Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chapter 1

Charlotte Grace was river rat through and through.  Traverse Island on the Upper Mississippi had been her summer home before her parents ever knew they would have a daughter, much less fall in love with one another. Charlotte was sure the river water was part of her blood, she felt it in the very marrow of her healthy bones. Her parents never quite understood her obsession with the place, but they did seem to indulge it, helping her to grow her grandfather's little summer resort fishing business into a year round enterprise.

As she swatted at mosquitoes walking the long, shaded path along the Wisconsin channel she noted that Nessie, her trusty old Jack Russel Terrier was still taking great satisfaction in her favorite past time; squirrel spotting. The industrious little dog had always taken her varmint control function very seriously, smart enough to comprehend that she would never run a gray squirrel to ground like a fox, she had become quite expert at squirrel spotting as they leaped from tree to tree.

Woman and dog were on their evening constitutional, returning from their walk to the western tip of Traverse Island having watched the sunset from the old rope swing. Charlotte began cursing herself for her repeated failure to bring along bug spray, knowing full well that after a wet summer the blood-sucking parasites would prey upon her naked ankles if she hesitated for even a moment on the muggy, shady path. But Nessie had become distracted, as her breed tended to, and she was not readily responding to Charlotte's sharp whistle.

"Damn dog," Charlotte muttered under her breath. "NESSIE, come NOW!"

Fine fine fine. Just give me a minute to see if I can sniff out this big squirrel over here in that huge cottonwood. Wait a minute. That's not a squirrel. It's that funny big eagle that lives up by the dam.

Hey. What are you doin' down here. We never see you down here this time of year. You usually don't grace us with your presence until you're hungry for open water in the winter time. Do ya miss us?

It's too loud down here in the summer time. I just want to warn you that there's trouble up on your little sandbar by the dam. You better tell your people. Nobody's gonna want to eat the fish or play in that part of the river for awhile if they don't deal with the mess.

Okay okay okay. I gotta go, Charlotte's whistling and she gets pissed when the blood-suckers are this thick. Thanks for the tip. See ya!

Charlotte had just swatted a particularly full insect that splatted blood across the top of her foot.  She did her best to smear away the viscous fluid as she attempted a second burst of whistles when her beloved canine companion burst through the bushes to revisit the walk home.

"Where the hell have you been?" she griped at the dog. And then a particularly large eagle gave a cry and circled over them across the end of the island as he skimmed over the treetops and dropped into the river valley, cruising for fish.

"Aha," Charlotte surmised, "keeping tabs on that big eagle. Looks like he finally got his adult plumage this year. I think he must be that same one we saw a couple summers ago when he was learning to fly. It's nice that you two have maintained your friendship." Nessie wagged her tail faster in her odd pattern of an up-and-down stutter rather than a side-to-side swipe. Charlotte always suspected that damage had been done when Nessie was a Wisconsin farm puppy and had been hauled off to the vet to have her tail docked like all good Jack Russels. Silly habit. Poor little Nessie just had a snub of a tail, but she was adept at using what she had to express her emotions.

Sometimes Charlotte Grace had some funny notions about all the critters in her river centric world. Having spent so much time alone on the island as an only child, she had often "adopted" wild animals and domestic critters alike to populate her domain with characters that resembled all the folk of A.A. Milne's Hundred Acre Wood. The adult Charlotte had not shaken this habit and her husband, friends, and family all tolerated her anthropomorphizing animals with respectful interest and a little bit of good natured teasing from time to time. But Charlotte always maintained that the island critters gossiped just as much as the human folk, and if you paid attention you could learn as much from the critters about the local environment and the antics of the local inhabitants.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A is for Atlanta Airport Adventure

This is Bronwyn reporting from, of course, the A concourse at ATL International. I pray that this blog, expressing mild panic, minor drama, and genuine gratitude doesn't jinx my flight home :)

On my short hop from Richmond, Virginia, this afternoon I was given a complementary "Medallion Upgrade" = First Class Cabin. YES!

A flight that was scheduled to take off 30 minutes prior to ours was "cancelled due to mechanical issues" and their passengers were relocated to our flight. We were all assured that those holding first class seats would still be seated in the first class cabin. One of my new traveling companions was completely skeptical about the reason for the delay/cancellation of his flight. I tend to agree with him since both loads of passengers still totalled a less than full flight, including empty first class seats.

I was seated next to a Army National Guard Cavalry Soldier headed back to Afghanistan for his fifth tour in Iraq/Afghanistan, having been home for a two week leave to be with his wife as she gave birth to their twins; yes, folks, a boy and a girl. All are healthy and mom is well. I warned you there was drama!

I have an affinity for those Army National Guard troops thanks to Mary, Bud, Tom and Beth. Go Guard!

This soldier had never been upgraded to first class before. When I told him the drinks were free he hesitated. I get it, he's not supposed to drink in uniform. I said, "We sure as hell are not gonna think less of a soldier on his fifth deployment if he accepts one cocktail on the airplane." (I do have a reputation for encouraging less than compliant behavior in some circumstances. It's kind of like watering your livestock on the Sabbath. . . .)

"Crown and Coke" he replied to our fashionista flight attendant. She didn't bat a bogus eyelash. But she did return to confess the lack of Crown Royal on the airplane and very discreetly offered him a choice of Seagram's or Jack Daniels. He's a Virginia boy and took the Jack. Heineken in hand, I clinked his glass and offered a toast in thanksgiving for his service, his children, a successful mission, and a safe tour. He downed his cocktail like he was dying of thirst and promptly chased it with two mugs of coffee. Our flight attendant properly announced his presence and story over the intercom before landing and asked us to remain seated at the gate until he stood so we could all see the "true American hero" in our midst. He and I got misty-eyed, and we all clapped enthusiastically. He is praying to fly out of Atlanta within 24 hours to return to his mission. He hates getting stuck in Atlanta with nothing but a uniform when waiting for charter flights to fill. But he did say the local USO would take pretty good care of him. I will continue to pray for peace and the conclusion of our missions in the region.

Once in the airport I made my way from the B to A concourse to identify the location of my connecting flight gate. Upon arriving at A29 I was just in time to welcome the passengers disembarking from Kalispell, Montana. An elderly gentleman tripped over his toe on the door to the concourse and went sprawling to his knees and narrowly avoided a face-plant. I joined two other potential passengers in rushing to him to see if he was okay, my knees throbbing in sympathy pains. He was very slow to get up, announced that he thought he was okay, allowed us to assist him to a chair, and thanked us for the help. I reluctantly left and made my way to the restroom and then on to Houlihans for a Heineken and some Potato Soup.

"May I see your ID, please?' asked the 20-something female server.

HA! Okay . . . .

"Oh crap! I don't have my wallet! It must be in the restroom. I'll be right back!"

Can you imagine the sinking feeling in my stomach? My travel wallet contains my Minnesota Driver's License, Credit Cards, Receipts for Reimbursements, Passport, and Boarding Passes!

Prayer: "Thank you for carding me, ridiculous as it is to card a 48-year-old woman. Please let my wallet still be in the bathroom. Please let some Good Samaritan have found it and turned it in to the cleaning woman who was in there, please, please, please, please, please . . . . . ."

"Excuse me, Ma'am, did you or anyone find a black travel wallet in this stall or at the sink?"

I knew it wasn't there. I have a very visual memory and upon walking back in there I had ZERO recollection of having it in my hand when I was peeing or washing my hands. Damn. And she confirmed its absence. She suggested a couple logical and local places to check on this concourse and sent me away with a prayer for it to be found quickly.

I backtracked to A29 where the falling man had disrupted my normally careful airport routine. As I gained ground my visual memory kicked in. I had my wallet out to check my flight number against the gate information. When he fell I placed it on the counter, let go of my carry-on, and moved to assist him. As I departed I hadn't noticed the black wallet on the black counter and had walked away with my carry-on and tote-bag.

Prayer: please, please, please, please, please . . . .

"Ma'am," did you find . . . ."

She was smiling and holding it out for me. She said she had checked my boarding pass and was getting ready to page me, knowing I probably hadn't strayed too far from the gate of my departure.

"Thank you. Thanks be to God!"

She grinned and said, "You're welcome."

I did stop back in the women's room to let the cleaning woman know that it was found. She was pleased.

I then returned to my table and produced my ID. I thanked the server for carding me stating that it would have been really troubling and even more embarrassing had I not realized it was missing until she presented my bill!

Then again, she wasn't going to serve me a beer without my ID!!!

Therefore I also offer thanks for my vice. Thanks be to beer!!!!

Monday, August 23, 2010


I love this part of the river. It's always been my home. I remember the first day I flew, if you can call that first plummet from our nest in the tall cottonwood a flight. It was a peaceful afternoon in August and I was terrified. I remember that couple in the blue boat with a feisty little dog were carefully cruising close enough to watch, but not too close. They were peering at me through those huge and heavy mechanical eyes and they quietly encouraged me. Even the dog was rooting for my success. At least they all followed my progress. My parents just sat in trees screeching at me as I whined and cried. 

That couple comes back to check our old nest every year on their way up to the little sandbar below the dam.  Nessie's Island, that's what they call it, after the dog. She loves playing in the sand and water in that quiet little spot. Too bad that branch fell and toppled our nest over there. That was always a good summer fishing spot. But our new nests further across the river have a much better view. I prefer watching the sunset from over there. Besides, it's closer to my new friend's childhood nest.

I think I'll follow this thermal up and over to the lock and see if any fish are rising below the dam. I love soaring up this high. The lift on my wings makes it effortless to circle up and up and up . . . .

Aha, crappies are rising to something. I'll need to get situated so my shadow doesn't spook them.

Okay, dive time.

Whoa! What the hell is that?! I thought it was part of the tree caught above Nessie's Sandbar. Looks like someone's swimming? No, the crappies are eating . . . 

Oh, yuck. Thank God I have eagle eyes so I don't have to go in so close that I smell it. That would drive Nessie crazy. I swear she smells everything before she ever lays eyes on it. But I guess that's the disadvantage of being a ground-bound little mutt. I wonder if she knows her favorite sandbar has a body floating above it. . . . .

B is for Boating

I contemplated naming this post P is for Pathetic. Perhaps D is for Determined might have been a good subtitle. But I found the silver lining of my boating woes in the cloud of friends with which I am blessed.

Friday afternoon Dale and I headed for Red Wing to try yet another can of Sea Foam in the gas tank of my dilapidated vessel. We were greeted by a full campground and dock loaded with a Glastron Classic Boat Convention. It looked very interesting, but we didn't want to waste any more daylight, so we drained the additive into the gas tank and took off.

Usually when I find myself on the river, especially the Mississippi, I feel as though I can breath more deeply, relax more fully, appreciate creation with wonder. This summer, hopping into my poor ancient boat, my stomach twists into a knot of hopeful anxiety. I find myself intently focused, not on the majestic and peaceful surroundings, but on the boat, wishing its mechanical systems into compliance and desirable behavior, listening keenly for the least little engine hiccup, primed to feel the slightest hitch through the frame of the vehicle.

For the second time in as many days we were able to make it out of the no-wake zone above Bay Point Park and open up the throttle a little bit . . . . and sure enough, there it was, the warning hiccup that precedes certain disaster.


So back we went. We stopped at the fuel dock, barely able to keep the boat running. After inputting a few gallons of gas we limped back to our own marina, fingers crossed, lurching through the swift current. So we tied off the boat and began looking at all the classic Glastrons gathered. Our first boat was a Glastron. We named it The Honeymoon because we spent Dale's pittance of a pension on its purchase when he changed jobs just prior to our wedding.

Sitting on the end of the dock near the boat landing, sipping beers and watching the antics of couples dropping boats in the water and pulling boats out, we were entertained for nearly and hour. We witnessed the near catastrophe of a beautiful big, new, Crownline Cruiser being crashed into by a rookie river guy in a hot rod Glastron. The Glastron was louder than any boat I've ever heard and had a James Bond logo on the stern; "007" with a pistol (white boat at right in photo). He was caught by surprise when the current took his stern, and he yelled at the Crownline owner to protect his boat that was safely tied to the end of the landing dock (was to the right of where the white Glastron sits in this photo) awaiting it's First Mate to back the trailer in (as you can see, she's already there and he has moved the boat to the trailer by the time I got the phone camera on them). Crownline guy (yellow shirt in the photo) scrambled from the dock across his tall bow and over the port side to prevent the crash. His protective handstand on the Glastron's stern became a slow-motion cartwheel atop the offending engine compartment. He flopped on his back, rolled to keep his hands on the hull of his own boat, managed to retrieve his hat from the water, and prevented a nasty scrape in the process, while 007 pretty much ignored the whole incident. Once on the dock 007 turned around lethargically and spotted the body sprawled across his stern, "Oh, ya okay?" Didn't even give the guy a hand to get up and off his boat.

Once we were confident that no one was bleeding, burned, or in the water I looked down our dock at my beloved to see him attempting to stifle the giggles. He burst into laughter that was no longer containable and cackled for a solid five minutes. It was highly contagious and we both laughed long and hard. One of Dale's favorite past times is people-watching at boat landings. Note to self: bring the video camera so we can win big on America's Funniest Videos!

Saturday we were invited to go out on the Truax's boat du jour. They are proud new members of the Prescott Boat Club. They had a pontoon boat reserved and invited several members of the local village to join them for a day of leisure. Some Skovs and a Schlafge joined them in spite of the cool, overcast weather. I gotta give it to Bud. The minute we cleared the Prescott bridges and were on our way upriver, the sun broke from the clouds and we had a beautiful day before us. Danika tolerated me tubing with her and participated in my stunts and antics. We had a great time giggling and maneuvering. We even went down to Diamond Bluff on the Mississippi to try for a bite to eat at the Nauti-Hog, but they were too busy and the wait was too long. Hastings Old Time Car Show vendors helped us abate the hunger. It was a great day with fantastic friends.

Sunday, after church (and a super sermon by Fr. Frank) I went to Red Wing to clean my boat, pouting and scheming that if I'm going to get it running I should sell it right away so I can use the money as a down payment on something more reliable. It was my passive aggressive mode of cleaning when I'm pissed and wishing that I could play with my own toys. Just as I was working up a sweat the rescue team arrived in the persons of Dale, Beth and Tom. Let's go boating in the Wanamakers' new boat.


So off we went, down to Lake Pepin. I was breathing more deeply, relaxing more fully, and truly appreciating the spectacular view of limestone palisades, marshy sandbars, and eagles. We floated around in the middle of Pepin in our upside down life jackets (diaper mode), played some dice, and even attempted some water skiing. In five tries I wasn't able to coordinate my waning strength and rusty technique to get up on one ski, so we abandoned the plan and decided to call it a day.

Finding both gas docks already closed, we did luck out in getting to tour the model for the newly forming floating condominium concept; The Marquette. It's very similar to our retirement on a barge idea. None of us have that kind of money yet. But the concept is pretty nifty. I posted to the their blog to encourage them to get the motorcycle transport sorted out. We'll see. Could be a deal-breaker for these River Rats.

So this morning, as I get my writing skills honed to create some devotions for work, I sit mostly content, and with many stiff muscles, my heart full of gratitude for friends and opportunities.

And then it occurs to me that I've got to get a different boat. I finally figured it out. The boat is named Never-A-Nuff. That name was already on it. I hate misspellings like that. Cute - not. Clever - not even close. It is rumored that it's bad luck to change the name of the boat. (The paint is the most permanent substance I have ever encountered - much stronger than the mechanical systems.) I think it's bad luck to own a boat named Never-A-Nuff!

So, anyone wanna trade?

Friday, August 20, 2010

H is for Home

I arrived home from the Holy Lands almost two weeks ago. The time zone change and jet lag thing really wasn't that bad either direction. Both times we were flying through the night, so even dozing, if not sleeping, on the plane allowed for staying awake until a normal bedtime in the new time zone. By the second night in either location I was feeling oriented with meals and sleep cycles.

Coming home was harder on my stomach. Two weeks as a pilgrim in the Middle East was a good detoxifying process for my digestive system and mental habits around food and beverage. It was two weeks filled with maximum water consumption, mostly fruits and vegetables, moderate amounts of chicken, beef, and lamb, zero alcohol, and very few sweets. That diet combined with a large amount of HOT weather hiking, a lot of walking, and a healthy sleep schedule truly did this body good.

So part of my re-entry has been to intentionally cling to some of those disciplines rather than immediately sliding into my less healthy habits of my home. It's been a struggle, but I'm adjusting.

I've been doing a lot of thinking and praying about how my heart and brain have been transformed by my pilgrimage. I learned so much about history, culture, religion, politics, and spirituality. It truly is difficult to wrap my brain about it all, and to discern what I'm called to do with the knowledge and passion within me.

Knowing that my readers are a mixed audience of non-spiritual folks and religious practitioners, I think I will continue to keep most of my reflections to myself. I am happy to share with each of you on a more personal level if invited. I have decided that I will get on my political soap box. So either brace yourself for a lecture on global citizenship, or cease reading at this point so I don't make you feel angry or guilty. If you choose to read on anyway, please remember that this is my passion and my hope. But also remember that I carry guilt about what follows, too. My response is to do better and invite others to consider the same.

It has struck me that in general the USA's electorate is apathetic and uninformed. Often we are misinformed if we actually believe all the propaganda spewed in political and campaign advertising. I have learned that our media, the "free" press, that we Americans cling to so fiercely, is still a far more biased press than that which we might suspect or even admit. I didn't accept this statement when it was spoken to me at first. Then I began the research for myself.

If you read an Associated Press story filed by the same writer in a paper published in Israel, compared with the same story in the BBC, and then in the US, you will read three different slants. Editors mess with the story to offer the point of view they want to promote with their publication. If you don't read papers, then take time to compare CNN as aired on the BBC compared with the US version. We citizens of the Global Superpower are being fed, not all the facts, but scrubbed news. I don't know about you, but that simply pisses me off.

The other point I would like to make is that, in general, we take our right to vote for granted. The first time I traveled to Europe in October of 1985 the US became embroiled in the Achille Lauro incident in the Mediterranean Sea. The US Department of State sent travel advisories all over the world encouraging US citizens to guard our passports with great caution, and to pass ourselves off as Canadian so as not to attract the unwanted attention of Palestinian terrorists. It was fascinating to hear what citizens of other nations thought of Americans. Some admired our power, our military, and our freedom. Others despised our arrogance, our pushiness, and our disregard for our affect on the rest of the world.

It has been said that when the USA sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold.

Having traveled to Palestine /Israel 25 years after my first international travel experience I was struck by the similarities. I have always maintained that humans don't evolve very quickly. But you would think that in this global age of instant news we would at least be better at getting along with, rather than bossing around others. The discontent in the Middle East is fueled by millions of US dollars pumped into that region annually to prop up an Israeli military out of loyalty to an historical ally, and as a result of a an extremely powerful and lucrative congressional lobby in the good old USA.

It isn't your average Israeli or Jew that's the problem. It isn't your average Arab or Palestinian that's the problem. It isn't the average US citizen that's the problem, regardless of who the President is or isn't. It's that we all collectively tolerate fundamental extremism within our respective borders, be it religious or military or both, and we forget that most human beings simply desire peace, food, dignity, shelter, respect, clothing, and safety.

My commitment in this transformation I am experiencing is to be an informed, issue-oriented voter who will remember that my vote isn't just about me and what I want as a Minnesotan living in the USA. I will do my best to remember my new friends in the Middle East, especially the Arab/Palestinian/Christian/Episcopal ones, and will vote as a Global Citizen. My relative comfort, safety, and affluence demand that I be an informed and responsible voter, not a narcissistic and uninformed one.

Would you consider joining me?

P.S. Obama is NOT a Muslim.

P.P.S. Not that it really matters anyway!

(Photos from top to bottom: Sunrise over the Dead Sea, Bedouin Camel in Judean Desert, Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Faithful Muslims at the Mosque)