Sunday, March 22, 2009

Morning Noises

I just escorted Schroeder, our Miniature Dachshund, out into the back yard for his first constitutional of the day, part of my usual early morning routine. I was both surprised and comforted by the cacophony of sounds that presented themselves to us as we stepped out the back door onto the deck. Spring is in the air, and the signs are everywhere.

Canada geese flew directly overhead, heading back home from their winter southern habitat, honking like New York City taxi cabs. Schroeder stopped dead in his tracks, just long enough to survey the skies and reassure himself that the geese weren’t planning a rest stop on the open water behind our home.

A fox flashed through the yard as we came around the corner of the garage, almost ghostlike as he entered the tall grass with a nearly silent swish.

As we walked across the crunchy, frost-laden grass, we heard birds all around, waking each other up and communicating with song, practically laughing in the new sunshine.

Several dogs were barking in the distance, from all directions, confusing Schroeder while he pranced around his yard with a sense of ownership. His return barks were a combination of greeting and warning – stay away, this is my territory!

From the grassland just beyond our grove of Norway Pines, the Sandhill Cranes trumpeted their homecoming.

Its clucking reminiscent of the tap-tap of an old Model T horn, a colorful Ring-necked Pheasant flapped its way through the nearby field. The long Minnesota winter, much of it spent foraging for food, is over, and the pheasant numbers seem to remain stable.

A slight breeze from the north carried the scent and sounds of a neighboring farm. It gently turned the blades of our squealing windmill, reminding me that one of these days I will need to climb to the top and grease its moving parts.

Another neighbor maneuvered a beefy pick-up truck down his quarter-mile-long gravel driveway, and a flock of ducks rose up out of the small pond, quacking their displeasure at being bothered.

I can feel a smile cross my face as I remember the sounds that filled the air, and can’t wait for the addition of the only missing orchestra members – the multitude of frogs, toads and crickets that will soon join the symphony as the weather warms.

Welcome spring!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Resolution report card

Here it is, mid-March, and the snow is quickly disappearing in the Midwest. Today’s forecast is for sunny skies and 50°. Trees are beginning to bud and migrating birds are returning. Everywhere I look there are signs of spring, and I’m ready.

It seems like an appropriate time to do a status report on my New Year’s resolutions. In past years, by the 3rd month, I have probably forgotten that I had even made any. Not so this year, good people! I am driven! I am dedicated! I am focused! I am reminded by my wife!

Seriously, I really am committed to do my best in meeting my goals this year.

Let’s see how I’ve done:

  1. Lose the 10 pounds I gained back last year, and then lose another 10. That would put me 40 pounds lighter, total, over the last 2 years.
    As of today, I have lost 5 of those first 10 pounds.

  2. Finish building my new website. (Actually, this might be a resolution for my wife and son; they are doing all of the work.)
    I am very pleased at the progress that I (my wife and son) are making, and look forward to announcing my new site soon.

  3. Complete at least 2 new pieces of art per month for the entire year. It may not seem like much, but adding this to my already jam-packed schedule of a full-time job and handling house issues is plenty, unless cloning me is an option.
    At 2-1/2 months into the new year, I have finished 8 new paintings! All will be presented when the web site is complete.

  4. Blog more often. Many people write daily, but considering the reasons mentioned earlier, I resolve to write at least once per week.
    In the 10th week of the year, this is my 10th blog. So far, so good.

  5. Stop being such a procrastinator! Get on the stick! Make a move! Git-R-Done!
    Sigh. Still trying…
That’s not bad, especially for a procrastinator like me.

Until later,

Saturday, March 7, 2009


I went in to work today, a Saturday, to work on a project that I just couldn’t finish during the week. After a few hours of peace and quiet with no one around, I was able to head for home with a clear mind. What I never anticipated was that I would soon find myself traveling back in time 160 years. My mind wandered as I made the 22-mile drive, passing farms and fields, making my usual right and left turns, thinking about the trees along the way. How impressive they are – especially the centuries-old oaks that have watched over us and our ancestors.

If the large oak trees on our property could talk, imagine what stories they might tell! Did they witness a farmer, working a field with plow and horses? Were they standing at the edge of a field of tall prairie grass, visited only by the local deer and coyote population? Or are they the only remaining descendants of a forest of oaks, with their deciduous neighbors taken during the lumber boom of the 1800’s?

In my curiosity I dug through our old papers, and found the original abstract for our property that has record of all of the previous owners, dating back to 1849. It was that year when the federal government transferred the section of land that we live on to the state as public land. As I fingered through the document, I found our parcel was first sold to a private citizen in 1893, a man named Otis Staples. Recognizing the surname from the historic building in Stillwater in which my artwork is displayed (the Isaac Staples sawmill), I spent the next hour researching to see if I could learn anything about the man who had once owned our property. I found reference to an Otis Staples, who with his wife Matilda, left Stillwater in the early 1900’s and traveled to British Columbia to form a lumber company. This is noteworthy because Isaac Staples was a very powerful lumber baron in Stillwater, until his death in 1899, and while I could not find a solid connection between the two men, I feel this is more than just a coincidence.

Our abstract further states that Otis kept the property for less than two years, after which time he and his wife, Matilda, sold it to “an unmarried man” named Ivar Liljigren. I can only guess what might have taken place during that short period of time. Possibly Otis and Matilda planned on building on our parcel of land, then changed their minds. Perhaps Otis had logged the property and then sold it to Ivar as farm land. Or maybe it was simply part of a tract of land that Otis never even visited. I may never know, but I can see that I need to continue snooping to learn more.

Until later,

Monday, March 2, 2009

Attack of the Clones

I headed to the studio yesterday, intent on painting, but before long I was caught up in cleaning out some old files. Pat came in and asked, “Can’t Bill do that for you?” I laughed. We’ve often joked that I need a clone, an exact replica of me to assist in the daily routine, leaving time for Original Me to enjoy family and leisure time. Bill is my imaginary clone, named for the character I played the part of as a boy when my brother and I would occupy ourselves with a model railroad and miniature city, set up on a large table in a spare room. Bill Jackson (me) and his brother, Bob (my brother), were local businessmen in the make-believe world in which we lived.

Real World isn’t make-believe. My recent efforts to reorganize the studio and finish some paintings that I’ve started have led me to examine my daily priorities. I’m always challenged by the amount of time left in the day when I return home from the office, and how I spend those few precious hours is a daily decision I must make. You probably wrestle with that as well.

So, back to Bill. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he were real? And, even better if he has co-workers?

Bill, my right-hand guy, will be given the assignment of going to work for me each day, carrying out my duties, running meetings, making decisions, and working long hours. He will enjoy his job and be good at it, but he will come home each evening exhausted. In return for his fine service, I will give him his evenings off.

Clone #2 will be my go-fer. I’ll call him Speedy. When art supplies are needed I’ll send him off with a list. Actually, as my clone, he won’t need one; he’ll instinctively know what I need! If, just before dinner, we discover that we’re out of milk, he’ll be the one to dash to the grocery store. Wal-Mart runs, Target visits, trips to the hardware store or to the auto parts junkyard – Speedy’s my man!

Rounding out the trio of clone helpers, #3, or Al, will take on the duties of home handyman. He will expertly handle all of the projects that I dislike doing or never seem to have time for – changing oil, fixing the exhaust, replacing siding, cutting grass and shoveling snow, repairing a leaky faucet – the list is endless!

With clones to do the work I’ll have time on my hands to read, go fishing, keep up on my blog writing, see an occasional movie, and paint. I will become a full-time creative machine, cranking out paintings left and right! My enlarged inventory of finished pieces will demand that I manufacture yet another clone, who I’ll send out to promote my art. He can travel all over the country visiting galleries, searching for the right venues for my work, and schmoozing with art buyers while I am at home, doing what I do best. I’ll name him Tiger, a name I’m sure will open doors that mine might not.

The thought of this is astounding! How amazing would it be to have someone – not just anyone, but someone who knows how I think, feel, and behave – to do all my bidding?

It’d be great, all right. Or would it?

If I’m not there and Bill is too tired to fill me in, I’ll never know what’s happening at work. Efficient completion of projects costs money; buying supplies ain’t cheap and Speedy may not be able to hold to a budget. Al might fall off a ladder and break his arm, causing my health insurance premium to skyrocket, and Tiger will eventually want a commission on any sales that he generates. It would be just my luck if the whole group joins together and forms a union – The Brotherhood of the Cloned Handymen (BOTCH).

Aaaarrrggghhh!!! Never mind…