The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

The Critique of Politics #5: War and Peace in the Epoch of Conflicts


The Critique of Politics #5: War and Peace in the Epoch of Conflicts
By Tim Krenz
February 4, 2019

Wars can start for many causes, even sometimes for very flimsy excuses, or by pure accidents and perfect political storms. Whatever the causes, wars bring serious, deadly consequences. Even if a nation or groups of people find themselves in technical conditions of peace—if the world ever can find a state of balance for a peaceful international and domestic order—the delicate fringe of terror will still overhang it. The existence and constant proliferation, and the viable use policies, of nuclear weapons threaten a self-destruction of the human species if, by deliberate act or accident, such weapons ever get used.

One miscalculation in political thinking, one willful and irresponsible decision by a leader, or one murderous urge by a maniac with a grudge that unleashes the nuclear genie from its bottle could end all human civilization. In the extreme use and massive uses of them, almost every single living plant and animal as we know them could cease to exist. With this ultimate and terminal end-state in an escalation of nuclear combat—by any combinations of those who possess them—the risk of war in our age of conflict eventually concerns every woman, man and child living and yet to come. Therefore, knowing this risk of catastrophe, this fifth critique of politics focuses on war and peace, and the nature of these dark and elusive monsters and angels of horrible fears and false hopes. We should know and talk about modern conflict intelligently because we have nothing at stake except everything on earth.

Author Graham Allison coined a catchy phrase two years ago with something known as the “Thucydides Trap,” whereby a rising power challenges a declining power. Allison, though, has only reinvented a strategic and historic wheel discovered 2,400 years ago by the ancient Greek writer and soldier, Thucydides. That writer, Thucydides, the father of strategy, summed up the reasons by which ancient Greece found itself in a war that lasted three decades, changing Greece's history in disastrous ways. It comes down to a simple thesis that because Athens grew ambitious to extend its power over others, Sparta became fearful of its competitor. Underlying the ambition and fear factors, we find a combination of both jealousy and greed.

If we examine motives throughout history since that war in late 5th Century B.C.E., the cause of most conflicts fall within this greed, ambition, jealousy, and fear cycle of human nature. Conflict and war itself goes beyond the nice categories of national interests and so-called “strategic calculus” (a non-sense buzz word of the self-appointed thinkers of strategy—like me!). Conflict, armed and otherwise, comes out of the very base human instincts, that when some player(s) on the political-economic scene become(s) ambitious and/or greedy, the others become fearful and/or jealous. This syndrome in a political-economic system stems from the deeply rooted flaws in the psyche of decision-makers. We cannot eliminate these defects. But, we can understand them and limit the damage they do to ourselves and others.

Consider the following example in the current war of a Western civilization with the extremists leaders of the radical Islamic states and para-military movements. Think about this, seriously. If looked at in the ambition-greed vs. jealousy-fear model, it fits as well as in almost every other armed conflict. Understanding the war in this way can sort through the propaganda, lies, distortions and half-truths of all sides. The Western nations (and China, Russia, and Japan, and now India) rely on oil to fuel their economies, and to maintain the comforts and securities provided by their civilization. Those nations have a greed for keeping what they have got and do not want to lose it and go backward. Oil, in large measure, provided the convenience of living better the past one hundred years.

To secure that oil, Western nations co-opted the elite rulers of the oil-producing nations to continue to supply that oil or maintain the security of its won (i.e. Soviet Union/Russia). That co-optation includes allowing them to suppress their poor people and the poor immigrants seeking employment. The West, etc. provides the money for the elites and for the security of their rule for Western access to the oil. Many of the co-opted oil-producing nations have Muslim majority populations, primarily in Southwest, Central and Southeast Asia. It also concerns regions on the periphery, like Syria, and Russia (which itself has a large Muslim population). Virtually none allow democracy or other basic human or natural rights or follow patterns of Western-like rule of law institutions. Because of the greed for the oil, the oil money, the security, and the ambition for power, we must admit that the West has imposed on a billion humans in Islamic countries a very oppressive condition. Few citizens or leaders in the West will admit this point publicly. Yet, the West needs the oil out of a greedy sense of securing their way of life, to the detriment of a whole lot of people.

Enter the leaders of the extremist, para-military Islamic organizations. For whatever other reasons they fight the West in a global campaign of guerrilla-terrorism, they use the claim of Western exploitation, past and present colonialism, and Western political and military policies as their primary weapon to recruit and deploy their followers in acts of violence. Do they hate the West for things other than economic—whether religious or social, or cultural reasons? Only they can answer that. However, we cannot deny their statements that they jealously guard their land, people, resources, and beliefs from the ambitions of the West who have thwarted their nationalist-like religious goals.

Those goals? To overthrow the elite overlords empowered by the West, and to drive the Western countries out of their area. Since this global conflicted between the Western civilization and the Islamic radicals started in Iran in 1978-79 (and the taking of US diplomatic hostages), it has consumed far more lives, property, money and safety than ever expected. People can try to look farther back into history to try and believe that it somehow means a war of good vs. evil since the advent of Islam in 622 A.C.E. Realistically, the current conflict has waged now for around four decades—between the West and revisionist Islam.

This sword, however, has two edges and it cuts both ways. Looked at from its opposite side, the radical Islamic paramilitaries and states challenge the Western interests in its own security, moral and physical. The enemies of the West act with an amount of greed and ambition in their own right, to deprive the Western powers of their personal and material civilization. Without judgment on either side, where both legitimately protect themselves, the West reacts with its own brand of fear and jealousy.

Both sides use greed, ambition, jealousy and fear to wage the open and hidden wars between them.. Unless we look at it intelligently, logically, in order to find solutions, it could go on for a much longer time. This war will inevitably draw in more of the world, and it could escalate. With eight of the nine nuclear powers now directly or indirectly involved in the Indian Ocean Basin, it could end badly. Enter China as a rising power with the same competitive interests, and the greed-ambition, jealousy-fear model engages another tripwire. We live in the epoch of modern conflict: A world divided by people's greed for more or fear of losing what they have. But we may have common point for conflict resolution to get beyond this epoch, and to survive as a species here on the planet and a home we call Earth.

The next critique of politics will examine this point of departure, and explain more how understanding and acting beyond these human instincts for these self-destructive attitudes can lead to a better peace. If we do not, in the end, we will only destroy all of the future, not just an enemy, but ourselves as well.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Low Adventures: Trekking the Superior Hiking Trail Part 8: Baptized Up Two Creeks


Low Adventures: Trekking the Superior Hiking Trail
Part 8: Baptized Up Two Creeks
By Tim Krenz
December 2018


In the spring of 2005, after Craig and I spent a couple of weekends in March scouting for trout runs near home in Amery, Wisconsin. He and I ventured in the middle of May for a two-night backpacking trip to the Superior Hiking Trail. This trip, for the first time, we brought two of our friends. We would have a good trip, despite my negative attitudes during it. Not quite proud of my words and feelings that surfaced during the trek in northeastern Minnesota, I can only say that at least the other three did not tie me to a tree, dangle bacon over my ears, and leave for the bears.

I probably deserved it, if they had done such a thing. Instead, I learned a lot on that trip, the effect that disgruntled expectations could have on me and neutral parties. I have never quite grasped why I got so bent over things. In the end, though, we had a great trip, even if not my best moment in the woods.

Three years after I graduated university, I became friends with a girl a few years younger in high school, the redoubtable Mary. Actually, that same summer she and I became friends, Mary had introduced me to her classmate that I only vaguely remembered slightly more than Mary herself. She brought me together with her best friend: Craig. Yes, Mary stands responsible for my very great friendship with the man who instigated this whole, immortally self-acclaimed Low Adventure.

Mary, always a sweet friend, had her charming, even disarming ways, with her ready laugh, her vibrant smile, short red-blond hair, and her stories of wacky adventures living in the Twin Cities. Luckily, my girlfriend back home, Looey, did not mind my friendship with Mary, since Mary and I would have to share my tent. “Who's Mary?” Looey asked me. I explained. “Sure,” Looey said, “. . . sure.”

The first day of the trip, Mary picked me up at my parent's farm in the morning. After stopping at a Minnesota Walmart so she could get knee braces, we drove straight up I-35, farther north of Duluth, MN, to Two Harbors. There, we met Craig and his friend from university days, a software engineer named Bryan. Further up the Lake Superior coast, we parked Mary's car in Silver Bay and we all found ourselves in one car on the way to the parking lot for the section of trail before 1 PM.

When we started our walk I carried the lightest pack I had brought so far for these trips. Before I left my parent's house, I weighed the gear—most of it heavy and obsolete by today's standards—at thirty-nine pounds. I did not, however, get into very good shape over the winter or early spring for this particular trip. I should have, if I only remembered how I carried my own ass after the walk on Christmas Tree Ridge the previous autumn. As my trail journal reminds me, I hurt like hell that first day. Combined with the frustrations of life and the trip, and with the clouds and chill rain all that weekend, the effects made for a very “crabby-sour apple” me.

That first day, Friday, May 13th, I found a new definition of awesome, of truly awe-inspiring power, on that Superior Hiking Trail section. As the beautiful views of the big lake became dimes by dozens from high hills in the woods, the new power mixed with beauty brought me a new sense of the word “WOW!”

Coming down from the north side, we arrived at the shore of the Baptism River. To our right, the four of us gawked at the wall of water crashing down Baptism Falls. From across the far shore to our side of the water, the rushing, gushing cacophony lifted spray from the impact of millions of gallons of water that daily fell down from the heights above us. The cold mist of spray lapped our faces, clothes, and packs. It caused me even more chill inside than the light rain and cold air did. After we climbed the stairs to our right, directly next to the falls, my legs hurt horribly. Wherever Craig and I found stairs to climb on our two-person trips we would always swear at the makers of the Superior Hiking Trail. Those cruel trail designers always seemed to put the trail up the nearest hill where flat ground would have worked. Yet, here we had no choice. Up the stairs we climbed. At the top of those Baptism Falls, I would not complain due to the Wow-factor.

About thirty or forty yards from where the water toppled over the edge, we turned left to cross a bouncy suspension bridge made of some rusty metal. Although quite stoutly built, which impressed our group's engineers, Craig and Bryan, the sign still warned all hikers in groups to cross one at a time. It did not help Mary's anxiety when Bryan or Craig stepped onto the bridge while she and I crossed in our turns, and they began jumping up and down on the metal grate path. As the whole bridge plumped up and down, its bounce freaked Mary out. Not too fun for Mary, we all made it across safely and in good humor

A short distance from the Baptism River, we climbed a narrow path of rock-strewn gully, something the guidebook called The Drain Pipe. I ran out of breath a little, but worse, my legs and hips burned like a steel furnace from the stress. Straight up almost, I remember we had to climb somewhat hands over head to grab supports to support and balance us. Up the Drain Pipe, and trekking more, we later made another tough climb, up Mount Trudy. By this time, we had only hiked 4.5 miles, and since Craig had the map, he could see we still had more than 1.5 miles to walk to our planned campsite. “Just up ahead, not too far,” Craig kept saying.

“Just around the bend.” Craig said repeatedly, encouraging us. He said those words all the way up the hill, even after we stopped to look at big pile of bear poop in the middle of forest path. It looked at least hours old, and it did not steam, which I took as a good indication. We had contemplated a wolf leaving us that huge bread-loaf scat, but a pile of bear chip seemed more likely. Big as an Egyptian pyramid in size and shape, a bear's presence unnerved me a little.

At the top of Mount Trudy, Craig ran ahead to make sure we could get the campsite before anyone coming from the other way could occupy it. Mary, Bryan and I trudged along, with me and my now wet and heavy, blue backpack weighing down the group from the back end. We walked “just” a little farther, and farther, and farther. Craig's words kept stinging my memory, “Just up ahead, not too far.”

When the three of us stragglers reached Palisade Creek campsite, a lovely little alcove of space in the tall pine and birch trees across the bridge over the creek, we saw Craig sitting next to a stranger. He had come from the other way, I believe. I subsequently called him New Guy. When I walked into the camp, I shouted at Craig who sat on a log bench, “Fuck you and the map you were using!” It probably shocked everyone and also New Guy. I took no notice of my temper but proceeded to calm down as Mary took my tent poles off her pack. I then began to assemble the Eureka tent, the body and rain fly of which I had carried. My 39 pound backpack by the end of that day's walking felt like the burdens of a hundred stones. Luckily, I did not pack more.

On the trips, Craig always made sure to assemble menus and apportion meals and various ingredients and parts for me to bring. That night, while still daylight, Bryan, Mary and New Guy, and I tried to build and maintain “the little fire that could.” Craig boiled water for dinner on his rapidly malfunctioning, two-piece gas trail stove. The menu that night? Noodles in individual Styrofoam packaged cups.

Eating, the slight rain continued as Mary flung chicken parts into a pine tree from her cup of mixed noodles and veggies. She did not care for the chicken, apparently. When I noticed her flinging food around, I asked my friend and tent-mate, “Mary, are you throwing chicken into the trees?”

She smiled wide in her way, and said, “Yeah.”

“Mary, ders barrs in dose woods,” Craig said, sounding rather concerned although he tried to disguise his voice in a verbal pantomime of language.

“Oh!” Mary replied, now worried that she just invited the forest animals for supper. Oh, Mary!

That night, as everyone went to their tents, New Guy to his, Craig and Bryan to Craig's blue domed “Hilton of the Forest,” and Mary and I to the little gray and green Eureka, the rain started falling harder. Mary had a high-tech sleeping bag she borrowed from her sister. It could have fit into a small purse, and it weighed almost nothing. I knew then that I had obsolete gear. I worried greatly, though, when Mary unzipped her backpack to take out snacks of dried fruit, nuts, jerky, and other yummy things that she brought into the tent. It worried me a lot, but then again, I ate the snacks, too, and we left the bags in the tent vestibule outside the door. I only hoped that if a bear came into the tent that Mary's red flannel pajamas would wave him off or wave the okay for him to sample taste her first while I “ran” for help.

Luckily, through the night no bear came to get Mary's food, and apparently none came into camp to eat rubbery chicken out of the pine tree next to our tent. Mary fell asleep early and after I read more of Thucydides' book, I also dozed off around 9:30 PM. I did sleep well and kept my legs warm by putting my empty pack under my sleeping bag to give me more insulation from the cold ground.

The next morning, we all woke around 7 AM. We ate oatmeal and drank coffee for breakfast. Then came the worst conflict of the whole low adventure walking the entire Superior Hiking Trail over those years.

We packed tents and bags. And although we had a nice running stream of cold water below the campsite, Bryan asked to use my water bottle. He had water from home, good clean drinking water, and he wanted to save it. I had filtered my two bottles the night before when we arrived. Filtering with an older hand-pump, with charcoal canisters, gummed up from years of use, took about five minutes per bottle. I had one liter bottle of water for the walk, thinking we would find a water source along the way. To my astonishment, Bryan used almost the rest of my drinking water to rinse his breakfast dishes. As soon as he did, he and the others (minus New Guy, of whom I lost track), began the day's walk. I packed my bottle and rushed to keep up with my gang. I had no time to filter more. Unfortunately, we never crossed a water source. Worse, I soon drank the remainder of my bottle early in the walk.

I could have borrowed water while walking from others, but no one had very much to spare. All day, exerting or resting myself, I need a lot of hydration. I took some sips of Mary's, but she had very little. The whole thing should not have bothered me so much. After a bit, I got into a verbal tussle with Bryan, which I should not have done. I liked Bryan, even if I did not know him too well the past ten years since I met Craig.

Bryan and I camped as a group before, and we did much camping later since then. Sometimes we camped in a group on the Superior Hiking Trail and in the Boundary Waters. And even years later, when we separately visited Craig and his family in Washington state, Craig and I camped with Bryan and his two teenage children in the Cascade Mountains. However, that day and with my attitude I almost nixed a friendship with a decent, hard working person. I later regretted my outburst, but the issue of lines and tolerances never had to become an issue again. I also learned the easy way to avoid that situation by always keeping my water bottles full and purified at every opportunity. I also learned that justified anger on my part cannot exist in my world. Such self-righteous outburst does not do me or anyone any good. I do not know what really bothered me on the inside of my thought and life. Perhaps I have more to write about that elsewhere.

When we trekked that morning, we walked up Round Mountain, not as high as Mount Trudy the previous day, we still had a clear view to the northeast, toward the big lake. I got some good pictures before my camera rewound after only a few frames. I probably hit the rewind button accidentally. Ahead of us, though, we came to another hill and we stopped at an overlook above Bear Lake, a clear and deep looking body of water below us, filled by innumerable streams flowing from the west. On that entire northeast side of the our view, we surveyed a landscape of downed, leafless timbers. These views, although dimes by dozens, each had their own striking individuality. At this view, I remembered how it all looked with low ceiling clouds just above our heads.

I do remember an incident that day, on one of our stops on an overlook. Bryan jumped off the cliff, freaking out Mary, even after she and I realized that Bryan landed a narrow piece of outcropped rock and thin grass a few feet below him. Mary's anxiety shot up several levels. For me, I thought it a clever antic, but I would never jump on a rock outcropping without courage or caution . I saw too much of the trail already to trust a tuft and thin ledge where grass grew.

Around noon, we reached a multiple-group camping area, a large patch of dirt under a thin growth of trees, at the place called Penn Creek Campsite. After Bryan and Craig set up their tent, the two of them walked back to the small, deep, clear lake we passed but this time they carried reassembled fishing rods. In camp, Mary took a nap in our tent and I read more of Thucydides. I also cut up the plentiful firewood left by previous occupants. Of course, I made coffee over a little fire in the rock-lined pit. Meanwhile, when Bryan and Craig fished, I watched over the dehydrated venison stew in a steel pot where Craig had let it soak in some water to re-hydrate. Before the trip Craig spent hours making the mix at home, cutting, drying, etc. all the vegetables and venison. The pot rested, somewhat precariously, on a split log shelf wedged between two trees. Knowing my usual luck and clutziness, I remained far away from the pot. I had one job: Make sure no critters got into it.

After a stew dinner boiled on the fire, since Craig's stove immolated in fire upon lighting it, we enjoyed a bigger fire over which we made a pot of coffee. At 7:10 PM, I wrote in my trail journal, “After raining hard last night, a muddy campsite last night and this morning, and cloudy, chilly drizzle all day, the sun just popped out. Here comes the Sun!”

The evening wound down. The others most likely thought of their loved ones at home. Craig had his wife, Jen, and his daughter, Anya. Bryan, a wife, Tanya, and two children, Blake and Alyssa. Mary had her son, Jimmy. I thought of my girlfriend, Looey, my cat Bettee, and our dog, Nacho. I thought of the value I had in that. Two years into that relationship with Looey, I missed my kookey sense of family every time I camped.

In the tent, Mary and I talked and ate more snacks she brought back into the tent. Like good friends of ten years standing, we always enjoyed our own company. While she snuggled in her high-tech sleeping bag, I read some more ancient Greek history. I never felt old on the trail, but at age 35, life's history of my future looked entirely positive and longer. Then, we heard it, and all of it became a question mark in my head. We heard the sound of something huge scuffing hard at a tree, loudly, and not very far away. It definitely sounded sharp, eerie and large.

“It could be a deer, rubbing its horns on the tree,” Mary said, looking a little startled in those large green eyes.

“Ah, yeah, but it could be a bear rubbing its back, too,” I replied.

“Oh?” Mary replied.

With food in the tent, NEVER A GOOD IDEA AFTER THAT TRIP, we could only offer tasty morsels to the fierce beasts of the forest, moose or bear, or Big Foot. We heard the noise, but no roar, no murmur. Nothing other than the scraping and scuffing of a tree. Resigned to our fate, we ate more snacks. We never discovered the source of that very, very loud and disturbing noise. Something, on the other hand, watched over the camp that night.

The next morning, following breakfast of jelly-filled snack bars, we stood around drinking coffee. One by one, we each took turns walking down the side trail to the open-air, fiberglass latrine over a shallow pit. At the creek, drinking coffee, the others could see the head of the person sitting, looking embarrassed, and only wanting the natural privacy which brush and branches from downed trees could not provide.

We encountered no problems walking out, or getting back to the shuttle car. After taking time to shop in Two Harbors, Mary and I drove home to Wisconsin. She dropped me off at my parent's farm, with my parents happy to see her again. The trip complete, at home in Amery at Looey's house, and future camping trips to come, these low adventures continued to tell me more about the nature of nature and the nature of human relationships than I ever realized before starting to walk the Superior Hiking Trail. I concluded that I wanted to trek some more. Craig and I definitely would.

Sub Terra Vita Chronicle #54 Pieces of Time


Sub Terra Vita Chronicle #54
Pieces of Time
By Tim Krenz
December 2018

As most people know, at least those who know me well, I like wearing watches on my wrist, to tell “my time” accurately. I often wonder about my near-obsession with knowing the exact time. Most folks tether themselves to their smart phones or other devices in everything they do. A cell phone does not own my attention, but my watches have always felt like part of my left forearm—whole and inseparable. To not wear my watch, by pure accident of forgetting, or when one does not work, feels like a ghostly amputation.

When young, my father drilled into my head the virtue of “show up at least five minutes early, no matter what.” As a pretty good taskmaster and role model, I follow my father's advice, to the tune of my absurdly great punctuality. If I show up five minutes early, I feel uninhibited about leaving early.

I found in my life, whether wearing a Jedi watch, an old-school Swatch, my now-broken Donald Duck watch, or the really old and broken Marvin the Martian watch, that I imperfectly adduced, my very own philosophy of time. After all, I only need to add an “e” at the end of my name, “Tim,” to get the word that I seek to understand in concept, that concept of “time.”

As I approach the half-century mark of my time on earth, I see many others lucky enough to keep their internal watch wound up and running, and all the while I hope that the clock of loved ones keeps going. Whether family, friends, or others too good for this world to lose, the clock does tick, but I remain grateful that their chronometers keep working.

Time. It controls our lives, as time determines the length of living. Each person as an individual moves on that line we call time. On that line, we have birthdays and anniversaries, appointments and schedules; clocking in and clocking out of work; deadlines for work; wasted time spent useless in between; waiting for others; and constructive uses of time to keep our minds and hands occupied; and, sadly, and tragically, our time may unexpectedly end far too early. We humans have these influences to mark our time and hopefully make us men and women fit or better for our time. If really lucky we may shape the time in which we live.

With these issues of time, we do not seem to have a good philosophy of it, something around which we can build a more ideal state of mind or spirit. Like any philosophy, we must construct one about time each on our own. Such a philosophy should not replace our ideas or ideals of a god, godhead, or other self-revealed knowledge. Any philosophy of time should only enhance and enrich whatever beliefs we hold in the first place—about our place in the intricate fabric of space and time. Does everyone grasp the scope of triumphs well spent, when we spend our lives doing that which we love, and with the ones we love the most? For the limited time of one life span, when compared to the history of the universe, we need to jealously guard our time, give it to other things grudgingly, and claw it with our dulling, sore fingernails. When we realize the undue inevitability that we can do more with the time we have, we might think differently about a useful personal philosophy of time.

My father used to wear his father's gold wrist watch, a very special one,with the words “Hamm's” on the face plate. My grandfather worked at Hamm's Brewery in St. Paul his whole adult life, except for the years of the Second World War when he, like other members of his family, served as an enlisted man in the United States Navy. Grandpa's co-workers at Hamm's presented him with that gold watch at his retirement shortly before he passed away around the time I turned 10 years old. My father no longer wears Grandpa's watch because it does not work well all of the time, and Dad has another wrist watch. Dad keeps that gold watch in his special box where he has other mementos of very important value to him that he collected over a lifetime. Once in a while, he hands the things out as the years go past, to me and the other members of my family. A watch may keep time, but only as long as it functions. For me and my own philosophy of time, a good rule becomes: Keep the wrist watches and timepieces in good repair.

Time, like space and position, gives us perspective. Often, we may look at the same things differently from other positions. And hindsight in history always look somewhat different backwards along the time line. As history, a story may regress to first causes, or previous position, the way archaeologists date the time of their findings. In the life of one (or two) old people each 100 years old, a far away world long ago appears reachable. Two such persons a century old standing next to each other and holding hands, and we have a timeline that spans back to when Napoleon haunted the hills of his exile on St. Helena after his battle at Waterloo. Four such people in a line and holding hands, and we have a time-continuum reaching back to right before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth colony and made their first Thanksgiving. To stretch it back even more, twenty people of one hundred years of age, and we have the rough time frame of Pontius Pilot and the trial of Jesus. Thirty people a century old and holding hands, the accumulated years touch the shores of ancient Troy and the combat of Achilles and Hector. History, then, in time and in tangible human form brings us back a long, long way. In this sense, history remains near, and within our grasp to remember on the line we call time.

How does time begin? Astrophysicists call the event the “Big Bang.” Albert Einstein's theories say that space and time exist as one influencing the other, in a similar way the 19th Century American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson called the grand spirit the unified and indivisible “One.” Space and time, according to Einstein, bends, slows, and warps itself and even affects light, as his General Theory of Relativity explained how gravity functions in the universe. In the equation, E=MC2, “C” represents the constant speed of light, at around 186,000 miles per second, which Einstein used to represent the base-line of time in his theory. He used the constant “C” because he could find no other reliable and objective chronometer (clock) to make the calculations. According to the scientists, the speed of light in a vacuum and unaffected by gravity represents the only real way we know our age, as a universe. I wonder if we can accept that? It takes a while, but I did finally accept it. Another good general rule in my philosophy of time becomes: Accept the time as it exists and not as I would have liked it otherwise.

In the telescopes, astronomers look outward, and always backward in time, to see the early light of the universal dawn, closer to the beginning of time, in order to understand more of existence. They explore the depths farther out to see the internal logic of the great force of time and space. How it affects our reality, here and now, I cannot know, but in the present, I only know that none of us have enough of the time we want. This brings me to another rule: Use the time allowed for what I want to do, and not wait to do good and great things for people I love.

In a temporal sense, the line of time, the taskmaster that limits things to come, gives us opportunities to clew to it, enjoy it, and to benefit from the time we have on earth. Forget space, briefly, and all the science. On the other hand, on a spiritual level, time can also magically renew and reveal to ourselves the inherent powers we have to heal, help, balance, reflect and to correct. If we accept that life has justice, we must trust that time will do that justice, especially for those who live honest, good and loving toward themselves and others. We cannot make more time, due to the wisdom of whoever or whatever created it. As George Harrison once sang, “All things must pass,” both bad things and good. Time changes things. A rule: Let time change things, in and around us.

About ten years ago, I received a present from my parents at the family Christmas Eve. I opened the wrapping and the container and I found one of my father's heirlooms from his special box. He gave me a gem of a chronometer, from my grandfather or an uncle, I do not know which. He gave me a pocket watch, stainless steel with a glass face. Time in a box! On the back, it had engraved “US Navy Bureau of Ships, Comparing Watch, 1943.” A true wind up watch, I carry it only on specific occasions. I found it to valuable personally to carry it casually, even on a chain I added to it. Since I have to wind the old watch to keep it going, I wondered if I can keep the clocks ticking by my efforts. Given the times, I must try.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Critique of Politics #4: Voting as a Privilege But Power of Consent as the Future of Freedom


Critique of Politics #4: Voting as a Privilege But Power of Consent as the Future of Freedom
By Tim Krenz
December 3, 2018
For: Hometown Gazette

In this fourth part of the critique of politics, we must first dismiss the absurd view that every person has an inalienable, natural right to vote in elections. None can claim the right by any definition other than as human-made and therefore a legally transient, even temporary privilege, when using ballots cast by qualified electors. No right given by nature, and therefore above the laws made by men and women who can revoke them, guarantees the exercise of voting in a democracy, or in a republic, or in any type of government. Partly for this reason, voting itself will not make a better future. Why?

Voting simply comes by way of extended privileges, granted by an authority seeking the approval of those it governs for the actions it takes. Those entities extend a franchise to electors so that it can narrowly define and limit the question of “who gets to choose.” By doing so, the system limits choices by default. On the other hand, the natural right of consent of the governed for its government exists outside of the human-made laws, and the act of giving or withdrawal of that consent remains a pure and inalienable right of citizens. This distinction of natural versus human-made laws and rights looms large in implication for the future of freedom everywhere, and also for continuing the republic of the United States of America, specifically.

Why does voting not exist as a pure and natural right? First, the entity, whether a government or a private body, may set the terms and limits of an election. Doing so, that corporate body (public or private) can by its own laws—and even sometimes by quite arbitrary decisions—decide who can vote, where, when and how. That decision-making body can also enfranchise OR disenfranchise voters by the same means. For example, it can set the following: age limits, property requirements (not only for stockholders in private enterprises), proper permits to vote (“voter identification” laws), race, gender, levels of literacy, criminal record, etc.

All of these limits and disqualifications to vote at one time existed under the Federal constitution within U.S. territory Most of the otherwise limiting restrictions for keeping voters disenfranchised, particularly age, race, gender, and literacy and property requirements, got fixed or redefined by amendments to the Federal constitution or via Federal statutes. (For example, the “Voting Rights Act,.” first passed in 1965, came over 100 years after the ratification of the 15th Amendment supposedly removing voter discrimination related to race, etc.).

Still, why a legal privilege and not a pure, natural right? Statutory codes, ordinances, even constitutions, come by way of political compromises between men and women. Where voting in the U.S. mostly, and correctly, expanded the limits of citizens qualifying as electors who can cast ballots in elections, men and woman can also undo those laws and constitutions. Everything in the United States Constitution (ratified in 1788-89) and all amendments remain temporary and may one day get revised or voted out of existence. We shudder to think of that, but it still remains entirely possible, even if improbable.

Where humans agree to create something, humans can agree to destroy the same. The same logic applies to voting. Having made democratic elections part of the Federal system, as a compromise system of government, the rights of the Constitution made the privilege of voting a norm. Sometimes people take norms for granted, in an act of misplaced complacency about politics. The compromise that created the Constitution may one day compromise the end of itself and of the voting privilege. No natural law or natural right, above a human ability to allow something to replace it, protects the Constitution as a permanent feature of government in the United States. In this sense, as in the Civil War from 1861-1865, only the force of armed force would ultimately determine its fate.

Opposing this stark reality, citizens in the United States have another means to exercise control over those they elect to conduct government over them, a means based on the pure natural right of the consent of the governed. As implied above, a natural right exists above and beyond the ability of human-made law to disqualify, suppress, oppress, or destroy. A natural right survives all attempts at compromise and it exists in perpetual form, not as a privilege but as a fundamental right of human existence.

Natural rights transcend everything. And consent or withdrawal of consent comes as a choice, a duty, a service, and an obligation. This demands more than group action at election time. The right of consent or its withdrawal demands an extremely personal vigilance and a very personal action. It means the oath to defend for all each and everyone's freedom from fear, from want, and for speech and for worship. These freedoms that would not harm others or steal from anyone make up the essence of peace and liberty for the world.

Consent of the governed comes in many ways, not just in voting but it involves voting. In this commitment, the moral consent of the ethically governed stands as the greatest tool, or the best weapon (in a non-violent sense), that can protect the body politic. That body, the whole of a citizenry, needs constant protection from the diseases of power which infect the powerful people who may govern. To prevent compromises from overwhelming the delicate balance between individual liberty and the needs of the community as whole, everyone must make this personal commitment. In this singular and most serious act, people everywhere--every citizen, anywhere—has to defend the high moral of rights for all and the ethics of freedom for all against any enemies who would subvert these.

How to make consent a practical way of change? First, each person individually must make the voting count. Do not perpetuate an evil or a corrupt system, or ill-defined choices within it. Vote on the extreme merit of conscience—for any candidate or cause that makes sense to a person's reason, and for ones that advance their consent for right and against wrong.

Second, protect the system of voting by voting at every opportunity. Never let anything steal a person's voice in the casting of ballots, through ignorance of choices or by apathy of means. Keep the privilege alive by exercising it.

Third, and importantly, without harming others or destroying their property, take every action within the limit of human-made law to call fraud a fraud and then support good with good. Exert the moral force of peace and non-violence in all manners of resisting an evil or a corrupt system. Stay creative.

Fourth, demand better choices, in and outside of elections, by voting with feet, money, and consent, or its withdrawal—at any time and any place—for the public actions of public servants and public persons. Work to create alternatives and then exercise the choice of them.

With enough people doing these things, all of the time, the future of freedom prevails, but only if people make the ultimate commitment of their conscience.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Critique of Politics #3: Political-Economy and the Relationship of Power and Money


Critique of Politics #3: Political-Economy and the Relationship of Power and Money
By Tim Krenz
October 5, 2018
For: Hometown Gazette

We cannot separate the relationship of politics and economics any more than we can separate a head from a body and still have a whole living person as a remainder. Politics and economics exist in a fusion of interests and control, in a mutually integrated system of influence and resources. Actions in one part will react in the other, and in a system of gain and loss, the impact works to increase the control of wealth and the uses of that wealth for the desired end. Politics controls and economics responds. One or the other seeks to increase its power to control or exercise the other.

In a simple model of understanding: Politics determines the answer to “who gets what and why do they get it?” Economics answers the question of “when, where and how do they get it.” The variable of reference to “they” becomes all important and critical to the success and endurance of power and the resources behind it. This model, and the nature of a political-economy in both pure or base forms, transcends any sense of partisanship. No party acts any differently when in power.

Academics insist that both politics and economics operate within a domain of social sciences, sciences subject to research and statistics, abstract theories and models of decision-making, and even to the study of preferences and replacement variables. Politics and economics work partly this way, according what the idea presented in this paper. But in many ways, taken as a whole in the union of a political-economy, politics and decision-making have more of a social scientific bent of psychology, and the motivations behind fear and greed, which fear and greed often make up the significant factors in any type of conflict of interest.

Leaders, like average people, fear for losing what they have or want opportunities for more of it. They often enter into competition for the very greed of wanting more or something that belongs to others. In politics, psychologies respond to many situations, and can act in realistic and even rational ways in the sense of protection, but they still base decisions on the fear of losing or the greed more more (in whatever terms sought, like security, life, liberty or property). Yet, political leaders will succeed or fail in their efforts to direct others toward personal or common goals based on a type of genius, like those of great artists, who can give others the interpretations they want to represent. In political leadership, artistry and originality can make differences. Simply, politics depends mostly on what people want to believe as their own interest in an act of decision-making. Deciding who gets what and why results as the payoff for support, or as its punishment for opposition (in “Who gets less,” etc.).

Economics has less the nature of social science, where numbers would matter on the perception of decision-making, and it acts more like the science of physics. Starting with the premise of economics delivering the benefits or detriments of “when, where and why,” wealth—ultimately defined as the sum of resources in its many forms—follows a path of gravity towards the least resistance to politically-directed programs. Like light in space or water downhill, capital—the liquid form of wealth—will flow to an eventual stable dynamic or state of productivity and consumption. Furthermore, like the hard science of physics, engineering can manipulate the flow and direction of wealth/energy (i.e. resources) to its desired direction and end uses. Finally, like all physical energy, wealth never gets created nor destroyed: it merely changes form into something else or into other hands of ownership. Economics mostly works these ways, invariably, and almost predictably.

Government as the political form of decision-making over the structure, or the engineering, of its economy determines how the resources get used. The exception to these loose rules of political-economy usually come into play where economics has its own uncertainty principle, or the uncertainty of the value or ownership of a particular resource. Where in doubt, governments as political agents will decide to make the value or ownership of a resource some one's or some entity's property. They can do so arbitrarily, but will do so to benefit the prevailing framework of “who gets what and why?”

On other levels, too, the symbiotic connection of political power and economic wealth reinforce each other. Political power controls the economy; economics will often dictate political power. Political decision-making will direct wealth to desired outputs—where the wealth (i.e. resources) will most benefit the political agenda. Whether wealth benefits a narrow or broad interest almost seems immaterial at this point. It does not involve parties but only interests. Wealth can go to taxpayers in structured ways. It can go to areas of the population or to business interests in the forms of subsidies. It can go into broad areas of investment for reasons only directly related to political choices—to national defense, industrial production, roads, education, public services, etc. The politics determine the uses of wealth, and does so for political reasons.

At the base, the type of government matters on how resources get used. The philosophy, theory, and practice of political leaders serve the ends of their legitimacy and to help the system maintain its power over the ruled. And either the willing acceptance or brutal repression of subjects to the sovereign law allow political leaders its dominion and control of the resources, that wealth that provides the security, comfort, the consumption or the want of goods and services.

As mentioned, the psychological factor of politics, the very genius and artistry of leaders to remain ahead of their competitors and remain in power, ultimately depend on the use of economic resources in a way that complements their power. No rational system of politics can work against its own interest and remain in power. Living conditions and the demand for shares of the national wealth help balance the system between the needs and wants of competitive interest, keeping everyone with a willing interest to continue to live under the conditions which prevail.

Governments, sovereign political entities within their domain of territory and that subject to its will, have remained throughout history the kings of their lands and the resources which stem from it—from the land itself, from the creative impulse of its citizens, from its capital gains, or from the labor of physical force. Politics will continue to decide on the broad features of how it accumulates and distributes wealth. It will always do so, as long as politics has the force to back up its claim to legitimate power, whether through ballots or bayonets. Until political power becomes less an imposition in the free lives of property owning people of a land and time, economics will continue to serve as means for some group to control others. Thus, it behooves citizens to keep their knowledge increasing, to build private property, and to limit the reach of government that does not serve their interest.

Sub Terra Vita Chronicle #53: The Life That Fell Upon Me: Confessions of an Underground Writer


Sub Terra Vita Chronicle #53: The Life That Fell Upon Me: Confessions of an Underground Writer
By Tim Krenz
September 27, 2018
For NormalcyMag

This Autumn, as I approach the age of 48, I need to reflect on how on the god's good earth I got to this point, to my role as a writer, let alone an editor and publisher of cultural magazine??!! I graduated from the university in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, twenty-five years ago this past summer. Much transpired in my professional journey and personal adventure since those post-school pretensions to pursue scholarship in the academic field of history. All that has happened took place within the personal dialectic of successes and failures, leading to more successes and failures, and so on.

Some of the journey should not surprise me, even if the entire adventure looks incredible in retrospect. Yet, the career in writing all began even long before my high school graduation in the spring of 1989. I know, in fact, that the story begins before starting kindergarten, with the day I first spelled my own name.

Having my sisters teach me the “ABCs” caused me no end of struggle, particularly as I thought “and” in the “-n-Z” made up its own two letters, repeating a second “n.” Somehow I managed to eliminate the second “n” as most people should do. Then, I do not remember the exact date, or the year it happened. One day at home, with sunshine coming through the roll-out living room windows, my siblings off at school, I remember I had an over-sized pencil in my hand. On a piece of paper, on top of my toy yellow semi-truck car carrier as a desk, I wrote (rather imperfectly in penmanship), the proper noun, “tim.” I took the paper and ran into the kitchen, where my mom did the dishes. “Is that my name?” I asked her. “Yes,” she said. I proceeded to jump around in joyful blast of energy. Strangely, both at that time and still now, I knew that I would grow up and become a writer. A stranger journey began in earnest. I have followed it, willingly and even with resistant, ever since.

In grade school I wrote stories in and out of class. I wrote letters, even “strategic” memorandums to the president of the United States. On one warm summer's night, in my bedroom at a fold out desk in the corner, I copied out on the backside of three small sheets of my father's scrap paper from work a “gazette” of sorts: My first newspaper publishing venture. The next day I sold all three copies to my sisters and brother for a dime each. I made the equivalent of 15 cents an hour for the effort. Even then, like all struggling writers, I could never manage to put a proper profit margin on my efforts. I found out since that all writers struggle with that throughout their lives.

I remember Mrs. Hartman's fifth grade homeroom at Osceola Elementary School. Our home room class put together a school newspaper issue as our spring project. As an avid reader of newspapers, news magazines, and history books from the assorted school, public and private libraries, I used my interest in that area for my contribution to the “Hartman Times.” I still have the extant copy in my archives. The article from the spring of 1982 examined the Falklands War and the sinking of the Royal Navy ship, H.M.S. Sheffield. Also, in Mrs. Hartman's class, we had to keep a journal on various assigned topics or for general writing. I do consider that my first journal, and, yes, I still have that theme book edition in my archives, too.

Writing always came easier than reading, but I had to work hard at both of them growing up. I still do. I could never spell well, and I fought a discouraging dyslexia all through high school. Sometimes, it still crops up. Yet, as a result of writing and reading, two major themes in high school became apparent concerning my future. I would do something that involved writing. Second, I really, really did well at history, current events, and philosophy.

Two bad things about middle and high school surfaced, too, and would cause me some degree of trouble. First, I hated manipulative controls on my own inquiry into the world. And worse, I hated bad people who either failed, tormented, or humiliated kids—or all of the above combined. I did, though, learn a critical insight. The lesson: All private and public institutions, indeed ALL things involve the interplay of politics, personalities, positions, and power. The good people in institutions remained humble and kept their humanity and empathy intact. Funny, I learned this vital curriculum before age nineteen. The lesson rarely fails me when I put it in the perspective of whatever I do. These matters all pertained to the “what” and the “why” I write.

On the positive side, more than a few teachers and administrators and support staff really delivered HUGE gains to students, and to me in particular. For the students who could perceive it, these wise and honored ones earned more than their weight in pure salt in how they carried their lives, their personalities, and their empathy into us and for what they taught. They treated us as fairly as possible. These good ones let us inquire and develop. These teachers and the other people just had the knack, to teach us to live and think, and to express ourselves and explore ideas and the world without fear. They held us accountable, yes. And, yes, sometimes we deserved a little punishment. The big difference? They never acted unjustly or in retribution. I have too many to mention in such a short article, but those teachers know already and some have passed. Thank you, for helping make me a person who writes!

Not a very good grade-oriented student, for obvious reasons, I somehow made it into university. I started as a journalism major for one semester. That first year, though, I had a two-part history survey course of western civilization. In those classes, I had a professor who subsequently remained a life-long mentor, friend, and motivator in all that I would do professionally. Because of Dr. Walter J. Wussow, Ph.D., I changed to a history major and declared a political science minor right before registering for second semester classes.

I found my three and a half years of history course work intellectually challenging, and the writing very intensive. I started keeping a regularly written journal my sophomore year, a series of notebooks which continues to the present. Including two English professors who taught history degree required writing courses, August Rubrecht and Gloria Hochstein, my biggest challenges came from the writing for each history class. My senior year, I took my two-semester capstone methods and writing series from my adviser, Dr. Maxwell P. Schoenfeld. I earned that paper to graduate with every tear, nightmare, blood- and ink-stained finger I devoted to it.

For health reasons four weeks before graduation, I had to take a leave of absence. Demoralized, depressed, sick and unsightly and defeated, I remember seeing my mentor on the elevator. We had not yet become such friends that we made after he retired the following year, but Walt Wussow knew my struggle, understood the circumstances, and he saw me, and he spoke to me amid the crowd riding the car down to the ground floors. “IF you need ANY help at all through this with the administration, you come and SEE ME, or Warlowski,” the latter name referring to the department chair. As physical skeleton, pale as a zombie, and without a soul in my eyes, that ONE vote of confidence in me, that one act of kindness by Walt saved my future. Somehow, that summer I returned to school, earned my degree, and ran like hell with no destination in mind.

What next? I had no fucking plan. I had no money. I had little hope. I really had no future. I knew little. I started a career in the political adviser field. Within two years of graduation I had started The Cepia Club as a little project. I could write non-fiction under my own real name. I had already adopted a pen name my junior year in university as a lark, as a way to keep the creative writing separate if I chose to do that. I had never before thought of anything else but writing in high school. Now, I needed a purpose. How to bring it all together?

I understood two things. I could really, really learn to write so others could read it. Therefore, I kept up my journals, and I sharpened my skills everyday for years to develop a written style of clarity, simplicity, precision, and brevity in the American language. As I healed that summer of 1995, I still had not found my calling, but I knew I needed to write to help me with self-understanding. Could I use writing to help others understand the world and their lives just a little better? I meant not just in the political field, but in the inner ways that can make light bulbs glow off?

At the end of that summer 1995, I sat watching the Packers opening game at my sisters with my brother-in-law and nephew. Then, in a way that President Carter had once discussed world policy with his teenage daughter (without such fraught fears from the national press), I consulted with my eight-year old nephew, Andy. Rather, he consulted me and asked me questions about my future. Huh? I had no idea. “Why don't you really just become an real author or something?” Well, I never wanted to disappoint anyone, but I had done enough of that. I resolved not to disappoint my nephew. Nor could I refute his logic. In the mind of the children things look so very clear. May we all achieve that clarity we had when youthful. To my nephew's question, I answered, “Yeah, why don't I.” That sealed the fate and I have not stopped my quest for writing better, and writing with more empathy and honesty, ever since.

Sub Terra Vita Chronicle #52: Lake of Booms and the Eternal Youthful Summer of '76


Sub Terra Vita Chronicle #52: Lake of Booms and the Eternal Youthful Summer of '76
By Tim Krenz
For: NormalcyMag
August 17, 2018

Looking back to my then-five-and-half years of age, some summer memories may meld into one. Yet, the details of the specific summer of 1976 might not matter too much. Still, though, 42 years later, I remember quite a lot. Other things I see in old family photographs, and I can honestly say, “Yeah, I remember that!”

In the summers growing up I can remember going to Big Lake, only several miles east of Osceola, Wisconsin, to spend summer weekends at my Granny Kietly's old cabin. Before my uncle purchased the property to build his house over the old site, that old, rough, dark brown building of stripped and painted log poles had that vintage look. It also had a vintage feel inside, where the logs sheened in a polished glow like thinned, golden maple syrup. The kitchen always smelled like coffee cooking fresh on the gas stove. That smell permeated the entire four room interior wrapped around the stone and mortar fireplace and chimney. (Around that chimney, my uncle built his entire new house).

The big yard stretched from the cabin out to the woods behind it, next to the old ox-cart path that served as the cabin-owners' road around the east and north side of the lake before the construction of the newer road on the other side of the woods. On the north side of the property, sat the old-fashioned, old-school, old-scary wooden outhouse. In the front side of the cabin, facing the lake, the hill down-sloped to the water, quite steeply, so that it required the construction of cement steps to the cement block storehouse off where Granny put her dock. Off that dock, we had a nice swimming area, without weeds and with a gravel bottom near the shore.

To go to the cabin always meant plenty of family and family friends, the whole kit, kith, and clan of the tribe. I had a lot of cousins, and the gatherings, though large, remained very familiar, intimate, and fun, especially the one very special day every summer. For every Independence Day, nothing seemed out of place in life's young order of things. That particular holiday always took its place as the highlight of any summer, at least in the grandeur of my memory. And the grandest time of all, I think, of my life in any summer, came that Bicentennial year of 1976, the nation's two hundredth birthday.

The entire year until that July 4th anticipated the event we celebrated. Bunting and flags appeared almost everywhere, especially as the weather warmed and the holiday itself approached. I may not remember much of anything to do with the Vietnam War, or Nixon's resignation over the Watergate burglary. Some news from that era I do remember, and those events and the people I clearly recall: The Montreal Olympics; Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State, and his news making. Even if not so much in context, I remember those things. In that time, about which I know more from the study of history, things seemed a little strange—macromae hanging crafts, bell-bottoms, the start of disco—and the entire decade of the Seventies—had strange things about them and very odd, different vibes.

On the other hand, I remember that Independence Day of '76 quite well. My family explained the holiday to me and related it to my purpose of awareness for its very importance, that somehow the nation survived two hundred years and the recent turmoils. Reflecting now, we perhaps felt lucky to have made it so far, as indeed our luck and hard effort keep holding it together. If anything, I remember this: We celebrated, everyone, and everywhere. I could see it and hear it, all of it for gratitude and joy, and pride. And that year, 1976, inevitably becomes entwined in the one place that meant family, friends, feasts, fun, apple pie, huge gas-guzzling automobiles, and the Old Glory of the flag. At Granny's cabin, Independence Day, July the Fourth, 1976, it all came into one.

The holiday always started with picnic food, whether grilled or cold, and with homemade sweets and bakery desserts. Feasting went on throughout the whole day. But to a kid, the hardest part about the afternoon of Independence Day came when waiting for the light to fade—for a dark night sky—and for the fireworks. But first, we had swimming to do, which we could not do for an endless hour after we ate, something unfathomable to our incredulous minds. It had something to do with getting cramps in the legs when swimming too soon after eating. The older adults said that could cause us to drown. It did not matter that I wore a crappy, orange-colored life-vest, the type no one ever wanted to wear, because I had not learned how to swim. It never made any sense to me to have to wait after eating to swim since I could not swim without that life-preserver, anyway! The “ugghh” of children toward adult logic. Eat a couple of potato chips. Wait one hour. Beach time blasphemy!

When swimming around the dock, my sisters, brother, and cousins and I all had great fun with my uncle's canoe. Often we would flip it over-side, half submerge it and we would come up from beneath it into the air pocket of its shell. We did this, of course, while Granny's pontoon boat cruised the lake several times a day with a pick up of adults for regattas with lake neighbors. Sometimes, the kids would go along to swim or fish off the pontoon farther off the shore. That gave us a treat, but it freaked me out even wearing a life vest.

Swimming never came naturally to me. As the youngest, by six years, of my own family of seven children, and with many older cousins, it never posed a fright or a danger unless in deeper water. Everyone watched out for everyone, especially for my younger cousins and I. I loved playing in the water, like most kids on hot, hot summer days. But growing up, I heard the story of how my brother learned to swim off Granny Kielty's dock.

Some days at the lake, my one uncle, Francis (married to my mom's sister), would bring his SCUBA gear. As a fire-rescue diver in the big city, he knew the craft well. It purely fascinated me. He would gear up like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, enter the lake, look at some type of compass, and disappear for a long time. He would visit the neighbors and family friends on the north side of the lake, he would report after coming back from his excursion.

The holiday proceeded in those endless hours after lunch swimming my body to cold, clammy, pruney, fingers, toes, and blue lips. As night neared, the fireworks show approached. Before that time came the ordeal of the mosquitoes. They would get quite fierce. Fighting, slapping, and deterring nature's little kamikazes took effort before ingenuity prevailed. Until the advent of the better “blue light special” zapper lanterns that cooked up a “zzzzttt!” every second, a fire ring in the back yard would keep the bugs away by smoke, light, flame, or whatever it did to them down. Of course, we used obscene amounts of aerosol bug spray, which never seemed to work too well. Later in life, we learned that it worked best of all at killing the vital atmosphere that protected the earth. Hmmm. Though even on warm July nights, hooded sweatshirts became the norm to keep the 'skeeters from biting. The bugs did mean one thing. Darkness approached deeper and with it approached the fireworks show on the lake.

The fireworks always started around sundown. First, came the minor ordinance, some of it the old-fashioned type that could have blown off a hand, and somethings of similar power. And, surely, we had the smokejackets, the sparklers, and even the hand-held Roman candles. While still partly light after the sun set across the lake, the sparklers marked time with the irritated patience running out of us. The big bonus of the holiday came later, but first we had the sparklers. As every child learns, one has only to touch a hot metal rod after the chemical material cooks off BEFORE if starts to cool in order to never do it again. Ouch!

For the fireworks on Big Lake, the Big Show came in spaced timings. A few cabins would light off one or two big rockets, then some more cabins would do the same, and then a whole bunch would come. The best fireworks on that lake I saw through my whole youth came at the Bicentennial celebration. It marks a lifetime highlight for the Spirit of '76. Fireworks have their dangers, and it takes special care to do it both safely and properly. At least at Granny Kielty's cabin, we had my uncle the fireman, who brought some of the best fireworks on the whole lake. It helps to have a trained professional on hand, in addition to his role as a SCUBA diver. That night, I knew I would see something special. In my life, although I often forget it, I lean on the practice of “safety first.” With a full-time, professional fireman, we had that covered. Light 'em up!

The world may make, sell, buy, and light bigger and badder fireworks, but except as an adult at private shows with friends, the fireworks craze today seems to miss the meaning of a true Independence Day, and reducing it to a display of shooting wads of money for the curiosity of gawkers. Curmudgeon me, I avoid the larger gatherings of crowds, of thousands of people, who waste a special family time for picnics and fun just to run and go watch a rather useless spectacle without context. It has, in my opinion, become a holiday of hollow meaning in that way. I feel the impersonal gathering of strangers does the modern “fourth of July” a dumbing down of a senseless “day off.” I say too much, perhaps. Keep a pointless number on the calendar if they want. Give me my Independence Day! I will allow people to disagree with me, but I ask others to give me my own feelings about that matter. It all goes back to the Spirit of '76—of 1976, I mean. For me, this applies in the strongest principle.

Now back to the story with less digression, the fireworks of that youthful summer's eve solidified my wonder and gratitude, my pride and my joy at the fortunate time I witnessed. Everyone sat on the hillside, on the concrete steps, on the wood benches half way up the hill, or at the top near the cabin. The day went past twilight enough to start the big show. In the northwest, a crest of blue-green horizon closed the day light like a window blind. It lowered to darken the big, outside, temporary theater of the country. No television tonight. Just an operetta of quick sights and thrilling, shrilling sounds, the aria to the Bicentennial. At the right time, the orchestra started with the overtures.

My uncle, with his handheld gas torch of blue flame, started lighting fuses at the back end of the pontoon, the end facing away from the shore. Almost foreseeing the moment, we had seconds to the first whoosh of red-orange flaming streaks that marked the flight of each rocket. The glowing embers trailed skyward to the blue and black space above our heads, toward the white stars which always backgrounded the wonderful canvas of the holiday.

Flash!-Boom! And the loud red-white-and-blue bursts sizzled in the streaming sprays of shapes, constellations of patriotism, whatever forms they would take. I think now of what I would have thought as a child of that time and place, smiling night-ward. More rockets. More flashes. Some rockets held a thunder, an extraordinary piece of explosive salute that echoed around the lake. From around the lake, like every year, more rockets, more flashes, and more booms, swirled around the rim of the shore. To the left, to the right, and to the west ahead. All the neighbors on the lake did not exactly coordinate the festive display, but it worked to everyone's delight to let off the fireworks on their own time and leisure. The spontaneous cacophony of celebrating a big Bicentennial seemed natural and fitting. Everyone had the same idea that night. And as my uncle proceeded to light our supply, he lit a mix of sprays, sizzlers, more bangs, and in colors of blue, green, red, orange, yellow, white, and even some louder ones, and some more sneaky, quicker; or slower, or higher, or the not so high. The lake lit them off that year, like no other year which proceeded or followed. The lake of booms for that holiday night came in its unique and thrilling way. After almost an hour, most of the lake's fireworks tapered in space and time, until just a few went skyward.

Late in the evening, the lake quieter, like every other weekend we drove home the short distance to Osceola. I probably slept in the car. The night finished, the Bicentennial complete, the national celebration over, the summer did continue.

I started school later that same August, my tour of kindergarten in the afternoon half-day of classes. After a couple weeks, the summer in our Wisconsin village of Osceola above the river of the St. Croix officially came to an end with the community fair. Although Independence Day passed months before, my family—my sisters and cousins and my aunt by marriage (who lived near us in town) made an entry for the “Kiddie Parade,” the annual children's costume contest. The very creative aunt took an old wooden barrel, big enough for my cousin, Chad, and I to stand inside of it, and she wrapped it in chicken wire. We spent the entire week before the Saturday afternoon judging putting red-white-and-blue tissue paper in the wire, and wrapping the mini-float on wagon wheels with patriotic ribbon and bunting.

Chad and I dressed in our costumes the day of the contest. We had hats, a tri-corner colonial hat and a stove-pipe red-white-and-blue one. In white shirts with the red-and-blue Knickerbocker pants and vests, and me wearing the white cotton Uncle Sam beard, Chad and I and the entourage of other siblings, cousins and friends dressed up around us, and received judgment. We won Grand Champion! We rode on the large flatbed truck in the Sunday parade, throwing out candy, and waving little flags of Old Glory to the crowds all down main street. I had a proud moment, indeed. My Bicentennial celebration in the Spirit of '76 vindicated, the memory remains complete.

No one can recreate anything to the exact way it happened, of course. And like the year-long festival 200th anniversary of the birth of the country, it will not probably happen again in my lifetime, or at least not the same way. As a diamond jewel in the memory of a now grown up adult, it has no parallel for what it means to me. It defined in a true time as a measure for what I hope every day—my freedom to recall it as I like.

Low Adventures: Trekking the Superior Hiking Trail Part 7: Oh, Christmas Tree! Oh, Christmas Tree! How that Ridge Belies Me. . .


Low Adventures: Trekking the Superior Hiking Trail
Part 7: Oh, Christmas Tree! Oh, Christmas Tree! How that Ridge Belies Me. . .
By Tim Krenz
October 10, 2018

After our winter sled and snow shoeing adventure in February, our most recent trip to the Superior Hiking Trail, Craig and I went on a side adventure to the backwaters of the St. Croix River. Camping on the “secret” un-designated site between Osceola and St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, we spent two nights, Friday and Saturday, over the daylight savings weekend.

The site on the little spit of land above the backwater of Rice Lake, which we reached by canoeing from Franconia Landing in Minnesota and then by a short walk, often served as a useful escape since before Craig went to do Peace Corps service in 1998. The trip that April went rather well and fun. That first Saturday morning, I woke Craig up at the equivalent of 5:45 AM, on his day off, when I already had coffee made and breakfast cooked. As the saying goes, “Never wake a sleeping Craig when you come across him in the woods.” Craig stayed a little grumpy the rest of the day and on into the evening. Ah, yes, never wake a sleeping Craig in the woods.

The rest of strip on the St. Croix River held little excitement, even if fun. Then, the long summer passed, and we finally came up with a plan in the fall for a one-day hike of the imposing section of the Superior Hiking Trail named Christmas Tree Ridge.

The process of planning trips always takes its round the circle course, all to get to the objective in the best way possible. And planning also always becomes a trade off between schedules, physical and material requirements, logistics of travel and lodging (if any while not camping along the trail), and, of course, time factors. Wrapped around all these variables, the most inflexible usually becomes time, hence why we had not trekked the trail since February. For the first Saturday of October, 2004, our trip to the trail started as an overnight backpacking trip from Beaver Bay to Split Rock River. Then, the plan changed several times, from staying at a camper only about 40 miles from my house, to camping overnight at a municipal campground in Two Harbors, MN, and then several iterations of all these options.

Craig, the main planner and recognized “Quartermaster” for all the low adventures to the Superior Hiking Trail, always did a great job with the details. I usually just needed to show up, ready, with my gear and with anything he told me to bring. As an aside, I almost always, though, brought one thing he told me to leave behind on every trip: My trusty camp hatchet. He hated me wasting the weight in my bag carrying such a tool. He thought it a dangerous tool, too. (I had to agree, after all the narrowly saved accidents I had with it). But Craig usually did a great job with the planning and I followed the plan. And for this one-day hike of 11.1 miles of trail, doing it on a Sunday afternoon with light day packs, he made some pretty good choices. As a reward for his good planning, I gave Craig one of the best laughs he ever had at my expense on any of the treks to the Superior Hiking Trail.

On that Saturday, at 5 PM, I picked up Craig at his parents house and we drove a good deal farther north than Duluth or Two Harbors, MN, on Lake Superior. Craig's dad, Don, had an old college friend, Wade, who would let us stay with him. We pulled into the drive way in the dark, to a beautiful log home, high above the rocky shore of Lake Superior. In the night as we unloaded gear from the car, with stormy, rainy, and windy air blowing fiercely, we could hear the swells of the big lake crash water on the shoreline behind the house. The sound of it felt like danger to the unwary of the fortunes of that large, freshwater body of inland sea. I realized at that moment that I should always respect the lake for its power, neither good nor bad, just power.

We visited with Wade for an hour, who Craig last met when age 13. After that, Craig and I settled into a room in the basement. Wrapped in my sleeping bag, I read about half of Aldo Leopold's “A Sand County Almanac,” and then fell asleep, with the fierce churning of an overworked sump pump waking me occasionally.

The next morning we took Wade to breakfast, as a very inexpensive expression of gratitude for letting us stay the night. I say inexpensive because Wade only had a bowl of oatmeal, toast, and an orange juice that morning. Following breakfast, Craig and I dropped off my car at Split Rock and Wade shuttled us back north to Beaver Bay, to a parking lot on County Road 4. We said farewell to our last-minute host. Then at exactly 8:30 AM, Craig and I crossed the road and entered the trail.

As I had started to read Leopold's book for a newspaper review column, almost immediately as I climbed through a muddy path or over corduroy logs set over the trail, I began to reflect on the book by one of the original naturalist authors of the 20th Century. In the midst of ferns and walking under trees dripping after-rain down on top of us, I never had conceived of myself as much naturalist or a conservationist, nor could I identify any of the plants, trees, animal signs by proper names or even many by common names. I noticed these objects of sight and sound on all the trips, but I always used some adjectives to give those nouns some meaning. I could describe these things, hopefully, well enough for listeners and readers. This trip, with “A Sand County Almanac” in my head, I looked around more, instead of only at the ground immediately in front of my feet. I had the cool revelation about the things I would normally fail to appreciate. Of course, I always saw them or just awed at the big vistas of valleys full of trees or meadows with grass, or whenever Lake Superior came into view. But, did I really understand the things, like the REALLY big picture or the small details?

After having read a chunk of Leopold's book before bed, I asked Craig the difference between the aspen and the birch, the pines, and more annoying questions. I may not have understood his answers as he walked in front of me. Yet, now I wanted to know more than I cared to know at other times. Like a women at the coffee shop said to me on my way to pick up Craig, “we need to recognize that things have intrinsic value beyond what they may provide for human necessity and comfort.” Sometimes, as I think Leopold intended in his writing, we can act as stewards of nature to enjoy it for what it does to our souls. We can have a desire to help sustain itself, which in the modern world nature most likely cannot do without some assistance. In doing so, we directly—even inadvertently—sustain ourselves.

The walk the first four miles traveled some distance along the western ridge of a big hill, a course with some open views of spectacular valleys at this time of autumn. Through these valleys, we got views of the Beaver River as it thundered its sound after the storms. The guidebook described trees and plants “precipitously dangling” from a ledge. We found that ledge. We sat there on a rock cliff, some hundreds or so feet high, looking and resting. At least the storms of the previous days had passed. The sky, though overcast, gave off its bright yellow sheen, one that matched the brown, leaf covered floor of the land we could see through the bare tree tops. Yes, I guess, even without specific knowledge of the name, class, genus, or common nouns to things, I could see the big, the bigger, and also the smaller pictures. Inside of me, I began feeling intrinsic worth for what I could outwardly see, hear, and feel.

Coming down the hill and walking around Fault Line Ridge (which has an ominous name), we reached a multi-group campsite and we bypassed a group of campers we could hear and smell cooking breakfast on a gas pressurized stove. That memory of fresh cooked bacon in the woods stays and the thought always entices me to go back camping at odd times.

Ahead and onward, we stopped at a knoll with a clear lake view at 11:30 for a twenty-five minute lunch and rest. Craig ate a ham and cheese sandwich he brought with him. True to my form, I ate a boring crunchy peanut butter sandwich. Adding some chocolate snacks, fruit, and Craig's homemade venison jerky, we drank water because we brought no stove with which to perk coffee. Along the trail again we went, two miles to another campsite, to the half-way mark of the section for our one-day saunter. I looked at a deer in the valley below and once Craig used the latrine, we started the climb up to Christmas Tree Ridge.

For this trip I had somehow gotten out of shape over the summer. I had some weird breathing problems a few weeks previously and I knew that the distance of such a long power hike would tax me. I feared it would break my will. And we did not know what to expect in terms of the ruggedness or lack of it on the ridge in the months of planning. Without a stop, I plowed ahead for the second five or six mile push on this trip to the car. Ready, we got after it.

As Craig and I say, we always felt that on some of the harder, longer walks that we always “chased Gunther,” the German guy who lapped us, twice, doing the Split Rock River loop on a previous trek. Chasing Gunther. That guy, who we just arbitrarily named Gunther, looked so fit and walked so fast with those ski poles, that he reminded me of a philosophical “Superman of the North Shore.” That spring day on the Loop, he plowed ahead, passing us on our side of the river, and then passed us coming down the other leg on the opposite side of Split Rock River. He made time on the trail. We could never emulate Gunther in his drive, or his speed, or the smallness of his backpack.

Now after the day I had so far walking and thinking of Aldo Leopold and his book, could I, or did I want to, match Gunther's incredible speed in walking? Would I even want to do it so quick? Did Gunther even see anything, see the intrinsic value of the things he passed at “weight-light-speed?” Perhaps he did, and I should not judge him. Besides my out of shape ungainliness and heavy packs on the overnight trips, I would look ridiculous trying to walk so determined. Now, I could see these traces and reflections of the trail both ahead and around me walking Christmas Tree Ridge. Because Craig asked me to go along, and yes, because Craig asked me to go along, what could I hope to learn about this whole trekking experience walking the Superior Hiking Trail? I decided at some point that I no longer needed to go on this adventure chasing Gunther.

Going up to the ridge itself took a small, steep climb and it burned my legs. Then on top of it, the ridge to our intense relief became a flat walk over a large, beautiful meadow of tall yellow grass, outcroppings of rock, and (what else?) Christmas trees! Some trees, full evergreens hanging with healthy needles, stood tall between sawed off or burned stumps, and that all seemed natural in the order of things. Those stumps did not scar my experience and we had a wonderful walk.

We had seen several grouse or some sort of birds throughout the day, fluttering feather wings up from the grass along the ridge. Coming down the ridge miles later, we heard a wolf wailing, not far from us, toward the big lake to our left and east. What a cry of the solitude, he or she moaned. The cry sounded a call to which no friends of the wolf responded. A sad thing, always: Alone in the forest by circumstance, not choice.

Three times on this trip, we came upon beaver dams. One of them actually formed the bridge over a swollen stream at the last campsite before we ascended the ridge. It had held water at a table five feet above the lower level, in a U-shaped masterpiece of natural engineering. After the third dam, we climbed downhill from the ridge and sat for a break at a campsite. We nestled on crooked ground beneath a dark canopy of tall evergreens to relax, drink water, and where I smoked a few cigarettes.

The rest of the walk went through a darker section of thick trees, one that let in little sunlight, stunting any underground and leaving an otherwise dirt bare forest floor. The temperature differences between open spots and shaded woods, even on an overcast day, make a noticeable change in early October along the north shore of Lake Superior. I noticed it by its extremes. Then, after our rest, we came to the last hill climb. We climbed it. Craig outpaced me by far as I struggled up the steep incline on the dark brown dirt trail. We followed the eastern ledge of the hill until the Superior Hiking Trail connected with more trails, one on the north side of Split Rock River that formed one leg of the loop, and the other trails leading down to the road and parking lots near the light house.

On the way to the spur trail to the east, toward my car, we decided to skip checking out on the ski shelter lean-to structure but we stumbled across something rather odd. On a piece of ground on top of dirt and a gray rock face, someone or some people had made a medicine wheel, or a witches wheel (I could not tell which). They had structured it using small, brown rock chips (abundant objects on that part of the trail), setting them in a pattern of symbols, etc. inside a circle made of larger pieces of stone chips. Someone, or an animal, had kicked one quadrant pie around, messing up and disordering the wheel and whatever powers (good or bad) the wheel represented. Craig and I looked at it for a minute. When we continued walking downhill toward the lake and the car, Craig told me to step around it. Around I went, staring at the strange encounter with a language and experience I did not comprehend, something good or bad, but also symbolic to others.

At the parking lot, we reached the car I borrowed from my parents, the “Little Casino” green Dodge Shadow, at exactly 3:30 PM. In seven hours, we walked a total of thirteen miles, which included the side walking and spur trails. We had done a good, long hike and added a chunk of mileage to our Trail total over the past two and a half years of part low adventures. Skipping to different sections as we spent only weekends and day trips hiking or backpacking, we both felt better about our ambition after the ridge. We still had a lot of trail to go to finish, though.

On the drive home, I felt the burn in my body. Thank goodness we had only carried light day packs with food, water, rain gear, medical kit, flashlight, and a few other items. As I drove, I could barely move my legs. At the Moose Lake gas station stop for coffee, it hurt getting out of the car.

Craig had already made his purchase and sat in the car when I exited the store. I once again vowed to never get so out of shape again before our next trek. And I gave Craig the best laugh he had on the whole experience of walking the trail as I approached “Little Casino.” For when I walked across the parking lot, I had my left hand lifting my leg to walk. I literally carried my own ass to the car!