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.

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!