Keep It Simple

DSC_0008At the risk of being identified as the underachiever I probably am, I’m sharing two poems here that grabbed my attention recently with their remarkable originality. They’re about downplaying things, avoiding dramatic overtures in life and especially in love.

These poems struck me as much for their heterodoxy regarding the laws of love and romance as they did for their rather inspired realism.

The images of love in these poems are not about comparing thee to a summer day. Instead they reflect a view of love that doesn’t need the fireworks and spine tingles and violins at the balcony. Life and love are quotidian tasks with attention to detail and faithfulness and being present. It’s the little things – but everyday.

In spite of themselves, the poems – “Deceiving the Gods” by Ellen Bass and “Take Love for Granted” by Jack Ridl – have a certain spark of romance as well.

Deceiving the Gods
by Ellen Bass

The old Jews rarely admitted good fortune.
And if they did, they’d quickly add kinahora—
let the evil eye not hear. What dummkopf
would think the spirits were on our side?
But even in a tropical paradise
laden with sugarcane and coconut,
something like the shtetl’s wariness exists.
In Hawaii, I’m told, a fisherman
never spoke directly, lest the gods
arrive at the sea before him.
Instead he’d look to the sky,
the fast-moving clouds, and say,
I wonder if leaves are falling in the uplands!
Let us go and gather leaves.
So, my love, today let’s not talk at all.
Let’s be like those couples
eating silently in restaurants,
barely a word the entire meal.
We pitied them, but now I see
they were always so much smarter than we were.

Take Love for Granted
by Jack Ridl

Assume it’s in the kitchen,
under the couch, high
in the pine tree out back,
behind the paint cans
in the garage. Don’t try
proving your love
is bigger than the Grand
Canyon, the Milky Way,
the urban sprawl of L.A.
Take it for granted. Take it
out with the garbage. Bring
it in with the takeout. Take
it for a walk with the dog.
Wake it every day, say,
“Good morning.” Then
make the coffee. Warm
the cups. Don’t expect much
of the day. Be glad when
you make it back to bed.
Be glad he threw out that
box of old hats. Be glad
she leaves her shoes
in the hall. Snow will
come. Spring will show up.
Summer will be humid.
The leaves will fall
in the fall. That’s more
than you need. We can
love anybody, even
everybody. But you
can love the silence,
sighing and saying to
yourself, “That’s her.”
“That’s him.” Then to
each other, “I know!
Let’s go out for breakfast!”


Ferry Tales

View from the south shore of Devil's Lake in south central Wisconsin.

View from the south shore of Devil’s Lake in south central Wisconsin.

Driving home from vacation in northern Wisconsin last Saturday, I decided to veer from the usual interstate highway route and take my family to two of my favorite places in the southern part of the state: Devil’s Lake State Park (photo right) and my hometown of Lodi.

As an added bonus, the drive from the former to the latter involves taking one’s car across the Wisconsin River at Merrimac – on a ferry!

Half tourist attraction, half practical mode of transportation, the Merrimac ferry gives travelers between Sauk and Columbia counties a wonderful and somewhat unexpected opportunity to slow down, get on the water (albeit for only 10 minutes), and enjoy some scenery.

Having grown up just a few miles away, I’ve been riding the ferry since infancy. It also carries a personal connection for my family. My mom’s uncle Walt (my grandfather’s brother-in-law) was one of the pilots of the ferry for many years. He ran things from a little room perched atop the very middle of the craft, controlling both the river crossing and the raising and lowering of the ramps that allow cars on and off the ferry.

Although there appears to be no steering involved – the ferry draws on three underwater cables strung across the river – the pilots do need to get hundreds of vehicles safely across a rather wide stretch of water so I don’t take their responsibilities for granted.

With two kayaks strapped on top, our van is hard to miss. Meanwhile, my wife takes photos (of the ramp?).

With two kayaks strapped on top, our van is hard to miss. Meanwhile, my wife takes photos (of the ramp?).

The ferry operators use a public address system to instruct drivers loading and unloading. With our family connection, getting on the ferry always provided a special moment for us. Every time I rode the ferry as a kid, without fail, Uncle Walt would greet my mom – his niece – on the PA system by slipping a “Hello, Bonnie” into his loading instructions to the drivers.

Many people, like me last week, go out of their way to take the ferry, even when a bridge crossing of the river would be shorter and faster. The whole experience of the ferry crossing forces you to slow down. When you arrive at the landing in your car, it’s rare that the ferry is actually there, ready for you to board. You have to stop your car and wait.

At busy times (Saturday mornings, Sunday afternoons), with dozens of cars already in line, you might have to wait for one or two crossings before you even get aboard. Meanwhile you can turn off your engine, get out of your car, walk along the shore, throw rocks in the water, take photos, or just wait and do nothing.

imageOnce onboard you have 10 minutes or so to get out of your car again and walk around the railings of the ferry. Upriver you see the railroad bridge (photo right) and Lake Wisconsin beyond. Downstream is a wonderful view of the fields and hills of the river valley.

Leaving the ferry on the Columbia County side, my hometown of Lodi is five miles away on the narrow, winding two lanes of state highway 113. At times, if the first vehicle disembarking is particularly slow and the others have no chance to pass it on the old two-lane road, an entire line of cars and trucks arrive together in town as a pack: one slow guy in front and 10 or 11 impatient drivers in a row behind.

For several years my family lived right on highway 113 just where it enters Lodi from the north. We were among the first to see cars from the ferry come into town. When 10-12 cars arrived in a row it often prompted one of us or some other local to say, “The ferry must have let out.”

That phrase seems to have burned itself into my brain through repetition. Even now, a few decades later, when I see an unusually long line of cars led by one particularly slow driver I still think (and sometimes even say aloud), “The ferry must have let out.”

Every so often the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which runs the ferry, floats the idea of building a bridge at Merrimac. It would eliminate a lot of operational costs, not to mention dramatically improve travel times from one side of the river to the other.

After a few months or years of studies and debate, somehow the bridge idea gets voted down each time and the ferry continues. And people like me continue to take trips, both nautical and nostalgic, between Merrimac and Lodi.

A Day at the Office: Child’s Play

DSC_0054My youngest son spent half the day at the office with me after my wife dropped him off on her way to a meeting today. Fortunately, my office is fairly tolerant of children around the place and as long as everyone’s getting their work done, no one says a thing.

It’s always a bit distracting, albeit entertaining, to have a child accompany one through the normally unspectacular routines of the work day. For example, waiting for the evening train is no longer a few moments of relaxation – or boredom, depending on one’s mood – when a 10-year old is involved.

With my son it’s a time to take pictures. And take more pictures. And take even more pictures with dad’s camera. Here is one of his many shots of me standing on the platform, with a train in the background zooming toward us.