Friday, December 28, 2012

Sunrise, Sunset

We were early on the road putting us in position, that chilly December morning in eastern Minnesota, to see an extraordinary sunrise. 

A farm silo still in shadow accentuated the brightness of the merry dawn breaking behind it. 

The first rays above the horizon would soon waken the countryside through which we drove. We owned the highway. It was all so very quiet.

The painted sky wasn't having any of that. It wanted eager life. It was here to announce the day as the snowy fields, and our car's headlights, waited for darkness to peel entirely away.

The sunrise was a dance of promise to the new day. It was a shout of exultation. If it had a voice this sunrise would sing.
It was a far-reaching country dawn. There was nothing to block the view. There weren't big hills or buildings or any obstructions to distract the dazzle of the sky on fire. It stretched out before us.

This sunrise had no intention of being a modest entry upon the morning scene. There was a showy vigor to it. Theater, stage and wildly approving applause were fairly within its expectations.

We've been in on many lovely sunrises. We're ones who see each sunrise as new and beautiful. This sunrise, without drawing comparisons with any other, had emphatic coloring. We commented on it.

The colors borrowed from each other and struck off bolder versions. The sky was saturated with color. It seeped into wider areas banishing at last the paling night sky.

I searched for a word to convey the impact of its color. Various choices to describe the sunrise were discarded each in turn. 

I was still working my adjectives when we came to a bridge sign at a snow-banked river. The sign identified the river as the Vermillion River. It's a river familiar to us.

"Thank you sign!" I'm sure I said aloud. Seldom has a word come with such easy timing. 

Right as needed the road sign provided the perfect word to describe the color effect of the magnificent sunrise.

I could imagine some native American, early surveyor or pioneer farmer on this same spot taking in their own vermillion sunrise.

It made sense, in that pause to consider those before us at the scene, that the sunrise color would not go unnoticed in giving a name to the prairie river.

In seasons of open water it's my assumption that the Vermillion River reflects sunrise on its rippled surface. Sky joins water as natural elements become one with the other.

The real origin of the name (as recalled from some previous reading) derives from the colored rock of the area. 

I'm content, however, to support my sunrise theory as the one that matters. No one could think differently after a sunrise like that.
The fields by now were rosied by sunrise. Hay bales neatly aligned in rows behind fences had snow adhering to them. The snow made the bales look like iced Shredded Wheat biscuits I couldn't help pointing out. 

They could have been on a cereal box or poured in heaping amounts into a cereal bowl is what came to me. 

The entire moment was pretty with sunrise. It was rosy and rural with a peace that serves as a feast partaken way too seldom to those beset by life's hurry.  

Happenstance, or pure luck as you might phrase it, gives us these chance encounters to connect with nature. These moments stick with us like the snow thick on the hay bales.

Sunset on the prairie outdid the day's beginning. In every detail it was an Imax sunset filling the screen. 

The sky glowed for as far as you could see. In the Midwest this can be a very long way. Distance, which can frighten when you stand alone, can give a sense of awe when sky has no seeming limit.

A white-painted old farm house and adjacent barn, along with a stand of tall spruce trees on one side, and a small thicket on the other, the sort of grove so common to our disappearing farmsteads, were silhousetted against the sky, which stayed luminous well after sunset. 

Then, in the darkness, we picked up the generous scattering of stars. They looked pieced into one grand design on the indigo blanket of night.

Ro Giencke - December 28, 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Packing it in

We were fitting in a holiday breakfast as we do each year.

It's a gift my friend and I give each other every December.

Our visit is an oasis of calm in this busy season. We sit and enjoy without heed of time. 

We let no other thing be more important, for the moment, than our breakfast session with its attentive listening, laughter and cheer of a shared meal.

I"m off to Chicago next week," she announced and here was the first big topic laid on the table.

My friend furnished more detail. She was signed up for a bus tour to see Chicago in its holiday lights.

Along with shows - her group would attend three - the tour included shopping the Magnificent Mile and visiting Navy Pier and Shedd Aquarium among other stops.

It sounds wonderful I told her. Packing for a vacation is, for me, about the most happy thing there is to do.

She'd soon have to consider what to bring along. We practically assembled her travel wardrobe in one sitting. 

It's always a pleasant dither to start thinking about what absolutely must come along.

The first pieces to go into her luggage would be picked for their warmth. Chicago can have a chill off Lake Michigan at this time of year.

She'd fold in something dressy for the shows and a bright pashima as a topper.

She didn't say if the shows were matinees or evening programs. Either way the idea is to get as decked up as you can. It's all part of the season. 

If you can't settle on one necklace you go for two. Jewelry takes little room in one's packed bag and antes up any look.

She wanted some practical attire for window browsing and holiday shopping along the festive stretch of Michigan Avenue.

Gloves and a muffler can be nuisances to pack but having them along can make a big difference in the long run if the weather happens to be cold.

Perhaps gloves and mufflers were on her shopping list for Chicago. It makes a rather clever plan. 

The items can serve as functional souvenirs of my friend's holiday tour. Moreover, she saves the trouble of packing them at this end.

Any active visitor knows how good it is at the end of the day to slip into something comfortable. For this reason my friend is sure to include something cozy for evenings in her hotel room. 

Everybody packs for their personality and expectations.
Some pack painstakingly. They try to cover every base. 

Others wing it. They rely on laundry services or get along without the unpacked item or purchase elsewhere any article that doesn't get along.

Another approach is to throw in a bit of this and a bit of that. The theory here must be that, like paint thrown against an easel, something you get along will work.

Some swear by several changes of shoes. Some bring a favorite pillow for optimum sleeping. Many take along an item that reminds them of home.

The experienced traveler learns you can't prepare for all contingencies. 

Foremost, you pack so you wind up with luggage which is easy to transport. 

You want pieces which are easy to access from your luggage once at your destination.

My friend packing for her bus tour leaves an impression. It dawns on me that we can all pack as if planning a vacation.

In this exercise we can pack for anywhere. It can be an actual getaway or a longing inside of us. It doesn't have to be real except in that part of our head where honest hopes have life.

We just have to choose the place, time of year, kind of accommodations we seek, and what we want to do.

As we pursue this exercise it provides insights into our daydreams. It gets us to the core of our longings.

For instance, we might think we desire a vacation somewhere warm. 

Instead, with our empty luggage set out, as we imagine it to be, we find we're filling the empty valise with hiking boots and a quilted vest. 

It comes to us that, while swimsuits and beach towels sound seductive, what we crave might be Western adventure or some other physical challenge yet untried that we aspire to.

Our hankerings, tested through this exercise, can prove a contrast to what we conceive our interests to be. It's a matter of listening to the heart and letting imagination play its role. 

The concept of empty luggage can be used for another visualizing exercise which might also be helpful.

We can pack our empty luggage with traits we wish to polish and use. The trait, skill or talent we most want to develop is likely the piece we place first in our luggage by this method of imagery.

Visualizing our luggage choices gives us chances to think about what's important. 

It can bring us closer to authentic interests. Often we assume our interests to be more significant to us than they are. This is because, much of the time, we give only superficial thinking to them.

When you pack for a trip you're committed. You're doing the real work of preparing for the experience about to come off.

It's the same way when you pack through visualization. You decide and act from what's deep inside of you.

Plan your heart's hope and then pack for it. Packing, which is the process of deliberating, deciding and readying for the future you wish to happen, is essential in making dreams become real.

Ro Giencke - December 19,  2012

Monday, December 10, 2012

The day I jumped off the deck

Welcome back, winter!" is the lead headline for today's Star Tribune.  

"Minnesota clobbered" it says next.

For the uninitiated this may appear a mixed message. The headline has a jubilant start. Then it throws in the word clobbered.

That sounds like we’ve gotten kicked around a bit, which we most certainly did as we clean up from the biggest storm in two years.

Maybe you have to live here to understand. Trust me on this if you don’t.

“Minnesota clobbered” is a triumphant statement if ever one was written.

Our state surely earns boasting rights for our pride in celebrating the elements.

Getting clobbered when the foe is Mother Nature makes us a worthy opponent and, for that, we collectively stand up and cheer.

Over sixteen inches of snow fell at Forest Lake in the northern metro on Sunday. 

Our area received a foot or more of snow. This is right in the ballpark as totals go all across the Cities.

It snowed steadily all day yesterday. About noon, as it kept coming, I went out to shovel the deck.

There was too much accumulation to remove all the snow. Some progress was made. This was round one for battling the snow heaps on the deck.

I've always tried to keep our deck clean of snow. It’s my one-person stand against winter.

My family will tell you I call it the Arizona deck. It's sun-soaked and bare boards when everything else is under drifts.

I went out for round two and round three. I didn’t exactly keep pace with the falling snow but it wasn’t gaining too much the upper hand.

The snow froze solid overnight and the deck remains snow-covered. The white flag was raised to yesterday’s storm.

So I can say my Arizona deck has moved to the Yukon for the season.

After the storm comes the beauty. The new snow is piled high and is breathtakingly fresh. It’s cold perfection picked out in the colors of blue and white.

The sun shone all day. The evergreens are flocked with snow. A sharp breeze tingles the skin. 

A filmy flotilla of clouds emphasizes the bright sky. You can’t dream up a snowy scene prettier than what we’re treated to today.

I was enjoying the crisp sunshine and dense mantles of snow on the spruce trees when another snow-filled moment came to mind.

It wasn't so long ago but I was more agile then. It wasn't  the current me who doesn’t, any more, as in the past, take the up escalators sprinting.

Even so, I feel I can rest on my laurels. I can say I jumped off a deck. I jumped off a deck into snow much like the snowy depths just deposited.

The jump was spur of the moment. The decision was not without risk, and I took that into consideration.

It was this spontaneous leap into the snow that grabbed my thoughts today.

It makes a good story but wasn’t hilarious then. I was cleaning our deck of new snow as I was doing yesterday.

I closed the sliding deck door behind me as I went out to work on the deck.

The door was starting to give some trouble about sticking and this worried me some. However, not wanting the cold air inside, I shut the door tight.

When the deck was clean, and I pushed on the door handle to get me in, the door wouldn’t budge. I was locked outside on the deck.

Frantic tugs on the handle were futile. The door, and me, were going nowhere.

Our deck was built without stairs. It’s a great plan. You have your own eagle aerie.

The part that wasn’t thought about is this: If you don’t have steps you don’t go down. This had never been a problem. We didn’t use the deck to access our yard.

Without steps, though, I was stuck on the deck. I was stranded, with no way to summon help, seven feet above the ground.  

The deck rails seemed to lean in on me as the situation was analyzed. My lovely balcony for summer reading was turning into a chilly prison.

My husband was at work. I was without a cell phone. A cell phone would have been the obvious solution. It makes you realize we act now as if we’ve carried them with us all the while.

Owning a cell phone was far into the future so this rescue option probably never came to mind.

Chances of someone driving by on our quiet cul de sac were slim to none. I wasn’t pinning hopes on a passerby.

If anyone from the car saw me waving they’d assume friendliness. They’d wave back, taking it as a neighborly exchange of greetings. Clearly, some other means of help would have to surface.

I wondered if the next-door neighbor was at home. There wasn’t much solace in the idea. As close as our houses sat to each other there was no window other than their bedroom for her to look out of and see my plight.

And this was based on the theory that she was at home. I cast a baleful glance in that direction. I wished even for their kitty to come to the window and take note.

A new thought came. Perhaps my neighbor was home and had an errand to run. As she backed her car out of the garage she’d glance up (was my prayer) and see me gesticulating wildly or hear me calling to her.

I was thankful for my puffy parka. Nevertheless, the cold was beginning to leak through. Next I’d be shivering. There was simply nothing to do. Except …

I looked down, judged the distance to the snowy ground, climbed on top of the deck rail and leapt.

It wasn’t a spectacular deck jump but it got me on terra firma without breaking a bone.

The padding of my parka absorbed some of the contact as I landed backward on the snow.

I was slightly dazed from the jump but more surprised at my audacity than anything.

Shaking off the snow I went around the house to open the garage door.

Once inside the garage, as I put together my strategy, I could get into the house through the screen door.

“If it’s open” came the immediate thought. The misgiving erased any brief sense of victory at attaining the warm rooms within.

“Please be open, open, open” I begged. One wants to believe that your need has sufficient power to turn luck your way. 

That morning, needless to say, the latched screen door didn't feel like luck to me.

Stymied at my own doorstep the only hope lay in my neighbor. I closed the garage door and went to see if she was home.

She answered the doorbell. She was mostly successful at keeping the surprise off her face at her neighbor standing there with snow clinging to me as if I’d been making a snow angel.

She had me come in. It was nearly noon. She was fixing chicken noodle soup for her preschooler. She invited me to join them for lunch.

Gratefully accepting, I used her phone to call Al at his job. His office wasn’t nearby. To come home he had to cut his work day short.

As soon as I saw his car turn our corner the problem seemed magically to disappear. Together we’d figure a way in. And we did.

Ro Giencke – December 10, 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Chimney at Bletchingley

If mysterious messages, secret codes and resolute acts of heroism are up your alley the latest news out of Surrey, England is your cup of tea.

You earn a second cup of tea if your interest also happens to be WWII England.

Maybe you’ve read about or know someone who has impressed on you the brave demeanor of the British public during the war as Nazi air strikes rained down upon them.

Familiarity with wartime England has its advantages but isn’t necessary to appreciate the story. However, some background acquaintance adds to the understanding of the period from which this story develops.

Keep Calm and Carry On, the phrase coined for a British propaganda poster in 1939 at the onset of the war, is popular once again. 

As a catchphrase it was seemingly ubiquitous as signage seen about London as it hosted the 2012 Olympics this summer.

As a morale booster the slogan is both civil and spine-stiffening. The words are a mirror of the British character. The WWII phrase endures as a connector to England's war years.

The impact on the British nation from six years at war was a hard gained lesson as most things are that come at a price.

One can speculate if the slogging work which was life on the home front will continue to be remembered as the wartime generation passes on.

The number of WWII vets and civilians is declining precipitously. Youthful as they served at the war front, or as home support, in the pivotal years between 1939 and 1945, those who survive are now in old age.  

Each death closes out another story of the true story of World War II.

Therefore, the recent story coming out of southern England has the effect of bringing the tenor of the war years alive again. It puts happenings into time’s perspective.

The story told here has to do with a carrier pigeon. A carrier pigeon is a homing pigeon. Carrier pigeons do exactly that – carry messages home. 

Throughout history carrier pigeons have acted as important means of delivery in times of war and peace.

This pigeon was returning to England when it went missing. It’s believed it was dispatched from France during Allied operations during WWII.

The pigeon may have gotten disoriented by inclement weather or fallen victim to fatigue as it flew home with its important message.  

The skeletal remains of the bird were found in the chimney of a 17th century house in the village of Bletchingley during a spot of chimney repair.

The message was never delivered. The encrypted handwritten message was found still inside the red canister fastened to its leg.

The coded message, handwritten on a small sheet of paper, is stumping the experts.

It’s believed to be connected with the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944. It is suggested the code may be unsolvable.

It’s left for us to wonder: Is the message about the Allied situation prior to the Normandy landings?

Does it convey concerns or provide locations to General Headquarters as Allied forces mass to storm the beaches? 

Perhaps the carrier pigeon was delivering news of the success of the operation, as costly in lives as it was. At this point no one knows.

I’m a historian and not a sleuth but often a historian goes down the same detective road.

A historian follows leads to uncover details. These details, in turn, point to other details which go on to fill out the picture, which in my field is the past. 

Deciphering the past is similar to decoding messages in this respect: You need to break through to get to the meaning. Without the breakthrough you don’t reach the heart of the matter.

For my kind of sleuthing one piece of information can make all the difference. It can be a person with acute memory, a diary or an old newspaper.

A starting point is created. It often goes on to link to the rest of the story which otherwise would be unremembered and untold.  

Codebreakers approach their work similarly. They look for that one thing that ultimately unlocks the rest. It makes the pigeon story fascinating from the concept of method.

The discovery of the pigeon in a household chimney is like pulling a curtain back on WWII Britain. It’s the backward glance which engages my friend’s interest.

Years ago she and I learned we’re mutual fans of the Mrs. Tim series. These books, written by D. E. Stevenson, follow British army wife Hester Christie.

The series cover the 1930s to Hester's post-war return to England in my personal favorite of the series, “Mrs. Tim Flies Home” (1952).

Hester Christie (Mrs. Tim) is sometimes the despair of her husband. Army officer that he is, Mr. Tim expects a certain structure to life for it to flow as he envisions it.

Mrs. Tim is a buoyant sort whose style complements, not copies, her husband’s.

The different approaches don’t always rub together easily she admits. She often sees their contrasting natures as unnecessary thorns amid life’s customarily sunny moods.

Despite self-doubting inner dialogues Mrs. Tim has her head screwed on tight. She’s more capable than some of her neighbors assume she is.

She rises resourcefully to the challenges that come her way, as they’re bound to do nonstop in wartime Britain.

Always coping, learning to make do, she grasps the fact that confidence has to shine through, if only from the surface when it can’t be made to go down deep.

She manages to play her part as if made for it. By doing so she provides stability and a sense of normalcy for her two children and her domestic help. 

They’re all dependent on her, the army wife, to keep her wits about her and always know what to do.

Mrs. Tim becomes like a friend we know. Sometimes it’s as though she speaks our thoughts. 

She’s brave. She’s frightened. She’s irresolute. She’s determined. Her will and buoyancy meet the test each time.

The pigeon story is a chance to place ourselves in a Hester Christie kind of village. 

Across the British countryside of WWII, in big cities and small market towns, many people were akin to Mrs. Tim in spirit, stout hearts and quiet valor.

Their sacrifices far exceed what we can comprehend. Their courage is priceless beyond medals or words.

D. E. Stevenson gives her Mrs. Tim readers an exceptional look at wartime England. 

The pigeon story puts me in mind of the author. She’d have penned a fitting story for this pigeon who played its role, as so many did, to help Britain win the war.

My friend says the pigeon story is one of the neatest stories she’s heard in a long while.

It’s totally unexpected, she points out, for the remains to be found by someone who could see they were important and knew what to do. Amazing is her summary of the story.

The message the pigeon carried may never be solved. The ill-fated flight may stay a mystery. Nonetheless, a puff of breath from the war past has blown into our times.

It reminds us there are so many stories in life. Some stories go on to uninterrupted conclusion. Other stories are disrupted but finish.

Some grow silent along the way and have no end. And some, as by animating touch, evolve as new stories to share with future generations and cause imaginations to take a fresh view.

This story, from so many angles, simply stirs something inside us.

Ro Giencke – December 7, 2012