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Divorce 2.0

Laird's Blog -

Ma’ikwe told me Friday evening that she wants a divorce. This is the second time I've had experience in the last 19 months and I didn't enjoy hearing it any more the second time. It's like getting kicked in the stomach.

One of my first thoughts was how clearly this development points out that I am only in control of my part of the partnership, and the commitments I make do not bind her. While I readily agree that we've had to handle some tough challenges on the way to death do us part, I've never found divorce an attractive choice. Yet Ma'ikwe can opt out—and has done so twice—regardless of where my heat is on the matter.

Here are some high and low watermarks of our relationship:
Oct 29, 2005             We became lovers
Nov 18, 2005            We decided to get married
April 21, 2007           We got married in a blow-out four-day wedding in Albuquerque
July 11, 2008             Ma'ikwe moved to Dancing Rabbit 
spring 2009               Ma'ikwe broke ground to start building Moon Lodge
2010                          Ma'ikwe discovered she has Lyme disease and had a debilitating year (a lot of pain and a lot of bed rest)
2012                          Ma'ikwe relapsed with Lyme and had another debilitating year
Feb 11, 2013             We had our first appointment with Kathy, our couples therapist, which continued for the next two years
July 14, 2013            Ma'ikwe announced that she wanted a divorce
Aug 26, 2013            Ma'kiwe agreed to try the marraige again
Nov 29, 2013            I moved out of Sandhill and started living in Moon Lodge with Ma'ikwe
July 14, 2014            We held a recommitment ceremony for our marriage
Oct 3, 2014               I strained my lower back lifting heavy boxes improperly
Oct, 2014-Jan 2015   I had restricted mobility (with a lot of bed rest) as I recovered from back pain
Feb 6, 2015               Ma'ikwe announced that she wanted a divorce

Our marriage has enjoyed many sublime and beautiful moments, and it's also been a gut-wrenching emotional roller coaster.

In this latest round of turmoil, Ma'ikwe first told me that she was again frustrated to the point of thinking about ending the relationship three weeks ago. Having reserved time with our therapist for Feb 3 (the day before I left on a four-week trip) I had understood we were waiting to work on her concerns with Kathy's help—which has frequently been a good idea. After one 90-minute appointment last Tuesday, Kathy was able to make another session available to us the same day. In trying to decide how best to use that opportunity I said my highest priority was using the time to give the best chance for us working through the issues that had brought Ma'ikwe to the brink again. 

With that request on the table, Ma'ikwe decided to meet with Kathy alone. While I don't know what they discussed in the second session, three days later Ma'ikwe announced that she was done. In retrospect, I reckon by the time we got to Kathy I was essentially a dead man walking and just didn't know it yet. 

I outlined in my previous blog some of the concerns that have been troubling Ma'ikwe lately and it all unraveled incredibly fast. The thing that hurts the most is that there was never much of an opportunity for me to address Ma'ikwe's concerns between her articulation of the issues and her unilateral decision to end it all.

I reckon staying with me represented too much slog for too little hope; she weary of trying to make it work and just needed to move on. 

One interesting pattern I noticed is that both times Ma'ikwe got to clarity about wanting a divorce, the sequence started right after one of us came out of a long stretch of compromised health, where the person in recovery wasn't capable of doing serious relationship work. Both times I was caught off-guard by the build-up of negativity and critical analysis. I don't know if that's merely a coincidence or a smoking gun.

When weathering the localized storm of emotional turmoil that was triggered for me by Ma'ikwe's first decision to end the relationship in July 2013, I got enormous help from EMDR therapy with Kathy, which has permanently helped me be less reactive. This benefit, fortunately, is still available to me today (thank god) and helped both to stay afloat with my feelings and to not spiral down into a very dark, and blaming place. I know Ma'ikwe has been doing the best she can and I know that I will not die.

Oddly, it has also helped that I'm currently reading Wyvern (a semi-obscure 1988 novel by A A Attanasio). It contains a fantastical exploration of being alone while at the same time being in relation to spirit, in relation to other humans, and to the universe. The protagonist is an illegitimate blond blue-eyed boy of mixed Dutch/aboriginal stock who is raised as a sorcerer (or soul catcher) in the jungles of Borneo, and the book is full of cosmological and existential questions as explored through the eyes of “primitive” culture. This story is powerful medicine for me right now.

The bottom line is that Ma’ikwe no longer saw her future as fruitful with me and acted decisively to move on. Loving her, I support her getting what she wants—even if at the extreme of leaving me.

Having gone through this particular hell once already, it’s not so devastating the second time. I know I'll survive. Though I've been rejected, I'm not beating myself up.

Yet whither now? Fifteen months ago I've walked away from my community as part of my recommitment to the marriage. Can I go back? Is that what I want? Is that good for Sandhill? I don't know. I was mainly at DR to be with Ma'ikwe; now what?

Ma'ikwe and I have to navigate our professional relationships moving forward and to what extent, if any, it makes sense to try to work together. It's confusing for me to know how much I can trust her commitments at this point.

I went all-in on my relationship with Ma'ikwe, and still got rejected. While not an ending I was looking for, I knew at the time that it wasn't a guarantee and I don't regret the attempt. I am not bitter.

In addition to losing my wife, I'm losing my best friend—the person I'd been sharing my daily observations with. This is highly disrupting and I have no idea how I'm going to replace the comfort and groundedness that I derive from that level of subtle sharing.

Right now there's a large hole in my heart and it will take some time to figure out what it all means and how to adapt to my suddenly wifeless life.

Happy Birthday Ma'ikwe, Annie, and Ronald

Laird's Blog -

Today I'm composing a paean to three people who have been influential in my life—all of whom claim today—Feb 6—as their birthday. In descending order of age:

Ronald Reagan (born 1911)
While it's unquestionably impressive that he overcame associations with Bedtime for Bonzo (that 1951 standard for cinematographic anthropoid high jinx), and shilling for Twenty Mule Team Borax as the host (1964-65) of television's syndicated Death Valley Days to become the 40th President of the US (1981-89), I associate him mainly with the dubious distinction of championing the ill-fated Stars Wars defense system (otherwise known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, which was based on technology that didn't exist) and gutting the federal government's social support system—which was a kind of Star Wars-inspired magic act of its own ("These sick people are not really sick, and no longer need our help... ")

With the Gipper, I'm reminded of the Tom Lehrer lyric about movie star George Murphy, after he ascended to the US Senate from California in 1965 (predating Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger's electoral success in La La Land):

At last we have a senator who can really sing and dance.

I suppose, indirectly, that I owe Reagan for helping create the environment in which groups need to turn to professional outside help when overwhelmed by challenging internal dynamics. The fact that people are drawn to community for the right reasons does not necessarily mean they have the capacity to be productive members. Helping groups successfully navigate this kind of delicate territory has become bread and butter work for me as a process consultant. So thanks, Ron.

I reckon there's no amount of mean-spirited slashing of the federal safety net for disadvantaged segments of the population that can't be turned into an entrepreneurial opportunity of some sort. While I'd prefer that groups didn't need so much help, here we are.

Ann Shrader (born 1950)
My lifelong friend, Annie, is eligible for Medicare today.

She and I go back a long way—to before Broadway Joe Namath delivered on his brash promise to lead the New York Jets to victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts and Johnny Unitas in Super Bowl III. We overlapped for three undergraduate years at Carleton College and then went on to start Sandhill Farm together in 1974. Along the way we had Ceilee: on a clear and cold morning in January 1981, she pushed out our vernix-smeared son and I caught him in the middle of our bedroom floor. It was a very powerful moment that bonded us forever.

Even after Annie left for Virginia in 1999, we have remained close friends. Partly, of course, because of the continuing Ceilee connection, but more than that we've traveled a lot of life together as fellow communitarians, homesteaders, and political progressives. I usually manage to get out to see her in Floyd VA for a visit a couple times of year, where we catch up on each others' lives, do some crosswords, cook together, do a home improvement project or two, and laugh a lot—while her yellow furball of a cat, Otis, deigns to tolerate me as an overnight guest on the floor of the solarium.

Annie is the active friend in my life that goes back further than all others, and is precious to me for that.

Ma'ikwe Ludwig (born 1970)
When I first met Annie, Ma'iwe had not yet been born. To put this further into perspective, Ronald Reagan died before Ma'ikwe and I become intimate partners. So there's some serious spaciousness between the eras in which today's celebrants have been operating.

While Ma'ikwe and I toasted her 45th birthday a couple days early (with an overnight stay involving a hot tub Tuesday night), today she's set aside a contemplative day of seclusion at a neighbor's intern hut (because I'm on the road and she's at home).

Ma'ikwe has been special to me for many reasons. That the least of which is that nobody challenges me like my wife when it comes to doing personal growth work. While that's certainly been awkward at times—and it's an adventure in the jungle of my subconscious figuring out how well I can meet her concerns—I'm dedicated to trying to be the best partner I can and appreciate the caring for me that her surfacing concerns represents.

In that spirit, she gave me some homework Tuesday, right before I hit the road:

A.  Mumbling on the Rise
Since childhood I've had the habit of talking to myself (sotto voce). I'm most aware of doing it when I'm trying to work through unresolved tension with others, yet I also do it when proofreading articles (or blog posts), when running through my To Do List (reminding myself of what's on tap for the day), and replaying impactful exchanges with others.

Ma'ikwe has observed that I'm doing this more these days and is concerned in two ways. First, does it indicated that I'm checking out more from the world around me, perhaps presaging cognitive deterioration? While I don't have the sense that that's happening, neither am I confident that I'd be able to detect it, so I've agreed to get some neurological testing done when I'm home next.

Second, although we have an agreement that I'll bring to her things that need processing between us (when I'm upset and working on it alone does not untie the knot), she's always found it hard to believe that more of my mumbling isn't about her, and now that the frequency is increasing it's even harder.

This is tricky to unpack cleanly, both because my orientation is to first try to resolve tensions internally (rather than starting by expressing my upset to Ma'ikwe and making a request) and because part of my process for determining what I want to do with my feelings is to explore them internally first (during which I don't need to be so careful what I say). I think I'm being respectful and Ma'ikwe feels left out. But then, am I being respectful? To what extent am I fully aware of the feelings I'm mumbling about? How sure can I be that I'm keeping my end of the bargain to bring forward my issues?

B.  Unsure that I Have Her Back
When Ma'ikwe is struggling with something that I'm not involved with (for example, when she runs into bumps in the road as Dancing Rabbit, Inc.'s nonprofit executive director) there's delicacy about how I offer support. While I have clarity about emotional support being a higher priority than advice about nonprofit administration (which she may not be interested in anyway), I have a tendency to move too quickly into what I imagine to be the emotional reality of the other players, and how there might be an innocent explanation for how the matter looks to them.

Commonly enough, Ma'ikwe simply wants me to be present for her emotional experience, and not so damned concerned with what others might be going through. Sympathy should start at home.

C.  How the Spirit Moves Us
For the entire time I've known her (especially the last decade), Ma'ikwe identifies as having a strong spiritual side, especially in relationship to the Earth. While this is something that has slowly been growing in me as well (though I'm not necessarily touched by the same literature or the same rituals in the same way) I've come to understand that it's disappointing for her that we have not bonded more strongly over spiritual inquiry and expression.

D.  Avoiding a Hearing Aid
Starting somewhere about 20 years ago, I've been gradually losing hearing (especially in the high frequencies) in my left ear. I've had this diagnosed by audiologists as irreversible nerve damage, and mostly I've learned to cope by being careful about room acoustics.

It has, however, been a steady source of irritation for Ma'ikwe that I regularly mishear what she says and I have to ask her to repeat statements. Certain environments with high ambient noise, such as parties and most restaurants, are brutal for me and I just steer clear of them when I can.

What I haven't been doing is taking into account how hard (and disrespectful) this has been of Ma'ikwe, who has to constantly deal with my disability when it would be a relatively straight forward thing to minimize it with a hearing aid.

I made a promise to get a hearing aid in the context of moving in with her 15 months ago, but I haven't yet done it. Part of this is money (the little boogers are expensive and need to be replaced every three-five years), and part of this is vanity. For a while we thought the cost of a hearing aid would be covered by Obama Care, but it turned out we were wrong, and we need to get serious about budgeting for this.

You might say, I'm finely hearing how much this means to her.

Cohousing e bioedilizia, se ne parla sabato a Poggibonsi. Appuntamento all ... - Valdelsa.net

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Cohousing e bioedilizia, se ne parla sabato a Poggibonsi. Appuntamento all ...
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Cohousing e bioedilizia, se ne parla sabato a Poggibonsi. Appuntamento all'Accabì Hospital 06-02-2015 DISAGI BIOEDILIZIA VALDELSA POGGIBONSI | CobioCasa, gruppo appena nato di futuri cohouser, organizza per sabato 7 febbraio alle ore 16.30 un ...
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Cohousing e bioedilizia: un appuntamento presso la sala conferenze dell'Accabì ... - gonews

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Cohousing e bioedilizia: un appuntamento presso la sala conferenze dell'Accabì ...
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Sabato 7 febbraio, alle ore 16:30, si svolgerà un interessante appuntamento culturale presso la sala conferenze dell'Accabì-Hospitalburresi di Poggibonsi dove si parlerà di cohousing e bioedilizia. L'evento è organizzato dal neo gruppo di futuri ...
A Poggibonsi importante appuntamento sul cohousing e la bioediliziaSienaFree.it
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A Poggibonsi importante appuntamento sul cohousing e la bioedilizia - SienaFree.it

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A Poggibonsi importante appuntamento sul cohousing e la bioedilizia
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Tra i relatori Francesca Guidotti, autrice del libro “Ecovillaggi e Cohousing” e presidente della Rete Italiana Villaggi Ecologici; l'architetto Andrea Di Vincenzo, esperto di bioedilizia; per le esperienze di vita vissuta Monica Baldini del Cohousing ...
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Cohousing e bioedilizia: se ne parla a Poggibonsi - Il Cittadino on line

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Cohousing e bioedilizia: se ne parla a Poggibonsi
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Cobiocasa immagine 300x218 Cohousing e bioedilizia: se ne parla a Poggibonsi POGGIBONSI. Sabato (7 febbraio), alle ore 16:30, si svolgerà un interessante appuntamento culturale presso la sala conferenze dell'Accabì-Hospitalburresi di Poggibonsi dove ...

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Long Distance Intimacy

Laird's Blog -

When Ma'ikwe and I first got together in October 2005, she was living in Albuquerque, where she was trying to form an intentional community, and I was living in Rutledge MO, where I had been living in community (Sandhill Farm) for 31 years. While it took us less than a month to decide to get married (which happened in April 2007), we didn't agree to live in the same time zone until 2008, when Ma'ikwe let go of trying to build community in Albuquerque (after five years in the attempt) and joined Dancing Rabbit.

Suddenly, our commute between bedrooms shrunk from 900 miles to three. Much better. We continued that way for five years, until I left Sandhill in November 2013 and we tried the novel idea of living in the same house. 

While this overview presents as a rather deliberate courtship, where we've been circling around intimacy in an ever tightening spiral more evocative of Chekhov than People magazine, it's more complicated than that.

When Ma'ikwe and I first moved into the gravitational field of one another, I was already established as a community networker and national process consultant, and she was on the front edges of moving into a similar career (though more slanted toward sustainability education). It quickly got to the point where a significant fraction of our time together was spent at neither of our homes, attending community functions or collaborating as trainer/consultants.

Thus, while we've gradually come to live together, I'm still on the road about 40-50% of the time, and I don't see that changing any time soon (as long as my health holds out). So there are two patterns here that don't particular nest together easily. On the domestic scene our lives have become ever more intertwined over the course of the last decade. Concurrent with that, my travel patterns—both what I'm doing and who I'm doing it with—haven't changed much at all over the same interval. 

All of which brings us to the reality that I'm typing this blog from the first leg of a month-long sojourn that will ultimately add up to Ma'ikwe and I not being in our Moon Lodge bed together from now until mid-April—a whopping 10 weeks. I'm scheduled to get back home circa March 3, four days after Ma'ikwe starts a six-week speaking tour, where she visits university campuses across the country offering an array of workshops and an expanded version of her popular TEDx talk Sustainable Is Possible (from October 2013).

Both of us will be doing work we love, but mostly not together. While we just completed a winter stretch where we were at Moon Lodge every night for 70 days (hooray!), we're turning right around and spending the next 70 days apart (ugh!)—excepting a 5-day island in the middle where we'll be teaching together in Portland OR (yippee!).

While there's a yin and yang symmetry about this, it's an odd mix, and contributes to strain on the relationship. When one or both of us are on the road (which will now be the case until after federal taxes are due), it's not easy making connections when we have to factor in time zone differences and a wealth of client commitments. While the phone has not been a great medium for Ma'ikwe and me connecting, it turns out that Skype is much more satisfying, where we can see facial expressions.

We'll see what Kyre and Leo (our two Maine Coon cats) think of all this, where Ma'ikwe's and my extensive travels will interrupt the all-night cat valet service they've become accustomed to—where all they have to do to is scratch on the door or the mattress in order to get one of us out of bed at all hours to let them out or in. I'll keep you posted.
• • •Though my first stop on this peregrination is Dunmire Hollow in south central TN (home of FIC Board member Harvey Baker), I have to go north (read Chicago) in order to go south (I make the intermodal switch from train to bus in Memphis tomorrow morning). This means heading into the swirling aftermath of the 20 inches of white stuff that was dumped on Chicago last weekend. 

Fortunately, I needn't stray far from Union Station today and can mostly appreciate the prowess of Father Borealis from the comfort of the train windows. And after today I'll mostly be in the southern latitudes (taking, I hope, and early leave from icy roads and pathways). 

I have a lot to look forward to on this trip:

o  Gathering with old friends in the context of FIC's Oversight Committee meetings Feb 6-7 at Dunmire Hollow, to effect mid-course corrections for organizational affairs between Board meetings.

o  An overnight stop in New Orleans this Sunday as I switch trains from the City of New Orleans to the Sunset Limited. I believe it will mark the first time I've traveled on Amtrak's train #1 end for end. This train operates just three days/week and is the only way to cross the Mississippi River other than via Chicago—of which I see plenty. I'm looking forward to 46 hours en route, fully half of which is crossing Texas east to west.

o  I'll spend six days each in Los Angeles and Las Vegas visiting my kids, Ceilee and Jo, respectively. I haven't seen them since last March, which is the longest I've ever gone between visits and I miss them a lot—along with Taivyn & Connor, my two grandkids; and Zeus, Yoshi, and Zelda, my three granddogs. It should be 12 days full of social time with my kids and their charges.

o  The relaxed time in granddad mode will allow me plenty of opportunity to read and work on my book (which is has not been easy to manifest amidst the various distractions of home).

o  The last weekend of Feb I'll be working in Bayfield CO, facilitating the annual retreat for Heartwood, a well-established cohousing community working on revitalizing itself. While it's possible I'll catch some ice there (at 6900 feet in southwest Colorado that's certainly a possibility), I'm confident that all the meetings will be indoors. In addition to the excitement of the work itself, one of the more promising of my facilitation students, Brent Levin, will be traveling from northern California to apprentice with me and I'm looking forward to that as well.

o  At the tail end of this trip I'll get in a visit with good friends, Peggy & Earl Loftfield. It's been convenient to stay at their house in Albuquerque ever since Ma'ikwe left in '08, but that era is coming to an end as they sell their house in the coming months and move to Hawaii—where I have yet to figure out how to connect with via Amtrak.
• • •As a final note in passing, my mother, Val (who died 12 years ago), would have been 98 today. When she was born the US had not yet entered World War I. What an incredible stretch of time! I'll enjoy taking some quiet moments today remembering her and celebrating her life.

Plans to make Broomhill a conservation area out to public - Glasgow Evening Times

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Plans to make Broomhill a conservation area out to public
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Pennington CoHousing, which hopes to build on a site at St Andrew's Drive in Pollokshields, aims to provide an alternative to the isolation and loneliness experienced by so many older people. It is based on a Danish scheme where space, care and ...

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Homes for Community Veterans, Part II

Laird's Blog -

About a week ago I got an email from an old friend wanting advice about where she might look for a community as she approaches her golden years (actually, in terms of hair, it'll be more like her silver years). She spent more than a decade in community in her 20s and 30s and now wants to return to it as she contemplates retirement. 

This is not the first time I've fielded such a request—people deeply familiar with community wanting to return after a long absence—nor do I expect it to be the last. Yet it's challenging to provide a satisfactory answer.

Back in October 2013 I posted Homes for Community Veterans where I explored why it often doesn't work for experienced community folks to return to community after many years away. In this revisiting of the topic I want to take a more optimistic slant and focus on how it's possible—though not necessarily easy—to return.

For the most part these folks are remembering the connections and stimulation of their community experience—not the chaos and stultifying group dynamics. Often people leave in frustration, to pursue a business opportunity, a personal growth path, or perhaps a romantic relationship that was judged to be non-viable in the hot house scrutiny of community. Often they crave the entrepreneurial freedom to set their own course without justifying it to a risk-averse committee that controls access to community resources.

I'm talking about competent people who look around and see that they're alone too much of the time and hanker for a life that again emphasizes companionship with like-valued friends (around whom they don't have to worry about wearing a shirt with a hole in the sleeve).

These are more or less successful people who realize, as they reflect, that they've come to miss the laughter, the dinnertime conversation, and the satisfaction of an everyday life that more closely aligns with one's values. 

That said, how suitable are they for community living today? While they may have gotten wiser over the years, are they more patient; are they more accepting?

They want, naturally, a group that's socially mature (who wouldn't?). Part of that is how well people listen to each other; how readily they find an elegant balance point between values in dynamic tension (say, ecological purity versus affordability); have they learned to be less reactive (or at least less mired in it)? But it turns out to be more subtle than that; "social maturity" in others is actually a code phrase for "people seeing things my way." People may miss authenticity or even vigorous debate, but no one longs to have their viewpoints seriously challenged at home.

To be sure, people age differently. Some get more expansive, which can lead to being easier to get along with and more valued for their balanced perspectives. Some get more contractive, which can translate into increased feistiness and diminished tolerance—neither of which are traits that groups are particularly seeking. You may have gained wisdom over the years but don't count on age automatically translating into being sought out as a mentor.

If you want to be a player again—if you aspire to be recognized as a wandering sage returning from the wilderness—you'll have to earn it, just like a twentysomething does. But if your desires are more modest, and you just want a home—an island of sanity and comfort in a world that's sold its soul to Walmart, Whole Foods, and reruns of Friends—you have a better chance.

If you're pickier now than when you left community, you're likely to encounter friction wherever you go, and living alone may offer a buffer you didn't realize that you (and those dear to you) have come to rely on in order to maintain peace and sanity. If, on the other hand, you're more accepting and have an LTD (low threshold of delight) then there's hope. Three-year-olds are not quieter now than they were 30 years ago, and adults still leave tools out in the rain and blow off work days. Do you have a suspension system now that allows you to bounce graciously over those Utopian potholes, or will you be grinding your teeth at night trying to cope with the other people's thoughtlessness?

It isn't just a question of whether community is good for you. Are you—the person you are today—good for community? You need an affirmative answer to both questions to have a decent chance for a triumphant return.

My wife, Ma'ikwe, is found of saying that community would be easy… if it weren't for the damn people. It's something to think about.

To Be Young and 34

Laird's Blog -

On Tuesday my son, Ceilee, turned 34.

I recall being told back in the '70s, by the older brother of a college friend, that the ancient Greeks considered the prime of life to be 34 (which just happened to be that guy's age at the time). Who knows, maybe it's true. In any event, I hope it's an auspicious year for my son.

Thinking back to when I was 34, a special memory from that year (besides being iconic for George Orwell fans) was my going on a major summer adventure, principally to visit a college friend, Peg Kehrer, (different than the one above) and her partner, Paul Otte, in Juneau AK.

My odyssey began with a short train trip from La Plata MO to Kansas City, where I spent the night with Everette Wright, a good friend of Sandhill's. In the morning, Everette dropped me off at the driveaway place where I'd arranged to take a Datsun Maxima (1984 was the last year before everything became Nissan) from Kansas City to the suburbs of Seattle.

En route, I stopped by a monument in central Kansas that claimed to be the geographic center of the continental US (which means that if all the land comprising the 48 states were of equal density you could balance the whole of it on the top of the monument and it wouldn't tip in any direction). Kind of an odd thing to erect a monument to, but I can get into geeky math stuff on occasion.

The next day, in the sparsely populated Sandhills of western Nebraska I witnessed a mile-long fully loaded coal train chugging south… only to encounter another fully loaded coal train headed north two hours later. (Do these people talk to each other?)

I stopped by Devil's Tower National Monument (Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind made a big impression on me in 1977), Mount Rushmore, and Yellowstone National Park (where I loved all the geysers and brine shrimp). After a weekend visiting Nancy Shrader (the sister of my partner and Sandhill co-founder, Annie) and her family in Missoula MT, I pressed west across Idaho (where I paused in picturesque Coeur D'Alene long enough to enjoy a serving of apple pie with chocolate ice cream—something I'd always wanted to do after reading about Clancy Sigal doing it in his 1962 road trip cum political memoir Going Away).

In the final leg I drove across the Palouse, visited the Grand Coulee Dam (think Woody Guthrie: Your power is turning our darkness to dawn, so roll on Columbia, roll on)—which I learned is still shedding heat from all the concrete pouring in the '30s and '40s—and sampled aplet (apple/walnut) and cotlet (apricot/walnut) confections in Wenatchee.

After turning in my wheels in the home of this year's defending Super Bowl champions, I spent the night on a park bench in downtown Seattle, and caught the morning sailing of the Princess Marguerite to Victoria BC. After a day of gawking at all the boutiques in that tourist town (where I scored a terrific deal on a used 105 mm Pentax telephoto lens), I caught a bus the next day that took me all the way up the east side of Vancouver Island and deposited me at Port Hardy, just in time to catch the once-a-week BC ferry headed for Juneau, via Prince Rupert, Wrangell, Ketchikan, and Petersburg. The best part was witnessing humpback whales skyhopping at dawn in Frederick Sound. Wow.

I had a lovely visit with Peg & Paul in Juneau, the only state capital inaccessible by car. Highlights included:

o  Hiking up Mount Roberts, just above Juneau. From the summit you can look west over the archipelago of a temperate rain forest. Turning 180-degrees in place you see an alpine desert, replete with marmots that will steal your lunch if you turn your back.

o  Noodling around the Mendenhall Glacier north of town. It was incredible witnessing color shifts in the blue and purple range when peering into deep crevasses.

o  Witnesses a salmon die-off at the end of their spawning run (the bald eagles were so thick that it was impossible to conceive of them as an endangered species).

o  Enjoying the gustatory pleasure of beer-battered halibut, which allowed me to grok why Alaskans consider that gargantuan bottom feeder a superior delicacy to salmon.

o  Exploring the ruins of the Treadwell mine on nearby Douglas Island—once the largest hard rock gold mine in the world, from which over 3 million ounces were extracted during 1881-1922. I managed to come away with a souvenir valve handle (suitably rusted) that we welded onto the air control of our blacksmithing forge back home at Sandhill.

o  A side trip to Tenakee Springs (on Chichagof Island, about 60 ferry miles west of Juneau), where there is only one street, four-feet wide, and no cars. In the center of town is a natural, sulfurous hot springs that alternates between men's and women's in two-hour intervals around the clock.

o  A solo ocean canoe trip between Hoonah and Tenakee Springs (in and around Chichagof). I did about 50 miles in two days. The sobering part was waking up the second day and finding the canoe right-side up and full of water. After two decades of lake and river canoeing in northern Minnesota and interior Canada, I had neglected to take into account the tide. In freshwater canoeing, the waterline stays put overnight; in salt water it doesn't. Having gone to sleep at low tide, I was damn lucky that high tide was only enough to flip my canoe over and not float it away. Whew.

When it was time to head home I advertised in the paper for a ride to the Midwest and caught gold. A person answered that he was driving his pickup straight through to within 10 miles of my sister's place in the suburbs of Chicago, and would be happy with a co-driver who would spring for half the gas. Hot damn! We rendezvoused on the ferry to Prince Rupert and off we went. Stopping only for gas, food, and bathroom breaks we covered 3000 miles in 60 hours. While one drove, the other slept. Though the pickup was equipped with off-road suspension (read bumpy), at a certain point you get tired enough that you can sleep in any conditions.

After a much-needed night of sleep in a bed that wasn't moving, I took the train home. My enduring image of that first day back was getting reacquainted with my three-year-old son. We went for a walk around the farm together and I still have the photo of him buck naked, trying to smell the big face of an eastern drooping sunflower head, growing on the edge of the north garden.

All in all, it was a fine highlight to a perfect year.

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