Monthly Archives: August 2010

WITH SUMMER TRIPS BACK TO BACK TO BACK, I’m a month behind recording them here. Recent weekends in Clermont, Okiboji, Des Moines and Afton had their moments, but I save my blogging bandwidth for the epic. Like our last trip of July: an international voyage along  Lake Superior with stops in Duluth, Grand Marais and Thunder Bay, Ontario, coming to rest on the edge of a provincial park ominously named The Sleeping Giant.

Sarah is not much visible here because she’s behind the fancy new camera. Click pics once or twice for HD enhancement.

We roped in the Siasoco Clan—Witt, Holly and Rey (above, with Johanna)—after last year’s Black Hills trip, where we powered through 500 miles of South Dakota like it was nothing. Being that Holly is now seven months pregnant, we divided up our long haul into bladder-sparing segments, starting with a stop in Duluth for “Tall Ships.”


I’d thought it was a long tradition, but the City of Duluth christened Tall Ships just a couple years ago, inviting a hulking armada from all over the world to be marauded by corn-dog-munching Minnesotans at the city port. We were told the wait was two hours to see the grandest boats, so we checked out the lame, though still large, ones (some converted to “old” sail boats from modern shipping vessels—what?). Jo enjoyed turning the big wooden wheels and saying “poop deck.”

The motel we stayed in past Duluth had little to recommend it other than an echo-y tunnel that goes underneath Highway 61.


Unbridled joy at Gooseberry Falls S.P., northward from Duluth.

pureunbridled joy

A new favorite drive-time distraction.


Thunder Bay, Ontario, is a strange, sprawling burgh without an apparent center or much in the way of people. It’s as if buildings of all styles, ages and sizes had been tossed willy-nilly about the lake shore. A grocery stop, a wacky Italian meal (plastic grape vines, free Shasta for the kids) and we were outta there.


An hour later, we arrived at a swank solar-powered cabin a few feet from Lake Superior. You could see across this vast bay, yet no people were in evidence. Recommended Canada tourism slogan: Delightfully Underpopulated.


The Lake is generally too cold for the casual dip, but it was shallow enough here to hold some heat. The rocks were slick with muck, however, which led to slapstick: Dads slipping, falling and stubbing toes as we carried kids deep enough to swim.

group by lake 2

Book-making. Puzzles. These kids know how to have fun.


Holly, it turns out, is a puzzle savant. She busted out this 1000-piecer in a matter of hours. We were just spectators.


As we paddled here, I was talking smack to Witt about the excess crap my family packed. But thanks to the miracle of sound waves on water, Sarah heard every word. Busted!


The grub was sensational. This meal could have fed the neighbors too, had there been any.


This is as close we got to the “Sleeping Giant” that gives the park its name. I kinda see it. Nearer to us here is another rock-that-resembles-something, the “Sea Lion,” which looks nothing like a lion since the head toppled off.


We managed one hike near our cabin (one was sufficient). As you can see, there is no hiking trail: it’s an old logging road used for skiing in winter but so overgrown in summer as to be nearly impassable. Shortly after this picture was taken, we got off-path and proceeded to totally freak out—with a crude, hand-drawn map, a compass we didn’t properly know how to use, no cell phone service and no people for miles. We walked through neck-high thickets for 20 minutes before rediscovering our trail, but it felt like forever, with Johanna saying “why are we lost?” on repeat mode as we seethed. Not our best moment.


While playing Scrabble by candlelight, Witt looked up and noticed the aurora.


The lights are awesome to behold, undulating green ribbons weaving in and out of space (seriously dude, like: whoa). It so happens we were in a perfect spot to observe a major meterological event, though I learned this only later via

CME IMPACT: As expected, a coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth’s magnetic
field on August 3rd.  The impact, which occurred around 1730 UT, sparked a
polar geomagnetic storm.  At the time that this alert is being written, sky
watchers in Europe as far south as Germany are reporting red and green
Northern Lights.  If the storm sustains itself for a few more hours, people
in North America might see a similar display. Sky watchers in Alaska,
Canada, and northern-tier US states such as Wisconsin, Minnesota and Maine
should be alert for auroras.

Witt erects a Goldsworthyesque seaside sculpture on our final night.


Last swims at sunset.


Portrait with a sullen Jo after she slipped and hurt her bum on the rocks.



> Lou Reed – Perfect Day (acoustic demo)

> Trans Am – North East Rising Sun

> Subhumans – Canada’s Favorite Sport

I’M IN AN EBULLIENT MOOD with my last deadline killed and billed before four days at the Oregon Coast.

Yet I’m driving around recalling old psychic traumas, triggered by music and too-perfect-to-last weather. Summer of 1994. Des Moines. Let me take you there.

A sticky Iowa August was ending and I needed to get back to Seattle. Dave, a high-school friend, had recently graduated from college with little in the way of commitments or ambitions (or money). So we decided to head out West and room together. It made some sense, given our common interests at the time in music, card playing and getting hammered.

After some hand-wringing and hesitation, we piled into a shambling orange Jeep discarded by one of Dave’s friends. It had to be parked on a hill and clutch-popped to start. Half the doors didn’t open. Nearly everything else about it was broken too, except for the CD deck. Dave’s life was jammed into the trunk and backseat, along with our friend, Austin, who elected masochistically to come for the ride (I don’t recall much about his presence on the trip; he may have been catatonic the whole time—if he was lucky).

It was Dave’s car (sort of), but it was carrying our bodies—tenuously, uncomfortably—some 2000 miles. So I figured we should have a say about the route, when we stopped, what we listened to, that we drive sanely and so forth.

Or so I thought.

Dave, compelled by some mix of pride, distain, and an apparent mental disorder, drove the entire way himself. He would not consider switching. In fact, he ignored everything I said. He placed cigarettes behind each ear like pens, lit a third in his mouth, and chain-smoked across the western U.S. like a crank-addled trucker. Along the way, there was much swerving, hydroplaning and speeds that shook the car and made it nearly impossible to hear.

But the noise was almost a blessing, because Dave listened to ONE disc on repeat from Des Moines to Seattle.

DJ Dave’s selection was New Order’s Power, Corruption and Lies. Synths. Dancey, mechanistic drums. Unbearably precious lyrics: “Our love is like the flowers…” Hearing it for two days in that rattling death trap destroyed me. Did Dave know this? I’d wake at dawn from a few fitful hours of sleep and see him, three fresh cigarettes in place, bent over the wheel as Track 10 segued back to Track 1.

I could have pushed eject. I could have punched him in the face. But I was too mired in dread. About the car ride and about my whole life. Why was I importing a friend who hated me? Could it get worse? How did I not see it coming?

Dave gave me plenty of opportunities to ponder these questions over the next year. Then he moved to Houston, pulling up at SEATAC airport, unloading his belongings, and abandoning his car there. Classic Dave.

Cruising around today I listened to Power, Corruption and Lies and the album now strikes me as self-evidently brilliant.

Dave, if you’re out there: I was wrong about New Order. About your psychosis, on the other hand, I stand firm.

In the New Yorker’s profile of Gil Scott-Heron this week, “New York Is Killing Me,” the artist is dead-on about everything, even as he’s smoking crack in his darkened apartment. “The way you get to know yourself is by the expressions on other people’s faces, because that’s the only thing you can see. I am the person I see least over the course of my life, and even what I see is not accurate.” I always identified with Scott-Heron’s “Whitey On The Moon“: the more swept up people are in whatever it is, the more indignant I feel about it.
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Nicholas, a 10 year old who lives across the alley, loves elevators and can rattle off makes and models like other kids talk about video games. He and his dad go downtown together to ride them.
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Sarah’s helping me reinvigorate a long-stalled project, “Longfellow Bingo”—a scavenger hunt for our neighborhood’s quirky, homey character. I didn’t get much past “Subarus,” “prayer flags” “push mowers” and “obsolete businesses.” She came up with some of the rightest stuff so far, including “microhouses,” “mega-bird feeders” and “cats on leashes.”
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Vacationing in Ontario last week, we were playing Scrabble at sunset (I’d just played “Flexors”—bingo) when we noticed the aurora arrayed in full greenish-rippling effect across the northern horizon. There was also a meteor shower and Venus rising, but they paled by comparison.
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Johanna is combining letters into page after page of words and sentences that unfurl in four directions, heavy on the Hs, Rs and Os (they’re fun to read aloud, for example: HOILARRH OI LRRHHO A H). There is no story. To her, it’s enough that it resembles one.
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Somebody went to a lot of trouble to burn down a playground near our house. They managed to thoroughly destroy only a third of it, but now it all smells toxic and looks like a war zone. Jo is pissed.

> Rolling Stones – Play With Fire