Tuesday, May 28, 2019

As the Eagle Soars

The grey ghost of a harbor town like Duluth has always held tight to a corner of my imagination. Growing up landlocked it was the closest I’d ever gotten to a real ocean. After college, it was an exotic weekend destination with an assortment of friends.

Susan and I made that North Country pilgrimage a number of times in my old VW. We would sit on some rocky shoreline and wax philosophically about our lives and destiny. We were both stalled in that preverbal fork in our lives, deciding which way to turn and with whom. Later in life, the ‘dream catcher’ became my weekend nest when it wasn’t being rented out.

The North Shore was the setting for one of my first screenplays and a lot of subsequent treatments; some of which came to fruition and others that never quite materialized into novels or plays. It was training ground for Melanie and me while building up mileage for the Twin Cities Marathon. It was a wonderful place for Sharon and me to get lost wandering the rocky shoreline and surrounding woods.

Last summer Sharon and I journeyed back up north for the first time in a long time. It was a welcome retreat to the land of scented pine trees and sea-salt breezes. Lake Superior hasn’t changed at all with its blanket of green hugging its shoreline. The feelings came tumbling back in wonderful memories of the North Shore and that great inland ocean.

Memories have a funny way of embellishing the good times and diminishing the bad ones. Time and progress keep moving forward and the North Shore is no exception. Duluth has been steadily improving its downtown core but along the way, commercialism has crept closer to my old haunts.

For example, Canal Park has unfortunately gotten more crowded and commercial. Parking meters blanket the area and the loose casual hippie atmosphere has been replaced by a land rush to corral as much of the tourist dollar as possible. Never the less it still provides a fun place to watch those ocean-going behemoth ships trailed by minnow sailboats ply the harbor waters.

It’s still a place to imagine what it would be like crewing on one of those ocean-going vessels. That fantasy was first ignited in my imagination back in high school (blog: Old Man and the Sea). It hasn’t left since. Too little, too late, too long ago but still it keeps poking its curious head up every once in a while.

The next morning a bone-chilling fog has snuck into town with the morning dew. It was enveloping and blinding and provided just the right atmosphere for my noir movie if only the script was complete. Fog is a constant reminder of that inland ocean on top of the city. It only adds to the mystery and intrigue that makes Duluth the perfect spot for story ideas.

Our involvement with Duluth and the North Shore deepened about fifteen years ago with ‘the Dream Catcher;’ one of only fourteen octagonal units clustered near the main chalet on Spirit Mountain just outside of Duluth.

For Sharon and me, ‘Dream Catcher’ was the perfect retreat from the commercial storm below. It, along with the other Mountain Villas, are rental units each individually owned. They provide income to their owners as well as a welcome retreat on select weekends when they’re not being used.

We owned our unit for over ten years and it provided an ideal place to camp out and enjoy all that the North Shore had to offer. It was the Bay Front Blues Festival, folk singing at the coffee house in Canal Park, the Lighthouse, Skyline Drive and Two Harbors. We both felt a tingle of sadness when it was time to sell and move on.

I have a lot of wonderful memories of sitting on our deck overlooking St. Louis Bay and watching the ships pass under the lift bridge. It fueled a plethora of storylines meant for sharing. Some were written while others remain sequestered in a file folder. Maybe they’ll be unlocked sometime in the future under the desert sun.

Isn’t it strange how that works out sometimes?

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Desert Bloom

It doesn’t happen very often here in the desert. In fact, desert bloom is as rare as the heavy rains that precede it. This season a very active weather pattern was the final catalyst for ending a seven year drought that California has experienced.

After almost twenty years on and off in the desert, I’ve probably experienced desert bloom just three or four times. It’s a rarity that only comes after over-flowing arroyos, street closures, flooded roadways and an impassible north end of town blanket the city.

It only lasts a relatively short period of time, four or five weeks max, and then the brown returns. But when it’s here, residents are reminded that the brown, sun-scorched, seemingly dead vegetation all around us is simply dormant until the next rainfall comes along. In full bloom the desert plants are a wonderful kaleidoscope of color and texture and brilliance.

It doesn’t happen often but when desert bloom comes to the Coachella Valley and our surrounding mountains, it’s well worth the long wait.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Mexico, 1965

It was an escape across the border back when it was still safe to grab a southbound Greyhound, roam the countryside as a white guy, mix with the locals, eat their food, and drink their booze. Of course, I’d been warned about drinking the water, staying out of local bars and off remote beaches at night. In fact, anything an errant GI might want to do, I was warned not to. Mexico could be hot in more ways than one.

Back in ‘65, the trip was a wonderful distraction from being stuck in Fort Polk, Louisiana in the middle of summer. It was a two week pass from military confinement and promised all of its imagined freedom of the road. Past experiences had taught me never again to go back to Minnesota while on leave. The pain of returning to military life again wasn’t worth it.  That brief taste of freedom was something I couldn’t handle it emotionally or psychologically. The next time I ventured home it would be for good. So instead, Mexico beckoned me.

I picked up a Trailways Bus outside of base and took it down to the Texas border. From there we raced our Greyhound bus all the way down to Mexico City. Narrow roads and loose gravel didn’t stop our insane driver from passing other buses all the way down to the nation’s capital. A refusal by the passengers to close the windows meant there was no air conditioning all the way into town. Screaming kids, grumpy grandparents, and strange looking men kept me awake the whole trip.

In 1965, Mexico was like a third world country just slowly beginning to climb out of its centuries of poverty, corrupt governments, and a lack of economic steps for the masses.

Poverty was a way of life. Drug cartels hadn’t taken over the countryside yet. Marijuana was the worst drug around and there was no Fontaur to explode the tourism industry.

Parts of the countryside were the ‘wild west’ all over again. In the small villages, the rest stop was a quick jaunt to some decrepit toilet, brushing off the begging kids along the way and back on the bus again.

While the countryside seemed mired in poverty and some kind of medieval time warp, Mexico City proved a wonderful respite of old colonial buildings, narrow cobblestone streets and peasants kneel-walking in pilgrimages to the central cathedral in the main plaza.  Nearby the campus of the University of Mexico City was a respite from the craziness of the metropolitan area. Among the many monuments and plazas the elite of Mexican society gathered and rose above the masses. Outside of town, ancient pyramids drew inspiration for the flocks of tourists that roamed their sacred grounds.

I spent a week wandering the city to places where I dared roam only in the daylight. There was a Grey Line tour that took me further out of town and then on to Acapulco and a harbor cruise.

In that growing seaside tourist town, I hooked up with a wandering group of American kids like myself. We hung out at the beach. We drank beer all day and told tall tales about college back home. They worried about the draft and I laughed at them. I was careful about not drinking the water then like an idiot I ordered a Pepsi and it came with ice. Ten minutes later I was trapped in a toilet for hours. Lesson learned.

I don’t remember much about the bus ride back to base. It had been two weeks awash with bad food, good beer and over-imagined conversations that only hinted of romance with the opposite sex. I harbored lingering envy for my new-found friends who were heading back to campus. But held on to hope for me with only six months left of olive drab and khaki.

Not that long afterwards, I got transferred to Fort Lee, Virginia and an entirely different kind of lifestyle.

But that’s another blog entirely.