Friday, May 22, 2020


Today the apple trees are dropping their petals and the lilacs are coming in to their full bloom, filling our back yard with their fragrance.  We have such an abundance that we've delivered a bouquet of lilacs to two homes--Kristina Adams and Jack Walters and his wife Sirje Kiin.  We could do more, but today it rains, helping to give a good start to the vegetables we planted and the flowers and bushes we moved yesterday in anticipation of a good soaking from the sky. 
Last night we watched an episode of Hoarders, where a couple in Washington state had filled their back yard and their home with so much trash it rose to the ceiling and all the floors were covered so that they were walking and sleeping on trash. 
It's not a program I plan to return to--the vivid images of that trash, and the reluctance to part with it by the man and woman will be hard to forget, and there's no reason to remember it, only keep in mind for myself that the accumulation of bicycles or books or records or pens does nothing but tie you to objects.  And the objects give little, if not nothing, in return. 
Let us be like the lilacs, offering our gifts freely and preparing for the fade. 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Last Day

May 21, 2020, today, is the last day of my contract with DSU, where I have been working since 1996.  My teaching career goes back to 1984, when that spring I finished my M.A. in English at the University of Wyoming in Laramie and took a one-year temporary job at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana. 
I discovered when I was there that my grandfather, Sidney Clifford Nelson, had gone there when it was still Billings Polytechnic Institute, but I couldn't find evidence beyond a single mention in a yearbook. 
From there I took a job at St. Mary of the Plains College in Dodge City, Kansas, a Catholic school with liberal leanings operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Wichita.  Many of the faculty there were women, sisters with the PhD's and masters degrees who, given the choice between marriage and motherhood and an independent, educated religious life, chose education and good works and chastity. 
That school ran afoul of the law, wracking up unpaid student loans in a mistaken alliance with a truck-driving school that scammed its students. 
When it closed in 1992, I took a year to try and finish my PhD at the University of Kansas, but I was undisciplined and depressed and when I was offered a job at Sisseton Wahpeton Community College in South Dakota, I took it. 
There the tiny faculty team struggled to bring our courses to a poverty-stricken Native population and others in that far north region, and the politics finally consumed it, and in 1996, our college president, a wildly unpredictable and petty man from a tribe in Minnesota, called me a racist and let me and other white people go. 
That brought me to DSU, a phone call I remember taking, standing in my kitchen at the phone and moving to the porch where it was more quiet and I could hear a lifeline being thrown to me that would carry me the next 25 years. 

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Tentatively, Beginning Again

I'm retired.  I hope that means I will turn more to writing as an outlet, that I'll finally tell a story about growing up in the way that I did, not that it's all that dramatic or angst-ridden, but that it was unusual, that it was western.  Not what many people face today or even remember.  Even then, in the 60s, it was a little strange.  Even in Fort Pierre, our experiences were different: while my classmates might be playing baseball and riding bikes around town or working at a drive-in ice cream shop, my brothers and I disappeared on to ranches to be ranch hands.  To be cowboys. 

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Beautiful Tuesday Morning

It's a beautiful spring morning in South Dakota, but over our heads hangs the threat of a winter storm that could dump more than a foot of snow on our area in the next couple of days.  Meanwhile, the water table beneath our house has risen so high that it's no longer fully beneath our house, but leaking in. 
While the sump pump purges much of the water, there's a lingering pool that needs its own special attention. 
And there's the pile of wood that still needs to be split and stacked.  And someone needs to fire up the lawn mowers to make sure that once the expected snow or rain arrives, we've got a way to mow the grass. 
At the same time, our new travel van, our little RV, what they call a class B, is waiting in the driveway for us to escape.  We need less water, less work, and less bad news.  I'm ready to hit the road.
Our new travel van awaits us.  
Meanwhile, every day there comes a new sign that the head of our government is an addled, angry head whose strategy is to do more than enough to keep his name at the top of the news feed, sometimes by figuratively lopping off the heads of the people around him. 

Sunday, February 03, 2019


Strange how events fall into place sometimes in a string of misfortunes, leaving us wondering why what we wanted is being denied to us.  Denial makes us feel smaller, less important, more trapped by circumstance and fate, and less able to move and enact the things we want for ourselves. 

It was a string of things, nothing very important, that piled on this weekend to make a person feel small.  We had plans--dinner and a concert, Fleetwood Mac, for crying out loud.  I watched a documentary on the group as I spent some time on the treadmill, and got a little work done before heading off to Sioux Falls to enjoy dinner before the concert.  We had reservations, which we knew was important because we'd been to the packed Crooked Pint once before another concert, and there was no way we'd get in early enough to eat and get to the concert. 

But the reservation was a bust.  We got there before our reservation time, but they told us they'd given our table away.  "We just got busy," she said.  Yup, just like before every other big concert.  So we stood for half an hour or more waiting for a table.  Their offer?  A free appetizer.  Poutine is good, but not that good. 

Fine, plenty of time.  So then we head over to the Sanford Arena and got in with 20 minutes to spare.  Except we had to stand in line for 45 minutes, and by the time we got to security the concert had already been going on for 20 minutes.  We could hear it, muffled through the walls and the floor, "Rhiannon," for one.  Finally, through security and on to the scans, where our tickets from StubHub would finally get us in, even though, by that time, we were getting a little annoyed. 

But the scanner bleeped a big red X, and the worker told us to go to the ticket office.  Another denial! 

At the box office, the woman there told me the same ticket had been scanned two hours before.  So there was that, a ripoff ticket from StubHub.  The woman offered me a ticket--there were tickets available--but the prospect of dropping another hundred bucks per ticket when the hundreds I'd already spent had just gone up in smoke, that didn't appeal to me. 

So we paused, had a seat, listened to another muffled song from that great band, and decided to mitigate our disappointment by having a beer.  It seemed only fitting that as we pulled up at Castaway's, across the street, the last few letters were dim, so we walked in under the Castaw and tried to spin ourselves back up from our denials. 

Today I reminded myself, as I cheered for the Rams to prevail over the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII (53 for you non-Romans), that disappointment is often self-inflicted.  It didn't really matter who won the game.  It didn't kill us to stand and chat while the folks at Crooked Pint tried to find us a table.  We've got the Fleetwood Mac albums at home. 

And StubHub is refunding what we spent on the tickets, with a discount on our next purchase. 

We had a fun drive down to Sioux Falls chatting with our friend, a nice meal, a chance to see some great music, and a safe drive home again.

And that Super Bowl?  We got to watch, cheer, chat, eat, and share the night with some good people.  Life is good. 

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Fortune Tells

Sometimes the fortune that appears in a cookie is the right one--a message from the random beyond that rings true to a thing occurring in the center of your self or your choices.  Such it was a while back as the wife and I were at a Chinese restaurant and I found the message above.  Sure, the message might fit a wide number of people, but don't we see ourselves in the things that happen around us?  So there I am, being messaged by fortune that the course of my life is true. 

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Some Kind of Journey

Somehow the wife and I got it in our heads that we needed a big van/little RV to head across the country, although we have traveled well in our little BMW convertible.  The above unit has, as I have told friends, everything that can go wrong with a house and everything that can go wrong with a car all wrapped up in the same package.  But I think we may have an adventure trying it out. 

We have cleaned it up and repaired some of the things that weren't quite right, and the wife is working hard to make sure we are comfy in it.  She has discovered many sources online that tell about improvements made to such vans--Roadtrek vans made in Canada.  Ours is a 1999 Dodge 3500 Ram (one ton) van with a 318 motor.  It's got a lot of miles on it, but Roger's Service here in Madison gives it a thumbs up for traveling.  It seems ready to go. 
Among the things we've done to improve it:

  • installed a new cd/radio with bluetooth so we can plug in a phone to listen to all kinds of stuff. 
  • removed the old monitor hanging over the back bed
  • installed new carpeting up front
  • installed new vinyl in the back end
  • washed and repaired all the curtains so they function properly
  • mounted new tires in the front
  • mounted the rear-view mirror (found in a drawer)
  • cleaned all the seats and fabric and surfaces inside
  • changed the oil and air and oil filters
So far we've taken one short trip to Yankton's Lewis and Clarke Recreation Area, and the two nights there in the van were perfectly fine.  We were the smallest RV in the park!  (Ours is a 19 foot machine; Roadtrek made 17 and 21 foot versions.)  We also have plans for some other work before we hit the road.  But once we do, it will be without need for any more work around the house!  All our concerns will be contained within the walls of the van. 

As we go, we'll see what it's like to live the RV life, with the option of heading into the boondocks and setting up camp with our own power and water supplies.  It might drive us crazy, but it might be a whole lot of fun.