Rotten to the Core

Today’s guest post comes from Clyde in Mankato.

I sit at my comPhoto #1puter and look out my apartment window into the woods at the top of a ravine in Mankato and see this.

Look at that mess. Nature is just untidy, disorderly. It needs a correcting human hand. No, you say? But then you are not the son of a man who was a pioneer born a century too late.

Photo #2

This is my father having fun. You cannot recognize it, I suspect, but I know he is smiling. It is one of only two or three pictures of my father smiling. Was I born with the same urge or did I learn it at our tractor’s knee? Nurture/nature? Is it a male thing?

Earlier this week just to get outdoors, I stepped into the snarled pile. I pushed at one of the upright pieces of tree trunk in a desultory way. It toppled to the ground. The itch was in my palms. With a back nearly as decayed as the trunk I just toppled, it would have been wise to walk away. I pushed at three more with my foot and found them as badly rotted. The itch was in my palms. Beside me was a deep ravine, already full of rotted trunks and dead brush.

I suspect from watching my father that many of the pioneers had a lust to reduce nature to human terms. Many of the first pioneers just kept moving on and doing it over and over again. This is a topic on which I have read extensively. I am sure you can see why.

Forty years ago I took a class on literature of the North Woods, which is not a large body of work, not much of it very good. The best piece we read was Robert Treuer’s The Tree Farm, which is a book well worth a read. Here is a part of a paper I wrote for that class.

On his tree farm Treuer must walk the edge between nature wild and nature cultured; he must keep the wilder aspects of nature at bay without destroying nature or allowing nature to destroy or reduce him. The dangers of the North Woods are survived if the necessary precautions are taken. It is not a nature that threatens to rise up and destroy us with alarming ease. If we dress and build appropriately, the cold can be kept out. With some care the storms can be withstood, the rapids can be run, and the bears will not eat us. Nevertheless, past history and current news tells us that lives can be lost or ruined if one forgets the rules or tempts nature too much. We live in this region to live with nature and survive it while keeping it as natural as we can.

So too in our day-by-day lives we want that nature within the right bounds. We move to the country but we cultivate a lawn. We mow that lawn right up to the edge of the woods, always feeling the urge to push out a little more and tame another few square feet. One summer’ neglect, however, will find the weeds back at our door. Two summers will return it all to brush. It takes constant effort to keep nature within the bounds we prescribe without losing the nearness to nature we reached out for when we moved here.”

Photo #3

I scratched my itchy palms. Today the snarl looks like this, all accomplished without using a single tool.


When done with the deed, I felt as my father did in this Photo #4photograph of him going home after a day of clearing land, pipe in mouth, satisfaction on his face. (Don’t miss the dog riding on the tractor platform.) My son’s photographer friends find this image iconic, say that it represents a larger moment in time than 1957 (ca.) and more than just my father.


What makes your palms itch?

48 thoughts on “Rotten to the Core”

  1. Good morning. I am not too big on clearing up brushy areas or doing other things to get rid of messy natural areas. What I don’t like to see, and always want to cleanup, is weeds growing in gardens and flower beds. When I walk by a flower bed in a park and see some weeds among the flowers I am strongly tempted to pull them.

    I try to hold down my desire to pull weeds in public places and in my neighbors planted areas. I would like to tell one of my neighbors that weeds have come close completely taking over an area where I think she planted a mixture of wild flower seeds. I can see a few nice wild flowers among the weeds that are dominating the area.

    Perhaps this neighbor thinks the weeds are wild flowers that were included in the seed mixture that I think she planted. Actually, that weedy patch, with some wild flowers, doesn’t look too bad. The weeds went to seed producing seed heads that are somewhat attractive and that provide food and cover for birds.


    1. Some people define a weed as a plant growing where you don’t want it, Jim. I have a friend here on the West Side whose entire “garden” is weeds – by some people’s definition. He has let it develop that way as a natural habitat for birds and other small critters, much to his neighbors’ chagrin.


      1. I haven’t heard any one here complaining about my neighbor’s weedy planting and I think that is good. In the small town, where I previously lived, you would be required by the city to clean up a weedy patch like the one that my neighbor here in Minneapolis created.

        Very good story and pictures, Clyde. Your story reminds of seeing some extra neat farms where they extend their mowed lawns for a quarter mile or more along the road side in both directions leading away from their houses. I think some of these farmers would like to convert all of the roadsides on their farms into mowed lawns.


  2. Clyde
    You do this well
    It’s nice that your docs recipe allows you to be with us. Thank the doc for us
    Your dad , like a radio voice , is not what I pictured, I don’t know exactly how I did have him pictured but more burly less clean shaven broader shoulders more of a snarl. Maybe it’s as you say, that smile is recorded as a moment of bliss in a somber life, too bad we get caught up in the stuff that is steering us but fail to realize we are steering it. I have began pointing out at my house the short terse answers and snappy behavior are a less positive choice than we would give if we thought a moment. My itch at home is to help get the world going in a pleasant direction. Why wouldn’t you if you could?
    My other itches are entrepreneurial pursuits, I have many ideas and all the contacts to get it done, just the few missing details like time and money kept me from being the next Leonardo de Vinci. I’m working on it. I have a launch I am trying to get going and three more on the burner ready to go.
    I love he wheels on the farm all not to worried about sinking into to mud, just how to dig in and pull it to the next outcropping,
    I look out my window at the complete takeover of the woods by that weed tree that has infiltrated my setting. It make me itch a little but to erdadacate it completely I need to go with the new plan next spring.
    It’s itching a bit but I’m fighting it successfully.


  3. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    Every spring my palms itch to get in the garden and I want to see something grow! Last weekend we planted tulips in anticipation of this Spring event.

    Right now my palms are itching to get this professional test out of the way (this is a national DBT certification. Send good vibes to Philadelphia on Wednesday, Nov. 19 between 1pm-4pm Eastern time. Please broadcast said vibes to Temple University). Life has not conspired to help me feel well-prepared. I plan to take it a second time in the Spring when I might actually pass the thing. But now, I just want to do it the first time and see what it is like. I have not taken a test for 30 years.

    So where did that 30 years go? So fast?


    1. Best of luck! I can’t believe they even force you to go to Pennsylvania to take the test. I imagine that the test taking habits you had 30 years ago will kick in automatically on the 19th.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely story, Clyde. My Great Uncle Albert moved to north to Pitt, MN, near Baudette, and farmed there. Well, he called it farming, but he really was no farmer and didn’t have that drive to make things clearer or cleaner that your dad possessed. The manure got so high in Uncle Albert’s barn once that the cows couldn’t walk through the door. All he seemed to want to do was to sit under a tree in the yard in an old recliner and play his fiddle.


  5. Morning all… thanks for the great piece, Clyde!

    Clutter makes my palms itch… when things get too cluttery at my house, it bugs me. And like other baboons, I can’t wait to get out and start rooting around in my garden in the spring. However, fall gardening doesn’t do a thing for me. If the bulbs would plant themselves and the leaves would jump willingly into the bags, that would be just fine with me.


  6. Oh Clyde, that picture looks just like my grandpa- I know that smile well. Satisfaction with a job well done, and good work to do tomorrow.

    I am in awe of the pacing of the lives of these fine people. They always worked hard, but I really don’t remember them being “rushed”. Something to think about…..

    at this point, nothing makes my hands itch, I just look at the pile “to do” and sigh. Hoping to have things on a more even keel by springtime, as I know there is a world of work that was neglected in the yard this fall that “should” be done in the spring.

    Just checked the real estate listing and the remains of Grandpa’s farm have been sold. Good thing I got my pictures of the barn and pig shed when I did, I doubt they will stick around for long with new owners.

    that’s that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I would like to say our lives were never rushed. Both of my parents worked 95% of the time at a constant all-day-long steady pace. However, there were many rushed times, in haying season, canning season, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I recall things like quantities of corn being processed for the freezer and other harvest related things, but somehow that sort of “rush” is different than what I see happening in “modern” life.

        I’m going to go tackle the pile before me and try to figure out why. This will take some chewing.

        but thanks, Clyde, it has taken me out of my pre-holiday cogitations.


      2. There is an amusing article currently running on MinnPost. It was written by a farmer’s wife and is about all the multitasking that is possible when it is harvest time for a farmer whose technology includes devices that guide the tractor and combine by satellite. Apparently a lot of farmers need to be in their tractor cabs but can do other things while the rigs steer themselves. The article hints that some farm wives can sneak in little “conjugal visits” with their husbands while technology directs the tractors round and round the fields.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Just seeing this now. Huh. That’s something all right. I suppose if the field was big enough so there was ‘enough’ time between the ends of the field things could be …. ‘managed’.
          Not combining though. Sure, it steers itself, but the hopper fills so fast you have to deal with that frequently.
          But maybe doing tillage work… you still have to raise and lower and turn at the ends of the field. So those long fields…. well, the mind does wander…


  7. Nice, Clyde. When I walk down in “our” nature park here, I see the Virginia Creeper creeping up all the trees and bushes in sight. I sometimes pull it off something nice like a tiny oak or maple I just let it take the buckthorn – actually, I also pull up buckthorn seedlings wherever I see them.

    And like VS, any clutter in the house gnaws at me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it gets taken care of today. I’ll think of others…

    Has anyone read that book about how long, after we’re gone, it takes nature to wipe out any remnants of our physical presence? I’ve only read a review…


    1. In the valley below us were many small farms that in the late 50’s were going to seed. Every time we would drive the valley road my father would rant about people letting the brush take over the fields when someone had worked to hard to clear it.
      And for the record, the bit about pushing the lawn ever outward is a description of me with our North Shore property. Sigh.


  8. WP and I have been on two different wave lengths today. It has taken quite awhile for me to make it show your posts.
    My favorite selfie quote is “The lawn is the highest expression of American culture.” that idea has two sources. Working with Navajos, who do like to make fun of our lawns. Watching people up north build homes out in the country, I assume to be in nature, and then cut down any trees anywhere near the house and making a big lawn, in other worlds to push nature as far away from them as they could. And in a related behavior, watching people build cabins on a lake up in the woods and making it all lawn, and thus more work when they go there to “relax.” They also complain about wasps nests, bear and raccoon problems, etc.


    1. I’ve probably said this before here – my long-term plan is to rid myself of expanses of grass. I’m getting there in the front of the house – lots and lots of lilies and other perennials taking up more and more space with less and less grass to mow. Have to wait until I am dogless to complete my plan in the back, but I now have the firepit, the swing and the hammock in place, so it’s a start.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Scraps of paper on the floor or ground. Also snowy/icy sidewalks. I can (and do) put up with a fair amount of clutter and a few weeds in my gardens – but I have a very low tolerance for things that could cause someone to slip or trip. The floors don’t need to be clean enough to eat off of, nor do sidewalks need to be clear of sidewalk chalk or kids toys, just clear of detritus and extraneous crud.


    1. And failed to mention- love the photos of your dad & tractor (& dog) Clyde. Taming the wilderness does seem to be an oddly American obsession. I would not be a good farmer, I think, as my tolerance for wild and disorder is pretty high.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks. One of Boots’ loves was to ride on the tractor platform on the way home, never on the way out to work. That dog loved clearing land.
        The gate right in front of the tractor haunts my dreams. I am not sure why. I don’t remember my dreams well, but I often wake up in dream by that gate. Because I am writing a second novel which takes Clair as a retired man back to the decaying remains of the farm, my mind is full of memories of the place. The novel has an interesting metaphor, or interesting for me to play with. I have Clair return north to retire in a house he built on the edge of the field a decade earlier, essentially over the front of the tractor in that picture. The metaphor is that to get to his house he has to drive through the decaying remains of the farm buildings, which are now getting dangerous and are full of rusted and rotted things no longer of any use, which somehow he has to get ride of, which is all overwhelming.

        Liked by 4 people

  10. I grew up hating lawn maintenance and loving pheasants, which sure made me favor rough lands over fussily maintained properties. We would often visit the same farms year after year looking for pheasants, and that process made me uncomfortable with those farmers who were control freaks and comfortable with those rare farmers who were just a bit lazy or fond of the bottle. There was never enough of them. The best farms for my bird-loving dogs were the “worst” farms as seen by neighbors. And when a roughly maintained farm fell into the hands of a farmer who jerked out the trees and slayed weeds with chemicals it was like losing a dear old friend. Once cleared, farms never returned to the lusty productivity of the type enjoyed by hunters.

    I haven’t had wine for days. When I lift a glass tonight, I will bless the memories of those farmers who enjoyed life without feeling they needed to subjugate the land by making their place a showcase for “clean” farming. The most heartbreakingly sterile fields I ever saw were the farms managed by Hutterites. You’d think a religious minority that has suffered as they have would have more tolerance for nonconformity, but they ruthlessly suppressed weeds in their fields.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It just occurred to me that there is a certain optimism that this event is occurring so close to the centennial of WWI.

        Watching this and wondering if it might convince the s&h to learn some German……

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I have lived on a farm run by my friend Larry. I’ve learned to see the landscape as he sees it. Farmers driving by the spreads of other farmers cannot refrain from making harsh judgments about each other, for you can tell by glancing at farms just exactly who is a bit lazy. Larry would forgive a farmer who occasionally visits red light businesses but he shared the general disgust all farmers seem to have for those guys who were late to get their crops in or who didn’t suppress weeds as fiercely as most farmers thought they should. It was crazy that Larry and I could be friends. He dreaded gay folks, Democrats, wolves and feminists. If he had been able to see what was in my heart he would have run me off his lands, but he didn’t!


    1. The Farmer magazine, a Minnesota farming magazine publish in St. Paul by Webb Publishing, had a poem in every issue in cowboy poetry form called “The Song of the Lazy Farmer.” The farmer would brag about his laziness. My father used to read it each month and feel virtuous.
      While I was in college Sandy got a job at Webb. The woman who ran the cooking part of the magazine would host lunches every couple weeks to try out recipes to publish. Sandy loved every part of that job, especially that part.. The meals she said were excellent. Like every job she ever had, they begged her not to leave.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. OT – Spent four and a half hours inside a maximum security federal prison today – new territory for both Hans and me. Apparently that was obvious to everyone there, including other visitors who helped us navigate the hurdles and comply with all the rules. Still reeling from all of the impressions. The man we were visiting – a former sales rep who called on Hans when he was in business as a furniture maker – has so far spent three and one half years behind bars, and we were his first visitors. I can’t even begin to imagine what that must feel like. I am so glad we went.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. We talked about anything and everything. His life since we last saw him, our travels, life in prison, reminisced about old acquaintances, had some good laughs, shed a a few tears. It was an intense and focused visit, each of us very aware that it may be a long time before we see him again. We do write letters back and forth, so that helps, but seeing him in person, and being able to feed him a few goodies that he doesn’t normally have access to, was special. I may do a blog about this if I can wrap my head around the whole experience.


  13. Anyone with the itch to organize would find my home irresistible right now. Painters are coming tomorrow to paint the whole main floor, starting with the bedrooms, so the contents of the bedrooms, save for the beds and dressers, has been transferred to the living room and dining room. All the closets have been emptied and everything is piled up. It is a real mess. i also just finished staining and varnishing our new bay window in the living room, so there are drop clothes and that mess that I have to clean up before the painters come.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. we know what makes dales hands itch and the landing of the probe on the comet today is the stuff dreams are made cool to send up into space a box of bolts and wires that can send back info to give us info about the unkown world of comets hurling though space on the way to the other end of the universe. hey ive got an idea… lets land a space craft on a comet and see what it looks like with a scientific razzle dazzle that ought to leave us all impressed and dreaming about flying through space to visit captain kirk and rod serling. when i was a kid i thought the space program was the coolest thing ever. dale too obviously. we were in florida for a launch with a bus driver who grew up a 60’s space dreamer who stayed in floridas space arena where he was a fireman for the early 70’s stuff when they let people get close enough to singe their hair and then had to quit when his back weent out doing fireman stuff in a space related accident. he lived out the frustration by driving buses full of space geeks to go watch the launch and to fill them with stories and trivia and dreams of being able to fly among the stars. dale is pretty gorunded on the outside but a guy who loves the stories about space the way he does has got to have dreamer side as big as a milky way galaxie. details to follow in the morning news or on an e new source near you.


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