Saturday, July 31, 2010

More Than Just Art

"Pull over!" I holler to my friend Louie, who, along with is wife, Carolyn, is giving us a tour of Sleepy Eye, MN, a town they lived in more than 40 years ago and a town many know from the "Little House on the Prairie" series of books and TV shows.

Louie pulls to the curb (he's good like that) and I leap out to immerse myself in the most mesmerizing statue I've ever seen of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Mesmerizing, but sad.

The sleekness, the thinness, the willowy nature of this work casts sorrow all about, as if to forewarn a mother and father that their child, this baby, dies a terrible death. Yes, we Christians know Christ died a horrible death here on Earth, but he lives on in Heaven and Earth. And we, too, will live after death.

But the ones left behind after we die mourn. Some mourn terribly.

This statue exudes that mourning for me. Look at the picture. See how the baby Jesus is gently touching his mother's face? He's consoling her. Now look at Joseph. I see such stoic anguish in his face. My heart tightens.

Just a block earlier, I saw a statue of a waif-like Mary, obviously created by the same hand. So we turn back to visit her. I walk all around her, noting that she, too, mourns. She carries a lily and casts her eyes downward. She slumps, slightly, as if life's a burden. Which it can be. Without Jesus.

I've written to both the town newspaper and visitor's bureau to find out who the artist is. I want to thank her, or him, for giving me such a powerful reminder of my faith.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sometimes, I Just Walk Away

There's a baby in the woods.

We're at a dog park in Mankato, MN, and there's a toddler -- a human
toddler --- sitting all by herself on the wooded hiking trail. Absurd.
Am I really seeing this?

We head her way because, of course, a baby left alone in the woods
needs help. Then out of nowhere, a chunky brown lab slathered in mud
comes roaring over to stop us. He growls and barks madly at my dogs,
who, thankfully, respond by walking away and not reciprocating the
attack. And then there's a smaller dog, a beagle/coon mix, also
aggressively beating us back, keeping us away from our rescue.

In flash, I see three other children, an adult and a picnic table
strewn with food. Aha. The real story coalesces as I see the gang
stroll over to the baby, who is still sitting on the path in the
woods. Now mom is sitting, too (above).

The mom -- babysitter, aunt, sister or whomever -- with the worst
possible judgement is having a picnic with her kids inside a dog
park. With their dogs. Who are, understandably, protecting their baby
and their food.

We skirt the crowd (all the while calling and whistling for our dogs,
trying to get them to ignore THEIR dogs, THEIR kids and THEIR food),
and finally get on the walking trail. THEIR dogs, unfortunately,
follow us. And when we get out of earshot of the family, THEIR dogs
settle down and become great dogs, friendly dogs, happy dogs.

Once we round the bend and the family comes into view THEIR dogs turn
bullish again.

I notice others dog and dog owners come into the park and leave. They
assess the situation, deem it unmanageable and walk away.

We do, too.

Baby, It's Hot Outside

My baby's getting old. Or maybe just out of shape. Or maybe he's cooking inside that black coat.

We're at the Paw Prints Dog Park in Janesville, WI, and it's 85 humid degrees. The gorgeous park unfolds on 17 acres of rolling prairie land with just enough mowed trails to keep people moving while the dogs explore.

My dogs (Joshua, 9, and Jacob, my baby, 7) embrace the experience. They head right out into the prairie, noses down, checking out the pee-mail and animal trails.

Did I mention the heat? 85 degrees. And cloudless. And 100 percent humidity. Which means the sun's brutal.

The three of us, the dogs and I, hike through the prairie's patches of wildflowers, grasses and weeds. I sweat profusely with each step. The dogs (big black poodles, each weighing about 90 pounds) slow down, and pant a lot. I'm drenched. Joshua gives up and heads back to the entrance gate, where he knows a bucket of water awaits.

Jacob and I push on, all the way to the end of the 17 acres, where I find a bench. I sit and survey and discover prairies lack shade trees.

That's when I notice Jacob's odd behavior. He pants frantically and lays down in a stand of tall grass (pictured). Seconds later, he's up again, racing toward another grass patch, circling around and laying down.

Poor guy! Is he trying to get away from the blazing sun? Is he suffering heat stoke?

I hop up and we both walk with a quicker step toward the other end of the park. Every so often, Jacob dives into the tall grass and lays down. Breaks my heart.

Allen meets us half way and Jake walks behind us, with a very uneven, very slow gait.

Wait, I get it! He's walking in our shadows. We are his shade.

He's a clever dog.

He's a survivor.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Four For The Books

We cross over into Indiana and I see:

1. A bald man walking down the road. Shirtless. Tattoos dance around his neck, shoulders and chest. No, wait. Ewwww. That's no tatoo! It's a mighty python, undulating, twisting around itself and the man's neck and shoulders and then dangling down his chest. Shudder.

2. A road crew of six morbidly obese men. One of the big guys drives a piece of heavy equipment that has independent left and right hand steering guides that nearly disappear into his belly folds. He rams his hands into his flab to grab hold of the handles. And he drives quite well.

3. An Amish man, maybe he's Mennonite, on a recumbent bike. He sits Peter-Fonda low, holds his hands high and wide on the handlebars and probably dreams of the wind in his hair.

4. Sadly, instant potatoes on my plate. At a large, touristy Amish-style restaurant. Where the chicken was bland, the noodles mushy, the corn salty, the bread hard and, thankfully, the stuffing perfect.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

We Always Get Back

"Go out to the main road, turn left, and just over the bridge turn left."

The directions loop round and round in my brain as Allen and I head out on our bikes for an afternoon of riding a rail trail here in Whitehouse, Ohio. A rail trail is a paved (usually) bike path that follows where old railroad tracks used to be. A lady who lives here and has been there gave me the directions.

At the main road, Allen turns right.

Wait. I listen to the directions replaying in my head. "The lady said to turn left," I yell. Allen keeps on pedaling. "Allen," I crank up the volume. "You are going the wrong way."

He stops. And counters the long-time resident's advice. "I know we passed the trail when we came in yesterday. It's this way."

We continue on his way and, of course, come to no bridge or rail trail. We cruise, instead, through pretty little neighborhoods, where we see the homes and gardens of the people who live here. One house looks like ours, with pretty skylights smiling up to God. At another, a family labors to put up stone siding. Along the way, a couple powerwalks, nearly overtaking us.

And, of course, we have no map so we get lost. But we do know how to backtrack. So we do, past the pretty windows, the stones and the walkers.

Eventually we come to a sign for the park the lady mentioned. Yeah! Only this park has no rail trails. Awwww.

It has several dirt trails, though, so we chose one, a 1.5 mile loop. It takes us into the woods past an impossibly green lake, through a garrison of skinny pines (above ... look closely and you'll see Allen on his bike) and up, down and around meadows of neck-high Queen Anne's Lace, Black Eyed Susans and an impressive array of prairie grasses.

And, of course, we have no map, So after three miles on the 1.5-mile loop, we know we're lost. But we know how to backtrack, so we do, back past the meadows, the pines and the green, green lake.

As we pedal this last stretch back to the campground, I think about how we journey around, often without maps or plans, basically clueless about what's to come. What's up ahead is often exhilarating. Sometimes novel. Sometimes blase.

And, if we get lost, we always know how to get back.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A New Journey Begins: Life is an Adventure

All I did was brush my teeth. And it kicked off a 24-hour series of
events that led us here, to Whitehouse, Ohio, where I sit with
instructions on how to use the tornado shelter that's about 250 feet
away. (That's it, in the picture. Well, it's the garage of the house
you see in the picture.)

And, yes, bring the dogs.

Let me begin.

Our 2010 Summer Adventure includes a visit with the kids and grandkids in Seattle, Glacier National Park, Yosemite, Death Valley and whatever we can pile on.

It begins now.

I'm brushing my teeth at the end of the first day of Our Summer 2010 Adventure. I rinse and ACK! POND SCUM! Our water tastes like POND SCUM. Oh, yuck. Spit spit. Where's the mouth wash? Gargle, gargle. Spit.

Must be something horrid is growing in our fresh water tank. Ack. Ack.

OK. No problem. No one use the water until we can rinse out the tank, sanitize it and rinse it out again. OK. No problem. Until then, we'll just use public restrooms. At Walmart. Or at the Rutherford B. Hayes Center (wonderful place to learn about our 19th president AND about
the history of croquet and other late 19th-century passions).

It's at the Center in Fremont, Ohio, that we try out our brand-new, $1,200 mega generator. It's 90+ degrees, so we need to use the generator to power the air conditioning we need to leave on in the motor home so our dogs don't die.

The generator guzzles all its gas in about three hours and, we discover, gets so hot it tries to melt our power cord plug. OK. Now we have sour water and a melting power plug. And we need to wash our hands.

That's when we decide to pay for an overnight at this campground, in Whitehouse, Ohio, an appropriate place to end the day after visiting a presidential museum.  And we have total access to all the water and power we need to wash our hands and fix our problems. However, on the way here, a bully of a truck kicked up a rock and we think our windshield cracked.

OK. We have a dinged windshield, nasty water and a deformed electrical plug.

And now for the tornado.

The people who own the campground point to the garage just up the street and tell me to head there, with my dogs, if the tornado siren sounds. And, they say, it probably will because there's a watch on for tonight and this is, after all, Ohio.

That's why the campground is so empty.

Our life is such an adventure.

(It's 10:21 p.m. and no tornado yet, but a storm brews. OH! I see lightning!)