31 January 2008

my Walden Pond

When I landed at a small private university in southwest lower Michigan.....I felt too old to be dealing with the drama of hanging out in the dorm with a bunch of freshmen. So, I would commune with classmates and we would rent some overpriced slum together.

But, one year, I had an offer I couldn't pass up. Some cousins had a fishing cottage on a small lake about 20 minutes from university. I could have it cheap and all to myself. So I took it. This winter has reminded me a great deal of the winter I spent in the cabin on the lake, which I referred to as "my Walden Pond", in 1994. It was awfully cold and there was one whole week that I was snowed in-couldn't even get into town.....anyone who knows southwest Michigan knows exactly what I'm talking about.

But the little cabin was great, nestled in with some great old maples and oaks-fall color was spectacular, the winter lent itself to contemplation and finally when spring broke....I'd open the windows and listen to the brush of the water on the sandy shore and feel the breeze come in off the lake. I called it my Walden Pond, partly because I had just read some of Thoreau's work, but also because it allowed me to grow so much, spiritually and intellectually, that I often look back at that period of time in my college life as my turning point in what I valued, and the principles that would ultimately drive me today.

I'm convinced we all need places of retreat in our lives......I'm working very hard at convincing my wife of this too. At the very least, we need to plan in retreats in our busy schedules to allow us to stop, breathe in, look around and see what we have been blessed with.

28 January 2008

seeing things in black & white

I became a huge fan of black and white photography while in college. The understanding one has to have in order to pull off good black and white shots has to run as deep as the contrast on a late winter afternoon bathed in sunlight. Ansel Adams was a master-I love looking through books of his work. Just a few Hoosier shots..........and for some fun, see if you can find the face in one of the images.

In the Spotlight Again

Coming off the heels of stardom from DMHO's performance on the Next Great American Band, you'd think our little town couldn't take much more excitement. But, Saturday night the spotlight turned on our community once again as the home to Miss America 1st runner up, Miss Indiana-Nicole Rash. I know the family-in fact her cousins are my cousins......which isn't so uncommon around here.

I like to remind my wife that I also knew Miss Michigan back in 1996; not a very smart girl though. Her dad was the dean of our department at university. Her boyfriend was a campus cop and he heard me spouting off about her dad once and I and all my friends in the department received parking tickets on our cars. That wasn't so cool.

Congratulations Nicole. You've made your home town proud!

24 January 2008

lots of Lincoln

At the request of a reader.........here are a few more shots from my frigid day on the highway. They include the Marshall County Courthouse, the 1927 Lincoln Highway Bridge/Jefferson Street Bridge in Plymouth (let's hope for a restoration), a Mail Pouch sign, and some highway and railroad structures. Now, I'm partial to our 1928 alignment, but look at the pictures, it's with just cause! The Lincoln follows the Pennsylvania Railroad through much of the county, so it is a particularly nice drive in mid summer when the wildflowers are blooming between the road and railroad in the wide right of way. The stone arches are found in four locations along the route, but, unfortunately the concrete bridge is the last of its kind here.

22 January 2008

Lost on the Lincoln

I am an old roads aficionado. I made my family travel route 66 when my son was three and daughter only 10 months.......at least I had a blast. I'm fortunate four historic routes cris-cross our county......one being the Lincoln Highway. The good folks at the Indiana Lincoln Highway Association are attempting to get historic status for our stretch of road and, so, need to have the road and road architecture documented. This is right up my alley.

Well, I was supposed to have started this last fall when the temps were more agreeable. But, procrastinate as I did, found myself in subzero weather this weekend (the long underwear came in handy) driving, walking and taking lots of pictures. The cold detoured my fun in this.

In my travels, I have driven portions of the Lincoln across the state and into Ohio, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. I think it could be fun to do the whole road sometime-from New York to California. It is billed as America's first transcontinental highway, unveiled in 1912-Route 66 just has the kitch appeal. My enjoyment in it is the slowing down, taking in the scenery & culture, stopping at the mom & pops and meeting real folks. The poignant message of the harm in bypassing our small towns is found in a great little film called "Cars". While its made for kids, many older folk have told me they love it too.

149 pictures and over 100 structures later, our little stretch of the Lincoln has been documented. I thought I'd share a couple pictures with you, but I warn you, these aren't so artsy-it was dang cold!

21 January 2008

pilgrimage to Wall-Mecca

I had the great joy and privilege of visiting my favorite place on earth-WalMart, last Friday night. The kids were with the grandparents, my wife and I got a little dessert and at about 9:00 pm I looked across the street and said, well, it's about 9 on a Friday night, the crazies should be at WalMart now, shall we join them?

I wanted some picture frames, and needed batteries for the camera. So, my once a year trip to WalMart came early this year, very early.

You take your life in your hands.......me and a little boy named Cletus nearly got ran over by his mother on one of those motorized carts. It was like a demolition derby in there with all the carts with diet-challenged folks whizzing past you. I was unable to locate long underwear at our previous stop-so I went looking-the fella browsing the XXL section moved over a little for me to find some smalls, then said "yep, reckon' near everyone will be needin' these tamarra". Indeed, 20 below wind chill-they did come in handy.

The self-scanner didn't work either. My wife says it's because I was along-she never has trouble. Do you think it scanned my resentment of the big box? As we left, I said, that's what you get for supporting WalMart.......who supports America by taking away the American dream, shipping jobs overseas to China so we can buy toys that will kill us. It is the American way.

Still-it's not as annoying as the tv commercial running for the Elkhart mall now........something about representing family values. How can a mall do that?

18 January 2008

Hail to the Chief

my dad, uncle & great grandpa with the Chief in 1952

A terrible tale emerges from our corner of the state. One of greed, deception and death. Chief Menominee and his band of peaceful, assimilated Pottawatomie's were forced off their reservation by armed cavalry in 1838, beginning the Trail of Death that led to Logansport, then west into Illinois, finally ending in the southwest. Several children and older members of the tribe died en route.

In their zeal to have white settlers on the Menominee Reservation, the government struck a deal after providing alcohol to younger members of the tribe. The Chief, who legitimately owned the land, and remaining tribe did not know what had happened. They gathered in their chapel, for they had converted to Catholicism, and were locked in by armed men until the death march began.

Simply put, their land was stolen. I'm no revisionist......check out the account yourself, a diary kept on the Trail of Death, along with other accounts, are found on line. To underscore the injustice, and to commemorate the "peaceful Chief", local citizens lobbied the state legislature to fund a monument, dedicated in 1909. A replica chapel was also to be constructed-but no one seems to know where those funds went.

As we approach the centennial of the dedication of the monument, we should contemplate the lasting effects this march had, not only upon the Pottawatomie, but also upon ourselves. Resentment, hate and sorrow can last generations. While I don't fully ascribe to "sins of the father" philosophy......there is something to be said of owning up to our collective, community ancestral role in this event.......and maybe it's time to ask forgiveness.

16 January 2008

Hoosier Rubbers

Well, you may have thought the last entry was a little "racey".......this one is really racey....probably will make you blush. In honor of a good friend of mine who works at Hoosier Tire, I submit to you a new product line....
Hoosier Rubbers
Now, this blog is rated PG, so let's be careful here. But don't you think it would be a perfect product line for Hoosier Tire to sell? I mean, come on, they deal in rubber, so why not take their trademark purple, create a condom with racing stripes, or treaded texture and market it to their already built-in fan base of NASCAR enthusiasts? Talk about a money maker!

Am I off base here, or just coming off half-cocked?

15 January 2008


In observation of Martin Luther King Day, and maybe in advance observation of Black History Month, I thought I would include this entry. I had a friend in college named Darnell. Darnell was black-he knew it and I knew it. I wasn't around black folk much in my small, white Indiana town. When I got to college, a few were in my major and we became friends. We had a class trip to Chicago, and I'm not sure why, but Darnell drove the van. We were in a rough section of the city........a van full of white kids with a black driver........and Darnell made the music decisions (rap) and had the windows rolled down. A strange sight to see, a van full of white kids listening to rap music on the south side. One of Darnell's friends, another black fellow, would come into our studio at school and the two of them would start calling each other the "N" word. That really bothered me. We didn't say that in Indiana. Val was another good friend of mine-she would ride with us to the cafe' downtown and I liked to mess around while driving. She had enough of it one day and said she didn't want to ride with a bunch of crazy white boys anymore.

As much as I can, I try not to see color. In fact, I feel like I over-compensate, which isn't right either. Way back in my family history a Klan story emerges, gee, in Indiana?-that really bothers me. We've try to raise our kids without seeing color, or status....my 7 yr old son was drawing out special holidays and did a picture of Martin Luther King Day. He drew stick figures and colored in their faces, except for one, Dr. King. I was surprised at what I saw. I asked about the stick figures and explained that Dr. King was also black. He looked perplexed.

I guess the point here is that it is foolish to try to ignore that their are differences. What we should concentrate on is understanding, embracing and putting a stop to hate. But, Dr. King was far more eloquent than I in saying this.

14 January 2008

Random Acts of Kindness

I have this friend, the Blue Like Jazz guy, who moved to the west coast......but introduced me to the saying "random acts of kindness" a play on "random acts of violence". I like it. I've seen a bumper sticker or two with that saying on it. Sounds a little liberal-but Jesus-like.

It doesn't take much to do a random act of kindness to folks. Not much at all. And for all the hospitality we Hoosiers are purportedly famous for..........we could use a few more random acts. When I was out shooting pics New Year's Day, I happened upon this three wheel bike. Now those of you from river city recognize it I'm sure. Let me tell you a story-not to blow my own horn........but to show just how easy this can be.

An older gentleman who lives in a senior housing facility near our downtown, rides this bike around-all around-the greater downtown area, with his little crash helmet. About two years ago on my way home from work, I drove up to the scene of him overturned on his bike in front of our police station. I pulled over quickly and helped him up and set the old bike upright too. The handlebar was broken entirely off. I made sure he made it back to his apartment...he could spill out a string of curse words like a sailor (I don't know that sailors curse, but it is what we say, I guess). The next day I called the front office of his apartment building and asked if I could pay to fix his handlebars.....this bike is this guy's life. They said, sure, suspiciously-which made me think they thought it was I that ran him off the road. It cost me less than $10. He never knew who did this for him.

About a year ago he got his 3 wheeler stolen. A generous citizen outdid me and bought him a new bike. He got his life back. It's small things that make the difference in this world-whether it is being $10 generous or $300 generous.........or generous with little compliments to friends and family. We need to be more deliberate about seeking out opportunities for random acts of kindness........they are all around us, and admittedly, I've overlooked far too many than I care to acknowledge.

Living with the consequences-flooding

Much of the northern part of the state had to deal with flooding last week and "river city" lived up to its name. Since we live close by the river, and have had some water in our basement before, and have a rental property supposedly in the flood plain, we kept a close eye on the river height and projected crest.

The morning before the river was to crest........at around 2 1/2' above flood stage, I walked over to the backyard of our rental and noted where the water was in the backyard-a heck of a long way away from the house.........now why am I paying flood insurance? At any rate, four homes behind us were completely surrounded with water-two of which had the water within 6" of their doorstep. One of these two had evacuated. The other neighbor, who I've never had the pleasure of meeting, stuck his head out the door, holding his toddler daughter in his arms. He had tied inner tubes to his makeshift porch, and put plywood across them for a boat. The following conversation actually happened. I'll call the 20 something neighbor "JR"

HR "hey, are you guys going to be all right?"
JR "whewwwy! yes sir, we'll be jis fine!"
HR "you know, uh, that they are saying it could go up another foot by Friday"
(keep in mind, it is within 6 inches of being in his front door)
JR "oh we reckon' we'll jis wait 'er out"
HR "well, I live in the red house, you come get me if you need anything-I can get a four wheel truck backed up to your door within 15 minutes-you can store your things in our barn"
JR "well, that's mighty neighborly of yas. mighty neighborly!"
HR "are you absolutely sure you'll be ok?"
JR "oh yeah, well I told my girl she could go stay at her ma's, but wants to stay here"
HR "ok, well, you come get me if you change your mind"
JR "God bless ya sir"

He's fortunate....it crested only a short time later.
Now, here is the interesting thing. Our county drainage board continues the archaic practice of clear-cutting and dredging along the river, mostly upstream of river city. It is a method practiced in only a few remaining counties in the state. A look at the history of flooding along the river in our community would indicate no flooding for a period of nearly 25 years between the big flood of '54 and a series of floods beginning in '78 until now, at intervals of six years or less-approximately 10 floods in all. I believe the practice of clear-cutting has caused much of this. Clear-cutting and dredging have the resulting effect of draining land faster, and allowing the river to move quicker. While this may sound like a good plan, the problem is that once it gets to a community the river can't carry the water fast enough, so it spills over its banks. If we clear-cut or dredge here-we only create a bigger problem for the communities and residents downstream.

This isn't rocket science here. It would be interesting to see how aggressive we have been with this practice since the mid-70's. Oh well, since it is wrapped up in politics, it will just be easier to stick our head in the sand...........bags.

09 January 2008

waxing nostalgic

Just before Christmas, our family stopped by a local card shop and the clerk knew me, or I should say, knew my grandparents. Evidently she once worked for them at the truckstop....she got a little teary-eyed as she fondly remembered my grandmother. That's not the first time that's happened-folks who knew her, either as customers or employees have used saint, remarkable, loving, and so on to describe her. From my recollections, they were right in doing so.

I have to admit, it got me a little choked up and yearning for the old days at the truckstop. Those were good days, surrounded by good neighbors and friends. I've thought a lot about how to get that back-that it would be good for my kids to grow up in the same atmosphere of community. I could grill cook again, run a restaurant............a lot of guys who sign on for it because its a "dream" have no comprehension of what's involved. I do......and maybe that's what keeps me from pursuing it. Still, I miss it.

Indiana's Bad Boy

James Dean.

You have to admit that the following Dean still has, more than fifty years after his death.....and after only a short film career (3 films), is impressive. I'll admit, his persona in his films is intriguing.....but I don't get it.

So this college buddy and I plan to head to Dean's hometown of Fairmount (same guy who went with me to the lookout tower) to check his story out. We figured we should watch a Dean film the night before, so we watched Rebel Without a Cause. I couldn't follow it-and I would consider myself at least a little artsy. The next day we set off-stopped by the James Dean museum. His wax replica indicated he was short-that kinda disappointed me. Then we drove out past the farm he was reared on, and to the cemetery he is buried in. You could see that people had taken rubbings off his gravestone. There was also an assortment of lipstick cases, flowers, notes, etc. left on his stone.

Years later, I tried again.......I watched Giant. I still don't get it. Maybe I should watch that last film, East of Eden. Regardless, whatever the draw, I'm proud to say he was a Hoosier. I'm thinking about growing a pompadour, slicking it back and buying a black leather jacket to wear around town. I could be James Dean cool too, I think.

07 January 2008

Blue Like Jazz

If you look to the left, you'll notice a new book on my pick's list. I don't know that in the past six months I've added to that list at all-so that's got to tell you something about adding Blue. Blue Like Jazz, by Don Miller, is a great read for anyone who sometimes feels like they're on the outside of much of the main stream approach to Christianity. Miller calls his book a non-Christian perspective on the faith. It's good......it makes you think about much of how we have traditionally approached Christianity as a religion and how that has separated us from the people Christ has called us to.

He takes swipes at fundamentalists and republicans, a background both he and I share. BUT does so in a way that leaves you contemplating your own relevance and effectiveness to a world in need of Christ, in deed, not just in word. He'll make you laugh but comes back with some very poignant statements about the church and our interaction with others. He actually reminds me of a friend, and reader, who has relocated in the Pacific Northwest. Are you using a nom de' plur?

Get it and read it.

03 January 2008

more comfort from home

My friend here in river city told me he forwarded this site to his son in the service to give him some pictures of the recent snow. I thought I would indulge him with a few more shots.....and maybe try to get out and get a few more. Below zero temps now-50's & rain on Tuesday.

02 January 2008

for the Birds

So I contact a friend and fellow birder about an Audubon bird count and we arranged to count birds this past weekend. He's terribly experienced at this and made some recommendations for the day which included listening for owls. OK, that sounded interesting.

We headed out early Saturday morning and found a spot on a remote country road lined with big pines. We pulled off the road and he pulled his boom box out of the back seat. We stood in the dark of night, facing the pines, and turned on the boom box which had a tape of owl noises we projected into the woods.

I raised my eyebrow at the thought of trying to coerce the owls into talking to us. At one point, after several minutes of hooting, I looked out the corner of my eye to my friend and said......"this is supposed to work, right?" "Yes.........I know you think I'm nuts.........I thought the same thing the first time I went out." "OK" I said. A little more time went by. Then we left. We headed over to a private wildlife park.........where we saw a Pileated Woodpecker and a Barred Owl, but without having to hoot to it. Owls are cool, and seldom seen. I saw a Great Horned Owl last spring surrounded by crows. It was amazing. We also saw a Rough Legged Hawk on Saturday-that was amazing too. Probably could do this again next year.....not sure about the hooting though.

What a Snow!

Those of us in Northern Indiana were treated to an incredible New Year's surprise. In my 39 years, the snowfall that started New Year's Eve and is still falling, has to be one of the most impressive, picturesque snows I can recall. You know that kind of snow that hangs on the branches early in the morning then blows off........well, it's still hanging around. I set out with my camera New Year's morning to capture some shots. So, for you Hoosiers who have wandered away from home, I'm attaching a few pictures. I'll concede that they may well make you thankful too.

Into 08

Happy New Year folks.

I sat down to go through some year end paperwork-filing and tossing. I had my 2007 calendar ready for the file with 2008's next to it on the table. I spent a few minutes flipping through 2007 and realized, wow, what a busy year. Then I went to fill in dates for 2008. I put down birthdays and the one commitment I accepted that will take one night a month for the year. The pages looked incredibly blank. No city council or plan commission meetings, no special breakfasts or lunches with government folks to build coalitions or projects for the community- nothin'. I always felt a little behind the times without a palm pilot or blackberry..........honestly, I don't know what I'd use it for now.

2007 had its ups and downs. I felt like I kept getting sucker-punched, but at the same time, can't remember ever feeling so blessed. 2008 promises to be an interesting year for our family with lots of changes and faith steps. The calendar has been cleared for a reason.....maybe it's because I need a break, a sabbatical.........maybe it's because I'm about to move into something big. For you out there who know us, keep our family in your prayers..........and I'll commit the same to you. God bless you all in this new year..........may it find you living "life more abundantly".