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.