Turning corners


I have used a charcoal grill for my entire adult life, at least during those years when I had some place to store a grill when not in use. I long ago convinced myself that my grilled entree’s taste better when cooked over charcoal than when cooked over a blue, propane flame. In fact, I have convinced myself that it is so much better that it’s worth screwing around with all that ash removal and the setting of lit matches to jet fuel that is required to get it started. My son went to the dark side several years ago, buying a huge, stainless steel gas grill. His barbecue tastes pretty good. I may not be holding out much longer, but I have not yet turned that corner.

I have, however, turned other corners, not the least of which was the decision to forego the traditional hassle and expense of selecting and purchasing an actual North Carolina Scotch pine for Christmas and simply acquire a reusable, fake tree from Home Depot. This, of course, is contrary to one of my core beliefs in life that real is real and everything else is, well, not real. I have always been a purist at heart.

Despite that sentiment, I went ahead and paid forty dollars for this puny little tree. It’s only about five feet tall and came pre-wired with tiny, sparkly lights. But the good news is that all I have to do in order to get it set up for our annual Christmas festivities is to get the branches bent into some kind of natural-looking position and plug it in. And, since it goes into the attic in January instead of out to the curb, every year I use it I reduce my cost-per-year (that’s my Scottish genes at work).

Coincidentally, back in 2008, I made what seemed a practical decision to purchase my current residence even though its many features do not include a fireplace. That was a tough call in that I love fireplaces and over the years have enjoyed one in my home whenever I could. But, in this case, I didn’t want to pass up a really good deal on the house for lack of a fireplace that I would rarely use anyway (I do reside in Florida, after all). So, that was a corner-turn for me as well.

No fireplace.

As an alternative, I went on Amazon and bought a fireplace DVD. I have since, converted it to a streaming fireplace video that pops, snaps, crackles, and loops on my UHD TV screen, which is positioned just to the right of my little fake Christmas tree. And I have a really big TV, so it projects a really big fire. In fact, if the TV volume is a little too high, it sounds kind of like a house burning down. To put everyone’s mind at ease, I try not to get the little tree too close to the TV.

In the end, I find that together with this little fake tree, and all our gifts arrayed under it, well, around it, and my huge, rip-roaring, fake fireplace, it’s downright “Christmassy” in here. In a Walmart store sort of way.

And a merry Christmas to all.



Moon over Miami
Moon over Miami

For most of my boyhood I lived with my family in a house built by my father out in the countryside of southwestern Michigan. It’s perched on the crest of a hill about five miles north of Buchanan and surrounded by farmland and virgin forest. Five miles may not seem like a lot these days, but when we first moved in one would have to navigate a two-lane country road and then two more gravel roads to reach it by car or tractor. Later, the county would pave Glendora Road, but Aalf’s Road, where we lived, remains a graveled one-laner to this day.

We did not have air conditioning, so any time the furnace was not needed for heat pretty much all the screened windows in the house would remain open all day and night. I shared a bedroom and one of two twin beds with my younger brother with mine on the side of the room adjacent to an east-facing window.

One of my fondest memories of living in that house was the smell of the sweet, country air that would drift silently through those open windows in the wee hours of a summer night. There was no car noise, or unnatural sounds of any kind out there. Just crickets and cicadas. A barking dog in the distance somewhere. And I recall sometimes lying at the foot of my bed with my hands and chin resting on the windowsill watching as the moon began to rise into the dark and star-studded sky. As it lifted fully above the tree line on the far side of the cornfield the lone tree that stood in that field would begin to throw a moon shadow across the waist-high corn stalks. And, if it was a full moon, it would be “…as bright as a readin’ light,” to borrow a line from songwriter, Mike Burton, casting a soft, gray aura across an utterly peaceful and tranquil countryside. Sometimes I would fall asleep there.

You have probably heard the following story, or some variation of it, in a book or movie. For some reason, I remember it being in the context of an American Indian back in the days when the west was still being settled. In this version, an Indian brave was about to leave his family for points unknown for what was expected to be an extended period of time. His young son was deeply disturbed by this news and didn’t want his father to leave. So, the brave took the boy on his knee and told him that on the eve of every full moon to watch as it first rises in the east and he would do the same, no matter where he was. In that way, the two of them would be connected until his return.

It was a long time ago I heard that story and to this day this day I cannot cast my eyes on a full moon without thinking about it—wondering who all may be watching it along with me.

Still a few kinks to work out

I read an Associated Press article in the local newspaper this morning reporting that most of the violence witnessed at a recent Trump protest in Oregon was perpetrated by a group of self-described anarchists who elbowed their way into an otherwise peaceful gathering. As it turns out, these were the folks who were primarily responsible for the smashing of windows and other mayhem that occurred at the scene. Well, speaking of anarchists…

Here’s some breaking news from Pryamukhino, Russia: Alan Cullison of the WSJ reports that Sergei Kornilov is having difficulty organizing his annual anarchist meeting. The gathering typically draws about 50 to 100 activists, many of whom end up skinny dipping in the river and dancing naked around bonfires. Other activities include some participants encouraging others to help in shoring up the deteriorating building used by the group’s organizers. But the structure continues to fall into disrepair as some anarchists objected to the prospect of other anarchists giving them direction.

Reported by Alan Cullison, At Annual Anarchist Meeting, Top Priority Is Getting Organized, WSJ, August 19, 2016.