Sorry, not Stockholm, Sweden but Stockholm, Wisconsin, a tiny town on Lake Pepin, a wide section of the Mississippi between Wisconsin and Minnesota. I drove through Stockholm shortly after sundown yesterday. No one was about. I saw only a single person as I wandered with my camera. In the summer, the village would be thronged by tourists taking the popular day trip around Lake Pepin. Here is how things looked on a cold, dark December evening.
I wrote this post in February of this year. I got sick a few days later and forgot about it. I’ve decided to go ahead and post it.
I got stuck in the snow on Saturday when it snowed all day. I was in Cornell, a small town on the Chippewa River in Wisconsin. I tried calling some local services for a tow truck, but, being the weekend, no one answered their phone. Some snowmobilers came by and tried to push me out without success. My smartphone was having trouble finding WIFI.
My only recourse thus seemed to be 911, but I was reluctant to call because I didn’t seem to be in a true emergency. But I couldn’t think of what else to do, so I called. I apologized to the gentleman at Chippewa County Emergency Services, but he didn’t seem to be bothered by my call and went out of his way to make sure I got help. I know he made several calls before he was able to find someone in Ladysmith, over thirty miles away. Eventually, a tow truck arrived and pulled me out.
Thanks very, very much to the man who helped me and Chippewa County Emergency Services.
In my love/hate relationship with smartphones, this day was all love.
P.S., while waiting in my car to be rescued, I noticed the drops of melted snow on my car window and snapped a decent photo. I was in the snow waiting for a couple of hours and was able to get a few more decent photos.
This is my first review for the Fifty Classic Books challenge. I had started a different book but abandoned it and decided I would not subject myself to prolonged boredom while working on this challenge. So I switched to Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston writes the story of Janie Crawford in the deep South of the early Twentieth Century. It’s not a boring story.
The book describes Janie’s striving for self-actualization and the constraints that society and culture threw up to hinder her search. Janie didn’t know anything about self-actualization or even that it was something to pursue. Her pursuit was more of a yearning that she sought to fulfill. The obvious constraint she faced was racism. She lived smack in the middle of Jim Crow country in the heart of the Jim Crow era. She faced other obstacles including sexism and an insidious sort of class consciousness.
Janie is in her mid-teens at the start of the story. She was
full of that oldest human longing – self-revelation.
She searched as much of the world as she could from the top of the front steps and then went on down to the front gate and leaned over to gaze up and down the road. Looking, waiting, breathing short with impatience. Waiting for the world to be made.
She didn’t know anything about the world or what it would bring. She was looking for . . . sun-up and pollen and blooming trees . . . flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything.
Janie’s life from that point on was not springtime and blooming trees. Her era was not just Jim Crow, it was also a man’s world. Janie’s grandmother, before marrying her off, offers Janie her insights about the world they lived in:
Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as Ah been able tuh to find out. . . . So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.
Here are some comments from the men in Janie’s life who needed to be in control:
“Somebody got to think for women and chillun and chickens and cows. I god, they sho don’t think none theirselves. . . . ” He wanted her submission and he’d keep on fighting until he felt he had it.
[Joe] wanted to be friendly with her again. His big, big laugh was as much for her as for the baiting. He was longing for peace but on his own terms [her submission].
Before the week was over he [Tea Cake] had whipped Janie. Not because her behavior justified his jealousy, but it relieved that awful fear inside him. Being able to whip her reassured him in possession. No brutal beating at all. He just slapped her around a bit to show he was boss.
Janie withdrew into herself; a prolonged stifling of her desires until she met and went off with Tea Cake, who rarely tried to control Janie. Their relationship was closer to one of equals although Tea Cake sometimes acted out because of his fears and insecurities.
The racism of that era is encapsulated in a court scene when Janie is charged with killing Tea Cake to save herself when he was in the end-stages of rabies madness. She is tried by a white judge, twelve white, male jurists, and a white prosecutor. All the African-American friends of Janie and Tea Cake have to sit or stand in the back of the courtroom. After the State rests its case, a spokesman for the blacks asks to be heard:
Mr. Prescott replies, “If you know what’s good for you, you better shut your mouth up until somebody calls you.”
“Yassuh, Mr. Prescott.”
“We are handling this case. Another word out of you, out of any of you niggers back there, and I’ll bind you over to the big court.”
[After which] the white women made a little applause.
There is also class consciousness. Even those on the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder need to have a group of people lower than them that they can disdain. In this case, those within the African-American community with darker skin and more pronounced features.
Ah [Mrs. Turner] ain’t useter ‘ssociatin’ wid black folks. Mah son claims dey draws lighting. . . . Ah jus’ couldn’t see mahself married to no black man. It’s too many black folks already. We oughta lighten up de race. . . . You’se different from me. Ah can’t stand black niggers. Ah doon’t blame de white folks from hatin’ ‘em ‘cause Ah can’t stand ‘em maself. ‘Nother thing, Ah hates tuh see folds lak me and you miced up wid ‘em. Us oughta class off.’ [check spelling]
[Janie replies] Us can’t do it. We’se uh mingled people and all of us got black kinfolks as well as yaller kinfolks.
[Mrs. Turner again] Look at me! Ah ain’t got no flat nose and liver lips. Ah’m uh featured woman. Ah got white folks’ features in my face. Still and all Ah got tuh be lumped in wid all de rest. It ain’t fair. Even if dey don’t take us in wid de whites, dey oughta make us uh class tuh ourselves.
Hurston does not forget other universal human foibles.
Gossip: “An envious heart makes a treacherous ear.”
Envy: One of the regulars on the porch of Joe’s store: “Us colored folks is too envious of one ‘nother. Dat’s how come us don’t git no further than us do. Us talks about de white man keepin’ us down. Shucks! He don’t have tuh. Us keeps our own selves down.”
And as Thurston writes, “. . .there was no doubt that the town respected him and even admired him in a way. But any man who walks in the way of power and property is bound to meet hate.”
Not to mention meanness, dislike of those who do things differently, greed, social climbing.
The racism and sexism in the book were too ingrained in American society to expect any sort of resolution in Their Eyes Were Watching God. On the other hand, Thurston has many of the characters in Janie’s social world overcoming what I describe above as human foibles. Often, the characters exhibit them, but given some time and better information they come to more humane thoughts and behaviors. The friends of Janie and Tea Cake first condemned Janie for killing Tea Cake but eventually realized that she killed Tea Cake in self-defence and in doing so protected the community from an infectious and deadly disease.
And what of Janie? What about her search for something better? I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot. Suffice it to say that Janie survives.
She went over to the dresser and looked hard at her skin and features. The young girl was gone, but a handsome women had taken her place. She tore off the kerchief from her head and let down her plentiful hair. The weight, the length, the glory was there.
” . . . you got tuh go there tuh know there. Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They go tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”
Hurston writes with unexpected descriptive phrases that are clear, concise, unique. I often wondered how a person could come up with these ways to describe things? Very out of the ordinary. Here are a few examples:
Janie stood where he left her for unmeasured time and thought. She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her.
She was a rut in the road. Plenty of life beneath the surface but it was kept beaten down by the wheels.
Sorrow dogged by sorrow is in mah heart.
Last summer that multiplied cockroach wuz round heah tryin’ tuh sell gophers.
Ah’m stone dead from standin’ still and tryin’ tuh smile.
Something stood like an oxen’s foot on her tongue, and then too, Jody, no Joe, gave her a ferocious look. A look with all the unthinkable coldness of outer space.
All night now the jooks clanged and clamored. Pianos living three lifetimes in one. Blues made and used right on the spot.
It was the meanest moment of eternity.
She was too busy feeling grief to dress like grief.
Hurston’s humor usually shows up in the dialogue:
Yeah, Sam say most of ‘em goes to church so they’ll be sure to rise in Judgment. Dat’s de day dat every secret is s’posed to be made known. They wants to be there and hear it all.
Sam is too crazy. You can’t stop laughing when youse round him.
Uuh huun. He says he aims to be there hisself so he can find out who stole his corn-cob pipe.
There is also a wonderful story about a yaller mule that becomes a dead yaller mule that ends with a description of the neighborhood’s buzzards gathering to dispose of the mule. One reads about the buzzards and thinks, “yeah, that’s exactly how buzzards go about doing their thing.” And it’s a funny description.
Hurston’s dialogue is in an African-American vernacular which I first found irritating. I actually made this note in the margin on page 10: “End of patois. Good”. I found that it made the text harder to read and understand. I eventually was able to overlook the dialect to the extent that it didn’t interfere with my appreciation of the book. Henry Louis Gates, Jr writes in an afterword that people read Their Eyes Were Watching God in part “. . . because she used black vernacular speech and rituals, in ways subtle and various, to chart the coming to consciousness of black women, so glaringly absent in other black fiction.” She used the dialogue of peripheral characters speaking the vernacular to give voice to commentaries on life.
Their Eyes Were Watching God was published in 1937. Gates’s afterword mentions this about Zora Neale Hurston’s subsequent life.
Hurston’s fame reached its zenith in 1943 with a Saturday Review cover story honoring the success of Dust Tracks. Seven years later she would be serving as a maid in Rivo Alto, Florida; ten years after that she would die in the County Welfare Home in Fort Pierce, Florida.
She deserved better, much better.
Since I finished Their Eyes Were Watching God, I’ve wondered how much has changed since those days. I thought about some of the books I’ve read that helped me understand that not enough progress has been made. The problems described in Their Eyes Were Watching God are still with us.
I thought about the Easy Rawlins series of detective novels by Walter Mosely that describe the African-American experience in southern California in the decades after World War Two. Stanley Crouch’s Nighthawk Rising, a biography of Charlie Parker, and Gordon Parks’ autobiography Choice Of Weapons confirm the accuracy of Mosely’s fictional works. I found more confirmation in Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth Of Other Suns and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. There are recent novels like those of Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing and Salvage the Bones. Most recently for me, the mystery Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke which takes places in contemporary, rural Texas and has an African-American Texas Ranger as its protagonist show that progress has been made – a black Texas Ranger! – but not nearly enough given that the novel also involves the White Aryan Brotherhood.
We need to keep pushing forward, especially now when we seem to be regressing.
It’s gray and gloomy outside. Bummer. The prediction was for sunny skies.
A lousy day for photography. Why bother to go out?
And it’s cold!
I’m tired, run down. I’d just as soon lie on the couch all day.
The morning blues.
Afternoon thoughts, yesterday:
It feels so good to be outside in the fresh, clean air.
It doesn’t seem as cold as I thought it would be.
I’m finding good shots in spite of the flat, gray sky
I can forget about the fatigue when I’m out exploring and shooting
A great day to be alive
I ended up shooting interesting signs or incongruous signs or signs that said something about the nature of the area I was exploring. My day’s work was part of my long-running project to photograph the cuesta in Wisconsin west of the Chippewa and Red Cedar rivers.
I felt like a real, true artic explorer. At one point I reached the top of an unplowed twisting road [photo below] and decided that going down the other side would be putting my life at risk even though I was driving an SUV. This was in civilized, pastoral Wisconsin. Unexpected.
November is almost over. The autumn color is gone; the trees are bare; there’s no snow. The forest floor is damp and littered with fallen leaves. There is a bit of color – the emerald green of moss. A single leaf still in its autumn color. Small plants on the forest floor that never seem to suffer from the snow and cold – they’re always green. A few bare trees with silver branches that stand out against a somber hillside.
I spent a few hours Sunday afternoon driving and walking Wisconsin Rustic Road 51 in Pierce County. This is the most rustic of the rustic roads I’ve driven. It was not much more than two wheel tracks, in many spots suitable for only a single vehicle. It starts at the top of a small ravine. The road and ravine plunge downhill with a cliff rising up on one side of the road and the ravine on the other side of the road. There was little water in the ravine, only a few small pools. In the spring after snowmelt or perhaps after heavy rain, there would probably be water rushing down the ravine and over least one waterfall. Eventually, the ravine levels out into a narrow, flat-bottomed valley run through by Pine Creek, a small, meandering stream. In four places the creek crosses the road in gravel washes – no bridges or culverts.
I spent a couple hours photographing the road and didn’t encounter a vehicle or a person. The weather was not good. I had to use an umbrella to keep the rain off my camera lenses. Not the best light or weather for photography. I did get a few decent shots, not just on Rustic Road 51, but on other back roads in southern Pierce County. I think I did OK considering the conditions. And – I had fun.
Kevin Drum from Mother Jones posted on his blog a call to boycott companies that advertise on Fox News. I’m glad to see that there is something that you and I can do to fight Fox News. Drum’s post contains a list of the top ten advertisers on Fox News.
It’s wonderful how much beauty a singer can give us in just three syllables. Two examples:
Madeline Peyroux recorded the song Libertéfor her latest album, Anthem. She sings the three syllables at the end of the song. The song is in French, but the ending three syllables need no translation.
Liberté . . . Liberté . . . Liberté
Just a bit of translation
On hope without memory I write your name And by the power of a word I start my life again I was born to know you To name you Liberty
Oliver Mtukudzi sings with Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the song Nería. Mtukudzi starts the songs with a bit of lovely, finger-picked guitar. Then he sings the three syllables: Neria. As soon as I heard that gravelly voice sing Neria, I knew I would love the song. It’s gorgeous. It needs translation so I will quote from the website Jusi I Love: Music From Africa and the African Diaspora
The song was written for the soundtrack of a movie called ‘Neria‘ which is about the struggles of a woman in rural Zimbabwe who lost her husband through an accident. Oliver Mtukudzi’s very emotional song is about the strength of women and how they succeed in facing live challenges.
“Don’t be disheartened Neria, God is with you (Mwari anewe). May your heart be strong, be strong, God is with you. Death is jealous, it separates those in love. Don’t be disheartened my sister, God is with you.”
The fall color season is past its prime in our neck of the woods. Colors are waning and strong winds over the last few days blew down lots of leaves. Many days of peak color were gray, damp, and gloomy. At one time, I feared that the season would pass with no sunny weather, but it’s ending with a few good days.
Nicholas Carr picked up on this again in an article in the Atlantic in 2008, before going on to publish his book The Shallows two years later. “Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy,” he wrote. “My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”
That’s what I’ve been experiencing in my reading. To compensate, I’m usually working on four or five books at the same time. If I get bogged down on one, I switch to another. I also set a timer. I started using a timer to make sure I wasn’t inactive for too long. I then discovered that if you know your current reading session will be only twenty-five minutes long, you’ll be able to concentrate better.
More from Griffey:
In 2005, research carried out by Dr. Glenn Wilson at London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect. Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ, twice that found in studies on the impact of smoking marijuana. More than half of the 1,100 participants said they always responded to an email immediately or as soon as possible, while 21% admitted they would interrupt a meeting to do so. Constant interruptions can have the same effect as the loss of a night’s sleep.
Our ubiquitous digital distractions are
a predominant reason for the poor concentration so many people report. The fact that we are the cause of this is, paradoxically, good news since it hands back to us the potential to change our behaviour and reclaim the brain function and cognitive health that’s been disrupted by our digitally enhanced lives.
Put simply, better concentration makes life easier and less stressful and we will be more productive. To make this change means reflecting on what we are doing to sabotage personal concentration, and then implementing steps towards behavioural change that will improve our chances of concentrating better. This means deliberately reducing distractions and being more self-disciplined about our use of social media, which are increasingly urgent for the sake of our cognitive and mental health.
Griffey ends with some tips for improving concentration starting with the “five more” rule:
This is a simple way of learning to concentrate better. It goes like this: whenever you feel like quitting – just do five more – five more minutes, five more exercises, five more pages – which will extend your focus.
Watching the hands of a clock turn
Exercise, especially if done mindfully
Reading for pleasure
I can’t concentrate any longer on this post. I think I’ll have to end it here.
I am starting two new challenges: to cover the segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin and to read fifty classic books over the next five years.
North Country National Scenic Trail
I’m not sure I’ll be able to complete this challenge given my age and the state of my health. I intend to have fun trying. I used the verb “cover” in the first paragraph above because some of the trail follows roads so I’ll be able to drive. The rest I’ll have to hike – definitely a challenge since I can manage only a mile or two at a time.
The North Country Trail Association describes the trail as “the longest in the National Trails System, stretching 4,600 miles over 7 states from the middle of North Dakota to the Vermont border of New York. The stretch in Wisconsin is 207 miles and runs from the Minnesota – Wisconsin border near Superior, Wisconsin to where the Wisconsin – Michigan border meets Lake Superior.
I have uncovered a sinister, global conspiracy – one to corner the market for bagels!
It started a week ago when I noticed a new slogan on the wall of Bruegger’s Bagels: “Life Is Short. Stay Awake For It.” Later that same day, I saw a large, Caribou Coffee panel van in the parking lot of my local supermarket. On the front of it was the exact same slogan! [sinister music playing in the background]
A couple days later, I talked to a clerk at Bruegger’s. She said that Bruegger’s was now owned by Caribou Coffee. It got worse. There is actually a holding company, JAB Holding Company, that owns or has a majority stake in Bruegger’s and Caribou and other bagel companies. Here is a list of all the bagel companies under JAB’s umbrella. I don’t know if the list is complete; there could well be more.
Einstein Brothers’ Bagels
Kettleman Bagels & Bakery
Chesapeake Bagel Bakery
I. & J. Bagel Inc
This is truly frightening. The worst part is that Caribou will not allow Bruegger’s to use crunchy peanut butter. (I swear this is true!) Creamy only. Sacrilege. I’ve been forced to switch to honey-walnut cream cheese. What would the world be like if there was only creamy peanut butter? I shudder to think about it.
Television advertising seems to be increasingly trying to sell by associating their products with good emotions. Using positive emotions has probably always been integral to advertising, but lately, it seems to me that advertisers are saying nothing about the quality or price of their goods or services. A good example is the recent Fedex campaign. The gist of the campaign is that FedEx delivers comfort, or love, hope, encouragement, support and so on. The campaign says nothing about FedEx delivering on time, at a competitive price, and without damage to the delivered item.
One could just as well say that FedEx delivers:
death and destruction in the form of a Unabomber package
disease via an anthrax-laced envelope
despair in a dunning-letter from a debt collector
depression caused by a Dear John letter
It is also probably true that both UPS and the good, old U.S.Post Office deliver just as much comfort, love, hope, encouragement, and support as FedEx.
This trend in its modern manifestation may have started with the Nike slogan Just Do It. The strong implication was that one could just do it better if one were wearing Nike shoes; and one could do it much, much better in an expensive pair of Air Jordans.
Automobile advertising uses the same approach. If you buy a particular make and model of car, you can be just like Matthew McConaughey, sitting on a beach drinking whiskey and looking cool, or thinking profound thoughts on a road trip through a scenic desert.
. . . actually, Lake Superior; the western shore of the Chequamegon Peninsula in Bayfield County, Wisconsin between Port Wing and Cornucopia. This stretch of shoreline has crescent-shaped, sandy beaches separated by rocky headlands and occasional sloughs where streams enter Lake Superior.
It’s one of my favorite places. I hope these photos give an idea of why I like the area so much. Yesterday, the water was tan and cloudy. I think it was because of suspended sand blown to this side of the lake by northwesterly winds.
* The first line of The Song Of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I don’t know the names of any of these mushrooms. My friend and bartender Nick assures me that the best book for learning how to identify mushrooms is Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora. I’ve ordered the book, so maybe in the future I’ll be able to add captions to such photos.
Last week I photographed the Lake Wissota Dam on the Chippewa River as part of my project to photograph the river from source to end. All the dam’s spillways were closed. It rained heavily on Tuesday so I thought perhaps the spillways would be open to handle the runoff. I went back yesterday and found only one spillway open, the one farthest away. Here are shots before and after the rain.
Other shots from yesterday, including another river, the Red Cedar, and a creek, Popple Creek, a tributary of the Red Cedar.
I used to post slideshows of my best photos each month until February of this year. I then stopped due to illness; bronchitis, insomnia, and, lately, pollution from Canadian wildfires. The air quality has now improved as have both my insomnia and bronchitis. I’ve been able to get out again with my camera and post a Best Of August slideshow.
I recently spent three days in a hotel while waiting for the carpet in my apartment to be replaced. The hotel was an hour closer to some of my favorite photography sites, so I went out with my camera gear rather than spending the evening cooped up in a hotel room. Here are some of the shots I captured.
I’m ill; have been for two months. Lying in bed with my CPAP mask helping my lungs do their job.
I can feel the congestion, like a sore throat in my lungs; feel the tiredness that is sometimes overwhelming.
But . . .
I’m enjoying this moment.
My bedroom is a pleasant room.
It’s spring even though it snowed overnight. Now it’s early afternoon and the snow has melted.
Windows are wide open. I can feel the cool, fresh spring air.
I hear the birds: a woodpecker hammering, sparrows chattering, a cardinal loudly defending his territory.
Out of my other ear I’m listening to My Top Rated iTunes playlist.
I hear this lyric from Papa Dukie and the Mud People:
Love is a beautiful thing
I can’t wait to see what the new day brings
. . .
Make you wanna dance, and cry, and
Laugh, and sing
Nananana…make you wanna holler
Nananana…down by the river
Nananana…behind the levee
I actually live down by the river and behind the levee. I haven’t been down there lately ’cause I can’t lick this bronchitis. So I just keep doin’ what I can.
I changed this site’s theme after leaning I was using an unsupported theme. Imagine my surprise when I found out – just now – that the new theme I selected and customized is also an out-of-date theme. Frustrating!
This is my least-favorite time of year. Once the calendar tells me it’s spring, I expect blues skies and warm air. I usually get winter storms. I never learn that here in Minnesota we can’t expect winter to leave for good until well into April.
So, to counter any depression-type blues caused by the lingering winter, I’ve posted some photos featuring blue-skies-type blues.