All posts by cbirkholz

Son of Sherpa Intimida

Our former fearless leader was almost a prophet. Missed it by that much.


That one little a.

I sent this to Dale. He answered “I take no pride in being able to predict the Sherpa. All it took was cynicism + imagination. I’d feel better if I had prophesied something hopeful.
Unfortunately those who expect the worst are frequently right!”

We will keep mum about Dale’s own little Russian influences.

Heard a prophesy lately? Have one to make?


We Are Not a Cod Fish

In July I posted on facebook something similar to this simple little vignette.

Went into Culvers today. One of the under 16-year-old employees, a polite boy, took my order. He made full eye contact and spoke clearly.

I said, “I will have the fish sandwich.”

He replied, “I did not know we had a fish sandwich.”

I answered, reading from the board, “The Atlantic Cod Sandwich Meal.”

“Oh,” he answered. “Is that what cod is?”

Then he took my order.

Now, first ask yourself what conclusions or interpretations of that little vignette you want to make. Don’t make them, but think of what you might say. Silly me. I thought I was describing a fun little moment.

I have only 48 friends on facebook, about a third of whom do not ever communicate with me. Another third made a comment, which fell into four groups.

Most common was to say how impolite teenagers are today. Did you notice I said he was polite, made eye contact, and spoke clearly?

Another set of comments was about how stupid teenagers are today.

A third group commented on how teenagers are bad at learning. It seems to me his comment “Is that what cod is?” makes it clear he was willing to learn. But I could be wrong.

The third group lectured me on unhealthful eating habits, although they said unhealthy and not unhealthful.

The last group said that schools and teachers today are terrible.

So because one 14- or 15-year-old boy does not know what cod is forms grounds for attacking teenagers, teachers, and schools. Everything about the boy suggested an intelligent and inquisitive person, a subject on which I feel I can make a swift judgment. But I could be wrong. Two of the commenters were favorite students of mine in the early 1970s. I wondered to them that with the loss of the cod fisheries how common the word cod is in teenagers private lives, or how often teenagers in Mankato eat fish. They thought about that and agreed that perhaps the word cod has fallen from the daily or school lexicon. I have often wondered how people decide schools are a place to fill kids heads with tidbits of information.

I suppose I should have stated that I was noticing cultural change, enjoying the moment.

I am tempted to draw a few sweeping generalities about their responses. I leave that to you.

Who’s Gonna Patronize the Big Box Store Any More?

My riff on the weekend topic.

With humble gratitude for Meredith Wilson’s en-chant-ing opening to The Music Man.

Plastic for the orders.
Plastic for the downloads.
Visa for online.
Visa on the phone.
Credit for the software.
Credit for the hardware.
Credit for the needs, and the wants, and the bibelots.
Amazon for the hogs feet, cakes and longjohns.
Amazon for the crackers, and the pickles, and the computer paper.
Look, what do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
Where do you get it?
What do you twitter?
You can script, you can program, you can script,
You can chat. You can twitter, twitter, twitter, you can chat.
You can chat. You can chat, chat, chat, chat, twitter, twitter, twitter.
You can twitter all you wanna, but it’s different than it was.
No it ain’t, no it ain’t, but you gotta know the database!
Well, it’s Jeff Bezos made the trouble,
Made the people wanna buy, wanna get, wanna get, wanna get it in a box.
7,8,9,10,12,14, 22, 23 orders to the front porch.
Yes, sir, yes, sir!
Who’s gonna patronize a big box store anymore?
What do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
Where do you get it?
It’s not Amazon alone.
Take a gander at big box stores,
At the postmodern store,
At the out-of-date store
At the passe, postmodern,
Departmentalized big box store.
What do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
Where do you get it?
What do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
What do you twitter?
Where do you get it?
You can chat, you can twitter.
You can chat, you can twitter.
You can twitter, twitter, twitter
You can chat, chat, chat.
You can twitter all you wanna,
But it’s different than it was.
No, it ain’t, but you gotta know the database.
Why, it’s I-need-it-easy thinking
Made the trouble
Need it easy, need it easy.
Put the order in a box, in a box,
What I-need-easy
In a box with a smile
Made the big box store obsolete.
Obsolete, obsolete, obsolete
Malls out the window.
The smiling box
Takes the job of the sales clerk.
Closing all the stores.
Who’s gonna patronize the big box store any more?
Gone, Gone
Gone with the mall and the outlet and the discount store.
Gone with the chain and the retail store with clothes on a rack.
Who’s gonna patronize a bog box store any more.
Big box store.

What are the long-term implications for America and the world, assuming  I dare worry about the world? 

What follows the Amazon era?


Kevin’s Lemon into Lemonade

A month ago there appeared on our patio a piece of rusted metal, a found-art sculpture.  But I was onto Kevin. I had seen it beside his truck in the garage. He had found it beside the recycle bin in the winter and kept it to put on our patio in the spring.

It was bare rusty metal, re-rod, gears, metal plate, and barbed wire. But I did not acknowledge its presence. Instead I went out and bought some spray paint, green and red. And yellow. He thought it was a lemon. I tried to turn it into lemonade.

Now he wants it back to take home. We assume a student had done it for a class and trashed it.

Then this morning he called me out. He has permission to come to the window beside my computer and talk to me. He saw five cecropia moths on the south end of the building. He brought one and put it on our patio table.

It hatches, mates, lays its eggs, and dies in only a couple days or so. Thus, rare to see. It is six inches across. Comes from those big fat green worms.  Here is one with a belly full of eggs.


After a neighbor had come to see, and Kevin’s wife came too, charming woman, I took my coffee out and watched. Its wing flapping slowly. It rolled on its side, kicked its legs in spasmodic jerks, and lay still. I sighed for it. Then it up and flew off into the woods.

Where have you found beauty, expected and unexpected? How has life surprised you?





Hi, Daddy Bunting

I have been accused of producing fake news and alternative facts.

Last year our maintenance man, Kevin, who is by far the best naturalist I have ever known with a life-time acquaintance with wildlife and conservation, spotted an indigo bunting in the brush 20 yards from our patio. Indigos are very shy – tiny and they blend into leaves and shadows despite the blue. When I looked up indigos, I solved a mystery. A small dull gray bird was in my seed feeder all the time, but I could not identify it. It was the female. I only rarely saw the male last year, and Kevin never did again.

I waited to see if they would come back this year. Sandy saw him first, sitting on our patio table looking in at her, which is not indigo behavior at all. An alternative fact according to Kevin. The indigo has done it once more that she saw. I see him often in our feeder or more often on the ground, even when I am sitting on the patio. Kevin keeps looking. No luck, even though he takes breaks on a deck above and to the right of me. That apartment is between tenants. Fake news he says, when I boast about it.

By dumb luck I have proof. On my first try I got a shot of Daddy Bunting, gone a hunting for food. Not quality photography, taken through a closed window to avoid spooking him, but acceptable in a court of law. Monday morning we go on trial.

I declare this boast day. What do you want to crow about?

They say, the people of science, that an indigo is not really blue, but black.  It is, they say, a trick of how the light reflects off the feathers. I get it a bit, but is not all color just a trick of how light reflects off something? Red looks red because all the colors but red are absorbed, I believe the people of science say.  So how is the blue of the indigo . . . oh, never mind.

What is the mystery in your life today?

Fecundity Profundity

Nature does go about its business expeditiously. Each flowering plant gets its slot during the year. Even now, before the grass is green and leaves have developed, seeds are being made.

In flowers.

In catkins.

At least I think those are catkins. I am not sure what sort of tree is producing those.

Catkins, or aments, are surprising things, a variation on flowers basically. Most folks are unaware of them. Many are wind-blown, as are these. Birch produce catkins, those long drooping things, looking like a soft dull green/brown pine cone.

Right now I am looking to nature to find hope for this world and for lessons of the cycles of life. But yet, I worry. All of this is so delicate, the process, I mean, and how nature has spent millions of years finding that balance.

Ah, Balance, Balance, Balance.

Do I sound like Chance the Gardner? “As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.”

How is your balance? What simple but profound insight do you have for today?




Mathematics #1: A Wall of Lights and Estimation Skills

Today’s post comes from NorthShorer.

Four weeks ago the night after I had the useless shots in my back I could not sleep and decided at 3:00 a.m. to take out the garbage. When I opened the door to the garbage room, I walked into a wall of lights.

The owners of our building finagled two grants to install LED lights throughout the building at only slight cost. I have been hearing about this for a couple months and imagined, I suppose, a few small boxes of bulbs, not that pile, which is only half the bulbs for the hallways, security lights, garage lights, and parking lot lights. Another pile even larger was in the other garbage room at the other end of the building. Reminded me of a few stories of people who failed to estimate the weight and volume of pennies they either ordered or amassed. To be fair these new lights are not just bulbs; they need new fixtures. For instance all the standard recessed tube lights in the three stories will be replaced by a same size fixture holding several LED bulbs.

What also is surprising is how much brighter are the LED lights in the garage and hallways. Our yard is almost daylight from the new security light above us. I have avoided LED lights because they gave such dim light.

On Wednesday they will install LED lights in the attached lights in all apartments, which is nice for me because I cannot reach the ceiling lights. They will also cart away for free all of the fluorescent bulbs we have. Our apartment is about the average. It will get 27 new bulbs. The building has 65 apartments, plus eight other rooms to get bulbs. 27 times 65 equals 1,755 bulbs. Add in another four dozen to get, say, 1,800 or so. How big a pile will that be? I bet each will come in a protective carton. I happened to be in the Batteries Plus store recently. The owner noticed my address and said he was supplying just the bulbs. He, too, had underestimated the volume. The supplier told him the bulbs would have to be shipped to the apartment building because they would not fit in his strip mall store.

All the medical facilities in this town will soon get LED bulbs under a grant from the same sources. There are six large clinics and the massive hospital, plus a couple smaller ones. What will those piles look like? I am pleased for this change because the tube lights give me a bad headache while I wait around.

Estimation is a vital skill. Schools are doing more to teach it, for one thing to try to get kids not to just accept what their fancy graphing calculators say. I am usually rather good at estimation, except in extraordinary events like these lights. I am very good at estimating distances and travel times. For weights I am usually far off. I know what time it is quite well without using a clock, a skill I developed working outside as a child. I don’t have to be outside seeing the sun to do this. Not sure if this is estimation, but I almost always know which way is north. When I do get turned around, I get agitated. I used to astound my partner with this ability plus the ability to remember routes we took on a previous visit, sometimes months before. In the post and common roads of the Northeast that is a challenging skill.

The students used to be astounded by how the chemistry teacher and I could quickly estimate calculations and come close. He was a very intelligent man and knew rapid calculation skills. His estimations were often exact..

I am intrigued byhow computers find complex answers through a series of estimations instead of seeking an exact answer when it is not needed. This shortens the time for calculation, often by days.

How are you at estimation of volume, distance, weight, time needed for a task? Do you know what time it is without looking at a clock? Do you know which way is north on unfamiliar ground? Can you guess the number of beans in the jar? Do you always measure carefully for recipes?

Emus As Symbols

Todays post comes from NorthShorer.

Like everyone, I suppose, I made assumptions about what I would be like in retirement. I imagined a man straight of back, steady of hand, with a piercing chilling blue-eyed gaze. Well, make that a deep mysterious brown-eyed distant look above a rich white beard to tell of the lessons I had learned of wind and wave, time and tide.








Instead I ended up being a doubled-over rumpled dumpling who cannot look at much but the ground, lost in pain, not deep thoughts.

You know what they say about people who assume. You end up being as daft as emus, a person who amuses others with fake truths. I like the word assumption, with its sump right in the middle, where one ends up from assuming.

But, of course, it is false thinking that making assumptions is bad. Life is based on assumptions. For example, we assume much about people we encounter on the road, that they will be polite and careful. It is only the few times our assumptions are false that we notice, and then over-generalize about it. It is also wise to assume idiots are on the road and keep a weather eye for them.

Love is a large assumption. If we do not assume trust and fidelity, then we cannot really love. Or in agape love, I assume I can only give and assume from their it is not my concern. Feed a starving dog and it may bite you, they say. But love says you assume perhaps it will. You guard your fingers and keep feeding. Who knows what the starving dog has survived.

So go ahead. Be an emu. Stick your long neck out.

But I assume I could be wrong.

What bird is your totem?

Sew Buttons on Your Underwear

Forty years ago I gave myself a quest: to photograph MY North Shore, the stretch from Flood Bay to Silver Cliff, or as locals called it then, Silver Creek Cliff. Because I had use of a darkroom, it was at first all done in black and white, or perhaps with some sepia toning, or duotone effect, or Sabattier effect. Flood Bay back then was not the mass of concrete and curbs and cables it is now. It was then as it is now one of the very few official state wayside rests. Despite that, back then it was just a gravel patch with some posts to keep people from driving into the lake, which every so often people still managed to do. Locals routinely hauled away lake stone and gravel for their use, which left no dent on the amount on the shore. Also, then there was no monstrous resort along the shore. And Silver Cliff was a road, not a tunnel. The pictures I framed in simple shadow boxes without glass. I hung them on our knotty pine living room wall. (More about that later.)

The winnowing process of history to our benefit has eliminated most of the pictures. A few exist in my computer, taken from the negatives. My goal was to push pictures to expressionism. Often with high or low contrast.


One picture that I took in the remnants of a lumber mill a quarter mile from Betty’s Pies was our Christmas card picture.

Sometimes good fortune favored me, when it disfavored elsewhere with a massive storm.

A few I have drawn in graphite or pastel, often doing some adjustment of reality.

One sad picture remains, even though I did not frame it. How did history not winnow this poor picture out? It must be a sign, must it not. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)

When this picture first appeared in the developing fluid, my first thought was it not worth making anything of it. My second thought was that here indeed was a sign. It must be from God giving me my life’s quest. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.) It could not be just random change. I was, in fact, until recently quite good with needle and thread, which my mother taught me at an early age, despite long sideways glances from my father.

I am sad to report that I never did discover how to fulfill the quest. Sigh. And now my chance is lost. Sigh. But I did fulfill one smaller quest and quite by accident. An undisciplined boy a year older than my son lived down the road from us. He was often in our house as small boy but not later. His teens were much troubled, as were his twenties. Now he is a brilliant photographer. I mean that. Does amazing work in the camera and in his computer. Travels the worlds. Makes a good living. Has a happy life. Most of his work is of the North Shore. He is friends with both of my children on facebook, where he told them that his inspiration came from looking at those photographs on our wall. To think such beauty came from such a shriveled seed!

Did you find a life’s quest? How has it gone?

Settle Down, Now, Lady

Sandy spent a couple years saving up money for new living room furniture. Our foldout couch crowded the living room and was breaking down, and a chair was looking a bit old. They were still good enough for a local charity to haul away to sell. In January she chose a love seat and a chair in similar designs. Theoretically I had a say in the choice. However, design is her joy, which I leave to her.

When Sandy told her dear friend, whom I will call Lady, she had replaced some furniture, Lady said, “I hope you got rid of that old wooden bench.” She pronounced the word old as if it meant ugly. Lady is like that and you ignore it. She is actually an outstanding person, a long-time successful speaker for those on the margins, for instance getting shelter for the street people of Mankato. Because the Salvation Army does not provide beds or food for women on the streets, five downtown churches take turns offering food and beds, each church serving a week in turn. But that expanded into providing space for men. The SA now requires people who sleep a night there to be sober, to attend church, and to attend Bible study. Sort of conversion by the bed. My cousin who ran the mission in downtown Seattle for years would be horrified, as they would be in Duluth, unless they too have changed. While the churches struggle to provide food and space, the SA has only a small fraction of its 25 beds in use. In a recent modest storm, they closed! Three of the churches opened in a rush. Lady not only offers financial support, at the age of 78 she also often washes the linen and cooks for the meals.

I should tell Lady that the old wooden bench, which is called a settle or settle bench and is a standard fixture of British pubs, has the official British seal of approval. My English aunt came into our home 35 years ago and spotted the bench and exclaimed, “Oh, a settle!” She ran her hands over the top and said, “It is almost perfect, but it needs to be older.” The last part was her joke. She spent the visit sitting on the settle and drinking the Twinings tea we had on hand. A couple years later an English exchange student was at our house and had a similar reaction.

A few years ago Lady told Sandy that she should put this away, meaning after Christmas, but her tone was that it should be put away permanently.

Lady has good taste in clothes, which are often in marked contrast to the tens of carats of diamonds she always wears. When she dresses to the nines, the carat load rises. I imagine that many people think it must be costume jewelry because of the volume. I admit I have a bias against diamonds in droves.

Yes, our furniture and accessories are a mishmash. As you age you shed style in exchange for memories. Lady’s large living room is its own mishmash of stuffy small town museum and waiting room for businesses of dubious merit.

Because they often stay with us, especially the kids, we discussed this change of furniture with our daughter and family. They said the foldout bed was getting too uncomfortable and they could bring blow up mattresses. Last week ninth grade grand daughter out of the blue announced that we were not to think that she and seventh grader Mr. Tuxedo were not coming to stay with us a few times this summer as they always have. She and her brother had many plans for their stays. That was a warm moment, to think they have not grown out of staying with us.

Do you have a name for your interior design style?