Top of Piedmont: To Watch, Listen and Ponder — Then Write!

February 2014Monthly Archives


An Icon is a symbol, representation or figure. Icons are especially important in many religious ceremonies. They point the way to realities beyond the tangible and give us a hint or a suggestion of a world beyond linear comprehension. Icons also emerge in the shape of persons who in a brief moment of time, point to a truth.

Recently the community lost two icons, Don DeKrey and Con Beaulieu. They were both icons in their own way. Both were symbols of how infrastructure, the glue of community is mixed and delivered.

In the case of Con, the truth of his contribution is seen by way of tangible expression. Driving into Bemidji one gets the impression of a community on the move. There is the Beltrami County Complex, Bemidji High School, St. Philips Catholic Church and the Sanford Event Center to name a few. Con was a big part of that. Bemidji has its issues, progress is uneven at best, but it is not standing still.

With Don DeKrey, his influence on the community’s life was more subtle and nuanced. No one sees a depressed woman who can now work or a kid who can pay attention in class, or a young man whose wires have come loose by dint of genetics or chemicals, supported as they try to get their wheels back on the ground. Work is done here, the fruit of the labor harder to see. But work nonetheless

Icons like Con and Don are rare. When they die, the mold is broken. A community’s infrastructure is made of both the observed and unseen. We need both.


Written in 1997

It’s been “Tool Time” around here for about six months. Tim Allen makes it look funny on “Home Improvement,” especially when things are falling down, exploding or flying around the room. The process of planning, financing and executing a project, even a small one, frequently feels like reinventing the pyramids. Unfortunately, what happens during “Tool Time” is not very different from reality.

The fun part of home remodeling is the dreaming; multiple skylights, acres of decking and cherry wood paneling in a library filled with the classics. Then you crunch numbers and realize you can’t make this full time work or you’ll file for bankruptcy. You have to keep that day job.

Gutting a bedroom that’s needed evisceration for fifteen years requires foresight. Sleep is important. Where are you going to snooze while the destruction goes on? Hauling stuff to the basement and crashing on a mattress on the floor works for a time, but older bones rising from a cold floor complain. Just trying to find that extra pair of pants or sock becomes an investigative effort worthy of a congressional committee, with as much success. It might take only a short time to tear things apart, but it takes a long time before a decent night’s rest.

A dumpster from Waste Management becomes a fixture in the driveway. A chipboard chute consuming half the aspen in Northern Township is a necessity for getting rid of the mess. Dust masks worthy of a gas attack are helpful additions.

The ceiling comes first, layers of paper insulation cascade down. Next wood chips, once in vogue as insulation, descend from above. It is amazing the house has not gone up in flames long ago. Lathe and plaster are shoveled out the window, coaxed with a long handled broom down the chute to the waiting battered metal bin.

Once everything is cleared out and cleaned up so that it doesn’t track into the rest of the house, (fat chance), work begins on what we males prefer to call “infrastructure.” Wiring is updated, especially since the old system dimmed half the lights in the house every time someone vacuumed. A new set of windows replaces ones that used to let in raw wind and snow from North Dakota.

Roll upon roll of “Pink Panther” insulation is stuffed in walls and ceilings. It may keep you warm, but escaped fiberglass itches every place on your body. This has to be done before you screw sheet rock to the ceiling. Even with the help of a friend, making square what was not, takes up a lot of time. It’s a game of wins, losses and compromises with custom measurement and cutting. Sometimes you call it a draw and live with imperfection.

Slowly, the rebuilding effort gains momentum, occasionally stalled by lack of materials or cold snaps when sawing boards at -20 makes them shatter. Time out for winter’s ice dams also slows the project.

Then one night you finish the trim around the window and step back stunned by the beauty of the aspen boards and dark green blinds. “Tool Time” is over. Home improvement finished. It works.


A chance meeting on a street that leads to marriage. A Mega Millions lottery ticket that opens up a new relationship with the IRS. Or, missing a plane that ends up cratering into a mountainside in the Urals. There are moments in time, serendipitous events; unpredictable happenings that make us feel there must have been a plan . Of course, many more mundane events don’t even draw notice. But even here, moments of convergence and serendipity merge as various elements come into confluence.

Recently we had the pleasure of a visit from our youngest daughter and her family. The requirements of traveling with a dog, two young children and all the paraphernalia that involves has changed radically from our Iowa days in the Volare station wagon.

Somehow, we used to stuff a porta-crib, diaper bags, dog food, luggage, toys and a black Lab into that grey marvel. It helped that the dog hated road trips and used to burrow under the driver’s seat, goosing me at inconvenient times. There were frequent stops. Trips that should have taken four hours ended up being five and a half.

Modern families have other requirements. Federal mandates require car seats for kids. No more roaming around playing on blankets in the back of a car. This is not a bad thing, but the technologies that keep a kid safer in a vehicle necessitate more room, which equals less space for other stuff.

Their Lab Scout, unlike our long gone dog Doc, thinks it’s a Yorkie. If there is a lap available somewhere, its fair game. Thus the need for a sturdy kennel to keep overwhelming expressions of affection under control. That doesn’t cut down on plaintive cries of abandonment from the back of the Suburban, but that’s what radios are for, right? A good dose of rock-n-roll or country drowns out the mourning and has the advantage of introducing the kids to some quality music.

Memory is short, especially in someone of advancing years, but I am amazed at the efficiency at which these two young parents pack and unpack. It always seemed we had to leave something behind or find more room in the spare tire wheel well.

On a recent holiday visit, after things settled down – that doesn’t really happen – grandpa was fixing pancakes in the kitchen. Then for three brief minutes, the stars aligned, the world fell apart, and there was a convergence!

As I flipped the first pancake, I happened to look out on the front porch to see the dog doing things to the recliner that should be reserved for “private” moments, then the two year-old came out to the kitchen, stood next to me legs akimbo, looked up with wide-eyed surprise and said, “Whoa!”

I yelled for his father, who came rushing in to sweep him up for maintenance. At the same time, the little darling in the dining room, not happy with her recent ration, made her discontent known. The kid has a good set of lungs. You think Mariah Cary can hit high notes? Forget it – sensory overload.

I lost it. Between the dog, the smell of pancakes, the smell of – – hmmm – and the diva in the dining room, I bent over crying – not in sorrow – it was a divine cluster, a serendipitous moment, that only being part of a family brings.


Skin dances
at the end of fingertips,
in rhythm with each exhalation.

Every stroke an exultation:
a waltz, a samba – – – rock and roll.
Drumbeats invade all senses.

A smile indexed,
not misfiled in memory.

The rooms cloaked in a breeze as you stroll by,
fetch from the zephyrs on your morning walk,
crisp sunlight.

Lips taste of cinnamon and butter.

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