Category Archives: Stories

A Decade on the Trail

This is Part 1 of a two part trip down memory lane from Barbara in River Town.

We’ve been blogging here for (are you ready?) 10 years. For anyone new to the Trail, this group started when we were still listening to a beloved (Minnesota Public Radio) Morning Show that aired from 6 – 9 a.m. in the 80s, 90s and aughts (2000s). It was an eclectic music extravaganza peppered with cleaver (see Glossary above) ads, zany characters and radio plays put together by Dale Connelly (a master of parody and verse) and Jim Ed Pool (aka Tom Keith, the super sound effects guy for Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion). When Jim Ed retired at end of 2008, Dale stayed on, and the program morphed into an online streaming station called Radio Heartland . Dale also created a blog in early 2009 called the Trial Balloon, in which he’d write an introductory piece about anything under the sun, talk about it on the radio, and ask a question at the end to get an online conversation going.

Dale, our Alpha Baboon, hung in there posting 6 days a week for most of the next 5 years. By the time he decided it was time for a sabbatical, he had written 1,166 of the 1,397 posts (231 of them being guest posts provided by the Baboon Congress when he was away). Here is his June 3, 2015 entry:  at the end of that phase.

The Baboons rose to the challenge, and kept the blog going with a wide-ranging collection of guest posts for the next 18 months or so, with Dale chiming in from time to time with a post. In early 2017, Dale “cut the umbilical cord”, and we got our own url: , with Verily Sherrilee and Renee in North Dakota taking the reins of the blog, on alternating months. (This statement doesn’t begin to cover the work and commitment involved – I don’t even know how to describe it – and how grateful we are that they’ve taken this on.) Other baboons provide guest posts that we send to them by email (though not as often as we should).

At some point early on, we started also gathering in the space-and-time realm… I believe the first book club meeting was in June of 2010. (Go to above left under Blogroll: Blevens’ Book Club – there are even minutes to the first meetings!) And we started doing “field trips” – anyone know what year the Russian Art Museum trip was?

Over the years various baboons have come and gone, and occasionally come back – life happens, and some months or years work better for blogging than others. A core group of us are still here, several of whom have been posting and commenting almost from the beginning. Old-timers check in occasionally, and we love it when they do. We’ve found we just enjoy connecting most mornings (and sometimes late in the evening) in this mysterious place in cyberspace, to exchange thoughts, experiences, recipes, songs, book/movie recommendations, health info, travel or garden tips, musings on the English language…

What’s the strangest group you’ve ever hung out with? (…besides this one)


Today’s post comes to us from Ben.
Photo credit: berkemeyer

I was working in the sports center preparing for commencement. This particular room of the sports center, largest of them all, is the “Fieldhouse”. It’s basically four basketball courts with a track around the outside and retractable nets separating the courts. You’ve all seen something similar.

To my left is, what looks to be, an intramural, co-ed basketball game. They don’t seem to be keeping score and they’re all having a good time and laughing and teasing each other. There are a couple girls and while there are some older guys, some guys are younger than other guys. I hear them talk about “shirts” and “skins” and I also heard them say something to the effect of “If Jane stays a shirt than Joe can go skins”. I couldn’t see them so I don’t know.

Mind you, I know nothing about sports. But I could tell they were having a good time.

I was driving around in a genie lift, 40’ in the air and hoping 1) I wasn’t distracting them, and 2) they wouldn’t hit me with a basketball. OK, there was a screen separating their area from the area I was working in but still. Wouldn’t it be awesome to hit the guy in the genie?

Off to my right (with no separating net) a group of young men, most likely students. As they started to play, the difference between these two games was interesting. Of course, the language was much rougher in the first place. Disputed calls, harder playing, more “trash talking” as my wife would say. There had to be teams but I didn’t hear any talk about that.

And I found the dichotomy of the two games very interesting. They didn’t hit me with a basketball either.

Next week the entire fieldhouse will be blocked off (in terms of scheduling) for commencement. But that doesn’t mean if there’s an open corner some group won’t start a basketball game.

Talk about dichotomy in your life.

Panic on Roman’s Point

This weekend’s post comes to us from Port Huron Steve.

I used to own a cabin on Roman’s Point, which is a peninsula sticking into Lake Superior from its Wisconsin shoreline. There are about twenty cabins on the point. While a few were owned by Wisconsin residents, most belonged to people who live in the Twin Cities or Milwaukee and came to the shore of Superior to relax. The cabin folks were mostly professionals: teachers, writers, social workers and so forth. The people who used those cabins on the point formed a loose community. Everyone got along.


The cabin owners on Roman’s Point were a mellow group. They were highly educated and keen on protecting the natural environment. They were nature lovers. Indeed, they paid a lot of money for the privilege of enjoying one of the loveliest natural areas in the US. The people with cabins on the point were relaxed about security issues. The point was a friendly place where nobody expected crime.

We were amused, then, when somebody reported an odd theft. A young woman returned from a walk, kicking off her running shoes as she entered her family’s cabin. When she went out again, one running shoe was missing. That seemed strange. Who would steal a running shoe?

Not long afterward, another woman lost a sneaker from the back step of her cabin. People began to talk about this. Days later, another shoe went missing. And then another. What the heck was going on?

Now people were scared. Four shoes had disappeared. Something weird was going on. The shoes had no value, so the thief couldn’t be selling them. And “he” only took one shoe each time. Was lovely Roman’s Point haunted by a one-legged criminal?

Somebody finally said out loud what we had all been thinking: the only imaginable reason for stealing women’s shoes was some obscure sexual fetish. People began talking about the “Roman’s Point Pervert.” Cabin owners began locking their doors at night. For the gentle souls of Roman’s Point, this was our Boo Radley moment. Fear was in the air.

While Roman’s Point is “air conditioned” naturally by chilly lake breezes, now and then the weather can be hot and sticky. On one of those rare sultry nights, a few young folks chose to sleep in pup tents behind their parents’ cabin. Although they had sleeping bags, it was so hot they slept on top of the bags as if they were mattresses.

Just at dawn one of the girls woke up with a strange feeling. She gradually realized something was happening to her feet. She sat up. There, at the open end of her pup tent, was a red fox that was licking her bare feet. When the girl sat up, the fox was startled. It snatched one of her shoes and disappeared in the leafy underbrush.

Hours later, the Roman’s Point cabin owners mustered up a search team. After tramping around a bit, they discovered the fox’s cache of shoes in a little hollow surrounded by brush. They returned all the shoes to their owners.

Have you ever worried about something that turned out to be silly?

The Cruelest Month

In an email this week, Renee said to me “April is the cruelest month”. I disagree (because, of course February is the cruelest month) but it made me think about assigning human characteristics to the months.  Or days (Monday’s child is full of grace….).  Or anything non-human.

I tend to appreciate this – I supposed because it’s a version of metaphor and I love metaphor. Here is one of my favorite passages in which the non-living becomes living (from Betty MacDonald’s The Egg and I)”

“Town” was the local Saturday Mecca. A barren old maid of a place, aged and weathered by all the prevailing winds and shunned by prosperity. Years ago the Town with her rich dot of timber and her beautiful harbor was voted Miss Pacific Northwest of 1892 and became betrothed to a large railroad. Her happy founders immediately got busy and whipped up a trousseau of three-and four-story brick buildings, a huge and elaborate red stone courthouse, and sites and plans for enough industries to start her on a brilliant career.

Meanwhile all her inhabitants were industriously tatting themselves up large, befurbelowed Victorian houses in honor of the approaching wedding. Unfortunately almost on the eve of the ceremony the Town in one of her frequent fits of temper lashed her harbor to a froth, tossed a passing freighter up onto her main thorofare and planted seeds of doubt in the mind of her fiancé. Further investigation revealed that, in addition to her treacherous temper, she was raked by winds day and night, year in and year out, and had little available water. In the ensuing panic of 1893, her railroad lover dropped her like a hot potato and within a year or so was paying serious court to several more promising coast towns.

Poor little Town never recovered from the blow. She pulled down her blinds, pulled up her welcome mat and gave herself over to sorrow. Her main street became a dreary thing of empty buildings, pocked by falling bricks and tenanted only by rats and the wind. Her downtown street ends, instead of flourishing waterfront industries, gave birth to exquisite little swamps which changed from chartreuse to crimson to hazy purple with the seasons. Her hills, shorn of their youthful timber in preparation for a thriving residential district, lost their bloom and grew a covering of short crunchy grass which was always dry and always yellow—lemon in spring, golden in summer and fall. She wore her massive courthouse like an enormous brooch on a delicate bosom and the faded and peeling wedding houses grew clumsy and heavy with shrubbery and disappointment.

I also love commercials that depict non-human objects as having personalities. I really liked the Jimmy Dean sun commercials:

Did you ever name your stuffed animals as a child?

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.

When I was six my parents arranged for the kids to meet a piano teacher. My sister was deemed to have talent, so she entered a program of piano lessons. The meeting must not have gone well for me. Afterward my father explained that I was musically impaired. His exact words were, “You couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.” I had no reason to doubt him.

We were obliged to sing in my grade school, especially just before the holidays, when we performed a concert of Christmas carols. I dutifully performed, only I decided there was no reason to spoil the good singing of others, so I lip-synced the carols. Like Milli Vanilli, I got caught. That led to an epic showdown with my teacher, Miss Steele, the low point of my educational career.

While I couldn’t sing or play an instrument, I had ears. I thrilled to the popular music of my youth. I amassed a sizable record collection. In college I discovered classical music. Guys in my dorm introduced me to folk music. Occasionally I fantasized about making music, but mostly I accepted my fate as someone for whom that was impossible. Sometimes, to tell the truth, that seemed a blessing. I often woke up early in the morning to the sound of my sister plonking away on the piano when she would rather have been in bed, but piano practice was mandatory for her for years.

In the first week of graduate school I walked to the Scholar coffeehouse on the West Bank. The first act I caught—Koerner, Ray and Glover—amazed me. A day later I went back. The performer was a kid from Saint Cloud State who played 12-string guitar. The torrent of music coming from Leo Kottke’s guitar almost blew me off my stool. I’d never heard music remotely like that before, and it was one of the most thrilling events of my young life. I began hanging out at the Scholar, walking through blizzards if necessary in order to attend every gig Leo played.

It was inevitable: one day I bought a guitar, a classical model with nylon strings. At first I was delighted to be able to make any kind of music; just strumming a C chord made me giddy. I moved on to finger-picking, emulating my coffeehouse heroes. I grabbed every spare moment to practice. I took guitar lessons, starting with Carter family tunes and moving toward John Fahey compositions. Slowly, very slowly, I got better. I bought a steel-stringed folk guitar. Then—you knew this was coming—I got a 12-string. (I’d love to get back all the time I wasted trying to get that danged thing in tune.) And I practiced, practiced, practiced.

Alas, all those years when I did not sing or play an instrument had set limits on what I could accomplish as a musician. My brain and fingers could never coordinate well enough to enable me to master difficult material. I could do cheesy imitations of some Kotte or Fahey pieces, and that felt like a miracle. But I slurred many notes and muffed others. I had to cheat by simplifying the arrangements because my technique was so sloppy. After getting better month by month, I hit a wall I could not get past it. And I remained stuck there for years.

I finally realized the most graceful thing would be to accept my fate and simply enjoy the limited music I could make. While I was never going to play well, I was delighted to play at all. Then arthritis arrived, and I could no longer even play badly.

My performance career with the guitar now feels like some doomed romances from my past, romances that were fabulous in some ways but which failed. Sometimes things don’t work out, even if you passionately hope otherwise. I’m lucky to have those memories now and I’m sure I am a better listener than I could be before playing the guitar.


Do you sing or play an instrument? What has that meant to you?

Chance Meetings

We always seem to meet interesting people when we travel, and this trip is no exception. We arrived late in the evening into the Albuquerque airport and had to wait for our prearranged shuttle to take us to Santa Fe.  We waited with a fellow shuttle rider named Abdul. He was an Egyptian man, about 65 years old,  who had just arrived in Albuquerque from Alexandria via  Abu Dhabi and Los Angeles. He was very tall, well over 6 feet, and a professional chef who had worked for years in Santa Fe and was coming back to spend time in a cooperative community of scientists and artists outside of the town.  He gave us some sage advice on good restaurants to try, and which hyped ones to avoid.  He described preparing food as being just like composing and conducting music. We talked about how he manages his diabetes and how he loved teaching classes in Mediterranean cooking. I regret not being able to eat dishes he prepared.

Our second interesting meeting was with a man named Steven, a white man who owned a dusty shop chock full of indigenous art prints and native  ledger art.  He was in his late 60’s and was whittling bear root, an expectorant, to make into tea to help clear his chest from an attack of Spring allergies.  He and I had a serious talk on why the Kachina figure I have in our living room gives me nightmares (he said I had to change my way of living). His art prints were in huge stacks that would take hours to go through.  Husband plans to go back for more conversation and to look at more prints before we leave.

Tell about interesting people you have met on your travels.

Libraries – A Love Fest

Yesterday was the anniversary of the opening of the first free public library, the Peterborough Town Library in 1833. The decision to purchase books and open a tax-funded library happened at the Town meeting and for the first sixty years, the books were housed in the general store.  In 1893 they were moved to the current location and there have been two expansions since then.

Here are a few fun library quotes:

“Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay.”  Zadie Smith

“The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.” Albert Einstein

“Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul.” Library at Thebes, inscription over the door

“My two favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything. The perfect day: riding a bike to the library.” Peter Golkin

“I have always imaged that Paradise will be a kind of library.” Jorge Luis Borges

I’m a complete library junkie. One of the biggest selling points when I bought my house was that it was a block and a half from the Washburn Library.  On the average week I am there twice.  I know the hours by heart, am friendly with the librarians.  I even have my library card number memorized.  Twice I’ve had the opportunity to spend an afternoon in the Central downtown library in the upstairs reading rooms – times when I wanted to read resource material that they don’t allow you to check-out.  It was warm and wonderful; so relaxing that I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave at the end of the day.

Tell me about your favorite library memory?