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

EssaysCategory Archives


He strolls between the walls surrounding the quadrangle where the statue stands.
Each step down the hall reverberates on the worn terrazzo floors.
Sand crackles underneath his leather soles.

Faces in old wooden frames.
They laughed and danced – now distorted, swept to sepia overtones.
The aged portraits of youth doing well,                                                                                          woven with threads of self-indulgent narcissism all one hue.

Where to stand and take it in?
What late afternoon spill of light attends the illumination,                                                            where faltering steps change the uncertain asymmetric smiles?

Time expects reminiscence but does not wait or want.
It whistles tunelessly along the hall, pushing past, present and future into fullness,
over before it starts.

The foot steps in and then out,
and turns, beginning a new dance,
created and made fresh by every breath.

You are from another life – another time,
where you laughed and cried together,
or hated one another in the dark moments that slipt between,
when the light failed in the hallway.

He wanders diminished days – to some Valhalla in a wind-blown hallway
where leaves rush from the east on crisp autumn days.
They foretell winter’s chill and first snow fall.

Here bonds valued in another time are revisited and seek completion –
the hope of recognition awakens flames that burn bright,
lighting the pathway one more time.

The pictures on the wall recoup their faded color.
They take a new cast amidst the shuffling feet.

Posted in Bemidji Pioneer on June 9, 2015

Spring renews. Trees bud, geese return, (a mixed blessing), and fiddlehead ferns surface from the debris of last year’s growth. Purple Martin scouts return and sunrises come earlier and earlier, marching a little further each day along the horizon.

Historically, many rituals are associated with the emergence of new life after a period of dormancy. These ceremonies celebrate ancient mysteries. We like to think we don’t need to pay attention to the uncertainties and ambiguities of living, because we have acquired and continue to amass vast scientific knowledge. We have an answer, or excuse for everything – at least we think we do. Note the response to natural disasters, accidents or bad luck. When things happen, someone is to blame, somebody is responsible, and someone must be held accountable and above all else pay. Despite our best efforts, the inexplicable happens. Mystery persists.

The cycle of life brings to mind a multitude of interpretations. It is like the story of the blind men and the elephant, where several blind men touch the parts of an elephant and get into an argument about what they are experiencing. They make so much racket that the local prince who is trying to take a nap (sounds good), tells them to chill and start talking to one another.

One interpretation of the life cycle involves reincarnation. It is the religious or philosophical concept that the soul or spirit, after biological death, can begin a new life in a new body. Many religious traditions have this belief in their theologies, from Buddhism, Hindu, Taoism and Native American beliefs.  Mainstream religions in Western culture reject the notion, but a healthy percentage of western believers still see it as a reality or at least a possibility.

Giving the notion of reincarnation credence comes from our hope that this is not IT, or wishing we had a chance to make things right. After all, maybe another shot at a perfect body, mind or life partner is not a bad thing. Think of all the things you could do that you didn’t have the time or money to do the first go round! Then again there are no guarantees. Do we really learn from our mistakes, or will we keep repeating them ala “Ground Hog Day”? I personally like the idea of coming back as a Purple Martin or at least a gonzo slide guitar player.

Another interpretation of the Blind Men and the Elephant story centers on the vastness and wonder of the world around us. That pachyderm is big. None of us, especially with our limited capacities, have the potential to comprehend the whole thing. When we talk with one another about our experience, we might have a chance at understanding one more piece of the puzzle.

Spring has returned. It started slowly this year, but appears to be building a head of steam. By the time you read this, the crab apple tree blooms will be long gone, the pollen irritation will be waning, and the ferns will again cover the ground below the deck. I don’t know if I will ever be a Purple Martin, but I would sure like a shot at that slide guitar

More of Doug’s writing can be seen at <> and his recently launched book, Woman River.



Just Ten Minutes Prime Time – Bemidji Pioneer

All I need is ten minutes,” the professional says. And they are right. They know how to do stuff – have done it dozens of times and know shortcuts. An amateur toolbox diver on the other hand, reaches for pliers, crescent wrench or hammer and thinks he can get it done just as fast. Either that or he gets a bigger hammer.

Plumbing. Things need to be done in sequence. One of the most important is shutting off the water, no two ways about it! The City of Bemidji has seen fit to give us good water pressure. The natural consequence of not taking this into consideration is a deluge, fountain, or jet of water that will outdo a kid’s super-soaker.

Bitter experience with one of my home repairs left water cascading through the ceiling and a rush to the basement three floors down to the main valve, the air blue behind. Mops and a shop vac came first, wallboard and its companion drywall compound later, the fix at least adequate.

Automotive maintenance can be another rat hole of time lost. Consider the oil change. This should be simple: assemble the tools, buy oil and filter, commandeer a jug for disposal, drive it up a ramp and get to it. – – Not so fast.

Getting the plug out of the oil pan after a multitude of changes requires agility and strength, a commodity in short supply as age makes its inroads. A stout pipe on the end of a wrench gives some mechanical advantage to extracting the plug occasionally welded to the pan.

Then comes the filter – better have the right tools here. It is a given that auto engineers, designers of cars and the people who have to maintain them, don’t talk to each other. Access to the oil filter involves a contortionist’s ability to deform human bone structure, shred skin off of knuckles, and the capacity to heal quickly from bruising. Hope you’re not on blood thinners, you’d be a rainbow!

Memory and doing things in the proper order as you attempt to make the vehicle drivable are critical to the completion of the next tasks. #1. Replace the oil plug. Remember that synthetic oil you just bought for 26 bucks? Kiss it good-bye if the plug isn’t in. #2. The filter should be hand tightened unless you want to spend 45 minutes getting it off the next time an oil change is required, using screw drivers and vise grips in ingenious ways, creating new words for the next urban dictionary.

Electricity is a wonder: the physics of it, generation in the behemoth plants on the horizon, and transmission to the light switch on the wall in the kitchen. How would we survive without microwave popcorn?

Installation of a new switch or heaven forbid a GFI outlet can go quickly if you read the directions. Who does that? Instead, loosen this or that screw, bend and break old, brittle wires and make the new accommodate the old. Sometimes this works, other times flying by the seat of the pants gives lighting that dims for indeterminate reasons, sparks like Fourth of July sparklers, or arcing flashes that resemble lightning – in the kids bedroom! After trial and error, with many trips to the breaker box, maybe it’s best to call a professional. That will take less than ten minutes!








Thursday May 14, 2015

5 to 7 PM

Wild Hare Restaurant

Across from the Beltrami County Courthouse

See Woman River Page for a sample

Naps Have No Boundaries

Naps are a luxury, the forbidden fruit of the working woman or man. They aren’t as expensive as a Mercedes, as dangerous as freebase jumping, or habit forming as Chocolates Plus. They are not a necessity. You can grind through a day without one, driven by demand; usually other’s imperative, where their lack of planning creates crises for everyone. No, naps are a secret pleasure, a nonessential indulgence.

Self-regulation is one of the the prime developmental tasks of the first years of life. Little people learn how to balance the raw output of feeling by developing cognitive control over expression. A toddler throwing a fit in the middle of Target embarrasses the parent much more than upsetting other shoppers. We have all been there. The kid is figuring it out, or more likely, they just need a nap!

After a nap the world is a better place. Just like anything else, there is a lot of variability in post slumber behavior. Some wake ready to go; others need a stiff cup of java to get moving again.

In college getting a nap whenever you can is a survival skill. There is only so much coffee, Red Bull or diet Coke a person can ingest before more time is spent in the bathroom taking care of business than studying.

A heads down approach to napping in a study carrel in a dark corner of the library provides respite between bursts of academic fervor. Reading Paradise Lost for the first time or the umpteenth perusal of The Scarlet Letter requires breaks. It’s very different from vegging out with a John Sanford novel.

The life of the working stiff can provide nap time with some forethought. Instead of eating lunch at noon, snarf as you go, take a bite from that peanut butter sandwich in the desk drawer between tasks, appointments or phone calls. Then when the noon break comes, sneak away to a dark corner for a quick snooze. Counting backward from one hundred to zero could put you under at forty. If it doesn’t, run the numbers again.

Avoid carbs at all costs at mid-day, otherwise pinching your thigh at two leaving a black and blue mark is required when trying to pay attention in a meeting or appear sympathetic to the trials and travails of a client. Stimulants won’t help.

When naps are part of daily living, getting one in requires adaptive mechanisms. With kids on weekends, ear buds and white noise generated from a cell phone app blunts the door slamming and yelling that goes on in an active household. Before the advent of mobile phones, gun muffs worked and still can be the preferred nuclear option.

With retirement comes the “Naps Have No Boundaries” program. You can take one any time, any place, whenever you want; one, two, or on rare occasions three. Just do it. If out fishing on a warm day, dozing is an option, or if you’re really a degenerate, drop the anchor, lay down in the bottom of the boat with a life jacket for a pillow and check out. Upon waking, you’ll be a mean, lean fishing machine!

A lot of research points to the benefits of short naps that increase worker productivity. Not all people can take a nap and function better. There are a lot of individual differences. But for those of us highly skilled in this area, it’s a bonus, one that needs collecting each and every day.

Scroll Up