Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mom's Birthday

Mom on the farm..

February 25, 1927. Spring Grove, Minnesota--in a largish room, my mother, Henrietta Veum was born. That large room was in a largish house that functioned as the local  hospital in 1927; it later was broken up into SRO's.  Single Room Occupancy's. Mom's Father, Levi Veum rented one of those rooms, heart broken after his wife passed away. The room he rented was the delivery room, where Mom was born 50 years before. Levi Veum died in Mom's delivery room in 1979; he was found sitting in a rocking chair, a cigarette burned out in his right hand, the other hand holding a cane.

And so I think of Mom on this unusually sunny day in 2014, some 15 years after her much too early death at the age of 72.

I was a rotten son. Lazy. A slob. I never helped out with chores with the exception that I cooked dinner every Friday night for the family. It was an actual home-made pizza I'd make, with homemade crust. She appreciated that so very much as she spent her days working in a factory--back when we used to have factories in this country.

Those years from 1927 to 1999 when she died were years of change. She lived through the depression. Her father lost his farm at that time and never really recovered, or had a regular paycheck until he retired at age 65 and Social Security provided enough cash so that Grandpa and Grandma Veum could buy their first house in the country. Since Grandpa farmed with horses, he could get a horse on that little property. A fine horse named after President Johnson's wife: Ladybird. My Grandpa knew what party was on the side of the working class. Word has it that he was a member of the Farmer/Labor Party---a radical party in the 30's composed mostly of Communists. That party later merged with the Democrats, with Hubert Horatio Humphrey doing the negotiating, to form the DFL. To this day, the Democrats in Minnesota are called the DFL.

Mom certainly experienced loss. A loss of a farm. The loss of her older sister at the tender young age of 18, on the night of her sister's graduation from high school. An automobile accident, when the young man who was with her struck a cow in the road. These were the days prior to seat belts.

Mom graduated from High School in Mabel, Minnesota. She moved to Winona, Minnesota where she met my Dad. The first ten years of their marriage consisted of trying to run a farm, while Dad also worked full-time in town at the Midland Cooperative, an employee owned business that sold gas and provided farm supplies.

Their first set of twins died a few days after birth. Every year Mom continued to put flowers on Stan and Glen's grave. Ruth came along a couple years later. Then Doug. And eight years after Doug came along, I showed up. Mom later told me that those years spent on the farm were the happiest years of her life.

Then, in the early 60's (1962? 63?) a factory opened in Rushford that changed everything. The factory made heater switches for GM automobiles. The wages were good for such a small town, and prosperity soon followed for most everyone. Mom took a job on the factory line, and for the next 30 years she sat on the line, with its mind numbing work, earning a living for her family. Mom and Dad bought an old Victorian in town. They divided the thing into three apartments and paid the thing off in ten years. They were as frugal as could be. They ate out of the huge garden we had. We froze sweet corn and beans with Mom's secret recipe.

Those were good years for Rushford. Good years for my family. The factory closed around 1995, thanks to Clinton and NAFTA with the jobs shipped off to Mexico. Now I'm told the Mexico factory closed and it was shipped off to China. Ten years earlier, the Midland Cooperative shut its doors. Dad found work working with an implement dealer.

Mom and Dad retired in the early 90's. They spent their winters in Arizona. Summers in Minnesota. Mom walked everyday and blossomed with the friendships she made in Arizona. I remember going for a walk with her and I could barely keep up with her.

Mom was about the kindest, most humble person I've ever met. She never had a cross word to say for anyone. She worked in the factory and cooked for her family and cleaned my messy laundry with never a word of complaint. I never heard her complain of anything ever. People like that are so very rare. Giving without expecting anything back. A heart of gold.

Mom got liver cancer at the age of 71. She never smoked. She never drank. I expect those chemicals at the factory that she breathed all those years contributed to the cancer. Again, she didn't complain when the pain kept her up at night.

Sorry Mom I was such a crappy son. I didn't go home often enough. I didn't write. I didn't send Mother's Day cards. I did say thank you for the times life was tough and they took me in after my first attempt at an adult life failed. But all in all, I sucked as a son.

I was living in Reno, Nevada when I got a call from Dad. They were in Mesa, Arizona. Dad told me to please get there as quick as possible. I literally dropped the phone and hopped into my red Saturn. I didn't stop until I was in Mesa, Arizona. I walked into the hospital room. Alone with her, I told her I loved her. She said, through her delirium, that she loved me. She never said another word.

I stayed up with her that long night. When the doctor came in at 5:00 am, I told the MD to stop the IV as Mom was in delirium and wouldn't eat or drink. We had as a family, made the decision to cut the fluids. We got Mom out of that hospital, an awful place where I had to bug the nurses to get pain meds for my mother when she experienced break through pain. She went to a hospice facility where the nurses knew how to take care of the dying. I was in the room when Mom took her last breath. Holding her hand. As she took her last breath, a tear ran out of her eye, down her cheek.

A life cut too short by cancer. Rest In Peace Dear Mother, Rest In Peace.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


Okay, I admit it: I am a nature nut. An enviro. A person who gets pissed off when yet another house gets built in some suburb. I mourn the loss of habitat to the extent of being nearly pathological. I love Ed Abbey. I'm with him when he said "the ideology of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell".

And so it isn't often I read a novel that understands such themes. Virginia Arthur takes her time with the book. She sets up the characters and let's them be what they are. She doesn't shy away from themes of class. And I think the cover of the book, with the beautiful Ellie, looking into the future with a couple of bulldozers around her and a binoculars at her feet, well, that cover is perfect.

In this case, you can judge a book by its cover.

Some might say the thing is a bit long and wordy. That the author could cut something here or there. No. Our lives are long and fun and tragic and good and bad and sometimes tedious and sometimes disastrous and sometimes magical. This book understand that and so it takes its time as Ellie leaves her husband for the love of birds.

And I come away from the book, borrowing a line from it often: to be an environmentalist is to live constantly with a broken heart. Oh so true.

I'm told that this work took 13 years to write and is loosely based on the author's own experiences. It takes a whole lot of effort to create such a story that includes themes of environmental loss, yet inspires hope that maybe, just maybe, others will get the bug of watching birds, or whales or trees---and figure out that they are worth saving.

Books that inspire you to become active outdoors are few and far between. Most nature books are written with adrenaline in mind. They are about climbing Everest or doing the seven highest peaks or climbing the highest tree. Or climbing a rock. Having an adrenaline experience is what the outdoors has become to a generation that comes after generation X. The slopes of a mountain have given way to the artificialness, and adrenaline, of a snowboarders half tube. This book isn't about adrenaline. It is about enjoyment. Solitude. Love.

We need more novels like this. We need to encourage writers who write books like this. A wilderness experience has become so rare that it rarely becomes a setting or subject of a novel these days (except to spur adrenaline). Virginia inspires something else; she inspires action. Beauty. Reflection. Listening. Watching. Being observant. In a world where the Pacific Crest Trail is only mentioned in regards to speed records, Birdbrain presents something better: take a look around and enjoy what you got because it ain't gonna last long unless you get off your butt and take care of it.

Buy this book.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sort of Back...

I've lost my ability and desire to write anything these last few months. Turns out that inimidating visit from a U.S. National  Park Ranger, who came to my door with a ticket book, took away my desire to write anything. And so I took a break. Yes, I wrote something for Chico Sol. And I wrote a piece against Marijuana for the Paradise Post. And I wrote a coyote news piece for the CNR. But that's been about it.

And I've been on the radio twice. Once talking about coyotes and Lassen Park for KZFR's "The Point Is". And again a couple days ago, giving my views on Marijuana on KZFR's environmental program, Ecotopia. I'm hoping I will be able to post the audio of these shows shortly.

I've lost my enthusiasm to put words on to screen after learning that some people who may not share my world view, and who might have some hostile intentions, look through these things hoping for some sort of "Gotchya" thing.

But I'm nearly over it.

I am still injured at work. I am getting better though after visiting a chiropractor (the non fast velocity kind) who really has been helping me. I think I will be able to return to work in March---nearly nine months after my injury.

And so keep watching these pages; there might be some more stuff here once and awhile. You can't get better at writing without writing. It takes practice. And  you also have to experience shit. Have a life. And read. No writer can write without reading.

I'm happy that one of the pieces I had published is up for an award. Maybe.

So keep watching this space. I'm back. Sort of.