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.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Sub Terra Vita Chronicle #33: Part XII: A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground: Surrounding Solitude

Sub Terra Vita
By Tim Krenz
January 25, 2016

Chronicle #33: Part XII: A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground: Surrounding Solitude

I grew up loving to camp, developing that underground consciousness for observant travel in low-key adventures. By now, mid-aged, I have camped in woods with swarms of big black flies; near waters of placid ponds or by loud rivers with swift falls; on red desert dust; across melting glaciers in a hot August; on mountains within reach of clear nights and crystal blue stars. By car, by foot and pack, by floating, by train, even by airliner, I sought these adventures, and I almost always come home, however, reflecting on the times camping here in the St. Croix Valley.

I always did my best camping in my Valley homeland. I camped with schoolmates during middle school years in the Boy Scout Troop 131 of Osceola, and we created almost every sort of mischief that Boy Scouts could do. In high school and college, we camped as freelance kids, looking to get out of someplace else and on to the St. Croix River. Youth in Osceola always have had to, and always should, explore the long waters below our town. All should use caution—absolute caution—since the river's power mostly stays unseen in its ability to penalize risk or carelessness.

I understand better now the overt awareness and the inner revealings of the almost meditative, sometimes insightful purposes of exploring here. Seizing this near world demands some ambition, some questing, and a starting point on which to begin the long slog “there” and back.

At age 13, I camped alone for the first time, about a mile or two my home one Friday night in the chilly fall. I took my small green pack with very little—sleeping bag, mess kit, flashlight, book, sleeping bag, tarp and rope, my hatchet, and some food and water. I walked the railroad tracks farther and away from town, past the then-smaller industrial park, not far from Osceola Creek where it emptied into the swamps by the Schillberg farm. I pitched on the railroad right of way, about thirty yards from the tracks. I tied one end of a big, loose dead branch to a tree and secured the other end into the ground. I threw the tarp over it, tied it off in places, and had a lean-to shelter under which I unrolled my sleeping bag. I cleared the brown, dead leaves in front of the shelter, piling it under my bag, and I made a fire on the bare dirt earth using the scraps of wood I found and shortened.

I cooked a sirloin and veggies wrapped in foil once the fire coals became orange and glowered. In the night air, I could hear the big crowd cheer and the old bell ring for the varsity football game far away. I ate my delicious dinner in the unfolded wrap, inside my mess tin-plate, and I read a little by flashlight. I fell asleep early out of some comfortable boredom. Critter steps and a slight wind on dry leaves kept me unnerved a little but also some company in the quiet after the football game ended.

I woke from a dream at some point, full of fear and twinging, groggy from the dream, as the quaking ground, the surprising anxiety of shaking trees, the loud bumping dry leaves, and the unholy sound of an iron avalanche seemed about to bury me!! Still groggy, a hell banshee blew, and my heart popped! I saw the unidentified swirling brightness illuminate the woods!! The train. I forgot about the train while sleeping. It passed long, but fast. Momentarily, I thought I had slept on the tracks, until I realized I slept safe away from it. Finally, the ground stopped rolling, and the autumn leaves on the ground went back to the dry crackling of deer and other varmints walking and scurrying on them. I fell back asleep. Saturday morning, I dismantled camp, packed, and walked home. I had nothing heroic to remember, but I realized I could camp alone.  

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sub Terra Vita--Chronicle #32: A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground: Part XI: Away from the Valley

Sub Terra Vita
By Tim Krenz
January 18, 2016

Chronicle #32: A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground: Part XI: Away from the Valley

Shortly after arriving safely in Bowman, in the Badlands of North Dakota, on the night-long bus ride from St. Paul, I enjoyed the first weeks of the almost two months on my first underground journey by myself from home. Since my sister worked everyday in an office at the local coal mine, I spent most of the days with my brother-in-law, “Swannie.”

We spent the time around his and my sister's ranch, where they raised cattle, riding in the truck with Sally the Dog. On the hottest parts of the afternoons, Swannie and I spent time in his taxidermy shop at his parents farmstead, about 4 empty miles north of the ranch. Otherwise, we drove around fixing barbed-wire fences with u-shaped nails, and swathing, raking and gathering up the hay in huge round bales.

In the county that seeded clouds to prevent hail damage to the gold-mine wheat crops, it rained little, and people measured the weekly rain fall in hundredths of an inch. The land of rock strewn and yellow grass pastures, orange-brownish tassled wheat fields sections wide, and just at the foothills of the Badlands' most uninviting, hellish looking beauty, the wind swayed rolling good during the day, but the air still felt blast furnace hot sometimes.

In July and August, the sweat of the body could cool in that dry air, but everything in that sun's hammer broke on the anvil of heat. The dry and hard dirt, the petrified wood, “scrap rock,” dry gullies, and flammable grass felt as dry as the bones of deer and antelope we sometimes found while looking successfully for arrowheads. The entire land gave the sense of brittle wood matches, only waiting for the careless strike to break it into inferno.

A Boy Scout back home, I continued my passion for adventures, reading Swannies book collection, on camping, animals, settler history, and about the Native American tribes who roamed and hunted this former frontier land. I wanted to go camping, and I read about Teddy Roosevelt's ranch in Medora, ND, not far from Bowman, long before he became the President. To my delight, my sister planned for all of us to go camping, until one night she became very, very seriously ill.

After suffering steady pains, Swannie took my sister to the big hospital two hours away in the middle of the night. My sister had an ovary removed in emergency surgery, and underwent cancer treatment for the next year. I really did not understand until then that not just old people could get seriously ill. Swannie and I pulled house chores, in addition to ranch chores, and I learned how to take care of myself, sort of. When my sister came home from the long hospital stay she had some how bought and presented to me as a surprise gift a brand new, brightly tinted, cast iron frying pan for my camping gear.

We could not go camping now, as planned. Yet, one night when sleeping outside, I “camped” in the driveway, to stay away from the snakes I would see in the grass around the ranch. The dog kept me up until near dawn, but I watched the stars all night, and saw the same sky Teddy Roosevelt slept under one hundred years earlier. That morning, my sister got out of her bed, with difficulty, and I made her and Swannie a bacon, egg and toast breakfast in my new frying, over a cooking fire I built on the concrete slab next to the hand-pump water well. I made the best camping breakfast EVER in history!

Happily, years later, my sister gave birth to two daughters, whom I call “the miracle babies.” And, I still own that frying pan for camping, now blackened and seasoned by 30-plus years of good, hard use, my reminder of the summer when I grew up away from home.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Sub Terra Vita Chronicle #31: A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground: Part X: West by West

Sub Terra Vita
By Tim Krenz
January 11, 2016

Chronicle #31: A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground: Part X: West by West

At age twelve, the summer before my 7th grade year in Osceola Middle School, I took my first trip alone, to visit my sister and brother-in-law at the far end of North Dakota. It started me on a lifetime of low-scale adventures, that combined both angst and anticipation every time on leaving home. For the first time, I left my hometown in Western Wisconsin to explore some then-unknown places of America beyond “my valley, my country.”

As the quiet observer, as an underground explorer and writer, I also came to know the people of places, see wondrous things, and build my worldview of life. Somehow, beginning with that trip in late July that young summer, I turned out human years later, and learned to see things in empathy: through different eyes.

My trip to the bad-land reaches of North Dakota started with a late night drive to the bus station in St. Paul, MN. Accompanied by my mom and a couple of siblings, I waited with that anxiety that pervades me on trips. “Will everything go okay? What if something goes wrong? What if I sleep and miss my stop?” Boarding the bus, I sat in the very front seat, next to next a grandmotherly looking lady.

After we left the station, we traveled points west, for only my second trip-ever trip to Bowman, ND, where my sister and her husband lived on a ranch outside of town. The anxiety, as I learn every time, served no purpose. “Go West, young man!” someone in American history said over a hundred years previously. On Interstate-94, I did, on a metal carriage stage coach, named for a sleek and fast dog breed.

The woman disappeared, debarking in the wilder-depth of a small western Minnesota town. A U.S. Army soldier on leave replaced her in the seat. He traveled from the East Coast to Seattle, instead of flying, to live the experience of distance in time and space in a different way—on the ground. Since I thought I would join the military after graduating high school six years later, in 1989, I asked him many questions about service life, and what got him there.

He had worked in private industry as a computer programmer, then a cutting-edge career, and lost his job in the recession of 1981-82. He did the “Stripes/Bill Murray-route,” and he loved the Army career. When the bus stopped for breakfast, he paid for my meal. After that, the sun rose, and I looked out the front window at country down both sides of the freeway. Not many settlements, but some clumps of houses, with some awfully gnarly cotton-wood trees that lived on little, foul water.

The long flatness and the yellow grass of dry, hot, hot weather; the huge, rock-strewn flat-topped hills called “buttes;” the treeless cereal fields of wheat and oats; and hay; and cattle grazing on fields next to metronome-like oil pumps of the earlier Dakota oil boom; these views I hold in memory still, of that first of many lifetime adventures. North Dakota had few people, and seemingly fewer trees. I came to appreciate and love that land, and it remains a refuge for a need in solitude.

At the bus stop in Bellfield, ND, thirty miles from Montana to the west, my brother-in-law met me, driving his black Ford pickup truck. The soldier-friend, who had adopted me on the trip, stood in the bus doorway to make sure I had my ride and the right person. He and I waved, said good luck and goodbye, and I thanked him for helping me overcome the fear of that first-ever “big trip.” I had five weeks in North Dakota, to explore, on the cusp and in the Badlands. The adventure, and growing up, continued. . . (see the next installment of Sub Terra Vita).