didn't get to see it. I think we'll be doing our zoo trips to good old free Como Park Zoo from here on out. It was a rainy day, but the boys enjoyed getting to see all the animals.

But gone are the days of putting the boys on their bikes for a little trip, or visiting a museum, or going swimming, or...well, doing anything during the week except school. I'm still hoping to get in some weekend camping yet. But I'm going to miss summer. There was so much I intended to do.

Yet, I'm also going to enjoy autumn. We get back to having a schedule, and the boys are in bed earlier. Good sleeping weather and colorful trees are on their way.  I guess with any changing of the season, there is pleanty to miss and plenty to look forward toward.

Anders has the same feelings on his birthdays. He looks forward to all the things he gets to do as he grows older, but he also misses the things that were only options when he was younger.

Time marches on, the cycles continue in their own rhythms despite our prodding or reluctance.We have little choice in the changing of the seasons or the passage of time, excpet to use it wisely. Cherish the moments. Find things to be thankful for each day. Work hard, and enjoy life.

So, good-bye summer. Hello 2012 school  year. It's going to be quite the journey.


Wild Peace

One last poem I wrote while in the Boundary Waters.

There is peace.

The only sounds are from birds, insects, the wind, and the water.
Any other noise, we have made ourselves.
I read that peace is not just the absence of conflict
But the absence of injustice as well.

I wonder if there is injustice here...
Certainly not everyone "leaves no trace"
As is evident by remnants we discover at our campsite.
But most people here respect the wilderness.

And the wilderness does what it is supposed to:
The eagle swoops and catches its prey;
The moss breaks down the decaying birch branches;
The loons swim, dive, and call to one another;
The chipmunk scampers, gathering hazelnuts.

And maybe that is why there is peace:
Because all creation does what God created it to do.


A Look at a Canoe Trip

We just returned yesterday from four days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. We went with two other couples (one of whom we had never met before, but that's another story). It was the first time my wife and I had been in the Boundary Waters together--at least for more than a day trip. I'm thankful she initiated making arrangements for us to go.

Here's what a canoe trip looks like:

Beginning a portage
Paddle, paddle, paddle. The lake we camped on was around 5 miles long. It's not the largest by any means. I have no idea how much we paddled each day. One day we just explored the lake we were on so we did about a 10 mile trip.

Carry everything on your shoulders. To get from lake to lake, you portage. First you carry your canoe. Then you go back for your packs. Distances are measured in rods. One rod is the average canoe length: 16.5 feet. Our longest portage was 147 rods: about a half mile. But a portage is seldom flat terrain. Often you go up, then down, then up, and then down again. Possibly several more times. And there are usually pointy rocks dotting the trail. And tree roots. None of this makes carrying a canoe on your shoulders easy. Also, because of rains the previous day, the path of the long portage became a small stream--which somehow managed to flow down the front side of the hill as we climbed up it as well as down the backside as we made our way to the next lake.

Set up camp. We stayed in one place for all three nights. My last trip we kept moving. It's nice to not have to move. We were able to explore neighboring lakes and only have to portage with canoes and a food pack, which is nice.

Your toilet is in the middle of the woods. With no walls around. Just a tube, sticking up out of the ground. Ours happened to be a decent hike up a hill from our campsite. Of course, a toilet is not always needed...

Your food must be hung up in a tree every night...preferably between two trees, at least 12 feet off the ground. You do what you can to make it inaccessible to bears.

Your food is all camped over a fire (typically on a small camp stove). And all of your food you have to carry in on your back. Any campfires you desire must be made from dead wood you have found on the forest floor and brought back.

If you want to bathe, you jump in a lake. Many lakes are deep (over 100 feet). And almost all are quite cold. You may find a few spots of warm water near the shore, but generally the lakes don't get much above 60 degrees.

Our "bathroom"
Nature is your best friend--and your worst enemy. It happened to be our best friend on this trip. We hardly had any bug issues--which is rare. Normally flies and mosquitoes are a campers' bane in the North Woods. I didn't put any insect repellent on, and didn't need to. We had perfect weather--in the 70s most days, cooler at night. No rain until  the last morning when we had a few brief sprinkles. We were all hoping for the excitement of seeing a moose or a bear or some large mammal. Moose scat is the closest we got. But there were plenty of loons and several eagles. And of course wildflowers, birch trees, and evergreens galore. One of the nights was the peak of the Perseids. We laid out on one of the large boulders along the shore and star-gazed. None of us stayed up long enough to see the meteors in mass, but we saw several before turning in for the night.

It's wonderful stuff, this canoeing in the Boundary Waters. We're figuring out how to functionally be able to go with our children next time. It's feasible--it just requires some adjusting.

It is, for the most part, roughing it. I know that's not for everyone. But it is a beautiful place. Canoeing is good for the body and soul. And you will find few places as peaceful (unless there's a storm, but we didn't encounter that, so we're good).


Poems from The Boundary Waters

Muscles flex, paddle dips,
A miniscule eddy forms
As our red canoe propels forward.
As the paddle feathers back
Over the water's surface,
Droplets slide off the blade.
The boat, the water, and we
Become one as we journey
Across lake and land.

I hear little noise except
The haunting cry of a loon
And the waterfall across the lake.
The water is still.
The stars are emerging;
Chunks of space rock
Burn as they streak
Across the black sky
Making a spectacular night show.



We were camping in Illinois last week on our way to the family reunion, so we missed the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games. I didn't get to watch any events until late Thursday night after we returned home, so the last few days the television has seen more on time that it has all summer.

As most of you know, I don't put a lot of time into watching televised sports. The Olympics is the one exception. I watch as much of the Olympics as I can.

I love the events--especially some of the ones we don't get to see very often. It's fun to see something like water polo, kayaking, or archery, rather than the usual professional sports.

The sportsmanship in the Olympics is laudable. While everyone is cheering for their home country, they still cheer whole-heartedly for the other competitors. One of my boys commented on how they were surprised to see the athletes who "lost" congratulate the winners. And the medal placers congratulate the "losers." There is seldom any jeering. Spectators as well as competitors encourage and support everyone alike. Especially the underdog.

And possibly one of the most compelling parts of the Olympics is the stories we get to hear behind the athletes (and thank you, Visa, for getting Morgan Freeman to narrate your inspirational commercials which briefly highlight some of those stories).

Who will forget this year seeing a double-amputee from South Africa run a race--and do so well? Or a legally blind archer from Korea helping his team receive a medal? Or a former refugee who used to run for his life, now running for the enjoyment of the sport.

Prince and princess are on the same playing field as the commoner. Every participating country had a female competitor for the first time ever. And while the smaller, less developed nations usually don't have the financial backing for training their athletes, often an athlete from an underdog country ends up in a medal-winning heat here and there.

I know there is plenty of controversy behind parts of the Olympics, but there is much I can appreciate. So, thank you world, for coming together for a couple weeks, putting aside our political differences and cheering each other on. We need more moments like this to celebrate and encourage one another.


Tom Sawyer, Caves, and Childhood

Today we journeyed to Hannibal, Missouri. The quaint (and slightly run-down) village nestled in the bluffs along the Mississippi River is home to Titanic survivor Molly Brown (The Unsinkable). I know very little of her life--other than it was portrayed by Kathy Bates in the James Cameron movie and that she had other movies made about her--so we didn't even look at her birthplace.

Instead we hit the attractions focused around the town's more famous celebrity: Samuel Clemens (the real name of author Mark Twain). The boys and I had just finished listening to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on our drive. On a previous trip, we had listened to the CD about Huck Finn.

The boys had enjoyed the adventures of the stories: dead bodies, mystery, boys playing hooky from school, rafting down the Mississippi River, exploring caves. What's not to like?

We stopped in town and walked along the old buildings of downtown, including Samuel Clemen's boyhood home. The boys pretended to whitewash the fence next to the home. We climbed Cardiff Hill to the overlook of the river valley.

Then we journeyed to our main destination: the Mark Twain Cave. The boys hadn't been in an underground cave before. There's not much that's spectacular about this particular cave. It has few grand formations--very little in the way of stalactites or stalagmites. But there is history (almost 200 hundred years)...and more important, there is imagination connected to Tom Sawyer's story.

We saw where Injun Joe died trying to escape, where Tom and Becky sat and ate cake, where the cross was that marked the treasure room, and much more imaginative history.

There are thousands of signatures in the caves
 (which hasn't been allowed since the 1970s)
--we saw some dating back as far as 1865
Maybe Hannibal, Missouri, survives because of nostalgia (as if that were entirely a bad thing). I think it largely survives because of the embrace of childhood. We all need the chance to return to a simpler time every once in a while--no responsibilities, nor pressure, just time to explore and have fun. I think that is largely why Mark Twain wrote his stories--both for us and for himselof.


In the Land of Lincoln

We visited the re-created village of New Salem, Illinois, a few days ago. In the 1930s Abraham Lincoln spent his young adult years there. It's been painstakingly recreated with archeological research to show where the original sites of the buildings were and using no metal nails in building some of the buildings (we noticed wooden hinges and pegs on a door).

When Lincoln steps out on his own, away from the shadow of his parents, he settles in New Salem. It is an obscure village northwest of Springfield--which, if I recall correctly, wasn't the state capital then; Lincoln would lobby for that move later--with just twenty some buildings.

He gained respect there (it is where the legendary wrestling match occurred). But he also experinced much failure. He ran for a state congressional office and lost. He went in with another village to start up a new store (which there was already one in town, so I'm not sure what they were thinking trying to succeed with a second store in a town that small). After a couple of years it went belly-up.

While becoming a reputable surveyor (a job for which Lincoln had no training), the local law enforcement seized his surveying tools as well as his horse and saddle to auction off for paying off what was owned on the store. Then he turned to law. He had only about a year of formal education, but Lincoln managed to become a lawyer. It was because of his love for books--as well as learning in general. He never gave up.

The village of New Salem only started a couple of years before Lincoln arrived. A couple of years after he left, and the village had pretty much disappeared. But, at least as they like to entice the tourists with, the small little town of New Salem seemed to have had a swaying impact on the man who would become our nation's sixteenth, and arguably the greatest, president.

May wherever we land ourselves shape us for the best.

Family Reunion

The Leo Trumper home
The boys and I are returning from our trek to Pana, Illinois. Every year for the past 66 years the descendants of the Leo Trumper family (and cousins of various names--Werners, Sprects, Yencks, and others I may not know) have gathered at the original homesite for a family reunion. Relatives from New Jersey, Michigan, Arizona, and even Beijing, China, this year, travel to spend time with each other for a weekend.

It is my maternal grandfather's side of the family. I never knew him--he died before my parents were even married. I didn't know a lot of that family, either. We didn't get to make the trip a lot when I was young. I've gone many more times since I've been married, but it still hasn't been that frequently--at least as frequently as we'd like.

Even though I didn't grow up close to these cousins of varying degrees, when we arrive in Pana it is like we have always been close. Even now, as soon as my boys get out of the car, they know they are surrounded by family who love and accept them.

We gather at the home where my grandfather and his six siblings grew up as children. I'm not sure when the last time anyone lived in the old house was, but it remains--largely unchanged--solely for the purpose of the reunion. My Aunt Madeline used to come out from Maryland and stay for longer chunks of the summer in the house--in the room she grew up in--but she isn't able to make the journey any longer--at least not very easily.

The boys and I stay in the house when we visit (Beth has been doing research and field work the last couple times we've gone, so we make the journey without her). The bed sags in the middle. The floorboards creak. The paint is peeling. The bathroom contains a large four-clawed bathtub and a toilet which you can't flush the toilet paper in because the septic system can't handle it. It is not a house you would typically want to sleep in alone. But we never have to. My mom's cousin Denise and her kids are always there as well. Up until a year ago, her father was always there also. As well as anyone else who was up for the quaint amenities.
The Great-Aunts & Uncles

Most everyone there is called an "aunt" or "uncle" regardless of their relation to you. The oldest generation (my mom's true aunts and uncles) still get called that by my generation. The older cousins become my kids' aunts and uncles. We're all family (including the non-family members who often come--boyfriends, girlfriends, even just regular friends).

My Great-Aunt Denise would often show up in the mornings with an offering of pastries, orange juice, and the local parish paper to let us know what time mass would be on Sunday. She doesn't do it much any more (it was often for her late brother Vic who stayed there), but she always did it silently, not wanting to draw attention to herself, but to serve those who were staying in the house.

My Great-Aunt Mary and Uncle Richie always get the house in order and prepare boundless feasts for those who arrive early and stay late.

The big gathering is on Sunday afternoon. Everyone contributes to a wonderous potluck. Most of us complain about having eaten far too much. Yet we still find room for dessert and leftovers later in the evening. As well as a run across the street to the Dairy Queen which my Great Uncle Paul first started.

Nils on the swing
We have our traditions: after the meal there is a water fight and then Uncle Richie brings out bags of northern white beans and straws to have "pea shooter" fights. The yard always has a swing made from a sack tied to rope hanging from a tree. Whenever a train comes down the tracks behind the house the kids love to gather apples that have fallen off the trees to throw at the cars. We'll put nails, pennies and other small objects on the tracks to see how the train cars misshape them. We generally do a lot of sitting around in chairs on the lawn talking and watching the kids play.

As an ordained minister, even though I am not Catholic like most of the family, I still am asked to pray for the meal whenever I am there. It sometimes feels like a weighty burden that I am not worthy of doing. But no matter what, I am accepted.

That is what being family is. I know they're not perfect. And often they're a little too obvious or confessional in their imperfections, but the Trumper family is a place where all are welcome and accepted. They are giving, loving servants who love to share and take care of each other. I think--at least I hope--that family is a little glimpse of Heaven. At least all those good parts.