Thursday, October 19, 2006


I avoid doctors offices. Something in me makes me react to the doctoring concept the way a person with an expensive car reacts to small town mechanic. The fear is if you allow them in, let them go to work, though they might have the best intentions, things are altered forever, never to be put exactly right again.

I ignored the fact that my son snored loudly until I awoke one night feeling something was wrong. It was the silence. No snoring, no breathing. Why I layed in bed straining my ears for any sound when there was none, I don't know. As the fear crawled up inside me a loud snore erupted from his room.

It was like that for a while before we ended up in the doctor's office. My son had big tonsils that needed to come out. This was not a hard sell even for me. The day was scheduled and it could not come quickly enough.

There was a secret fear in me, worse than if I was having the operation myself. My son was prepared, he knew everything that was going to happen. We were calm and positive. The surgeon assured us everything was very normal. Before the surgery my son looked me straight in the eye and said, "Dad what if they make a mistake, what if they do something wrong, you know, what if they slip or something and I don't wake up?" My fears were not so secret or unique as I may have thought.

The operation was smooth and he was out in a short time and on his way back to our home a few short blocks from the hospital. The next morning I went to work, my wife, my son and his older brother stayed at home with a supply of movies and ice cream.

A short time into the morning my older son walked into the kitchen with a look of concern on his face. Mom, he's having trouble breathing. Mom he's really having trouble breathing! "

I got a call. "We are on are way into the emergency room, meet us there".

When I got there they were talking about a breathing tube. My son was doing what he could to draw air through his swollen airway, but getting very little. He could not talk and his color was changing. The doctors looked really worried. One suggested a breathing tube, the other said they couldn't safely do that to a little boy in our hospital.

Next I knew we were briskly walking next to him as he was wheeled to a helicopter. They were saying there was no way we could get in the chopper with him. We would have to make the one hour drive to the city hospital without knowing what we would find when we got there.

Our house was less than a mile away from the hospital, we had to make arrangements for our other son to stay with a neighbor. We left before the chopper was off the ground.

As my wife threw some things in a duffel bag, I stood in our quiet neighborhood street explaining to a neighbor that our son was being airlifted and that we had to hurry to the hospital in the cities. At this point the chopper rose over the trees headed north. My own throat swelled shut and I could not speak as I knew it was my son being carried away.

At first, the only thing in my mind was our personal crisis. I wondered as I drove how many accidents are caused by distraught families chasing helicopters.

We found the children's hospital and the waiting room in the correct wing. We were told he was safe, but we had to wait.

As we waited we heard from a little girl's uncle who told us how her kidneys were shutting down because she had eaten poorly cooked hamburger at a family reunion. We listened to a mother reassuring family members she would be okay, her son was expected to pass away that night. She said it had been fourteen good years and now, soon he would finally rest. And there were others living their own dramas unknown to us.

Finally, we were allowed in to see our son. He was reclined slightly in bed with a TV remote in his hand watching a Disney video. He looked healthy and happy. The doctor there explained that in flight the anti inflammatory drugs they had given him at our hospital had finally kicked in and they really didn't need to do anything but watch him.

After all was figured out my wife went to a small room with a little bed to take her turn resting. I sat in a chair, in the room with the lights off next to my unsnoring, sleeping son. Through the curtain was the little girl with the failing kidneys and someplace not far away in his own room was the boy with AIDS his life seeping away.

I sat in the partially darkened room of beds and curtain dividers next to my sleeping boy, very much awake, listening and looking. Small lights on equipment flashed. Heart and breathing monitors beeped randomly, gently near me and throughout the room, around other patients. I wondered what causes things to happen and not happen and soaked up the moment. A nurse walked into our area to check on my son. She was in no particular hurry and asked how I was. I told her I was fine and thankful.

I asked if this was the way it usually was in here at night. "Yes on a quiet night", she said. I asked if she had ever heard the crickets and tree frogs at night in northern Minnesota. She answered by asking "Why?". Right away I felt foolish. "That's what this sounds like in here, the little beeps and chirps of the equipment from all around." She smiled and probably thought I was crazy. It didn't really matter, that is what I heard. It was part of my miracle. Salt to be tasted in tears, but no lasting wounds.

In the morning we had breakfast down the hall with the uncle of the little girl who was preparing for a longer stay and returned to fill out paper work and bring our son home. The mother of the boy told us he had passed away in the night. I felt guilty to have a healthy son. The family of the boy were clustered in a corner of the waiting room around a large box of doughnuts, barely touched, looking worn out, resigned. We left the room to get our son.

Heading back again towards the waiting room with my healthy son, I worried about walking past the family of the boy. I wondered what that must be like, having said goodbye, making peace and then seeing the lucky ones walk by without a care.

As we walked out through the waiting room to leave, my son's eyes landed shamelessly on the box of donuts. An older man from the family offered him whatever he wanted. My son smiled the way only a boy with a sugar doughnut can smile, ignorant of his status in the lottery of life. Several in the family returned warm smiles.

I hope I can remember this all of my life.

John T.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Tree Hugger

There is a trail on my parents land. The trail follows a ravine down a steep wooded hillside. Once it was the driveway to the original farmstead. The farmer and the road builder are long gone. There would never be a reason to drive down the road as it no longer goes to anything except a dead end in a forest of mature trees. Someday the last of the road will melt away into the woods.

Still, we keep the trail mostly clear. Its a nice place to walk.
My dad mentioned to me one day that there was a big fallen oak blocking the trail. He was a 'just get it done' kind of guy. I knew the logs would be cut and efficiently pushed into the ravine. No matter the size of the project, man, leverage and machine would achieve the desired result.

I thought of the waste of pushing a 150 year old red oak into a ravine.

Most of the tree was on a steep hillside above the trail. The butt end of the trunk was suspended in the air perched on the stub of a broken off branch of another oak. The crown of the tree was downhill across the trail. You could see the branches were loaded with the weight of the trunk.

A week went by and the tree remained. My father had uncharacteristically avoided it. I went to look again. The trunk was huge in circumference and straight and, by the look of it, sound with no branches for many feet.

Later that week I happened to meet a guy who owned a portable saw mill. He showed me boards he had sawn and told me stories of logging on his farm in Wisconsin. He could turn logs into boards and it would cost me very little. I would just have to get the logs into an open, flat field and help him with the sawing.

All week I kept seeing the tree in my mind and imagining the smell of fresh cut lumber. I decided that if I was very careful I could have the tree for lumber.

I decided not to rush. I spent a lot of time cutting the branches away from the crown. I considered each cut before I made it and was careful to do it in such a way that if a branch was under pressure and kicked back I would not be hit. If I was the least bit tired I rested. I moved each cut branch away before I would start on the next branch.

Finally I had cut away most of the crown. A few finger sized branches remained, the trunk was still suspended high in the air. I could not understand how such little branches could keep the log from rolling loose. I decided there was an optical illusion with the angle of the hill and the tree trunk. The trunk was balanced on the nub and would not come loose without a push I told myself.

I was still very careful. The trunk was imposing. Just being near something that large and ready to fall made me nervous. It was starting to rain just a little. I was hot and the small drops on my face felt good. I positioned myself, standing on the hillside in the leaves and forest litter in a way that the log could not roll and hit me. If the log rolled, which it wouldn't, it would go past my right leg and down the hill. The remaining branches were very small. I could just touch them with the saw and they would be gone. There was nothing I could do wrong.

Still I hesitated. I revved the saw and touched the first twig and it fell away. I touched the second twig from my position of safety and surprisingly as it fell away the trunk unexpectedly began to roll. I had prepared myself for this possibility and knew that if I stood still there was no danger.

I had not counted on reflexes. When the big log moved something within me said "jump!". I knew I shouldn't move but I still flinched. I arched slightly backwards. The leaves and soil on the hillside were a little wet and the jerk made me slip slightly downhill putting one leg in the path of the falling, rolling log. The log caught my right leg as it went by and up ended me.

Reflexively my left hand came off of the saw to break my fall. I had released the throttle and the chain on the saw was coasting. As I hit the ground the coasting chain met the thick leather work glove on my left hand.

I was staring right at the chain as it ripped through my glove. Reflexively I grabbed the area at the base of my thumb and held tight. I layed there on the ground in the increasing rain wondering how badly I had cut myself.

At first when I attempted to stand my bruised right leg would not respond. I left the saw idling on the ground knowing it would stop on its own and took tiny, stiff steps up the trail. As I moved my thigh muscle started to loosen up and I could take bigger steps. I wanted to run but I did not.

When I reached my vehicle, I put my injured hand against my gut and opened the van door. I drove to the clinic and got stitched up. I have a scar and a numb spot in my thumb to show for the experience. My thigh was so badly bruised I thought it would never get better, but I did.

I ended up getting the log out of the woods by the end of that summer along with several others. My friend with the sawmill came after the first snow during the first cold snap and we made boards.

We also destroyed homes and tore apart families-of mice. It seemed like all of the logs had rot in them. Families of mice scattered when the saw came near. The sawyer told me trees fall for a reason and rarely do you get good wood from dead falls, even if they look good. Better to choose a live tree if you want good lumber.

I ended up with some boards and a lot of fire wood. I gained an appreciation for an oak board. To this day I feel funny when I buy wood from a lumber yard. It seems so cheap.

A year or so ago a big white oak on our land lost all of its leaves in August. I knew the leaves would not come back. The tree was very near the field of previous sawing. I was tempted, but I thought "too busy", "too much work", "trees die for a reason".

Soon after that a man called me and pointed out that I had some nice cherry trees on the adjoining land and that I should let him log it. I told him I would think about it.

Even the best commercial loggers leave a mess and I decided it wasn't worth it.

I walked in the woods. I hadn't realized how big those cherry trees had grown. I could hear the sawyer talking, "If a person is going to log their own wood it is better to cut the tree before it dies and goes to waste". I would hardly miss one or two trees I thought. Still, too much work and time, but an interesting thought.

Summer and fall went by, then one winter night I got a call. My father had unexpectedly passed away. Sometimes we take for granted that that everything remains the same. As the time went by it was strange that his well used equipment sat idle in the pole shed.

The cherry trees and the oak I wanted were marked in my mind. I took my dad's saw and his tractor and cut the trees, cleaning up after myself as I went, thinking how I was the same and different from my father.

My original friend with the saw mill had long since sold it and moved away, but strangely, another friend bought his own saw mill. In the summer we sawed the logs, white oak and cherry into boards. I built a shed with a clear roof and solar powered ventilation to dry the wood. Now I have a shed full of boards.

I'm not sure what I will do with the wood. With the time and effort that went into them, the boards are worth too much to sell. How many people would go through what I went through to make boards without knowing what they were going to use them for? It is a little like building a boat in your basement and realizing there is no way to get it out.

Curiously, I have run into others with the same kind of boards and they wouldn't think of selling them either. I have seen this type of wood in estate sales. Considering their probable history, they sell too cheaply.

So what is our time here on earth worth? What is a mature tree worth? How could a board in my shed be worth ten times that of the same board in a lumber yard? I have decided each board contains part of what went into making it.


Our land is surrounded by state forest. All of my life I have walked here. I love the woods. I can stand quiet and unmoving for a long time just looking around and listening. I know the big trees and seeing one in the distance is like seeing a familiar person on the street.

I almost said they are like old friends. It is true I have hugged more than one tree, but if a tree could return affection it may sense something else in that hug. A tree would be uneasy to have me as a friend. It would sense my parentage and know I could not be trusted. It would know I was ogling it's long straight trunk, thinking of the fine boards it would produce. I have a wood lust.

There is nothing like felling a big tree. The physical experience, the sound the smell, the feeling of accomplishment, the wood, the magical wood.

The forest is safe from me for now, I know the cost of taking a tree and I already have my wood safely stored in a shed.

As a kid I thought about being a forest ranger. I thought about protecting the forest and the animals and the fish. How good and right it would be to have a job with such a connection to nature. I never did it, I was diverted by a degree in geology and the secrets of the earth.

I was shocked to discover that geologists work for corporations that strip mine for coal, or destroy acres of land searching for metal or oil. The progression seemed to be, learn about the thing you love and then be on the front line of it's destruction.

We consume madly and profess to love nature. We may like eating meat but we can't stand to kill the cow.

I never got a job in Geology. I'm further up the food chain selling real estate. I let someone else carve up the land.


Not long ago I was in my office and a man wearing coveralls walked in. No doubt he was hard working. He had a business to run. He told me he was a logger and he had purchased timber adjoining my brothers land. He needed access to get the logs out. I gave him my brother's number and continued with my day.

Later when I spoke with my brother I told him the fellow seemed decent enough and that he was just doing his job like anyone else. The state, I said, puts the trees up for bid and someone buys them. We both agreed we would prefer the trees not be logged but these things, we said, are beyond our control.

Later my mother said she heard saws and that the logging must have started. On a quiet Sunday morning I walked that direction with the dogs. I walked a trail I've walked for many years thinking I would find the place they were logging. The trail is on a high hill in the woods. As I looked to my right through the trees there was an unnatural amount of light filtering through the branches, even for winter. I cut off the trail and made to cross over the ridge line and head down through the trees.

I am sure I can't explain what I saw, but I will try. I looked across a vista I had never been able to see before. There were stumps and slash and deep muddy ruts black against the light dusting of snow. Along the edges of the destruction the top of a tree still hung tangled in other trees blowing in the breeze. In disbelief I picked my way down the hillside. I followed the muddy ruts with the strangely clear winter sky that should not have been there above me, tracking the monster that had caused the destruction.

At the top of the hill the muddy scar opened to a snow covered field. There, in front of me lay the forest, cut into logs layed out like frozen bodies after some natural disaster. Each log with a bar code affixed to the end. In another setting I may have looked at each individual log and admired it as lumber and imagine beautiful trim or furniture that could come from it. I will admit I have walked there since and told myself its not so bad.

But when I first stood there everything in me said wrong, wrong, wrong. Adding to the twisting of my gut was the knowledge that the value of each tree was relatively small in dollars.

Our generation will never walk in those woods again. Our children or Our children's children will never walk past a 150 year old oak in those woods. The variety of trees that made up the forest will not return for generations. Some would say it is an insult on the earth and that mother nature is calling for our help.

I am a tree hugger, but I still sense the truth. We humans are small as a mouse. The earth who has seen meteors and cataclysmic volcanic eruptions is more durable than we would imagine. We are the fragile little ones, we are the ones on a timeline.

The nature of our existence requires that we look at history and say everything leads to us. We are the completed work of art. The earth is ours for the taking. The truth is the opposite. Our culture, our thoughts and beliefs are like a delicate latticework of crystals growing over time, a delicate decoration. If we collapse, the earth will not care. The earth will be here.

It is a telling fact that the Department of Natural Resources describes our woods in terms of board feet of lumber for the different species. I wonder,what formula we should use to balance the value of wood against the value of the woods?

Forest managers will tell you if you don't cut mature trees down they will just fall down and be a total waste of good lumber.

That is true if you are not a mouse.

When you are a master of the universe you need not be concerned with with the lesser inhabitants.

A man from Texas recently said we can save the country from forest fires by cutting down the trees. I don't think it is the fires that we need saving from. I don't know what to do so I just watch.

I only wish I had walked in those woods last month with my sons.

J. T.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Three AM

It's three in the morning. The moon is very bright. Thoughts are in my head and I know I won't sleep again tonight.

This is not a chosen thought process. It comes upon me and there is no choice. The thoughts, like a stone dislodged from a rocky slope, must roll down hill until they find a resting place. I am helpless until this happens.

The emotion I feel is its own thing. Fascination, determination, an urge to make order, and satisfaction as each little piece finds its place. It is like stacking fire wood or arranging things neatly on a shelf. If I can only get all of the thoughts neatly put away then I can rest.

I am a poor feverish soul, the victim of a powerful potion. My mind turns down this path and will not be turned away. If I manage to turn away I somehow find myself back on the same path again. Like a fever that comes and goes it can last for days.

Everything is about time. Time is our measure of existence, a human creation, an observation, a comparison of states. We have made time to be perfect. All other things may vary, but time is exact.

Physics describes the universe and its relation to time. Without time nothing can happen, there is nothing to describe. I read once that there is no such thing as an instantaneous event. Everything takes time to happen.

Time, it seems a natural thing. We count each sun rise and the phases of the moon. The passing of the seasons. Time is the currency of life. It is so precious though, we are not satisfied with measuring seasons or days. We measure hours, minutes, seconds, thousandths of seconds and ever downward to smaller measurements. In our tidy little minds we have divided the spinning of the earth into smaller and smaller and exact increments.

Increments so small, we can tell the earth is slowing down on its access. The earth, our original clock, is slowing down and being left behind by the construct of time.

On we go sleeplessly arranging cord wood in our collective mind under a bright unblinking moon. The mind of man moves forward using the yardstick of time. We won't sleep until everything is in order.

We are reaching into space, measuring with our precisely crafted yardstick. We go further and further, straining to see a horizon. Looking for a pattern so that everything makes sense. We are looking for an end, punctuation closure. We will not rest until there is complete understanding. Complete order. Maybe if we achieve complete order, we will rest, in fact maybe we will, cease to be.

Life is more than order in the face of chaos. Life is like a vibration, the steady intake and orderly release of energy. It takes energy to impose order. Energy is released when order falls to disarray. Energy is not used or lost, rather it moves around. The vibration of that movement is life.

The earth absorbs the suns energy not just by soaking up heat. The energy of the sun is stored in the complexity of life. The sun's energy is required to make a tree grow and released when the wood burns or rots. Life is the process of putting things in order.

Humans crave order. So much so that we call on God to complete the impossible task. Some wonder, why all the fuss about God? Why must God be so powerful, so great? We need God because we must have order. God is the ultimate ordering of the universe. The law that binds all things. Without God the universe may fly to pieces, fall to chaos.

What is a puny human to do about such things? What is my input, what is my effect? When this body ceases to vibrate with life, where does the vibration go? God can answer these questions?

The striving for order the fear, the wonder, love, hate. All of these things are the vibration of life. Succeed in knowing it all, succeed in nailing it all down tight and you meet God. Perhaps you are God.

We are here because there are things to fear, things to wonder about and things to put in order.
We fear that if we stop chaos will overtake us and we won't put everything in order. We fear it because it is true.

Life is the search for order. If the trail grows cold we must have faith or lie down and die. Every living thing harbors faith in some form. Faith, whatever that faith is in, is like a pumping heart that supplies the reason to go on.

In our humanness it is handy to have a god who is like a person. A God we can converse with. One who will tell us everything will be alright and everything really is in order. We name our God, dress him and make lists of what he likes and doesn't like. It is in our nature to put in order even that which can not be ordered.

Some would argue that order exists and we merely discover it, but most of us are in the business of making order. We are not so passive that we could accept an order that simply exists, we make our own destiny. Destiny is a thing that we must have power over. We must move forward, we must have some effect we must exert control. The hunger that drives us to impose order is the thing that moves us forward. It is a human thing to visualize what we want and how we will get it.

The world is rich in detail, our plans are simplistic. Sometimes we can't make sense of the details. Sometimes we can not see a path to the thing we want. Some would move forward hoping to see a pattern some would pray for help from a greater power, many would wish the answer would come without any more work.

A miracle perhaps or magic. Does a miracle cease to be a miracle if you understand it. Is magic still magic if the workings of the magician are exposed?

We pursue goals, wealth, stability, equality, justice. The essence of the thing is in the process of wanting it. The value of life is in the struggle. How would you appreciate your wealth if there was no one you thought was poor? How could you appreciate equality if you had no concept of injustice? Reaching a goal is not all that it is held out to be.

Life owes its existence to it's limited nature.

Can't finish now, guess I'll have to stop here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

White Pines

March 7, 2006

The writing feels good. I wonder if the feelings I put into the writing might come back out for a person who reads my words. That would be good.

So instead of quietly pitching them away or losing them when I buy a new computer I will put them here. Maybe someone will read and understand.

The first thing I will post is "White Pines". I wrote it on a winter day a couple months ago.

White Pines

These thoughts are an elusive thing. They move through my mind, brushing my consciousness like a breeze across my face. They pass and there is no way to prove they existed at all.

I am thinking about trees, white pines. There is a softness about them when the sun is low in the late summer afternoon sky.

There is a cabin in northern Minnesota . In the past it was my grandfather's home. The cabin sits on the shore of a lake in the shade of white pines that he planted 65 years ago.

I am quite sure he was planting white pines not just trees. His face would animate when he spoke of big white pines. He was drawn to them.

I too am forced to stop and stare when I see a big white pine. Maybe there is a white pine gene.

I have a picture in my mind composed of memories and imagination. In the scene it is the end of a hot summer day and the sun is low. I float in a row boat far out on the still lake looking towards the shore and the pines. There is a clear softness about everything. A richness to be consumed.

I am a teenage boy in a rowboat with cut off blue jeans and no shirt, very tan, almost burnt, just floating and watching. Stillness emanates from the pines. The needles look so soft. I have the urge to touch them in their softness, but they are far away. There is a luster in the light. I think it comes from the pines.


In the city, the wind most likely has a scraping sound like paper or leaves on pavement or the sound of things that come loose and flap. Empty sounds of erosion. Man made things wearing down. It is different where the pines grow.

Language falls short of the task of description. I say words, but don't know their meaning until I have the experience.

There is a resort somewhere up north that I have driven by.

To the casual passerby the name, “Whispering Pines” might speak of a tourist trap, T shirts and souvenir mugs. Just a dumb woodsy sounding name.

The person who named his resort the "Whispering Pines" heard and felt something and did his best to describe it.

The breeze in the pines has been engineered out of our lives. We can't be expected to understand. Ours is a world of climate control systems and safety glass.


It is quiet in the woods by the big pine. The world is still, an empty church. Time has stopped, existence frozen in a masterpiece painting. Dappled sunlight comes to rest on deep greens and lush browns; incredible detail down to the small yellow capsules on slender stems rising from the moss. Nearby, fiddle heads of ferns are stopped in the act of opening.

Existence is frozen here like a bug entombed in amber.

Those outside the influence of the spell cast by the pine rush by oblivious to everything but their lists and responsibilities. Here, by the tree, they are aliens.

Our world is moving. We can't risk a look to the side. Credit is extended and bills are paid. Children are dropped off at school and parents are five minutes early for work. Or maybe five minutes late. The world we know is held together with contracts and obligation. Who can blame us for our frenzy.

The big tree has a gravity of its own. I am drawn nearer to it and look up. It seems even larger than before. My alien self surfaces momentarily and an obscene thought involving board feet flits through my mind.

Above in the high reaches a breeze, like a breath exhaled by some giant, moves through the boughs. The needles in pairs, scrape together, each making a tiny noise, in its self too small to be heard, but together tens of thousands of little scrapings of needles make a gentle sound. The pines do whisper, but my alien ears can not make out the detail of what is said.

Somehow my heart knows and emotion rises in me. For a moment I am connected and part of everything.

What secret do the pines whisper? My heart holds still and breathing stops so that maybe my concious mind can make out the whispered words.

A kind of understanding comes. A feeling I have known before.

At the cabin a long time ago, as children, we would walk at night in the dark under the pines and out to the lake. One night I walked surrounded by the peeping and trilling of tree frogs and toads with my head swimming in the darkness.

There was the inevitable kick and stumble in the dark. My eyes instinctively cast to the ground groping for the form of a rotten log tripped on in the night. Instead, floating in the dark at my feet was a galaxy of little lights seemingly as vast and distant as the Milky Way.

As I looked down it seemed the stars had left the sky and clustered about my feet. My mind could not come to terms with what my eyes where seeing. Darkness above me stars below, utter blackness all around.

I went to my knees to get my eyes closer to the inexplicable lights floating about my feet. Trying to understand what I was seeing I slowly reached my hand towards the stars on the ground. Like some god in an ancient myth I closed my hand around a group of them and gazed into infinity at less than an arms length.

The light of the next day revealed the universe at my feet had been an ordinary rotten log kicked apart, strewn across the ground. Some trick of nature held the light of the stars within the log until my foot broke apart the soft wood and released the phosphoresence.

The next night I eagerly went to the spot flashlight in hand hoping to see it again, but the universe in the log had gone dark, the light was spent. Something important had happened and I was the only one who knew.

I struggle with inadequate words. Write of silence or deafening noise, completeness, the vastness of the universe, delicate life, chaos, perfect order. The best I can come up with is like the “whispering pines” painted by the resort owner on his sign. I will never describe or capture it, but I try because tomorrow it will be gone.

J. T.