On The Level (Or, How To Raise The Roof)

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It is officially fall a beautiful time of year. The wind has been blowing in and knocking off the leaves, once colored from the late summer frosts, now almost gone. The green of the pines remain and we get to enjoy those as we work. Cassidy and I spent the last day of summer celebrating the change of seasons by finishing up a foundation; a finish line that had been on the horizon for a long time that we have now reached.

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I have not posted in a bit due to a busy time, plus a lot of monotonous work. A day of lifting heavy cement bags is the definition of exhausting and feels rather boring to go on about.

After carrying, mixing, and pouring about 105 sixty pound bags the future of work becomes to appear a little bleak. When asked “hows building?” I began to respond with a long drawn out “ughh” before soliciting the help of friends and strangers inquiring on the matter.

We mixed concrete with two shovels and a wheelbarrow. We would mix (about) two at a go, avoiding the dust by not breathing in too deep. I was the water gal, measuring out the (about) six quarts needed for the 60 lb bags of premix we had on hand. Cassidy was the heavy lifter.

When it came to tossing the mixed mud in the hole we wold pour the footing and lay down a cross of rebar. Then we would grab our precut sono-tube and screw in a scrap piece of wood to hold it 8″ above the ground, just above the footing. We then would level the sono-tube, toss on another scrap of wood, and commence on filling the hole. Cassidy wold shovel in the concrete and I would make sure the pier always stayed level. Pouring 15 piers as perfectly level and straight as we could was a time-consuming task.

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We finished those piers on Wednesday September 21st. It was a wonderful feeling to be done. We worked late into the evening, using up the last light, and the very last drop of concrete that we had mixed. Our 5 gallon water bucket was empty, drained of the last drop. We put the last bracket in the last pier, and then went to celebrate with our last ounce of energy; beer, pea soup, and exhausted, excited, conversation about the next day when we would get to do something else 🙂

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The commencement of fall rang in the tidying up of our work site. We set to insulating our piers and tossing all dirt piles back into the holes where the piers were now set and formed.

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1 inch insulation was cut into custom fit pieces, then placed around the piers, forming a frost barrier. We then shoveled dirt back in to the holes, packing it tight to prevent sink holes and weak spots.

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This took no time at all and proved to be rather fun. There was some time spent picking up large rocks that had come from underneath the building site, and then I took the opportunity to load up all the extra dirt and gravel and haul it off the site.

What comes next? After all the insulating and dirt moving? The posts. The skeleton of our house was soon to be raised. We started on September 24th.

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Most of our house was located up by the meter box, approximately 175′ away from the building site via our cleared trail. The parts and pieces were covered in tarps and left where the big truck dropped them off after we pre-ordered most of our lumber. Included in this pile where the posts.

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We started with the short, North, side, and so we got a chance to practice our lifts and carrying methods, with the 8’ lengths. We carried them from the tarped piles back to the home. We laid them down, debated the pros and cons of the different ends (which would be better on bottom where nails would be pounded quite close to concrete piers?). We took the less warped ends and the least knotted ends and pointed them down. This was a difficult task in which Cassidy bear-hugged the post, and shuffled it into place, lifted it into the bracket, and then my eyes were put to work making sure the post was as centered as possible. Then it became my turn to hold the post.

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We have a corner level (best $5 tool a person could own) and I banded that around the post and watched it as I made sure the post was straight. Cassidy then took a  couple of small stud boards and screwed them in on either edge to brace the post while he pounded the 16D pole barn nails in.

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Cassidy and I were able to get two up on the 24th, and then had to call it a day. It proved a good conclusion to the work week, as we headed home to the Woodshed to prepare for a few days of normal jobs.

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We came back on Wednesday the 28th and were able to complete the last 13 in one day. The middle row was made of 10’ posts, and the South wall had 12’ posts. The work got steadily heavier but we seemed to get steadily stronger. The day got dark as we neared the very end of the raising of the 15 posts. I brought out our work light and plugged it in for Cassidy as he finished the last nails on the last post. It was a grand day that had us in bed early after a large meal.

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The next day we woke up early and started on the floor beams. These we screwed into the posts a foot above the pier. The screw was used as a fastener as we made sure that the beam was perfectly level (leveling was – once again – left to me) before pounding our pole barn nails in. After realizing how slow this was we started to forget the nails and stick to the screw with the plan to pound nails in later. I held and leveled the beams as Cassidy attached them.

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The building changed from being defined by weeks to finish a project into being defined by days and hours. Before the week was out we had all the floor beams up, and we were able to check the height of the posts. Cassidy climbed a ladder and marked the posts at exactly the height we needed and used a sawzall to trim off the rest.

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The next week we raised our attention from the floor to the roof. I was busy working, I work for Special Olympics Minnesota and the beginning of October was my Bowling season. While I was inside the camper, utilizing the newfangled wifi hookup we had, Cassidy was outside pushing very long beams up to the south side posts.

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We planned it out so that we would have two brackets for either post, nailed right on top, to hug the beams. The beams were made up of 2” x 12”, two thick, alternating between 8′ and 16′ boards. When we ordered these Cassidy told me it was because they would be easier to lift to the high heights of the posts, and after I saw how he planned to do this I understood why. Cassidy would first attach brackets to the first post so it he could slide the beam in and then after he got it in place he would put up brackets on the other posts. He would tack the beams lightly so they did not move, but waited to nail them in place until the beam was complete with all of its parts.

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Cassidy finished the first beam by himself. The second beam he enlisted the help of our good friend Seth, a tall, hardworking, Norwegian with a hardy spirit. The two guys used their combined super strength to push the long boards up on the 10′ posts, that were actually about 11.5′ in the air, while I pounded nails into  floor beams (something that Seth also helped with, and I am ever so grateful!).

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After that beam the week was done.

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The next week Cassidy’s Mother visited from Seattle. Kristin was a blessing. A wonderful person to meet, I can see where Cassidy gets it. Her boyfriend, Stewart was also a sweetheart, and I was very grateful for the quality time. Their visit was the first vacation that either one of us has had since before the foundation, and we made the most of it. Cassidy was so happy to see his mother, and it was fun to take them out to the homestead and showoff. The next time they come to the Northwoods we will be able to invite them in 🙂

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They spent a day and a half with us, and left on a Friday. Friday was my last day of bowling competitions with SOMN so I missed a final goodbye. I worked a long, enjoyable, day at the bowling alley, and then headed out to the homestead where I was greeted by the smiling faces of Cassidy and Seth. “Let’s do it,” they declared.

“What?” I asked.

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After the last beam Cassidy had some reservation about the final, towering, row of posts that they would have to slide the beams up on.  He and I had some serious discussion about it. It was a 13.5′ height that he would have to push the heavy boards up to. Even with help he was not sure if his body could handle it after how hard the middle one was. “Scaffolding?” I asked.

“How do we bring it in and park it among the trees and uneven ground?” he asked.

We carried the discussion to Brigid’s Pub (a place I mentioned before as the most stellar food joint in town) where we had dinner that night. We had little to no solutions. I saw my beloved pal Dan and his wife there. We have not had a lot of time to hang lately, because, you know, we are building a house, so his first question was how it was going. I told him our plight. He suggested a sheet rock lift. He had one and offered to let us use it. It would lift the beam 10′. Cassidy and I discussed this, but it was determined that might not be the easiest thing to bring into the trees either.

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We thought about it, and reluctantly determined that we should probably give up the shed roof idea. We could minimize the bodily damage that Cassidy might go through if we choped of the top few feet of the South row of posts and make a double pitch roof. When Cassidy’s mother came by that was the new design. I had become used to the idea and assumed it was settled.

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That Friday night when I came home I did not see the top of the posts cut off, they were still as tall as ever, towering over the smiling, motivated, boys that greeted me.

“Do what?” I asked.

“We are going to put up the last beam!” Cassidy told me.

“What, how?!?!”

The boys explained their brilliant idea to do the single pitch roof just the way we always wanted by.. simply doing it. I watched as they screwed up some temporary boards between the posts. I helped a bit, and then watched as they used the new braces to set the beams on before climbing up their ladders and hoisting the boards up the rest of the way. Both guys would also use the board for bracing, as they kept one leg on the ladder and put the other on the temporary scaffolding. It was brilliant and badass, and I watched with tired ecstatic eyes as they made my Friday evening.

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My dream for a shed roof was realized and I could not be more grateful.

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Now that the basic skeleton was up we moved onto filling it in. Saturday, October 15th, Cassidy started on getting ready for rafters by securing and nailing the boards of the beams together. I started putting up plates for the walls. The plates are the bottom of the wall, they are what a person builds the framing for windows and door off of. They also keep mice out of your house if you have a raised floor like we do.

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The next Wednesday Cassidy was able to start on the rafters, and I started on the joists. We have brackets for rafters that make life easier. They have a built-in angle so a person does not have to cut a bird’s mouth into the beams. The “bird’s mouth” is an angle cut in the beam that holds the rafter at an angle, hugging it and insuring correct weight distribution. However, like I said, the brackets have this built-in. Cassidy attached 17 of these to the North beam, spaced two feet apart.

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After this was completed we carried the 20 foot rafters from the tarped piles to the house, slid them into the first bracket and — from there — onto the other beams. Cassidy then put the brackets under the rafter on the other two beams, making sure everything was square and spaced correctly.

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I worked on joists. However, I did not do joists all that week, I also dug a trench for bringing electricity back to the house from the meter box. I found trenching to be an arduous task. I really wanted to be back to my saw  and drill, and this week I got the opportunity.

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I used a skill-saw for the first time on October 15th and I found that I am a pro. Besides being skilled at it, I also found that I like it a lot. I like being good at things and creating so the skill-saw is my new best friend.

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After reuniting this week, the skill-saw and myself nearly finished all the joists, nearly. I have a 8′ x 8′ section under the soon-to-be kitchen left to complete, but that might have to wait.

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The house skeleton at night.

While I was working on joists, my main man, Cassidy, started on — and completed — the roof. We used 4’x8′ sections of OSB, which are quite hefty. Cassidy rigged up a tall ladder at an angle, leaning it on the North beam, and then pushed the OSB up the ladder while he stood underneath. The first one was the most difficult because it had to be perfectly laid down to cover a portion of the roof without slipping or sliding off the bare rafters. He pushed it up, stood at the top of the ladder for a bit eyeing up the target and then let it drop with a BANG. The rest were easier and quieter 🙂 However, I don’t care how many OSB boards you move , they never seem to get lighter. Cassidy moved the majority by himself, but enlisted my help when he got tired.

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Finishing a roof is an exciting and tiring process. After finishing it we had to pick up the roofing that we would use to cover the OSB. Much thought was put into which kind. We were partial to cedar shakes but realized the extra amount of work they would create for our roof which doesn’t have a super steep pitch. Shingles were considered, but I did not prefer the idea. After debating the longevity as well as the speediness of application we determined steel was the best option, and we both liked the idea. We ordered up some Emerald Green steel and then planned to pick it up Saturday, the 29th.

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The day was a long one in the truck. Because of the weight of the steel and the lightness of the trailer we borrowed we took it easy, and only hauled 18 pieces at a time. The only place that had our steel in stock was Menards, which is a 25 minute drive (or more) from the homestead. Two trips meant that the hauling would be an all day job. We picked up the trailer, checked the tire pressure and headed to the store. We loaded up the first half of the purchase with the help of a sales associate. Cassidy and this man saved my muscle strength for the unload, which took much longer as I realized complaints about OSB were minor in comparison to the real roof. The steel is not super heavy so we carried it in stacks of three to expedite the unload process, however it is bendy and 4′ long. Our driveway is not ideal for trailers yet so we left it at the front of the driveway and hauled the steel 300′ to the home. We laid it down on the joists and walked back for more. We had to be careful not to scratch the stuff (not my specialty), and I found that my arms did not like moving malleable steel at awkward angles to keep it safe. But, after the unload, we were back in the vehicle. We snacked and relaxed and prepped for the next load. When we got back to Menards we were welcomed by only 1 piece of 4’x8′ emerald steel on the shelf. Someone had come along and snagged it while we were gone. We informed the sales associate. He was ever so nice. They had no more of that size in stock in the Emerald Green color so he let us take 6 each of 4’x10′ and 4’x12′ pieces with no extra charge. We were ever so grateful. By the time we got all this worked out it was getting dark, and we still needed to tarp the roof for the week. It took awhile, but we got it tucked in for our three days away and then unloaded the trailer.

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The week was a heavy but satisfying one.

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Since the last time I posted until now we have built a skeleton and capped it with OSB and tarp. Wednesday we will start the steel cap, and then it will be the floor, frame, windows and walls!

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Electricity

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We woke up this morning to sunshine filtering through our pines into our camper window. A few days ago the camper was still parked 50 miles away, next to The Woodshed. This week it found a place on the homestead among the pines. It was quite the adventure to get
it parked.

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We tried backing the Explorer and camper into the driveway; it was a bit too big, and our driveway a bit too small to fit it. We then tried driving the Explorer and camper in. No matter how we tried there was one tree that would not allow us to pass. We nearly got stuck because of the one tree, and so before we got completely stuck, we backed the Explorer out. It was determined that the tree had to come down.

It was a hard day. After the trial of pushing and pulling the camper, Cassidy attempted to start up the chainsaw only to find the chain was shot. We parked the camper toward the end of the driveway and made the slow trek back to The Woodshed, disappointed in our lack of progress at the Homestead.

The next day we bought a new chain and concrete and made our way back to The Homestead.

The concrete is the next step in our piers. We originally thought to use blocks for the piers but opted for concrete and sonotubes when it proved to be cheaper. They certainly aren’t any easier to haul.

The concrete we purchased comes in 60lb sacks. We loaded it on to cart at the store, loaded it into the truck, and then had to unload it from the truck at the homestead. On Friday we wheelbarrowed 16 bags right past the camper. The camper blocked the Explorer from backing into the site so it was 200ft from the front of the driveway to the building site.

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Trees are beautiful on the inside too.

After hauling bags Cassidy sawed down the one tree with a chainsaw, ridding the driveway of the one unnecessary curve that had caused such a problem. After that it was easy-peasy to back the camper in right in front of our pine gate. High fives all around, and then our friendly neighbors surprised us with fresh garden salad to celebrate the feat (fresh Minnesota tomatoes are better than cake). After celebrating we organized the camper, and marveled at the feel of a structure on the homestead. What a marvelous feeling.

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That evening we went to Brigids, our favorite restaurant in Bemidji, to celebrate. We celebrated our land and the hard work, as well as on year of tying our lives together.

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Since the last blog we have dug holes, cut down a tree, pulled a camper, and purchased and hauled materials for piers, and set the Homestead up for electricity.

We called in a wonderful crew of electricians to put in our meter box. We were in charge of building the stand for the box, though. So we brought our first lumber and power tools out to The Homestead, and built the structure together.

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It was fun to build with Cassidy, and it was awesome to see this standing wooden frame on our land. It was the first structure we put up there and we found it photo worthy.

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With every addition to the land it seems to become more our own. After building the meter stand we decided to save this lovely patch of growth that graces the middle of our parking area. It has trees and wonderful moss growing. It captures the yard perfectly, and is a throwback to some of the stuff we had to cut down.

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The electricians came in and installed a meter box while we finished digging our holes for the piers.

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What a beautiful lake. Lake Bluewater, about 15 miles north of Grand Rapids, MN.

We took last weekend off to do some audio engineering at my best friend’s wedding where we booked a fantastic band. We camped at this wedding. It was an overnighter, and we turned it into two. Friday and Saturday became a vacation for us. It was our first opportunity to set up our tent in a year and we enjoyed it thoroughly, well, in a camping sort of way. Friday night it rained and rained. Apparently Cassidy was right under a very small leak where the rain fly met the tent. It dripped intermittently all night, finding a nice spot on his forehead. He woke with the snuffles, which faded with sunlight and a relaxed day of arranging sound gear. I slept fine. It was a good camping trip 🙂

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Cassidy on the left, and other wedding guests on the right.

 

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Sunday morning, August 14th, 2016.

Beltrami Electric hooked us up with electricity on Tuesday. We discovered the power Wednesday.

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Last night was our first night sleeping on the land. It was our first time making a meal on the land, and also the first time using the electricity. We had lamps, and a radio going, as well as our radiating space heater, which was much needed for the 45° temps that hit the Northwood’s last night.

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Our official anniversary is today. August 21st is our day, and it was such a gift to wake up at The Homestead today.

I don’t like to be romantic or mushy, but I kind of am. I once was not romantic. I used to think romantic love was a bunch of hooey. This was an opinion generated by an opinionated kid; a scared human who allowed others sad stories to paint a picture which I used to generalize. I have grown and changed, and I now have more self-awareness as well as a new found romanticism. I came by the romanticism honestly. I found love with a great human and I am aware of how amazing it is.

We met when we were both in a phase of growth and searching. We both were squinty-eyed about relationships, albeit for different reasons. Cassidy was living in the camper beside The Woodshed. He had arrived to the place we rent now a week before Little Wing and myself. We both lacked running water in our personal abodes, and neither had a working kitchen. We made friends through sharing meals in The Big House (also on the land we rent now) where we found both water and refrigeration. Meals lead to conversations which lead to a fast friendship. It is crazy really.

Had I been living beside anyone else the reality would not be what it is today. But isn’t that how it always goes?

August 21st, 2015 is the day that we officially joined paths, intertwined our branches and chose to grow together. This is a whole new type of adventure.

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It has been a pretty grand August 🙂

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Sometimes Stumped (Finding Solutions)

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How’s the land?

Magnificent. Straight up, magnificent. Thank you for asking 🙂

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Almost everyone who knows about the new adventure asks about it, and almost every time they ask there is a new story to tell about it. For instance, I now have an address.  Cassidy and I have been paired with a fire number that identifies our land. We have an address to go home to now.

Another instance of the ever continuing saga, we have a driveway. We can drive onto our newly addressed home AND turn around.

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Last time I wrote to you I spoke of the shared approach that had just been granted by our gracious neighbors. Immediately after that we applied for an E911 number. We also started the work of clearing a driveway.

We walked around the land, looked at all the trees, and made a plan of which trees to chop. We chose the path of least resistance, leaving a swath wide enough for a truck among many of the still standing original occupants. Most of the trees that we marked for the ax were pines. We have many pines, they take up a large majority of the land and we were happy to give some sun to the rest as well as some space to sapling oaks and poplar.

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Also, pines are straight, and therefore seem to have less impact when felled. They fall in a straight line with only small area at the top with branches to get in the way. As long as the trees are aimed straight and the top branches don’t get caught up on the fall down, felling them is a breeze. In one day we cut down all the trees on the first half of the driveway. On the next day Cassidy seemed more contemplative. He is actually the lumber jack in this scenario, I am the brush clearing go-fer (pronounced: gopher).  While he cut down the trees with a chainsaw I took a pair of loppers, used for trimming branches and taking our small brush, and did exactly that. We had hazelnuts in the very front of the driveway that had to be gone, and that was what I did. I have since become pretty good at grabbing the trees and pulling them up like weeds, which saves time on digging up their root balls with the spade.

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Anyway, as I was relaying, Cassidy was more contemplative on the second day of driveway work. He was to start on the second half, and I thought maybe he was tired. I worked on my hazelnut roots, and after a good bit of time I heard the chainsaw start up. Not long after, I heard the crunch of a falling trunk hitting nearby trees, but I never heard the crash that signified contact with the ground. The chainsaw engine was cut and silence reigned. After a bit of this silence I wondered what was up and asked Cassidy if he needed help. He did.

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The tree, though almost perfectly aimed, had caught its top, spear like, branches on neighboring trees as it fell. When I walked over I saw a tree that had detached from its stump but was now leaning, like a two by four against a shed, on two trees, refusing to fall to the ground, while Cassidy rocked it back and forth with a small dead tree trunk from our brush pile used like a javelin. This tree had managed to get caught up in the fall down.

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In this instance one would usually get out their handy dandy come-along and use it to winch and pull the trunk away from the other trees, letting it free. As a start up with a small operation, our lumberjacking business did not own one of those. We wished we did, but we did not.

Rocking the tree did not work even with two people. We then resorted to levering the tree. We had a stump from a felled tree, and we had logs, also from felled trees. We used these two in conjunction, putting them just so, and then putting all of our combined body masses into moving this ginormous tree. It would move a bit, and then we would try rocking it. I had the bright idea to remove the ground from beneath the trunk, allowing for more give, it worked, but not as I imagined. It turned out to be crucial in the hour and a half long struggle. Every time we managed to move the tree a bit we would dig a bit more, making a trench that led the trunk to slip down the other trees the way we wanted.

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Occasionally we would rock it, and we continued to move our lever to different tree trunks to get different angles. Eventually, it looked like we might win, the cause was not hopeless, and maybe we would succeed at lumberjacking, and that was when I suggested we try rocking it one more time. We did. The satisfying sound of tree making contact with the ground marked our victory, and the hooting and hollering commenced.

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That was the hardest tree. It was the first tree in a section of driveway blocked by trees, and there was no clear spot to aim it. That one tree took up a the majority of our work day on the second day, but after it was down the rest were easy.

For the record, Cassidy is a bad ass. He continued to lumberjack despite the intense workout we had already gone through in moving a whole tree by pure human stamina. I continued felling miniature trees and digging up their pointy root masses.

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The next day was spent felling more trees.

And then we went back to work.

And then we came back the next week and cleared the stumps. Cassidy and I decided to go it alone on our driveway project to save money. With just us and a chainsaw we made it happen. The stumps proved challenging, but they were soon overcome by our stinginess and Cassidy’s sheer willpower.

I worked on digging up old brush piles, now turned into lumpy bumps of black dirt and ants. I dug them and redistributed them throughout the driveway. Cassidy cut the stumps to ground level, and then took a spade, digging around them until there was ample space to put the Stihl to work. Getting low he shaved off the rest of the stump so it was just below the level of the dirt, and I came along and covered them back up.

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After nine workdays of varying length and one dulled chain we finished our driveway. There was much crowing the first time we pulled in and turned around. This was our first step.

During this time my sister came to visit all the way from Alaska, husband in tow. They came to see us on their way to vacation. We set down all the tools for four days and went for a daytrip to our favorite nearby lake. We had icecream and drank beer. It was four days of absolute loveliness hanging with these two loved ones.

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What a treat to see them! They arrived late Friday night and left early Wednesday morning. We headed out to the land to work off the sweet sorrow of the sad departure. It was our second week of driveway work.

The third week culminated in KAXE Riverfest, a music festival for our local community radio station. Cassidy and I played role as sound monkeys, helping our friend, and head audio technician, set the stage for each act. That took Friday and Saturday. Another great couple of days, and a kind-of break.

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On the fourth week our driveway was complete!

I stopped by the electric office and spoke to them about how to get hooked up last week. They told me the steps, I signed some papers.

The rule book says the electric company needs a ten foot corridor on the side of a person’s ten foot driveway to fit the truck the bring into lay the wire. This meant we had to take down more trees.

Cassidy and I discussed this realty over a couple beers. We were sad. The next time we went out we told our kind neighbor, Russ. Since we have been on our land we have made quite good friends with our neighbors. Russ has had us help cut up firewood, and they have invited to share meals with them. We look forward to the day we can return the favor.

When we told Russ he was as sad us we were to hear of the felling of more trees. He had a marvelous solution, though. He stopped by, and pointed out a nearby transformer box on the lad of our nearest neighbor, Jim. A shared box, used by Jim and the neighbor on his other side, why not us? And as long as we were going to do that why not put the 10 foot corridor in the convenient gap mother nature had already left between a couple rows of trees? Why cut down more along the driveway when an opening was available?

We called in a staking agent, met with him today, and he agreed. The verdict is in, the driveway is done and the electric can still be put in.

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Besides that, we have also broke ground on our foundation. Yesterday, 08/03/16, we drilled 15 holes for our upcoming pier foundation. We used a borrowed ice auger from a friend, thinking our land was mostly sand. The ground is sand, but after six inches it becomes sand with rock. Small rock, large, rock, you name it; gravel is the name of the game beneath our chosen building site. This was good news for us and the structure, but not as good news for the auger. Word of warning: don’t use an ice auger in gravel. Cassidy did and he told me he can still feel the vibration (wrenching of the auger hitting stone) in his hands today.

After starting 15 holes Cassidy grabbed a shovel and I followed suit. We have been digging in gravel ever since. 10 holes down, five to go as of this afternoon.

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For now we are digging two foot holes, with a circumference that will allow for 16 inches worth of stacked block that will make the pillar. We had assumed we needed to go deeper than 2 foot, and we might still have too, but our soil has excellent drainage, as witnessed after the heavy storm last night that left no puddles. Our frost protected pier foundation (a Scandinavian design) will be solid, and after we finish it we can start on the beam structure. Excited does not even begin to describe my emotions right now 🙂

Lots of work? Maybe.

Magnificent? Most definitely.

It is all totally worth it. Going to our land does not feel like working to dig a hole or working to cut a tree, it feels like working to build life at our new address.

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By building I also mean cultivating. I transplanted a few trees in the last month. I also transplanted a rose, and though that died it would have otherwise been destroyed by our foundation work. The transplanted trees were in the middle of our driveway and now those five mini pine trees and one birch appear to be taking root in their new spots. Some trees get cut down, which means others get more green and spry with the opened window to the sun. Seedlings are starting up where I moved fill from an anthill to the driveway, and among this all the birds sing and tiny toads hop about.

Today we rescued a larger toad from one of the pier holes. He hopped away as though nothing had happened. The prints of does and fawns grace the freshly moved driveway dirt. I have noticed that the raspberries are being enjoyed by all, not just my hungry fingers in between spurts of work.

We are building life right now. What is taken away we are making sure is also being given back. It is a magnificent experience.

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The Right Path

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Cassidy and I went for our weekly visit to our home yesterday. We hadn’t explored the stoic trunks, housed under the canopy of green cellulose that covers our terra-firma, for a couple of weeks due to my work, so it was good to get back. We are finally on track to do something more out there, and so I am looking forward to a schedule that has more frequent, and longer, trips out to our forest home.

For the last couple weeks I have been non-stop working at my dream jobs, first with teaching in mid-June. I had a week straight teaching. The schedule had me at College for Kids in the morning, and then a group mural project in the afternoon. It made for a great week in Grand Rapids and a long week away from planning home. The next week I was back in Bemidji, but I used it to catch up on art classes at DAC, and then I went directly into Summer Games with Special Olympics Minnesota (my other place of employment when not contracting as an artist). The games were so much fun. I spent hours working on the field, played a role as head timer and met great folks. Then I enjoyed rush hour in Minneapolis, MN on the way back to deliver my rental car. Cassidy picked me up in our loaded down Ford Explorer. While I was working at my job, he was working at packing up the tools we needed for building that had been previously unneeded and stored at his dad’s home. We made the hour long trek to back to his dad’s house and I got to spend the last part of the weekend visiting Cassidy’s clan.

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This is the lake Cassidy’s dad lives on.

Now we have tools, we had a great visit at his dad’s, I have had two weeks of full employment, and life is good.

This week was my week off from long journeys and overnight trips. However, it is still summer, which seems to be defined by long drives, so Friday, the first Friday of July, found us in Grand Rapids again. I went to hang up the community mural from mid-June, and a mural that I have been painting by myself for months.

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The murals were hung up in the Pop-Up Park, an annual park that gets set up on one side of an overly-large and boring parking lot that sits across the highway from the MacRostie Art Center. The park is surrounded by wooden frames, framing chain-link. The frames are 8’ x 4’ and have the potential to have anything hung on them. This year community artists were invited to hang pieces, and I was honored to be included.

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Summer another friend, helped us attach the community mural, with fishing line and a needle.

I brought Cassidy with and employed him as my handy man. He helped me sew on the community mural, and bolt up my personal mural. At one point he told me that this is how working on our house would feel; “marking lines, drilling holes, and attaching one thing to another.”

“Easy enough,” I said.

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Tea reflecting the sky above our terra-firma. Tea on the land is one of our favorites.

This is how conversations have been going as of late. We discuss or do one thing and it leads back to talk of house plans. It is a lovely banter we have going that has led to many new ideas, and a lot of excitement.

Yesterday was the first day back on the land in a couple of weeks. Saturday. What a good Saturday.

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Sap. An amber beauty.

For the last couple of weeks I have been taking the time to call around to figure out some of the logistics of building a place. I ended my last blog talking about how the first step was to get a driveway, and that goal has become a challenge. It began as printing the necessary paperwork, looking at plat maps, and talking. The next step was finding numbers and calling around. After many unanswered calls, my voice left on many answering machines, and few calls back, I finally got a response from Gladen Construction, a business about ten miles from our new home. I got forwarded onto the dude who gives quotes, Dave, and we scheduled a quick meeting two Wednesday’s ago.

It was sprinkling on and off all day. Cassidy had to work, but there was no way I was going to put off my chance to finally meet with someone. So I planned to meet with Dave at 3:00. I grabbed  a sweatshirt, braved the sprinkles, and made my first solo trip to our unbuilt home.

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A bouquet found on one of our adventures.

I parked on the minimum maintenance trail just a little ways down from our land, and waited for Dave. When he arrived I walked him over to show him the place we had marked out for an approach.

Dave looked, did some measuring and gave a quote. It started to sprinkle and we both went back to our cars, and I shook Dave’s hand as we went our separate ways. Dave was very nice, and super professional, however his quote hurt my budget.

That evening I reported my findings to Cassidy over a couple of glasses of wine, and we debated the next step.

It seemed obvious that we needed to find another option. Originally we had debated the idea of an easement. Our neighbors approach is right next to our land and it had come up between Cassidy and I that it might save money to share. We decided to try all our other options before deciding what to do.  However, with the unsatisfactory quote received it was time to move on.

Yesterday we knocked on our kind neighbor’s door. Our neighbors name is Jim. We had wandered over to meet him on one of our previous trips out. We had exchanged names and had pleasant conversation. It led Cassidy and I to a great deal of gratitude to learn our next door neighbor was so friendly.

We asked him about the approach. He said he knew of no easement. He told us the driveway had been there 30 some years ago when he bought his patch of terra-firma.

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This broken down picnic table has also been there for 30 some years.. it may have been in better shape then, though.

He had some advice for us as well. He offered us names, and told us about his brother who lived on the land behind us, and his daughter who would be the one to either permit or deny the sharing of the approach. We happened into a pleasant discussion about many things. He told us about our other neighbors, the local bear, and the lovebirds, who happen to take the form of a couple canaries.

After a good discussion we excused ourselves to take a walk on our land. He told us his daughter and brother would be over soon and that we should chat with them.

Not ten minutes later, we heard lots of honking coming from Jim’s way. I peered through the trees where I had been debating driveway placement, and saw a couple of bodies looking in. I told Cassidy that I believed they were looking for us, and made my way back to Jim’s house, through the ferns and young oaks.

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“Covered with wood ticks yet?” asked the kind voice of Jim’s brother. It was the start to a conversation filled with endless ideas and solutions, including the one to our approach. We met Jim’s daughter, his brother, Russ, and Russ’ wife and daughter. They were all very kind.

We stood and spoke for many minutes, and during that time consent was given for the use of the approach. I felt my mind relax as the huge weight of our driveway found a bit of closure.

Yesterday was phenomenal. Cassidy and I marked out our redesigned driveway, one that will go at an angle from Jim’s approach to our parking spot, right near the spot chosen for the foundation.

An answer to the driveway means that we can put in application for our E911 number (“Fire” Number) and then get electricity. It means that after we get a driveway cleared we can bring the camper to the land, as well as building materials, and then the start of structure can get underway. A foundation, and then a roof, doors and walls – it is just a matter of marking lines, drilling holes, and attaching one thing to another.

Easy enough.

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A happy bumble bee with dinner; a mint flower.

We are busy bees as of late, and soon we will be busy building. It will be oh-so-fun. What an adventure. We love sitting out on the land, enjoying the wildlife. The birds sing beautiful melodies, the plants bloom impressive works of art, and the sweet fruits born by a happy ecosystem are oh-so-sweet.

As stewards of the land we hope to add to the beauty. In meeting our neighbors we are happy to learn that the people surrounding us feel the same way.  We have found a beautiful home.

Life is good.

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A neighboring lake, one of my favorite spots.

Much love and positive vibes.

How To Survive The Wind: As Told By The Grass (Interpreted By Me)

Today it is quite windy. This morning it was windy and it was raining, and then the rain stopped but the wind remained.

I looked out my window at the rain, sipping my tea. I mused how awesome it was that the grass moved with the wind, swaying to and fro, dancing with the strong gusts. The grasses would straighten their spines again when given the chance, but would again lay flat when the wind came back. The grass did not break, instead, it adapted. If the grass were stiffer it would be less resilient and it probably would have broken.

It is a wonder to watch the simple wisdom of Mother Nature. The adaptability instilled in the grass is probably why it has survived the wild and crazy history of the Earth. I wonder if that same ability to adapt is one of the reasons we humans also survive?

Either way, I am grateful for the wisdom that the grass shared with me this morning. Mother Nature shares many helpful lessons.

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Making Room For Adventure

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The other day I bought a piece of land with the love of my young and aspiring life. It happened. I am an official landowner.

This is the start of new journey and I am not going this one alone. As I type Cassidy is reading about well drilling, telling me all about our options to getting water to our home that we will soon be building.

“Are you even listening to me?”

Yes, Cassidy, yes I am. Why wouldn’t I be?

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Ah, the sweet life. Sharing life with another, I didn’t have any clue I would remotely enjoy it, and now here I am, sharing land and listening to this dude go on and on about wells.

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We bought land Friday. It was a great day. Our awesome agent, Eric (whom I recommend to anybody in the Bemidji area if you are looking for a helpful, knowledgeable, agent to hook you up) met us at the title offices in Bemidji. I wore a nice outfit, Cassidy wore his usual. We arrived a half hour early out of sheer nerves and then found ourselves wandering off to target to buy toilet paper and tape. We came back and walked into the office. Cassidy, in his cool calm way, commented on some large pine-cones on display in the window and I blathered a loud and awkward response as I made my way to the bathroom.

And then we met at the conference table. We were handed papers by a very nice lady, and we signed them. I trembled, I dropped the pen, I dotted my i’s in all the wrong places, and then the nice lady took our check and told us congratulations.

It was about a ten minute or so. Then we went out for ice-cream.

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We saw this turtle last week on a walk. He is a painted turtle. We saw two turtles that day. Earlier we had spotted a snapping turtle in the same area, probably only a few hours prior

We have the best ice-cream shop here in Bemidji. It is called Big River Scoop. The have so many good flavors. They are one of the reasons I am happy to continue my life here in the Bemidji area.

Now we are looking at wells, and by “we” I mean Cassidy. It is kind of unreal.

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This is a wall of tees that stands at the front of our land. It is only about five foot across, but it is quite tall. It is our line of pines.

Today, after a work meeting that I have at noon, we are headed out to our place to mark some trees and think about driveways. We probably will also take a second, sit on a log, and debate the reality of one of the realist things I have ever done. Listen to the birds, check out our pines. It sounds lovely.

I am starting up this blog again. I have embarked on an adventure, and I fell that my warranted hiatus is now ready to be lifted. I have grown a lot since the days when I started this blog. I am still as self-assured as ever, but with a bit more wisdom. I am sure there will be more to come in the coming months and I am happy to share J

Check it out, this is ours:

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Parking Little Wing For Winter

Howdy! Long time no post, eh? Well, not really, I have been busy getting accustomed to my new website which I put a lot of energy into building over the last month. I did build it myself (please, you can hold your applause, I don’t mind), and so it took a ton of time and it also is a little on the DIY side as far as websites go. I am sure you will enjoy it though, since you managed to survive the many months of me typing and publishing off of a tiny smartphone screen. I have a lot of faith in you.

So, I have been hearing from some of you asking me what’s up and sending me sweet sentiments. I am ever so grateful for that! Coming off the road is an intense thing and it has involved a lot of changes and adjustments that were as shocking as they were expected. Sometimes reality has a way of being really real. It is a quandary I am still trying to figure it out.

Little Wing after winter prep

Here is just a few of those changes:

First off, I am a person who did cool things and I learned a lot, but it turns out I am still me. I have found this to be as shocking as it was expected. Actually, I have found it be very shocking.

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To speak more on that point, no matter how much I learned on the road I have come to find that I still have to work on applying the gained wisdom. Another example of how me I really am still is something I have learned from other human’s demonstrated interest in the adventure. People tend to ask me about my trip, as to be expected, and it turns out I am actually rather shy about the whole thing. I feel the adventure is like the cute dress that I wore to a party. I just want the other party goers to see me and say, “hey,” as though my cute dress is not really a part of the conversation, and in fact just an outfit I chose to wear. Instead the dress becomes the only conversation and the party-goers say, “Oh my goodness! You look so cute tonight! I don’t ever see you get done up like this! Where did you get the dress?? Are you wearing makeup???” As the person playing it cool all the attention makes me rather self-conscious, and besides, it isn’t that cute of a dress.

Except, what is really happening in real life is people are saying, “oh, you are cool, I guess I didn’t know,” then they invite me to hang, and be cool, and repeat my stories about being cool for the millionth time because they haven’t yet heard them.

Just like person at the party in the dress analogy, these people mean well, but it does make me almost feel like I am being boiled down and judged merely by my experiences.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I am not complaining, merely observing. I admit, however, that it sometimes can become difficult to deal with and then I have to pull out some of my lessons from the road and apply them.. I really am me.

The second change that was shocking and a little less expected I have fallen on love.

I just so happened to meet the guy I didn’t ever think I would here in the woods where I parked Little Wing. His name is Cassidy, you will all meet him in the coming blogs that I am posting on my new site.

Cassidy is worth a lot of gushing, and I am guilty of doing so, but I also very much dislike to admit my soft underbelly, so I will spare you and just say that I am as shocked as can be.Also, taking the leap into a real relationship with another human was more frightening than riding a motorcycle through L.A. traffic during rush hour, but unlike said ride it is proving to be a pleasant adventure and totally worth it.

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Aw, what a romantic.

And now, onto the third adjustment: parking Little Wing for the winter.

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I may have rode through twenty four states and put on the miles of an experienced motorcyclist, but I have realized I have no clue how to tuck in a motorcycle for winter. I didn’t bother to get around to the simple task until mid-November, and I am not sure if Little Wing will like me for it come spring, but I suspect we will find out.

There is one thing I know for certain, it is too cold for another bike trip this year, and so Little Wing will remain safely cuddled under his tarp until next year.

I don’t write off an adventure this year, and if the passage of time and snow don’t sit with me well I may load up another vehicle of sorts, pack Cassidy in (if he wants), and take off for somewhere warmer. Winter may or may not chase me back to the road, but I now for sure that my days of adventure are not over. I have much to learn. For now, though, Little Wing is parked. I am retiring this blog for the time being because it doesn’t seem right to use Little Wing’s name now that we have parked ourselves for a bit. The continuation of my story can be found at this artist page that I keep speaking of.

I am using my new website as a platform to show off my art so if you haven’t yet saw my art than the site is a cool thing to check out. I am also using the new site to sell said art. I will continue to blog about my life there and if you want you can follow me over and continue to read and get updates. I would love to have you.

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I am so glad that you followed Little Wing and I around the country. I am sure that we will be taking off again so don’t abandon this blog entirely, it isn’t done.

By the by, the fourth and final change that was more expected than shocking is the fact that I am writing a book. The book may or not ever be finished, but it is being written. I am hoping that I can find it in myself  to write everything down in a concise way, while also adding in all that I didn’t document. There was is a lot and I am not prone to brevity, so — once again  — we shall see.

A walk with the boys on Nate's uncles's land 1

I would like to thank you for reading and being with me through all of the beauty and potholes that Little Wing and I found. I feel much gratitude for you.

Keep it real 

Signs Out Of The Blue

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Looking around the, freshly installed, internets here, in The Woodshed, though I have stuff to do today (mainly grant writing, but why would I do that?), and I am shocked at how negative it all is. I am wondering to myself, “How do I make this less the place it is?” And the answer came to me, write a post, duh.

Be the change, Diamond.

Well, then, ok.

I have so much to say. So much to write. So many updates about life. I have had trouble doing so for several reasons.

1) I didn’t have internet.
2) I have been BUSY.
3) I have been unsure how to talk about the things in my head.

It is an odd thing going from traveling the world and meeting new people every day to settling down in a familiar place. I think it might be a dynamic that is made even more peculir by the public way I was living on the road. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves now, posting on the internet about a personal journey is as public as a person really can get without being surrounded by paparazzi.

I feel that when I write on here that it is just a journal and I like it that way, but then I find myself writing and then pressing the delete button as I realize I went too far. It isn’t my life and my stories that concern me, it’s the other peoples’ lives that I intermingle with that I have the slightest tinge of concern for. As a friend told me, I don’t want this to be The Truman Show. There is another part too, though. Grief. Things have changed since being on the road, because, now, I have the first major death in my life that I have to cope with.

My mother died when I was 17, and that was a bit of a deal, I guess. It was a repressed and ignored deal though, and since she wasn’t much of a positive force in my life it didn’t affect me like Gramps’ passing. And now, here I am, the journey is done; life should be a bit more normal now that I am home. I should just be reflecting on the way my eight month adventure affected me and shaped the new course of my life, but instead I have this well of emotions to slowly dredge out.

My journey was supposed to be closer to a yearlong. With Gramps coming to the end of his journey I couldn’t do it, I had to cut my journey short. And before I made it home to see him one last time he died.  That made me sad.

Is it because he died before I got home, or is it because I turned out I really didn’t have to cut the journey short? That is a hard question, and it makes me wonder many things, like am I selfish for even wondering? That is a big question in my head.

I came home for some certain things. I diffused the situation when Gramps passed, and I started planning for all the other things that justified cutting my journey short. I allowed some of the reason to be the people still in my life. I made time to see some of my close friends, and go to some of the events that they had invited me to attend if I made it back in time. In one of these instances it was a boy. He was a friend with a slight question of something more. This boy and I didn’t work, and in my saddened, grieving, mind that fact hurt more than it really should of. There was no heartbreak around the situation, but I allowed the small situation to cloud the break that was already there over Gramps, and so there was a short time of confusion. Lots of self-reflection brought me back, and now here I am, back at step one; I am sad that Gramps is gone.

Am I selfish?

Would I rather be on the road still?

Or am I just sad that one of the most important humans in my life is now gone?

And how do I talk about that?

I am not sure how I talk about it, but you know what, I do have stuff to talk about, so that’s what I’m going to do.

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So if you are a regular reader to this blog then you are aware of my slightly unorthodox way of viewing the world. If you noticed I talk about things like “the universe” or “signs.” Well, I have no apologies for such speak, but if you don’t dig then I would suggest you pause reading this blog and wait for the next one, because I am going to continue down that path. I like you, reader, and I thought you warranted that disclaimer.

I saw a wolf two days ago. I was riding the motorcycle back from town. I had gone in to pick up the router that is now blinking, and sending wireless signal around The Woodshed. I used that trip on Little Wing to run other errands as well. I met about grants, I visited with a couple of friends, and I picked up some chocolate and cheese (when one lives twenty miles away from town they have to make every trip count, but I only have so much space in the Pelican box on the back of the bike.. just enough room for a router, and some chocolate and cheese). On my way home the bike stalled.

Mechanics, if you have any advice it is welcome here. This same sort of stall has happened once before since I have been home. It happens when it’s warm out, but I honestly don’t think the temperature matters in this situation, because it is always warm when I am riding the bike here in Minnesota. It happens if I have been riding hard, like taking many ninety degree angles at a fast speeds, basically after I ride like I think a real rider should. It happens after the engine has been on for a bit. If I switch the petcock on reserve (which I tried this last time it happened) the bike will sputter back to life, sort of like the same feel one gets when the tank runs empty. The stall happened, the bike began to slow, I pulled off to the side of the highway, switched the reserve on, and the engine took a few seconds but it started to respond to the throttle which I was pulling on. I think it is dirty fuel something-or-other. Dirty carbs due to maybe dirty lines, or something that isn’t maybe fully letting the air and fuel to mix correctly. I don’t think it is a huge deal, but, like I said, advice is welcome.

Anyway, after the bike stalled a bit my first thought was the tank was empty, so I doubled back and went to gas station that was only a mile away. The station is about fifteen miles away from The Woodshed. I filled the tank, realized I didn’t actually need fuel, and that Little Wing must have stalled. I debated the next step. I was going to ride home, no biggie, but which way? Was I going to ride back through the road construction that I had just hit twice because of doubling back for fuel? No, I was going to take the back route home. I got on Little Wing and we started off. It was a great ride, I was glad I changed my route. I was about three miles away from home when I saw something coming out of the right hand ditch. Deer, I thought, and grabbed the clutch and allowed the bike to coast. I was about four hundred yards away from it when I had first noticed the ears poke up through the weeds, and as I slowly coasted nearer I realized it was not a deer. The creature was a canine of some sort. It was too big for many domesticated breeds of dogs, and two small for others, a mutt? No, no way, look at them ears. And as it nonchalantly walked across my lane of traffic I sensed it look at me out of its peripherals as its head moved the slightest bit in my direction. I watched as the animal picked up its feet a little higher and quicken its step. It wasn’t a nervous pace shift, but more like an I-guesss-I will-get-out-of-your-way pace shift. I looked at the creatures paws, as they stepped higher and Little Wing and I coasted oh-so-slowly, because, remember, this is all in the time it takes to coast 300 yards. The paws were so big, and I realized that the creature before me was a wolf. The moment I came to the realization the creature seemed to sense it. The quick-step turned into a sprint and the wolf launched itself across the road and into the woods. I hit the throttle and stared through the trees at the creature that deftly wound its way through the underbrush.

This is not my first time seeing nature in these Northwoods that I now inhabit. It comes with the territory, but it has also seems slightly magical (spiritual, universal, like a manifestation, herald or sign).

Walking down to the river yesterday I saw three grouse, one bigger one and two smaller ones. I remember being told that grouse are actually nervous critters, and I remember never seeing, but always hearing, them in the woods, and there they were, three of them, allowing me to get within twenty feet of them as I made my trek down to the river for my afternoon soak.

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I saw two blue jays hopping in my front yard and took it as a sign. This was a week or so before heading to South Dakota for Grandpa’s memorial service. The service was held on June 23, and prior to I was stressing. It would be my first time back in South Dakota since Flying out of Sioux Falls back to California. Gramps wouldn’t be there. I didn’t want to be there. The morning of the two blue jays I descended from my loft to use the facilities and turn on the radio. I just woke up, and I don’t typically take too much time to look around that soon out of bed. I had hands on the ladder, after taking my morning pee, with plans to go back to the loft when something made me look up. I looked straight out of the window, past the photos of family, my smiling father, sister, grandparents, the last photo I took of Norman Knispel, and I saw two bright blue birds. It took a second to identify them. It was like I was seeing the blueness of a blue jay for the first time. I stepped off the ladder, slowly, and just watched them scratch at the ground, searching out food. After a minute I realized I wanted a photo so I reached for my camera. I got two pictures of the jays before they took off.

After a night filled with unsettling dreams that was exactly what my mind called for.

A few days after the blue jays, just a few days before departing to South Dakota, I woke to the sound of something that resembled the sound of toppled five gallon buckets being rolled around on the ground. It was the sound that the plastic on the metal handle of the bucket makes as it is moved around. There is a stack of five gallon buckets outside one of the walls of The Woodshed. It is the same wall that the woodstove is positioned on. The morning was still fresh and I was not so I rolled over with the thought that the raccoon or deer that was out there would just have to wait. I heard the sound two more times before I started to question my diagnosis of the situation. I sat upright, and I heard the sound again. I realized with a start that the noise wasn’t coming from rolling five gallon buckets, but instead from the woodstove. A mouse, I thought.

I climbed down my loft, my heart racing. I’m not scared of mice, but I think I may be scared of creatures being trapped in places they shouldn’t be. I stood by the woodstove and took a deep breath or two, bracing myself; I wasn’t braced enough. I opened the door and silence reigned. There was still an unburnt log in the stove, from my first week’s home.  I reached my hand and shifted the log just the tiniest bit. My ears and eyes were filled with a whooshing as I drew my arm back with a start. I felt a shrill shriek escape my mouth. I shrieked at least three times after that as the image of the bird that had just flown within inches of eyeballs sank in. My brain soon caught up with the situation and my fear subsided as I realized the bird was not attempting to be violent. I had heard a thump that had managed to make it through my loud vocals, and I realized with a bit of concern that the bird had flown into my window. The same window I had stared out just a few mornings earlier when the blue jays greeted me. When I looked over I saw, there, from behind my motorcycle helmet, sitting on a box in front of that infamous window, the little head of a blue bird peeking out at me.

So, down the scrawny pipe of my woodstove a rare, Minnesotan, blue bird had flown. In some act of crazy, cosmic, serendipity it had had hidden itself behind my helmet and the plant from Gramps that drapes itself down onto said helmet. The plant was given to me by Gramps. He had gifted me with the greenery a couple of years earlier, when he had got it from the memorial service of one of his closest friends. Gramps would always ask if I was keeping it alive, and I would always tell him it was flourishing. He would respond first with a doubtful look and then a sly grin, and most likely a wink. He knew it was well, but he loved to question me.. on everything. I wondered, as that blue bird flitted up and down a short length of the window, whether Gramps was coming to check on our plant.  Was he questioning me? A loud, beautiful, blue bird would be just his style.

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I walked to the door and opened it, expecting the blue bird to fly the five short feet out the open space, but it didn’t. I realized I should get a picture. I walked around to my camera, while the bird continued to flit against the window. My camera was dead so I plugged it in and in the time all that took the bird still remained inside. It was a good three minutes before I realized it wasn’t going anywhere. I had some photos so I walked to the door and held my arms out, as though directing a friend to an exit. One arm extended in the blue bird’s direction and the other pointing to the opening that was the doorway.

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The bird got it and I heard the same whooshing sound I had heard earlier as it flew out, into the wild open spaces. Silence remained behind, and I was, once again, alone in The Woodshed.

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I went to South Dakota. Gramps had requested cremation, so we were able to save the memorial service for a month and a half after he left our dimension. We buried Grandpa on his hill. I cried. I came home, and I cried some more. Ever since the week of the many different blue birds I have been calmer about the whole thing, you know, life; and death. I have been thinking about what grief means more now. Then when I am least expecting it a wolf runs in front of me, or three grouse move about me calmly. Or I happen upon three fox kits. Which is something that also happened.

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Taking a walk with some friends in the Bemidji State Forest, admiring the plants and bugs, taking pictures of spiders, talking about woodsy things, we came across the little orange fur balls.

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I was in the lead, and I was the first to spot them. I wondered what kind of a dog it was and as I moved my head the slightest bit to point the critter out to my companions another one popped out, and I realized. “Shh, shh. Look, foxes.”

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My friends stopped, and looked. I could  sense the mutual wonder as a third fox came tumbling out of the bushes. My friend, and neighbor, Cassidy, told me to take a picture. I was hesitant, I didn’t want the foxes to leave while I fumbled with my camera, but there was no need to fear, and I was glad he had directed me to do so. The foxes saw us, I could see them looking directly at me as I zoomed in with my lens, but they were too young to be nervous, and having too much fun to care.

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We watched as they skipped, and rolled, and tumbled. They frolicked as the girls behind me cooed about how cute they were, and one of them, a photographer, talked about she wished she had brought her nice lenses. Cassidy and I stood in silence. I focused on getting some good pictures, and got absorbed in their play. We all agreed the foxes were a sign. Later on that evening I found my first ever four-leaf clover.

I am not sure what all these signs add up to, maybe nothing. Maybe it isn’t Gramps’ spirit coming through. Maybe it is my wishful thinking. Maybe I am on some weird spiritual kick with no grounding in reality, and maybe these animals are just doing their thing and I am assigning it some special meaning, but I find comfort in thinking otherwise. And finding comfort is important to me right now. So I think these are signs.

I do want to be on the road again. I want to be learning all I can from traveling, and I want to be visiting new places, and seeing things I haven’t ever saw before. I want to take in life at a high speed, with no apologies, just like I did while on the road.

I am coming to realize that is exactly what I am doing now.

Life doesn’t stop being an adventure just because one isn’t “adventuring.” I am dealing with the craziest experience of my life right now in my own mind. It is way more taxing, and takes a crap ton more courage, than any adventure. Everything up until this point, those eight months on the road, has led to this point of dealing the way I am now having to do. I want to be back on the road. I want to be back on adventure, but what I really want is to have Gramps back.

Blue birds, wolves, and foxes tell me that wants and needs are two different things. I am on adventure. I have a wolf living right next door. I have crazy noises waking me up in the morning. Trials and tribulations are finding me just fine right now, and Little Wing still has carburetor issues. It is like I never left the road, honestly. Life is damn fine, death and all.

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That’s my positive for the internet.

The Woodshed

(If you read a different blog earlier today you should ignore it. it was unedited and incomplete. This is a real piece of writing.)

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Cabin life. I have been asked how that is going. It is a question I receive fairly frequently, and it deserves a sufficient answer.

To start, this blog has changed a bit in the direction it was going, a fact I can no longer ignore. I was traveling across the country on my motorcycle. That was the purpose of this blog when it was created. The sole purpose was to write it all down and keep readers updated on the trip.

I am no longer riding around the country on my motorcycle.

That is almost as big of a change for this blog as it has been for me. We are both going through radical changes, and if you are still reading this that means you want to hear about them, so let me tell you.

Cabin life, that is what life is now. Traveler life has shifted and given over to the pause of a stagnate lifestyle. Stagnate in the sense that I am stopped in one place, not moving from state to state on my motorcycle from day to day. In relation to the past eight months it is stagnate, but in relation to the life of travelling Diamond, it is not stagnate. And I love it.

First off, as I mentioned in a previous blog, I have a garden that I am taking care of. I am looking forward to the produce from it, but for now I find comfort in its loamy dark soil and spring smell. I am located on a large piece of land that is host to thistles and so when not working in the garden I am trying to cull the herd that those prickly weeds have produced. I also baked a  cake for my landlord, a feat I am particularly proud of. It was his birthday and I knew he needed a cake, and I also needed him to like me, so I baked. I love a good excuse to mix up a batter.

Beyond that, all the household goodies, I am also creating art, probably my favorite part of cabin life. I have a whole cabin to call my studio, and that’s what I’m doing. I am getting used to this new freedom, and I am just getting my legs under me, so to speak. I’m starting to stretch out, reminding myself that I can put my easel and my paints wherever I like. I can paint, or draw, or wood-burn, I can do whatever I want, it is my space. I can turn up the radio and dance, and drink wine, and I have no worry that someone is going to knock on my door and tell me to tone it down. I didn’t know how much I needed this in my life.

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Though life feels like all play right now it isn’t. There is a lot of work in the form of chores and also making art a full time gig. I have been sitting in front of a screen typing quite a bit. I also have been drawing up sketches, and pounding the pavement. Life as an independent artist is always a little more work than it seems it should be. Not that I’m complaining. The pounding of my feet is filled with gratitude. I have a mantra of “thank you, thank you,” filling my head at all times.

Even though I enjoy my job it is still a job and like they say, “all work and no play makes jack a dull boy.” I would amend that a bit for my case, but the sentiment is still the same. I have the work part down pat, and it seems the play is pretty good too. Being home means I’m surrounded by friends. It means I can wander into a CD release and meet up with my friend in charge and get invited to best seats in the house. It means that I am invited out to shows, not just listen to music, but do sound, and at that point I get to play and call it work. Being at home means I can go out to listen to live music and know the musicians on the stage. It means I know the bartenders, and they know me, and don’t have to card me. Being home means I get invited out to dinner and have a couch to crash on, and a hot shower waiting at the other end. I had friends, meals and hot showers all, across the country, but it is amazing how great it is to have a home to go back too, instead of just a tent pitched on ever changing landscapes.

I have found work at home. Here among the trees I have continued down the path of independent artist, and it seems to be working. I was hoping to do all this art stuff off the back of the motorcycle, but the weather has made that difficult, as well as cold. I have switched over to a freer structure in the way I plan things. For example, maybe I will strap the tent on the back of the bike, and maybe the rain will chase me home to get my truck, and the tent will get tossed on tOl’ Smokey when I pack up, while Little Wings sits bravely parked outside of the cabin.

I have begun to call the cabin The Woodshed, just as a side note. It fits right in next to the woodpile, it is built of wood, and it is in the woods, so The Woodshed is the perfect name for it. That is the name of the next blog (Not. One Blog is good enough, I barely keep up with this one).

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Back to Little Wing being parked at The Woodshed, that is actually currently the case. I am parked in Grand Rapids, MN, on my old roommate’s couch, with Ol’ Smokey (the truck) parked outside, while Little Wing holds things down at The Woodshed. This is a switch I made on Saturday in the midst of a rainstorm, because here, in Minnesota, it has been raining like crazy. The last week and a half has been busy busy. Two Friday’s ago it was my landlords birthday. He turned a ripe old age of a number I’d rather not mention, and I made him a cake. I finished weeding the garden for his birthday, and I pulled up thistle. He came out to to the land on his birthday with a tiller and some beers and tilled up the garden. We shared some beers, planted some vegetables, and ate some cake. It was a great birthday party, if I do say so myself. At the time I knew I would be heading off to work for the next couple of weeks. I knew that after planting those new seeds I wouldn’t be around to water them for a a bit. That night, and the next one, though, I had bigger problems, because the frost came in. So after Landlord Larson went home I made sure to cover up plants. Fortunately, on the day I was to leave The Woodshed and the garden to go to work, the threat of frost had passed.

My first leg of this two week working stint started with a finishing up a grant proposal. I currently have  a pretty awesome project in mind, but I am searching out funding (details after the chickens have hatched). I turned in the grant, hopped on Little Wing, and rode to the next leg of my two week adventure; a music Festival in Waubun, MN. I was to do live art at the festival, as well as help setup, since I wouldn’t be available to tear down. I showed up a couple nights before the actual festival and I was pleased to find work painting signs in preparation. When that got boring I switched over to helping put up fences and and other random chores. The best part about the volunteering to help set up wasn’t the work, per say, it was the people I met doing so. People who volunteer to help with music festivals are usually a different breed, and I felt as though I found at least a dozen, new, best-friends. The Music Festival actually started Thursday, and that’s when I got to put paintbrush to canvas, and the meeting of cool people had only just begun.

The weekend was fun, the music was a blast, and I was painting. The festival world was turning at a different pace than I, though. I had an awareness of the work I had the rest of the week. I had been commissioned to paint a street on Saturday morning in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. I new I would be riding my motorcycle to the event, and I knew I would be leaving early. It was a two and half hour ride from Waubun to Grand Rapids.

My spot at the festival, and the start of my piece.

My spot at the festival, and the start of my piece.

The ride to Grand Rapids held an impending promise of rain. I could smell and taste the rain hanging thick above me. As I had rolled out of sleeping bag, 30 minutes before actual departure, the sky had actually let loose a little sprinkle. I put on my rain pants, bagged up anything that might get wet, and mounted Little Wing. At 7:00 am I was off with the knowledge that I had to be in Rapids by 10:00.

It was a gorgeous ride, and there was only a bit of rain here and there, not enough to get my socks wet. It was a winding ride, though, and required slowing down through some parts. I arrived only a couple of minutes late, and I was greeted by a box of chalk spray paint and an open invitation to graffiti the intersection that bordered the cop-shop. The streets were closed off for an event put on by a local organization, Get Fit Itasca. The event was called Open Streets and it was being put on to send a message out to the community that individuals don’t always have to be driving, and also that streets are for pedestrians and bikers too. I agreed with the message wholeheartedly, so I was glad to be a part of it. I also enjoyed the idea that the organization was going out of their way to promote and support local artists. Getting paid for an art gig is always a positive, as well.

The pallet was as pretty as the painting.

The pallet was as pretty as the painting.

The clouds had not dissipated and the promise if impending rain was only get louder. I could feel the wind pick up (not the best thing when spray painting). I knew that the rain would come before my three hours that were set aside for painting the street were up. People rode past on bicycles and commented on the painting. A few seven year old boy’s took it into there mind to yell “vandalism” at me whenever they rode past, which was often because they thought themselves clever. The streets were blocked off and the police officers were stationed around the barricades. It was a funny thing using a spray can to paint while cops stood near by, lights flashing to give heed to cars that didn’t notice the orange barricades. One cop stood near by and he kept coming over to take a look and smile. He made a joke about taking some of the spray chalk to the Fire Department building which stood right next to the police station. Like I said, it was a funny thing to be using a spray can in front of a cop.

The rain did come down before I was done. About the same time my paint supply began to run real low and the wind picked up I finished up and reported back to the woman who commissioned me. I hopped on Little Wing and rode towards home to pick up some more paint that I had forgotten for live painting. The rain was light at first, but by the time I rode the hour and half back to The Woodshed it had picked up. The storm felt torrential, and I was soaked. My waterproof jacket was starting to give in to the moisture and my socks were beyond wet. I rode into a muddy yard at my home and considered my options. I saw the truck, Ol’ Smokey, waiting patiently for nothing special. I went into the cabin and stripped of my motorcycle gear, tossed on some cute, non-riding garb, and grabbed my paint. I packed myself into Ol’ Smokey and waved goodbye to Little Wing.

It is a strange thing to have the option to trade vehicles. Had I been anywhere else, say across the country, I would have just had to buck up and ride until I got to a dry place to set up camp. Here, at home, I have the option to switch to my 92 Ford Ranger. Life, it is strange.

I arrived back at the music festival, and was welcomed by the friendly faces of my new friends, and a mud pit. I drove straight into the mud pit while looking for parking in my change of vehicle. It is a good thing to be friends with the owners of the festivals at times like those. I was pulled out of the muck hole by one of the owners of the property with the aid of his bobcat. I hadn’t yet met him, but I knew his brothers and his mom and I feel it was quite the bonding experience. I was tired from my adventure of the day, and the ride through the cool rain. I had painted the street and so my artistic intellect felt tapped. I made a conscious decision to not live paint, and instead chose to hang around, stay up late, and talk with friends, the way I usually do when I’m not working a music festival. I knew that more work welcomed me Monday.

It was a great night. I woke up late Sunday, and the rain had stopped. The clouds, however, never left. And the rain has been off and on since that torrential downpour on Saturday. All I can think is how good it is for my neglected garden since I’m not there to water it. Home, The Woodshed, remains unoccupied. Sunday I drove from Waubun, MN to The Woodshed where I picked up and dropped off clothes. I gave Little Wing a pat and hopped back in Ol’ Smokey to drive the hour and a half back to Grand Rapids where I am currently, sitting on my roommates couch,while teaching young children during the day.

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A good example of the work I get from my young artists. We did collages. Tell me this isn’t fantastic.

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One of my favorite pieces from the collection of student collages.

While I was blogging on the road I may have failed to mention exactly how much of an Artist I am. I am a full time, self employed, contracting artist, and that is how I make my living. I have taught art in the past, and this week I continue that practice by teaching children, ages 5-10. We are doing wonderfully crazy and messy art, and they love it, as do I. Teaching children is magic because their brains are so extremely different, while their minds are so open to new things. They are much more interesting then adults in that respect. I feel that most people tend to think children need much more guidance than they do, but what I find is that if you give a child a paintbrush or bottle of glue combined with the right directions they will create pieces that are stronger than some of the pieces I create, or any trained artist for that matter. Step back and monitor, that’s about all I do. Then I walk away inspired.

My life is full of so many different dichotomies. A music festival one week, teaching kids the next. The only common thread between the odd choices and jobs I make in life is the art I complete from place to place.

Cabin life, how is it? Cabin life is grand. Cabin life feels like home. The Woodshed has captured my heart. I just put speakers in my truck, and after I finish typing this I am going online and ordering a new caliper for the front tire. I am going to go visit my Dad soon. I have been making plans to see all my friends. Tomorrow night, after teaching my 5-10 year old students, I will be going back home to catch live music. I will be checking out the garden at The Woodshed, and giving Little Wing another pat. I am an artist. I am traveling, even if it is shorter distances.. and in my truck.

What am I doing now? What am I up to?

Happiness.

I think that is a sufficient answer.

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“Never too late to live the life you imagine.” I wasn’t sure if the six year old who cut this out got the intensity of this comic as much as I did. As I was smiling and tearing up he was pointing at the cute penguins, so I think he did .

 

Wrapped In Memories: Thoughts Before Sleep

It is Memorial Day, and on this day I remember many things.

I remember the way the rain was falling this morning when I woke up, a sob caught in my throat. I remember thinking “the sky is crying with me.”

I remember the words of a dear friend, “there is no getting around grief. A person has to go through it.”

I remember warmth as I wrap myself in the wool Army blanket Grandpa gave me. The comfort I find in the blanket is the same comfort I found in the warm embrace of Grandpa’s hugs. I wrap the blanket tighter, and I feel the memory of his strong arms, as his scratchy, deep, voice said “keep your head on a swivel, Wink,” which really meant I love you in Grandpa speech. He didn’t say those words, but the wool blanket does. I remember that.

It is Memorial Day. This is a day we remember and honor all those who have been lost while fighting for our freedom. For those who have lost loved ones it seems there isn’t a day that goes by that isn’t Memorial Day.

I am new to this grief thing. I haven’t lost much before. I always appreciated this day because I understood the sacrifices made by those who have lost there lives. I understood it in a logical way, and it made me feel. Now I understand loss in an emotional way, and it still makes me feel.

Our country is made great by a great many. The wool army blanket I am holding tight is one my Grandpa got from his days serving in the military. He is counted among the Vetrans in our country, but he was a Vet of another kind as well. Doctor Norman Knispel was a Large Animal Veterinarian after his days of service in the Army. He saved a great many lives throughout his careers, and in doing so helped many people, including farmers and their families. Grandpa helped a great many in a great number of ways. He is an example of what makes this country what it is. That is something I remember on this Memorial Day.

We all have a reason to grieve. We all have a reason to remember. There isn’t a one of us that has any less of a right to grieve than the next one. There is no getting around it, there is only going through it. On Memorial Day we are given a blatant excuse to do so. A whole day to feel and to remember.

I have been wondering how to say this all day, but it is simple really, I’m sad. I have dreams about Grandpa, I see him alive. I wake up, knowing it isn’t true, and then I cry.

I feel the warmth of Grandpa’s wool blanket and it comforts me. I allow myself to go through the tears and sadness, and I remember.

Its Memorial Day. Be safe, be sad. Be free to talk, and feel, and cry. And please, please, remember.

Much love.