Monday, October 31, 2011

cold thoughts

I put the bike in middle gear (to free myself from paying attention to gears) and I set out. A Halloween ride to work.




I take the eight mile route which is mostly bike path. So I would not have to think about the road. Occasionally, I look up at the last day of October colors...


...but mostly, I get lost in my own thoughts – of how Sunday had come and gone and I had a nice family dinner and a clean house but not much else to show for it. About how I hate it when I waste a good day. About how cold it is when you’re biking in weather that hovers above freezing, but just a little above. About how the holes in the helmet don’t help in keeping the head warm.

About the grayness of the waters, the blackness of the birds...


...the somber seriousness of a day without sunshine.

It never cleared up. It was supposed to, but it didn’t. Still, it feels good to pedal vigorously and be in one’s own safe haven of thoughts. Truly, time well spent.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Two hours into movie watching last night, I said to Ed – are you still wowed by this crisp new 32 inch TV?
Now that you mention it, maybe should look for something better, cheaper...
No, it’s not that. It’s that after a while, you stop noticing how much better it is than what we had.
It’s true. It suddenly looks very normal.
Exactly. It's no longer astonishing. Not after the first hour.
It sort of blends into the background.
I hardly see the picture as large anymore.
Football – if we watched football, we’d notice the difference.
...But since we don’t watch football, we'll never fully appreciate its size.

The movie ends. The credits roll down the screen.
On the other hand, it sure is nice to be able to read these... (this from Ed.)

After Rosie, the TV (or my share of it) is by far the biggest purchase I am likely to indulge this year. But Rosie has proven herself. Rosie is dangerous, Rosie is fun. Rosie is useful. A larger TV is not dangerous and not useful. On the fun issue – initially, yes. But for how long?

Sunday. A drizzly day, a quiet day. Ed gets his beard trimmed, I tag along. For the promised cup of coffee at the café...

DSC09422 - Version 2

...and out of habit.

I should worry about my future, I say to Ed on the drive home. I should not spend money on a larger TV (or half of it; we split the $300 cost).

After, I finish cleaning the farmhouse. I hear Ed bringing in the cardboard box and disentangling the chords. Fitting the new TV into its original container. To be returned to Walmart’s later in the day.

I suppose the larger screen has come to stand for much more than what the TV really is. Ed, in his playfulness teases me about my wanting a bigger set when we are in the store. I walk away from these irrelevant displays depleted. I don't think it’s entirely an exchange about the set.

Sunday evening. The house is golden!


A warm home.

A couple of days ago, Ed and I filled out applications for credit cards. They're discontinuing our favorite 2% card,  the one with no foreign transaction fees. On the address portion of the application I am asked: "Own? Rent? Other?"

I checked off “other.”

Hands down the best part of the day is when my older daughter comes home (whose home?) for dinner tonight with her boyfriend.


In my mind, my daughters are (blissfully) what we are not: unencumbered by past mistakes, free to buy (or not buy) a TV at Walmarts or elsewhere without giving it weighty emotional consideration.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

standard fare

It’s been a late fall. I compare photos from October 29th last year – when I spent the day planting bulbs at the farmhouse, a bleak, moldy, crumbling farmhouse – with today’s pics and yesterday’s as well and I think wow, we’re still golden this year!


Saturday. My daughter and I thought it was the last outdoor market day on the Square and so we were sure to be there, taking in the usual late fall stuff...



In fact, the last market day is next week. But who knows what the weather will be then! Cold, yes, that’s a given. But will the sun be out like it was this morning?


My older girl had purple hair today – a nod to Madison’s official Halloween. I have a soft spot for this day, maybe because I remember so vividly when Ed and I ventured out onto State Street six years ago, freshly learning to be with each other. It was very crowded and I had the uncomfortable feeling that in chasing down photos, I would lose track of him. It was on that day that I learned that there’s something to be said for hanging out with someone who is six foot four.

We're at the café. It's just as it should be: people dropping by, standing at the counter, talking.

DSC09416 - Version 2

When the café closes, Ed and I drive to the nearby Walmart’s. He needs shoelaces and I always enjoy being horrified at how much cheap stuff they sell there.

We find adequate shoe laces and are about to retreat when Ed, to be annoying, says – let’s look at the TVs. He knows I want a bigger one (the current 19 incher is not digital and, well, it’s tiny) and he knows I wont spend money on it. So he tortures me by leading us past the coveted 32 inchers every time we're in a store that sells them. I fall in love with the sets, urge us to take the plunge, he makes a tsk tsk don’t be foolish noise and we retreat. This has happened more than a dozen times over the past few years.

Except this time, there is a Sony 32 incher for under $300. That’s Walmart for you. Ed, we can do this!

We buy it. We drive home.


And it’s a good thing. I’m too spent to go out tonight. Too many hours devoted to paper reading. State Street kids can have fun parading up and down in various states of undress in 40 degree weather. I’m going to sit back and let technology impress me.

Friday, October 28, 2011

chasing the rising sun

The spring and summer enthusiasm I had for catching a sunrise diminished this season. Even though the sunrise is later (today – at 7:28 a.m.), on days when I do not have to scramble out of bed for work, I find it hard to scramble out for much of anything, especially when it is still dark-ish outside.

But this morning, during the usual morning toss from one side to another, I think about the frost outside (I’d read that we’d be well below freezing overnight) and I think, too, how in a week, I’ll have to get up a whole hour earlier to catch a sunrise. And the sky looks kind of interesting. Suggestive of something good.

And so I pull on some warm sweats and set out on Rosie, chasing the sun – at the place and moment when it breaks over the horizon.

And here’s a surprise: the sunrise has moved since I last looked for it in the middle of July! It's not there, over the fields where I expected it.

I veer north a little and then look east. Ah, okay, I can see the beams of pre-sunrise light...


Closer now. There it is -- in the place where it will emerge, from behind a barn and the lake just beyond.


And here’s another (rather unfortunate) thing I discover: riding Rosie in temps that are below freezing without gloves is a bad, terribly bad idea. I cannot stand the cold against my quickly freezing knuckles, at the same time that I cannot guard against it. I pull the jacket over my hand and clutch the handlebar (which, for those who do not know – is also the “gas pedal” for the motorbike) in a clumsy fashion through the thick leather. It sort of works. Very sort of.

It becomes obvious that the sunrise can best be viewed by Lake Waubesa. It’s a mere couple of miles from the farmhouse, but when you’re riding awkwardly and with cold fingers, it seems many moons away.

Okay, bite the cold fingers, bite the cold ankles (I also neglected to throw on socks) and move forward. A harder twist on the handlebar and I’m there. And it is beautiful.


I shut of Rosie’s engine. Rest up old girl. And be still.
The ducks paddle among the ripples. A lakeside resident comes out to look. Pretty, isn’t it?


The sun rises.
Hi sun.


After a while, I turn Rosie around and brace for the ride home. The face shield is steaming from my warm breath. Up it goes. No, that’s too cold. Back down. Up. Down.

But after all, it’s the frost, hoar frost, that nudged me up and out to begin with. And it’s there, in the harvested cornfields, you can see it. I pause in one of my favorites spots – just around the corner from the farmhouse. In the early hours, there’s almost always a deer to be seen. Yes, she is there. They are there.


At the farmhouse, I stand under a hot shower for a long while.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

singing in the rain

I didn’t have time this morning. You know how it is – you plan to be out by a certain hour and it creeps up on you, but you have one more paper to print, one more pb&j sandwich to fix, one more lecture problem to review and then it’s past the hour of departure.

Rosie. I have to take Rosie – she’s the fastest. (The car is faster, but the walk to the law school from the parking lot is longer so bottom line – it’s Rosie, or be late!)

So why is it raining? Is it raining? Or not? Or is there sun? No? Well then what?

I set out. Drizzle. No drizzle. Then rain. And then not. A wet road, here and there. A grain machine, a line of deeply hued trees, a bend in the road.


I sing and I think – damn, these country roads are pretty!

But very quickly, I’m in city traffic. Watch those cars pulling in, stopping, imagine where you might go if this one suddenly slows down, watchful, watchful. Finally, I park, I run to class. Grab cup with tea, seating chart, run down, hoist up podium. With twenty seconds to spare.

It’s a full day. Too full. In fact, the whole week has been horrendously packed with work. It won’t slow down for me, not anymore, not until it’s over in December. I’m done grading midterms, but so what -- as of today, I have four dozen memos to read, grade, write comments for.

But it’s Thursday and my teaching, if not my work, ends for the week. I get on the wet saddle of Rosie and head for the café, just before it closes.

We buy dinner sandwiches. Don’t want to cook, don’t want to even think of what I should cook.

Ed rides his motorcycle just behind me, but I wave him on. Go home, go home, I need to pause and take a photo. Because the sky is stunning now in the early evening.


And in the last quarter mile, it’s over the top beautiful  -- a tad like those canvases you see for sale in dollar stores, touched up beyond credibility. Except tonight, it is for real.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I permitted myself a five minute detour on the way to the café. Leaving work, it’s not that big of a sidestep. Turn at Lake Wingra, follow the road.


It’s an empty road, as it connects with nothing but the homes secluded at the side of the Arboretum. It’s the best possible place to take Rosie. No traffic. A few joggers even more vulnerable than me. Speed limit of 25 MPH. I like that.

It’s hard to retrieve the joy of riding Rosie when she serves this utilitarian purpose of weaving me through traffic to get me to school on time. Hard, but not impossible.

In the evening, my older girl comes over for dinner. With her Halloween-like bag.


And after, Ed and I watch a library film on laughter. It underscores what we all know – that laughter, like joy, are disappearing from the everyday of our lives.

I remember how hard I laughed late at night in Ghana last spring. Why? Because the handful of people in the room wanted to laugh as much as I did then.

They say stress may lead to laughter. Well there you have it. In these weeks of intense work, I should be laughing more and more.

I’ll let you know.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

re: work

I spent the entire day – from six in the morning until late at night working on classes and student issues. Since I resist writing about work here, on Ocean, I ought to let it go at that, showing perhaps only the pretty fall view from my office window, as most of at least the daylight hours were spent in my office.


But I do want to say this: teaching, for me is different these days than it was in the early years, when I was also raising kids and trying to keep my face above water as my teaching load grew and grew and grew. Those days I was audaciously bold. I had to be. Like in camping, hiking, kayaking, and Rosie riding – you’re bolder at the beginning. Otherwise you’d never move out the front door. Or you’d call a cab rather than put yourself at risk. Can’t afford cabs? Well then, swallow your fears and get going. Same with teaching: can’t afford to be unemployed? Well then, stand up and teach.

These days I wont stand up unless I’ve done all my homework. And believe me, even after some two dozen years of teaching, there is still plenty of homework.

At the end of the day, I’m more tired now than I used to be, even as there are no kids to attend to at home, no sleepless nights over a little one’s cough or sore tummy. It’s age? I don’t think so. More likely, it’s the realization that everything is more complicated than once imagined and could be improved upon if you gave it more thought, more consideration.

I ran into a colleague of mine in the faculty lounge as I waited for a printing job to end. I grumbled a little about how each year teaching required more of me for every class, how it never once slowed down. She is somewhat older than me and I could tell that she understood. It’s why I retired – she said. (She still teaches the occasional course – at the law school’s and at her discretion.)

Some work surely becomes easier with repetition. I watch the truck farmers by the farmette as they clear the fields. This one, for example (she’s my favorite – when there are flowers, she’s the first to run up and grab me a handful), maintains her bent position for many hours each day.


Surely her muscles grow strong enough to support that bend in the back! I looked on with not a small dose of admiration. Over time, she has accumulated a reservoir of strength. Over time, I’ve accumulated knowledge as to where strength would be most welcome.

Monday, October 24, 2011

light visions

Am I recovered enough to ride to work on Mr Red? I can’t help but think that, until the snow comes, it’s probably one of the last pretty Fall days. Already the fields are mighty desolate. Only good light makes them look warm and bucolic.

And speaking of warm and pretty, let me start with a morning look out at the feeding station – the tree the birds love to dine at. It was a “where’s Waldo” moment: a red bird amidst red fruits.


But this morning, the birds are outshined by what finally looks like pure loveliness (in my opinion): the freshly painted (north face of the) farmhouse. Ahhh.... (Or is it especially lovely in the softer morning light?)


Okay, so I bike to work. And because I decided (most likely) to make this the last bike ride in (the distance is too long for me to enjoy a ride on cold days), I take the longer way. Lovely, in a harvested and dry sort of way.


The bumps are a little tough on the ribs still, but still, I am happy to be biking, to be ending the season on a slightly longer ride (twenty miles for the day).

After work, I bike to the café where Ed waits, having worked some on scraping and patching now the east face of the house. It’ll be a while before that’s done, but it doesn’t really matter. When I come home, I enter through the north. Its cheerful yellow is there now to greet me.

Time to go home. In the last quarter mile, I pause. There’s not much to the land now. It’s all in the light. It’s enough. Pretty. To the core.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

win some

I listen this evening to a description of a person’s life: leaving the classroom, traveling on a motorcycle to get a glimpse of life elsewhere, scorning convention and dress codes, reinterpreting reality, succeeding in engineering something that simplifies discovery for others, scorning money, sort of, and medicine, for a while anyway... sounds like Steve Jobs? Maybe. Actually, to me, it sounds awfully like Ed.

And what would descriptors include for me? Works hard especially in unpredictable arenas, moves impulsively, rejects the negative, loves much of the remainder, wins some, loses elsewhere. Hmm, I think the first path is a surer one to success.

Sunday. If all my Sundays looked like this one, I would work hard in unpredictable arenas to make major changes in my life. Clean farmhouse, re-clean mess after Ed carries painting paraphernalia through farmhouse to the roof, and then again after he carries it in because of unexpected rain, and then again after he carries it out in the early evening because I tell him the north face has to be yellow in its entirety or else I’ll move impulsively elsewhere (not really, but it’s the kind of thing I might toss out and then try hard not to laugh).

DSC00205 - Version 2

Ed paints, I work on my paper work – the unfortunate weekend of late fall for me.

Finally, as the sun nears the clouds that churn around the horizon, I go out for a short stroll. The skies are always pretty now. It is still hard to believe that at the end of my driveway, I can look to the left and see this...


...and I can look straight ahead and see this...


Win some, lose some? Yes, I’d say I’m on a winning streak.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


We eat breakfast with the birds, Ed and I. Perhaps not in the way you imagine – we don't all sit down to the same meal, served in the same space, but we're eating and so are they and it all seems rather communal on this gorgeous late fall morning.

Later, I go out to watch the twitteres finish their morning meal.


If I moved too much, they would disappear. But in fact, it is not hard to sit still, face toward sun, camera trying to pick out the bird from between the apples.


Ed finally goes back to painting and I join him up on the roof, taking my work there for as long as the sun stays with us -- which isn't terribly long: it sinks below the eaves and eludes us soon after noon. I'm catching the last corner of it here.


Like a kid, I have to have my turn at the painting. Let me, let me... It’s fun, so long as you are interloping and can give it up as soon as your arm grows stiff from the elevated back and forth.

Ed keeps on painting, I keep on working, indoors now, until it is close to the café’s closing hour.

We bike over in what has to be near perfect end of October weather. It’s my first burst of exercise since the motorbike tumble and I can’t say that my ribs aren’t sore from the effort. But, I tell Ed that we have been underusing significant muscle groups and so we push on. All of the “long” seven miles it takes to get there and back.

At the café Ed eats too much and sleeps too long and I mentally subtract the amounts of food I'll be needing to prepare for supper. For once I do not mind. It’s not a day for cooking, It’s a day for letting the sun warm your back as you pedal home. And for pausing to watch the pair of sandhills pick and choose from the bounty of roadside foods.


At the café, a customer was telling me that a friend has seen cougars some fifty miles north of us and yet another has spotted a black bear – a mere five miles west. Tall tales over a late afternoon coffee. Next time I’ll throw in my two sandhills. It wont trump cougars and bears, but I live among birds these days. They are my story.


In the alternative, I can brag about progress in farmhouse painting. Ed tells me by the end of the season, this north face should be done.


Ho hum? Okay, let’s go back and admire the sandhill crane.


Friday, October 21, 2011


There was a night earlier in September when I’m told there was frost. It couldn’t have been significant. Everything around the farmette survived. Even our prickly tomatoes.

Last night it was the real thing. I had a great desire to be up early, camera in hand, running barefoot across fields covered with a white coat of frozen dew. But, in this season, bouncing up and out early is less attractive. I waited under under the quilt, contemplating the seasons and by the time I was outside what horefrost covered the fields surely must have succumbed to the power of a beautiful sunny morning.


But in shady spots, there’s no denying it. We had some pretty lovely crystals of frost.


I did walk the property, leisurely, loving the quiet beginning to the day. And the remaining explosions of color, coming from the crab apples that never seem to fall. The branches will be leafless but the red fruits will still be there.


Nothing in the hours after was as good as this moment of morning light. I worked nonstop until early evening, meeting Ed then at the café, where the proprietors celebrated his past birthday by presenting him  with a pickle. Ed loves their New York pickles. It was a thoughtful gesture. The entire café sang Happy Birthday and Ed ignored the whole lot of us while I laughed and laughed.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

time for dinner

Yes, no, yes, no, So windy! An out of state student asked today – is it always this windy in Wisconsin? I have to say, I don’t ever remember it being windy more than a day or two out of the year. I suppose wind wouldn’t have registered in the past, in my quick bike ride between work and the condo.

Yes, no, yes, no, Rosie or car. Car. Rosie. Rosie. Okay, Rosie. But I know we’re winding down, Rosie and I. There’s no logic behind it, but on cold weather days, I feel more vulnerable zipping by on a motor scooter.

Logic, luck – funny things, they are. I remember the last time I went downhill skiing (some four years ago). I was surprised to see that the slopes had skiers with helmets. Of course! Makes sense! That’s a hellish speed we take on during a downhill run. Why didn’t we wear helmets before, when I was a young and frequent skier? (For the same reason we didn’t wear helmets as kids when we biked. It wasn’t the custom.) Luck: the two times I fell on my head in my life were two times when I was fully protected.

But skiing never left me feeling vulnerable. Neither did biking. It’s the mixing of speed and other cars that gives me pause. Still, when Rosie and I scoot down the country roads, I am truly happy. Free of traffic, I notice everything around me and it is such a pretty world out there!

Though in fact, today’s post isn’t intended to be about the Rosie ride. Forget about Rosie just for now. Today’s the day when Ed turns 61 and, perhaps more significantly (as he really does not celebrate his birthday) – it’s the day that marks our time together – six years ago we met. Reluctantly on his part and on my part as well. Go ahead, my daughter tells me. Go out with him. He could be nice. Should I? the guy who writes to tell me I am so different from him that we have nothing in common? Really?

...The guy who, on our first trip to France together (just two months after meeting), tells me one evening – you go and eat dinner. I’m not hungry.
But, but, this is France! How could you not eat dinner in France?!
I ate a lot of bread at the bakery this morning.
But, but we’re staying at a restaurant with rooms! We're here to eat!
You eat. I’ll sit and watch.
I can’t go through that! No one sits at the table refusing to eat!
I’m not hungry.

We almost parted then. He started looking at train schedules to England, to visit a friend. But he didn’t leave and I stopped fussing. Or at least, I let days pass before I fuss.

This morning, as we eat cereal together at breakfast time...


...I ask him this – how is it that our meals have become more erratic? That you've taken to stuffing things at the café and passing on home cooked meals later in the evening?
You like going to the café. You drink coffee, I eat.
And then you sleep...


...But I miss the days when you didn’t eat through the day and were hungry for dinner.
We’ll go to dinner tonight.

We do go to dinner tonight. At Sardine, we eat oysters because we both love raw oysters. Besides, they’re 50% off if you show up before 6.


And we’ll come home, past fields of gold except they’re not so gold now, just dark shadows against an amazing sky.... with the silo from the farmette at the horizon, reminding us of home...


...and once home,  one or both of us will surely fall asleep before the library rented movie is over – his favorite or my favorite, rarely do the two overlap. And tomorrow he’ll eat during the day and doze off at the café with a newspaper over his chest (as he did today) and I’ll remind him that the house needs to be painted and so it continues – the story of Ed and me, inexplicably a good story, without a visible ending.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

fall chicken

I can tell when I’m going to be undone by the weather: when the mudroom – the exit point for the farmhouse – is a good twenty degrees chillier than the rest of the house. It tells me something. Like – perhaps this isn’t the best day to ride Rosie.

Oh, I know I could. Low forties... but not a speck of sun and with a vicious wind. It would not be pleasant. Reluctantly I pull open the door of the Last of the Red Hot Lovers (we have to find a shorter name for her!) and slide in.

If you think that this move into the driver’s seat requires no effort, you’re wrong. It’s the first day since the tumble a week ago that I am venturing forth without a Moltrin to keep the aches and pains from dominating the conversation. I’d say that maybe I should have continued for one more day.

I pass the fields where the truck farmers are clearing dried debris, readying the fields for next spring. On a bike or motorbike, I would be nearly inconspicuous with my camera. Now, as I pause, the farmer looks up, sees me, I wave, he waves. A tiny upside of driving.


Is there another? Sure. I can grocery shop after work and not worry about traffic between campus and Whole Foods. Cars are used to other cars, even as they’re not used to wee motorbikes.

At the store, I buy chicken for the weekend. As I maneuver the car out the lot, toward the café and home, I promise myself other bike rides before the year’s end. Sure I will. In the meantime, it’s nice and cozy in the car. Cluck cluck.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

the music inside

The new, red helmet came in the mail yesterday. This morning I put it on.


Nice snug fit. A visor to keep that wind from slapping my face around. All good.

But I know, too, that I’m entering the tough season. Not cold enough to give up riding Rosie, but cold nonetheless. And I’m stepping into a palate of grays and browns.


On a blustery day like today, the ride is starting to be a real challenge. And, since the tumble last week, I’ve been riding as if I had ten precious babies in the basket behind me. Or at least egg cartons. By the time I arrive at work (or at the café after work), I feel like I’ve jogged the seven miles, even as I’ve moved hardly a muscle.

And still, I have to say, the rugged start to the day (and, too, the rugged ending) feels right. It can’t all be easy out in the country. It’s part of the deal: I have this ride, when the wind feels rough and the hills and skies look gray.

And here’s a small new pleasure that I’ve discovered with my new helmet: when the face shield is down, I can sing and hear myself inside the capsule. The noise of the world is muted. Whatever tune I hum fills my small world. It's oddly satisfying.