Wilbur and the New Neighbors

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We have new neighbors.

They poked their heads up from under the deck outside the screen door of the a-frame. Woodchuck (groundhog) pups making themselves at home.

woodchucks

Woodchucks at the cabin

It was Groundhog day all over again at the cabin. Years before we inhabited the place, a woodchuck had decided to come inside the cabin. The humans were away when Wilbur  — we’ll call him Wilbur — abandoned the family under the deck to settle more comfortably inside the cabin. Maybe Wilber needed to get away awhile.

Kay and I come to the cabin to get away. Now we want to get away from the woodchucks — or have Wilbur and his family taken far away from us in traps baited with luscious carrots, fresh lettuce, celery, and other yummies that doesn’t grow naturally here along the marsh’s edge.

The pups are kind of cute, in a non-dog kind of way, if you love all Nature. “Something there is that loves a [woodchuck],” wrote Robert Frost one night, revising his “Mending Wall” poem when three woodchuck pups after he’d had too much wine. Or maybe Frost had just read Psalm 50, as I did this morning, the day after the pups introduced themselves to Kay: “All the beasts of the forest are mine…. I know every bird in the sky, and the creatures under your deck are in my sight” (Psalm 50:10-11).

Many years ago a woodchuck was eating all the lettuce in the Broomall Nursing Home garden up the street from my boyhood home on Church Lane. When Wade, the nursing home caretaker, complained about the disappearing lettuce, two excited eight year-olds decided to become the good stewards of Wade’s garden. With Wade’s help, Ted Bonsall and I built a box trap of wood and hardware wire, and caught the woodchuck. But, hey, what do you do with the woodchuck you just removed from the nursing home garden? Ted and I were advanced planners, we had built a large cage of wood and chicken wire in the backyard. Having succeeded as trappers, we turned the woodchuck loose from the box-trap into the large cage loaded with carrots, broccoli, and lettuce. The next morning, the cage was empty!

There’s a reason they call a woodchuck a woodchuck. It had gnawed through the wood and the chicken wire on its way to freedom, relieving us of having to answer the bigger question of what to do with a woodchuck when the snow starts falling. The woodchuck got away from us before we wanted to get away from it.

Sixty-seven years later, I wonder whether the Wilbur in Minnesota ever made a prison break in Pennsylvania.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, northern Minnesota, June 8, 2018.

Grandmother’s Day

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Mothers Day brought together three mothers and one grandmother. Kristin is the mother of Elijah (11 months). Alice is the mother of Calvin (five months). Kay is the mother of Kristin and Andrew (Calvin’s father) and grandmother of Elijah and Calvin.

Kay Mothers Day

Elijah, Grandma Kay, and Calvin

It’s only a matter of time before Mark Twain’s description of his relationship with his mother will describe Elijah’s and Calvin’s relationship with their mothers and grandmothers:

“My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she rather enjoyed it.”

Grandma is having a great time with these little guys. Already Elijah is wearing her out chasing him around the house to protect him from his curious self. Calvin is not yet peripatetic, but he already offers his own kind of trouble. He’s huge and heavy for Grandma to carry. But, when all is said and done, when Elijah and Calvin are able to talk and look back on Grandma Kay, they will echo the serious complement Mark Twain paid his mother.

As Andrew’s picture from Mothers Day illustrates, I think she rather enjoys it.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, the day after Mothers Day, May 14, 2018.

This Unfathomed Secret

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 “At the gates of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature” (1836)

What do I know?

Is what I know back in the city — outside the gates of the forest — more “knowledgeable” than the knowledge of the forest and the farm? Is knowing different from imagining? What is the relation between knowledge and imagination? Are they opposites, kin, companions, enemies? Is one kind of knowledge superior to another? Is one more civilized than the other? Are they of equal value, each in its own right? Or is it all relative, a fool’s question in this world of relativity where one person’s perspective and opinion is as good as another’s, one person’s truth and wisdom another person’s fanciful imagination and foolishness?

Publishing “The Bovine Chorus” yesterday brought the questions to mind. After a day seeking knowledge about the loud mooing that overwhelmed the bird calls on the wetland, I realize my imagination got the better of me. The last conversation was with a retired dairy farmer. “Probably needed to be milked,” he said. “They’ll let you know! Or the farmer was taking a calf away. They can be really loud!” Memory flashed back to my dairy farmer friend Bruce, who showed up on Sunday with a broken hand from having punched a cow. What does a city slicker know about cows and the life of a dairy farmer!

I wasn’t always a city slicker and I’m not much of one now. If I were, I wouldn’t prefer this remote cabin on the wetland. It’s less civilized here. Some would say it’s less knowledgable. Others might say, more given to faulty imagination. Like imagining a bovine herd singing Friedrich Handel’s Magnificat to celebrate a cow birth in Bethlehem only to learn from my old musicologist friend Carolyn that Handel never composed a Magnificat, so far as she could recall, and from my new retired dairy farmer friend that the mooing was probably a protest by cows whose udders ached or who lamented a calf being kidnapped from the holy family.  

“Woe am I!” say I, like Isaiah overwhelmed by the smoke that filled the Temple. “I am a man of unclean [stupid] lips!” [Isaiah 6:5a]. I know nothing worth knowing. My imagination has deceived me. Remember Carolyn back in the city, and the retired dairy farmer. And then there are the books I’ve brought here from the city. Birds of Minnesota and Wisconsin and Colin’s Birds of North America and Greenland with pictures that help identify the Brown Thrasher feeding on the ground and train the eye to distinguish the Trumpeter Swans here from the Tundra Swans, and Mute Swans. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays on history, nature, experience, politics, et al., and The Book of Common Prayer bring the wisdom of the ages that ground me in both nature and tradition, knowledge and a better imagination, a pair of spectacles alongside the binoculars next to the wetland in the time of climate change. I read Emerson again.

“We nestle in nature, and draw our living as parasites from her fruits and grains, and we receive glances from the heavenly bodies, which call us to solitude, and foretell the remotest future. … Literature, poetry, science, are the homage of man to this unfathomed secret, concerning which no sane man can affect an indifference or incuriosity. Nature is loved by what is best in us. It is loved as the city of God, although, or rather because there is no citizen.” 

Elijah Learns about Gravity

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Enjoying a snack with his Mom yesterday, Elijah learned about gravity.

Mom, what happened?

You turned the bag upside down.

So?

You can’t turn it upside down unless you want the snacks to fall to the floor.

Why?

It’s called gravity. Gravity pulls everything down.

Uh-uh!

Uh-huh!

Uh-uh!

Uh-huh!

Uh-uh! Doesn’t pull me down! I’ll just reach for my snacks!!! Nothing takes me down!

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, May 2, 2018.

 

The Beauty of the Swamp

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Quite serendipitously, you might say, The Pea Pod — the-small A-frame cabin by the wetland — became ours last August. It came into view in an internet search for an affordable lake or river-front property within easy driving distance from the metro area.

cabin IMG_6563Before stepping foot on the property we thought it was on a small lake, not a swamp on outskirts of the Silvan Shores Association. We immediately fell in love with the quiet serenity of the place and the simplicity of the wood cabin.

We soon learned that some of the Silvan Shores folks gather regularly at the association’s clubhouse at 10 A.M for coffee and conversation. Although we’ve chosen the Pea Pod by the wetland as a full retreat from all things civilized, we want to be good neighbors, and it’s a chance to meet others and pick their knowledge who who to call for various homeowner matters. At our first coffee hour Kay and I introduce ourselves by name and by the property’s location next to ‘the wetland’ just north of Turtle Lake.

Oh! You mean ‘the swamp’!” says Judy. We all have a good laugh.

Call it what you will — swamp, wetland, or marsh (remember Sydney Lanier’s “The Marshes of Glynn”?) — , the little cat-tailed not-quite pond with the trumpeter swans, great blue herons, mallards, loons, and beavers next to the equally unenviable cabin is its own sacred place for two peas in a pod.

This morning, eight months months after the ‘wetland’ turned into a ‘swamp’, I wake with the morning sun and see the beauty of the wetland other folks don’t get to see. Oh, they too might have a fat robin making her nest in the oak tree outside their patio doors, but they don’t experience dawn next to the beaver lodge and the loons paddling by in plain sight while the mallards, wood ducks, and the buffleheads greet the day with play near the wetland’s far side.

We prefer the wetland to the five lakes of the association. There are no boats here on the swamp. No motors to disturb the silence. No water-skiers. No anglers. No noisy humans. Within days the Trumpeter Swans will break the silence. The only oars on the water belong to the waterfowl and the flat tail of the beavers. It’s an uncivilized place that reminds us of the incivility of civilization and the beauty of nature’s frailty and glory.

  • Gordon C. Stewart at the Swamp, April 29, 2018.

Grandpa, do I need lawyers?

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Oh, my! Why would you think you need a lawyer, Elijah?

IMG_0255I didn’t say ‘lawyer’, Grandpa. I said ‘lawyers.’ Sometimes you don’t hear so well or just don’t listen. But that’s okay. So, how many lawyers should I have? How many do you and Grandma have?

Right now we don’t have a lawyer, Elijah. We don’t need one.

Why? 

Well, we don’t have need for one, and our lawyer retired, so she’s no longer practicing law.

You have to practice to be a lawyer? Can we practice being lawyers?

It’s confusing. Practice doesn’t mean trying, like trying to walk or say ‘Grandpa’ or throwing the ball to Barclay. It’s a different kind of practice.

FredTrumpArrest

Fred Trump

Yeah, and you can’t practice alone if you’re a lawyer, right? I’ve been watching Ari on The Beat. Michael Cohen’s a lawyer and he has lots of lawyers. President Trump has lots of lawyers. He keeps hiring and firing them. So how many lawyers should we have, Grandpa. You need at least ONE.

Okay, I see where you’re going. But Grandpa doesn’t need a lawyer right now. Neither does Grandma or your Mom. We’re not in any trouble.

I’m in trouble, Grandpa. ICE is coming to my daycare! I know my rights under the Constitution! But Juan and Carlos don’t have rights like me. Their parents don’t either. We’ve been practicing what to do if ICE comes to our daycare. I’m going to be a lawyer when I grow up!

Good for you, Elijah. But before you think about practicing law, let’s practice saying ‘Mama’ and ‘Grandpa’. So far ‘Uh-oh!” is your only word. You need more words, not more lawyers.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, April 21, 2018.

Barbara Bush and President Chance

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The day following former First Lady Barbara Bush‘s death, we offer these clips of Chance (“Chauncey”) Gardiner, the gardener of a rich estate whose simple answers are thought to qualify him as the political leader who can fix the world. Barbara Bush had no use for the current occupant of the Oval Office whose world is shaped by television, as was Chance Gardiner’s (Peter Sellers) in Being There (1979). “I like to watch,” said Chance.

In February of 2016 the former First Lady pulled no punches. She said she was “sick of him [i.e. Donald Trump]. He doesn’t give many answers to how he would solve problems. He sort of makes faces and says insulting things. He’s said terrible things about women, terrible things about the military. I don’t understand why people are for him, for that reason.”

First Lady Melania Trump will attend the former First Lady’s funeral. Whether the candidate for whom Barbara Bush had no use will pay his respects is still an open question as of the publication of this post. Maybe he’ll stay home to watch it on Fox.

Thank you, Roger Ebert (RIP) for your review of  Being There. Thank you, Chance (Peter Sellers), for your clairvoyance. Thank you, Barbara Bush. RIP.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, April 19, 2018.

Elijah’s first word

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Elijah and Kristin are home alone again today, snow-bound by the blizzard that’s hit Minnesota. Elijah is entertaining himself with the car Grandma gave him. His Mom looks on as Elijah’s speaking his first word — well, not exactly a word. Or is it?

“Uh-oh!”

Elijah’s daycare provider only speaks Spanish. “Uh-oh!” is the universal language at daycare. It’s also becoming the first word of those trying to keep up with Elijah at home or at Grandma and Grandpa’s. It’ll be a long day for Kristin. Say a prayer there won’t be too many reasons to say “Uh-oh!”

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, April 15, 2018.

Elijah’s Splish Splash

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Elijah emptying a drawer.

The sound of a big splash came in the split second his Mom turned her back in the bedroom. Elijah had scurried down the hall a few feet to the bathroom, just a quick crawl or walk from the bedroom and his favorite dresser drawer. He’s walking now and he’s into everything. Every drawer. Every light socket. Every everything.

“SPLASH!”

Elijah loves water. He loves his bath. He loves his rubber ducky.

“SPLISH! SPASH!”

Elijah’s no Bobby Darin. He wasn’t taking his bath. There was no rubber ducky in the toilet. To a 10 month old, the whole house is a playground.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, April 14, 2018.

 

Grandpa, am I safe?

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Ten (10) month old Elijah has been listening to the news at his Spanish-speaking day care provider’s.

Grandpa, What’s a tweet?

Well, Elijah, a tweet is something like a chirp. It’s real short.

Marissa’s short but she doesn’t like tweets.

No, not short like “not tall”; a tweet is short like a flash.

IMG_0255Yeah, that’s what Marissa’s worried about — a flash, like the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico and tweets that make her cry.

Is Marissa Puerto Rican, Elijah?

No. She was crying a lot about tweets before Maria hit Puerto Rico. “Maria!” she’d say every time a tweet showed up on CNN about ice coming to the dock to round up kids here in Minnesota.

I think you might have misunderstood, Elijah. When Marissa says “Maria!” it’s like praying. She’s calling for Mary, the mother of Jesus. And ice isn’t frozen water like we still have around the docks here in Minnesota. She’s talking about ICE and DACA, not ice and docks.

So we’re safe around the docks?

Yes, but you need to be careful. The ice is starting to melt around the docks and you could fall in.

I’ll tell Marissa and all the kids at day care. Stay away from the ice around the docks. Stay away from all tweets. Just say “Maria!” every time CNN talks about another tweet.

  • Elijah and Grandpa, Chaska, MN, April 8, 2018.