A Lover’s Quarrel with the World

Robert Frost epitaph, Bennington, NH

Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” springs up over morning coffee in winter time. It’s white outside, dark, and cold. I think of “Mending Wall” where, after a hard winter, two neighbors repair the gaps in the stone wall between the pine side and the apple orchard side of the wall.

There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down."
-- Robert Frost, "Mending Wall" lines 24-37

From the pine side of the wall, Christmas Eve, 2018:

"I am all alone (poor me) 
in the White House
waiting for the Democrats
to come back and make
a deal on desperately needed
Border Security,"
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 27, 2018.

Fireworks and a Fifth on the Fourth

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

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 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.

Home of the scared and the land of the tyrannized

This afternoon from 3:00 to 4:00 Protect Minnesota will host a demonstration in the MN Capitol Rotunda in support of state legislation re: gun violence.

As part of its efforts, Protect Minnesota invited individuals to write letters to MN Senate and House Judiciary Committee members. This letter went out this morning.


I am a Christian Pastor. I write you out of deep concern for the unrestrained violence taking place in the name of “the right to liberty” that imperils “the right of life…and the pursuit of happiness”. The three rights proclaimed in The Declaration of Independence are intended to be mutually supportive, not mutually exclusive. The right to liberty was never intended to take the other two rights hostage.

I strongly support legislation and enforcement of laws that place gun ownership in its proper place in our common life. The Second Amendment does NOT grant unlimited rights for anyone to purchase and use a gun anywhere anytime any more than the First Amendment on free speech allows speech that slanders or libels, lies under oath, or yells “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

As Senators and Representatives, you were elected by the people in your districts. Once you took the oath of office, your responsibility changed. You entered the halls of representative democracy where leadership requires you to act by your own consciences, not by public opinion polls in your districts. We are a representative democracy, not a pure democracy). Your responsibility as Senators and Representatives is to LEAD WISELY not only for the sake of your own constituents but for the greater good of the entire State of Minnesota.

We are quickly becoming, if we are not already, an armed camp in which the “neighbor” of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic teachings is regarded as an anachronism. Unless you plug the holes in our background check system by requiring a check for every pistol or assault weapon sale, the rights of life and the pursuit of happiness will be held hostage by unrestrained liberty, and the home of the brave and the land of the free will continue on the way to become the home of the scared and the land of the unrestrained individual tyranny.

Thank you for listening.

Gordon C. Stewart

Jonathan and “the Good Society”

Each of us has in idea of the way the world should be. You might call it “the good society,” the one we would create, if we could.

The idea of the Jonathan Association comes close to mine. I moved into the Jonathan Association, America’s first “New Town”- the dream of Henry McKnight, last spring without knowing much about it, except for the reputation it had received because of a raucous Annual Meeting four years.  Back then and again this year (read the Chaska Herald story), those who wish to withdraw from Jonathan have almost succeeded in destroying the Association by maneuvering to dismiss the entire all-volunteer Board. What happened at this year’s annual meeting reminds me how ugliness and beauty are in the eye of the beholder. To the detractors, Jonathan is ugly. To me, it’s beautiful.

The world I chose to live in exceeds my expectations and makes me scratch my head over the attempts to do it in. Like all other homeowners within Jonathan, I pay an annual fee. Others resent the Association dues. They don’t see the return.

What do I get for it? And what would I lose if the Jonathan Assocation suddenly vanished?

I get a neighborhood with 10 miles of well-kept, snow-cleared walking trails, large open spaces (“common” spaces) like the field adjacent to the sledding hill and “Purple Martin Heaven “ (76 Purple Martin houses) to which 100+ Purple Martins return each spring to swoop and dive across the open space. There’s Lake Grace and McKnight Lake, the streams, and the beautiful well-kept woods of giant willow trees, maples, oaks, flowering crab and cherry trees…and doggie bags for my morning and evening walks with Maggie and Sebastian.

I get the legacy of Jonathan founder Henry McKnight’s vision. McKnight believed that “the major opportunity with a New Town, such as Jonathan, is to plan the community for minimum negative impact on the environment, while making sure that the people who live there will enjoy that quality of life that makes living worthwhile.” Jonathan was to be an experimental, utopian community (eventually growing its population to 50,000) that would co-exist in perfect harmony with surrounding nature – an outcome different from the suburban sprawl that he found so disorderly and unpleasant. “We must utilize the land with full regard for the quality of the environment people seek,” McKnight said. “Planning a New Town like Jonathan offers us the opportunities to preserve the natural environment, conserve our remaining resources, and even improve the countryside.”

But I love Jonathan for more than its natural beauty. More than its commitment to conservation and good stewardship of the land. Jonathan is more than itself, a dream of a a society worthy of our highest aspirations. It’s a dream of a real community of belonging. Wealthy one-percenters, low-income, and middle class – private homes and affordable housing, rich and poor and middle class TOGETHER, not separated by freeways or gatekeepers. White, black, yellow, red and brown living side by side because that’s the way the world should be. Christians, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, atheists, Baha’i’s ,secular humanists Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, Independents, and Tea Partiers living in together respectfully. It’s a place for people who want neighbors and who want be a neighbor. What a concept. In Jonathan I deal with the world, not escape it, and it’s a microcosm of what I wish for the world itself.

Is it perfect? Not by a long shot. But maybe that’s its beauty. It’s a collection of imperfect folks doing the best we can to answer Rodney King’s protest against a world divided against itself, “Can’t we all just get along?” Yes, we can. If we try. If we choose to do so. If we work at it.

Jonathan began as Mr. McKnight’s personal vision.  He died unexpectedly at the age of 59 before he could realize the dream. Now it is up to us who have inherited his vision to continue it, embrace it, and strengthen it as our own.

The Jonathan I now know by experience bears no resemblance to the loud noise a few of the neighbors who think they’re getting nothing for their modest annual assessment, or that they should get something for nothing, or that Mr. McKnight’s vision was wrong, and that we should have no trails, no parks, no shared common spaces, no Purple Martin Heavens, no snow-cleared walking trails, or cared-for common areas. Maybe just a jungle of selfishness would feel better. But my dogs know better. They’re so glad my neighbors and I pay to make their walks a thing of beauty and joy.  Sometimes our pets know better than we to give thanks for what we too easily take for granted.