Archive - Nov 2013


November 15th

Catalina Mountain Moonrise


Taken at sunset tonight from the front porch...

First customer

Here is the obituary for Jeanette, who I will always remember as the first customer I ever waited on at the nursery. 

In the early days, Grandpa never kept hours. You were free to come when you were free. Jeanette was a night owl, and she usually showed up late. Really late. It was 10 p.m. in May. Mom and Dad were exhausted. And up drove Jeanette. I offered to go out and wait on her, even though I didn't know prices or how to use the till. Dad said, go do the best you can. I was in second grade.

Jeanette and I were friends after that. I have enjoyed seeing her in the Halstad Living Center when I play there. I interviewed her for my book Pirates on the Prairie. She recalled driving home from Concordia College to attend the big game in Thief River Falls with her father. They could only find one ticket, so Jeanette sat in the car the first half while her father watched the game. They switched for the second half. It was 12 degrees. She had the radio on, the windows cracked open, and the radio on. 

Jeanette was not just a little eccentric. After she finished her late night shopping at the nursery, she drove 100 miles to Barnesville for a steak. It was the only steakhouse in the valley open that late, she claimed. She usually had an old man in tow, somebody near 100 years old. There were many different ones. They liked the free steak. 

We found out later that Jeanette never planted a single flower. She just let them sit in their pots until they died. All that work we did to stuff her car to the gills with flowers, and she never planted or watered them.  She also couldn't resist artificial flowers. In the barn on her farm, stall after stall was filled to the brim with artificial flowers. 

Jeanette had plenty of money from renting out the good farm land she inherited, but she also could be tight. Rather than buy a dryer, she hauled her wet laundry out to Augustana cemetery where she laid it out over the gravestones. The warm gravestones dried the clothes in a hurry. Not so crazy after all. 

In her later years, Jeanette became convinced that the FBI was after her. They had bugged her car. Last time she traveled to the Cities, she told me, she had to go 95 miles-per-hour on Highway 94 just to shake the FBI cars. Now that was something I would have paid to see! She could barely see over the wheel, and she sometimes wore a scarf. The visuals would make a great scene in a movie. 

After going into the nursing home, her "survelliance issues," as a mutual friend called them, subsided. They must have found the right medications.

Jeanette was educated and well-traveled. As with every old timer who dies, you wish her stories were written down. She was one of the reasons living in a small town can be so interesting. She will never be forgotten, at least as long as I am alive!

November 14th

Pushing forward

Pardon my absence, but I have been on a writing binge. This week I am averaging 4,000 words per day, which is an improvement over last week. I am working on two projects. When one hits a wall, I go to the other. That works well. My willingness to write is completely due to encouragement from an editor and a coach. Push on! they say, it will sell. Without such encouragement, subconscious doubts lead me to put off work to avoid the eventual rejection of my manuscript. That rejection will still happen, but then I just must be persistent. Keep presenting it. Publish it yourself. Whatever. Just keep the pen (or the cursor) moving and good things will happen. That is the advice I have been given, and it is good advice.  

One book is stories. I like to write stories. These are longer stories than my column, so this is a new exercise. They are stories that have been in my head for twenty-five years, so they require no original thinking. They only need to be written down. The stories do take on a new shape once on paper, but you have to accept that and...plow forward. That's another reason writer's get blocked: We can't face the stories of our imagination becoming actual stories on paper because the result is never what you imagined it to be. 

Also motivating me, frankly, is the sale of the nursery to brother Joe and his wife Kae, which we finished up before I left for Arizona. I didn't realize the deep effect actually signing the papers would have on my psyche. I have been utterly restless ever since, determined to create a new income, a new identity and a new daily routine. I have a little window of time before the wolf will arrive at the door. I must use it wisely. 

The words come more easily with practice. Today, a new record: 4,950 words in one day. I am not even close to the fifty pages per day U. S. Grant wrote when he pushed to get his memoirs done before cancer killed him. But I am well over the 250 words per day his publisher, the notoriously lazy Mark Twain, considered a successful day of writing. 

November 11th

Morning backyard visitors


Here are two of the three visitors of roughly equal size to pass through the backyard here in Tucson this morning...


November 10th

Triangle Ranch

Last night, I attended a gathering with friends at a ranch fifteen miles north of the northern fringe of Tucson, near the small town of Oracle. The party was to honor those who created this event in September. Of course, I was along, not as a participant, but a mooch––which nobody seemed to mind. There was a band. There was food. Some of the art installations were still up and lit. And the sky at 4,300 feet was vivid. 

The sheer number of arts events in Tucson is staggering. I have taken in three in the past few days, and there were hundreds I missed. The place has energy. The art tends to be whimsical, often humorous. Some of it has lasting merit, some was only intended to temporary enjoyment. You encounter some absurdity, but less than you might imagine. This place collects talent, and not just artists. 

What is most fun is the determination Tucsonites have to enjoy their city. You'd think they'd get used to the weather and not pass comment on it, but no, as we stood outside last night, people said "What a perfect night!" and just stood in awe. Never mind that it is about the fiftieth perfect night in a row. 

Cultural events in Tucson are well-attended, even though there are so many that you'd think the crowds would thin. 

Tucson is a very proud city, and in a very good way. 


November 10th

Tucson morning scene...

balooon 1.jpg 

Almost every morning this week, this has been the scene through the back windows. There must be a balloon staging area behind the mountain. 

Last night, a party at the neighbors celebrating their participation in the Studio Tour. The music? A bagpiper who studied piping for three years in Glasgow, Scotland. His partner on guitar is from Bulgaria, and specializes in the haunting rhythms and minor keys of that region. His website is here

No shortage of conversation. Also present: A jazz pianist originally from Minnesota and his wife, who spent her childhood in Hallock, MN and is now an authority on pottery finishing. The architect of the house I am renting arrived, as did his architectural partner. The two quickly fell into a discussion of various glues used to bind metal. There is a tape made by 3M, I found out, which is so strong that it is used as a substitute for welding. 

Over ambled a chemist, who contributed his knowledge of interlocking crystalline structures to the glue discussion. Then came a sculptor of old metal, the hostess, whose interest in glues took the conversation in another direction. 

Enter a delicate young woman, looking all of 17, who works in the Sudan as an archaeolgist. She is attempting to solve the puzzle of several massive mounds of slag, evidence of the production of iron, in the Sudanese desert. The mounds, which so far have been dated from 400-800 BCE ("which does us no good at all," she declared) are so high you have to take trails to the top. Because the chemistry of the diggings changes immediately upon exposure to sunlight and air, she does her digging at night and stuffs her samples in PVC pipe to be shipped back to the University of Arizona for analysis when she returns. 

The biggest hurdle? Getting the samples through customs. Things stuffed into PVC pipe tend to alert US border agents. No matter how many letters she has written and politicians she has appealed to, there still remains the possibility that her samples will be ruined by opening at the border, in which case, she has to go back to Sudan and find some more. 

The piles of slag were generated by a civilization which was not Egyptian, but clearly was attempting to imitate the more famous civilization to the north. Their pyramids are tiny, and most of them were destroyed by gold-seeking Italians in the 19th century. 

Nobody knows where all the iron produced went. The unbelievable masses of firewood needed for the smelting must have come from somewhere--one theory states that the smelting of that iron might have deforested the area and turned it into the desert it is today.

Enter the chemist. "Well, couldn't you isolate the isotopes..." with a suggestion for dating the material. "Oh, we tried that," the young woman replied. 



November 7th

First week

It takes a while to get settled in a new place and to get the mind settled. Today, it happened: I felt relaxed and at ease for the first time since arriving in Tucson. It blew hard for a while today, but that never lasts, and eventually it was a perfect mid-80s day.

I am working on two writing projects this winter, and so far I have averaged 2,500 words per day. I hope I can keep that up.

Called the Hilton to check in on Aunt Olla today. Her first line: "I can't complain about a thing!"

"Of course, my brain is no good. But others are worse off!"

She keeps asking when I will be home, which is a little hard as I have to be honest, even if I think it might be best to say one month. She asked four times today, and each time I told her, she sighed and said, "Yes, well, sometimes life is a little sad."

"But I had my time in the Southwest, too, so I guess you're entitled to it!"

I hate to introduce negative thoughts into her thought stream as they sometimes stick and she starts thinking about other bad things. But by the end of the call she was satisfied that we could stay in touch by phone.

Yesterday, Cousin Tina from Scottsdale came for a visit, along with John, her conference minister. Tina is ordained in the United Church of Christ, and John is that denomination's equivalent of a bishop for the Southwestern United States. He is a big baseball fan, so while Tina stayed back at the glass cottage, we went for a hike in Saguaro National Park and talked baseball. 

No rest for the wicked: John had to answer several phone calls regarding conference business during the day, which he had taken off. 

Later, we went to Miss Saigon, my favorite restaurant in Tucson, which only recently opened up a place very near here. What luck! Vietnamese food is healthy. And cheap. 

Today, I went for the lunch buffet at Ghandi, my favorite Indian restaurant in Tucson, only to find that they have opened up a branch in northern Tucson as well. Bonanza! The lunch buffet is all-you-can-eat and costs $7.50 with tax. Very good. Healthy food, too. 

Otherwise, I have been cooking for myself on the nice cookware provided in the glass cottage. The stove is propane, so that makes it fun. 

This weekend, the next door neighbors are part of the Pima County Open Studio Tour. There will be traffic in the neighborhood for the first time since I arrived. Pat's excellent work can be seen here. To make the art requires a lot of metal, so they have quite a compound over there. Looks like an old farm yard. 

Inside the house, they have a Steinway piano which they let me play!

So, life is good. 


November 4th

Back yard saguaro


November 3rd

Dia de los Muertes


Although this picture is blurred, it captures the chaotic spirit of the 60,000 people who took part in the Dia de los Muertes procession in downtown Tucson last night. 

kids dia.jpg

These kids, believe it or not, were some of the least dressed up and painted. But since I am shy about asking for photos, the only people I dared ask to pose were kids who were happy to ham it up. 


The number of young people in the photos of the deceased was jarring. 

November 1st

Settling in

Boy, did I ever hit the jackpot renting this winter. I am in a glass cottage on a three acre plot. I will post pictures as I go along. I have a view of the mountains in both directions. I am able to open up the doors during the day and let the breeze come through. At night, I have an overview of the city of Tucson and its twinkling lights. Yet, thanks to the ordinances controlling light pollution, I am able to see the stars just fine. 

I am at the end of a gravel road. No traffic. Yet, 1/2 mile away is the start of a long bike path. I brought Lance's bike down and rode 14 miles this afternoon. It was sunny and hot. Beautiful. 

Okay, here are some pictures. Pay no attention to the listed price...I got a nice deal for staying three months. (I wouldn't want you to think I am a spendthrift.) 

Lance stayed back to do some work. He has no problem with winter, unlike me. But today he came down with fever and the flu, so I don't feel right not being able to make him chicken noodle soup as he did for me when I had my tonsils out! 

I spent the rest of the day settling in and stocking the kitchen. 

Tonight, I introduced myself to the nearest neighbors and ended up staying for supper. Wonderful people. Sculptors now, but I biochemist and a veterinarian during their earlier careers. 

I will have plenty to write about this winter.