2021 Blogs

Inauguration and Henry Aaron (January 25, 2021)

Last Wednesday I watched the inauguration on television. Afterwards I went fishing. In other words, I waited four years for a change in presidents, and then when Biden was finally sworn in, I went about my day as if not much had happened. During the drive to my fishing spot on the backwaters of the Mississippi River, I pondered my casual attitude. I thought back and tried to remember how many other inaugurations I actually watched in real time. Biden’s was the first one since I retired, so maybe I’d always been at work before. I did recall watching Obama’s first inauguration, but I was living in Asia in 2009. Work would not have been a problem, as 11am in Washington was midnight in Taiwan.

In trying to understand why I took Biden’s inauguration so much in stride, I mostly came up with platitudes like “the peaceful transition of power” and “the democratic process prevailed.” Had the inauguration not gone smoothly, I would have gone crazy and spent the day figuring out what to do next. Because everything happened as peaceably as I hoped it would, I was able to watch the ceremony and the odd collection of politicians on the steps of the Capitol – and then go outside to play until dark. While Biden was signing executive orders, I hovered over a hole in the ice and twitched a tiny waxworm for bluegills and perch. The weather did not warm up as predicted, and I did not catch a single fish big enough to keep, but still it was a very good fishing day, in one way the best I’ve ever had.

I wrote this blog on the Friday after the inauguration. When I finished writing the first draft, I took a break, refilled my coffee cup, and checked CNN online. There I saw that Henry Aaron had died. My hands shook, and it was a little hard to type after that. As a kid in Green Bay, I had two sports heroes. Scratch the word “sports.” As a kid, I had two heroes. They were Bart Starr and Henry Aaron. When Bart Starr died, I knew he’d been sick for a while, and I was ready for it. Henry Aaron’s death came as a surprise, and I was crushed.

A Winter's Day (January 18, 2021)

I don’t sing much, at least according to my Asian wife who’s grown up on karaoke. This morning, however, as I took Jack for a walk and was only a block down Hackberry Lane, I realized I was singing I am a Rock. Wow! A better writer might stop right there and let the reader draw his or her own conclusions. I am not that better writer, and besides, I need to do a little reflection for myself.

First of all, I am (regardless of the depressing nature of the song’s lyrics) doing fine. It reminds me of a time many years ago when a friend of mine went to a record store and bought albums by Phil Ochs, Gram Parsons, and Janis Joplin. The guy behind the counter asked, in all seriousness, whether she was okay.

I am content right now. Considering the current state of the world and the current state of my personal affairs, I might be happier than I have right to be.

    • It is mid-January in Wisconsin (i.e., the dead of winter)
    • Politics and the American electorate are a disaster (although I am hopeful)
    • COVID worsens (although I am hopeful)
    • I have not seen my wife in four months, and I have another two months to go
    • My daughter is home, but only because her college isn’t allowing her to return to school during the pandemic
    • No one wants to publish the book I have been working on for the past four years
    • My prostate is the size of a pear (this may be the only item on the list that is irreparable)
    • My eyeglass prescription is off just enough to give me headaches when I read, but because of social distancing, I haven’t gone to an optometrist
    • Now that I recall Phil Ochs and Gram Parsons, I worry about the quirky people who used to work in record shops and used bookstores.

Of all the complaints in this whiny collection of concerns, the one that bothers me the most is January in Wisconsin. Usually cold weather and short days don’t affect me much, but this year has been different. Maybe it’s the social distancing, maybe it’s a wife half a world way, but for the first time in a long time, I’ve let winter get to me a bit. Manyu and I have long talked about moving back to Asia, but our conversations lately have been more frequent and more specific. I have one more adventure left in me. I haven’t felt this unsure about my future since I was twenty-five years old, but unlike COVID and American politics, the uncertainty feels good.

Yew (January 11, 2021)

Years ago I had three Japanese yews growing along the front of my house. They were, in spite of my regular trimming, aesthetically too large for the yard. They did provide, however, excellent cover for birds in the wintertime. From the large window in my living room, I could see into the backside of one of the shrubs, and there were almost always birds within.  Sometimes it was a pair of cardinals. Other times it would be up to a half dozen English sparrows. Usually the birds would just hunker down and sit. Less often they would flit from branch to branch inside the shrub.

I took out those yews. Their removal reminds me of how little I know about the needs and wants of nature. Besides visually dominating the view of my house, I also took them out because they were not indigenous to Wisconsin. I thought replacing them with native species would be good for wildlife, but, in retrospect, I’m guessing the birds would disagree. None of the birds in the neighborhood ate the yew berries, but the cardinals’ and sparrows’ use for the yews was not as a food source. I replaced the exotics with ground cover and two smaller deciduous shrubs. As I write this blog, a house finch (or maybe it’s a purple finch) has alighted atop one of the shrubs. It serves as a temporary resting spot, but with only bare branches in the winter, it provides no shelter. When the bird takes off, I am pretty sure it will disappear into the protection of the Colorado spruce across the street. 

Today I was walking Jack and saw over a dozen robins eating berries off a small fruit tree. I don’t recall ever seeing so many robins together in one place before. They must, like bald eagles, congregate near food sources in the wintertime. Some of the birds were in the tree going after hanging fruit. Most were on the ground eating fruit that had fallen. I didn’t even know robins ate fruit, but if they are sticking around all winter, they obviously have to feed on something other than bugs and worms. A quick look through my bird books confirmed that both flocking and eating fruit are common wintertime behaviors for robins. It makes me think there have been other times I’ve seen robins in flocks and just failed to make note of it. Now that it is on my radar, I’ll probably see it more often.

Walking Jack gets me outside in the winter, but it is a lousy way to watch wildlife. It is not so much that my dog disturbs the birds and small mammals in my neighborhood; rather his herky-jerky route with stops at yellow snow and discarded burger wrappers does not necessarily coincide with my preferred resting spots. It is a credit to my observation skills that I noticed the robins at all.

Taking Down the Tree* (January 4, 2021)

For twenty-seven years my neighbor’s discarded Christmas tree has shown up on the curb on January 2. The same neighbor on the same day also takes down his outdoor Christmas lights. I do not consider this guy to be overly organized, but he definitely has a specific date on his calendar to mark the end of the holiday season.

I, in contrast, have no idea when my tree will come down. No, that’s not true. It will come down sometime this month. Some years I put it out on the curb in time for the City to pick it up; other years I miss the deadline. I’ve never bothered to find out what the actual last day is. When I do take the tree down, I put it on the curb regardless of the date. If it is still there after two weeks, I assume I’ve missed Christmas tree pick up for the year and take it to the yard waste disposal site myself. As far as removing my single strand of outdoor Christmas lights, I’ll unplug them in about a week and then wait for an unusually warm day to unravel them from my porch railing. They aren’t doing anyone any harm.

This has been a unique holiday season. With Clare home, it has been good, but not exceptional. Manyu was away in Taiwan the whole time. Even though her Taiwanese upbringing did not include a Christmas celebration, she knows it represents family to me as much as Chinese New Year does to her. She and I normally deal with her annual trips to Asia very well, but Christmas apart this pandemic year was hard for both of us. I bought a bottle of sparkling wine for New Year’s Eve, but neither Clare nor I bothered to open it as midnight approached. We celebrated by watching the annual fireworks display that takes place not far from our house, but after the grand finale, we both went to bed.

Still it is not all bad. Yesterday I noticed it was still light outside at 5pm. 

*This is the first blog entry for 2021. Every January I have teach myself all over again how to make a new archive page for the year’s entries. If I was smart, I would just go ahead and make pages for 2022, 2023, and 2024, then schedule them to appear one, two, and three years from now. I already know I won’t.



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