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August 2022

And . . . We're Off

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I've heard about Ely, Minnesota for years, and it lived up to its reputation for small-town, quirky charm.  Tasty restaurants, good beer, chatty people.  And we really enjoyed our motel, which was straight out of Schitt's Creek.  We had a long chat with the owner (who's never watched the show).  She and her husband started running the business only a year and a half ago, moving there after deciding they wanted a different kind of life.  They said they created the retro quirky charm of the place on their own, independent of the TV show, though everyone points out the similarities to them.

We arrived last Thursday night in Ely and went first to Piragi's, our outfitters, for them to go over our paperwork, give us our permit, and then look over all the equipment.  This would save time in the morning, when we could just pull up and load all the packed stuff.  The guy who assisted us was super helpful and even threw in a few extra things he thought we might want, at no extra charge.

That night we wanted fresh fish, but learned that you can't eat fresh local fish in any of the restaurants, sadly, but they told us where to go for Canadian Walleye.  And we had yummy Walleye that night.

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Then up early the next morning, we had a full breakfast.  We didn't eat half the food the cafe served us.  The waitress said, "We like to serve a lot of food."

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With our full stomachs and coffee, we went back to Piragis, grabbed our portage packs, and they loaded the canoe on top of the car.  A last minute conversation looking at the map about best campsites and things to see and do along our route, and then we drove the ten miles out of town to Fall Lake and our in-take point, number 24, where only 14 permits are allowed every day.

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The boating inspector, with a heavy Minnesota accent, came over to check-out the canoe for any invasive species, but said, "Oh, a Piragi's boat.  They treat there's well.  No problem."  He also told Robyn that we basically had to round the point of the island in front of us and then we'd see the first portage.

We loaded the canoe and were off, with two parties (four canoes) up ahead of us, which was helpful in determining the route for much of that day.

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Preparing for the Boundary Waters

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Growing up in Oklahoma, I don't ever remember hearing about the Boundary Waters.  The first time I do remember hearing about it was in the late Aughts when my dear friends Rob Howard and Tom Saylor and some other guys were going to make a trip and invited me along.  I am decades younger than all of them.  I thought it sounded like a fun adventure, but couldn't make it work.  They assured me there would be other times, as they lived in or had lived in Minnesota, had gone before, and were sure they would again.

But when I brought it up in subsequent years knee surgeries and other aspects of life got in the way.  It never happened.

A branch of my ex's family lives in Minnesota, and they would talk about Boundary Waters trips.  And, of course, moving to Omaha from Oklahoma, being closer, more people around here had done it or do it regularly.

So, going to the Boundary Waters remained something I thought of, but didn't seriously plan. 

But with this sabbatical and my determination to use this window of time to finally get to a bunch of places I hadn't been, I was determined to make it work.  So last year I asked my friend Robyn Reynolds if she'd go with me, and she agreed.

Now, I only learned later that this made Robyn anxious.  Though we have been friends for a decade, we'd never traveled together.  Not even to Lincoln for the day.  And here I was asking her to go camping and canoeing in the wilderness.  And she apparently doesn't like camping.  But she thought it was worth trying (and is now glad she did, to skip ahead in my story).

I asked Michael's aunt Mary, who used to live in Ely, Minnesota for her recommendation of an outfitter.  She suggested Piragis, which has a great website I had already been looking at.  I called them and they were super helpful from the get-go, determining which outfitting package we'd need, which route we should get a permit for, etc.  (again, getting ahead of the story, our experience of them was great from beginning to end).

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So, over the last few months, Robyn was very direct about being sure we had everything we needed.  We'd gone outdoor shopping together, exchanged lists of items, and met up to go over menus.  Finally, we had our bags packed and headed out last Thursday, one day after school started here in Omaha, for our weekend excursion into the Wilderness.

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Two weekends ago, in between summer trips, I spent a couple of days attending my first outdoor music festival in many years.  This was the Outlandia Music Festival, a newly organized event, in its first year, and held south of Bellevue near the confluence of the Platte and Missouri Rivers.  When the line up was first announced back in the winter/spring I snapped up tickets right away.  Though I was initially unsure if this was real or not, given how great the line up was, particularly with Wilco as the headliners.


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I asked my friend Teague to go along, and we headed down the afternoon of Friday, August 12 prepared for the sun.  The day wasn't too hot, unlike the miserable weather predicted for the next day, and we got great seats and enjoyed the music, beer, food trucks, and running into people we knew.  Friday night Band of Horses was awesome and so many The National lyrics really resonated with me, including "It takes an ocean not to break."  It was glorious to sit outside after dark too on this mid-summer night enjoying the stars and the glorious moon.

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Saturday was supposed to be very hot, but ended up much nicer than predicted.  We had originally planned to go later in the afternoon/evening but, as the day progressed, revised our plans and headed to the festival earlier.  We didn't have seats as close to the stage, but we did get some in the sun.  For a late lunch I grabbed some delicious lumpia, missing the homemade lumpia I'd gotten used to during my marriage. 

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We marveled at how well organized the event was--from the original adverstisements, to purchasing and receiving passes, to parking, to festival grounds layout and amenities, to the great music.  Plus there was a good crowd, but it wasn't packed or obnoxious.

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Saturday's evening weather was even better than Friday's and the music was enjoyable too.  I realized it had been too long since I'd done something like this, and it was what I really needed.

I've seen Wilco live three times and each time has been amazing. (Remembering that I was 30 and 31 the first two times was a little nostalgic.)

When Wilco was finally up, we went and stood near the stage and let the music just overwhelm us.  I danced and sang along.

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Values, Virtues, & Humanity

"Values are the culturally shaped accounts of the human good that are tenacious but also always in process."  

In the second section of Timothy Gorringe's The World Made Otherwise, he explores the core human values we will need in this period of climate change resilience.

First, he dispenses with some other approaches to ethics (both relativism and absolutism)--"There is not, as Kant seems to have thought, a universal standpoint free of narrative, though this does not mean that there are not values that we rightly argue apply to all humans whatsoever and to that extent are universal."

In response to the objection that there is no universal human nature, Gorringe has a ready response--"The common characteristics all humans share, which include not simply rationality and language, symbolic inventiveness and individuality, but also--and here crucially--a capacity for affection and for humiliation."  From these shared experiences he thinks our common values arise. 

Gorringe points out that "the struggle to establish how value is to be defined is the heart of politics."  Theology is important in helping us see how values transcend politics.  And theology teaches--"The living God is known in giving life: death is the hallmark of idolatry."  So, our core values are what contributes to life.  And what advances death is idolatry.  Our politics, then, should be so oriented.  We cannot build a functioning society around the vices.

The virtues are the "embodiment of values" and both are concerned with "what it means to be human."  The virtues are how we learn to be fully human.

Our goal, or end, then, is human flourishing--"the exercise by all of the creative potentials latent in human beings."


Leave Only Footprints

Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National ParkLeave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park by Conor Knighton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bought this book in one of the National Parks in Wyoming and took it along this last weekend to read while in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota. An enjoyable read. My camping mate said she needed to record my sudden bursts of laughter or giggles while we'd be quietly reading. Not just an overview of the parks, but a memoir of healing from a broken heart (which was also a good thing for me to read at this season in my life). The ending sentence feels quite true, as I'm home in Omaha today, "I always want the moment of nature to last just a little bit longer."

View all my reviews

A Coming Dark Age?

The World Made Otherwise: Sustaining Humanity in a Threatened World:  Gorringe, Timothy J.: 9781532648670: Books

That's the question Timothy Gorringe begins with in his book The World Made Otherwise.  He reviews various predictions that there is a coming collapse of human civilization and determines that it is likelier than not.  But he doesn't believe it is yet inevitable and hopes that a new humanism--which he presents in this book--could avert the catastrophe.  Or, at least, help us to live better through it.

One question he asks in this chapter, originally asked by David Orr, is "Why have we come so close to the brink of extinction so carelessly and casually?"

The answer he seems to find most satisfactory is Stupidity.  He quotes Karl Barth:

As one of the most remarkable forms of the demonic, stupidity has an astonishingly autonomous life against whose expansions and evolutions there is no adequate safeguard.  It has rightly been said that even the gods are powerless in the face of it.

What Gorringe seems to be aiming for are the sorts of Benedictine communities that Alasdair MacIntyre proposed at the end of After Virtue--small communities, living out the humane, life-affirming values, in order to keep "the lamps of civilization alive in the new dark ages."

A Beautiful Day

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After all of the recent heat, which largely kept us inside over the weekend, yesterday was such a wonderfully beautiful day, and I found ways to really enjoy it.

Mid-day I had a massage to work out a sore spot I've had for a few weeks.  That was my first massage in years and long overdue.  

In the afternoon I sat outside reading, some of it lying in my hammock, where I also napped.

Then I decided to take myself out for a nice dinner.  I had a martini, appetizer, salad, and dessert.  

Afterwards, I went and walked around Standing Bear Lake.  A perfectly beautiful evening for a walk and lots of people were out enjoying it--walking, bicycling, skateboarding, canoeing, fishing, rafting, picnicking, playing.  Families, couples, friends, all ages and types.  What a marvelous celebration of public space in nature.

Then I headed home to watch the movie Prey and really enjoyed that as well.


Prey (2022 film) - Wikipedia

Last night I watched Prey, the latest entry in the Predator series of films.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It might even be better than the first one (though it's sense of mystery and dread before the big reveal of the alien is hard to repeat).  

This one is also beautifully shot.  Some incredible cinematography, and not just because of the marvelous landscapes.  Even animals and humans are captured beautifully.

It's wonderful to have a major motion picture centering a Native American story and actors.  The idea of going back and placing the story on the Plains in the early 18th century was an excellent idea.


Uncoupled (TV Series 2022– ) - IMDb

Over the weekend I finished season one of the new Netflix series Uncoupled, about a late forties NYC gay realtor whose partner of 17 years leaves him unexpectedly.

Now, I'm glad I had some distance on my own break-up and divorce so I could really enjoy this show, including laughing at parallels to myself.

I thought it did a great job of exploring the emotions and experiences of breaking up at my age.  Though not everything in the show has happened to me (no one has wanted to botox my butt, for instance), a number of the moments were similar to experiences I've had.

And in its more emotional moments it resonated as well.  NPH's character complains about having to enter a dating world he hates and can't figure out, when he had been happy and content with the life he had.  His ex talks about feeling like the future they had as a couple was inevitable and feeling suffocated by that, whereas NPH says that's what he enjoyed and found comforting.  These resonated with me.  And most significant was this powerful line, "Because you had a mid-life crisis, now I have to have one."