Tuesday, August 4, 2020

A Walk in the Woods

During World War II, a film came out entitled ‘A Walk in the Sun.’ it was about a squad of infantrymen who landed at Palermo, Italy and began a forced march across the countryside to their first objective, a farmhouse at some critical crossroads.

I took a forced march in the woods recently. Trust me here; there is a correlation between the two.

‘A Walk in the Sun’ had very little combat action but ran with poignant dialogue that truly captured the everyday thoughts of those infantrymen as they marched through the Italian countryside. It was at once reflective, insightful, and thought-provoking. It connected the audience on an emotional level with each one of those soldiers. Walking in the woods, alone or with a friend, and getting lost there can have the same effect. It’s like an elixir for your mind and soul at the same time.

Folks have been wandering this planet since the beginning of time. Walden and Thoreau, in their time, were able to capture the peace and serenity that accompanies this kind of soul-soothing venture. Long trail runs and mountain hiking can produce the same kind of mind-altering euphoric effect on the brain.

Back in the desert, I’ve taken my own kind of ‘vision quest’ a number of times climbing the mountains, finding a spot to nest in and then get lost inside my head.

The surrounding environment found in mountains and woods is much the same. It’s a quiet that can pound on your eardrum with its softness and penetrate your psychic with reflective thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere and get lodged there. Much like the girl back in college who taught me how to walk in the rain, solitary walking in the woods can have much the same visceral, cerebral cleaning effect.

When he was just sixteen, Brian and I did that in the Amazon basin. It was a wonderful kaleidoscope of running the Amazon in a narrow canoe carved out of a tree trunk, trudging through the jungle in the pouring rain, crossing raging river streams, and dodging rockslides.

I repeated that experience again in Costa Rica at the end of a long forced march through the jungle. We were three hours into a of non-stop jungle hike when we came upon a pool that had formed off of a river tributary to the Amazon.

My group of fellow hikers, without hesitation, promptly shed their clothes and plunged into the cool deep stream. The two women in the group were as quick to get rid of their soiled, sweat-stained clothes as the men were. The nudity was never an issue when the water was so refreshing and our minds were focused elsewhere.

When the kids were younger, I would sometimes take them into the woods to get lost. We’d stop by some fallen log and just sit there and listen.

At first, the kids couldn’t hear a thing but gradually they would grow accustomed to the quiet and slowly, ever so slowly, would begin to hear the wind, the birds, traffic far off in the distance and a myriad of other woodland sounds. It’s meditation on a soft blanket of moss surrounded by forest sentinels.

I still treasure those moments in time when I get to let go of my surroundings and let my mind and imagination float away, taking me along for the ride.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020


Henry Miller, the avant-garde, bohemian writer and activist said it best:

“If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power.”

Henry Miller probably didn’t know at the time that he could have been talking about the paradigm of growing older today when he made that statement back in the sixties.

In science and philosophy, a paradigm is a distinct set of concepts or thought patterns, including theories, research methods, postulates, and standards for what constitutes legitimate contributions to a field. And the fields are endless.

Paradigms are happening all around us and now at a faster pace than ever before. Even the idea of the aging process has evolved. The old paradigm that defined the last phase in a person’s life has changed how we look at old age.

Becoming a senior isn’t what it used to be. The old ideas of retiring and waiting for the inevitable are now a thing of the past for many older folks. It also means they’re old enough to see the power of paradigms happening all around them…all of the time, but especially now in the time of the pandemic.

Back in the eighties, Joel Baker, a local author out of Burnsville, Minnesota made quite a name for himself writing several books about the phenomena of paradigms. I was reminded of that recently when I watched a fascinating documentary on comic books.

Marvel and DC Comics ruled the world of comic books for decades. Their stable of cartoon characters hadn’t changed much over the years. It wasn’t until the early 1990s, when radical change came knocking on their corporate doors. From their talent pool arose a group of very unhappy artists who were chaffing at the bit to create new action figures and colorful characters to match their fertile imaginations. The group broke away from Marvel and DC Comics and formed their own organization under the banner of Image books. They totally upended the world of comic books.

Other examples of shifting paradigms abound all around us:

In the past, if a person wanted to stay overnight someplace, they had the choice of hotels, motels, and resorts. The lodgings came in all shapes and sizes but the premise was pretty much the same. They had rooms to rent; with or without amenities and the competition was limited.

Then two guys got this crazy idea that perhaps there were people who were willing to rent their rooms out to perfect strangers and a whole new lodging industry sprang up seemingly overnight. Now any world traveler can couch surf anyplace on the planet and never step into a hotel ever again. Now Airbnb, VRBO, and other facsimiles crowd the short-term lodging market.

Then there was Yellow cab, Super Shuttle and local, regional, and national cab companies that dominated the shuttle business. They had the market sewn up since the advent of the automobile. Once again, a couple of folks thought that private transportation might be an attractive alternative to the fixed high rates charged by most cab companies and shuttle services. Hence, Uber and Lyft came about and changed the industry forever.

At one time, there were six major publishing houses; each with many smaller imprints for specialized subject matter. Many of these publishing titans had been around for more than a hundred years. Their business model hadn’t changed since the mid-to-late-1800s.

Those six houses have now shrunk to three or four with more consolidation taking place every day. Electronic publishing and the new world of Print-on-Demand has turned the old publishing model on its head. Minimum print runs are a thing of the past and the internet has broadened the marketplace to include the entire planet.

Broadcast television made its debut in the United States in the late 1940s and gained a strong foothold in American consciousness in the early 1950s. That broadcast model/formula remained stable until the advent of cable television in the mid-1980s. Then, just as television had usurped much of the power of the movies, cable television disrupted the power of the major networks.

From there it was off to the races with the advent of DVDs and home entertainment crowding into the movie/ television business. CDs replaced LPs. Eventually computer technology allowed streaming content on multiple platforms to replace much of the DVD business model and the broadcast influence of the networks and cable channels.

The examples of paradigms disrupting the ‘tried and true’ procedures and processes continue at an ever-quickening pace. It’ll be up to my children and grandchildren to embrace and adjust to the changes swirling around us. For me, it’s an excuse to reflect, smile, and mostly watch from the sidelines. On a more personal level, it means the old adage that I grew up with of ‘retire and wait to die’ has now been replaced by ‘retire and now what?’

Following Henry Miller’s advice, I’d like to reach my eighties in good shape and still writing. It’s been one heck of a wonderful run thus far. I can only imagine what is in store for my grandchildren as they maneuver their way through life in the future. I’d like to stick around for a while to watch them do just that.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

London Living - Kids View

Kids nowadays!

I’ll try to put it all in perspective from my generation to theirs. I didn’t leave the state of Minnesota until I was twenty-one and drafted into the United States Army. I hadn’t gone airborne until I was twenty-two and flew in a turbo prop airliner from San Francisco to Los Angeles. And those delayed experiences probably weren’t very different from a lot of other folks my age at the time.

Now two generations later, look how things have changed. My youngest granddaughter Charlotte Jane, by the time she was eight years old, had traveled all over the state of Minnesota (her home state), and through California, Chicago and Iowa. She’s also spent time in London and had taken the Chunnel to Paris.

I thought about that as I was flipping through a Snapfish book of our family’s London-Paris trip of several years ago. I remember Charlotte, upon entering our townhouse with her brother and cousins, scrambling up and down four flights of stairs in our London VBRO.

Living in London for almost two weeks was a wonderful experience for our entire family. We were ensconced in a four-story townhouse in the Paddington neighborhood not very far from the tube. It was particularly interesting to watch the five grandchildren take in their new surroundings with their innocence, curiosity, and adventurous attitude in tow.

Surrounding us were row houses, public housing, apartment buildings and the English version of condo complexes. The atmosphere was all very urban, urbane and ripe for big city living. If you’re going to pretend big city living, one can’t do much better than London. And kids always give the trip a whole new dimension.

Back in the early nineties, Sharon and I had a preview of this family trip when we took Brian and Melanie to London for the first time.

We are part of a larger group of friends and associates that Sharon had organized for a weeklong tour of London between Christmas and New Year’s. Brian and Melanie got their first taste of foreign travel and loved every minute of it. We repeated the same trip several years later - this time with a new boyfriend and girlfriend in tow.

As seasoned world travelers themselves, Brian and Melanie now got to watch their own kids have the same experiences in London for the first time.

There were tours of the National gallery, the British Museum and The Tate. The grand kids soared high over the Thames in the London Eye They discovered Harry Potter hideaways, strolled along the Thames, took in a show in the Theater District and wandered the lush green parks.

Things have changed a lot since our first family trip to London. The adults had their phone apps, which told us when the next tube car would arrive, where to find the closest restaurants, shops, and entertainment. If we got tired of waiting, we can just dial up an Uber or Lyft. For daily use of the tube, we had our Oster Pass, which got us on all buses and the tube throughout the city.

It was a first for all of us, Charlotte included, when we boarded the metro liner for Paris. It had been a long time since I wandered the streets of London back in the sixties and later on when Melanie led our group around as a thirteen-year-old tour guide and Brian played cool with his trench coat.

My, how things have changed.