Sunday, October 31, 2010


May I give you the photos without the words tonight? Will you understand how beautiful it can be to work on clearing branches and overgrowth for hours on end, until your back and your arms scream -- no more!?

Here are the photos. I'll come back to it all tomorrow. Every limb in me says -- I can do no more now. So, until then -- use your imagination. I'll let you know how far off you were...





Saturday, October 30, 2010

October gold

Twelve Siberian irises, fifty golden crocuses and a large span of geese flying south.


It is a fall yard clean up and get it together kind of day and man, do we ever get the deadwood out and the bulbs and bare roots in...

We work all sides of the farmhouse – pruning pines, hydrangeas, bushes, clipping dead stalks and limbs, heaving branches, mowing down patches of who knows what.

And we finish the fall planting too. In go the irises, the crocuses, the roses from my patio pots, the leftover narcissus.

We do it all.

We are not alone. To the east of the farmette, the truck farmers are raking and burning spent stalks.


The smell of autumn.

We hose down our planted spaces and scrape mud off our shoes and call it a day.

I bike back to town, past fields of bronze and gold, egged on by huge flocks of birds, circling, cawing, mocking me for my slow speed – at least as compared with their own.


I pick up the bike path...


...and scoot down to meet my daughter for a drink on State Street before it turns totally nuts down there (it’s the day of the great Halloween bash; these days it is fortified with barricades and plenty of police to keep the event sane).


After, we take a short stroll – up and down the street that is never as perfectly free of cars and buses as on this day. It's got the goblins and the reapers instead.


We don't stay out incredibly long though.  It's cold and she has plans and I have plans and so we go our separate ways – me, to meet up with Ed again and fall asleep watching a sad movie, she, to party and dance and who knows what else these young types do wth their night hours.

Ahh -- a typical Ocean near-midnight moment – the eyes close, the fingers aren’t quite done typing the post for the day...

Happy Halloween Eve. And good night.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday digging

Then came Friday. Most often, that’s a good thing. Ducks, loons, people... Everyone loves Friday. TGI Friday!


But I had this work issue to address today (it’s always the same one: how much teaching and at what pay  – and this remains perplexing to everyone, since I am uniquely outside the box of normal academic trajectories...), and so it was at once an anxiety ridden day and a busy work day and frankly – a somewhat cold day. The stubborn wind gusts did not help.


After my various meetings with people in positions of authority, I was done. For the week. And although it was rather late in the afternoon, I ever so happily pedaled over to Ed’s farmette. We worked from past 4 to beyond 7 (yes, it became quite dark) digging and planting 100 narcissus bulbs and 50 daylillies, interspersed, so that next spring, I will have, I hope, a riot of unpredictable and variegated bloom just outside the farmhouse. In front of this old crumbling place.


It is a dated and neglected structure. But so what. I’m able (my shoulder issues notwithstanding). Ed’s able (when he feels like being able). We’ll get it right. It will be a splendid farmette – with 100 daffodils and 50 daylillies blooming their heads off.

(Tomorrow we tackle the crocuses and the Siberian iris.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

sailboats on windy days

Would you agree that your very closest friends should sign emails to you with “love”? Perhaps your history with said friends demands a different sign off, but I’ll say this much – friends who have been willing to put this emotional mark on the email line have been friends for life. Others? The landscape there varies.

Love. Why would you even hesitate? You care. Surely that very act of caring will make someone happy, no?

Digression: my daughter (whom I love without reservations!) asked me to pick up some cupcakes this afternoon. She had run out of time and I had just finished teaching and so I flew down Bascom Hill to pick up the handful (75!) of treats that she needed (for her class).


Sweet stuff.

Now, back to the matter at hand: what happens when someone you adore has a big make-it-or-break-it moment before them the next day? Do you tell them good luck, my love?

Yes, you should.

I have a mild make-it-or-break-it moment (discussion?) tomorrow at work. And as I sit here pondering the direction this may take, I think, as well, how valuable are the people (just a few) in my life who consistently sign emails with “love.” So I’m thinking, if you have a friend, maybe you should do that for them. Because for me, it has been ... well, quite important.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Well, that was a rough one.

I hadn't fully grasped this: if the forecast is of gale-force winds, you don’t use your bike to get to work.

But I understood the minute I stepped outside. Deep blue skies, nice coors, who knew that it was going to be a nasty ride?


And let me tell you, if the ride to work was nasty (nothing like a record breaking gust hitting you at the side), the ride home, in the shadowy darkness of dusk, was worse.


Into the wind. With a stop at Whole Foods to pick up stuff for soup. Stay safe, the clerk tells me. Yes, sure. With a chicken fastened precariously to the back with a bungee cord and a pack filled with random veggies – I’ll stay safe.

Pushed this way and that, slowing down, standing up to make the bike go forward – what a ride.

Tomorrow I may leave the bike home. I need to recover.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


My workday is like a p.b.andj. On whole wheat.

The first slice of bread is the early morning work I do at home. On some days, when my classes start at 9:30, that slice of bread needs to be on the plate and ready for action by 6. If I dawdle and surf the Internet for a few wasted minutes, I can get quite behind.

Then comes the peanut butter. Teaching. At school. The bulk of the day is spent on this, and even when the last class ends at 2:30, I have students in my office and so I am quite glued to the campus for a while. Peanut butter is a sticky substance.

Of course, sometimes I let myself slap some jelly onto this heap. I dash down the hill to pick up a coffee. Bliss. (Except today when it was too windy for it to be bliss.)

I'm typically home by five. Then I have the final slice of whole wheat, and this is the tough part -- I take out the next day's work and I try to make progress. Sometimes I'll have a burst of energy, but typically I am too hungry (no, no time in all this for lunch), too tired, and I have too many emails to catch up with and so progress on anything else is very very slow.

At some point, usually after a glass of wine (which has it's disadvantages as it makes me hugely sleepy), I sit down to post.

The routine is so predictable that it demands an occasional reshuffle. But, those of you who do the p.b.andj. thing on a regular basis know how hard it is to shake an addiction to a more or less workable routine.

Still, today I went with baloney*. On whole wheat, with mustard.

Yes, I started with the slice of bread: yes, at 6 -- no time wasted today, so that I was ready to head out, class prepared, breakfast eaten, etc etc by 8:30. I didn't want to bike (too windy and too late a return tonight), so I went halvsies: bus for half the route (2 miles), walk for the remainder (1.5).

And what a walk it was!



Blew my sanity right out the door. Shush! (Hurricane strength winds noted in Wisconsin.)

Then the mustard -- the classes, one, two, three, and the students, one, and another... and then I did not go home. I worked late and met daughters downtown...


....for an off the square dinner at Kitchen -- the new baby of friends of mine (okay, I admit it -- children of friends -- I'm that old)...


So this is the baloney part. Aptly labeled, I think, as the restaurant is especially strong in the meat department.

Oh! Do they do meats well!


Actually, they do everything well. The meat plate, the berry salad, the beans and rabbit, the chocolate with the sprinkle of sea salt... amazing.

The trouble was with the last slice of bread: too tired to slap it on at home. You could say that today it was an open face sandwich.

*metaphorically speaking; I haven't eaten baloney since I was a kid; I don't even know if they still make it...

Monday, October 25, 2010


Ed and I purchased 150 bulbs to plant at the farmette. It is a significant event as it is the first item to be logged into the book of improvements that will note most everything that will happen there.

Weird. First house improvement: bulbs. But the fact is, bulbs must go in now.

Chipmunks will dig them out – Ed tells me.
No they wont.
Yes they will.

This is going to be a fun project.

(The truth is, I think,  that the crocuses are vulnerable but the daylilies and daffodils – less so.)

But there is another more significant thing to be learnt here: I am in a daring mode again. I’m making assumptions, I’m betting, I’m forging ahead.

Time to take chances.

But not too fast. Let’s just start with the bulbs and see what happens.

(Photo: from the lake shore bike path, on the ride home.)


Sunday, October 24, 2010

work born of optimism

Here are some numbers for you: three months of condo selling, two offers, neither translating into a finished sale. And now we enter the slow season. What to do? Slash price to ridiculously low level, because truly, I just want to move on.

Where to?

Where these farmers would be my neighbors.



In a burst of optimism, I spent the day clearing the front yard of the farmhouse at Ed’s place. It’s where I’ll move once I sell the condo. We pulled dozens and dozens of blackberry canes and horrible bamboo canes (like rabbits, they understand little about limiting their reproductive capacities), and we trimmed ancient lilac bushes and transplanted out-of-control rose stalks and we tried to pull down a tree hanging dangerously over the barn, but we failed there. The chain saw had issues.


...still, it felt so good to be digging and pulling and pruning again.

I am my grandfather’s child.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

kettle run (part two)

We had hoped for one last fall night in the forest. Ed has the tent in the car, the pack, the “Curry in a Hurry.” But as the forecast stays firmly with rain for the week-end, I balk. It’s not fun to wake up to a cold, wet morning, to take down a dripping tent, to watch the cuffs of your pants slowly grow wet and muddy.

And so we settle on a hike that would take us into the Northern Kettle Moraine Forest in the bright, piercing light of the afternoon...


...hoping to hike out for about two hours, and to turn around then to hike back, so that we return before the night takes over the forest.

We leave Madison in such a hurry (it is already afternoon and the sun is well into its descent) that neither of us has eaten anything since the morning cereals.

There are times when I feel that my life would be made significantly better if a good cup of strong coffee crossed my path. This is one of those times. I'm nearly reconciled to go to a McDonald's, on the theory that if Dunkin Donuts can do good coffee (I'm told), so, too, can McDonald's. But as I turn off the road near Waupon, I see a tiny little sweet shop with candied apples, popcorn, an ice cream cones and, more to the point, a great big sputtering espresso machine. (You know what coffee looks like. Let's admire the candied apples:)


I’m fortified. We continue east. Our maps aren’t the best and we lose our way any number of times and so it isn’t until after 3 that we finally locate the intersection of the Ice Age Trail with the county road.

It’s a hilly trail, climbing to the ridgeline, then back down to the marshlands, and up again.



We're in a mixed forest. Most leaves have long fallen, but there is always the splash of remaining color to remind us that we are still in the tail end of fall.


And there are other reminders. Intermittent gunfire. Of course. We don’t spot the hunters – they’re presumably by the lakes chasing the ducks and turkeys, but the noise of their rifles travels over the hills. I have to say, by now I’ve grown used to it. It’s not possible to hike in this season and not hear the hunters.

Ah well, there are gentler hints of the wilderness too. As the trail crosses a road, we stop at an information stand and watching the small body of a dragonfly, resting, unbothered by our presence.


We continue, noting that the light grows less strident, more golden and honey toned. Surely the lateness of the hour has come to be an advantage. Every twist brings a new panorama of muted color.


One, dip, then another and another and so we continue on...


But the gentleness of the light and the length of our shadows are also reminders that we need to turn around now...



Indeed, it doesn’t take long for the sun to do one final side splash of orange...



.. and then to completely disappear.



You have your flashlight, right?
With you?
In the pocket of the jacket in the car.

No matter. We have a good hour with the gray light of dusk. We walk on a bed of dry leaves and the noise of our footsteps is predictable and soothing. Once, we disturb a pack of turkeys and we watch them flee with great haste into the dense brush. Mostly, though, the forest is quiet. A darting squirrel, a frightened bird and then again, only the sound of our rhythmical steps.

And now the moon is out. Bright, so bright, picked up by a reflecting lake – Mud Lake, one of many bearing this nondescript name...


It would have been a fine evening for setting up camp. But I see the clouds on the western horizon.

Not this time. Next spring, when the snows melt. Not this time.


Friday, October 22, 2010

kettle run (part one)

We’re in Kewaskum, Wisconsin, eating turkey salad with cranberries and nuts. With plum Oolung tea for me. The little corner place will close in a few minutes and we’ll be heading home – it's two hours south-west of here.

...Thinking now how fantastic it was to get away from it all, to hike again along the Ice Age Trail – the segment that runs through the Kettle Moraine North – until the sun set so completely and the moon rose so magnificently and we had to call it quits.

It had been a day of meetings, of presiding over university appeal hearings – long hours, hard cases. And then it was done. I leave campus – the students, the books, the paperwork – all of it. I’ve had more than my share this week. Adios.


I meet Ed at Tormach -- the place of the machine business that grabs his attention quite a bit these days. It’s in Waunakee and I’m curious to take a look at their new business space – it has a significant number of my photos (turned into large canvases) throughout and I want to see if I like the end result. I do. Down to the last one, in the women’s bathroom.


And then we set out. Late, okay, so it’s late to take on a big hike. But late is our habit and we don’t want to wait until tomorrow. There’s rain tomorrow and brilliant sunshine today.

And how was it out there, just beyond Kewaskum?

You’ll have to come back and read about it later. Tonight, tomorrow – don’t know. For now, let me take you to the last stretch of our hike, when the moon was just exactly perfect and the sounds of birds and ducks broke the silence of the darkened forest.


Thursday, October 21, 2010


I met up with daughters for a pizza tonight. My week of marathon work is done. I have to exhale.

In.... out... exhale.

I had biked crazily, dangerously perhaps earlier in the day (but not really: the people who push boundaries but know what they’re doing rarely get into trouble).

I was in a hurry. And tired. I’d been up since 3 grading.

Evening comes. I think – I should get a regional seasonal perspective in now. 


Or maybe I should think none of this, allowing myself, instead, to roll with whatever is before me.


Yes, surely that. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to catch up on plain, delicious sleep.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

birds of a feather

I biked in along the lake path to work again. Such birds there were on the waters of Lake Mendota! Ducks, geese, gulls, heron – you name it!


Numerically, it is an unusual day. Sixty years ago (meaning in 1950) on this day (meaning the 20th day of the 10th month), Ed was born – an event which he now chooses to ignore.


Five years ago (meaning in 2005) today (again, the 20th day of this 10th month) he and I first met. All those rounded numbers! Multiples of five! Even this, of course, is something he would not view as special or important or worthy of mention.

But I do.

We became traveling companions of sorts on that day. It is a description that is nearly perfect: we navigate the everyday in the most absurd way – two people who have not a whole lot in common, except when we agree on something, which is not that often.

But neither do we disagree.


We think differently, he and I. We see things from our own histories and aside from the years I lived in New York as a kid (as did he), our histories don’t overlap much. I would never have done any of the things he considers important in his life and he would never have done things I consider important.

And yet, we sure as hell travel together in the most agreeable manner. And we have figured out how to get on a pleasant path, and we have figured out a whole lot of things about the other, so that different as we are, we are indeed quite good at navigating the everyday.

We did something different tonight: we ate out. And at a nice place, a new place – Nostrano on the Square. An acquiescence to the other: he, to my love (these days very rarely realized) of great food, me, to the understanding that he and I together do not typically search out great food in Madison.


Two birds, with few matching feathers. Funny how that works.