All posts by Dale Connelly

I am a writer and broadcaster living in the Twin Cities.

Baboon Redux – Over the River

Today’s guest post, originally posted in November of 2011,  is by Clyde.

When we were raising our children, we lived in Two Harbors and my parents lived above the east end of Duluth, only about two miles from Hawk Ridge. Among the four ways we could drive to their house, our favorite was to take the Seven Bridges Road.

Here is YouTube of a song about the Seven Bridges Road:

In winter the Seven Bridges Road was plowed only part way up the hill. Thus for our traditional Thanksgiving Day drive to my parents house we would always take the Seven Bridges Road, assuming that it would ere long be closed. And a family tradition was born to sing as we passed over each of the seven bridges “Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go.” As our children matured, one would always ask, “What’s another popular Thanksgiving song?” A question which still lacks an answer.

Why is that? Why are there not many popular songs for this second most American of holidays? Everything seems right for songs: the season, the purpose, the mood, the many items associated with the day. But no songs have arisen.

Also, serious writers of serious music, i.e. classical, often embody popular songs, i.e. un-serious songs, in their serious music. Have I missed it, or has no one used Lydia Maria Child’s “Over the River and through the Woods” in this way?

Another mystery: Her poem which provides the words to the song was called “A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day.” Why is her poem of her childhood memories called “A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day”?

Here are her words:

Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s house we go;
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood—
Oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes and bites the nose
As over the ground we go.

Over the river, and through the wood,
To have a first-rate play.
Hear the bells ring, “Ting-a-ling-ding”,
Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!

Over the river, and through the wood
Trot fast, my dapple-gray!
Spring over the ground like a hunting-hound,
For this is Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood—
And straight through the barnyard gate,
We seem to go extremely slow,
It is so hard to wait!

Over the river, and through the wood—
Now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

Why the dearth of Thanksgiving songs?
Go ahead. Write one.

The Back 40 Boneyard

In a southern Michigan soybean field, a farmer found a bent fence post, caked with mud.  Which was no big deal, until he discovered it was actually part of a fifteen thousand year old pelvis of a Wooly Mammoth.

Wooly Mammoths, which are extinct, seem rather exotic for southern Michigan. Though the news accounts carried no suggestion that the farmer felt annoyed by this unexpected find, it had to be a pain in the butt to halt daily agricultural operations to bring in the archaeologists.

But Trail Baboon’s singsong poet laureate, Schuyler Tyler Wyler, became quite excited when I told him about this story, because he considers the Wooly Mammoth to be his totem animal.

Both STW and Wooly Mammoths are large, hairy, under-appreciated creatures whose unexpected appearance can sometimes lead to feelings of disappointment that the discoverer has not found a real elephant, or a serious poet.

STW’s latest work speaks of this in the hirsute behemoth’s lilting voice.

A farmer works for higher yields,
to see his family’s bread won.
But gets my carcass in his fields!
A crop!  Alas, a dead one.

My bones are no commodity
to trade on the exchange,
An old organic oddity.
low-salt, no cage, free-range.

To dig me up is more than play.
I’m ingrained in the ground.
Though true, I’m trespassing today,
‘Twas not when I fell down.

So now they’ve dug up my remains,
and inventoried fully:
Acres of soybeans, tons of grains.
One ancient Mammoth, wooly.

But I’ll make no apology
to that exhausted farmer.
His harvest – part mythology,
part prehistoric charmer!

Ever find a surprise in the dirt?

Calving Laws

A very thorough article in the New York Times about the collapse of Greenland’s Ice Sheet was less than precise about the timeline for rising ocean levels.   Melting on this scale is unprecedented in human history.  University of California – Irvine professor Eric Rignot was quoted saying ‘‘‘We’ve never seen it. No human has ever seen it.’’

The problem is made worse by the fact that ice is complicated.

“Glaciologists remain vexed, for instance, by the physics of how ice cleaves off the edge of the sheet. As Rignot told me, ‘‘We don’t have a set of mathematical rules to put in a numerical model to tell you how fast a glacier breaks into icebergs.’’ He emphasized that discovering these rules, known as calving laws, could be all-­important. Richard Alley, a glaciologist at Penn State, told me: ‘‘Problems that deal with fracture mechanics — volcanic eruptions, or earthquakes, or things that involve the question ‘Will it break or not?’ — tend to be difficult. You ask, Will the ice shelf break off a lot or a little bit? Will the cliff left behind crumble? Will it crumble fast? Will it crumble slow?’’ So far, Alley says, we can’t be sure. But a formula might tell us in advance how fast the ice sheets might crash into the sea.”

After I told Trail Baboon’s sing-song poet laureate Tyler Schuyler Wyler about this unfortunate gap in scientific understanding of the effects of climate change, he immediately warmed to the idea of taking it on as an artistic challenge.

The great glaciers up in Greenland look serene and sharp and still.
But they’re melting at the speed at which great glaciers often will.

If you want to know how fast that is I’ll share this helpful clue:
Mammoth  ice chunks liquefy as quickly as they sometimes do,

They will crack and pop and shift and drain from bottom to the top.
Getting worse exactly at the rate that ice shelves go “ker-plop,”

when they drop into the ocean with sufficient force to flatten,
and to cause enough displacement to submerge lower Manhattan.

To assess the speed precisely you can do this computation –
Take the age of your old Buick times the planet’s population

Then subtract the number of bike trips you took to work last May
from the setting on your thermostat on any average day.

Then divide this by how often you drive to the corner store
plus how long you let it idle while you run back in for more.

Add that number to the time it takes to soak in a hot tub
and you’ll know how quickly glaciers melt!

Glub glub, glub glub.

Glub Glub.

Where’s your favorite spot to view the ocean?

Up On Our Feet

Today’s post is a message from perennial sophomore Bubby Spamden, forever enrolled at Wendell Willkie High School.

Hey, Mr. C!

Sorry I only write to you when I want you to do something for me or I have a complaint, but what do you expect?  You’re an old guy and I’m still in high school, so for us to be just-hanging-out friends would be weird.

But I saw this article and it really got me riled up.

Well, actually, Mr. Boozenporn made us read this article in social studies class, and it got me thinking about how so much of life winds up being about your expectations.

Really!  Because you know I’m super focused on what I’ll do for a living if I ever get out of Willkie.  On account of they keep threatening to graduate me, since I’m older than the janitor now.

Anyway, Mr. B. showed us this article about how a bunch of elementary schools are getting rid of sit-down desks and making their students stand instead!

For example, nearly every classroom in the Vallecito Elementary School, in San Rafael California, now has standing desks!

I found out there’s been a bunch of news coverage of this, and all the students, teachers and parents they quoted go on and on about how great it is for helping kids stay focused and keeping them healthy.

Blah Blah Blah.

Nobody spoke up for the best part of desk-sitting in school, which is the way being crouched down behind a piece of furniture all day makes it easy to hide stuff in your desk, write secret notes, make spitballs, and etc, etc, etc.

This looks like a secret plan by education bosses and trend-followers to get rid of the school experience that I loved so much – where you’re in a constant battle with the teacher over winning the attention of the other students and the sit-down desk is your foxhole!

Some say the stand-up desk helps prep the little kids for the workplace of their future because it’s a big trendy deal in corporate offices now.  But the difference is in corporations it’s the higher-ups (literally) that get to have a stand up work space, and it’s always their choice if they want to do it!

So telling kids the stand-up desk gets them an early start on their career sends the wrong message, because the only kind of stand-up job that’s available when you get into the workforce today is fast food worker, cashier, barista, waiter, stock clerk, and road work  signal man!

Not to put down those jobs, but if I ever get to college,  I definitely want to graduate with a degree in Sitting Down and Telling People What To Do.

Sit-down jobs are still the best, because that’s where the money is. And I’m pretty sure all those corporate CEO’s are hiding cool stuff in their desks!

Your pal,

What did you hide in your elementary school desk?

Big Hole Remains Vast

I’m here to report that the world-famous Grand Canyon in northern Arizona lives up to its billing and is undiminished by time.

In fact, time, which gradually dismantles you and me and blunts the overall effect of abslutely everything else,  only increases the canyon’s grandness.

Such has been the case for either 6 or 70 million years, depending on which creation story you happen to believe.  In a remarkable double-reversal, the old theory is that the canyon is new, and the new theory is that the canyon is very much older, having formed as a by-product of an earlier river that flowed in the opposite direction – as a result of a powerful, rock-cutting  runoff from mountains that no longer exist.

And that mountain range existed in the basin where Las Vegas sits today.  What are the odds?

Name your favorite natural feature of the Earth’s surface. 



Hello Eyeball House

The twisted celebration that Halloween has become boldly invites us to go overboard, and many people oblige.

That’s how we get the annual Zombie Pub Crawl in Minneapolis and that one macabre house in your neighborhood where the front lawn looks like a mortuary supply truck crashed into Dracula’s estate auction.

Hey, that would be a good theme for next year!

At our house, we’ve adopted the self-limiting tactic of declaring that the place shall not be adorned with any Halloween decoration that can’t go up the day of the actual event, and can’t come down the next day.  That has the wonderful effect of lightening the work load and reducing Hallow-stress.

As for the creepiness factor, I’m far too squeamish to decorate with skulls split by bloody hatchets and mutilated corpses.   My dear and clever wife, who shares my feelings about gore, hit upon the idea one year that eyeballs are sufficiently creepy without being  totally repulsive.

Thus was born the Eyeball House.


Eyeball House 1b

All in all, aside from some exotic and (usually) invisible internal organs, I would say eyeballs are the body part that best represents Halloween.  They generate a certain quality of undefined menace.  Yet they are completely approachable –  not totally horrible, like feet, or inexplicable, like ears.

As the proud lifelong owner of two completely natural eyeballs, I’m delighted to be able to collect new ones for our annual display.   And yes, I’m always on the look out.

And while there’s no element of political commentary in this bit of seasonal decoration, whenever I go out to the street to see the window eyeballs looking back at me, the surveillance society feels very real.

I know we’ll get a lot of Ninja Turtles and Disney Princesses this year, the kid who gets two candy bars from me will be dressed as Edward Snowden.

How do you decorate for Halloween? 



A Vocal Point

Every now and then a bit of research comes along that turns commonly accepted wisdom upside down. And so it is with a recent study of howler monkeys and chimpanzees.

According to the New York Times, the researchers concluded that to gain a mating advantage, species evolved either to make very low frequency sounds, or have much larger testicles.

But none had both.

For human men, the possible ramifications of this conclusion are world-altering, even though the Times article clearly states the research examined differences between species and so it has no application to human beings.

But our imaginations are not limited by such inconvenient facts.

When I mentioned this to Trial Baboon’s Singsong Poet Laureate, Tyler Schuler Wyler, he was moved to adjust his rather snug jeans, and pen a few timeless lines to extrapolate the findings:

It’s obvious, when all’s compared,
that “E” equates to “MC squared.”
And likewise, with a monkey’s calls,
A sexy voice means teensy balls.

If human beings follow suit
the big-balled man sounds like a flute.
and deep voiced guys (like Barry White)
can wear their trousers extra tight.

While penny ante Pavarottis,
(Never seen by girls as hotties)
Make their trade-off down below –
With every squeak, cojones grow.

So fellows with a treble voice
must favor baggy slacks by choice.
Though baritones may get romance,
the tenors need room in their pants.

How do you like your clothes to fit?