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, December 29, 2015

Sub Terra Vita Chronicle #27—Part VI: A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground—Fortifying Us

Sub Terra Vita
By Tim Krenz
December 7, 2015

Chronicle #27—Part VI: A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground—Fortifying Us

Growing up in Osceola in the 1970s and 80s, we did not use personal devices. Indeed, we never imagined such things except in their Star Trek form, the tricorders, phazers, and communicators used by Kirk and Spock. While we did watch a LOT of television, some on fuzzy and snowy channels, it sometimes, and not always, came in color. Black and television even came to a pause in the night, by “signing off,” with fireworks, flag, and screen tone.

We found outlets, mostly involving the underground, to spice our time, when bored with t.v. The kids in the village became the masters, the architects, the engineers and builders of forts all over this place.

The first fort I remember, my siblings and the neighbor kids built along a dirt trail in a copse of oaks and elms not far from our house. Built with salvaged barn planks, if I remember correctly, it stood “hundreds of feet” high in the trees. I could only reach it by climbing up a “Swiss family Robinson” staircase, to a platform, and with my brother holding me, we swung by a rope over a “den of bears in a dry moat” to reach the main platform. From there we ascended to the “Tarzan condo.” Of course, we did, right? Those same trees no longer exist. Also, that path now forms Industrial Drive.

At what we knew as the “Clay Pit,” by the railroad and “Old M” crossing, my friends and I dug and burrowed badger holes, not too elaborate, but rather cavey. When it snowed, we sledded off that ledge, or rather just fell off of it, without too many broken bones, etc. We also played something akin to “Rock of Sogdiana” (google that), in red dirt, in snow, or dirty red snow, rolled, mounded and packed in castle-like imposing walls. Otherwise known as the epic tussles of King of the Hill, the loser could only fall so far there. It did not hurt, much.

Other forts abounded over the town. We would always find scrap pieces of discarded materials, a.k.a. garbage, with which to build our forts, and some of these had flooring. Whether the hobo shack down between the Upper Mill Pond and the Soo Line RR, or the stick-woven and grass-thatched “Gilligan” hut on the side of my hill above Third Avenue Creek, usable materials always surfaced. Often, they went at least a little below ground. Imagination, a rough scheme, supplies, tools, and us kids could overcome many boundaries of what we could build, provided we made it home for supper every night.

Some “forts” did not belong to us, but kind town neighbors would not mind the use of their “secret” picnic cave, with tables and seating carved from rock, under an overhang of cliff. We had only to provide respect and care, in order to enjoy the panorama north and south of the river valley, facing an orange autumn sun-setting under clouds reflecting a royal purple befitting kings. Other forts in the woods, and into hills, below village-level used natural materials, too, like green wood and fresh pine boughs (ooopps). However, they worked great for long-term, lean-to shelters in cold weather.

In winter time, indeed, we reached the pinnacle of fortifying our young lives with fun. When snow arrived, and got piled by plows, we burrowed tunnels and (near-) catacombs. The walls of rolled and cut snow blocks became ramparts and parapets emerging over days and weeks. Us Winter Knights, not watching television and before hot cocoa and supper, fought our dreaded foes on semi-Napoleonic scales of victory or defeat, pummeling us, pummeling others, with snow balls, or rather ice balls, for the right to proclaim one side the victor, the Kings of the realm—Lords and Masters of. . .the Fort.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Sub Terra Vita Chronicle #26—A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground—Continuing Education

Sub Terra Vita
By Tim Krenz

Chronicle #26—A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground—Continuing Education

Recruiting his closet friends among three sophomores and two juniors, the Chief Culprit who knew where the senior class hid the kidnapped mascot, rallied his demi-legion of wayward followers across a foul-line of rules never broken by students. Skipping lunch, and traversing in stealth across the crowded new library, the band of rebels entered the northwest hall, and stood at that Rubicon River, a non-descript door with a brown plate written across with white letters, reading “Staff Only.” Here, the beyond, went down to the labyrinth of the old Osceola high school on Cascade Street.

The door held a spell, on that “Staff Only”-deterrent, giving a momentary thought of imposing consequences. The principal, our very good man, indeed, ruled the teachers and the students, quite fairly. The teachers ruled their rooms, apparently, and had their own cloudy domain in the teachers lounge on Senior Hall. Until that day and past that door in the hall, no one of the six had an idea who or what really gave that school its heart and blood, and its moral center.

Opening that door, the conspirators followed the stairs down and to the right, beneath the new library. They entered a true, hidden underground, where many things previously unknown now came slowly understood. In the corner, the mischief gang found the misplaced Chieftain, that wooden statue, under some covering. So as not to turn this treasurer of fame into an accident of infamy, they carried the statue very carefully, though quickly, on its side ends, length-ways through the underground tunnels.

In the cramped passageways, the air hung dry, but oppressively hot, as the furnace boilers heated the water coursing through the school in winter. Pipes, covered in wrapping and plastered, crisscrossed the low ceiling of the narrow underground passages. The five students carrying the statue needed to crouch in the closeness between the floor and the above, if not from the lowness, then from the danger of knocking heads in the darker paths between the light and shadow of the few bank lights hanging down in the labyrinth.

Suddenly, to their left, in this cupboard stomach of the building, the Jokesters stumbled past the custodians eating their lunch in the dry hot of THEIR basement. The Chief Culprit said, “You didn't see anything.” Happily, the oldest custodian replied, “See what?” Without chipping the headdress of a single wooden feather, the gang went out another “Staff Only” door in the main basement, walk-ran down the hall between the shop classes and locker rooms, and out to the lower level parking lot and into the back of the waiting station wagon.

After hiding the statue at a safe house three blocks away for a few days, the underclassmen proved their own errors of their wayward youth. They returned the Chieftain to the seniors, and got the honorable mention, now lost with no fame three decades later, at the halftime rally in the school gym.

In this antic tale, something extraordinary happened in the perception of things, of how things really worked in that school and life, in general. Students, teachers, office staff aside, the custodians of that school, the janitors really knew everything, and they quietly watched over the students. The Chief Culprit, and the other guys, started to listen to the custodians, especially the wisdom of the one nearer retirement, he an uncle-like figure to generations of OHS students. He gave us wisdom beyond any measure of a teacher's scathing lesson or revenge in a grade. He, the “Uncle” eventually helped the underground education by helping us realize that the depths of things, in the hidden details, far exceed the vision anywhere one can look. Wisdom, for certain. Since then, the underground never ceases to educate, and surprise.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sub Terra Vita Chronicle #25—Part IV: A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground: Education of the Undergrounders

Sub Terra Vita
By Tim Krenz
November 16, 2015
Chronicle #25—Part IV: A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground: Education of the Undergrounders

Like all of life's education, high school also played an important in learning how to survive and thrive in the Valley Underground.

The old Osceola High School on Chieftain Street, now demolished and over-built, had its littler, and some rather larger, nooks, crevices, and passageways. Many of these domains belonged or connected to the personalities of the school experience. Those personalities who left a large imprint on life in Osceola—the staff and the custodians, the teachers, and the administrative workers—both taught formally and cared informally, for their students, not only in the book work and tests of the “formal” type, but with the sharper insights on life we learned from them, outside the classrooms.

To students, some grades mattered, some grades more than others, but inspiration, creativity, noble models, and personal ideals mattered most in the end. Such things we only learned later in life the importance they held. We had plenty of the good and bad impressions and examples to disseminate, sort away; to keep the best, of those people and lessons in our lives; and to learn from the inevitable mistakes all made at some point.

As kids, the non-permanent population of the high school, we used our transitory presence to shape our worldviews, although those would await important development much, much later, if lucky. We, the young, like the young always, explored limits, defined some edges, exceeded tolerances of a few of all descriptions, and otherwise tried to have fun.

In the Underground, and its true spirit, as we always should, fun must never take a mean spirit, or expense itself at the harm or cost of others, except at the frustrations of the senior class, who get a second, less satisfying laugh, in this,“Case of the Missing Mascot.”

By my sophomore year, that old high school underwent yet another construction and remodeling. In the old study hall and theater (a large, high ceiling, room used for other purposes, too), up the short steps from the old library in the half basement, the school had constructed a new media center, a.k.a., the new library. In the corner by the northeast entrance to that new library, the principal, our very good man Mr. Vesperman, proudly placed a 5-foot high wood carving, an artful and respectful totem, of our school mascot, the mighty Native-American warrior and Chieftain. Under many names, we must call him Osceola, that Seminole leader after whom our ancestors named our town on this bluff above the St. Croix River.

That 1986-87 school year, in anticipation of festivities upcoming, at the end of which we would hold an old-fashioned pep rally, the stern-smiling, and enigmatically grinning mascot disappeared. The senior class, or at least the more adventurous with good natures, kidnapped, temporarily, the Osceola mascot. They took him, the mascot, places, in Osceola and Dresser, over a couple days after school. He flew in planes, rode in vehicles, and stood symbolically in front of the sawdust pile at the lumberyard. All of this mascot-in-action appropriately got photographed. (Some, not all, of the photos found their way into that edition of the yearbook). Back at the school one early evening following more of the mascot's adventures, the “kidnappers” smuggled the mascot through the lower parking lot doors and hid him in a janitor's closet, behind the machine engines classroom, in the main basement across the hall from the gym locker rooms.

At that point, the case of the missing mascot became a little. . . bit. . . more. . . complicated. . .(This story continues in the next chronicle of “Sub Terra Vita”).

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Sub Terra Vita, Chronicle #24—Part III: Time Capsule: A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground

Sub Terra Vita
By Tim Krenz
November 9, 2015

Chronicle #24—Part III: Time Capsule: A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground

In my days of growing up in Osceola, it seemed my friends all grew up in basements, as indeed they might still do. While I had an atrocious basement in that century-old house (see Part II), most of my friends had functional, nice basements—family rooms of the sort. Whenever we friends hung out at someone's house, we usually spent time in their basement. In that setting, adults upstairs and kids down the steps, the kids ruled, in a sense, the underground.

My best friend, Paul, had the particular advantage of a split-level basement. In one corner, he had his room across from his sister's. On the other side, his parents had built a family room, off of which one found the utility room and an office.

Between the two sides of the basement, under the staircase that led to the front door,, in the far recesses of a storage closet, behind coats, canned goods, and through a crawl space, Paul had a small, hidden. . . fort. To get into the fort, we crawled through a two-foot by two-foot square hole cut into the drywall. As elementary school kids, the gang from the across the street and I spent endless after school times with Paul, bumming in the fort. Using a long extension cord into the hallway, Paul kept a lamp in the room. In the winter days, the fort became THE PLACE to play at that very memorable time and place.

Of course, we all grew older. We grew too old to play in the fort, and we grew too big to fit through the seemingly shrinking hole in the drywall. In middle and high school, we still hung out in basements—watching movies, games on television, played billiards, Halloween costume parties, and all the rest of the teenage things, before the reality of adulthood hit us with responsibilities, disappointments, and opportunities.

Kids in Osceola gathered at the Pizza Cellar, for food and the arcade, following Friday night football and basketball games. Other places, in the Osceola underground, hosted other chicanery, and serious violations of rules and curfews. Rock shows entertained us under the main street-ground-level; and some legends, well, have a basis in truth, as indeed all legends do. In retrospect, many things about basements remain the same, even if the same basements do not exist anymore, or now serve other functions. Some basements may have different owners, yet we still own how we remember them.

When Paul's parents moved from his childhood home in 2001, he, his three young daughters, and I, crawled back into the closet to look at the fort under the steps. Using the lamp on a big flashlight, we looked inside the hatchway. Like a time capsule, I saw all that he and I once knew as kids. We saw stickers for the original Star Wars (1977) we put on the walls; trading cards from the old, and horrible Battlestar Galactica television show tacked up on them, too. We saw posters and cartoons, and everything else from the weird 1970s, hung up, all relics from an era.

Amazing what one forgets, but like Tut's tomb in small scale, it looked of an ancient civilization entered by us in wonder and surprise. Paul left the fort as it looked when we finished. Then, we used a marking pen, and Paul, his daughters and I, signed our names, to let some future basement kids know, that “WE WERE HERE.”

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Sub Terra Vita Chronicle #23: Part II—Home and Youth: A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground

Sub Terra Vita
By Tim Krenz
November 2, 2015

Chronicle #23: Part II—Home and Youth: A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground

In the story of the St. Croix Valley Underground, it begins with my childhood home and my interest in politics from a young age. As a kid growing up in Osceola, I paid too much attention to current events and topics during middle school. I watched the evening news, read the newspapers and the magazines, and dug through the history books at the old public library on River Street.

On my thirteenth birthday, in 1983, the world watched the network television movie about a nuclear holocaust, The Day After. The movie opened an active imagination and horror in me, about a future all too likely at that point. Nothing made me more afraid than that daunting doom of nuclear war, nothing except the basement of my childhood home. That basement scared me!

In that house, one part of it already 100 years old by then, we had a sectioned off basement. The old part, under the original farm house, had walls of stones and mortar. We used that leaky, wet, damp, and dreary cold dungeon beneath the kitchen and one bedroom for normal things. We stored toys, hockey skates and sticks, canned and boxed garden produce, etc. and I used it as a roller and skate rink, wearing those old “tied-to-the-shoe-with-laces” roller skates, and those pre-cool, narrow, and hard-plastic skate boards of the 1970s.

One descended down an open staircase into that part of the basement, and near the top of those stairs, in a cubby-hole under the kitchen floor, our old family cat, Curly, gave birth to kittens. She kept her litter in that hole until they grew old enough to leave it without falling to a terminal concrete floor far below them. At the top, we also used the landing as a private phone booth. Fortunately, the cord from the old rotary telephone extended far enough from the mounting on the far kitchen cupboard to reach.

In the newer section of the basement, under the dining and living room, we kept the laundry, the furnace and fuel tank, the chest freezer, and a wood storage hallway leading up to the surface and the front yard. The wood we bundled down that stairwell for our large, welded-steel wood heating stove, one covered with a tin hood and forced air system. However, I considered the sump pump and hole by the laundry its own share of the Amityville horror, and I stayed far away from it.

The opposite sides of the stone basement middle wall connected by the “wicked witch-like” iron and heavy timber frame and door. Even though two separate rooms, I always considered each a mutually freaky, or worse, place to find myself, at night, when searching for the light fixture to pull the string, in the dark. Yep, creepy, horror-movie stuff.

After seeing that movie, The Day After, I entered my own debate about mutual assured destruction (M.A.D.), and what would my family, my friends, and Osceola neighbors do if fallout started falling from nukes. When I asked my brother this question, I remember he answered, “We'll have to live in the basement.”

Looking back, I must have thought, “Seriously. Just what I wanted to do. Live in that dungeon, while nuclear winter lasts and atomic zombies inherit the earth.” Nothing seemed attractive in that underground alternative life, but anything beats atomic vampires, right? But while still an Osceola youth, we had more, and better fun, and the young life party—in the valley underground.