Priming the Pump

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The pump that wouldn’t pump

The outdoor pump at the cabin didn’t work this spring. It worked late last summer when we bought the cabin, but the spigot was bone dry this spring and into the summer. When I shared my tale of woe with the 10:00 AM gathering of Sylvan Shores residents, one of the men asked, “Have you primed the pump?”

City folks know nothing about priming the pump, except for the adage about getting something started. Sometimes, as during days and weeks when a writer has nothing to say, you need to prime the pump by reading or just shushing the distractions to get the water flowing again.

“How do you prime a pump?” I ask. What’s that?” Good natured smiles and laughter break out around the table.

“Well, do you have one well or two wells?”

“Got me,” I said. “All I know is when I pull up the handle, nothing happens. It worked last summer. How do I prime the pump?”

“You gotta pour water down it before the water will come up from the well. Just pour some water down the pump until it’s primed.”

Seemed simple enough. But there was no place on the red pump crank to pour water. Maybe I needed to take the handle mechanism off the top of the pipe in order to pour water into the pump, but it was rusted onto the pipe. The question about two wells led me to wonder.

IMG_1536 I went back to the cabin and took the cap off the well that supplies water to the cabin’s indoor plumbing fixtures. What I found was an electrical system. Wires interconnected and programmed to pump the water from the well into wherever it was programmed to go. Since the well controlled electronically hadn’t been re-programmed, and the outside pump with the red handle wasn’t working, I concluded the pump in the yard had a separate well and that it needed to be primed. Or, perhaps, the hand-pumped well had gone dry over the winter.

Once again, I pumped the red handle up and down repeatedly with the same results. No water to water the shrubs and flowers. We were doomed. This pump wouldn’t prime!

Then Bud and JoAnne dropped by for an altogether unexpected visit. Bud wasn’t supposed to be out and about. He’d been homebound following quadruple by-pass surgery and serious complications that followed it. They hadn’t been at the coffee hour and, so far as I knew, didn’t know the story about my ignorance.

We pulled out a chair in the yard for Bud to sit. I told him about trying to prime the pump. “I don’t think there’s a separate well for that pump,” he said. “I think there’s just one well. Let me try it.”

Bud stood up, took hold of the red handle, and pulled it all the way up, and, like the rock that Moses struck in the wilderness of Meribah, the water gushed from the pump.

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The pump that pumped. No priming needed!

It was a miracle! There’d been no need to prime the pump. I just needed to force the handle all the way up, which I had feared doing lest I break it.

Now the Ninebark and the few flowers we planted are watered between rainfalls, and the miracle of the well that never needed to be pumped gives hope to a writer that one extra tug on the handle can get the water flowing again.

  • Gordon C. Stewart at the cabin, August 14, 2018.

Elijah, the next Andrew Zimmern

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Elijah and his spoon

Elijah has a palate like the host of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. It doesn’t discriminate, and he LOVES food. His tastes are far-reaching and wide-ranging. Mexican? Chinese? German? American? French? Escargot or a grub or tasty earthworm from the lawn? It makes no difference.

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Andrew Zimmern

Like Andrew, who, BTW, lives in the same town, Elijah would try it. He loves it all.

The big news is that Elijah is eating with a spoon, as well as his fingers, and he’s proud of it! 

Who cares if he drops a few peas, or some applesauce, or gets a little food in his hair, or shares his spoon with the family dog!

  • Grandpa Gordon (‘Bumpaa’), Chaska, MN, July 31, 2018.

 

Words to Live by in the Twitter Era

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Every day brings a new idea for a T-Shirt. We shared T-Shirt #1 yesterday. We weren’t thinking of a new product line at the time. But this morning another psalmic line caught our eyes and led to the idea of a T-Shirt franchise. We could call it ‘Psalms to Live by in the Twitter Era’ and advertise on Facebook and Twitter. T-Shirt idea #2 reads:

You have loosed your lips for evil,

and harnessed your tongue to a lie. 

(Psalm 50:19)

1*wH41mwA4_K9A6Zr26Pq6_wThen, later this morning, we learned that Twitter’s most prominent tweeter is now accusing Twitter of being biased against conservative Senators and senatorial candidates, which led to a second line of T-shirts: ‘Proverbs to Live by in the Era of DJT’. T-Shirt #1 of Proverbs to Live by in the Era of DJT would read: 

The man of integrity walks securely,

but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.

He who winks maliciously causes grief,

and a chattering fool comes to ruin.

(Book of Proverbs 10:9-10)

  • Gordon C. Stewart, on the wetland, where the only chattering and tweeting come from red-wing blackbirds and bluebirds, July 26, 2018.

Fireworks and a Fifth on the Fourth

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This Fourth of July we retreated from the parades and fireworks to the wilderness cabin by the wetland. Although the trumpeter swans left several weeks ago, heading north to Canada for friendlier, cooler climes, the loons and hooded mergansers are still our nearest neighbors — along with the newest arrivals: Yellowjackets!

Last night was quiet. The only sounds were the bull frogs, the loon calls and the faint rustling of the aspen leaves heard through the screen doors and windows. The only light came from the soft rays of the setting sun. It was peaceful. Quiet. Natural. Until the sun went down and the sound and flashes of firecrackers from distant neighbors preferring a noisy celebration of bombs bursting in air lit up, and echoed across, the wetland from afar.

As we were wondering how the loons and mergansers were managing the Fourth of July, we turned on the lights inside the cabin, and were joined by a Yellowjacket that had made its way through the screens that protect us from unwanted neighbors. While the fireworks exploded and flashed outside, the Yellowjacket was drawn to the reading light next to my chair. Reaching for the flyswatter, I took a swipe but missed, and then another before losing sight of the invader. Until, wham! I felt the sting through my shirt!

Suddenly I wished I had a Fifth on the Fourth!

Gordon C. Stewart, on the wetland, the Fifth of July, 2018.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.