Two Bits

October has a way of feeling empty, doesn’t it? The pond is now empty of the broods of ducklings who grew up there. The highline wire is empty of swallows feasting on insects over the corn. Even the trees in this year’s abundant orchard are one by one achieving a state of emptiness.

Castleprairie has emptied in other ways this year, some planned and some unexpected. The livestock are now completely gone, after a 15 year run. The chickens have been gone for some time now, leaving two big outside dogs as my  only chore duties. The coming of fall has meant the return of woodburning, a chore that warms me in countless ways.

We are adapting to our kids declaration of independence by finding other things to do, as well as doing what we have always loved with a greater sense of deliberateness. Call it the perspective of being 50.

I have had it made harshly clear to me anew, that there are limits to what one can do. And when I reach that event horizon, I have no option but to stop, hand the rest over to God, and move on to something else.

So here is to full ness!! A full woodbox, a full freezer, a full tank of gas with which to hit the road, and a heart full of love as well as hope for a better season to come.    Rick

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Don’t let not knowing the words keep you from singing

   Back in the days of my youth, my eldest brother Bob got me involved in Barbershop Quartet singing, a fact I need to thank him for. Oh look, I just did! Anyone who knows me knows I love to sing, although I really haven’t a lot of formal musical training, no instrument in school, etc. So the Barbershop guys put me somewhere in the middle and called that section the melody line, I think. Given the memory I have, the words of all those songs have stuck with me all these years. Barbershops sing the greatest songs! So there is a song that I have been crooning into the ears of my granddaughter since the beginning of her little, miraculous life.

      I know a thing or two, and I’m telling you- I’ve got a wonderful gal.

      She’s got the cutest style, a million dollar smile, she’s such a wonderful pal.Image

I just feel so happy, it’s cuz i love he so oh, when she is by my side, I;m so filled with pride, I want the world to know that…when my sugar walks down the street, the little birdies go tweet, tweet, tweet.

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Baby Rick

Baby Rick

Baby Rick with Sambo, 1964 at the home place.

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An era ends, an era begins.

I spent today in the woods with my new chainsaw. After about ten years of faithful service, my first Stihl, an 025 14 inch saw , finally suffered a career ending injury. Countless chains, cutting bars, recoil ropes and drive sprockets had been replaced on my reliable friend but the seal around the crankshaft inside the engine was a bridge too far. I run a saw probably 10 days a year, maybe a little more. 50 hours a year would catch it pretty close. When I bought that one, I said it was the best purchase I  had made that year, and I’ve never retracted that. Those German engineered saws are top notch.

The new guy on the block is a Stihl MS 290.  I upgraded by a full horse or so in power and went to a 16 inch cutting bar. I’m trying to thread a needle that should be filled by two saws. One smaller for “brushing”- clearing the tree of small branches, and a big boy for cutting the bole of the tree that might be 24 inches across. This saw seems to be working good at both. A little on the heavy side, so I just have to get stronger. Also, I had to adjust to how much more aggressive this powerplant is when it comes to kicking stuff around.

But, any day in the woods that you come home with all body parts intact counts in the “win” column. This woodcutting habit of mine is really paying off this year, as I understand propane prices have just gone ballistic due to the harsh winter across the nation. I feel guilty to report how little investment goes into heating this huge drafty house that we call our Castle. And a day spent in the woods is like an advance deposit from Heaven.

A farmer should, on Candlemas Day

have half his wood, and half his hay.

Dad, we’re gonna be alright this year.

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Movie Review – Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Go see this movie! How about that for an endorsement?  I found this movie to be thought provoking and entertaining at the same stroke. Hollywood doesn’t pull that off very often. I was impacted by it and would like to spread some of that around.

First, let’s set aside the critics who charge that it departed from the book. Well duh, Thurber’s short story ,serialized in 1939, was 20 pages long. A 30 minute sitcom would have covered all of it. So more material was going to have to be developed. We came to understand why Mitty daydreamed as much as he did, and the impact that had on him, and the people around him.

Ben Stiller is known for comedic roles, this may have been one of the more serous roles he has done. It was light hearted but I kept on finding myself identifying with this dedicated quiet guy whose inward aspirations had outstripped his actual achievements.  I am not afraid to say the helicopter takeoff scene brought tears to my eyes. See this movie and you will never hear the line “Ground control to Major Tom” with the same ears again. Not possible. That scene was the emotional high water mark in the film, and from then on he stopped dreaming and began doing.  Turns out, he’d had ‘the right stuff” all along, call it spunk, or spirit, and all it took was one more nudge in the right direction. We each need someone to believe in us. Or at least someone we believe believes in us. Either will do.

Further, as bonus to the main thrust of the movie, you have Sean Penn playing a rough and ready photographer. He poignantly expresses a truth I have run up against so often, the tension between drinking in a moment with our own senses, and trying to capture that moment on film to share it with others. Focus on the share and you may miss something to experience for yourself. Focus on the experience and you may come up empty handed as far as evidence goes.

I like stories best with all the loose ends tied up neatly. I had to set that aside here and believe that the unsecured strands of Life were, nonetheless, going to work out okay. If you see it and aren’t inspired to do as well as dream, I’ll refund what you gave to hear my two bits.

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Thoughts on Grandparenting

The essence of being a grandparent came to me today while pondering this past holiday. There may be other essences to it, call this one among many. I got to spend a week watching my daughter parent her daughter. Spending time around the little one is eerie in the respect of how much she is like her mother back at the same age. Her focus, her boldness, her certainness, the way she interacts with the grownups in her world were all things that are evident already at 3 years of age, and these same things were endearing and frustrating at the same time in her mother back when I was 26 instead of 50.

And what I know now that I didn’t know then, is that I myself was an unfinished work in progress. If asked at that time, I would have said I know what I’m doing, I’m intact, I have it together, got this covered. The ensuing quarter century has completely erased that delusion. Turns out I was far from finished and had a lot of stumbling around yet to do to find my way. Now I see that our children find themselves entrusted to rank amateurs who learn as they go along by trial and error. I’m grateful for how well each of my kids turned out. Only now do I realize how much of that is in spite of me, rather than because of me.

Our journey to who we are today has included a number of epic dead ends, things tried firsthand in order to learn what we did not want to continue trying. Classic, empirical evidence kind of things. Like we will never butcher 400 chickens by ourselves ever again. Or, turns out training a draft animal requires patience above every other attribute and Rick was dealt a hand shortsuited in that gift. When I was 26, I didn’t know that stubborn dogged determination, brute force willpower might still not be enough to fix some of the things this life would put in my path. I know this now, but the learning it, that was an unpretty thing, in my recollection.

And so being a grandparent is being a person with a longer perspective. There are things I am still certain about, but maybe there are fewer of them. And while I may be certain of them for me, I understand the limits of that small circle. Further, I recognize that outcomes are a very uncertain thing, that life has entirely more randomness than we are prepared to accept. So we construct explanations and rationales along the lines of -if this, then that… Perhaps it takes a half century to discern that the pattern is more complex than that.  Continue to do what you believe is right, by all means. Just understand that there are others players at the table, some not entirely visible or logical.

It’s also reassuring to learn that things have a way of turning out anyhow. That the detours of Plan B have a soothing beauty in their own right and that if we had written the script our own way we might have missed the pain, but we would also have missed the dance.

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My Dentist said I should get back to writing

   Okay, that’s not actually a quote, but it was the gist of the conversation…

      Our Christmas holiday was an all around success. All the kids were home, with their additions, and we partied and ate and laughed just like one would hope to do to celebrate. I knew it would be cold and wanted the house warm, especially for the southern contingent, so the boys helped me put up an extra trailer load of small wood for the inside stoves. Both the parlor stove and kitchen cook stove were glowing and it looked like Hawaiian night on the frozen tundra! The little girls got new Christmas jammies, flannel, and they were so warm that it turned in to topless night! You KNOW it’s a great party when..well, never mind.

    Solstice bonfire was good but abbreviated by the the sub zero temps, which set in and have hung on ever since. I think living with frigid weather is a state of mind, and get just the least bit grabby when the rest of the country gets some of our annual experience and the media just goes on and on and on about it! Geez, just deal with it! Not saying it’s easy or a safe condition, just saying do what needs doing without all the pontificating. Like the the term polar vortex was just coined yesterday! Hardly.

      Must, Must take this moment to point out the GLARING irony of the global warming research team getting trapped in the oh so disappearing Antarctic icepack! Anyone else catch that? Media has managed to downplay that angle to obscurity, but let’s be honest, Lou, they all planned to go take footage of drowning polar bears with no ice left in sight. Wait, wrong Pole, never mind! Anyway, it was not lost on me that at the end of the day, despite all our apologies and the labels we’ve been given, the whole world knows what nation to turn to for help when it’s fat is about to go in the fire. Gratifying to hear the US Coast Guard will get to write the final chapter in the silly farce. Such internet sensations, too.

    On a genuinely historic sidenote, the Norwegian explorer Nansen deliberately put a ship, the Fram (meaning Forward), into the pack ice at the North Pole 120 years earlier. It was built of wood and designed to withstand the ice pressure and they stayed with it 3 YEARS as the ice rotated them nearly over the Pole and then spit them out! Now that’s a story. The ship can still be seen on display in Oslo. Further, Amundsen re used the same ship in some of his South Pole explorations.

   A noteworthy gift I received was a new splitting maul, for firewood making. 8 pound variety with a poly handle and rubber grip as well as rubber protection at the handle base. Son was worried as to its composition, knowing my penchant for natural materials. But he also knew that Dad is pragmatic when it come to his tools, and if the better tool for a given job comes out of a yellow plastic mould, then bring on the yellow plastic!

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Last word on Comet ISON. Life is uncertain.


In Memoriam

Submitted by Karl Battams on Mon, 12/02/2013 – 08:32
Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON)
Born 4.5 Billion BC, Fragmented Nov 28, 2013 (age 4.5-billion yrs old) 

Born in a dusty and turbulent environment, comet ISON spent its early years being jostled and struck by siblings both large and small. Surviving a particularly violent first few million years, ISON retreated to the Oort Cloud, where it maintained a largely reclusive existence for nearly four billion years. But around 3-million B.C., a chance encounter with a passing star coerced ISON into undertaking a pioneering career as a Sungrazer. On September 21, 2012, ISON made itself known to us, and allowed us to catalog the most extraordinary part of its spectacular vocational calling. 

Never one to follow convention, ISON lived a dynamic and unpredictable life, alternating between periods of quiet reflection and violent outburst. However, its toughened exterior belied a complex and delicate inner working that only now we are just beginning to understand. In late 2013, Comet ISON demonstrated not only its true beauty but a surprising turn of speed as it reached its career defining moment in the inner solar system. Tragically, on November 28, 2013, ISON’s tenacious ambition outweighed its ability, and our shining green candle in the solar wind began to burn out. 

Survived by approximately several trillion siblings, Comet ISON leaves behind an unprecedented legacy for astronomers, and the eternal gratitude of an enthralled global audience. In ISON’s memory, donations are encouraged to your local astronomy club, observatory or charity that supports STEM and science outreach programs for children. 

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My Thanksgiving Weekend Getaway


This photo of the park entrance sign captures so much of it in one shot. How cool! The native name for this place was  “Tinta-Inya-Ota” which meant prairie with many rocks. It is actually bedrock scoured by glacier runoff 140 centuries ago. Now that riverbed is the valley of the Minnesota River. The waterfall pictured is where the Minneopa Creek has eroded the layers of limestone at differing rates and made a double waterfall. Okay, in December, nothing was falling. One had to practice their imagination!

Here’s a better shot of the tower.


This was in fact a windmill built in 1870, patterned on the style used in Germany at the time. It was used for grain milling powered by wind on the ridge overlooking the valley. Lasted not quite 20 years through a series of natural disasters and eventually waterpowered mills made it obsolete. But the thing is so massive! And just breathes history from every mortared joint.

For the record here are the Falls-


Another aspect I love about the MN State Parks are the many CCC and WPA  projects preserved in them. Buildings and dams and roads. Stories in log and stone. Here at Minneopa we found 70 steps going down to the creek and 80 going back up the other side!


Plus the Duchess on the bridge!



My beard grows whiter with each passing season. This month will mark my 50th season, and I’m grateful for what I’ve learned along the way. Persevere!

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This is a repost from what I was writing a year ago about this time. When something I have written still tugs at me a year later, it feels like I got it right.


Thursday December 20, 2012
Tomorrow marks the halfway point and a halt to increasing darkness. How quickly it seems we’ve gotten to Dec 21.       The houseguest idea was epic fail. The stuff of family legends for years to come.Explaining to her that the directions south and east and so on were determined by the sun’s position, stands out as indicative of just about everything else.  We may be hicks from the sticks and an easy touch for a good story, but when the evidence accumulated that this was not an attempt to start over, but rather a relocation to carry on the very same shenanigans, we decided to be become non participants.  The cops chased them out of their last town, and city police were the last faces they saw in North Dakota as well. I considered the final investment of a tank of gas and 50 bucks cash to be money well spent. Enough to develop escape velocity and find somewhere else to orbit. I don’t wish ill toward them, but theiving from your new employer on your second shift, well, every tree shall be known by its fruit.

      I’m now 49 years of age. The year past has brought a lot of unexpected developments that I would pass up if asked, but it doesn’t work that way. I can still find at the core, the sense of contentment that took root a few years ago, so I try to nurture that sprout when possible. Somehow writing has grown out of me. What a lame expression but I don’t know how else to say it. It was something that flowed at one time and now does not.
      Winter calls to me to rest, relax, recharge. My evening chore routine is so very brief. Stunning to contemplate the old days, to think of my Dad who probably milked cows 4 out of 5 days his entire life. Farm chores in winter  are just a blankety blank so and so! Liquids of every nature freeze to every surface,you’re dressed in a moonsuit stumbling around in the dark. So why do I remember dad’s barn so fondly? Mystery to me. Each night when the cat crawls over the quilts on us and tickles my whiskers with her whiskers, it feels like sleeping in the straw pile with the cats while the cows nuzzle silage and rattle their stanchions. Going to the barn at midnight Christmas Eve to see if the legend was true of the cattle kneeling to greet Jesus’ birth.
       Who could untangle the snarl of the bitter and the sweet and make sense of it all? I sit, as Mary did, and “ponder all these things in her heart”. May all the blessings of God be yours in abundance.
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